The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Bible

  • The Bible: What It is
  • The Inerrant Bible
  • Biblical Myths
  • The Demise of Biblical Archaeology
  • Uncertain Authorship
  • Haphazard Canonization and Textual Difficulties
  • On Morality and Word Spinning
  • Conclusions
  • "We find collected in this book [The Bible] the superstitious beliefs of the ancient inhabitants of Palestine, with indistinct echoes of Indian and Persian fables, mistaken imitation of Egyptian theories and customs, historical chronicles as dry as they are unreliable and miscellaneous poems, amatory, human and Jewish-national, which is rarely distinguished by beauties of the highest order but frequently by superfluity of expression, coarseness, bad taste, and genuine Oriental sensuality."
    Max Nordau (1849-1923)

    "The dogma of the infallibility of the Bible is no more self-evident than is that of the infallibility of the popes."
    Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

    The Bible: What It is

    The Bible[a] is really a collection of many books. In fact, the modern Bible, not including the group of books known as the Apocrypha, actually comprises of sixty-six books. The lengths of these books vary from Isaiah, which comes close in length to a modern short novel, to the Third Epistle of John, with only 294 words.

    The books in the Bible are divided into two main sections; known respectively as The Old Testament and The New Testament. Christians view the Old Testament as an account of the old covenant between God and the Hebrews. The Old Testament was also supposed to contain references and prophecies to the coming of Jesus Christ. The New Testament presents, through Jesus, a new covenant, this time between God and all mankind.

    In some Bibles there exist a third section, known as the Apocrypha. These books are those which canonicity as the word of God is disputed in various churches. The Roman Catholic Church accepts some of these books as canonical and places them together with the books of the Old Testament.

    The Bible is, thus, a collection of many different types of books. Not all the books carry the same message. For instance, Nehemiah, calls for the preservation of racial purity by the prohibition of inter-racial marriages, while Ruth has for its heroine a Moabite woman who married a Jew. As another example, the book of Proverbs extols living the good life which it says is God's reward for righteous living while Ecclesiastes says life is meaningless and prosperity is accidental.

    The New Testament stands in an uneasy contrast with the Old. The Old Testament says that the Jews are the chosen people of God. This God may sometimes abandon them as a punishment for their unfaithfulness but the severance was always only temporary. Yet in the New Testament we are shown that the Jews are completely severed from God and are in fact responsible for the murder of his Son.

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    The Inerrant Bible?

    The Bible is an interesting and valuable collection of Middle Eastern myths, history and literature . To the Christians, however, the Bible is much more than that. It is God's word to man. As God's word to man Christian theologians had in the past viewed the Bible as an inerrant work. This is only reasonable, for the one guarantee that the Bible is God's word must be that it cannot contain any errors whatsoever. With the development of human knowledge, especially in the sciences, this view of Biblical inerrancy is being shared by fewer and fewer theologians.

    However, there is still a substantial group of theologians, the fundamentalists, who accept, or shall I say, assert, the strict inerrancy of the Bible. Note that the dogma of the inerrant Bible is not that only some parts of the Bible are true. It asserts that the Bible is completely and absolutely without any error. It is also the general observation of this author that most lay Christians, be they from fundamentalist churches or otherwise, hold what is an essentially fundamentalist view of the Bible: that it is inerrant.

    Before starting our analysis, there are two ideas that must be clear in our mind. First we have to understand the logic behind our claim that that the Bible is not inerrant. Second we have to understand the difference between the concept of probability and possibility and why it is relevant for our analysis to follow.

    We see that the Bible contains many mistakes and inaccuracies. The Bible

    Apart from these simple errors, the Bible also contains numerous scientific errors. These include errors in: Thus far from being inerrant, the Bible is we can see, is filled with contradictions, mistakes and scientific errors common to other cultures of that era.

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    Biblical Myths

    Perhaps the most well known of all biblical myths, and certainly the one most stubbornly defended by fundamentalists, is the creation myth. In fact, creationism (as it is called by believers-they also normally add the adjective "scientific" in front), is a "hot" topic among fundamentalist circles. Yet creationism, and the corresponding creation myths in Genesis, is demonstrably false. The creation myths (note the plural) in the Bible:

    In fact we can show that the creation myths in the Bible are not even original to it but were derived from earlier Babylonian myths.

    While we are on the subject of myths, we must note that the flood myth, which many believe were somehow geologically proven is demonstrably false. Furthermore, it has been conclusively shown by archaeologists that the Biblical flood myth was derived from The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Babylonian myth. In fact the very name Noah is derived from the name of a Babylonian rain goddess.

    Other myths include the myth of Cain and Abel and the myth of the Tower of Babel. We can safely conclude that the first eleven chapters of genesis is pure mythology.

    The Demise of Biblical Archaeology

    Indeed , there is now so much contrary evidence against the historical accuracy of the Bible that the term "biblical archaeology" has now been discarded in professional archeology! [The preferred term now being Syro-Palestinian archaeology [1]] The whole paradigm of archaeology in the Near East has shifted away from thinking of the Bible as a reliable archaeological field guide to that of a collection of ancient fairy tales and legends.

    The BBC journalist Matthew Sturgis account in his book It Ain't Necessarily So (2001) summarizes the current situation nicely:

    A new generation of archaeologists has emerged...they are challenging the intellectual assumptions of their predecessors...During the years since World War II it has become harder and harder to escape this sense of doubt. The expected discoveries of specific biblical artifacts and buildings were simply not being made...Discrepancies between the biblical account and the ever increasing archaeological record become more noticeable and harder to ignore...Rather than using the Old Testament as a field guide, the current crop of archaeologists is increasingly putting the Bible aside...The very term biblical archaeology has become tainted, and is now rejected by many academics...The old quest to confirm the historical truths of the events in the Bible has been replaced by a new agenda: to build a full and detailed picture of life in the ancient Near East. If the Bible is consulted at all, it is approached with varying degrees of skepticism. The onus of proof has shifted: the text [of the Bible] is now considered historically unreliable until proven otherwise. [2]

    Over the last decade, quote a number of books have been published outlining this state of affairs.

    • T.W. Davis, “Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology”, Oxford 2004
    • I. Finkelstein, “The Bible Unearthed”, Free Press 2001
    • A.D. Marcus, “The View from Nebo”, Little, Brown & Co 2000
    • M. Sturgis, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, Headline 2001
    • T.L. Thompson, “The Mythic Past”, Basic Books 1999
    • T.L. Thompson, “The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives”, Trinity 2002
    Basically the main thesis of these books can be summarized as follows: much of what passed as history (such Abraham and the “patriarchal narrative”, Moses and the exodus and the conquest of Canaan) is now considered, based on the mass of available archaeological evidence, to be largely mythical. The Israeli archaeologist, I. Finkelstein (see his book above) goes even further; he asserts that historical evidence is lacking for even the united kingdom of David and Solomon! Indeed today some of the major events and characters of the Old Testament are no longer considered historical!

    While it is true that David and Solomon existed, the archaeological evidence shows that the kingdom of David and Solomon were nowhere near how they are described in the Bible. Indeed Jerusalem during the time of David and Solomon was little more than a village with less than 5,000 people!

    There are clear fictive elements in other Biblical books as well.

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    Uncertain Authorship

    The books of the Bible are books of testimony. Unlike treatises on mathematics and logic, where the correctness of the argument can be inferred from the written sources themselves, testimonials invariable involve a person or persons telling you something actually happened. Thus the integrity of the person giving the testimonial is of utmost importance. For that integrity is what makes us trust what he or she says. The Bible makes testimonies about things that are, by any reckoning, out of the ordinary. There are testimonials about the appearances of God to some of his prophets, about tremendous miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea and even about a man walking on water! Surely on such incredible testimonies, the integrity of the person telling the stories must be scrutinized very very closely. Remember the old maxim: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. As a corollary to that, we should demand that the incredible stories demand impeccable integrity on behalf of the storyteller to be believed.

    The first step towards examining the integrity of a person is, of course, to know his or her identity. It is therefore not surprising that Jewish and Christian traditions ascribed the authorships of the books in the Old Testaments to well known Jewish kings and prophets: the very characters mentioned in the Bible. To Moses, certainly the most important figure in Judaism, was attributed the authorship of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In a similar trend, Joshua, Moses' successor, was supposed to have penned the book that has his name as the title. Other important figures in Jewish history, such as David and Solomon, also have books attributed to them.

    There is a similar trend in the New Testament. Most books in the New Testament had their authorship attributed to the disciples of Jesus, or at least their immediate followers. For examples the two letters of Peter were supposed to have been written by the apostle himself, while the gospel of Mark was presumed to have been written by one of Peter's followers.

    These attribution of authorship were accepted, almost without question, by Christians for close to two millennia. In the 19th century, with the use of the methods critical historical research to the books of the Bible, these traditional beliefs were slowly but relentlessly eroded. The research has reached a point where almost all the books in the Bible are no longer held to be written by the people tradition thought them to be. This valid discovery, however, is very rarely communicated to the lay public. When it is conveyed at all, it is normally preceded with attempt on behalf of the scholars to cushion the "blow" on the reader. As a result, to this day most lay Christians and (of course) all fundamentalists hold firm to these traditional attribution of authorship.

    Let us look at the problem of authorship:

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    Haphazard Canonization and Textual Difficulties

    Many Christians have a very vague idea about how this collection was achieved. Even then it is probably filled with belief that the method of collection was miraculously inspired. When Christians speak of the "canon of the Bible" they mean the list of books that are to be considered as sacred writings or the word of God to the exclusion of all other books. There is no middle ground, no gray area. Either a book is inspired by God or it is not. There is no book that is "partially" inspired. The uninitiated would naturally and common sensically expect these "inspired" books to be somehow so different from those rejected that it would be an easy matter to separate them. Surely a work written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would be clearly distinct from the works of mere mortals. The truth of the matter, as history shows, is very different.

    We will proceed to show that the method of collection was haphazard and by no means carried out with the unanimous consent of early Christendom. Let us looks first at the Old Testament:

    The history of the New Testament canonization and textual transmission shows a process that is equally haphazard:

    • The history of the transmission of New Testament manuscripts shows that the text became more and more corrupted as time goes on culminating with the faulty text used as the basis for the King James version.
    • Some of passages beloved by Christians, such as the Johanine Comma, the Pericopae Adulterae and the passages describing Jesus' resurrection in the earliest gospel have been shown by textual criticism to be spurious!.
    • Indeed we see that the often made claim by fundamentalists that the more than five thousand extant manuscripts of the New Testament point to something special is nothing but an empty boast.
    • The canonization process was a hodgepodge of mistaken authorship attribution, faulty logic and the politics of heresy.

    Due to all these difficulties, it is important to know that not all Bible translations are of equal standard of scholarship. Some, especially the ones from fundamentalist publications, have theological axes to grind in their translations: smoothing over some of the difficulties above and getting rid of some of the (to them) more offensive passages of the Bible.

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    On Morality and Word Spinning

    Some believers have argued that while it is may be so that the Bible is not completely true and is a largely a human concoction, it is still a valuable storehouse of moral teachings. This too, is patently false, upon close examination. We see that: It can be shown that much of the harm Christianity has visited on the world has been due mainly to these Bible passages.

    That leaves us with the liberal theologians. They try to explain away the contradictions, mistakes and moral flaws of the Bible with theological word-spinning.

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    Conclusions

    What can we conclude from our study of the Bible?
    • It is filled with scientific errors, contradictions and numerous other errors.
    • Many of its myths are not even original, but were derived from earlier middle eastern myths.
    • The authors are largely anonymous.
    • The canonization process is largely haphazard and accidental.
    • It does not serve as a good moral guide and in fact had been largely responsible for the atrocities committed by believers.
    In short, the Bible is not a "good Book".

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    Notes

    a One of the way documents were made in ancient times was to write them down on rolls of papyrus. The material to make this rolls comes from the inner bark of a reed plant that grows only in swampy places. The plant was called byblos. This name is derived from the Canaanite seaport in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) called Byblos. Hence, the Greek word for the roll of papyrus is biblion which is translated into English as “book”. The plural of biblion is biblia. It is from this word, biblia, that the word Bible is derived.[Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: p11]

    References

    1.Davis, Shifting Sands: p145
    2.Sturgis, It Ain't Necessarily So: p36-39

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