Sophisticated theological arguments are unanswerable

The Rational Response Squad has a "competitor": a group calling itself the Righteous Response Squad. I think we can already see a problem—we can expect a dearth of originality and imagination from this new gang. And to fulfill that prediction, this collection of fundies decided to declare the Bible literally true and internally consistent, and issued a challenge: "Do you have bible contradictions? Do you think you can prove the bible false?"

This is easy. The only difficulty is that there are so many contradictions — biblical literalism is a fool's game, which is why there are so many fools adhering to it. Here's someone who took them up on the challenge, and he also did the eminently sensible thing of focusing finely on just one clear contradiction, in this case the two different lineages given for Joseph.

Now we learn why it's a waste of time to debate creationists and apparently Christians, as well. They stammered a bit, couldn't explain the contradiction (come on, the Bible gives Joseph two different fathers), and then … deleted the whole exchange from their site. Poof! Contradiction gone! I think this is an example of the sophisticated theology callow innocents like me and Richard Dawkins are supposed to address.

Call me naive, but I was a bit nettled by this. To issue a public challenge to a debate, to lose drastically and then to not only fail to adjust your world view accordingly, but to erase all evidence of the exchange from public view. Us godless blasphemers, we'd never do anything so shabby. It seems from the Rational Responders site that lots of people had been debating them, and their stuff got wiped as well.

Fortunately, the brief debate was stored elsewhere. I've got to remember this: always get copies of the exchange when arguing with liars.

Tags

"Saint Paul wrote: "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies" (Titus 3:9)"

LOL

I love this line from the Righteous Deleting Squad:

Matthew 1:8 says "Joram father of Uzziah". But, when you compare this to 1 Corinthians 3:10-12, you can quite clearly see that three people (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah) are left out. Why? Because God working through Matthew, wanted there to be a pattern of 14 generations 3 times in this list of family members.

See, it's not a contradiction, because here's another contradiction!

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Actually, its even worse then is depicted in the debate. At least according to Roman Catholic and Anglican theology, Joseph of Nazareth was not the biological father of Joshua of Nazareth. Therefore, the argument as to the latters' relationship to the various antecedents of Joseph of Nazareth is of no relevance as he was not descended from them.

Sophisticated theological arguments are unanswerable

Precisely why Dawkins got slammed so hard for focusing on primitive theological arguments. He recognized the sophisticated arguments as a waste of time.

I used to be on their website to debate with them. Well less to debate, it was obvious no one listened, but to correct their science, just in case an honest person stumbled onto their website and wanted to know the truth.

But then I got this email.

"Greetings! We hope this email finds you blessed with the Power of the Holy Spirit! We wanted to inform you that there are huge changes coming to the Righteous Responders Forums! And we expect these changes will Glorify God the way the ministry was originally set up to do! Sadly, when we decided to allow atheists to debate, we didn't realize how badly it would corrupt what we were trying to do. We had the intent of allowing them to post so that maybe we could bring them just a little bit closer to God. Instead, we ended up being tolerant of slight cases of blasphemy, debating God and His word, and really, we weren't very Christ-like by allowing this. Christ did not debate His word. He said the Truth, and moved on. There was no debating with the Truth. And if you didn't listen to it, then He moved on. Witnessing is not about debating the Word of God, it is either bringing a person to Christ, or issuing a warning. And we were unable to get those points across to most of the atheist members. And for allowing this we are sincerely apologetic. God in His infinite wisdom and mercy has given us another option to try. Some of the changes will include the lack of debate. There will be no more debating. No blasphemy will be tolerated, and definitly no mocking of God will be allowed. We will send another email that will contain the new rules, new definitions, and the restrictions that will be placed on the forums. We look forward to your return to our forums. We plan on taking this ministry and using it online to strengthen the Body of Christ and Glorify His name. And we have plans for stretching it outside of the online ministry and taking it to the streets. If you have any ideas on this, please, we welcome any ideas!! We are going to take a stand against unGodliness, and we are going to help make the faithful stronger and able to ward off the eventual Spiritual Warfare coming! Regards, The Righteous Response Squad Ministries Team."

If at first you don't succeed then throw the opposition out and pretend it never happened!

Not the only contradiction of course. On the basis of genesis the death cultists toss out most of modern science. There are however, two genesis accounts of creation that differ within a few pages. The ME guys had 4,000 years to edit the book and never bothered.

My guess is even then they thought it was just a metaphor or allegory and not important enough to make it consistent. Ironic that their distant decendants aren't even that smart.

IIRC, god made a compact with man after killing all but 8 in the OT that he would never do that again. Then in the New Testament, supposedly Armageddon is coming some day when....god will kill everyone again. Never have figured out how god can do two different things and be consistent.

SLC: While Joseph may not have been Jesus' biological father*, he was his adoptive father, and people in the area at the time didn't really distinguish between the two. Take a look at the family trees for the Roman noble families if you want real confusion - it was not unusual for a wealthy figure to adopt a protege in order to establish the latter as his heir. Julius Caesar adopted Octavian (later the emperor Augustus) in this way.

*Jesus' biological father being Panthera, no?

For a great read and a truck-load of ammunition, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus". Ehrman's textual analysis of the New Testament took him from Fundy, to evangelical, to agnostic. Given what he found, I'm not surprised.

Jesus' biological father being Panthera, no?

Jesus is a Thundercat? Perhaps it isn't such a bad religion after all.

By TheBlackCat (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Re: #6 - wtf? Jesus did PLENTY of debating. How about hanging around in Jerusalem bullshitting with the Pharisees? There's many instances of people coming up to him and saying, "Hey, Jesus, what about X?" and Jesus responding with a counterargument. If they're truly interested in being Christ-like, they should engage and respond.

I see their site (at 10:30 EDT) is in "transition". Either more stuff is going down the memory hole, they're giving birth (hope its a boy!), or they meant "transfiguration" :)

By Steve Murphy (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

IIRC, god made a compact with man after killing all but 8 in the OT that he would never do that again. Then in the New Testament, supposedly Armageddon is coming some day when....god will kill everyone again. Never have figured out how god can do two different things and be consistent.

To be fair, what God promised after the flood was that he would never kill everyone again with water. Thus leaving all kinds of natural and man-made disasters on the table for Armageddon.

A clever one he is, that Jehovah.

By The Mad Patriot (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Seconding #10's suggestion. Bloody excellent book that gives a brilliant insight into how christianity has evolved over time.

Personal favourite contradiction, genesis 1 & 2 with the differing orders of creation. Sadly I haven't made use of it yet...

By NW Sullivan (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

#12: I don't have the verses at hand, but he also said that if you're a Christian, you have to defend your faith when someone asks.

he was his adoptive father, and people in the area at the time didn't really distinguish between the two.

Romans didn't, but Jews of that era certainly did. The whole point of including Joseph's geneology is to show that Jesus is a direct descendant of King David. If Joseph was not Jesus's biological father then Jesus could not be the Messiah because the prophecies clearly said the Messiah would be of the seed of David.

It's one of the silliest contradictions in the whole silly mess and a great example of how Christianity isn't logical even if you take the basic premise as a given. If Joseph didn't father Jesus and if the Bible is inerrant then Jesus can't be the messiah, but virgin birth is supposed to be some kind of proof that he is the messiah.

While in their site, before it developed the cyber equivalent of potato blight and withered away before our eyes, I noticed some dissatisfaction from the lower orders that their seniors hadn't done a better job debating with us. More than anything, that makes me think the whole thing was worthwhile.

There is often discussion about whether the likes of PZ or Richard Dawkins should debate creationists and their ilk. My position is that PZ and RD have got far more important things to do, but if us foot soldiers are able to put information in front of people who might otherwise never hear it, that's a valid use of our time.

"Saint Paul wrote: "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies" (Titus 3:9)"

LOL indeed.

From now on, whenever I lose an argument, I'm going to whip that quote out just before I split. Who needs to be right when you can be righteous?

Why get into these debates? Fact: there are no gods. The bible is a bundle of semi-historical stories mixed up with a load of hallucinatory claptrap and a smattering of advice on morality. Of course it's not the word of god, because there is no god.

So, the pertinent point is: do these debates about a book we shouldn't waste our time on achieve anything? Has any literalist christian ever smelled the coffee and come to see the world in a new light as a result of having some inconsistencies about names and numbers pointed out to them?

By Sam the Centipede (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Re SeanH

As Richard Dawkins points out in an appendix to his book, "The Selfish Gene," the notion of a virgin birth is based on a mistranslation of a word, I believe, in Aramaic. That word is used elsewhere in the Hebrew bible to refer to women who were manifestly not virgins. I also recall a Time magazine article on this subject from 40 or 50 years ago.

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? For anybody with the inclination, C. Dennis McKinsey has done a fine job compiling a useful, partial list of errors in the bible. Then again, if these jokers aren't willing to debate, then I'm not sure what kind of challenge this really is. Queer indeed.

I honestly don't have time for this, but I think it would be interesting to see what their spin is on the multiple divergent crucifixion stories. This is the one story that their religion hangs on most(pun intended), but even here, it's not clear chronologically what exactly took place.

By j.t.delaney (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Sam the Centipede: Of course literalists have changed their views. As I mentioned above, Bart Ehrman did when confronted with the evidence of the fallibility of the NT. Also, if you peruse "Convert's Corner" on the Dawkins website, you will find myriad examples of people turning away from fairies after holding a sincere fundamentalist worldview. This is far from suggesting that shoving evidence in the face of any Fundy will be effective, mind you.

The answer to that question is "yes, and more of them than you might think'. I've seen multiple accounts from the "deconverted" which recount something along those lines as being the first chink in their fundie armor.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

To be fair, what God promised after the flood was that he would never kill everyone again with water. Thus leaving all kinds of natural and man-made disasters on the table for Armageddon.

Oh great. Not only do we have a god of the gaps but a god of the loopholes.

I suppose he could always prune us back to 8 people again and again with all sorts of imaginative mass disasters, atomic bombs, asteroid impacts, solar flares, and so on. So what is the point?

It is Jewish tradition to discuss with passion the passages of the Talmud. And Jesus was more or less a Jewish Rabbi.

"avoid foolish controversies and genealogies"

Translation: Question nothing. LOL indeed.

Classic. Issue a challenge and stage a "debate" in which no disagreement (let alone debate) is allowed, and which is later erased completely when the challenge is met. Do these people have no shame?

Witnessing is not about debating the Word of God, it is either bringing a person to Christ, or issuing a warning.

A warning? Oh my.

"There was no debating with the Truth. And if you didn't listen to it, then He moved on. Witnessing is not about debating the Word of God, it is either bringing a person to Christ, or issuing a warning. And we were unable to get those points across to most of the atheist members."
Translation: "The posting atheists kicked the shit out of us so we are changing the rules" Hillarious, what a bunch of wankers.

The Righteous Response Squad didn't take long to come up with their stock response, "Saint Paul wrote: "avoid foolish controversies and genealogies" (Titus 3:9)."

I guess they're done now. Have they disbanded?

TheBlackCat: Jesus is a Thundercat? Perhaps it isn't such a bad religion after all.

I chuckled about that for several minutes.

Now I'm sitting at my desk with that music running repeately through my head:

Thundercats are on the move,
Thundercats are loose,
Feel the magic, hear the Roar,
Thundercats are loose,

Thunder, thunder, thunder, Thundercats!

If Joseph was descended from Jacob, why were there still Jacobs?

Since Jesus was "beget" from a virgin birth, why is his patriarchal genealogy of import anyway? Could it be to attempt to show that he was of the seed of David, which was an Old Testament prophecy that needed fulfilling for Jesus to be considered the Messiah?

This would seem to be a self-contradiction rather more cumbersome than the two different genealogies from Matthew and Luke. How can Jesus be of the seed of David, as stated by Paul, if Mary was immaculately conceived? Unless, of course, Mary was from the seed of David, yet this is not claimed anywhere that I have read, and would also be counter to the Jewish historical tradition of lineage being determined through the male line.

According to the bible, Jebus didn't have a father. When he was conceived his mother was a virgin and thus had not yet consummated her marriage to Joseph. Thus Jebus was a bastard (and a convicted criminal). It's all very shameful. As historical fiction, it's appallingly shameful for the atrocious editing.

BTW, the key to understanding fundamentalism is to see that what we sit upon is out fundament.

By Watt de Fawke (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Hank Fox, It disturbs me that you can remember that.

At least the Righteous Response Squad recognized their problem -- allowing a debate in the first place. When you don't control both sides of the debate, then you leave yourself open to all sorts of reasonable arguments from the other side.

This is how they should have tackled the genealogy issue:

http://www.carm.org/questions/2geneologies.htm

Note also that this response is intended for believers. No non-believer would be swayed by these answers, but they would be enough to give the true believers a warm, fuzzy feeling that there is enough doubt about the subject to allow for a way around the apparent contradiction.

So the Righteous "Response" Squad has decided not to respond to people ever again, nor to let people respond to them. Real Christians are so much funnier than people satirising them could ever hope to be. =p

It doesn't help any. I'm dating a semi-fundie girl, and one day her "oooo I love the bible!" exuberance rubbed me the wrong way. So I asked a simple question.

"When the Bible contradicts itself, how do you decide which part to incorporate into your world-view and which part to ignore?"

There was much stammering and confusion. It took a long while for her to understand I was referring to HER, and not the collective "you." Eventually she said, "There are no contradictions."

I pointed out the geneologies, chapter and verse.

"I have to go call and ask someone!"

And that answered just how She settled internal contradictions. By seeking pat answers from superiors.

So. . . no, I don't think these discussions help any.

By James Stein (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

From one of the links above:

I don't think they were quite prepared, because they locked us all out, and wouldn't let us back in until we'd signed up to their new guidelines about blasphemy.

I can only imagine the furor if an atheist site made people sign an agreement with guidelines about what they could or could not say concerning their god belief.

My favorite logical contradiction concerns abortion. If they were being logically consistent, then abortion doctors should be upheld as heroes of the faith...

Ask a Christian what happens to the soul of the aborted fetus, and you will almost always get the answer that they go to Heaven. (The alternative is Hell, and few Christians would willingly argue that their God is so cruel as to deny an unborn child any chance of avoiding eternal damnation).

Next ask them how many American adults get to Heaven. Fundamentalists will probably give an answer anywhere between 10% and 50%, most probably in the range of 20% - 25%.

Now, as every anti-abortion fundamentalist knows, there have been over 40 million abortions in the US since abortion was legalized. Therefore nothing more than simple arithmetic shows that abortion has saved about 30 million souls from a fate infinitely worse than any suffering they might have momentarily endured in the womb. Billy Graham would be proud of that record.

Once you have pointed out this fact to them, ask them again why they are against abortion. Who in their right mind would not accept a free pass to eternal paradise even if it meant missing out on a few years of toil and struggle here on Earth?

I always thought it was a "Joey Has Two Daddies" kind of thing.

Duh! Problem solved! Silly Righteous Responders... the answer was right in front of their noseys.

Oh, I get it. Provoke a challenge, then when you see you can't win, becuase in fact you are wrong, bring out an inane quote and stop the conversation. Fracking brilliant. I think i'll use this logic at work sometime..

By Firemancarl (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Come on, the answer is easy. Josephs mother slept with two men, was impregnated and then conceived fraternal male twins. The blastocysts fused early on resulting in a chimeric male child that had a mixture of cells, some with one fathers chromosomes and some with the other.
QED, two fathers.

Matthew 1:8 says "Joram father of Uzziah". But, when you compare this to 1 Corinthians 3:10-12, you can quite clearly see that three people (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah) are left out. Why? Because God working through Matthew, wanted there to be a pattern of 14 generations 3 times in this list of family members.

So, apparently, God wasn't able to work through the actual people doing the begetting to arrange for his desired three by fourteen pattern, so he had to resort to working through Matthew to lie about it later? Or did it not occur to God until he sat down to write the New Testament by proxy that, hey, it would be really cool if there were a pattern of some sort in his kid's adopted genealogy?

This thread has been most enjoyable.

I guess the early church fathers forgot about the genealogies by the time they got to Titus.

I do wonder, though, if they recall that one of the large pieces of their dogma is the Virgin Birth, not the Joseph Birth.

For a great read and a truck-load of ammunition, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus".

I'm sure it's a fine read (I've read other stuff by Ehrman but not that one) but I would like to point out that many of the textual problems with the Bible are not new discoveries of Ehrman, but were known over a century ago. Biblical literalism has been flying in the face of reality for quite some time.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

The problem with apologetics is that somebody's always made out to be an idiot. Sometimes it's the writer of the biblical verses in question, sometimes it's a character in the story, sometimes it's even God, as Adam points out in comment #44.

Most often it's the questioner though.

It's been more than once that I've had to stop a Christian and say "I'm sorry; but are we talking about the god of the bible or are you just making up shit you'd like to be true?"

MartinC,

Clearly the blastocysts fused when the holy-ghost arrived. Once again revealing the tri-part nature of divinity. :P

#25

Oh great. Not only do we have a god of the gaps but a god of the loopholes.

For some reason, when reading this, instead of "loopholes", I thought it was "fruitloops".

Much the same meaning, however.

By Grumpy Physicist (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Sam the Centipede #20

Has any literalist christian ever smelled the coffee and come to see the world in a new light as a result of having some inconsistencies about names and numbers pointed out to them?

Absolutely. I invite you to read the "conversion" of Bart Ehrlman in the foreward to his book "Misquoting Jesus" - it's a story that I see played out a LOT among intelligent children of fundamentalists who go off to college and start debating religion with their peers. It starts with a desire to convert the heathens, but often ends with them giving up on Biblical literalism altogether.

Bible-based, fundamentalist Christian religion is the weakest form of religious faith masquerading as the strongest. It's really, really brittle to rational argument since it's based on a book that we know to have been, in fact, constructed over centuries by a number of different hands, each with their own agenda. Inconsistencies and contradictions are guaranteed to show up in that type of work.

So if your religion is based entirely around believing everything in a particular book is true, and you're shown something in the book that is obviously and demonstrably false, or a contradiction, that strikes at the core of your religious beliefs. If you're a thinking person at all you end up having to abandon literalism for a "softer" interpretation of the Bible (or even abandon Christian faith altogether). That's part of the reason why fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is chock full of unthinking believers and why the most intelligent-seeming fundamentalist evangelical Christians often turn out to be con-artists.

Four gospels, three accounts of the resurrection, no waiting. Paul contradicts the Book of Acts on the role of women in the Church. Israel was "numbered" by either divine or diabolical inspiration, depending on which OT book you read, etc.

It's an anthology of pre-modern works scattered over hundreds of years that have been substantially reworked (I'm looking at you, Deuteronomy).

It's only moderns who need to reinvent the Bible as a source of literal truth to prop up the arguments they can't make about the values they don't have.
.

Four gospels, three accounts of the resurrection, no waiting. Paul contradicts the Book of Acts on the role of women in the Church. Israel was "numbered" by either divine or diabolical inspiration, depending on which OT book you read, etc.

It's an anthology of pre-modern works scattered over hundreds of years that have been substantially reworked (I'm looking at you, Deuteronomy).

It's only moderns who need to reinvent the Bible as a source of literal truth to prop up the arguments they can't make about the values they don't have.
.

"slight cases of blasphemy" (from the quoted email of Gobaskof in #6)

Isn't that akin to being "a little bit pregnant"?

And this bit was an exceedingly rare example of honesty on their part:

Sadly, when we decided to allow atheists to debate, we didn't realize how badly it would corrupt what we were trying to do. We had the intent of allowing them to post so that maybe we could bring them just a little bit closer to God.

Not that they went so far in their glimmer of honesty to admit failure, but even that much objective truth really surprises me!

Re: #6 - wtf? Jesus did PLENTY of debating. How about hanging around in Jerusalem bullshitting with the Pharisees? There's many instances of people coming up to him and saying, "Hey, Jesus, what about X?" and Jesus responding with a counterargument. If they're truly interested in being Christ-like, they should engage and respond.
Posted by: saurabh | September 4, 2007 10:34 AM

That's what I mean by "exceedingly rare." As in, possibly accidental, even.

Last thought: If they no longer debate atheists, what are these "Righteous" now "Responding" to? I think they need to change their name.

I humbly suggest "Righteous Circle Jerk Society."

By dwarf zebu (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

The ME guys had 4,000 years to edit the book and never bothered.

It's more that they did bother to edit it (and went on editing it into Christian times - hence the missing books and verses!) but, for reasons of political expediency, were obliged to keep both of the divergent accounts. Eg as per the Documentary Hypothesis.

Buried somewhere on my desk is an article from a theology journal by a Disciples of Christ minister who argued that it was silly to claim there are no contradictions in the Bible. He'd developed a list of 415 serious contradictions, listed them, and then went on to detail how they helped in two ways: People had to read the scriptures seriously to argue either side, and people came to understand that, as he put it, while God is infallible, not every word in scripture is God's.

But it was a dangerous document. Whenever he'd trot it out to people claiming somesuch in the Bible was the Bomb, they'd read the list, get disgusted and quit the church.

It reminded me a lot of the story who got reunited with his dog on the road to the Pearly Gates.

Study the Bible, some say -- just not too closely. What scientist could resist that challenge?

It's only moderns who need to reinvent the Bible as a source of literal truth to prop up the arguments they can't make about the values they don't have.

I've often wondered what the obviously sophisticated authors of such clever satires of institutional religion as Jonah and Job would say if they could be confronted with the hordes of slack-jawed cretins who, millenia later, are moronic enough to take their works as historical accounts.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

If they're truly interested in being Christ-like...
Well, I'm sick of all this crap because your fundies are beginnign to spread up here into Canada, so if they're truly interested in being christ-like, i have a bunch of 2x4s, a hammer and a whole bucketful of nails I'd be willing to oblige. No really, don't thank me.

@Sam #20:

Yes, these debates can change people's minds. I was a literalist in high school (due to heavy indoctrination at the private Lutheran high school I went to), and my first step out of it was when I discovered, after 10 years of studying the Bible in school and church and being known for my knowledge of the Bible, that there were two creation stories and they weren't the same. This happened, ironically, at the private Lutheran college I went to. I had a professor who wasn't really Christian, but certainly wasn't a critical thinker either (she wholeheartedly and zelously believed that we're a creation of aliens), so we actually had a debate about it, which was the first chink. From there I went to a liberal Christian to agnostic to metaphysical naturalist based on articles I read online and debates I had with people on blogs, as well as a few books (specifically "Why I Am Not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell, "Sense and Goodness Without God" by Richard Carrier, and "The Importance of What We Care About" by Harry Frankfurt). But the biggest thing were the discussions/debates/flame wars I had with people on blogs, usually with me arguing the Christian perspective against a bunch of godless heathens. (Incidentally, I later found some of them again and became friends with them after my viewpoint changed.)

So yes - these debates to achieve something for those of us who have the desire to be rational but have been told from a young age that we shouldn't be when it comes to religion. As far as those who have no desire to be rational... these kind of debates won't help until you can show them in a friendly way that being rational is in their best interest. Once there's a desire to be rational, then these types of debates can help.

Why isn't there an eight-person genetic bottleneck, slightly inbred, located chronologically some three thousand years ago, demonstrable in human descent?

Just happen to have brought Sam Harris's The End of Faith for lunchtime reading. On Luke's and Matthew's assertion of Mary's virginity: "Unfortunately for fanciers of Mary's virginity, the Hebrew word alma (for which [the Greek] parthenos is an erroneous translation) simply means "young woman" without any implication of virginity.... [Mark and John] seem to know nothing about it -- though both appear troubled by accusations of Jesus' illegitimacy. Paul apparently thinks that Jesus is the son of Joseph and Mary..." (pg. 95).

I got into a lengthy blog-comment debate with some fundie awhile back and pulled out the conflicting genealogies. He claimed (and I've heard this elsewhere) that one was Mary's genealogy, and one was Joseph's. Now, ignoring that the Babble has plenty of places where it references in-laws, ignoring that nowhere is it stated that one of these is Mary's genealogy, ignoring the difference in ages there would have to be for one to have 27 generations and the other to have 42, how exactly do you reconcile that position with the text? Matthew 1:16 says:

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

And besides, the Matthew genealogy includes some women's names, so it must be Joseph's lineage. Then Luke 3:23 says:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

Not "son-in-law," not "Joseph of Mary," but "Joseph, which was the son."

Naturally, I didn't get any real answer. I got "it was common practice not to use the woman's name" (so why does the Matthew version use women's names?) and "if the Bible was just made up by people, do you really think they'd be so stupid as to disagree on Jesus's grandfather?" That last one still makes me chuckle. The Argument from Unbelievable Incompetence.

The argument from unbelievable incompetence (great name, by the way) displays some ignorance of how the Bible came together. For almost three hundred years (depending on when each book was written) the books in the New Testament existed as separate scrolls.

Christians were an unpopular and intermittently persecuted sect, spread across the Roman Empire from Lisbon to the Caspian Sea, from Carlisle to Khartoum. By the time they came to produce an agreed 'binding', the different scrolls had been repeatedly copied, variations had been introduced, and all the books said internally contradictory things.

Many books were left out, and the ones that were put in weren't universally popular.

Under those circumstances, it would be amazing if they weren't riddled with errors. And that's before we even look at trying to make it all fit in with the Old Testament.

I think my Biblical contradiction of choice would be salvation based exclusively on works vs. salvation based exclusively on faith. Not only are both positions clearly supported in the Bible, but they are clearly contradictory, AND it strikes to the very heart of Christian theology, whereas genealogies could be written off as a pointless and extraneous detail.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

The problems with the Bible run much deeper than contradiction. Take the Noah story. The problem isn't really the internal contradictions, though they exist (how many animals were taken aboard, e.g.--there are two versions). The problem isn't the science, which demonstrates that it simply is not possible to put a planet's worth of biodiversity on a boat, e.g. The problem isn't even that the Noah story seems to be a rehash of older and arguably better written tales from neighboring tribes. No, the big problem is that an all-powerful being tried to fix the problem of human evil with plumbing. And...it didn't even work. Once the bullshit at the foundation is exposed, the nonsense in the rafters seems less dramatic.

By Greg Peterson (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

"Romans didn't, but Jews of that era certainly did. The whole point of including Joseph's geneology is to show that Jesus is a direct descendant of King David. If Joseph was not Jesus's biological father then Jesus could not be the Messiah because the prophecies clearly said the Messiah would be of the seed of David."

Many years ago, back in my alt.atheism days, one of the regulars made an interesting claim: even if you use the geneologies as written, you would find that Jesus was in fact not descended from David. I don't remember the details, but I do remember that there was something about one of the ancestors listed in each of Matt and Luke that took them out of the ancestoral line. Now, this isn't really a contradiction, and was an argument against Jesus being the true Messiah (who, as you say, must be descended from David), but it was interesting nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the details. Wayne Delia, if you still exist, please explain it again! And give my love to Joe and Lisa, one of whom is probably in college by now (did you ever get any deposits to their college fund? Wayne would always counter the "you can't prove god doesn't exist" claim with a "you can't prove you don't owe me $10 000. Please make the check out to the Joseph and Lisa Delia College Fund")

Has any literalist christian ever smelled the coffee and come to see the world in a new light as a result of having some inconsistencies about names and numbers pointed out to them?

Posted by: Sam the Centipede | September 4, 2007 11:11 AM

I have quite a number of Jewish friends and clients. I've got one former evangelical who converted to Judaism as a client. I've been told that their synagogue has quite a few more evangelicals that have converted to Judaism.

And, of course, I'm one who walked away from the whole religion (not just stepping down to Judaism) thing when the obvious contradictions and out-right falsehoods of the scriptures couldn't be explained away rationally. My wife took the easy way out and became "agnostic" because of the problems with the fairy-tale that is the Bible.

Re: #59 - never mind just humans, it's worse for most other species, which collapsed to a mere 2 individuals. !!!. You'd think this would mean catastrophically low levels of variation, massive inbreeding depression and the signature of a bottleneck in all existing metazoans (what about plants? cnidarians? was there a jellyfish tank on the Ark? A pH-controlled octopus tank?). There's SOME mitigating factors - population explosion could restore variation (all your offspring survive), and inbreeding load can be purged (or greatly reduced) in a few generations. But the genetic signatures for all of these things should still be there. We shouldn't see things compatible with a 100,000-year-old Out-of-Africa migration.

That middle word in the name "Righteous Response Squad" maybe needs to be replaced, huh? "Erasure?"

Any apologetics which rely on rational debate to persuade the other side have the seed of their own destruction in them. As the Righteous Response Squad figured out, in order to debate there are mandatory assumptions you rely on regarding the common ground you and your opponent stand on -- and this common ground directly contradicts the Special Revelation hierarchies of faith. In faith arguments, people either "respond" or "fail to respond" to bland assertions of Truth. Knowledge comes down from above, suspended on skyhooks. It's not built from the ground up, let alone from the common ground grappling with disagreements, in give and take. That method grants, loses, and risks too much. Athens debated: Jerusalem stated.

It's certainly not just Biblical Inerrantists who play the "no debate" game -- in fact, they tend to play it less than the liberal Christians and New Age-ish Spiritual But Not Religious crowd. The truth is "revealed" in a blinding flash of insight -- or in a slow and cautious process of hope -- it isn't reasoned out. If you are open, or have an "evolved consciousness," then you will reach out and accept what you are given. Those who are skeptical and demand rational empirical evidence are the small children, the lower human animals, the love-lacking, dull, small-hearted, rebellious, proud, arrogant, infantile, left behind members of the species. If you think these poor folk will one day "catch up," that makes you a liberal.

"I have nothing to prove. I merely offer and leave it up to you to accept -- or not." That sort of thing is as likely to come from a swami as from an evangelical. And it's how they think God works. "He chooses you; you don't choose Him." Nobody is enlightened through rational argument; it comes through the heart. Liberal Christians often scorn the Fundamentalists because they can see that the fundies are simply "playing the atheists' game."

As others have pointed out -- how very convenient. Considering the rational arguments don't work, it must be nice to know knowledge can be confirmed by an inner conviction and a warm heart.

This is unfair; all this nitpickery about the details in the bible. Why not point out the entire -book- the Christians prefer to forget about?

Oh, yeah, I'm talking about Ecclesiastes.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

By James Stein (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

#63 - Reginald Selkirk

I think my Biblical contradiction of choice would be salvation based exclusively on works vs. salvation based exclusively on faith.

That requires nuance in your arguement. It can be tough to boil it down to a "look here, now look here" argument, especially in the King James verbiage of the Bible of choice.

Contradictions like the geneology one discussed here are the types of things that you bring up when the person on the other side of the argument insists on a literal, word-for-word interpretation of the Bible. They're easy to use to point out that this style of interpretation is trivially silly on its face.

It's pretty fruitless to argue contradictions so called experts as they can squirm out of anything. "Son of" can simply mean descended from. Begat, well, I'd think that means sired but who knows. Better to find a naive who has heard and who repeats that the bible is consistant and error-free and point out the inconsistancies out. Thus the naive can start questioning just what "literally true and internally consistent" is supposed to mean.

That the bible is the irrefutable and literal truth and the word of God is one of the more bizaare ideas of Bible thumpers. When I was a teenager I watched the TV show "I, Claudius" and there were a few seens where the Roman Senate voted upon making recently deceased figures gods. I was utterly perplexed by the idea that the Senate would believe either they'd have the power to do so or that whatever supernatural forces did (the major gods I always assumed but who knows) would follow the Senate's lead. The more recent "Rome" implies this was more like today's vatican council in the idea that the gods would influence the vote to do their will. Kind of iffy though. The "literal truth and internal consistency" is a bit like that. We know it was transcribed by humans over millinea and even editted by committee serveral times. Yes, I suppose God *could* have influenced every step of the way but ...

To plays devil's advocate, I was a bit underimpressed with Jim Merritt's contradictions. Bits about "loving god" and "wrathful god" are obviously not going to stump anyone. (It's a fair critique but it's not a logical contradiction.) His bit about shape of the earth comes across as the quibblings of a smart-ass. But these do lead to questions as to what "consistent" is supposed to mean. Does it imply clarity? If we argue away the geneologies (I'm surprised biblical historians don't have a established theories-- although more likely this self-appointed RRS are too amateurish to research them) doesn't that raise the question "Shouldn't the bible have been clearer".

I find the "typos" *very* intriguing. "forty thousand" stables vs. "four thousand" stables. "Clearly" human error *but* if on has forty thousand than one always has every number less than forty thousand. "Do you have five dollars" is answered with a "yes" if you have fifty dollars. Oooh, misleading but true. Should "consistant" also mean direct? Better is the age of Jehoiachin when he first ruled: eight or eighteen (who cares)? It'd be playing loose with history to claim he ruled twice. If one wish to stretch and say being eighteen means one has all the years less than eighteen as well, then I'd have to say any "consistancy" that allows this sort of deliberate misleading is useless and undeserving of the name. Of course the obvious answer is that one or the other (or both) is a typo.

Can "literally true" and "consistant" have typos? I'd say obviously not. If supernatural forces intervened to keep the truth and consistancy through millenia of transcribing and editing comittees surely typos (which are false) would be avoided.

Um, does anyone understand this "contradiction" of Merritt's?: "Odd genetic engineering"
GEN 30:39 And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted.

The cartoonist Larry Gonick introduced me to this line in his "Cartoon Guide to Genetics". He claimed it was an early observance of recessive genes. However I can't see what Merritt's "contradiction" is.

So, apparently, God wasn't able to work through the actual people doing the begetting to arrange for his desired three by fourteen pattern, so he had to resort to working through Matthew to lie about it later? Or did it not occur to God until he sat down to write the New Testament by proxy that, hey, it would be really cool if there were a pattern of some sort in his kid's adopted genealogy?

Okay, I'm recalling entirely from memory here and make absolutely *no* claims on my accuracy.

My older sister's biological father went on to become an Isreali tour guide (he's appearantly-- I never met him-- a right-wing Zionist nut in constant communication with right-wing bring on the armagedon nuts). He says there were many ways Jesus of Nazereth simply didn't fulfill the prophecy of the messiah. His lineage was one and clearly fudged. He was from Nazareth rather than Bethlehem. He was killed by Romans rather than by his fellow jews (hence the entire "Christ-killer" stigma we've been labled with for 2000 years simply because we didn't make a bigger fuss when the Romans killed him was created out of cloth by Paul to try to sell Christ to the Jews because Isaah says the messiah will be scorned and killed by jews), and so on.

The weird thing is how believes find these historical facts fascinating and clever and the fudgeary and deception reasonable to their faith rather than weakening to their faith.

It's weird. The Armageddonists with ray guns in the Ark of the Covenent and conspiracy theories and political coups to install Jesus as Messiah seem to have a surprising lack of any actual *spiritual* faith. It's like believing in the tooth fairy without believing in magic. Weird.

From the "debate":

Athanasius was the first one to contend for the NT as we have it today, not Nicea. Nicea simply agreed with him...

Um... first of all, Nicea was a city, not a person. Secondly it - the Council of Nicea of 325 CE - had nothing to do with the modern canon which was mostly finalised at the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE although the canon, in Catholic terms, was not dogmatically articulated until the Council of Trent of 1546 CE.

Top theological minds they have over there.

By Sarcastro (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

"I'll get back to you" is the answer I get at the end of every single one of these conversations I have with Christians where a problem they can't resolve is pointed out. Its tiresome. They never do get back to me of course after checking with their church or other sources, they prolly don't check into it at all. They also stay religious, so yeah this exercise really doesnt get anywhere.

""I'll get back to you" is the answer I get at the end of every single one of these conversations I have with Christians where a problem they can't resolve is pointed out."

Yet for some reason they can turn around and claim that there are no contradictions in the bible!

If they really knew that there were "no contradictions in the bible" then why should they have to go away and try to come up with an answer? If they are not able to resolve the claim without having to research it, then how can they say there are no contradictions? Have they researched every single possibility?

Considering for example that this "geneology of Jesus" issue is one of the most blatent and obvious examples of an apparent contradiction, if they haven't already resolved that one, then why do they think they have answers to the less obvious questions?

Silly PZ, the new, most sophisticated theological argument is to accuse atheists of being child molesters.

The alternative proposed by some self-satisfied atheists is to live by yourself in a world where love is unimportant because it is not based on a rational premise that I get some advantage for myself. Where every institution that is imperfect (all of them) falls beneath the atheist. (In fact, the atheist columnist on this site had so few arrows in her moral quiver that she found nothing objectionable with child molestation: really! Do-overs don't count.)

The last bit in parentheses has already been deleted, after I shot off some angry emails and posted on Susan Jacoby's blog (as she was most likely the target of this vile libel.)

But the quote above is what it was in full, at least until about half an hour ago. I should have gotten a screenshot.

What a vile, hateful, god-soaked little weasel. Jacoby has written far more in denunciation of child abuse and rape than that Catholic priest-defending creep has ever done.

Oh, the remainder of the post is the usual parade of strawmen and theobabble: "atheism takes just as much faith; maybe more! Tee-hee!" Would have been unremarkable if not for telling vicious lies about an author I admire.

By minimalist (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Nicea was a city

And still is (as Iznik).

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Christ did not debate His word. He said the Truth, and moved on. There was no debating with the Truth. And if you didn't listen to it, then He moved on.

Early in his career, when he lacked political clout, he moved on. Once he had a large following behind him, he began to engage in assault and vandalism against those who disagreed with him. This is the pattern of behavior that Christians have followed ever since. I can only imagine what the Self-Righteous Lack of Response Squad would like to do to atheists.

By Patrick Quigley (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

If they really knew that there were "no contradictions in the bible" then why should they have to go away and try to come up with an answer?

Because they consider the truth and consistency of the bible logically prior to everything else. That any apparent contradiction should have a reasonable resolution is their first position, at least amongst the naive believers- naive meaning those who have not yet encountered the problems and decided to believe in the face of them.

Once that proves impossible, they reveal their true position: the bible=truth. Data and arguments to the contrary, even logical inconsistencies, cannot come to anything, and have no bearing. Their magic infallible book and their deity are conflated, though this is elided most of the time. So their book cannot, in principle, be contradicted, because it is by this deity's words that truth is determined. The book=the word of god=god=truth. QED.

(Belief-no-matter-what is a potential foible of human psychology in general, not just fundies, I think, but it is easy to identify the problem in fundamentalists).

I avoid arguing about contradictions with dedicated apologists, but if I encounter someone who is merely unfamiliar with their book/creed/deity I point out problems. How they choose is up to them. They can base belief on facts and reason, or on their magic book. My job is to present the facts, and a warning...

By Dave Eaton (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

"Panthera" would be a very strange name for a Roman. It is today interpreted as a misunderstanding of parthenos.

If Joseph was descended from Jacob, why were there still Jacobs?

ROTFL!!! :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

How can Jesus be of the seed of David, as stated by Paul, if Mary was immaculately conceived?

"Immaculately" means "without the original sin". It does not mean "without a biological father".

Unless, of course, Mary was from the seed of David, yet this is not claimed anywhere that I have read

Eh, then read again. That is claimed in at least one gospel.

At least the Righteous Response Squad recognized their problem -- allowing a debate in the first place. When you don't control both sides of the debate, then you leave yourself open to all sorts of reasonable arguments from the other side.

LOL!

This thread is great late-night reading. :-)

Comment 40: See, that's exactly why the Catholic church has invented limbo, and why Benedict XIV only says there is reason for prayerful hope that it doesn't exist, rather than "abolishing" it as so many headlines have claimed. That and the slippery slope -- extra ecclesia nulla salus.

I got [...] "if the Bible was just made up by people, do you really think they'd be so stupid as to disagree on Jesus's grandfather?" That last one still makes me chuckle. The Argument from Unbelievable Incompetence.

Wow. That tops it. That tops it all. Gives a whole new meaning to creo quia absurdum.

And there I was thinking that "to err is human, but to really fuck up, it takes a computer"...

He was killed by Romans rather than by his fellow jews (hence the entire "Christ-killer" stigma we've been labled with for 2000 years simply because we didn't make a bigger fuss when the Romans killed him was created out of cloth by Paul to try to sell Christ to the Jews because Isaah says the messiah will be scorned and killed by jews), and so on.

:-o

My job is to present the facts, and a warning...

Well said.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Reginald Selkirk wrote:
"I would like to point out that many of the textual problems with the Bible are not new discoveries of Ehrman, but were known over a century ago. Biblical literalism has been flying in the face of reality for quite some time."

When I realized that, after I had finally freed myself from the mind-shackles, I was so angry! Everything I was discovering was old, last-century knowledge, and I had been carefully shielded from it, with all that blathering; "... no contradictions ... archeology proves ... blah, blah, blah ... Josephus ... eyewitnesses ... miraculous agreement ...!" And, of course, "Stay away from foolish discussions; don't expose yourself to false teachings, BEWARE! DANGER! KEEP YOUR MIND PURE!"

Actually, it still makes me angry.

Woot! Yay Raven, you call them Death Cultists too; My meme is spreading :)

I should start monitoring the sites and see how many other people had the same idea in total...

More on topic, I ran into this same asinine thinking back in 7th grade when I called a death cultist on the proverb of the Samaritan. The fact that clerics actually order parishioners not to think about it tells you everything you need to know about these so-called believers.

Dismissing sophisticated theological arguments is rather like nailing-down blancmange: a complete waste of time!

It's not worth it!

Let the deluded morons believe what they want!

By ScaredAmoeba (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

Dismissing sophisticated theological arguments is rather like nailing-down blancmange: a complete waste of time!

It's not worth it!

Let the deluded morons believe what they want!

By ScaredAmoeba (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

in this case the two different lineages given for Joseph.

i stumped a pastor with that one too. in front of a live congegration, in a non-challenging, genuinely curious kind of way. there was just this long awkward pause, and noticable tension in the church. people shuffled back and forth from luke to matthew and back, a few murmurs of "wow i'd never noticed that before..."

By arachnophilia (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink

I feel I should mention that it was exactly this contradiction that proved to be the final nail in the coffin of my Christianity. I also feel I should mention that despite having been a Christian for around 20 years and, to my embaressment, having even won competitions based on my knowledge of the bible I was completely unaware of this until fairly recently. Churches do a very good job of stearing people away from things like this.

When it was first pointed out to me, in Richard Dawkins excellent "the God Delusion", it came almost as a physical blow. I felt so cheated and angry that I could have missed something so obvious for so long. If debate does nothing but show these issues to people like myself who somehow managed to miss them then in my mind it has done its job.

A Christian Apologetics website (CARM.org), addresses the issue of multiple genealogies in a delightful way. They actually say:

  1. "[critics] should first realize that the Bible should be interpreted in the context of its literary style, culture, and history."
  2. "It is only the critics of today who narrow their vision into a literalness and require this to be a 'contradiction' when in reality we have an explanation that is more than sufficient."

Yes, the Christian apologists claim that the Bible should not be taken literally!
(But only on this issue, of course.)

Eusebius, chapter 7, resolves the two genealogies, claiming the information came from Jesus' relatives.

According to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy), if a married man died leaving his wife childless, the man's brother was to take the widow as a wife. Their firstborn son would be considered to be the son of the deceased.

Joseph was a child born according to this law - one man sired him, but by Law the boy was considered the son of another man. In this case, the two men were half-brothers (having the same mother, but different fathers) with different genealogies descending from David.

ad-hoc apologetics.

i sometimes entertain the idea that matthew was writing a satire. he goes out of his way to list prostitutes and cheating wives in his genealogy of jesus, and then miscounts the generations while leaving out ones mentioned in chronicles?

and mentions the wrong line of david. the last rightful king of judah was zedekiah. where is he in jesus's genealogy? he's not there. any ruling king of judah would have to be descended from zedekiah, and NOT the cursed line of jehoiakim -- who's son is mentioned.

so, three times the son of a whore, son of a cursed lineage, and matthew can't count his own lists. right. this really makes the case.

By arachnophilia (not verified) on 05 Sep 2007 #permalink

SeanH (et al): I note in passing that sort of thing also strengthens the mythicist case, first seriously investigated in the 19th century and defended in our day by Earl Doherty and others. Lots of little things like that add up, plus the "smoking gun" in Hebrews 8:1 and following.

Steve LaBonne: _Babylon 5_ tried to answer some of that ... see what happens to G'Kar.

My favourite passage (amongst the "God is omnibenevolent" crowd anyway) is Isaiah 45:7. God creates evil, eh?

#69:

That middle word in the name "Righteous Response Squad" maybe needs to be replaced, huh? "Erasure?"

"Revisionism". They don't even need to change their acronym.

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 08 Sep 2007 #permalink

"Panthera" would be a very strange name for a Roman. It is today interpreted as a misunderstanding of parthenos.

If Joseph was descended from Jacob, why were there still Jacobs?

ROTFL!!! :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

How can Jesus be of the seed of David, as stated by Paul, if Mary was immaculately conceived?

"Immaculately" means "without the original sin". It does not mean "without a biological father".

Unless, of course, Mary was from the seed of David, yet this is not claimed anywhere that I have read

Eh, then read again. That is claimed in at least one gospel.

At least the Righteous Response Squad recognized their problem -- allowing a debate in the first place. When you don't control both sides of the debate, then you leave yourself open to all sorts of reasonable arguments from the other side.

LOL!

This thread is great late-night reading. :-)

Comment 40: See, that's exactly why the Catholic church has invented limbo, and why Benedict XIV only says there is reason for prayerful hope that it doesn't exist, rather than "abolishing" it as so many headlines have claimed. That and the slippery slope -- extra ecclesia nulla salus.

I got [...] "if the Bible was just made up by people, do you really think they'd be so stupid as to disagree on Jesus's grandfather?" That last one still makes me chuckle. The Argument from Unbelievable Incompetence.

Wow. That tops it. That tops it all. Gives a whole new meaning to creo quia absurdum.

And there I was thinking that "to err is human, but to really fuck up, it takes a computer"...

He was killed by Romans rather than by his fellow jews (hence the entire "Christ-killer" stigma we've been labled with for 2000 years simply because we didn't make a bigger fuss when the Romans killed him was created out of cloth by Paul to try to sell Christ to the Jews because Isaah says the messiah will be scorned and killed by jews), and so on.

:-o

My job is to present the facts, and a warning...

Well said.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 04 Sep 2007 #permalink