Measured Against Reality

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Biblical Changes

This article raises an interesting point about the Bible: it has changed a lot over the years. Which is to be expected, in the times of hand-copying all works did. One book I’ve read (I think it was The Ancestor’s Tale) even used different copies of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to illustrate how mutation works.

But back to the point: the Bible changes. The percentage of Americans who believe that the Bible is literally true is large, but hard to pin down. I’ve seen numbers as high as 60% and as low as 10%, which raises a bunch of questions about those polls, but they’re beside the point. I’m curious as to how those people, however numerous, would respond to the fact that the Bible is different, in some cases very different, now than it was two-thousand years ago.

Because I can only see three possibilities:

  1. God inspired the Bible then inspired the changes.
  2. God inspired the Bible but men changed it.
  3. Men created the Bible and men changed it.

None of those possibilities bode well for literalists. The first is the best, but why would God change the book that he wrote? Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t make much sense. If God is perfect then why would his works need editing? Possibility two is worse, given that it means that man messed up what God wrote, but the basic message is probably still there. This is still problematic, because why wouldn’t God stop man from mangling his works?

The third possibility is the absolute worst, since it takes God completely out of the equation, and makes the Bible no more important than The Epic of Gilgamesh or the proverbs of Ahikar the Wise, or Moby Dick (the first two were picked as they predate the parts of the Bible to which they bear striking resemblance). This is also the most plausible, and it’s the conclusion that most Biblical scholars, like Bart D. Ehrman, reach. Ehrman wrote a book called Misquoting Jesus about this very topic.

The Bible is undoubtedly an important book, but not because it’s the word of God.

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  • Oh yeah, totally. The actual words have changed many times in translation. That's a clerical issue. This is what religious people argue about amongst themselves and it makes for very interesting debate and has in fact been the nature of theological debate since the Greeks, and the Hebrews before them. The Judeo-Christian, Western tradition- including Science -is predicated on a belief that reason and rationality are the source of wisdom. God is what we term the ultimate source of wisdom. Therefore if one believes in reason as the source of wisdom and morality (on a personal or social level), one believes in God.

    You believe in God, Stu. The principles that you've been talking about "as a godless source of Morality" are God as defined. We believe in exactly the same thing. the society in which we live is a fundamental product of our history and in turn, our history is tied to the civilization in which we live, and that history has always been predicated on exactly this philosophy. I'm trying to build a word for this, but for now the best one I can think of is "Us". This perspective acknowledges the flaws of mankind on individual and social levels and begs man to subdue his flaws (or sins, if I may borrow a term) with his reason and rationality, hard work and sacrifice. We know that we can never be completely pure, but we must every moment of our lives strive to be closer to purity.

    There is no way to derive morality outside of God because God is, means, expresses, and verifies morality. I think I have to take a mathematics course to write this out better, but I know that I am right. If reason is the only thing that means anything to you than you ought to admit that you believe in God. Things will start to make a lot more sense.

    The Scientific method is a tool among many, and this new atheism that you're buying into and Wired is writing about is nothing but another hypocritical authoritarianism. It's a self-contradictory fraud.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic!, at 1:32 PM, October 25, 2006  

  • You have a very interesting god, and you're probably one of a very, very small number of people to have that god. The fact is that when people say god, almost none mean what you say. Your god seems to be even smaller than the deist god, in line with Plato's great ideals (I don't remember what they were called, but Truth and Beauty were two, Reason was probably another).

    I don't believe in that god either, because rationality isn't the ultimate source of reason. If thinking alone could solve problems, then philosophers would be useful for people not interested in philosophy. Experimentation is how science works, not reason alone. Granted, you need both, but rationality alone is not fool-proof, an neither is the combination.

    But no scientist claims that science is foolproof; it clearly isn't. But it's the best method we have for figuring out how the world works, and so we use it.

    I think that there are plenty of ways to derive morality without god. You can start with a premise, such as "maximize happiness" or "minimize suffering" (which are not the same). Utilitarianism is decent, I think others are better. My personal favorite is mostly libertarian, which just says "let anyone do anything that doesn't harm anyone else." I think you could build a very robust and agreeable morality around that principle, but I shall not do that here.

    Reason is not the only thing that means anything to me, nothing is, in fact. Reason is important, but evidence is more important. I have never seen any evidence for any god existing, and I have seen plenty suggesting that one doesn't have to exist.

    This is the last time I'm going to say it, Dawkins and Harris and Dennet are not advocating anything authoritarian, they're not telling people what to do, they're not making anyone do anything. They're saying "I think religion is wrong/bad/unnecessary/whatever, and here's why." None of them want to stop people from being able to believe whatever they want, whether it's in god, the virgin mary, jesus, muhammed, fairies, santa clause, or unicorns. None of them want to infringe on any of your rights, or in your life in any way.

    Also, Wired's review was awful. It got torn apart in several different places (for example, here:

    Just to hammer this home, the definition of authoritarian:
    # characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule; having absolute sovereignty; "an authoritarian regime"; "autocratic government"; "despotic rulers"; "a dictatorial rule that lasted for the duration of the war"; "a tyrannical government" [certainly not this one, as a group atheists have almost no power]
    # likened to a dictator in severity [again, no power]
    # a person who behaves in an tyrannical manner; "my boss is a dictator who makes everyone work overtime" [nope]
    # expecting unquestioning obedience; "he was imperious and dictatorial"; "the timid child of authoritarian parents"; "insufferably overbearing behavior toward the waiter" [My guess is this is the one you're going for. But none of the "New Atheists" are saying that everyone has to follow them. All they're saying is that "we think we're right, here's why". Everyone else does it. Not authoritarian, now stop saying it. You're starting to look foolish.]

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 4:24 PM, October 25, 2006  

  • As to Dawkins, his own statements make his beliefs clear. I've read enough of him and reviews of him to get the idea.

    If your worldview values evidence above reason, then it will be eternally incomplete because there will always be gaps in both your personal knowledge and the greater collective knowledge of mankind. There are plenty of gaps right now, so we have to fill in those gaps by attempting to draw conclusions about the rest, through reason and rational thought.

    You dismiss philosophy as "worthless" and and embrace it at the same time. That's doublethink.

    Have you ever taken a philosophy or ethics class, Stu? I recommend taking one.

    The Holy Bible is a document written by man but inspired by God. Since we are defining God as reason and morality, goodness, virtue, and ultimately justice. How is it so hard to believe that the Holy Bible was written by human beings inspired by those principles. From that we know that things have changed in translation so we must take that into account. From there you can read a few different versions of the Bible and find the common truths, and read the writings of the religious scholars who have been hand-writing bibles for literally thousands of years. These are highly intelligent - indeed the most educated and thoughtful and moral men of their time.

    This was even before the advent of science and philosophy, which again stem from that same tradition of reasonable thinking that you and Dawkins are proposing as an "alternative to God."

    So if we acknowledge that fact, and then take into account your rantings about God and religious people as "fundamentalists" bringing us into a "theocracy" you are indeed talking about people who would agree with you on pretty much everything, except for the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that you already believe in God.

    I don't know what I haven't already proven. Google any of the things I've mentioned. I'm reading Leo Strauss right now and he's got it. The neoconservative thinkers are pretty close to it most of the time, and that's about where I am right now, but I'm still working on it.

    They're also pretty close libertarianism and to people like Ayn Rand and objectivism and modern center-right thought in general, which is always being debated within conservative circles. That's what I read.

    You believe pretty much everything that I do, and I believe pretty much everything that religious people - "fundamentalist" Christian conservative right-wingers - do. In fact I am one of them. I am not dogmatic though, but I am a thinking person. I happen to believe the conservative majority of this country agree with me about 99.9% of everything, so I must be one of them.

    So if we accept that I am one of them, your premise that "those religious Christian fundamentalists" are trying to impose a "theocracy" on you is ridiculous because it is a crass mischaracterization of religious people and the nature of faith in general.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic!, at 10:03 PM, October 25, 2006  

  • I will not mince words here. Your definition of god is beyond idiotic. I don't know how could honestly say that your god is "reason and morality, goodness, virtue, and ultimately justice" and think that it means anything. Your god is a strange conglomerate of abstract ideals that are positive, so it exists? That's so stupid that it's beyond describable.

    And don't even try a "god of the gaps" argument, which is so vacuous I hardly want to speak of it. If your god is one who hides in the gaps of human understanding, then he is small and shrinking. I never said that we understand everything, but I damn well know that we won't get there by saying we have to fill them right now. I am perfectly content to say "I don't know" about some questions, and waiting until the evidence is in. If it never comes, so be it, at least my answer was honest.

    I don't take philosophy or ethics classes because I don't have time to squander on those worthless endeavors. Besides, if it's anything like the shoddy thinking that I keep getting in my inbox from you, then I'm perfectly content in staying very far away.

    Stop telling me what I believe. I do not believe in a god of any form (not Abrahamic, not deist, and not your wishy-washy concept god), I do not believe most of what you do (which should be pretty damn clear by now), and I am really getting pissed off that you continue to tell me what I believe. For someone who jumps on me every time you think I say anything about anything you believe, you're pretty quick to put beliefs in my head. Stop. Now.

    Christian scholars may have been intelligent, and they probably were. So were Aristotle, Plato, Democritus, Heron, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and thousands more. And they've all been wrong about things. Your intelligent scholars may have the best writings in the universe on theology, but they're still wrong. And if you disagree, prove it. Otherwise, shut up.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 12:16 AM, October 26, 2006  

  • This article addresses the questions raised about the authority of the Bible.

    But, to put it into simpler terms, the value of a good modern translation of the Bible is that it takes into account the earliest surviving manuscripts we have to ensure that what we get is as close to the original as possible. Where manuscripts differ and scholars cannot determine a clear answer, the footnotes make it clear.

    In the case of the New Testament, most of it is in the form of letters to churches and individuals. Any good student of the Bible knows that you cannot take a verse literally on its own, but must interpret it in the light of the rest of scripture, and with regard to the cultural filters of its time. It's also a good idea to study more than one translation of the Bible, and preferably more than one type of translation.

    The Bible has more original manuscript backing it up than any other work of antiquity, and in fact the works of some people you mention, such as Aristotle and Plato, are pretty hard to identify:

    "It seems impossible to separate by any exact line the genuine writings of Plato from the spurious."

    By Blogger Falkayn, at 3:44 AM, October 31, 2006  

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