Excusing the Bible?

This post is mostly me just thinking aloud. It seems that much of the anger toward and rejection of Christianity by secularists is rooted in the specifics of the Bible, and not so much against beings like God in general, or the God of Classical Theism. They don’t like a lot of the things Yahweh said and did, nor do they like the creation story (as it contradicts evolution when taken literally).  I get the clearest sense of this focused rejection when a Christian philosopher or apologist makes a general argument for God (in the classical theist sense) or a general criticism of naturalism, and his opponents change topics and start picking at things in the Bible (a perfect example of this is Sam Harris’s reply to the arguments William Lane Craig made against naturalizing ethics: see this debate).

I must admit, there’s a lot in the Bible that’s hard to reconcile with modern sensibility. In a previous post I argued for why this isn’t always a bad thing (in an ultimate sense). But sometimes I get the feeling that I’m really having to do a lot of intellectual, and ethical, gymnastics to make the Bible something I can accept.

One can always save a bad theory if one is willing to make enough ad hoc adjustments to it to handle evidence or reasons against it. Think about a paranoid schizophrenic: he may have paranoid delusions and delusions of grandeur, but when presented  contradictory evidence, he often finds some way to explain away the evidence and keep his delusions. I could think there are aliens on Mars that are oppressing the human race, and when confronted with the lack of evidence, I simply point to some government conspiracy to hide all the evidence. You get my point.

Is this what’s happening with Christians defending the Bible? What does one do when one confronts passages in which Yahweh behaves in ways that seem deplorable to moderns? We could always explain it away, given enough creativity on our part. We can find some excuse, certainly. It really is impossible to prove that Yahweh is a bad god.

What to do? One could just “white-fist” it and hold on to the Bible, all else be damned. That is an option. Or one could liberalize the Bible: accept only parts of it, or interpret parts of it as merely symbolic, allegorical (actually, regarding the creation story, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be a scientific account, but one highlighting God’s power and authority).  One could also come up with independent evidence for God and the Bible. It would have to be fairly powerful, though, to overcome the difficulties. One could also argue, like I did, that we judge the Bible from a modern perspective, and that the modern perspective isn’t necessarily the ground truth regarding morality or reality — we can point out what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Or one could do a combination of all of these. I think that’s what I’m doing at present; a little of all.

Why? Why all the work? Why not just forget about Christianity and turn secular? For me, I find myself frightened by the alternative: something akin to Bertrand Russell’s defiant atlas standing against the alter of chance and the ultimate purposeless ruin of the universe. Russell’s alternative has no appeal to me. There is also “the fear of God” that is in me. That fear is very powerful, and it won’t go away any time soon. There is also hope; hope of a better future life, if not on earth, then in heaven. And there is the peace that I sometimes feel when I do get close to God. At present, these are enough to motivate me to keep at this work. And, let’s not forget, there is a chance that the Bible really is, in some sense, true.

Add to this my dissatisfaction with naturalism. As time goes on, I’m finding the whole notion of the universe that is, ultimately, explainable by science unacceptable. Numbers, math, truths of logic, they don’t depend on science; science depends on them! The apprehension of a realm of moral truth: again, this is apart from science. The naturalist alternative: some form of subjectivism or relativism, some form of moral antirealism. That is, we accept that raping children for fun is neither right nor wrong, ultimately; we just happen to not like it very much as a people, and find limiting it useful. And what about the first person perspective, consciousness? The fact that it exists at all is something that seems beyond a science limited to the third person. So there definitely are cracks in the naturalist/materialist wall. But are they big enough to let the whole Bible through? That’s where I still struggle.

A Prayer

I’m beginning to align myself with something like what reformed epistemologists believe: arguments for (or against) God’s existence are at best inconclusive. I’m not even sure where the burden of proof is, for I don’t know God’s inherent probability (God’s starting probability before any evidence is considered). But if God indeed exists and somehow brings someone to believe in Him, given that rational (warranted?) belief is belief formed in accordance with a person’s design (as given by God), that belief would be rational (if Plantinga is right; he does seem to be about this). That implies the contrapositive: a person being irrational for believing in God would imply that God doesn’t exist. The claim that it’s irrational to believe in God depends on God not existing, and to argue for the former implies that one must argue for the latter: there is no “You shan’t believe in God with no evidence, and I, the atheist, need not show any evidence for God’s non-existence .”

What about prayer? Asking God directly should do something. Maybe not immediately, but it should. I will pray.

Dear God,

I’ve been on the fence for a long time. I pray to You to reach out to me, and to anyone who prays along with me. We cannot reach You. We cannot “discover” You. You are utterly beyond us. But we have faith that You are good, and would respond to a prayer, asked in humility.

Many of us have suffered greatly in our lives, and have a hard time believing that You could exist and be good in spite of this. Sometimes it just seems that reality is an accident (even if orderly), and so are our fates: without any guidance by what is good. I don’t want to believe this, but I can’t help it.

We are helpless. Our epistemlogical reach is too limited to know what ultimate reality is. Our own logic destroys us. I can’t even prove with certainty that I’m in front of this computer right now!! Any such “proof” would have to ignore an infinite number of alternative possibilities. If I can’t even know that, how can I reach You with my own feeble mind?

So I pray that You, out of Your own Goodness, reach out to me and anyone else praying with me. If Jesus is all he said he was, reach out to us about him as well. We ask in all humility.

Amen.