Friday, June 11, 2010

"Proving" the Bible

Why do some people feel compelled to "prove" their faith? Faith is not something you can "prove" by any universally accepted methods. That is what we call science. Science doesn't (except in the political world) delve into faith issues. Likewise, most people's attempts at "proving" their faith come to laughable attempts. It is called FAITH for a reason.

During my drive on the interstates of Iowa on Sunday afternoon and evening, I listened to about a half hour of a religious program on a radio station. Basically, Sundays bite for listening to the radio, but I needed something to keep me awake for the final bit of the drive. As part of the program a preacher was talking with the host about the Bible and how "we know" that the Bible is the word of God. He started out good by saying we shouldn't use circular reasoning, i.e. the Bible is the word of God because the Bible says it is the word of God. But then it went downhill from there. Below are a couple of the arguments he made and my personal views of how those are a bunch of bunk and don't "prove" anything.

The Bible is unique. After saying this he had to clarify himself, after all, every religious book (or any book) is unique. What he meant is that it was consistent over the period in which it was written of 1500 years and was written on three continents. Well, the three continents part is correct Europe, Africa, and Asia although of the roughly 1500 pages of the Bible, only about 20 are "in Egypt" and another 50 are "in Europe."

Then he tried to make a comparison, "it would be like me writing about God here in America and someone else writing about God in China and both of our accounts were consistent." Uh, no. While I will concede that the Bible is purportedly written on three continents, the comparison of the US to China is ludicrous. The Bible was written on three continents because the major location of the Bible (Israel) happens to be at the crossroads of those three continents. Not only that, but the actual area covered (from Rome, around the Greek cities, over through parts of Iran, down around Iraq and Jordan, and then looping around Cairo and back up to Rome) is an area no larger than the eastern half of the United States. But that doesn't sound as impressive to say that one person in New York and one person in South Carolina wrote about God and were consistent.

The next part of his consistency argument also has problems. The Bible was written over a 1500 year period. Well, if we consider that Moses wrote the first five books and the apostles wrote the last of the epistles, then yeah that is a 1500 year period. Except that we don't have any of Moses' original writings. Nor do we have any of the Apostles' original letters (and if we did we would have no real way of knowing since we don't have any samples of their writing to compare it to). So, what we do have are copies of copies of copies (ad nauseum). The earliest texts of the old testament date to only about the 2nd century BC. Assuming that the Apostles writings were written by 100 AD, the 1500 year timeline could be only a 300 year timeline. I hope that doesn't shake anyone's faith.

The preacher expanded his analogy and said that "it would be like me writing about God here in America today and someone else writing about God in China 1000 years ago and both of our accounts were consistent when read by someone 2000 years from now." Well, you sort of have to have some more qualifiers in there. Besides the geographic discrepancy that I already mentioned, the books of the Bible were not written in isolation. Later authors clearly had access to earlier authors works. Not only that, the authors in most all cases were immersed in the religious and cultural training of the people. All of the writers of the Bible were Hebrews, some of them just migrated to different parts of the three continents.

The last part of his analogy that I don't like is the false implication of a linear advancement in technology. Comparing someone living in the Information Age to someone a thousand years ago living in the Dark Ages is a stark contrast to someone in 100 AD living in the Iron Age to someone in 900 BC also living in the Iron Age. The technological advancement from 900 BC to 100 AD was minimal compared to 1000 AD to 2000 AD. In other words, in spite of the purported 1500 year separation and geographic distances, the authors of the Bible were very similar people. Hence, that they were consistent in their religious teachings (especially given that they had the previous writings to refer to) is not unique. Every major religion can probably make similar claims (and in 1000 years, every major religion will still be able to make those same claims).

The apostles all died for their beliefs and you don't die for something that you know is false. Alright, but again, every major religion can claim this in some way. Humans have shown that they are very good at persecuting others for whatever reason they come up with (skin color, lanuguage, religious beliefs, or just because they want the land). Oh wait a moment, what "proof" is there that the apostles all died for their beliefs?

Turns out, very little. There are historical traditions, but written accounts didn't really occur until the 1500's. The early church father's have some veiled references to a couple of the apostle's martyrdom, but nothing concrete. Besides, how would we know that an apostle killed in India was killed for his belief in Christ as opposed to just being a foreigner and ticking off the local cheiftain?

After this the preacher decided to get on to the topic of creationism and started touting the no transitional fossils, irreducible complexity, and Cambrian explosion arguments. I had had enough at this point. I was left to drive home pondering why if you are accepting the resurrection of Jesus on faith, you have to prove it in some convoluted way. If it was all just laid out with perfect evidence that required no faith, wouldn't that frustrate the whole faith, hope, charity thing and the faith, repentance, baptism thing?

Perhaps believers of all stripes should look at their life and examine why they believe what they believe. If you do it because of "proof" similar to what this preacher was saying, then maybe your faith isn't as rock solid as you think.


  1. Reputo,

    Good post and I agree with most of it. Too many of the arguments made to prove the Bible fall short.

    I had had enough at this point. I was left to drive home pondering why if you are accepting the resurrection of Jesus on faith, you have to prove it in some convoluted way.

    I don't think that we have to prove it in some convoluted way but that the points proving certain events took place buttress the faith and credibility of the incredible.

    I accept that Jesus was born, lived a sinless life, died for my sins and rose again just as it says in the Bible.

    Pretty incredible claims right?

    So, if the locations Jesus visited actually existed -- wouldn't that support the claim that he existed?

    I think of it as corroborating the eye witness testimony. If a witness claims that a crime was committed by a person wearing a red hoodie driving a Ford 150 -- seeing the title of an F150 in the criminals name makes that eye witness more credible.

    If there is no DNA, no physical evidence (actual proof) what does the jury go on -- who do they put their faith in; the defendant or the witness. It is still faith, isn't it?

    Since that corroborating evidence supports the mundane (Jesus live), there is more faith generated for the incredible claim - He died and rose again.

    In part, it is also more about proving the authors of the Books of the Bible were accurately recording what they saw/knew then it is about the faith.

  2. Bob,

    I think you miss my point on faith. If a witness claims that aliens abducted a person wearing a red hoodie driving a Ford F-150, and we find the Ford in a ditch with a red hoodie lying in the passenger seat, do we then assume that the source is credible and we must believe aliens abducted him?

    "if the locations Jesus visited actually existed -- wouldn't that support the claim that he existed?" No, since fiction writing was started people have interwoven real locations with ficticious people or places. Because a rock (or Sumerian record) is found with the name "Jericho" enscribed on it tells me that Jericho probably existed. It says nothing as to whether the walls fell down as Israeli's marched around the city.

    "it is also more about proving the authors of the Books of the Bible were accurately recording what they saw/knew" But what if they aren't accurately recording what they saw and knew? What if the miracle happened at Galilee rather than Capernaum - does that negate the miraculous nature? If there were really only 8 lepers instead of 10, is someone's faith in Christ shaken? The writer's of the books were mortal like you and me. They were subject to the frailities of men. In spite of that, they are still witnesses of Christ.