Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 15 and 16

Moving on to a post that contains two points, the first point he makes is basically asking why the Bible isn’t simple and has difficulties that need to be worked out:

Why is the Bible so confusing that this category of book exists? (I want to ask why Christians are content to accept that their all-knowing god couldn’t get his story down simply and unambiguously, but that’s a topic for another day.) The dictates of an actual perfect god would be simple and unambiguous. By contrast, the “perfect” Bible is so flexible that it has spawned 45,000 denominations of Christianity.

But we need to ask the question if those things that are ambiguous are indeed the sorts of things that would be simple and unambiguous.  Seidensticker gives some examples from the New Testament about the Resurrection:

We can look just at the four gospels’ accounts of the resurrection to see the problem. When was the Last Supper—was it the Passover meal or was it one day earlier? What were the last words of Jesus? Did zombies rise from their graves when Jesus died? Who buried Jesus? How many women were at the tomb? Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus? Did the women tell anyone about what they’d seen? Could Jesus’s followers touch him after he rose? The Bible gives multiple answers to each of these.

And this reflects a line of argumentation that always bugs me.  Yes, these may be questions that aren’t clear in the New Testament accounts.  So what?  Are any of these questions critical to Christianity?  Are any of these questions ones that if we didn’t get the right answer it would completely invalidate the Resurrection?  Are any of these questions ones that define Christianity and Christian doctrine?  No, they are not.  They are varying accounts from four different authors that while at least some of them seem to have had access to other accounts are still distinct and do seem to use some different sources.  So it’s clear that they would have differences in details like this, since they’d be referencing different stories.  That’s how these sorts of historical sources work.

But Seidensticker then goes on to assert otherwise:

The accounts in the gospels don’t sound like journalism or history, but since they must be for most Christians, apologists are happy to step in to reshape the facts to be more agreeable.

Why don’t they sound like histories?  Luke’s is explicit that that’s what he’s trying to do.  The gospels do read like ancient history accounts, and it is entirely reasonable to see them as a collection of word of mouth stories that each author assembled into a consistent story.  And the fact that there are other gospels out there that the Catholic Church, at least, does not consider canon — mostly because of serious differences in what they say — only adds support for these things being a collection of assembled stories.  Unless Seidensticker wants to insist that the Bible and everything in it is really just the dictated words of God, he has to accept that it really does look like an ancient history.  That doesn’t mean that we have to accept that these accounts mean that God exists — ancient histories, as he will point out, made a lot of reference to deities and the like that we don’t think exist — but we do have to accept that, yeah, it’s a history, and differences over the details happen in those.  And if he wants to insist that they really are the dictated World of God, then he’s taking a position that most Christians don’t take and so his arguments will not convince them.

I have found that much of the time atheists want to take the Bible more literally than most Christians do, only so that they can use any discrepancies, no matter how minor, to “disprove” the Bible and therefore God.  As noted, most Christians do not hold such a view, and so we really should dismiss such minor discrepancies because they aren’t important enough to bother with.

The next point is about reconstructing Christianity from first principles:

Imagine that a global catastrophe wiped out all traces of religion and science, but a tiny fraction of people remained alive to repopulate the earth and recreate a scientifically advanced society. They would roughly retrace the steps we took to develop modern science and technology. Of course, they would describe things differently and advance in their own way, but they would duplicate the very same laws of motion, gravity, and thermodynamics; the same theories of evolution, relativity, and the Big Bang; and so on.

But would they duplicate the same Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Falun Gong, Jediism, and all the others? Of course not. Religion is what people say it is. It’s disconnected from objective reality. (More on this here.)

Well, of course he’s correct.  If all of history was wiped out, we would not, on our own, reconstruct Christianity or any of the other religions.  But there are two responses we can make to this:

The first is that while the specific religions wouldn’t come back from first principles, if we lost all history and science based on what we’ve seen so far it’s almost certain that they would recreate God or gods.  They might have different names and some different properties, but they’d be observably gods, and we’d probably resurrect gods before we properly resurrected science.  And there’s a pretty good chance that we’d create a god like the Judeo-Christian God — powerful creator that is above humanity — and not merely create human-like gods like the Greek or Norse gods.  This makes this not so good an argument for a generic atheist as opposed to an anti-Christian, because going from first principles it’s quite likely that gods — and so religion in some form — is more fundamental to us as humans than science is.  That doesn’t mean that God or gods exist, but does indicate that this isn’t an argument that an atheist can use against the idea.

The second is that while we’d lose the religions, we’d also lose, as Jeffrey Sinclair from Babylon 5 put it:

It’ll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes …

In short, if we lost all of history all historical aspects would be lost, and we cannot rebuild historical aspects from first principles.  This, of course, is rather obvious.  And as evidenced from my above point, all that we’d lose with wrt religion are the historical aspects.  We’d lose the events that specifically happened.  So if a god existed and if that god wanted those specific details to come out, that god would have to recreate them in some way.  Specifically for Christianity, if God wanted us to know of Jesus God would have to send Jesus again.  This is utterly uncontroversial.  And Seidensticker can’t even retreat to the idea that a perfect God shouldn’t allow that situation to come about because what we are dealing with here is Seidensticker’s thought experiment, not reality.  In reality, maybe God would choose to have the important religious texts preserved.

Seidensticker also proposes another thought experiment:

As yet another thought experiment, imagine a naive religious seeker, unaware of the specifics of any organized religion, who meditated or observed his way to Christianity or any other religion. This never happens.

Well, it doesn’t happen in this world because it doesn’t need to.  The history is there.  And for a number of religions, the changes in doctrine did come from meditation and revelation.  So while we could never meditate or observe our way to Julius Caesar, someone could do that with Christianity and Jesus if God gave them a revelation with those details, so this is a bad example.

And given the two points, we can answer Seidensticker’s comment that the Bible says that the existence of God must be obvious:

The Bible says otherwise:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Since we would likely recreate a god with God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature if all of history and all knowledge of religion was wiped out along with all science that might insist that such things don’t exist, it seems like the Bible is indeed accurate on this.  It doesn’t promise the historical details, but just the idea of the nature of God … precisely what we’d rebuild from first principles in Seidensticker’s thought experiment.


3 Responses to “Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 15 and 16”

  1. theoriginalmrx Says:

    Why is the Bible so confusing that this category of book exists? (I want to ask why Christians are content to accept that their all-knowing god couldn’t get his story down simply and unambiguously, but that’s a topic for another day.) The dictates of an actual perfect god would be simple and unambiguous. By contrast, the “perfect” Bible is so flexible that it has spawned 45,000 denominations of Christianity.

    It’s worth pointing out that Seidensticker’s Sola Scriptura approach to the Bible would have been rejected by virtually all Christian thinkers prior to the 16th century, and is only a minority position even today. Even if Seidensticker’s argument is correct, it is, at best, only a silver bullet against Protestantism, not against Christianity as a whole.

  2. jayman777 Says:

    I think the problem is more than just atheists taking the Bible literally. It’s reading the Bible without attempting to understand the author and original audience on their own terms. To take up your example, they read the Bible as if it were a modern history as opposed to an ancient history. Christians can be guilty of this too. No matter what text is being read, it is important to be able to step outside your own time and place in order to understand things from the author’s perspective.

    Regarding a catastrophe wiping out current knowledge, we cannot assume even our current science would be reproduced. This article says some evidence we have used to construct the Big Bang theory will no longer be observable in a trillion years (it says hyper-velocity stars will still allow for observational cosmology):

    You also mention history could be lost due to the catastrophe and I would add this might affect historical sciences. If the catastrophe destroyed enough fossil evidence would we come up with the theory of evolution or natural history that we have today? What if modern science arose because of certain great men or, dare I say it, Christianity’s influence? If such key scientists or influences don’t occur after the catastrophe what would happen?

    I’m not sure we should grant that no one learns about Christianity through meditation, prayer, visions, miracles, etc. in the present. For example, there are a number of reports of Muslims having dreams and converting to Christianity. Bob would probably counter that these Muslims had some awareness of Christianity before the dream. My point is that various kinds of religious experiences still happen today. To say that God or Christ is not behind some of them involves investigation, not assertions from Bob’s armchair.

  3. Bob Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets: 17 and 18 | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Continuing on, the next post again contains two points.  The first point is one where he actually mostly combines two different points.  The title is about religion have no way to determine truth, but he immediately dives into a different argument: […]

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