Dialogue w 4 Atheists Re Bible “Contradictions” Etc.

Dialogue w 4 Atheists Re Bible “Contradictions” Etc. March 12, 2021

This took place in the combox of the atheist Jonathan MS Pearce, underneath his article, “Differences, Contradictions and Speculations of the Resurrection Listed” (3-11-21). Respondents will be in various colors. I’ve already replied to several portions of the book mentioned in the article: Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions” (3-12-21).

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Geoff Benson: Oh it’s perfectly possible to contrive all sorts of solutions to the conundrums that contradictions present, and if you’re especially interested in working through them, the way that Dave Armstrong does, then you can perhaps persuade yourself that they aren’t inconsistencies. The trouble is that they are so numerous, so vast in number, that there must surely come a point where you say enough is enough. No, well probably not! And don’t think we aren’t interested in facts, it’s that what you see as biblical facts we see as mythological meanderings.

If there were any likelihood that the stories depicted in the bible were true then perhaps we might give more attention to your attempts to reconcile the contradictions. Unfortunately, almost every story has been proved to be untrue, especially in the OT. The nativity and resurrection accounts are now both regarded as interpolations that don’t exist in the earliest available copies of the gospels, and as there is pretty well no eye witness testimony to anything you might begin to understand why we continue to retain some scepticism.

This is the copout of atheist anti-biblical polemics. “There are just so MANY contradictions . . .!” But there can be long lists consisting of one lie after another and each one has to stand on its own and withstand proper scrutiny. And the Christian can in turn, produce our counter-lists (I have many of these myself), showing how atheist accusations are consistently and persistently wrong (therefore, if they are wrong hundreds of times, why believe that atheist critiques of the Bible are true and accurate and that the Bible is a fraudulent, ridiculous document?). How does one know that one side is right and the other wrong?

So laundry lists in and of themselves prove little. The argument on either side, however, does come down to cumulative effect (I do agree about that). And it becomes a matter of the nature of plausibility, which is an extraordinarily complicated matter.

I’ve read most of your ‘challenges’ that you have provided on your blog, and I can only say that they are far too long and convoluted to represent valid rebuttals of the contradictions and inconsistencies referred to. There’s far too much ‘messing about’ and waffle. Why not stick to a few lines? If you are addressing, for example, the number of women at the tomb contradictions then surely no more than ten lines of comment would cover the salient points. I think that’s why you aren’t getting much in the way of detailed response.

It’s an impossible demand. It’s not possible to thoroughly and effectively refute many alleged contradictions without writing (usually) at least twice the amount of words that it took to assert them.

If I give short answers, I’ll simply be accused of not taking the charges sufficiently seriously, and will convince no one. If I get in depth and thoroughly dismantle it, then the atheist comes back with your response: “too long”; “why should it be so difficult to defend supposedly inspired text?”; “why wouldn’t an omniscient God make it self-evident?” etc. Well, the nature of the reply is based on how complex and multi-faceted the charge of contradiction is.

So, for example, in one of my replies in the paper I just put up in response to the book mentioned in the OP, I got very in-depth, because it was a technical literary point that no one would even grasp, let alone accept, unless it was explained at some length and verified by several scholars.

It’s called “compression” of time or “telescoping” and is a phenomenon not only in the Bible but in classic Greek and Roman literature as well.

In the end, every argument has to be considered on its own merits. They can’t just be dismissed with a wave of a hand. If you have no interest, that’s one thing, But if you do, this response won’t do. You have to get down in the “dirt” of argumentation and give it your best shot in reply.

In my latest reply I answered 59 alleged biblical contradictions in about 6,000 words (an average of 102 words per reply). It’s hard to get any briefer than that in these sorts of discussions. But many of my replies were also links to article-length replies I had already done. And it took me about 12 hours to write it. Here it is: Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions”.

To tear down something is always much easier (at least on a surface level) than to defend it.

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ericHello Mr. Armstrong,

I have to admit, I think the whole apologetic approach is just backwards from legit scholarship. Taking your very first one as an example, yes it may be possible to make all the gospels align with the three days if you assume any bit of a day counted as “a day and a night.” And it’s possible to make the clock hour reports of the various gospels align if you assume Mark was counting hours one way but John was counting hours an entirely different way.

But for legit scholarship, there is no prima facie reason to do any of that assuming. One has to start with the premise that there must be one consistent story being told before doing that makes any sense. And if you assume that to start with, you are in a significant sense merely assuming what you are trying to convince nonbelievers is true. I.e. arguing circularly. An objective scholar not making the assumption that there must be a single consistent story under all these accounts would much more naturally conclude that the various stories report different details.

I hold to biblical inspiration on faith, but based on many cumulative reasons, too. That said, it is entirely possible to separate that logically from a defense of any particular proposed contradiction, because the latter boils down to simply a logical matter, not even requiring faith or Christian belief at all for one to comment upon.

How the ancient Hebrews construed these issues of time and chronology is indeed relevant to this issue of “three days and a night.” But it’s not rocket science. In fact, we talk in similar terms in our culture, too, per the analogies I gave in my reply:

It would be like saying, “This is the third day I’ve been working on painting this room.” I could have started painting late Friday and made this remark on early Sunday. If I complete the task on Sunday, then the chronology would be just as Jesus’ Resurrection was. The only difference is the Hebrew idiom “three days and three nights” which was not intended in the hyper-literal sense as we might mistakenly interpret it today. . . .

We speak similarly in English idiom – just without adding the “nights” part. For example, we will say that we are off for a long weekend vacation, of “three days of fun” (Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday).

But it is understood that this is not three full 24-hour days. Chances are we will depart part way through the first day and return before the third day ends. So for a Saturday through Monday vacation, if we leave at 8 AM on Saturday and return at 10 PM on Monday night, literally that is less than three full days (it would be two 24-hour days and 14 more hours: ten short of three full days).

Yet we speak of a “three-day vacation” and that we returned “after three days” or “on the third day.” A literal “three 24-hour day trip” would end at 8 AM on Tuesday. Such descriptions are understood, then, as non-literal. The ancient Jews and Romans simply added the clause “and nights” to such utterances, but understood them in the same way, as referring to any part of a whole 24-hour day.

And it’s possible to make the clock hour reports of the various gospels align if you assume Mark was counting hours one way but John was counting hours an entirely different way.

Indeed they were counting the hours differently: the Synoptics used Hebrew time, which started the day at 6 PM. John used Romans time, which was like ours (start at midnight). John refers to Jesus’ trial as being at the “sixth hour” (19:14). That would make it 6 AM Roman (and our) time, before when the Synoptics say He was crucified at the third hour, Hebrew time (9 AM our time and Roman time). We know that John used Roman time from other internal examples, such as John 1:39 (preaching at 10 AM rather than 4 AM).

None of this argumentation requires special pleading or circular reasoning at all. I’m simply showing how the objections are not strong or plausible and that Christian explanations are much more so. Each thing must be considered on its own.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation. Both viewpoints provide a bias. Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it. In that sense, I think the Christian premise leads to more constructive and productive Bible commentary and analysis. Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

Apologetics is a means to help Christians have a better understanding of how reason and faith are in harmony.

But that’s the problem: you can’t legitimately academically explore how they are in harmony if you premise/assume at the outset that they must be in harmony.

I very much doubt that when discussing Mormonism, you assume Moroni really did visit Joseph Smith and then talk about how the literary and historic evidence of events surrounding that create a better understanding of how reason and the Mormon faith are in harmony. That approach makes no rational sense to you, right? We shouldn’t beg the question of the Mormon faith being true, that undermines the entire analysis of the events! Well, you’re that guy. Just not the Mormon version of that guy.

What you are blasting is what is called presuppositionalism in apologetics. I’ve never been of that school. I make much more of a separation between reason and faith, while not forsaking the place of faith at all.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation.

Where did I make that assumption?

Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it.

I don’t despise or detest the bible. Where did you get THAT idea?

Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

And for a third time you attribute to me unfair motives and attitudes I’ve given you zero reason to think I hold.

For the record, I view the bible as a sincere work of scripture developed by many religious people over time. One containing stories, allegories, quotes, sayings, advice, poetic flights of fancy yet also practical letters to congregations, mundane historical claims and not a few remarkable miracle claims. I’m not trying to refute everything it says. I’m not trying to justify everything it says as consistent. I want to understand what it says, but I don’t think to do that one should either assume it’s fully consistent OR assume everything it says must be wrong/evil/incorrect. Either of those starting positions would seem, to me, to potentially lead to very poor scholarship. Rather I try to take it as it comes. Bears kill kids because they make fun of Elisha? Probably not intended as an allegory but as a recounting of an event. Seems pretty unlikely though. And pretty damn evil if true. Jesus preaching turn the other cheek? The golden rule? Also probably not intended as allegory but rather as a recounting of an event. This is pretty obviously moral advice meant to be taken seriously. And, it’s pretty darn good advice in my opinion. See how it works?

I was referring to atheists in general, not you, as I think was clear enough. I said, “the atheist assumption” (not “your assumption”). All generalities (like rules) have exceptions. So you are one. Congratulations. But it doesn’t make my general point invalid.

Since you are open to being corrected, I’d love to see you examine any article of mine where I take on an alleged biblical contradiction and admit that I got the better of the argument, and that the proposed critique utterly failed, so that the passages were not contradictory at all.

“Being open to” /= “admit you got the better of the argument.” This is, in my opinion, a pretty common problem with emotionally triggering topics; whether it’s biblical exegesis or politics or something else. People who strongly, emotionally favor a single outcome do exactly what you just did – they can’t understand disagreement as being anything other than misunderstanding or self-interest/close-mindedness. But in reality, it’s often neither. Your conversation partner may understand the topic, they may be open to arguments, have no ulterior motive, and yet they may still conclude differently from you. This is one such case.

You’re getting way off-track. I’m not talking about all that and you are wrong as to my overall opinion of such disagreements and their motivation. I’m simply noting what I constantly observe in atheist circles (usually anti-theist ones, which are not all atheists). Why anyone does what they do or argues a certain way is a much more complex topic, that is usually best avoided.

So are you willing to look at one of my papers and see if you can admit / concede that I was ever right about any particular anti-biblical argument, in front of your atheist buddies? I’m just about to post my reply to the book above, which takes on 59 separate alleged contradictions. That would be an excellent place to start.

If you can concede that I was correct, say, nine times out of 59 (which is only 15% of the time) then yes, I would readily grant that you have a significantly open mind, for an atheist not inclined to accept (or be gung-ho about) biblical accounts. And you would gain a lot of respect in my eyes, since I have always highly valued open-mindedness and nonconformity.

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation.

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Anri: One of these viewpoints posits that holy books are fallible. The other… makes a few more assumptions.

But if you think your average Christian is familiar enough with the bible well enough to actually know what’s in it aside from a few cherry-pickled points here and there, ask around. I would personally argue that a necessary but non-sufficient step in being able to say one reveres a work is to have a working knowledge of it.

To extend your analogy, your average Christian is neither swineherd nor butcher – they are a consumer of pork who honestly thinks it appears pre-packaged in the grocery store and is ignorant of the fact that it comes from butchering hogs.

I totally agree that “your average Christian” is very ignorant — inexcusably so — of many things in the Bible and theology. That’s why I do what I do. Apologetics is a means to help Christians have a better understanding of how reason and faith are in harmony.

My standard comparison is between the anti-theist atheist (often a former fundamentalist) who mistakenly thinks he or she is an expert on the Bible, vs. Bible scholars or at least someone sufficiently educated in their faith (in my case it is 44 years of Bible study and 40 years of active apologetics).

Atheists, however, very often love to run across Christians who don’t know their stuff (neither theology nor apologetics), so they can toy with them and toss them around as a plaything, to “prove” that Christians en masse are ignoramuses: indeed, that the entire system is nonsensical and absurd and only fit for mockery.

This is why I keep vocally objecting to the anti-theist tribe of atheists who refuse to defend their views under scrutiny. It proves that they aren’t interested in the standard thinkers’ back-and-forth argument. They simply want to preach to the choir and always appear unvanquishable. A lot of that is good old human pride.

Atheists, however, very often love to run across Christians who don’t know their stuff (neither theology nor apologetics), so they can toy with them and toss them around as a plaything, to “prove” that Christians are ignoramuses: indeed, that the entire system is nonsensical and absurd and only fit for mockery.

And you’re quite certain that this is not a case of atheists quite correctly identifying that what average, ignorant Christians believe is, in fact, highly nonsensical, absurd, and worthy of mockery?

Some of that takes place, yes (which was stated in my own comment). But it goes far beyond that to a failure to make distinctions between educated and uneducated Christians: to mocking the entire religion and belief-system and everyone in it, with sweeping statements. Extremely common here and on every atheist forum I’ve ever seen.

And might – perhaps – the atheists (and non-Christian theists) have a point that this confident ignorance brings a variety of evils into an ostensibly secular society?

Absolutely. And I have a point to make about radical atheist positions having a deleterious effect on a society that is largely theist in orientation: such as forcing taxpayers to fund abortion, when half of us think it’s murder or forcing nuns to provide or teach contraception: both things occurring right now or being vigorously pushed; also the vast amount of censorship and suppression of free speech being done by Big Tech. It works both ways. I think there is a lot of common ground which could be had. I could agree with much of, e.g., the Humanist Manifesto.

And that if the average ignorant Christian were able to be swayed by informed debate… they wouldn’t be an average, ignorant Christian?

Intelligent and constructive debate will cause conversions in both directions. Desire to learn and seek truth is a thing that somehow has to be cultivated and nourished in individuals.

Speaking for myself (and, I do not doubt, a large number of non-Christians, atheist and otherwise), I’d rather not have my life impinged upon by Christians, ignorant or not – but you know as well as I that that’s just not possible in the US.

I would largely agree, just as I detest having my free speech now interfered with and being forced to fund what I think is outrageous murder of innocents. Catholics, pro-lifers, and conservatives like myself have plenty of experience being suppressed, mocked, lied about, just as an atheist like you would have. We actually have a lot in common in that way. We’re people who strongly believe in certain things, and who seek to live by principles.

I don’t interfere with any atheist and how he or she lives his or her life. When I’m here I’m just talking and dialoguing like I do with everyone. If someone doesn’t like it, they can ignore me (I highly encourage them to do so). The ones who can’t do anything but insult, I simply ban and ignore. Good riddance. I love talking to people like you.

On a (possibly) separate note, should an atheist consider scholarly research into the Koran with the same weight they accept yours into the bible? How about other holy works? Should I take a scholarly analysis of, let’s say, Shinto, as seriously as yours of Christianity?

Everyone has to seek truth wherever it leads them. I naturally (especially as a professional apologist) think Christianity can be defended in a way that Islam cannot, and they think that of Islam. But there are objective ways to judge the relative strengths of arguments and evidence.

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FicinoPeople have been trying to harmonize everything in Plato for over 2000 years, and agreement has not been reached. Why not just say, with many other commentators, that some things said by leading interlocutors in Plato contradict things said by leading interlocutors elsewhere in Plato? The people who take the latter approach by and large do not despise Plato or assume that everything in his work is false or try to butcher it. Lots of them love Plato without going on to take the neo-Platonist view that Plato was “divine” etc.

Similarly with nonbelievers’ approach to the Bible – or even the approach of many less conservative Jews (re what we call the OT obviously) and Christians.

No one claims that Plato is inspired revelation.

In a working, practical sense, however, I’m not trying to prove biblical inspiration (which is ultimately a proposition of faith). I’m trying to establish non-contradictoriness of any given couplet of passages and accuracy and trustworthiness in the biblical accounts (insofar as they are able to be objectively critiqued: matters of history, geography, linguistics, the culture of the time, etc.).

I’m making a defensive argument and defeating the defeaters. In that sense, it’s irrelevant to the discussion itself, that I believe the Bible is inspired. I was simply being honest and open about that, in my replies to Eric.

No one claims that Plato is inspired revelation.

As I said, there were philosophers in antiquity who would refer to Plato as θεῖος. That’s what I had said in English.

Earlier in this thread you wrote:

I would also point out that the atheist assumption that the Bible must always be wrong and contradictory is no more “objective” than our premise of believing it is inspired revelation. Both viewpoints provide a bias. Generally speaking, not despising and detesting something makes for a better and more objective analysis of it. In that sense, I think the Christian premise leads to more constructive and productive Bible commentary and analysis. Atheists approach the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. The butcher has not the slightest interest in the hog. He only wants to slaughter it and cut it up.

My reference to the habits of commentators on Plato is meant to give an example of a willingness to let contradictions in a corpus be contradictions without therefore treating that corpus from an assumption that it is always wrong or approaching it as [not “like”] a butcher approaches a hog. There are many atheists who approach the Bible the way non-neo-Platonists approach Plato. It’s not hard to appreciate a body of texts while also noticing contradictions among things asserted therein.

I’ve never noticed that much here, and I have yet to find an atheist venue where such a tolerant, broad-minded outlook predominates. But there are individuals in any forum that do a lot better. I consider you one of them. You always offer thoughtful analyses, minus the childish insults.

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You’ll understand that mockery, in my humble opinion, pales in comparison with an opinion that someone deserves an eternity in hell.

Does anyone deserve a lifetime in jail? And if so, why? We all pretty much agree on the general parameters and worthwhileness of civic justice. Christians also believe in cosmic justice. If someone is evil and unrepentant (say a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot, to use the usual examples), he or she ends up in hell, not because God is a hateful monster, but because justice demands a punishment. Whoever is there, is based on their own free will and choices to do evil rather than good. God judges people based on what they know (Romans 2). Therefore, it’s possible for atheists to be saved (as I have written about for years).

But if someone knows there is a God and rejects Him (the question of what it means to truly “know” being the big question here)? Yes, they go to hell because that’s the nature of a separated eternity from God, Who offers every human being the free offer of salvation and an eternity in the utmost bliss.

That’s my nutshell answer! Of course, as an apologist, I’ve written a lot about the problem of evil (the most serious objection to Christianity) and hell.

It is in the nature of a complex democratic society that some of our tax money will go to things we find morally repugnant, such as foreign wars, or the building of weapons of mass destruction, or capital punishment, or tax breaks for religious organizations merely because they are religious organizations.

Good reply! But that’s fine because I was trying to make the point that the non-atheist conservative, Christian like myself has plenty of things forced on me that I don’t like, either. We have that in common, in other words. And (to rejoice in more common ground), I oppose all unnecessary and unjust wars (but not all wars, because some are just and necessary), use of nuclear weapons as intrinsically immoral (the Catholic official position), and capital punishment. I would even be happy with removal of tax breaks for religious folks, provided the (ever more secular) government would cease trying to repress our religious and free speech freedoms.

I would argue that secular states have done a better job of producing societies that are equitable and progressive than explicitly (and enforced) religious ones.

What would be examples of three of these “secular states” that you admire? And the US is basically a secular state, but with a profoundly religious background culture.

Do you think religious institutions, when in power, did not engage in censorship? And – unlike secular governments – did so as agents of the greatest source of morality in the universe?

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This goes for governments of all stripes and religious persuasions, although its obvious that atheist, anti-religious states have been exponentially more wicked than Christian ones: Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Mao’s China, China today with its slave camps and forced abortion and little religious freedom, etc.

The “evils” of past ages of Christian-run governments are vastly exaggerated (e.g., the Inquisition and the Crusades). I’ve had people with a straight face tell me that the Inquisition killed “68 million” people: certainly more than the entire population of Europe at the time. The actual numbers (from real historians) are less than 9without looking) maybe 7-8,000.

If a government condemns a type of speech, they can be voted out. How does one vote out god when he has condemned something?

I don’t see how your life is much affected by us Christians out here living our lives and wishing — just like you — to be free of coercion and forced immorality as well. Do you break down at the sight of a manger at Christmas? How does it work? Everyone gets insulted these days (as far as that goes; I understand a lot of Christians are very uncharitable to atheists, and I condemn that). Try being a Christian in an atheist forum (pretend sometime!). Most of the replies to me I don’t see because I blocked people who were only insulting with no substance, so I can utterly ignore them. But the insults are up here right now. You can see ’em.

Speaking as an atheist, I don’t much mind being mocked. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to rail against it. Mock away. Mockery doesn’t hurt me, in much the same was as – presumably – it can’t possibly hurt god.

My views exactly, too. I’ve been called absolutely everything; lied about in every imaginable way in my 24 years online as an apologist. It’s just a running joke to me. No effect on what I do whatever . . .

I don’t care to be lied about, either, but hey – it’s a free country.

That’s right. No one likes to be lied about. I’m sad for the people who do that, not for myself.

As far as being oppressed, I oppose forms of oppression based on religion… when this ‘oppression’ isn’t simply the removal of privilege for a group that has exercised it for so long, so unconsciously and prevalently, that they simply consider it their due.

What would be an example of such oppression?

So, when you claim that Christianity can be defended in objective ways Islam, or Shinto, or Hinduism (I am assuming you think this) cannot, what do you think is wrong with the reasoning of the scholars who continue to accept them?

All false worldviews are built upon false premises somewhere along the way. It’s as simple as that. So I believe as a Christian that Christianity has all the right premises in a way that no other worldview has (though many other views have many true premises and truths too).

Are Christians just that much smarter? Have they done their homework where adherents of other faiths – however otherwise well-educated – simply haven’t?

No. All religions (and all worldviews of any sort) have their educated, seriously observant adherents (a small number) and a much larger mass of uneducated sheep.

Or – to put it a less-snarky way – do you think it’s just a coincidence that most people end up in the faith they were raised in as children?

No. That’s how most human beings function. I’ve written about this stuff (replying to John Loftus and others, who love this argument: that I think proves nothing whatever s to relative truthfulness of different beliefs). Most people are sheep rather than free and independent thinkers, and so they end up with whatever they are surrounded with. I always rebelled against that, so I was raised Methodist and became a practical atheist with a big interest in the occult, then an evangelical Protestant, and at length a Catholic. It was based on a deliberate informed decision, not following everyone else.

Great discussion! Thanks! I hope we can continue for a long time.

***

Photo credit: geralt (1-31-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: Excellent and constructive dialogues with four friendly, serious-minded atheists in a large atheist forum. I discuss Bible “contradictions” but also note that we have much in common too.

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