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Seidensticker Folly #69: “Difficulties” Aren’t Contradictions

Seidensticker Folly #69: “Difficulties” Aren’t Contradictions January 4, 2021

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But b10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 68 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, follow this link: Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

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In his post, “Stupid Christian Argument #40: Interpret Difficult Passages in Light of Clear Ones” (1-2-21; update from 7-21-16), Bob wrote:

This argument is an attempt to wriggle away from Bible verses that make God or Christianity look bad or that contradict each other. “Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones” is advice from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (page 48).

McDowell makes clear that difficult isn’t actually the issue—it’s contradictions that are the problem.

Nice try. McDowell is talking about biblical passages difficult to interpret. That’s altogether different from an assertion that a contradiction is necessarily present. Bob simply blithely assumes that biblical contradictions are everywhere. Hence, he starts this ludicrous article out by writing, How can Christians maintain their belief when the Bible is full of contradictions . . .?” Imagine if I said that about atheism?: “How can atheists maintain their belief when atheism is full of self-contradictions?” I do actually believe that, and think I have demonstrated it many times, but simply saying it [to an atheist] is no argument in and of itself. It has to be proven.

And so Bible-Bashing Bob, of course, thinks he has demonstrated biblical contradictions times without number. And I myself have refuted his nonsense 68 times (this one being the 69th). Proof’s in the pudding. Any serious argument will be able to be defended against criticism. And so, of course, Bob defends his argu . . . . er, sorry, I misspoke. Bob never defends his arguments against my critiques. Does that suggest that they are strong and beyond refutation? No, not at all. Quite the contrary. Bob continues:

The mere existence of what McDowell euphemistically calls “difficult” passages is a problem that few apologists admit to. How could verses conflict in a book inspired by a perfect god, even if some argument could be found to harmonize them? If conflicting verses exist, doesn’t that make the Bible look like nothing more than a manmade book? How could God give humanity a book that was at all unclear or ambiguous? 

This is shallow, unreflective thinking. I can think of a number of sound, logical reasons why such a book would exist:

1. The Bible is a very lengthy, multi-faceted book by many authors, from long ago, with many literary genres (and in three languages), and cultural assumptions that are foreign to us.

2. The Bible purports to be revelation from an infinitely intelligent God. Thus (even though God simplifies it as much as possible), for us to think that it is an easy thing to immediately grasp and figure out, and would not have any number of “difficulties” for mere human beings to work through, is naive.

3. The Bible itself teaches that authoritative teachers are necessary to properly understand it:

Nehemiah 8:1-2, 7-8 (RSV) And all the people gathered . . . and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. [2] And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, . . . [7] . . . the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. [8] And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading

Mark 4:33-34 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; [34] he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything

Acts 8:27-31 “And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship [28] and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. [29] And the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’ [30] So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ [31] And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

2 Peter 1:20 “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-16)

Moses was told to teach the Hebrews the statutes and the decisions, not just read them to the people (Exod. 18:20). The Levitical priests interpreted the biblical injunctions (Deut. 17:11). Ezra, a priest and a scribe, taught the Jewish Law to Israel, and his authority was binding (Ezra 7:6, 10, 25-26).
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4. All grand “theories” have components (“anomalies” / “difficulties”) that need to be worked out and explained. For example, scientific theories do not purport to perfectly explain everything. They often have large “mysterious” areas that have to be resolved.

Think of, for example, the “missing links” in evolution. That didn’t stop people from believing in it. Folks believed in gradual Darwinian evolution even though prominent paleontologist and philosopher of science Stephen Jay Gould famously noted that “gradualism was never read from the rocks.”

Even Einstein’s theories weren’t totally confirmed by scientific experiment at first (later they were). That a book like the Bible would have “difficulties” to work through should be perfectly obvious and unsurprising to all.

5. Many proposed “Bible difficulties” are based on illogical thinking or unfamiliarity with biblical genre, etc. Many alleged biblical “contradictions” simply aren’t so, by the rules of logic.

6. Christianity is not a simpleton’s religion. It can be grasped in its basics by the simple and less educated; the masses, but it is very deep the more it is studied and understood. Thus, we would expect the Bible not to be altogether simple. It has complexities, but we can better understand them through human study, just like anything else.

7. All complex documents have to be interpreted. When human beings start reading them, they start to disagree, so that there needs to be some sort of authoritative guide. In law (by analogy), that is the Supreme Court. The U.S. Constitution might be regarded as true and wonderful and sufficient, etc. But the fact remains that this abstract belief only lasts undisturbed as long as the first instance of case law in which two parties claim divergent interpretations of the Constitution. 

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Photo credit: jc_cards (4-17-11) [PixabayPixabay License]

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