Another scholar claims that everyone misinterprets the Bible

This time it’s Joel S. Baden, an Assistant Professor of Old Testament (what a title!) at the Yale Divinity School.  Over at PuffHo (the religion section this time), he discusses “The problem of rationalizing the Bible.

The good part of his piece is his criticism of people who take the Bible literally, especially the “miracles” like Noah’s flood, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on, but then go on to explain these things as natural occurrences. The Red Sea parting, for instance, has been imputed to strong winds, and we’ve seen how BioLogos rationalizes Adam and Eve as not the literal progenitors of humanity, but a God-designated “federal headship” of two chosen among many.

This is the “rationalization” Baden decries:

The problem, however, is that none of these theories about what happened are, in fact, what the Bible says happened. The Bible doesn’t say that a comet struck the ocean, or that there was global warming, or that it was low tide or that the Israelites ate lichen (or worse). It says that there were miracles, originating entirely with God, to punish or protect, to destroy or to save. Miracles cannot, by definition, be natural occurrences, no matter how rare or remarkable.

Okay, but the faithful could still maintain that there are miracles.  Baden’s taking the scientific high road here, and simply dismissing the possibility of miracles, as a good Biblical scholar should.

The parsimonious interpretation, given Baden’s respect for science and his status as a Biblical scholar, is that these stories are simply made-up parables that reflect the infancy of our species.  But he can’t do that.  He has to save God somehow, and he does:

It is not that the Bible reflects the state of knowledge in an earlier, pre-scientific culture, and that we who are more enlightened have the capacity to understand the events in the Bible more accurately. The Bible is not a record of ancient observations; it is a grand theological statement about God’s interaction with humanity and the world. Rationalizing its stories does not “explain” the Bible. Rationalizing, in fact, obscures it.

We cannot have it both ways. The Bible cannot both be a foundation of faith and conform to modern notions of scientific rationality. Nor should it. For true believers, naturalistic rationalizations undercut a central message of the Scriptures, that God intervenes in human affairs. Skeptics must wonder why any attempt is being made in the first place to prove that biblical events really happened. The Bible may be couched as historical narrative, but the claims it makes are claims of faith, which no amount of positive or negative data can alter. . .

Miracles are articles of faith, for true believers today and for the Bible as well. Whether they actually happened or not is debatable. But to chalk them up to freak occurrences of nature is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature both of the Bible and of belief in it.

I find this whole essay confusing. First Baden says that science says miracles don’t happen, and then at the end says that miracles might have happened: they are “debatable.”  He doesn’t explain why God couldn’t have used strong winds to part the Red Sea. In that sense, miracles could be natural occurrences, just ones that are extremely improbable, like all the air molecules moving to one side of a room. And those improbabilities could have been the work of God.

Baden draws a distinction between “true believers” and “skeptics” (presumably atheists), appearing to take no position on whether the Bible says anything about God, but then he also claims that the Bible is a record about God’s interaction with humanity and the world.

So I’d like to ask Baden three questions:

1.  Do you believe in God? And if so, what evidence do you have for such a being? When I first read the essay I thought he was being an atheistic Biblical scholar (I’ve met some), but his Yale bio says that he’s Jewish.

2. What about the little matter of the NEW Testament?  Was Jesus born of a virgin and resurrected? If not, then of course all of Christianity collapses. Or, being a Jew, do you take no position on that issue?

3.  You say that the occurrence of miracles is “debatable.” What is your position on this questions, and if you think there’s a case for miracles occurring, what is it?

I dislike scholars and theologians who, rather than saying what they think, tread a fine line to avoid offending anyone. Even the beliefs of theologians like John Haught remain murky—and that, of course, is deliberate.

126 Comments

  1. Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    There is no real point in trying to determine the naturalistic possibilities of miracles. Trying to deconstruct the processes of the miraculous is a fools game, because there is no basis for comparing the possibilities. For instance, as you said, God might have caused all of the molecules of air to move in a certain way as to cause a wind that blew back the waters of the Red Sea. Or God might have done the same thing to the molecules of the water and skipped the air. How are we to determine which is more likely? Which is easier for God to affect, air or water? Is the amount of energy needed a factor? I don’t know and no one does.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      I think more importantly there needs to be a way of determining that the author of these actions is God(™) rather than say, Elves.

      Otherwise we get nowhere.

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

        Why would Elves have any interest in parting the Red Sea? Mer-folk seem more likely to me…

        • Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          So their feet don’t get wet. Obviously.

          • Your Name's not Bruce?
            Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Gotta keep those blue suede shoes dry…

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        Nereids, surely?

        /@

      • sasqwatch
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s God.

  2. Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I think what he was saying was that miracles are miracles precisely because they violate the laws of science. To attempt to rationalize them to comport with the laws of science is an error.

    The difference is that he fails to reject the possibility of a god who can and does on occasion break the rules.

    I haven’t read the whole piece, but I do have some grudging respect for this position. A believer who roots their belief firmly in faith, without trying to make any dishonest justifications, is putting forth a more or less logically consistent position, and there is very little one can do to attack it from a factual point of view. There are still philosophical weaknesses, obviously… but if you explicitly place faith above evidence — and stick to your guns about it, i.e. faith is not merely a fallback position when attempts at evidence inevitably fail — then your argument becomes immune to any and all evidential cases against it.

    I’m more or less content to leave it alone when a believer admits, “I have absolutely no rational reasons whatsoever to believe in X, but I choose to believe it anyway.” There’s really not much further you can go.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Perhaps this argument against the rationality and honesty of Christian faith, any faith, might be persuasive, or at least make them question themselves.

      The problem of faith puzzles me. Do you, for instance, believe in fairies or Santa Claus? I’ll accept there is an element of facetiousness about the query – which is not my fundamental enquiry – but in principle how does the supposition of fairies differ from that of God?

      Do you accept the godhead of Zeus? I’d call `The Iliad´, a book in which he features, profound? No less insightful than many books in the Bible. Do you deem Osiris, Loki, Vishnu or Huitzilopochtli venerable? The Japanese even have a god of kitchen ranges. Any of them?

      So I assume you have no devotion for any of the thousands of gods we could mention. To sum up, you are an atheist as regards all the gods, except one.

      And that the one God you worship is not the Judaic nor the Islamic version of that same God but the Christian one; and not even that, not the Orthodox, the Coptic, the Syriac, the Armenian, nor the Arianist, the Origenist, the Socinian, but the (insert your sect here) one.

      Don’t you find it a bit of a coincidence that the God you confide in, and who you maintain is the one true God, happens to be the god most conveniently and most culturally available to you? Perhaps, given His eternal nature; the chances of a human being holding your faith are therefore quite good. I’m sure the ratio of your fellow-believers to all the humans who have lived in the last two thousand years is relatively high.

      True, but if during that time you had been born, say, in India or China the chances are very low that you would have been a Christian. You might have been a Hindu, a Confucian, a Daoist, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Sikh or held no religion at all; each one is just as likely. That doesn’t diminish, however, the fairly good odds there are for any of us to have been a Christian in the last two millennia.

      But it has at the minimum two clear implications. Firstly, that the idol in which you believe is contingent on the era and place you happen to have been born in. And secondly, that given the choice you have between different gods nowadays, your belief in your God must depend not only on faith, but also on something else and that other element can only be evidence.

      To say that you bend the knee to the Christian God, when you know that there are others you could submit to, simply undermines the whole concept of faith. It isn’t credible for anyone to say that they come to their god, any god, through faith alone. One has to consider why others raise up their god, and the only way to differentiate between the two theologies is to weigh the evidence for the one or the other. Faith, therefore, makes no sense unless one has heard of no other divinity but one’s own. But you have knowledge of other deities.

      My question to a religionist claiming the sufficiency of faith alone is this: in your daily life, you make almost every minute decision, determined by evidence and reason, so what is your objection to devising an experiment which would test the hypothesis of the existence of your God? What evidence do you have for your God, and your God alone?

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I think what he was saying was that miracles are miracles precisely because they violate the laws of science.

      Well, that’s certainly along the lines of how I’d characterise the supernatural (and miracles are surely supernatural), and have done so before on this website; viz. something that contradicted a well-established scientific law, theory or model in the regime where it had been established. (Although, re Tulse, this is open to criticism as it’s epistemological rather than ontological — interpretation may depend on our current level of scientific understanding: Is something supernatural or just a newly discovered natural phenomenon?)

      Anyway: If that’s what he is saying, why can’t he say it plainly? Well, yes, he is a theologian… but still…

      I agree, the faithful are falling into a naturalistic trap when they try to rationalise miracles.

      But still, even if those miracles are supernatural, they did affect the natural world, and should have left evidence. However, I suppose it’s also possible that God erased the naturalistic evidence of his supernatural miracles. Perhaps for book-keeping purposes, mandated by the Auditors of Reality.

      /@

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

        “characterise the supernatural” makes it sound too real. I think we should go with “so-called supernatural.”

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

          How about this convention? “how I’d characterise the «supernatural» (and «miracles» are surely «supernatural»)”

          /@

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 10, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

            *Like* :)

            (But, why not just quotes? To avoid probs with nesting, as in your example?)

            • Posted January 10, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

              Well, that’s one reason. But I think something different from ordinary quotation marks is needed anyway to reflect the tentative nature of concepts so highlighted. The choice of guillemets was suggested by The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which uses them to indicate unconfirmed titles of future works.

              /@

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

                Well, I like them even better, now that I know the fancy-schmancy name for them. :D I realize I’ve used them in Spanish for years…

                Tho I essentially gave up diacriticals, etc., when I got my laptop–too lazy to look up how to fake a number pad so as to use Alt + # codes. Sigh.

              • Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                Maybe you should’ve got a MacBook…

                • Alt-\ = «
                • Shift-Alt-\ = »
                • Alt-e, e = é
                • Alt-u, o = ö

                &c.

                ;-)

                /@

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

                The best thing about you Mac people is your humility.
                :D

              • Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink

                Well, in our household we have one Windows laptop (provided by my employer), one iMac, one MacBook Air and two MacBooks (as well as some older Macs that are still hanging around, but no longer used day-to-day). As well as four iPads and three iPhones (four when I trade in my employer-provided BB for one).

                Guess which gives me the most grief?

                Mac people have more time to be humble… :-O

                /@

              • Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:18 am | Permalink

                PS. There are four of us in the household, btw.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

                Mac people have more time to be humble… :-O

                HaHaHa!

                I hate to mention it, but Windows-legacy families encounter a certain amount of grief when confronted with Macs, too. Both of my kids hit that wall routinely in HS, then college, computer labs…

                When all the cognoscenti have moved to Open Source software, will it matter anymore?

    • PB
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Yea, I didn’t read the paper, and most likely not interested to. Just commenting on the idea of somebody (brazenly?) stated “I believe in X, and that’s the fact, I don’t want to rationalize it.”

      Basically that’t the last position somebody religious, assuming a decent guy, stating honestly what he factually doing with religions.

      And X could be anything, most of us think of crosses and holy-allfathers, but if count shamanism, the bearded-one is definitely not the only-one.

      X could be jesus, mo, buddha, gods, The-One, intereference, EMP, quantum fluctuation.

      With our recent finding about mind, that our brain is more like a Occupy-movement rather than a dictatorship of Self (the illusion of free-will ..), then this position of “I believe..’ is very understandable.

      And back to the main issue of being an atheist, the point is not that everybody have to believe or not-believe anything, but that no-one should be allowed to force any believe to anyone else (including kids).

      I wonder in the future, beliefs will still be around, maybe it will not be middle-eastern based, maybe more science like – an improved scientology ? Because people are different, some of them very seriuosly think about religions (and non-religions), while the others, mostly do not really care. The serious ones are the pastors, theologians, and us strident atheist-non-gods.

      Most people becoming religious not because they think about it, but just part of the scenery.

      Those who are seriously think about religions, with current general knowledge of science (not just biology, but science in general), will have a tantamount task to accept the belief. The easiest way is just to weasel out, don’t think deeply about it, it is easy to do.

      Those theologians who tries to explain (mostly to gain something in their life, popularity or Templeton fund) will be very difficult.

      Again, the important thing is as long as they just debate between themselves, and not forcing any young girls to commit FGM or anything ..

      Not all people are scientist, or scientifically inclined.

    • DV
      Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      >>I’m more or less content to leave it alone when a believer admits, “I have absolutely no rational reasons whatsoever to believe in X, but I choose to believe it anyway.” There’s really not much further you can go.
      <<

      You can point out that nobody really "chooses" to believe. Try for example if you can "choose" to believe that 1+1=3. You can choose to "say" that you believe, but if you really did not think it was true, you are merely lying. On the other hand, if you truly believed 1+1=3, then your sense of reason is so defective that you would be unqualified to make an assessment of the presence or absence of rational reasons attending to the claim anyway. In fact, what is the unacknowledged reason for belief in this case is simply the reliance on authority. If you accept the authority of somebody, and that somebody tells you something, then you'd believe that something as true.

      So the next time somebody says "i have no reasons to believe but believe it anyway", ask whose authority is he/she taking. That's one step further. Identifying the authority is the first step to questioning it.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        “Identifying the authority is the first step to questioning it”. So what’s the next step in evaluating the truth of Kim Il-Sung’s having got 11 holes in one in a round of Golf? We know there cannot be any rationality in such a belief, nevertheless we can assume that there will be multiple witness statements to back it up!

      • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        there is a rhetorical trick here as well with statements that can’t be falsified or even inter-subjectively assessed.

        we call this the Ethnic Food Problem – no one can disprove or even dispute people’s ethnic food preferences.

  3. Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    ” if we could prove that somehow it is medically possible for a virgin to give birth — who would benefit from such an explanation?”

    Firstly – and tangentially – nowadays it is entirely medically possible for a virgin to give birth thanks to IVF. Two thousand years ago, not so much.

    But the answer to who would benefit is pretty obvious to all accommodationists. There are many believers who have certain doubts about the plausibility of many of the claims of their religion, and yes, they really would like science to prove it to be true, so to speak. Because they know that they can probably trust the findings of science above the unsubstantiated claims of lore and mythology.

    Many people like Baden realise that looking for actual evidence is probably futile, and are content (and honest enough) to leave it as a matter of faith. However, his view on the subject is clearly not exactly the majority position.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Even more tangentially, maybe IVF makes us pension the outdated concept of “virgin”. It is also a bit sexual fixated.

      [Would you say "sexualistic" as opposed to "sexist"? "Sexualist" is taken by biologists (Linnaean classification.)

      Not that "virgin" seems awfully sexist too.]

    • PB
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      The state of virginity is much devalued nowadays. In the past, virginity is believed to be a state of spiritual being, not just a passage that not fully realized its full function.

      A virgin is pure, in what way it (or she?) is “pure” ? another matter of faith ..

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        Many females are naturally born without a hymen. Guess that means they’re from the devil, right? And tampons and sports will make you impure.

        • PB
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          The hymen things are mostly hype, just how do you think a middle-ageist understand vagina, penis, not to say hymen? The ancients used the hymen-hypothesis as a control of females, in a male dominated social constructs.

          Just as other ‘traditional practices’ of bound-feet, elongated necks, tattoos, baptism. The ignorances of shamans in the past ..

          • Posted January 10, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

            Exactly my thoughts. Well said. :)

            • Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

              For mirth, check out Evidence for God. It rationalizes the Buy-bull as does its fellow blogs noted there.
              Peradventure, someone would give us all a take on where are they wrong in those rationalizations.

            • Richard C
              Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

              It gets worse. In Deuteronomy (starting at 23:13) if a woman doesn’t bleed on her wedding night (or if her father didn’t preserve the bed sheets as proof) her husband has the power to stone her to death at the doorway of her father’s house.

              Those bloody bed sheets, where her hymen broke, is her father’s only defense of her. It provides no way for her to defend herself.

              (If that proof does exist, the husband merely pays a cash fine to her father. She remains married to him.)

              • Filippo
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                If I correctly recall, all the churchly fathers got together at Nicaea in 325 A.D. and somehow “felt the spirit” to include this noble and sublime and edifying treatment of women.

                How do contemporary religiosos explain away this vileness? Mere history? One sees the roots of what inspires stonings in parts of the contemporary Islamic world?

              • Richard C
                Posted January 10, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                Filippo,

                They also included the Gospel of John which seems to end the practice of stoning adulteresses with Jesus’ famous statement “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7, KJV)

                The problem is that this is an incredible dodge. According to Christianity everyone is born into sin, which means nobody could have obeyed the Law of Moses because they were also sinners. That would make Moses’ entire legal system utterly pointless; if that was the intention, Deuteronomy would have said not to stone non-virgin brides to death. There’s not a legal system in the world that requires people to be 100% flawless in order to carry out its requirements.

                The Greek creators of modern Christianity could not simply point out the obvious fact that Jewish religious law was wrong, because they also claimed that the same bible’s prophesies predicted every single event from Jesus’ life. If the Law of Moses is false than the Jewish Bible itself is false and in no way had the power to predict future miracles. The Gospel stories claiming hundreds of its prophesies had been fulfilled in one man’s life would be exposed as an incredible fiction.

                But they couldn’t actually obey these laws either, because that would make them barbarians and murderers. If they actually stoned young women to death they would rightfully be arrested and probably executed under Roman law.

                So, they dodged.

                This is similar to how the Gospels in another place overturns Kosher dietary requirements by saying that evil comes not from what we consume but rather from what’s inside of our souls. That’s another dodge that lets the Greeks continue to be Greek while in no way addressing the issue of Moses and his very ungodly laws.

                The Old Testament in no way says one must be without sin to perform an execution. To the contrary, it says by performing these brutal acts we would be purging sin from our tribe and becoming right with God again.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      It has always been possible for a virgin to conceive per fecundatio ab extra. There was a case in England in either the 40’s or 50’s where a decree of nullity of marriage was granted on the basis of non consummation notwithstanding the birth of a child: the pregnancy having occurred fecundatio ab extra.

  4. Sajanas
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I really dislike the naturalistic explanations for Old Testament miracles, because they always leave out a critical element of them, namely that God went in after the fact and removed all archaeological evidence and made it so that you could only see the Jews developing naturally from the Jewish highlands in the 1300s. An Old Testament scholar should know better than to even *speak* of the Exodus as being real.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Ah — you got there before me re the removal of evidence…

      /@

      • PB
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

        Yea, removal of all evidence from laymen eyes … you have to be scientists to find those evidence, and therefore in his mysterious ways He created a rift between the scientists and the laymen.

        Rift that can be cultivated into wealth, power and Glory-to-God by certain templeton-ish tribe ..

        … how very marketing …

  5. Brian
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Jerry, good questions, but might I recommend a slight addition to your first question:

    1. Do you believe in God? If so, could you please describe what specific God you believe in? And what evidence do you have for such a being?

    Ask for a hypothesis before or while requesting evidence. Don’t just skip to evidence and assume you know what God they believe in.

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      AS for that 1st question: when I ask it, more often than not I get the discussion-ending response: Yes, I believe in God, No, I don’t have any evidence, that’s why it’s called a ‘belief’.

      • Brian
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Yea, I get that sort of thing too. And when I ask them to first define God, they say that’s impossible, some BS reason involving God being infinite and beyond comprehension. Theists don’t seem to know much about the mathematics of infinity. In any case, all the response to the first question are conversation enders, theists have nothing more intelligent to say. Which is fine, because then the agnostics and doubting theists on the fence see the theists give dumb, conversation ending answers and they get a little glimpse to why the whole God thing is nonsense. Part of some theists becoming atheists or at least agnostics or more liberal theists is amongst other things is the realization that something ain’t quite right with the God thing. Our discourse is for those people, not the devout theists boldly avoiding the first question.

  6. Stephen P
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    The quip has often been made that, with scholars becoming ever more specialised, ever more knowledgeable about smaller and smaller areas, the final station of scholarship will be that each scholar will know everything about nothing. If it is now possible to be professor of half a book, we must be getting close.

  7. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    If the bible is not literally true then it might quite simply be utterly false. Theologians however ‘sophisticated’ cannot escape this basic predicament of theirs. Without any exception belief without evidence (faith) underpins the whole of their theology. They believe because they believe. Theology is tautology misspelled.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      Theology is tautology misspelled.

      Like. :D

  8. raven
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    It’s just a kludgy old book of fiction and mythology. With nothing much worthwhile to say to modern people.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Except that the stories are great, and some of the poetry the best you’ll ever read. See Job or Ecclesiastes.

      And at least as it comes down to us in the King James version, it is one of the cornerstones of Modern English.

      A sample of some the phrases coined in 1611:

      A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
      A broken heart
      A house divided against itself cannot stand
      A man after his own heart
      By the skin of your teeth
      Eat drink and be merry
      Physician heal thyself

      Flowers flourish even in the most barren of places.

      • Persto
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        It is frustrating that Bible translationists will eventually deprive of us of the Bible’s only true treasure: poetry.

        • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          the bible is just an iron age ad campaign

          • Persto
            Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

            A very poetical one.

            • Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              Well, Salman Rushdie used to work in advertising. The Aero tag line “Enjoyabubble” was his, iirc.

              /@

              • Dermot C
                Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                And Fay Weldon recycled, ‘Go to work on an egg’.

                But the Bible as ‘ad campaign’? I don’t think so.

            • Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

              verbal communications was the dominant form of memory/communications so poetical rhetoric was easiest to remember and pass along

              • Dermot C
                Posted January 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

                To take the blind man of Smyrna, since the first third of the last century we have known of the profound influence of the oral tradition in the compositon and transmission of ‘The Iliad’, written ca. 8th century BCE; the use of stock epithets and reiteration applied to the hexametric line.

                But, in the case of the Bible, perhaps not surprisingly, Sadducess and Pharisees differed on the fact of the extent of the oral tradition. Modern Jews, likewise differ not so much as to its existence, but rather as to its theological legitimacy.

                From the little I know, therefore, the Bible appears to have been transmitted in written form to a far greater extent than Homer’s two epics.

              • Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                From a long series of lectures, publicly available, we have listened to apparently the Old Testament was constructed by different factions to support their power claims.

                They adopted any and all pop hooks of the moment that got traction in the Mid East at the time.

                New Testament was a bit more programatic since the early Christian were selling their system to the Greeks, mainly, and some other Roman Jews.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        Dermot C, I must disagree that “the stories are great, and some of the poetry the best you’ll ever read.”

        I suggest that you read more poetry and more stories.

        Those from the bible are hardly the best examples from the times they were written. And much much better examples have been written just in the 20th century.

        (Not to be too much of a pedant, but your samples are not all from 1611 — “By the skin of your teeth” comes from 1560 according to one source)

        • Dermot C
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Maybe Xuuths, de gustibus non disputandum. But I will anyway!

          See my post, in response to Achrachno, under point 13 on January 8th, 2.28 p.m.

          As a little project, to get to know a themed canon of Western literature, I read ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Odyssey’, ‘The Aeneid’, ‘Beowulf’, ‘The Divine Comedy’, ‘Paradise Lost’, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘Ulysses’ by Joyce (in chronological and geeky fashion). That was after my ‘read-all-of-Dickens’ project.

          Still remember the killer line at the end of ‘The Iliad’ when Priam, the father of Hector, is begging Hector’s assassin, Achilles, to stop desecrating his son’s corpse:

          ‘I kiss the hand of the man who killed my son.’

          What a line! So much for the absence of the idea of compassion in Ancient Greek culture.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I love the ‘kludgy’ word. Perfect in describing something so obviously cobbled together.

  9. NelsonMuntz
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I don’t care about the so called miracles. I want to hear him explain all of the god ordered genocide in the Old Testament. I love to hear Christians try to spin that crap.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Same with why a woman is “unclean” for one week after the birth of a male child, but two weeks after the birth of a female child, as if she should possibly be “unclean” for a moment in the first place.

      Also, would the professor have one take biblical support of slavery, and the subordination of women, “on faith”?

  10. Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Typical crackpot stuff, amazing an institution like Yale would tolerate and pay for but apparently contributors and alum will pay for this nonsense.

  11. Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Fr. Spong emits such truth and-ratonalzation! Carrier emailed me that Spong- and I add John HIck- is our Trojan horse!
    Faith doth that to people! So much for William James’s will to belive! William Kingdon Clifford reflects skepticism.

    http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com

    http://rationalistgriggsy.blogspot.com

  12. Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    The strange thing is that Judeo-Christians religions can still hold any sway with large numbers of people as they do. Their testaments old and new are plainly contentious and many followers today just gloss over these Alice in Wonderland parables. The truth is that superstitions are the overriding pressures that keep followers on message. It doesn’t help that world leaders can still be found consulting astrology and pledging allegiance to the fanciful. Unfortunately the majority of the world remains steeped in ignorance through indoctrination and questionable education. The so called ‘Holy Bible’ has been debunked for such a long time and in spite of the wickedness and evil that permeates to this day believers remain firmly entrenched. Even in this 21st century the United States Republican Party presidential hopefuls are merrily bible thumping their campaigns to attract voters. The cleverest ploy that has protected religious superstition irrespective of logic and sound reason is the ‘I take offence when questioned on my beliefs’ clause. Whilst people do have a human right to be ignorant and superstitious I get very worried when they are allowed to make laws.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      It makes sense that successful religious/ideological/political marketing hooks would have been created 2k yrs agao when modern type cities were rapidly expanding and being created.

      There are only so many ways you can promise ppl life after death and once a successful hook/trope is shown to work, it’s hard and unnecessary to replace. How many saviors of man can be successfully sold/marketed?

      In fact, it appears Zoraster created most of the core tropes/hooks later adopted by the other religions, eg, the devil, good and bad,end of the world etc. Zoraster’s hooks were then adopted by the kingship also tracking greater urbanization and need for centralized control.

      Then the Jews stole tropes and hooks from the Canaanites, Egyptians, etc.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      “I take offence when questioned on my beliefs”

      Do you have the right not to be offended?

      And if someone questions you on your beliefs, can you not just rebut those questions without taking offence? Oh, no, since you can’t rebut those questions at all…

      /@

      • Se Habla Espol
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
        “I take offence when questioned on my beliefs”

        Do you have the right not to be offended?

        Everyone has a right not to be offended. To exercise that right, just don’t make to choice to take offense (or offence, depending on your language). It’s that easy.
        This right not to be offended is purely personal, and cannot be enforced on others, of course. If you chose to take offense at something I say, I am free to chose to ignore your choice, to apologize, to moderate what I’m saying, … — but my response to your choice is strictly my choice, not yours.

  13. Achrachno
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Of course we misinterpret the Bible, as does he. No one knows exactly what the original authors meant and many times they were apparently speaking meaningless theobabble anyway.

    But, a theologian who shows that the Bible is nonsense, where it’s not plain wrong,is usually quickly made an unemployed theologian, no? If you’re not in an institution where the theists can sack you, what more is there to say after that anyway? Who cares what it says in a book of nonsense or what the book “really” means? You could spend the rest of your career carefully dissecting the nonsense and explaining how it got to be so nonsensical, I suppose. But as soon as you recognize reality, the importance of the field of Biblical studies contracts dramatically.

    Might as well study the Urantia Book.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Amen to that

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Thank you, that was a laugh! Seems someone wanted to give the Scientologists a run for their money.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Yep, could be. Urantia Book somewhere 1924 – 55, Scientology 1952. (And perhaps the earlier attempt Dianetics had some of that odd universe view woo too.)

    • Jack van Beverningk
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      .. or might as well study Klingon.

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Try the Theosophists and Alice Bailey….

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      @Achrachno

      ‘Who cares what it says in a book of nonsense or what the book “really” means?’

      I do; for literary, linguistic, philosophical, anthropological, historical and artistic reasons.

      The Bible, of course, is not a book; in most cases it is 66 books, some partially historical, some theological and some poetical.
      For instance without Machabees we would have no Jewish perspective on Hellenistic rule in Judea and Israel; without Ecclesiastes, Dickens would not have been inspired to write the imperishable prose-poem which forms the first paragraph of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’; without the Bible, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is inconceivable; without the Bible, Dante could not have written ‘The Divine Comedy’, nor kick-started the development of vernacular modern Italian; without the Bible, George Eliot could not have translated the revisionist work of Strauss, the Biblical scholar, and she could not thereby have laid the foundations for the profound psychological insight of her later novels; without the Bible T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ is unthinkable.

      @Achrachno

      ‘You could spend the rest of your career carefully dissecting the nonsense and explaining how it got to be so nonsensical, I suppose.’

      Over the last 200 or so years, honest Biblical scholars have done precisely that, learning Classical Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew only to discover exactly the untruths, inconsistencies and impossibilities, which we take for granted. Indeed, we owe a debt to Robert G. Ingersoll for ruthlessly exposing the Bible as a piece of work to which you could apply literary analysis. Academics have helped trace the flow of ideas around the Classical World and translated such crucial documents as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi codices. It is they who have revealed to us features of our past, forgotten for 2,000 years.

      @Achrachno

      ‘But as soon as you recognize reality, the importance of the field of Biblical studies contracts dramatically.’

      As soon as you recognise that God is man-made, the legacy of the Bible becomes global in the sense that it can be studied anthropologically –and, comparatively with other cultures – as an example of how humans at a certain stage in history understand the world. Without the Bible, how can you understand Europe’s Gothic cathedrals? You don’t have to be a Christian to do so, but you do have to acknowledge the Bible as a central document in the development of human thought.

      • Xuuths
        Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        You are incorrect about Dickens — he was not taking from the bible in “A Tale of Two Cities” as there is no mention of best/worst of times in the scripture you reference, only that there are times for this or that.

        • Dermot C
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          Dickens – ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

          “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

          Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
          King James Version (KJV)

          1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
          2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
          3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
          4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
          5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
          6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
          7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
          8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

          Judge for yourself, but that’s a parody by CD.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    When religionists base their belief solely on the existence and presumed intent* of a text, in my experience they fall in one of two categories:

    1) The existence and survival of a large text mass is taken to be unlikely**. Ergo gods.

    2) The texts makes them feel good. Ergo gods.

    Baden seems to fall into category 2.

    ——————
    * Presumed intent is the religionist’s own to choose, of course. Baden makes it the same intent that he lacks evidence for.

    ** “Nobody suspects the Spanish Inquisition!” And a lot more institutionalized incentive and protection like that existed for a long time.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” – pedantic Python rapporteur.

  15. Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Elvis lives. Rudolph Valentino told me so.
    So much for the paranormal and- Yeshua!
    ” Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning to which neither God nor the future state can further validate.” Inquiring Lynn
    ” God is in a worse position than the Scare Crow, who had a body to which a mind could enter whilst He has neither. God is that narried bachelor and thus cannot exist. No wonder He is ineffable!” Ignostic Morgan
    Theology then perforce means double-talk that Prof. Irwin Corey can see through!
    Morgan-LynnGriggs lamberth

  16. Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Both sides – faithful and skeptics(or atheists, if you like) – force people to choose: if you believe in evolution, ergo, you should not believe in God. Or, the other way around. It’s like Bush’s “if you are not with us, then you are against us.” What a simplistic view.

    I believe in God (or a supreme being) who set in motion the creation of the universe or universes, as some in the scientific community suggested, and I also believe that the process is not instant but through evolution. It is fine to believe in God and evolution at the same time. They are not contradictory. It can only become contradictory if your mind insists that many of the biblical accounts (if you are a Christian, for example), especially, the Old Testament, are literally true, and at the same time, you believe in modern science.

    At this point in our quest for answers to many of our questions, man barely scratched the surface of “ultimate” knowledge and cannot therefore make conclusive statements about the nature of the universe we live in, about God and so on. Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it. There has to have some supreme being or God, if you will, that set things in motion. Since our current knowledge is too limited at this point in our development or evolution, it’s hard to make conclusive statements about God and related matters. It’s like a kid just learning basic arithmetic. You cannot ask him Calculus because his knowledge is still evolving. He may not know that complex equations do exist but it does not mean that Calculus does NOT exist.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it.

      Is your god a “complex being”? If so, what created it? If not, how does something simple create complexity?

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        As I said, based on our current level of knowledge, we are not capable to answer such questions yet. Look, even as basic and fundamental questions in physics as gravity, we still don’t know much. Men had to build a giant particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, and employ tens of thousands of scientists and engineers just to find answers to such basic questions. And you think we are ready to answer those complex matters (God, etc.)already? We may not find those answers in our lifetime. We are like little kids who just started to learn the basics of arithmetic and already questioning whether there is such complex mathematical discipline called Calculus.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          You didn’t actually address my question, which has nothing to do with “our level of knowledge”, and everything to do with the logic of your argument. If complex beings require an outside force, as you claim, then either your god needs its own creator, or your god is “simple” (and thus can’t create complexity). Either way, your god can’t be the ultimate creator.

          • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            If you can give me definitive answers about the Higgs boson or even about gravity, which, by the way, open a lot of unanswered questions for our physicists, then I will probably believe in your simplistic way of analyzing God or the Supreme Being.

            • Tulse
              Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

              You’re again dodging, as what I gave was your argument. Twice you have failed to address the logic of your own claim. If complexity cannot arise from simplicity, as you say, then either your god has its own creator, or your god is simple. Those are the logical consequences of your argument, and I don’t see how either conclusion gets you to the god you want. In other words, your argument against evolution also cuts against your own conception of your god.

              Now, would you like to actually address the content of your argument, or will you offer yet another non sequitur?

            • Dermot C
              Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

              Non sequitur.

              This is the equivalent of ‘If I can prove a fact to you, then I may have confidence in your mode of thought.’

              Very well, my sister has brown hair. (I could prove it with a photo). Now do you trust me when I say there is no God?

              You’re not thinking clearly.

        • Persto
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Here we go again. The same-old “we don’t know enough” argument. Look, you are right modern science can’t prove god doesn’t exist. Modern science only proves that his existence has become unnecessary.

          “Evolution is compatible with religion.” Is science compatible with witchcraft, astrology, Tarot cards, or Deepak Chopra? Why not, according to you?

          The point is not believing in evolution, but “to value the principles of reasoning and educated discourse that make a belief in evolution obligatory.” Science is difficult to understand because it is on many levels counterintuitive. Empty space, black holes, particle physics, and the fact that we share a common ancestor with the banana. Science is tough to comprehend and religion only makes thinking scientifically more difficult.
          Why? Because religious faith is believing without proof, knowing without reasoning, asserting the accuracy of claptrap twaddle over scientific evidence. This way of thinking is incompatible with science.

          You don’t seem religious? Do you just want to believe Nature is God? Well, we add nothing to Nature by calling it god. Santayana stated,”the word nature is poetical enough; it suggests sufficiently the generative and controlling function, the endless vitality and changeful order of the world in which I live.”

    • Kevin
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      Reason tells me nothing of the sort.

      Science tells me that at the beginning of time-space, all mass and all energy was compressed in a point the size of a Plank sphere. All of the forces of nature have derived from that simple-but-incredibly-powerful beginning.

      Science tells me that from that beginning, specific events happened in a specific order. The strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, gravity, and electromagnetism came separately. Quarks formed from the mass-energy, then the proton-neutron-electron atomic particles.

      Science tells me that complex things are built from simpler things all the time. It doesn’t take a “designer” or a “builder”. It takes the forces of nature (noted above) and time.

      Only an unreasoning person insists otherwise.

    • raven
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Since our current knowledge is too limited at this point in our development or evolution, it’s hard to make conclusive statements about God and related matters.

      I don’t see why.

      As far as we can tell, Invisible Sky Fairies don’t even exist.

      If the gods existed, they would be as obvious and noncontroversial as the existence of trees and water.

    • raven
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it.

      Assertion without proof. No it doesn’t.

      We have a very good idea of how we ended up. The Big Bang, abiogenesis, evolution.

      The gods have been steadily pushed back behind the Big Bang for a century. And now even that isn’t looking very secure.

      Reason tells us that the invibible looks a lot like the nonexistent.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Yuri Singidas #16 wrote:

      It is fine to believe in God and evolution at the same time. They are not contradictory. It can only become contradictory if your mind insists that many of the biblical accounts (if you are a Christian, for example), especially, the Old Testament, are literally true, and at the same time, you believe in modern science.

      It is contradictory to believe in God and evolution at the same time if your mind insists that God’s mind would not have had to evolve, just like your own did.

      Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it.

      What you’re calling “reason” here is what’s usually called “common sense” — and we have discovered that common sense is often wrong. If you’re going to introduce a new explanatory hypothesis into the model of reality you’re going to have to do some real work. Appealing to sloppy intuitions about what seems likely to a small child or unscientific mind is not reasonable.

      Your argument basically comes down to “Like comes only from like.” We get people from a person, agents from agency. But that’s not so. Evolution is just one mechanism which demonstrates that there can be novelty in the universe … and shows how.

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        When you learn the details of the progression of matters from inorganic to organic to the more complex biochemical substances, for example, or the logical progression of species from the lowly bacterium to complex biological systems as humans, then it is easy to appreciate the power of nature and it’s not hard to believe that something or some force “guide” the evolution of all these. It’s harder to believe that a group of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen molecules would assume certain configuration and positions on their own to become complex biochemical substances that became the precursor of life in our planet. Think about it.

        • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          why progress? how measured?

          • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

            You are definitely not a man with scientific background. But I understand.

        • raven
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          Fallacy of argument from ignorance and personal incredulity.

          “I can’t see how my foot evolved, therefore god exists.”

          It’s harder to believe…

          You don’t have the slightest idea what science is. We don’t believe anything. We find out. We accept. We know.

          • Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            by the way, what exactly is your background?

            • Dermot C
              Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

              No, Yuri,

              You are the one making extraordinary claims; that you know of God’s existence, nature and acts.

              I assume that you are a scholar of theology; that, on this high-status website, you would have a commensurate sprinkling of knowledge of God’s Aseity, a mizzle of expertise on God’s Mission, a dreich of appreciation of Cosmology and a shower of proficiency in Theodicy.

              Kindly demonstrate your understanding of just some of these characteristics of a God, and then prove them.

              By the way, if your response reiterates your previous delineation of a pantheistic God, then that merely demonstrates your Spinozaism, great as Baruch was; this type of deism takes us back to where we were 350 years ago.

        • Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          “it’s not hard to believe that something or some force ‘guide’ the evolution of all these”

          For you, clearly not.

          However, 150 years of evolutionary biology have made it abundantly clear that evolution needs no such guide and, moreover, that such a guide is contraindicated.

          /@

          • Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

            abundantly clear?? the 150 years or so of evolutionary biology you mentioned also saw an evolution of our knowledge from early reliance on paleontologists to today’s geneticists. if charles darwin is still around, he will be humbled of how much he did not know…who knows which group will play a bigger role the next 50 or 100 years? yet more questions arise as we learn more about the evolutionary process. that’s normal in any scientific field. but we should be cognizant of the fact that we still have a lot to learn…

            when i mention God, i don’t necessarily refer to the judeo-christian God. i’m just cognizant of something bigger behind all these.

            • Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

              The theory of evolution by natural selection &c. is now so well established that what we discover in the next 50 or 100 years will not change it fundamentally. Darwin might well be humbled by what we now know, but he would still recognise his ideas largely intact. And even Darwin, in his relative ignorance, saw the implication that no guide was necessary.

              And nothing that we discover in the next 50 or 100 years will make evolved traits such as the giraffe’s recurrent laryngeal nerve look like anything but the result of unguided processes.

              Whether or not you refer to the Abrahamic God, how is it that you are cognizant of “something bigger”? What is that knowledge or awareness based on? Other than your own intuition (which, as others have pointed out, is not a reliable guide to how the world actually works).

              /@

        • PB
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

          Even harder is to imagine what is “outside” ..

          Outside of the earth there might be lots of aliens etc, another lifeforms maybe. This may or may not be, but not everybody care about this.

          Outside of physics (mostly what you meant here), there is none, none that remotely close to what you usually describe as “creators” (bla-bla with personal interest in human, for instance), that is. There might be new Higgs boson, or WIMP particles, one thing for sure those definitely non-human category.

          Outside of “human knowledge” ? What do you mean by this? You’re human, you have the “knowledge-of-the-creator” or not? Oooh.. you are more than us mere human?

          (most of catholics have this kind of progression of logic: “.. you don’t get it because you’re less than us, in what ways we don’t know, but definitely so..”)

          End of story, as long as you keep your own craziness it is okay ..

    • Posted January 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      “man barely scratched the surface of ‘ultimate’ knowledge”

      Hmm… an interesting statement. To know that we have only scratched the surface you would have to know what that ultimate knowledge is…

      Oh! Hello, God!

      /@

      • Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        consider this one aspect: think of how our astronomers and physicists are cognizant of the complexity of the universe even though we can only “peek” some of the billions of stars and star systems within the billions of galaxies scientists believe exist in our universe. by the time men will actually be able to travel to these remote stars from the farthest galaxies, maybe man’s knowledge base is already at least as close to “ultimate” knowledge. maybe.

        you don’t think we have a long way to go? you don’t think we barely scratched the surface of “ultimate” knowledge?

        • Tulse
          Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          you don’t think we barely scratched the surface of “ultimate” knowledge?

          How is this relevant to your point? If anything, one could make the argument the other way: “We can explain so much of the world now, and have dispensed with so much superstitious explanation already, despite our puny knowledge — no doubt the entire universe will be completely explicable once we have delved deeply enough into its mysteries!”

          The history of human knowledge is a long trail of reducing formerly supernatural accounts to natural understanding. Why do you think this trend will reverse?

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

            The history of human knowledge is a long trail of reducing formerly supernatural accounts to natural understanding.

            Indeed!

            ““But,” says the religionist, “you cannot explain everything; you cannot understand everything; and that which you cannot explain, that which you do not comprehend, is my God.”

            We are explaining more every day. We are understanding more every day; consequently your God is growing smaller every day.”

            — Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Gods” (1872)

            /@

        • Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

          Of course science doesn’t know everything — but science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop (h/t Dara Ó Briain).

          But how can you say we’ve “barely scratched the surface” if you don’t know how much more that there is to know? What if we actually know 5% of what there is to know? (That’s not a lot, but it’s more than scratching the surface!) What if we actually know 10%? 25%? 50%? (It may become asymptotically harder to know the remainder as science progresses. Perhaps the “ultimate” knowledge will forever elude us.)

          TL;DR: Unless you already know how much there is to know you cannot make any meaningful statement about how much we already know relative to that.

          /@

          PS. Also this: “The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood”.

    • Se Habla Espol
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      At this point in our quest for answers to many of our questions, man barely scratched the surface of “ultimate” knowledge and cannot therefore make conclusive statements about the nature of the universe we live in, about God and so on.

      Which is why science does not pretend to be conclusive. That pretense is left up to religions.

      Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it.

      Reason is a powerful tool, consisting of logic applied to a set of postulates. The answers that reason delivers are always and only of the form “To the extent that my postulates conform to reality and my logic is non-fallacious, the following holds in reality: … “. Your choice of postulates determines whether your logic is potentially pertinent; the soundness of your logic determines correctness.
      Your ‘reason’ comes to your conclusion, which appears to be a religious ultimate conclusion (you know, the kind we can’t make, per your first paragraph). It differs from observations of reality: for example, a zygote is much less complex being than the full-grown critter (in most species); the initial big bang, as noted in another reply, was much less complex than the current universe.

      There has to have some supreme being or God, if you will, that set things in motion. Since our current knowledge is too limited at this point in our development or evolution, it’s hard to make conclusive statements about God and related matters.

      But, again, you make conclusive statements about the existence of some gods. You make the conclusive (but ungrounded) statement “there has to be some supreme being or [g]od … to set things in motion.”
      The only way to support your conclusion is to expose and explicate your reasoning. Please do so, for yourself if for nobody else.

    • Chris Granger
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      If our knowledge is too limited at this point to answer the “big questions”, why are you a theist and not an agnostic? You’re believing a god was required to set things in motion and yet by your own reasoning, you don’t have enough information to prove the claim.

      If you’re going to be intellectually honest, you must say you believe in a god despite not being able to provide evidence for its existence. (Complexity simply is not evidence for the existence of god, as has been shown in numerous different ways by math, biology and physics.)

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      if you believe in evolution, ergo, you should not believe in God.

      No, that’s not true. There’s no direct contradiction between evolution and God’s existence. What evolution does is remove the need for an explanation for the complexity of life. This explanation has traditionally been God. So we don’t need to use God to explain the complexity of life.

      Reason tells you that it is illogical to think that a very complex universe with complex beings in it will evolve from the simplest units of matter without “outside” force influencing it. There has to have some supreme being or God, if you will, that set things in motion.

      Reason doesn’t tell ME that. Reason tells me that “God” is a non-answer. “God” pretends to be an answer to deep, complicated questions. But in reality since “God” is an answer for every question, “God” is actually meaningless.

  17. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I find this whole essay confusing. First Baden says that science says miracles don’t happen, and then at the end says that miracles might have happened: they are “debatable.”

    No, no. He’s saying that it isn’t important whether or not miracles have occurred. What’s important is faith that miracles have occurred.

    I hope that you are no longer confused.

  18. Kevin
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Good grief. This is the level of scholarship that gains one a teaching position at Yale? Horrible. Simply horrible. I think the folks at Harvard are sniggering.

    So, let’s fisk this argument again (because it’s not new). But since it’s usually offered by Christians, let’s stick to the OT.

    1. Any miracle, by definition, must entail violation of natural laws.

    2. If one could document and verify a violation of natural laws, that would go a LONG way to confirming the existence of a supernatural entity.

    3. Doesn’t matter what the “miracle” is. New Testament or Old. Koran or Gita. Confirm a miracle and it’s more likely that your god is true and the others are false.

    4. Violating the laws of nature is not the same as performing an act via a naturalistic method. The miracle would be god holding back the waters by magic — not Moses waiting for the right weather pattern.

    5. Having acknowledged that miracles are a violation of natural laws, and that such violations would indeed be evidence of a supernatural, we have to come to the altogether reasonable conclusion that NO SUCH THING HAS EVER HAPPENED IN HUMAN HISTORY.

    6. Each and every “miracle” claimed in any of the holy books (not the everyday miracles of me finding my car keys) provides absolutely zero confirmable evidence that it happened. Not one shred of verifiable evidence that can be studied by a disinterested or antagonistic third party.

    7. All miracles depend on unreliable hearsay. They are — each and every one of them — “My Dog Ate My Homework” miracles. Claims without proof.
    * Where’s the held-back portion of the Red Sea? Returned to normal.
    * Where’s the burning bush? Stopped burning.
    * Where are the she bears that killed 42 children because the kids mocked a bald guy? Back to shitting in the woods.

    And on and on.

    8. It would be trivial for an omnipotent, omniscient supernatural entity to provide verifiable proof of its miraculous powers. I can think of thousands of methods. Just sticking to the OT, things such as:
    * Holding back the waters of the Red Sea via prayer each and every time the prayer was invoked, but never when it is not — wind or none.
    * Appearing as a burning bush that does not consume itself to everyone who approaches it for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

    And on and on.

    9. Therefore, any religion or set of belief systems that depends on the reports of miracles as an underpinning for its truth claims is, in fact, a lie. And the adherents to that religion do not demonstrate what is commonly referred to as “faith”. What they demonstrate is credulity.

    And yes, I agree that an alien prankster civilization with enough technology could probably “fool” most people for a long time — but if those aliens had that power, demonstrated that power, and demanded to be worshiped as gods, I would most definitely worship them (while working to understand and defeat their technology). But such a scenario, I think is quite unlikely.

    Only gods demand tribute be paid to other humans. Only gods demand “right thinking” (worship). Aliens would want our water, or our plutonium, or our livers. Not our worship. It’s a useless commodity for an alien, a priceless one for a god.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      If God exists and is truly a worker of miracles should we not expect to see an indication of His miraculous powers in terms which we today might reasonably judge miraculous.
      Joshua ch.10 v.13 refers to God answering Joshua by causing the Sun and the Moon to cease their motions. Now that is a miracle, but it’s not a miracle which would make the slightest sense. Had God stopped the Earth then that too would have been a miracle, but it would have been a miracle which would have caused later generations to sit up and take notice.
      Why is God so predictably boring?

      • Kevin
        Posted January 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        Truly, I have no problem with people claiming that an all-powerful god can “do anything”, including making the sun and moon stop their “orbits”.

        Any god worth its salt should have a few parlor tricks up its sleeve.

        The problem is that every single time one of these tricks is proclaimed in any of the holy books of any religion (all religions), they are impossible to verify. They have left behind exactly and precisely zero evidence of them.

        It’s not the power inherent in miracles that’s the problem. It’s the fact that they all represent a primitive understanding of the laws of nature and our place in the universe.

        If the Earth was indeed fixed and immovable, if the heavens indeed were a canopy above the Earth, and if the sun and moon orbited Earth the way primitives thought, that story would be compelling as all get out — IF there were some evidence of it left behind.

        Judged by today’s knowledge, it’s not even goofy. It’s just childish, primitive, superstitious nonsense.

        • AndreSchuiteman
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          The religious will exclaim*: ‘But of course you cannot verify a miracle! If you could, you wouldn’t need faith! Everybody would become a believer! That would be too easy! God doesn’t want you to believe on the basis of evidence! There would be no merit in that kind of belief! And besides, He gave all the evidence you need, because He sent His own Son to earth to die for our sins.’
          Etc., etc. It’s con-artistry 101. Except that in this case many of the con artists are their own victims.

          * These people always shout.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            Hmm… and they’re talking about the same God that had that pyromaniacal contest with Baal?

            /@

            • AndreSchuiteman
              Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

              You didn’t expect consistency, did you?

          • Kevin
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

            Hence, my redefinition of their state as not being “faith” but “credulity”.

            If there were any shred of evidence to support any of the miracle claims of any religion, “faith” would be instantly redefined as a sin.

            Why have “faith” if you have evidence?

            • AndreSchuiteman
              Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

              But the Bible is full of evidence. We have all those eye witness accounts, haven’t we? Not to mention the empty tomb.

              You doubting Thomas!

              /sarcasm

          • Filippo
            Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

            “These people always shout.”

            In this cacaphonous, ululating contemporary world, the prevailing dictum is, “When in doubt, shout.”

  19. Posted January 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I Kant wait to read his response! I predict he’ll pull a Santorum of some stripe.

  20. Posted January 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    For the ID crowd:

    Scientists Recreate Evolution Of Complexity Using ‘Molecular Time Travel’

    …just a few small, high-probability mutations increased the complexity of a molecular machine more than 800 million years ago…the researchers showed that a new component was incorporated into the machine due to selective losses of function rather than the sudden appearance of new capabilities.

    The group found that the third component of the ring in Fungi originated when a gene coding for one of the subunits of the older two-protein ring was duplicated, and the daughter genes then diverged on their own evolutionary paths.

    “It’s counterintuitive but simple: complexity increased because protein functions were lost, not gained. Just as in society, complexity increases when individuals and institutions forget how to be generalists and come to depend on specialists with increasingly narrow capacities.”

    “The mechanisms for this increase in complexity are incredibly simple, common occurrences. It’s not as if evolution needed to happen upon some special combination of 100 mutations that created some complicated new function.”

    Thornton proposes that the accumulation of simple, degenerative changes over long periods of times could have created many of the complex molecular machines present in organisms today. Such a mechanism argues against the intelligent design concept of “irreducible complexity,” the claim that molecular machines are too complicated to have formed stepwise through evolution.

    “I expect that when more studies like this are done, a similar dynamic will be observed for the evolution of many molecular complexes,” Thornton said.

    “These really aren’t like precision-engineered machines at all. They’re groups of molecules that happen to stick to each other, cobbled together during evolution by tinkering, degradation, and good luck, and preserved because they helped our ancestors to survive.”

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Do you have the original link? Looks like an interesting article and I would like to bookmark it.

      • Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        isn’t that a wonderful description of how biological systems proceed? just dum luck mainly.

        Just search by any phrase or name in the cite.

        • Dan L.
          Posted January 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Heh, sorry. I was being lazy.

          • Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

            z’alright it’s evolutionary adaptive, lol

            if you find related articles and research please let us know

  21. Richard C
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    “The Bible may be couched as historical narrative, but the claims it makes are claims of faith, which no amount of positive or negative data can alter”

    I agree with him completely that trying to explain Biblical miracles with natural phenomena completely misses the point. The Bible doesn’t say the Red Sea thinned by the tides until Moses could lead his followers across it. It says Moses used the powers of Yahweh to parted the entire thing, then led the Israelites across it.

    However, saying that the Biblical stories don’t have to be literally true because they’re “claims of faith” is incredible. They either happened or they didn’t. If they did, then they’re factual historic events and can be studied and verified as such. If they didn’t, then the stories are made up.

    Sure, they could be morality fables told to make a deeper point, just like Jesus’ parables. But if that’s all they are, then they’re no more true or worthy of worship than the tortoise and the hare.

  22. Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    I really think he may be up to something. Other holy books could also be “metaphorically” analyzed. I tried this with the Quran and it got too deep (so deep “bani Israel” were not a race but a group of people with similar mentalities and actions that lead them into crimes against God. Thing is, the crimes here are real (not like working on the Sabbath, but like massacring mankind).

    Or that Adam was the first human tribe, but not the first creation, and by that supporting evolution. It turned out, well, at least to me, that the Quran was trying to describe how tyranny and hatred lead the tribe of Adam (and not the single person Adam) to leave Heaven. Heaven here is not an Eden, but actually means a land with everything available. It’s saying that with hatred and war, we will lose resources and move into a lower level of living.

    Or how almost all verses about rijal (traditionally meaning men) and nisa (traditionally meaning women) were actually about dangerous social roles that will destroy a society, power plays, capitalism and the on-going war between the ruling class (rijal) and the working one (nisa). I had proof and research to support this shit too.

    Of course, I could have been analyzing the Quran that way because that is the manner I wanted it to be: humane and stuff. Because I thought it was from a god, and I thought this god was pure and loving, etc. Once I realized there’s no such thing as allah, the Quran became nothing but an ambiguous philosophy book. A good one though – worth an “alternative” read.

    Part of analyzing the Quran that way was to drop the notion that it is, in any way, a book of historical events. It should be read as either events warned from, or parables and legends if you really want to enjoy it to some extent.

    “Bible people” in my opinion are not really required to explain themselves unless they are in the process of shoving a bible down your ears.

  23. Wyocowboy
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Is he really an atheist but doesn’t want to come out and say for fear of possibly losing his job or reputation…only he knows deep down inside or maybe he’s just confused about what he believes and he is on his way of becoming a Freethinker…who knows but he is confusing as the author stated.


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