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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In The Beginning - (Warning, this post make religious statements!)

So it says at the top that this blog will cover several topics, one of which is religion.  I've kind of nibbled around the edges with more philosophical musings, and some thoughts on the philosophical and religious implications of modern science, specifically quantum mechanics. 

This one's different.  I'm going to take on a central tenant of some Christian churches, namely, what is the Word of God?

Without getting into which is which, some denominations state bluntly that the Bible is "The Word Of God", inerrant, the source all dogma and the founding "constitutional" document to which all questions are referred.  A friend recently posted on his Facebook page that the Bible held up well against other similar ancient documents when compared to archeological research, but I think this misses the point.

The claim is that the Bible is the actual verbal or written musings of an omnipresent, omniscient being who transcends space and time.  Yet the Bible is full of things that contradict modern knowledge, scientific and archeological:

  • The 7 Day creation.  If this is true, then a whole lot of science is invalidated, or vice verse.  You can't have both The Bible and evolution be true at the same time, no matter how many impossible things you might believe before breakfast. The only consistent, logical outcome is to believe in one, and dismiss the other as untrue.  Those who reject science in favor of creationism are at least being logical, if misguided.  Personally I prefer to follow the evidence from astrophysics, geology, biology, chemistry at just about every other branch of physical science.  The evidence for evolution and an ancient Earth is overwhelming.
  • The Global Deluge.  Nice story of Noah and his Ark, but there is not geological evidence to support it.  There are similar flood stories in many cultures, which some say shows it likely happened, but I think, given the claim of inerrancy in the source material, (Genesis,) it shows the opposite - a common folk tale told as fact by a writer in antiquity.  Some think the flood tale may be the result of the creation of the Caspian or Black Seas, as sea levels rose and the Mediterranean broke into what were agricultural lowlands in the ancient Fertile Crescent.
  • The Israelite Sojourn in Egypt.  This is the well known story of how Joseph led the Isrealites into Egypt, where they were enslaved by the Pharoahs and forced to build the pyramids, until God caused Moses to lead them into the Promised Land, breaking the Egyptian chains with plagues and parting the Red Sea.  The trouble is, that only the Hebrew Bible tells that story, no other sources (such as Egyptian tablets and scrolls) make mention of the rather dramatic events.  Wouldn't you think the Egyptians would have made some note of such things?  And that prior to Moses, we would find things like slave auction notices and bills of sale, which we do from almost every other slave holding culture?  The genetic evidence shows that the Isrealites were actually Canaanites who developed a separate culture in place, and the Exodus is just a founding myth (that has been extremely effective).
  • Many other tales miracles in the Old Testament.  For example, the tale of a Judge (Samson) whose physical strength was proportional to the length of his hair (a very similar tale spread in dark ages France about the Merovingian kings, who wore their hair long and claimed they could not be beaten in battle - until they were).  The walls of a city (Jericho) falling to the sound of trumpets.  Apologists try to find explanations for all of these, but either they were bona fide miracles (that don't happen today) or they are myth, legend or simply embellished history.
I'm perfectly fine with the idea that the Old Testament/Pentateuch etc are a mixture of myth, legend and real history, as some of it surely is - for example the capture of Isreal by Darius in the great Persian Empire.  Where I diverge is the idea that the Old Testament can be the work of God (as an author), and in particular be the "Word" of God, this omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent being.  How come He didn't get His facts straight?

The New Testament is somewhat different. I'm not going to get much into whether it is historically accurate - in fact it seems to be very accurate indeed, although a couple of straight forward self contradictions are recorded.  For example, how did Judas the Traitor actually die?  Matthew 23:3 says he hung himself in remorse after returning his blood money to the priests and elders.  Acts 1:18 says Judas used the money to buy a field, and there he fell over and his body burst open, and he died.  They can't both be true.    Also, although Mark, Luke and Mathew agree on the basic narrative, they disagree on the order things happened, and when they quote Jesus, the words are not the same.  Not quite an inerrant recording of events, in any case.

So what's my conclusion?  I think the Bible says what it really claims to be: "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).  And the key part is here, at the beginning of the Gospel of John: "In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God", followed by "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us".

Isn't it clear that no written thing is the Word of God?  The Bible makes it very clear that it doesn't claim that for itself.  It (or rather, John and Saul/Paul) makes the claim that Jesus = The Word of God, although according to the four gospels, Jesus never called himself that.  He said he was "The Son of Man".  But that's a different topic altogether.

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