Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction”

Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction” December 12, 2018

This exchange with the atheist “Dagoods” (words in blue) occurred in the original Blogspot combox of Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??) (Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672). Later, a second atheist chimes in.


Commenter Robert wrote:

DagoodS, Aristotle gave the standard definition of a contradiction. Two statements are contradictory if they cannot both be true and also they cannot both be false. (His explanation is a bit more involved, but this is sufficient). For instance “it rained yesterday and it is sunny today” is not a contradiction and neither is “he said it is raining today but I say it is hot today”.

What is the standard or method you use to determine a contradiction?

Robert provided a useful quick definition from Aristotle. For extreme depth on the matter, see: “Contradiction” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

What’s your method, DagoodS? Any slightest shade of difference in a text, or one not mentioning something or adding another detail, is automatically a “contradiction”? It would seem so, from the flimsy “reasoning” you have offered us in the present case and the weak, highly debatable conclusions you draw from same.

I want to make sure I have this clear. Last time trouble arose because I relied upon the exact same link above.

1) Is your method that contradictions can be resolved by any logical explanation? (such as indicated in the link) OR

2) That contradictions exist by weighing to see if there is a plausible (not just logical) explanation that can account for it and defeat the suggestion of contradiction. And not just plausible, but more plausible and believable than the opposing view?

As to my method…I’m wondering whether you could help me out, here. I puzzle as to my communication skills, to see how well I have expressed it. We have discussed this multiple times, I have consistently stated my method repeatedly over the years and numerous blog entries.

What do you think I claim my method is?

If you don’t know—that’s fine—I am curious how well I have communicated it.

That’s all ring around the rosey; sorry. You are assuming going in, that there is a logical contradiction in these passages. As far as I am concerned you have not come within a million miles of showing that there is. I deny your premise, in other words (it always comes down to that with us, so it seems).

You would be laughed out of every introductory logic class in the world if you come around saying that it is a contradiction for me (or the Gospel writers) to say that Joseph is rich in one statement, and a disciple in another, and a council member in a third.

You understand logic (in the sense we have defined it above), because you wrote in your piece, “Is Christianity Logical?” (10-23-07):

Yet one area in which the Bible must bend to the human is in the area of philosophy. People, including Christians, would like to be assured their belief is logically coherent. That their worldview is consistent. . . .

Take the very basic premise of logic—the law of non-contradiction. “A ≠ non-A.” Simply put, something cannot both be something, and at the same time NOT be the very same thing. We cannot exist and non-exist at the same moment. 0 cannot equal 1 (or “non 0” if you prefer.)

The reason for this premise is both for consistency in living out reality, as well as ability to communicate. When I say “The apple is in my hand” if “A = non-A” this sentence could mean:

“The apple is out of my hand.”
“The orange is in my hand.”
“The orange is out of my hand.”
“The apple is in my mouth.”
“The orange is out of my mouth.”

While some those statements could also be true, the point of the statement “The apple is in my hand” is to communicate a certain fact consistent with the words I am proclaiming. If logic fails, we are unable to consistently communicate, because words can have a variety of meanings, inconsistent with each other. We’d never know what the other person was saying.

Exactly. Thank you. So why do you want to play games with ridiculous candidates for supposed biblical “contradictions”? And why do you hide under sophistical, evasive counter-questions and rabbit trails when challenged, rather than simply interact with the critique and overcome it?

If I’m wrong, show me where and how. We agree on what logical contradiction is, based on what you wrote in this post in 2007. Or have you now ditched classical syllogistic logic along with Christianity? That would explain a lot, if so.

I am attempting to get clarification, that’s all. Can’t I ask the question? Don’t you want me to avoid creating strawmen about your position? All I want to know is what method you use to determine a contradiction.

1) Is your method that contradictions can be resolved by any logical explanation? (such as indicated in the link)

A true logical contradiction cannot be resolved, by the nature of the case (thus the very question is confused and silly). It is what it is. A contradiction cannot become a non-contradiction because that would be a contradiction! LOL


2) That contradictions exist by weighing to see if there is a plausible (not just logical) explanation that can account for it and defeat the suggestion of contradiction. And not just plausible, but more plausible and believable than the opposing view?

If you don’t want to answer my question—if you don’t want me to be clear on your position—you are quite, quite free to say, “I won’t answer your question.” I assure you, I will wander off and not bother you again on this issue.

And for the second time, this is a rabbit trail and an obfuscation and I refuse to go down that road (I’ve touched on it in the past, including in person, and it was to no avail anyway. We both know what a logical contradiction is. You showed that you do by the post I cited of yours.

Your task was to show some contradiction in the Joseph of Arimathea accounts, and you haven’t done so. Period. If you were so confident in your case you would counter-reply and refute my post. Your “reasoning” here may have impressed your atheist friends who are already predisposed against the Bible, but no one else, I highly suspect.

Once it is exposed for the shoddy piece of polemical reasoning that it is, it looks rather foolish.

Nothing personal . . .

There has been a tremendous misunderstanding regarding my method of determining contradictions in accounts. I think you utilize a different method. In order to avoid committing the same misunderstanding, I wanted to first make sure what your method was. I have repeatedly asked a genuine question towards that end, and you don’t want to answer it.

That’s poppycock. You wanted a definition of “contradiction” and I agreed with the short one from Aristotle and then gave a link to a long article. I also cited your own words in a past article, thus proving that you understand the same definition.

I enjoy biblical and theistic discussions. But this…I don’t know what this is. You won’t provide clarification,

I did, as explained in the last post. That is quite sufficient. There is nothing at all suspicious, fishy, awry, with the four passages about Joseph. There is no indication that dishonesty or text altercation is in play. Yet you think there is something wrong about them. You haven’t shown it.

you (and your readers) apparently believe I am a blithering idiot

To the contrary, I have said several times that you are very intelligent. You have some false premises that lead you astray (like we all do at times; only a matter of degree).

(Seriously? You believe I am so stupid to claim it is logically impossible to be both rich and a council member? Really?) and you dislike the manner I respond.

Yet you make out that there is something suspicious about the passages. You’re the one who throws around the word “contradiction”. People have a definite idea of what the word means. The atheist polemic about Bible “contradictions” has a long pedigree. Don’t insult our intelligence by making out that we don’t know what you are trying to imply with your arguments there.

I once had a professor explain the value of charity in arguments. It is to FIRST assume I didn’t understand my opponent’s position BEFORE believing they are wrong. By doing this, often questions and clarity resolves many perceived differences before focusing on the issues.

Not seeing any of that here; not even seeing an attempt.

I clarified in three different ways what I mean by “contradiction” and you keep asking, and now accuse me of lack of charity.

You just don’t like being disagreed with.

So…have fun. Write with whatever derogatory terms you want, utilize invectives, insults and feigned umbrage.

Right . . . another atheist who can’t take any criticism and has to lash out at the Christian making it . . . how boring.

Make up whatever strawmen you would like about my position.. Avoid my attempts to clarify and explain. Don’t use charity towards my arguments, nor charity toward me.

And don’t ever engage the actual argument I made; just obfuscate and beat words to death, as if folks don’t know what the word “contradiction” means.

In short, do to me that which you don’t like done to yourself. (I thought you guys had a rule regarding that.*grin*) Knock your socks off. 

Have fun.

If I think it is worthwhile to refute further of your “alleged biblical contradictions” posts I will do so, whether you respond or not. Your choice. You chose to get all hot and bothered about all this.

Are you determined to make me agree with my friend Stan about your ego, after I defended you and eschewed personal remarks?

Problems with you only arise (as I see it) when you are embarrassed that shoddy reasoning of yours has been shot down. That’s not supposed to happen, so when it does, you don’t like it, and obfuscate by playing word games, bring it down to a personal level, or just split without reply (as in the abortion go-around).

It’s not that we think you are stupid (I certainly don’t). Usually it is the other way around: atheists routinely regard Christians as dumb and clueless about many things (including logic). Thus, you think that your criticisms of our faith, God, the Bible, will go unanswered, as if there is no possible answer. But we’re not gonna lay down and die (at least not apologists like myself). If you give a bad argument, then it’ll be responded to and refuted.

The hope is that you could recognize that you blew it and admit it. But no; instead we get all the histrionics and bitter renunciations of those oh-so-uncharitable Christians.

If you’re gonna write publicly about the Christian faith, then you can’t be so sensitive to any criticism. If you don’t want public exchanges with Christians, then just write privately to your buddies. It’s real simple.

DagoodS is now whining about how we Christians think atheists (and he himself) are stupid. I have never said that. I don’t think such a sweeping statement could be found in any of my writings (I critique individual arguments). Nothing in my writing against atheism remotely approaches the caustic, prejudiced nature of the following statement of DagoodS on his blog:

Look, we think theism is wrong. As wrong as a geocentric solar system. As wrong as a 6000-year-old, flat earth, global-flood, demon-possessing, Mary-in-a-Grilled-Cheese, geocentric solar system.

Which, like people wearing tin-foil hats to protect themselves from government rays, we would normally laugh off and let live their lives in peace. But Christians don’t stop there. They take these beliefs and discriminate against homosexuals, and attempt to push prayers on those who don’t believe as they do, and demand money (oh the money) and privileges to maintain these beliefs.

At that point I say, “No.” And they cry, “Intolerance.” (“New Atheism,” [7-9-10] )

This is how low he regards theism on the scale of things: like belief in a flat earth or someone wearing a tin foil hat, etc. He said it. I don’t see why we should doubt his word.

Now, if you think someone is this much of an idiot, why would you waste time debating him? Hence, DagoodS takes a pass in debating me. He’s consistent. I don’t waste my time debating flat-earthers. I don’t even debate geocentrists (as my readers well know from recent conflicts!).

As another example of DagoodS approach in debate, we went back and forth on the Bible’s view of women: Dialogue with Atheists: Sexist, Misogynist Bible? (9-20-10). His words were in purple. It was extremely involved, but in the end he left me in a position where I had to either be dishonest or admit that the Bible sanctions wife-beating or the-wife-as-a-slave. I wrote:

[DagoodS’] final post . . . left me the choice between being an advocate of wife-beating in practice and in the Bible, or being a dishonest, special pleading sophist, because I vehemently deny that what DagoodS claims is clear biblical teaching is what the Bible teaches at all. When those are the choices one is given (the two cages or rubber rooms they are forced into), constructive discussion has long since ceased to exist, because the opponent in effect “demands” that one be an evil or at the least, deliberately dishonest person.

True discussion becomes literally impossible under those loaded conditions. I refuse the choice and deny and reject both things. [DagoodS] thinks I can’t do that. Great; then [DagoodS] has exploded any possible discussion. His choice . . . not mine. I think even he knew that because he said he was done in the thread, and that insinuates that he believes I can’t possibly give any reply that would be worth any more of his time, because, well, I’m either violently evil or dishonest, and his position is self-evidently true (or at least infallible after he states and argues it). Makes perfect sense if one adopts the absurd and fact-torturing premises involved . . . But the inconvenient fact is that I don’t accept them.

This is how discussions with DagooDs end. We see how the present one did. This is how that one did. In our recent discussion on abortion in the Bible he simply said he had lost interest and was bored.

He doesn’t like being disagreed with. He’s not alone in that trait. Most people are like that, I find. He loves to lecture and put down Christianity (and sometimes Christians); he ain’t nearly as interested in the discussion once a Christian deigns to offer replies to his arguments.

In short, it’s DagoodS’ way or the highway . . .

I will talk to anyone who is willing, and I will do so cordially. But if the other party isn’t willing to do the same, good dialogue can’t happen.


Mutual friend and atheist Jon Curry then joined in the discussion (his words in green below):

Here’s a concrete example.

One biblical text says that Judas died by hanging himself. Another says that he died falling headlong over a cliff and his guts spewed upon the rocks.

By one standard (any logically possible reconciliation resolves the contradiction) this is not a contradiction. He could have hung himself on a springy branch that somehow broke and flipped him over to where he fell headlong over a cliff. But by that standard no two accounts of his death would be contradictory.

No; it is simply one speculative explanation for these two accounts.

If one said he was shot in the head and the other said he drowned you could say he was shot but survived long enough to make it to water and he drops his head in.

That’s entirely possible. One person could see someone shot and then fall, but not see him go into the water (obstructed vision). A second could miss the shot part, but see him go into the water and drown. Both are correct; both are incomplete as to the entire cause.

Die in a car accident and fall off a building. You could reconcile these in absurd ways. Not contradictory.

Nice failed attempt at reductio. Obviously there are degrees of plausibility, but you guys place the bar too high when it comes to the Bible: far higher than non-biblical matters.

By another standard (what is more plausible, the far-fetched reconciliation or that the two authors didn’t believe the same things) it is a contradiction. DagoodS uses this latter standard and Dave uses the former.

If they actually contradicted you would have a point, but they simply do not. You are predisposed to see biblical conflicts and clashes and “contradictions” so you see them. Our presupposition is biblical inspiration so we don’t see these like you do.

There are whole books about biblical difficulties to work through; we know that. But we don’t approach the Bible with a hostile outlook, just as a scientists is not against a scientific theory otherwise solid, but for some anomalies in it that can’t yet be worked out.

Is it really worth it to talk about [how atheists are] forgettable, use “flimsy reasoning”, come to “weak conclusions,” etc.? 

I can critique bad arguments, sure. Nothing wrong with that. It is only thought to be wrong by folks with thin skins who can’t seem to handle criticism. It’s nothing that yo guys don’t say about us all the time. So why the double standard? I can’t say that something is a weak conclusion? LOL

Dave, you say that you shouldn’t insult atheists like DagoodS and your next post says he would be “laughed out of introductory logic classes” 

He would be, with regard to this particular argument of his. I can’t help it if he uses lousy reasoning in discussing what a “contradiction” is.

He is just as shoddy in presenting basic NT facts, as I gave examples of a few comments up.

He says about Christians that we are fundamentally illogical and that theism is the equivalent of belief in a flat earth. Why don’t you condemn that in all your righteous indignation at insults (real and imagined)? But no, you gotta stick by your atheist friend (who refuses to defend his own arguments and instead wants to play word games and express outrage at how he is treated).

You guys can dish it out but you can’t take it. That much is very obvious.

Maybe Joseph of Arimathea doesn’t rise to the level of contradiction on the second standard of evaluating it. But why not at least acknowledge clearly that you are following a different standard? 

A contradiction is what it is, and is understood widely to be what it is. I refuse to yield up a definition that is so universally held (by atheists and Christians and three-toed green-eyed moth catchers alike).

Why don’t you and DagoodS simply reply to my arguments? Is that so difficult and incomprehensible? Instead you do the time-honored “method” of insulting the person you are unable or unwilling to reply to: go after the person rather than dispute his arguments.

and address J of A based on that revised standard. Do you think the insults are helpful? 

When you guys stop “insulting” what you think are lousy Christian arguments and beliefs I will do the same. Deal? I’m not one to mince words. If you can’t handle a “ridiculous” or an “absurd” here and there in my writings, then don’t read them. It’s a free country.

We all have to accept critiques and man up and defend our arguments in the teeth of them, or else retract and concede.

On 3-29-10 you wrote:

The present Pope appears to have had a hand in covering up child rape. Why not leave that organization and do good as part of another religion? Eastern Orthodox could use more members. They might do more good with additional support, and in that case maybe you’re not backing a wicked hierarchy.

So I either have to get out of Catholicism or I have little integrity and am an advocate of child rape. Very charitable and reasonable, isn’t it?

Meanwhile the atheist is accountable to no one: not even a God, Whose very existence he is foolish and brazen enough to deny.

Intelligent, non-belligerent atheists aren’t going to stick around very long in this environment.

You can split if you like. It’s irrelevant to me. I will continue to critique public statements of atheists (attacking my Christian faith and the Holy Bible) that don’t hold up under scrutiny. You can choose to respond to the critiques or not. If you do, then I’ll keep dialoguing with ya. If you don’t, then the reading public will see my critique with no reply from y’all and can make up their own minds.

This is usually how it goes. It’s nothing new. People of all persuasions (not just atheists) don’t like being disagreed with, and so they have various ways to escape being in that situation. I’ve seen ’em all, having been an apologist for thirty years. I know all the methods people use; all the techniques; all the post facto rationalizations.

I love dialoguing personally with people and trying to be friends with atheists (per my earlier comment) but if you can’t take criticism and must make every critique an ad hominem affair and digress into tedium about method (complete with glaring double standards), and then take your ball and bat and go home, then you do what you must, Jon.

I will keep presenting both sides on my site (since there is plenty of atheist material out there), make my arguments, and respect readers of all persuasions enough to follow the truth, as best they can ascertain it by reading both sides of an argument, not just one.

If someone royally dishes out strong criticism it is reasonable to assume that they can handle a vigorous reply. You guys are trashing my religion and faith and what I regard as an inspired document from God. I’m trying to be as nice as I can be about it, but given the insults that are inherent in all such atheist critiques, I should think that you would have a little bit of a thick skin in taking into account how outrageous these critiques are from a Christian perspective.

I still didn’t insult DagoodS as a person. I critiqued his arguments. Strong language there, sure, but nothing any whit worse than what virtually every atheist post blasting Christianity entails. So why is it that we cannot make any reply without the charge of being insulting, whereas atheists can always be as insulting as they wish? Why the glaring double standard?

You and DagoodS both made out that I called him “stupid” when I did no such thing. One of my friends did that, and he made a general statement (“the stupidity of atheists”). I immediately objected to it.

But you are right. We can go elsewhere. 

Yes you can. If you can’t take the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen.

I wonder if you don’t know this, but you come across very differently in written word as opposed to spoken. 

That can hardly be avoided in apologetics. It’s an occupational hazard. We’re always judged harshly because we disagree with folks. The reason is that writing is far, far more substantive and has infinitely more detail. I can critique things to the nth degree if I want to. In-person communication is vastly different. Even if I wanted to make the same points I do in writing, I would never have any remote chance to do so in a crowd of 8-16 atheists. I’m never allowed to talk that long: especially with DagoodS. I’m lucky to make the slightest argument about anything, let alone a sustained, elaborate one.

So I’m seen as a nice guy because I am courteous. But you want to make out that I am so vastly different in writing. I’m not. I’m just able to express more content, so that makes you angry because the Christian is never supposed to have an adequate answer to atheist profundities and wisdom. We’re always supposed to be the gullible dumbbells who believe in talking snakes and donkeys (as you delightfully pointed out in a moment of candor) and the cosmic equivalent of Santa Claus, etc.

When we’ve met you’re always very charitable and easy to have a discussion with. For instance I don’t think I have ever felt like you were being insulting.

Then if you thought about it long enough you would figure out that I wasn’t being insulting to DagoodS in this exchange. You should understand that, having met me.

If he would simply have answered my critique with a counter-argument, just as he does every day in his legal work, then we could have been discussing the issues rather than having this same stupid “meta-discussion” about how to talk and how I supposedly insulted his person when I did not.

I’m far more disgusted about all the “meta-discussion” and hyper-analysis of words than I was with the original argument itself. I want to discuss the issue (that DagoodS initiated and I critiqued), not all this garbage.


(originally 1-7-11)

Photo credit: geralt (9-2-17) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


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