Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible (3 of 3)

Debunking 10 Popular Christian Principles for Reading the Bible (3 of 3) March 10, 2015

Let’s wrap up our critique of Jim Wallace’s article, “Ten Principles When Considering Alleged Bible Contradictions.” (Part 1 here.)

Principle #8: Description is Different Than Approval. “Remember, just because a Biblical author writes about something, this does not mean God condones it or supports it.”

Wallace wrestles with the problem of polygamy in the Bible. Many patriarchs are shown with multiple wives, and wise king Solomon in particular had a large harem. Does this make clear that God is fine with polygamy? Nope. Wallace assures us that “from the very beginning, anyone who had more than one wife was in sin and was living in opposition to God’s will.”

His evidence is the vague clue that overseers should have one wife and the demand that kings should have few wives—hardly evidence that God hates polygamy. Wallace must ignore polygamy practiced by most of the patriarchs without a peep of protest against polygamy by God. God also told David that he had blessed him with many wives and would’ve been happy to give him more (2 Samuel 12:8).

Why do you imagine God dislikes polygamy? Just because you do? This is an unusually blatant example of our Christian apologist playing God like a sock puppet by reading into the Bible his own views on a social issue.

Principle #9: Don’t Fret Copyist Variants. True, there are variants in the thousands of Bible manuscripts, but none challenge anything important. And it’s not like these variants are an embarrassing secret—they’re acknowledged in the footnotes of just about every Bible.

The example this time is of conflicting accounts of a battle. In one account (2 Samuel 8:3–4), David captured 700 horsemen, while in the other (1 Chronicles 18:3–4) he captured 7000.

Wallace notes that this isn’t especially important, and I agree. Note, though, that Wallace is again discarding biblical inerrancy. The Bible isn’t magically protected against error, so even he must accept the Bible being occasionally wrong.

But by tossing out this trivial example, Wallace may hope to camouflage an important issue. Here’s where it gets interesting. We agree that copies of Bible books can contain errors, and we agree that very, very few of the original copies from the first couple of centuries have survived. Scholars have thousands of cases of two or more variants of a single passage where we have manuscripts documenting those variants. The famous long ending of Mark is an example. Wallace will point to modern Bibles that show the most reliable version and footnote the alternative version. So where’s the problem?

Precisely here: imagine a fork in the historical road, with two different manuscript traditions of a single verse, for which we have copies from only one tradition. Do we have the accurate version now? We wouldn’t even know to ask the question! We can’t distinguish verses that have been inserted or changed from those that have been copied flawlessly (more here).

Who knows what we’d discover if we could access every single manuscript copy.

Principle #10: Remember Who’s Boss. “Sometimes the God of the Old Testament can seem pretty harsh.… But we need to read the Scriptures carefully and remember God alone is God.… He gets to make decisions over life and death, even when we don’t understand all the details.”

The example he gives is a tough one, God’s demand of genocide for the Amalekites (I discuss this here). Wallace’s response is a bit like what God says to Job: “You talking to me, bitch? Uh yeah, get back to me after you’ve created a universe.”

Wallace’s argument is a popular response to this Problem of Evil. First, we assume objective morality. Second, work God in: “Objective, transcendent standards require an objective, transcendent standard giver.” Finally, declare that the Problem of Evil assumes objective morality; otherwise, “there can be no apparent injustice.”

See how that works? Atheists bring up the Problem of Evil, but this assumes objective morality, which in turn demands God as the objective morality source, and the atheists have shot themselves in the foot!

Let’s consider the problems with each step. First, he gives no support for his claim to objective morality, and I’ve never seen any. What we see around us are shared (and sometimes deeply held) moral beliefs, not objective moral truths.

Second, evolution nicely explains human morality. Evolution selects for altruistic traits in social animals like humans and other primates. We’re all the same species, which is why your moral sense is pretty much the same as everyone else’s.

Finally, morality works just fine without being objective (grounded outside of humanity). Look it up: morality and the ideas behind it such as good and bad are defined in the dictionary with no reliance on objective grounding.

Things get a bit embarrassing as Wallace justifies God’s murderous rampages: “If you create a piece of art, you have the right to destroy it, even though I do not. After all, it is your creation and, therefore, it is your property.” That’s fine, but we’re not talking about art, we’re talking about things that feel. Humans are seen as immoral when they kill a living creature just for the hell of it. In the same way, God doesn’t get a pass when he kills people with no reason besides “because he can.”

Wallace’s goal here was to give fair rules for evaluating the Bible, but his bias is apparent as he concludes:

Am I going to stand as [the Bible’s] critic, or am I going to allow the Bible stand as a critic over me? Either I am going to decide what’s true or false in the Bible, or the Bible is going to decide what is true or false in me.

No one would yield to the sovereignty of something before thoroughly evaluating that source, which is exactly what this article was supposed to help us do. But apparently an honest evaluation of the Bible doesn’t give him the advantage that he needs, so Wallace wants to first assume God and then the Bible’s supernatural claims. This is the Hypothetical God fallacy. It’s also circular logic.

No, we don’t assume God first. Honest adults start with the null hypothesis, which is that Christian supernatural belief is no more accurate than that of any other religion. They follow the evidence where it leads, regardless of whether they like it or not.

The lack of understanding of something is not evidence of God.
It’s evidence of a lack of understanding.
— Lawrence Krauss

Image credit: Funk Dooby, flickr, CC

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