Tuesday, June 3, 2014

One fact that all Christians, including William Lane Craig, miss

Back in January, I wrote a short post on this blog titled "The one fact almost all Christians miss." (Incidentally, I decided a few days later that there's another fact almost all Christians miss, so my title was a bit hasty.) Somehow, this blog post made its way in front of the very famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig, who responded in an interview about it with Kevin Harris. A transcript is available on Craig's Reasonable Faith website (Link).

It appears that Craig missed my point spectacularly, probably because he wears Jesus-colored glasses. The point I was making is simple--every reading of the bible is just an interpretation. As Craig amply demonstrates, he (and probably more than a few Christians more widely) gets that interpretation is necessary, but what they fail to acknowledge is that all interpretations of the Bible are ultimately unjustifiable and untestable--and hence not worth considering, particularly as candidates for The Absolute Truth™. This is one fact that almost all Christians miss, and it appears that William Lane Craig, the most noted apologist amongst them, has missed it as well.

Before I get to examining some of Craig's specific statements about what I said, I need to point out why he and almost all Christians miss this fact, other than the Jesus-colored glasses. Craig reveals it by spending a great deal of the time that he doesn't use to belittle me and my capacity to think clearly talking about the "science" (cough!) of hermeneutics. That's how he missed my point. It seems to me that Craig may think I'm arguing on his terms rather than saying that his terms are idiotic. Because a Christian cannot simultaneously maintain belief and believe that the terms of that belief are idiotic, the fact, and thus my point, is missed rather like a kid who swings a baseball bat so hard, and whiffs, that he spins around and falls over.

Though I'm not sure it deserves it, I'll do a little to respond to Craig's statements with the rest of this post, but I think I'll hold myself to answering his rhetorical questions about me in the main. That will, at least, be fun, and doing much else runs the risk of taking his terms too seriously, which no one should do.

Craig: "I wonder if he is at all aware of the whole disciple known as hermeneutics which is the science of interpretation."

Yes, I am. "Science." :snigger:
This one deserves a little attention, though, because this is another fact that many Christians, including Craig, miss. People live their lives by the interpretation of Christianity they pretend is The Absolute Truth™. They use their interpretation to guide their decisions, to inform their ethics, to feel super important about their ethics, and to browbeat people personally and politically on matters related to their ethics. 

We do not, on the other hand, do that with most other texts. We might engage in careful hermeneutics of Jefferson's letters to gather information about how he thought the United States should be ordered and play out, but outside of a band of people on the fringe, we do not order our lives or even the main working of our nation on the assumptions that (a) even if we determine what Jefferson truly meant and intended by his words, that they are The Absolute Truth™, and (b) that anything Jefferson said even is The Absolute Truth™.

This differs from what Craig and other Christians do with the Bible in an extremely important way. It also misses the other point I made--how on earth could differences in interpretation be resolved? There are an awful lot of interpretations of the Bible, and the only real "hope" of resolution comes down to interpreting a cobbled-together collection of mythological texts as if it is real and then using the "Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit" to declare victory. Of note, in 2007, Donald McKim published an authoritative Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, a book of more than 1100 pages chronicling the history of how, to quote John W. Loftus, "Biblical interpretation is like looking into a mirror since believers think that God believes whatever they do!" To read histories of Christian interpretation is to watch the vigorous branching of belief structures based on little more than "that guy's a heretic;" "no I'm not!" into some 40,000 distinct denominations, all of whom believe in their hearts that the others are all wrong in some degree.

Craig: "I think any reflective Christian is aware [that whenever you read the Bible you are interpreting this piece of literature]."

"God said it; I believe it; that settles it." Dr. Craig may not be aware that they make bumper stickers that say that and that people actually buy them and put them on their cars. I even saw one personally a few months ago.

I am so glad, though, that he said "piece of literature." Indeed. Thanks, Bill. That's rather my point.

Craig: "As we'll see as the blog proceeds, he gets into this post-modernist nonsense about texts having no objective meaning, and this whole thing is so self-refuting."

Huh? Craig seems to misunderstand that I'm talking about the Bible, not "texts" in general. This is probably because Christians fail to understand that the Bible is largely fiction. "Objective meaning" is such a weird phrase to use for a work of fiction.

Craig: "Any text, when you read it, has an interpretation, including Lindsay's blog. So as you say, this is about the breading [sic] and raising of hamsters. That's what this really is, and Lindsay has really helped us to see."

Um, Dr. Craig, I appreciate your attempt at satire, but, um, your cheese, uh, slipped off your, uh, cracker, sir.

Craig: "But actually, Kevin, I interpret it differently. I think here he is using irony and satire to emphasize how objective and true the Bible is. Really he wants to strengthen people's confidence and faith in the Bible. That's my interpretation of the blog."

Um, Dr. Craig, your, uh, cheese, sir.

But to give this a little attention, in no way do I suggest that Christians accept any interpretation of the Bible. That would be ridiculous. No Christian (that I'm aware of) uses the Bible to argue that the moon is made out of mashed potatoes. Christians use the Bible like a mirror, like Loftus suggested. They use biblical interpretation to reflect and pseudo-justify what they already believe.

Christians believe that death is a bad, scary lie, so they use the Bible to pretend they'll get to live forever. Christians believe that they are hugely important and that their mistakes and wrongdoings have cosmic importance, so they use the Bible to make sense of that. Christians believe that it sucks that life isn't fair, so they use the Bible to pretend that a loving God is in control. Christians believe that certain behaviors are bad, icky, or inappropriate, and while some (e.g. murder and rape--both occasionally condoned and commanded by the Bible) certainly are, others aren't, but Christians use biblical interpretation to browbeat people for arbitrary things (like how they dress, who they have sex with, what they eat, if they use bad fucking words, and whatnot).

The point I made, though, is that they don't have a way to resolve these kinds of thing. Catholics have to confess and eat crackers to go to Heaven; Protestants do all kinds of different things. Some Christians are mortally against birth control, abortion, homosexuality, racial integration, women not being a man's property, and so on and so forth, and other Christians hold opinions that radically oppose those--and all use biblical interpretation as their arbiter of, you guessed it, The Absolute Truth™, which they cannot know but excel in pretending to know, via biblical interpretation.

Craig: "Doesn't he think that there might be a correct interpretation [of the Bible]? That there is an interpretation that is true that reflects the meaning that the author [sic] actually had in mind?"

Thanks for asking. Yes. I do. It's ancient mythological ramblings by a variety of authors who didn't agree with each other, didn't have the faintest idea of how the world works, and were pretty barbarous. It belongs on a shelf wedged between the Bhagavad Gita and The Epic of Gilgamesh, near other titles like the Yijing, Odýsseia, and the Iliad. In a slightly different circumstance, we would find The Silmarillion on that shelf as well, but because it isn't ancient, we don't call it mythology and just recognize it as fiction. That's the correct interpretation of the Bible.

Now, that's not quite the question Craig asked. Do I think that there's an interpretation that is true that reflects the meaning that the authors had in mind? No. No, I do not. It's mythology, which hits like a Zeus-hurled thunderbolt on that "true" thing.

Here, I have to do a block-quote of their interview to make a short response,
Kevin Harris: He says, “Indeed, that interpretation of the Bible defines what passes as being 'true Christianity' and it is the role of faith to glaze over that fact.”
Dr. Craig: And that is obviously incorrect. You do not glaze over the fact that there are multiple interpretations of certain texts. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the meaning of the text, and in other cases the text is very, very clear and there is widespread agreement on the interpretation of the text. It will vary from passage to passage.
I'm not sure Dr. Craig is in touch with how the vast majority of the Christians in the world use faith. As such, he didn't respond to the point of that comment, which was the role of faith, along with the idea that some often-unique biblical interpretation, for most Christians, passes for them as The Absolute Truth™. Reading this part of their interview, then, is a bit like watching someone strike out at tee-ball.

Kevin Harris quotes me: "He says, 'This, then, brings us to the central question posed of all religious believers--a question that they cannot answer: How do you know your interpretation is correct? And it generalizes: How do you know any interpretation is correct?'"

Craig: "And the science of hermeneutics attempts to address that question. ... The science of hermeneutics attempts to answer it by laying down principles of literary interpretation about the meaning of words, the historical context in which the passage was written, the literary genre of the type of text that we are interpreting, and so on and so forth." (emphasis mine, both bold and italics)

You'd think after a couple of thousand years, instead of rampantly diverging into 40,000 denominations, each with a different interpretation, each filled with churches with variations on that interpretation, each filled with believers with variations on that interpretation, they'd have narrowed in on an answer instead of consistently diverging. And all the while they call it The Absolute Truth™. You'd think.

This "science" of hermeneutics is the problem, or rather its application to a work of fiction to obtain an interpretation that is not fictional and, indeed, isn't even real. It is one thing to work to interpret the collected works of Shakespeare to gain insight into the social and political realities of seventeenth century England because we actually know that seventeenth century England was a real place and historical period. Likewise, it is reasonable to interpret the Bible to gain insight into the times and cultures depicted in its pages, since we know those exist. It is not, however, reasonable to use it to draw conclusions about theology for the same reason it is not reasonable to use the Harry Potter novels to draw interpretive conclusions about magic. It isn't even reasonable to use the Bible to draw conclusions about many or most of its chief characters, again for the same reason that a careful hermeneutical anaylsis of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tells us absolutely nothing about Salazar Slytherin.

Craig: "Fine. So he wants to say that scientific models are more or less, I think, accurate descriptions of reality which are subject to revision. That is just fine. Now, why can't our interpretation of his blog be similar – we have a pretty good idea of what was meant by this blog and that is subject to revision."

I don't think they do, clearly.

Craig: "Maybe he will correct us; write you a letter, Kevin, and tell you, “Wait a minute, this isn't really about hamsters. Craig was right. This was an endorsement of reasonable faith.” [laughter]"

Yes, haha! Hahahaha! (Dr. Craig, your, um, cheese, sir....)

Craig: "He can correct our misinterpretation if we do so, but nevertheless I think we can say we have a pretty accurate handle upon what he wants to say in this blog."

Your cheese, sir...

Craig: "And see here is, again, this sort of naïveté where he fails to realize that the evidence is conveyed by language."

Sigh. Look, in some tee-ball circles, they give you five strikes, not three, before you're out. Pick yourself up out of the dust, hop back in the batter's box, and try again. If you want to know what I think about evidence, though, you can read that here.

It's not about conveyance of things by language. It's about not having any evidence by which you can settle theological disputes. The sciences, by comparison, luckily have lots of it, and they eventually reach consensus, and that consensus is affirmed whether people believe it or not. Christianity cannot--cannot--offer such a boast, though it could if some strain of it were actually true.

Craig: "Notice, Kevin, here there has been a shift from talking about the interpretation of literature to saying faith lacks this reality check in the evidence. Where in the world did that come from? I thought we were talking about interpretive principles?"

It came from reality mattering, not just talking in circles about interpreting literature.

Craig: "How do you interpret a piece of literature like the Bible, and how can you be confident or reasonably sure that your interpretation is the correct one? That has nothing to do with whether or not faith has supportive evidence for what it affirms."

Yes, literature that has nothing to do with whether or not there is evidence for what it's talking about. Exactly.

Craig: "I think his real agenda emerges in that last sentence where he has this kind of caricature of faith as belief in the absence of evidence."
 
A Christian apologist accused me of having an agenda. Fascinating. Faith as belief in the absence of evidence, though? Yes, absolutely. Caricature? Not so much.

Craig: "Well, I think it is all right to identify an agenda if something is agenda-driven."
 
Can you believe he said that? Has he ever read anything he's ever written?
 
Craig: "...he wants to enunciate a view of the interpretation of texts that would apply to the Bible and thereby undermine its objectivity and truth..."

Objectivity and truth? And the question has been begged.

Craig: "What would correspond to the material evidence supporting scientific models and theories would be the material evidence supporting the truth claims of the Bible. For example, archaeology and history that goes to confirm the accuracy of, for example, the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus and the early church. The book of Acts is so abundantly attested by extra-biblical literature concerning what it says that its historicity even in matters of detail, I think, cannot be doubted. So we have that kind of material evidence in support of the truth of the Bible."
 
I'll just say this part again: It is not, however, reasonable to use it to draw conclusions about theology for the same reason it is not reasonable to use the Harry Potter novels to draw interpretive conclusions about magic. It isn't even reasonable to use the Bible to draw conclusions about many or most of its chief characters, again for the same reason that a careful hermeneutical anaylsis of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tells us absolutely nothing about Salazar Slytherin.
 
Block quotes again:
Kevin Harris: I think so. I think the other agenda is: if the Bible is inspired then why are there so many interpretations and why are there so many denominations of Christianity?
Dr. Craig: Well, maybe so, but he doesn't raise that point.
That's pretty spectacular. First, we have Harris missing the fact that an obvious fact about Christianity is not an "agenda," and then we have Craig missing the fact that it was implied--indeed he responded to it at the beginning of the interview when they mentioned that I had written, "Whether we're looking at hyper-liberal Anglicanism, evangelical Protestantism, mega-fundamentalist literalism, Christian-Left Catholicism, C.S. Lewis's creedal "mere" Christianity, or anything between or beyond, every one of them requires a reading of the Bible that is an interpretation of the Bible." (emphasis original)


It's not even just that there are so many denominations, though, this being the more relevant point that I actually made. They disagree as fundamentally and radically as it may be possible to disagree on something, and they grow further apart over time. hyper-liberal Anglican John Shelby Spong would have been burned as a heretic only a few centuries ago, mega-fundamentalist literalists only sprang up in the wake of Darwin, Ingersoll, and Russell, et al., in the last 150 years, and within each we see seeds of more divergence. Consider blowhard super-conservative Catholics like the shills on FOX News (Bill Donahue comes immediately to mind) and compare them to the hyper-liberal Christian Left, which is composed of many Catholics who see eye-to-eye with the likes of Donahue on essentially nothing of substance.

Craig: 'That would then be something to discuss as well because certainly there are doctrines or passages in the Bible that we do not know exactly what interpretation is correct. There is a diversity of views on these. For example, one of the most notorious is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says, “If the dead are not raised then why are people baptized on their behalf?” Nobody knows what Paul is talking about because that, though known to the ancient Corinthians, is not something that has endured in church history so we don't know. There are all kinds of speculations about what the meaning of Paul's question was when he talked about being baptized on behalf of the dead. In a case like this, we just have to say, I think, that we don't have the resources to be confident how to properly interpret that question.' (emphasis mine)

My entire commentary, though I realize I'm taking it out of context, is the emphasis I added above. That and this: speculations.

This, though, is my point, and it's the one Craig missed with them. All Christian belief structures are just interpretations of a fictional text, not The Absolute Truth™.

Craig: 'But other things that Paul says clearly, like “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are of all men most miserable; you are still in your sins.” There it is very clear what Paul is asserting.'

Of all of the possible examples he could have chosen, he chose this one. I couldn't be more pleased--though he seems also to miss the point that being "still in your sins" isn't clear in meaning whatsoever.

---
NB: Since Craig was responding in an interview, I'll be courteous and charitable and will simply publish this as I wrote it the first time through, extemporaneously and without revision. Pardon any errors or lack of clarity, but I feel like it's fair to respond on a somewhat level playing field.


16 comments:

  1. And let's take something that's supposedly carved in stone. Ask a Catholic which verses make which of the Ten Commandments, get one answer. Ask various Protestants, get different answers.

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  2. You know I've been thinking about that myself....I mean, I would love for a secularist to tell me which ethical theory makes the most of the sense of the world that we live in.

    Is it Utilitarianism? (If so then Rule, Act or preference utilitarianism) Desire Theory? Kantian Ethics? Natural Law Theory? Feminist Ethics? Moral Nihilism? Hedonism? Virtue Ethics? Social Contract Theory, Humanism?

    I mean they all can't be true, right? So I guess that means secularism is automatically implausible, and we don't have to ........ooooooh wait? Herpa Derp derp, why iz... it.... dat dem secularismists get away with variety of interpretations regarding X, while theists don't?

    Once again James you've demonstrated the lengths of stupidity that people have to go through in order to dodge the implications of Theism.

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    1. I guess the most reasonable course then is to remain agnostic with regards to both religion and morality, then, huh? Herp derp, indeed.

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    2. But what do you mean by agnostic?

      Agnostic as in we don't know with certainty? (that adds up to a lot of beliefs of mine)

      Agnostic as in it's a 50/50 chance that X is right?

      Agnostic as in I really don't know, to the point where I can't even answer or give you an idea of where I stand?


      There are different views of what entails 'agnosticism' and they all can't be right, so how do we deal with this?

      Derpa Derp Derp

      I'm just going to keep parodying this silly OP until James or one of his fanboys gets my point.

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    3. I got your point a long time ago. You don't know what the hell you're talking about, but you're very proud of it.

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    4. "But what do you mean by agnostic?"

      I mean *I don't know* which ethical theory is true, if any currently in circulation. But that doesn't entail that nontheism should be abandoned by any means. It's a complete non-sequitur. However, I do know that morality does not originate from a tribal war deity who commanded the wholesale slaughter of woman and children or who demands that a woman's hand be chopped off if she grabs a dude by the nutsack.

      On the other hand, if we don't know which religion or sect is true, then, we fucking don't know which religion or sect is true. So your analogy is shitty.

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    5. James

      "I got your point a long time ago. You don't know what the hell you're talking about, but you're very proud of it."

      Oh so I don't know something....eh, because you said so, right?

      So do you mean that as a pragmatic truth or some kind of realist version of truth? Remember they can't both be right, so which theory of truth are we going with?

      Remember

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    6. bb

      "I mean *I don't know* which ethical theory is true, if any currently in circulation. But that doesn't entail that nontheism should be abandoned by any means. It's a complete non-sequitur. However, I do know that morality does not originate from a tribal war deity who commanded the wholesale slaughter of woman and children or who demands that a woman's hand be chopped off if she grabs a dude by the nutsack."

      Ah so you're a moral objectivist then? Well that narrows things down. Do you KNOW if moral objectivism is true? That is to say

      "commanded the wholesale slaughter of woman and children or who demands that a woman's hand be chopped off if she grabs a dude by the nutsack" this act of commanding Is objectively WRONG?

      "On the other hand, if we don't know which religion or sect is true, then, we fucking don't know which religion or sect is true. So your analogy is shitty."

      Well maybe you don't know, but how much studying have you actually did in this subject? I find most atheists to be pretty lazy when it comes to this area

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  3. I just stumbled upon this blog, and find it quite entertaining. For someone who so forcefully makes ridiculous claims of objective truth, he is constantly bogged down in logical self-refutation of his own dogma.

    I have always found the argument that multiple 'interpretations' or 'denominations' of Christianity somehow invalidates all of them, to be quite fallacious as it makes no justification for the truth in any of them. If the argument is that 'group A thinks the world is flat' and 'group B thinks the world is round' and 'group C thinks the world is square' means that there is no objective truth about the world, then I wholly reject such an argument.

    Christianity is based on the Bible, not however many denominations there are. The author of this blog seeks to argue that the Bible is written in hieroglyphics, where every word can be interpreted to mean anything. This argument is nonsensical. When the book of John was written in Greek and states that Jesus said 'I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me' it is exactly what was said. So if any denomination states or believes that you need a priest or someone else to reach God, they can be dismissed as hypocrites if they claim the banner of Christianity or the sanctity of Scripture.

    Even though we live in the era of Bill Clinton asking what the meaning of 'is' is, the The Absolute Truth™ is that words have meaning that falls along a much smaller spectrum then the author would like you to believe.

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    1. "I have always found the argument that multiple 'interpretations' or 'denominations' of Christianity somehow invalidates all of them, to be quite fallacious as it makes no justification for the truth in any of them. If the argument is that 'group A thinks the world is flat' and 'group B thinks the world is round' and 'group C thinks the world is square' means that there is no objective truth about the world, then I wholly reject such an argument."

      Your interpretation of the argument is uncharitable. The argument is, since god has so poorly communicated his eternal, objective, absolute truths to mankind, and with heaven and hell apparently on the line, we should be deeply suspicious that any brand of Christianity (or any other religion) is true. That's not to say one particular branch isn't true, but that's is unlikely given the facts, and dogmatism about one's particular branch is just silly.

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  4. "When the book of John was written in Greek and states that Jesus said 'I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me' it is exactly what was said. So if any denomination states or believes that you need a priest or someone else to reach God, they can be dismissed as hypocrites if they claim the banner of Christianity or the sanctity of Scripture."

    And you are, without any irony, declaring that those who interpret the Bible differently than you are hypocrites, while ignoring the fact that you are relying on your interpretation of the Bible. But, as you know, the Catholics don't agree with you, because (and this is the part you need to absorb), they interpret the Bible differently than you.

    I'll say this differently so that maybe you (and others who end up here) can try and wrap your head around all this. Here's the basic problem.

    1. God only showed up in the Bible (because God doesn't show up in real life). [If you disagree, tell me about how God walks and fights with you, talks with you, let's him touch you, squats in the bushes like the rest of us, as he does in the Bible, etc.]
    2. Without God showing up in reality, and only appearing in the Bible, there's no way to check or examine anything else besides the Bible. You can't compare your interpretation above to, say, statistics today about who is and who is not getting into heaven.
    3. Christians are stuck in situation like this -- imagine if Gravity only worked during the lifetime of Isaac Newton, and all we had to go on were his observations and explanations. Without any other reference in reality, we would never be able to check if what he said was accurate, nor be able to improve on his observations and explanations in the way we have. All we would have would be dead letters, describing something that we cannot check or examine ourselves.

    And that's the situation Christians face. You have the Bible, and nothing before or after it with which it comports. Hence, well, the problem you face. (You have a bigger problem with gullibility, but this post generously allows that were the Bible even actually true you'd still face the same problem of only having interpretation with which to make your best guesses about what the Bible describes.)

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  5. The point is being missed. Any argument that seeks to prove or disprove the validity of an argument by using an argument by popularity is always fallacious. There is a large group of people who believe the Holocaust never happened. So how are we to determine if the event actually took place? How do we discover the truth for ourselves? Well, as I said previously, truth exists completely isolated from any other belief regarding it. No matter how many people believe the Holocaust happened or not has no bearing on the truth that it did. (Of course we can't claim 100% certainty on any past event, only seek to come to our own conclusions that we feel is rational given common sense and evidence. Neither you nor I know if the Holocaust actually happened with full certainty.)

    If we discuss any other text, we can see that it would sound preposterous to treat it in such a manner as the author of this blog does to the Bible. If we looked at Harry Potter, would it be correct to hold a belief that Harry Potter was a girl, or that Harry didn't miss his parents or that Hogwarts was in the center of New York City? Of course not. Why? Because the text proves that these beliefs are false. Who would argue with such a claim? And yet, when it comes to the Bible, the author would argue that words are somehow infinitely malleable like some kind of religious silly putty, being able to be bent or molded to conform to any doctrine or belief. I simply don't understand how anyone can take this broad view that runs contrary to common sense. We read statements everyday such as 'Merge Ahead' or 'Bridge Out' or 'Hot: Do Not Touch' and we have no reason not to take these statements for the message they are trying to convey.

    Now, understand that this makes no assumptions on whether the surface is actually hot, or the merge actually exists, but only that we fully understand what the message is conveying using our common language. In the same way, whether or not the Bible is true, it is a document which makes statements using language and there is nothing intuitive to believe they say otherwise. There is no decoder ring or rosetta stone needed to read what the Bible says, it is written plainly to be read plainly.

    Truth exists outside of individual beliefs regarding truth. The doctrines in the Bible are quite clear and while there are some lesser tenants that may be open to interpretation, the vast majority aren't. Catholicism, for example, can be shown to be either in-line with the Bible or not. It is a truth that we can prove without the input of anyone else.

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    1. Jason: "And yet, when it comes to the Bible, the author would argue that words are somehow infinitely malleable like some kind of religious silly putty, being able to be bent or molded to conform to any doctrine or belief."

      Not only do I not, I explicitly say in this response that I do not. They're warped to a surprising number of utterly contradictory views, though, as the Westboro Baptists on one hand and Jack Spong on the other amply demonstrate. Of course there are limits on Biblical interpretation, but it doesn't make any of them right, but this misses the bigger point.

      The bigger point is plain: there's not just not much to go on to determine which interpretation of the Bible is correct, there's effectively nothing outside of minutiae, the "Hogwarts in NYC" kind of stuff. You've bought Craig's mistake that I went postmodernist with my original piece, and this one, and ran with it, when the whole point of this response was to indicate that Craig was 100% completely wrong about that.

      Jason: "There is no decoder ring or rosetta stone needed to read what the Bible says, it is written plainly to be read plainly."

      Which version, in which language, using which translation, and, and here's the big, hard kicker, interpreted by whom? The Methodists don't interpret it the same way the Catholics do--and they possess absolutely no effective way to resolve this difference. The Pentecostals don't interpret it the same way that the Methodists do--and they possess absolutely no effective way to resolve this difference. William Lane Craig does not interpret it the same way that Justin Welby does--and they possess absolutely no effective way to resolve the difference. This is all because they're interpreting a mythological story in a way that simply doesn't apply.

      Barring the degree to which it can be considered historical, almost no two atheists disagree on their interpretation of the Bible, though: ancient mythological literature (that shouldn't be taken too seriously). And how do they all come to this agreement--by seeing copious evidence for placing it in exactly the same class of text as all of the other ancient mythological literature that all of scholarship, including Christian "scholarship," agrees is just that (and shouldn't be taken too seriously).

      Jason: "Catholicism, for example, can be shown to be either in-line with the Bible or not. It is a truth that we can prove without the input of anyone else."

      How?

      No, really, how?

      Be careful, though. Referencing a particular interpretation of the Bible is going to be a pretty bad tool for doing this unless you can find some kind of independent corroboration for that interpretation. (HInt: you can't because it doesn't exist, and if it did exist, we'd all believe that brand of Christianity because it would actually be true.)

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    2. Mr. Lindsay,

      I first want to thank you for replying to my post. It is an honor that someone with your credentials would rub shoulders with us common folk. (I mean that in the most respectful way.)

      I understand what you are trying to convey, but you are still one step short of a logical argument I'm afraid. Disregarding the Bible's historicity or lack thereof, if a group self-identifies with the doctrine and tenant of the Bible, then you can only base their truth against that book.

      You keep speaking of interpretation where none is needed and I have seen no evidence of your assumption that it does. When you pick up the Wall Street Journal and read that crude oil prices have been steady over the past six months, who interprets that statement for you? Who do you trust to tell you what that actually means? Maybe six months means six thousand months? Maybe oil is a codeword for some nefarious drug trafficking ring? Do you see how silly this is? You don't require someone to interpret it for you because it is already interpreted and there is no evidence that there lies a hidden meaning 'behind' the literal meaning.

      So when we look at a group such as the Westboro Baptist Church, we can compare their actions to their self-identified Scripture they claim to follow. I'm sure someone as knowledgeable as yourself would concede that the Bible does not condone hating our fellow man, and that Jesus taught us to love everyone, even our enemies and to forgive others.

      Now, you might say you disagree with that, and that you think they are just as right in their interpretation as I am in mine but I think that would be a disservice to both our intellects. Just as I can read the newspaper and understand the meaning behind written words and sentences, so too does the Bible contain statements that are plain and unwavering, without hidden meanings.

      Also, the bigger picture exists as well which has not been touched upon, and that is that salvation and a relationship with God exists in a personal vacuum. In the end everyone is a denomination of one and will have to give account for their own lives and actions.

      But I digress, in the end, you still have not shown any evidence that the words of Scripture are not to be read and understood how they are written in human language. Just because there are people who claim to read meanings into a text does not make it so, nor does it invalidate the truth of what the text actually says.

      I find it hard to believe that an author such as yourself, if handed a Bible, would sweat and pour over it, trying to understand what you are reading.

      It is one thing to disagree with what the Bible says, it is another thing entirely to claim it says nothing, or everything.

      Jason

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    3. Jason, you don't seem to have comprehended a single idea in this post.

      Please remove your Jebus glasses and try once more.

      Your ancient book of myths is so convoluted, primitive, asinine, barbaric and full of Stone Age bullshit that any thinking person in 2014 should be embarrassed to associate themselves with it.

      A god/human blood sacrifice was offered up to the Diety in the sky two thousand years ago in ancient Palestine!!????

      Hoooooooooly Shittt!!!!!!!!

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