Any time I am looking for something to blog about, I know the HuffPo religion section will serve up something delicious. In this essay, Peter Enns of the BioLogos Foundation exposes the naivete some people bring to reading the Bible:
I’ve read enough of the New Atheists to see a pattern in their thinking about the Bible, and it is disturbingly similar to what you see in the Southern Baptist Convention or Bob Jones University. Conservative Christians and New Atheists share naïve views of what the Bible “ought” to be, namely the notion that if the Bible is really the “Word of God,” it will provide accurate historical and scientific information.
Well, yes, actually I do think something called the “Word of God” ought to provide true information about history and science. I thought that was pretty strongly implied by the phrase “Word of God.”
In our defense, it is not the New Atheists (or modern Conservative Christians for that matter) who invented the idea of Biblical inerrancy. If we are naive in our interpretation then at least we can claim as company many of the greatest minds in Christian history
New Atheists point out that Genesis is wholly out of sync with scientific reality. This is true, but they assume that this sort of thing is sufficient grounds to declare the Bible a stupid book, Christianity a stupid religion, and Christians stupid people. “See how sloppy the Bible is with basic facts known to every middle schooler? And you call this the ‘Word of God!’ Get over it.”.
How annoying that the same people who most pretentiously declare that atheists fail to take theology seriously seem utterly unable to characterize accurately the views of their opponents. The absurdities of Genesis are the beginning, not the end, of the case against the Bible’s status as “Word of God.” We note also the ludicrous strictures of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and God’s murderous rampages in Numbers, and that’s just to stick with a few obvious bits from the Torah. Virtually every page of the Bible shouts its purely human origin. Genesis is the least of its problems.
To state the obvious, no ancient writer was aware of what we take for granted today about the creation of the world and the evolution of life. You’d think that wouldn’t need to be said, but it does. You cannot expect the Bible — written in ancient times for ancient eyes — to enter a modern scientific discussion, and you cannot fault the Bible when it fails to answer our questions.
If the Bible is in some way coauthored by a perfect, all-knowing God, and if it presumes to address questions of scientific interest, then absolutely we can expect it to provide accurate answers to those questions. What else could we expect? The point is not that God should have communicated in the language of twenty-first century science. It is simply that there was no need for Him to communicate through stories that are fallacious in every particular.
If I may speak in Bayesian terms for a moment, between the hypotheses “This ancient text is a purely human production,” and “This ancient text is the Word of God,” surely the former assumption gets assigned a far higher prior probability. When we update our probabilities in the light of the new evidence that the Bible contains nothing that human beings of the time could not have produced, I do not think we should revise upward the probability that we are reading the Word of God.
But wait! Enns has anticipated this line of attack:
New Atheists reading this might say, “Thanks for making my point, Enns. The Bible tells stories and so it can be ignored.” Not so fast. What if God likes telling stories? Why assume that fiction is a problem? Why assume that for God to be God he needs to speak in modern ways of knowing?
I grow vexed. As already noted, that the Bible is an infallible repository of wisdom on any subject it addresses is an idea foisted on us by Christian scholars and authorities. It was the dominant view of the Bible through most of Christian history and remains of paramount importance in Christianity today. That notion must be discarded in the wake of modern science, as Enns agrees.
If Enns wants to turn around and say this is all no big deal because God might communicate through fiction then he is welcome to that view. It is just that another, more likely, explanation for why the Bible contains so much that is false is that God had no part in its authorship. And if Enns want to hurl insults at people who find his view implausible then the really ought to make an argument in defense of his view. It is possible that God communicated through fictional stories so confusing that countless people, both believers and nonbelievers, have been led astray as to their proper meaning, but what is the reason for thinking that is true?
I don’t have the stomach right now to address Enns’ silly invocation of that most vacuous of phrases, “modern ways of knowing,” so I will call it a day. There is a bit more to his essay than I have addressed here, so go have a look for yourself.