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jan
14th August 2005, 07:22 AM
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation. On the other hand, it seems quite obvious to me that any literalist interpretation is grossly misleading about the real intentions of the writers of the Bible. It sometimes borders on the strawman fallacy — if the only interpretation of the Bible you can argue against is the literalist one, I pity your debating skills.

One prominent example is the creation story of the Genesis. There are obviously two different stories, with conflicting details. Several possible interpretations:
Wreck your brain until you find a bizarre literal interpretation that makes the contradictions disappear.
Assume that the writers of this part of the Bible were incredibly stupid, drunken and/or drugged.
Maybe the decision to include both stories was based on the feeling that we mere mortals are unable to know the details of the creation, therefor two different accounts should be included to make clear that the details are just guesswork.
The writers of that part used to think in mythological terms, therefor, the concept of a single truth, corresponding to a single reality, never occurred to them.
...
Whatever you choose, the first and second interpretation seem to me to be the most weak of all.

Another example is the claim that the Bible claims that π=3. I used that argument myself, and I admit that it can be a lot of fun, especially if your opponent is convinced that every single letter of the Bible is filled with divine revelations. But most Christians have no problem at all with the corresponding quote, and if you insist that the Bible indeed claims π=3, and therefor, God is stupid, I think you will sound like a jerk yourself.

More weak examples, I think, are the claim that the Bible claims that bats are birds, or that God is unable to defeat an iron chariot. They are fine if you are arguing with a literalist, but they are not always applicable (the "bats are birds" argument isn't even then applicable, because the modern definition of birds is just a definition, not an empirical truth).

Time for some hasty generalisation, I think:
Every interpretation of the Bible can be endlessly defended. This is just a corollary of the more general insight that any position can be defended endlessly, if one has enough patience and ignorance at hand. If you doubt that, try arguing with a homeopath. Or a member of the flat earth society. Or a Bible literalist.

Nevertheless, there is one and only one correct interpretation, that is based on what the writers had in mind while writing. This is based on the assumption that they had something in mind while they had been writing what they had been writing.

It is sometimes possible to find an approximation of this interpretation. Some texts are, of course, so incomplete, ancient and dark that we might never be able to find out what they supposedly meant. But note that the passages of the Bible are not special in this regard: even when you read the newspaper, you have to make some guesses what that you are reading is supposed to mean. An old text might be more difficult to understand than a new text, but the difference is just one of degree.

In the case of the Bible, this interpretation is often not a literal one. At least that seems to be the overwhelming consense of serious scholars. But I don't have to appeal to authority: I have given an example above why I think that a certain piece of the Bible (that is, the creation story) shouldn't be interpreted literally.

triadboy
14th August 2005, 07:55 AM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation.

This is the stance taken by fundamentalists - the people who cause problems in the world. I don't think atheists have any problem with normal people quietly believing their own version of god.

One prominent example is the creation story of the Genesis. There are obviously two different stories, with conflicting details. Several possible interpretations:

Assume that the writers of this part of the Bible were incredibly stupid, drunken and/or drugged.

Remember - the first creation tale is from the time of the Babylonian captivity (~550 BC). ("On the first day...etc) It was written by an author known as the Priestly Author ("P"). His creation story was influenced by the Babylonian creation tale.

The second creation tale (Adam and Eve) is from ~900 BC. (This was the "J" author)

"P" grabbed all these stories and crammed them together. (There are also two versions (P and J) of the Noah story crammed together!)

While the author may well have been drunk - P is the culprit for the confusion.

Beady
14th August 2005, 08:18 AM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation.

If this is your basic premise, it is completely incorrect. Atheists and agnostics, by definition, cannot believe that the Bible should be taken literally either in whole or in part. As triadboy says, the literallness of the Bible is a fundamentalist Christian view.

jjramsey
14th August 2005, 08:50 AM
Originally posted by Beady
If this is your basic premise, it is completely incorrect. Atheists and agnostics, by definition, cannot believe that the Bible should be taken literally either in whole or in part.

Not quite. There is an ambiguity in the phrase "take literally." It can mean simply interpreting a text according to its word-for-word meaning, and using that interpretation to judge whether text is true or false. This is how an atheist would take the Bible literally, so to speak. It can also mean interpreting a text according to its word-for-word meaning, and accepting that interpretation as true, which is how a fundamentalist would take the Bible literally.

I have to be a bit careful about the meaning of "literal," though. Fundamentalists use the word both to mean "word-for-word" and as a synonym for "inerrant." It is this latter use of the term that will cause a fundamentalist to say things like "literal figure of speech," which otherwise would be an oxymoron. Obviously, jan is not using "literal" in this latter sense.

pgwenthold
14th August 2005, 10:34 AM
Originally posted by jjramsey
Not quite. There is an ambiguity in the phrase "take literally." It can mean simply interpreting a text according to its word-for-word meaning, and using that interpretation to judge whether text is true or false. This is how an atheist would take the Bible literally, so to speak.

And personally, as an atheist, I can see no other way it could be done. Theists might suggest that certain aspects of the bible should not be interpreted literally, and that they are metaphorical or contextual, but one of my problems as an atheist is to understand exactly which of those passages are to interpreted that way? When I hear it from theists, it is apparently only the troublesome passages that have alternate or non-literal meanings. Why is it when Jesus says, "Think that I did not come to unite but divide" that this gets dismissed as contextual, while "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is considered absolute?

From a logical perspective, unless there is a rational reason to dismiss one of the statements, all must be treated equally, whether they are good or bad for christianity or religion. The talking donkey is absolutely, 100% just as legitimate as the resurrection. It makes no sense to accept one and dismiss the other (unless you are Jewish, in which case you dismiss all of the NT). However, oddly enough, it seems that the only things in the bible that are "context" or "metaphor" are the things that make the religion look bad. You never hear a christian come around and explain how Jesus raising Lazerus from the dead didn't really happen is only a metaphor (although there are scholars who will certainly say such things).

Of course, christians will also say that you have to read the bible with the "Holy Spirit in your heart" and you will understand. As a non-believer, it's not something I can do. Therefore, all I can do is take the bible at face value. Some good, some bad, mostly boring.

jjramsey
14th August 2005, 12:23 PM
Originally posted by pgwenthold
And personally, as an atheist, I can see no other way it could be done. Theists might suggest that certain aspects of the bible should not be interpreted literally, and that they are metaphorical or contextual, but one of my problems as an atheist is to understand exactly which of those passages are to interpreted that way? When I hear it from theists, it is apparently only the troublesome passages that have alternate or non-literal meanings.

So, when Song of Solomon 7:8 says "I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches," you cannot tell from the context that it obviously isn't about climbing trees? Or that when Genesis 7:4 has God tell Noah, "[E]very living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground," you cannot tell from the context that Noah and his family are obviously an exception to this sweeping statement? Or that the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is a parable and that the events it described were understood as fiction, even though this is not stated explicitly? Or that when Jesus is portrayed as saying "I am the true vine" (John 15:1), he does not mean that he is a plant? Or that when Jesus says "I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7) and then shortly after that says, "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11), that he did not contradict himself and that he did not actually mean either that he was a door to a sheepfold or that he herded sheep for a living?

There are plenty of places in the Bible that are obviously not quite literal even though they are not always marked as such, ranging from minor imprecision (i.e. Genesis 7:4) to outright metaphor (the "I am" stuff in the book of John).

gnome
14th August 2005, 12:44 PM
The point, I think, is that if you accept that the bible is not literal, then interpretations come down to opinion. It can be an educated opinion, but still cannot carry any true authority.

The reason that doesn't lend itself to debate much, is because atheists by and large really don't have a problem with someone having an opinion about the bible. It's those that claim their version of the bible is perfect in every way that tend to wind up in arguments, usually by citing the bible itself as an authority to try to settle something.

Ladewig
14th August 2005, 01:02 PM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation. On the other hand, it seems quite obvious to me that any literalist interpretation is grossly misleading about the real intentions of the writers of the Bible. It sometimes borders on the strawman fallacy — if the only interpretation of the Bible you can argue against is the literalist one, I pity your debating skills.

I will assume that you do not recognize the divinity of Lord Krishna. Is your lack of belief based on a literal interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita or on a broader interpretation of it? Is your lack of faith in Allah based on a literal interpretation of the Quran or a figurative interpretation of the holy scriptures?

Are there really that many people who become atheists because they reject a literal interpretation of the Bible?

jan
14th August 2005, 01:49 PM
Originally posted by triadboy
This is the stance taken by fundamentalists - the people who cause problems in the world. I don't think atheists have any problem with normal people quietly believing their own version of god.

Those are two different topics, I would say; a certain atheist may be able to let others live in peace and harmony, but if others start a debate (for example, because they are trying to proselyte), he may be unable to recognize that non-literal interpretations of the Bible are possible.

While the author may well have been drunk - P is the culprit for the confusion.

While I agree that the summary you provided is a state of the art account what most professional scholars believe (and I have no good reason to doubt any of this), it still leaves the question why P, the culprit, felt it necessary to include all this J stuff. At first glance, a more natural reaction would have been to omit all what contradicts your own favorite version. Once again, there are several possibilities (perhaps the older version was still in wide circulation, and it would have been impossible to construct a unified version without it; or P was mad; or P tried to collect as much as possible; or P tried to construct a book of fairy tales, like the brothers Grimm; or P thought that God might show himself in different and conflicting stories; or P used to think in mythological terms and didn't feel that contradictions are a threat to the credibility of a story; and so on). Even if we assume that P attempted to construct a collection of fairy tales, that doesn't rule out the possibility that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

jan
14th August 2005, 02:11 PM
Originally posted by pgwenthold
And personally, as an atheist, I can see no other way it could be done. Theists might suggest that certain aspects of the bible should not be interpreted literally, and that they are metaphorical or contextual, but one of my problems as an atheist is to understand exactly which of those passages are to interpreted that way? When I hear it from theists, it is apparently only the troublesome passages that have alternate or non-literal meanings. Why is it when Jesus says, "Think that I did not come to unite but divide" that this gets dismissed as contextual, while "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is considered absolute?

I agree that the distinction between what should be treated as a metaphor and what shouldn't can be used quite arbitrary to save a prefered interpretation of what the message of the Bible is supposed to be. I also agree that this selective picking is often encountered. Nevertheless, this is not always the case.

There are theistic scholars who came to the conclusion that some parts of the gospel have Jesus saying that the end of times will occur during the lifetime of his contemporary audience, a prophecy that seems to miss the mark for at least two thousand years.

Some of them conclude that the writers of the gospels made a mistake. This would disprove the position that the Bible is inerrant, but it could still be true that the Bible is inspired. Not all Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant.

It is even possible to assume that Jesus got it wrong, and still believe that Jesus is the son of God and died for our sins, since that doesn't require that Jesus is unable to make mistakes. My lament is that many different fantastic, bizarre, original, interesting, far-fetched or sensible positions are possible, but unfortunately, only one of them gets all the attention.

I also agree with what jjramsey has written: for some parts, I think it is quite obvious that they shouldn't be taken literally.

From a logical perspective, unless there is a rational reason to dismiss one of the statements, all must be treated equally, whether they are good or bad for christianity or religion.

I agree. As I said, I think that the most likely and plausible interpretation of certain quotes in the gospels is that the end of times was supposed to happen pretty soon. But that doesn't preclude me from saying that I think that the most likely and plausible interpretation of the creation story is not that the writer of it literally believed that God made the world within six days.

You never hear a christian come around and explain how Jesus raising Lazerus from the dead didn't really happen is only a metaphor (although there are scholars who will certainly say such things).

Not only are there scholars who discuss the context of this story and why it was included in the Bible, quite often they are Christians.

Darat
14th August 2005, 02:13 PM
Originally posted by jan


...snip...

Even if we assume that P attempted to construct a collection of fairy tales, that doesn't rule out the possibility that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

Well nothing can rule that out, however it has no more explanatory power then to say it was the inspired word of ghtyuojop or the well known invisible pink unicorn.

jjramsey
14th August 2005, 02:25 PM
Originally posted by gnome
The point, I think, is that if you accept that the bible is not literal, then interpretations come down to opinion. It can be an educated opinion, but still cannot carry any true authority.

This is a confused statement. Unless you are talking about interpreting all of the Bible in a figurative fashion, for example, as a series of allegories, then it really doesn't make sense to talk about the Bible as a whole being literal or not literal. Rather, it is better to speak of the "plain meaning" of text within the Bible, which may be determined by literal and/or various degrees of figurative interpretation, depending on the genre of the text, various contextual cues in the text, and so on.

Now say for the sake of argument that the Bible is an authority. If the plain meaning of a text in the Bible is unambiguous, then there is one obvious interpretation, and that interpretation is authoritative. If the plain meaning of a text is not clear, then there can be many educated opinions on what is meant, so there is no interpretation of that particular Bible passage that is authoritative. Notice that literal or figurative doesn't really enter here. It is easily possible to have a literal text that is ambiguous and a figurative text whose meaning is clear and obvious. Notice, too, that it isn't all or nothing. That some texts within the Bible are too ambiguous to have authority does not mean that all of the Bible is too ambiguous to carry authority.

Of course, whether it is even proper to use the Bible as an authority is a question whose answer has yet to be established. This question, though obviously related to how clear the various bits in the Bible are, and how clear it is as a whole, is separable from issues of literal vs. figurative interpretation.

jan
14th August 2005, 02:26 PM
Originally posted by gnome
The point, I think, is that if you accept that the bible is not literal, then interpretations come down to opinion. It can be an educated opinion, but still cannot carry any true authority.

I think if I try to interpret the Bible literally, it is still a matter of opinion how this should be done. "Take it literally" is not really sufficient to settle all issues and to decide all problems. Even if you try to take the Bible literally, there are infinite many possibilities to fill the remaining gaps.

Furthermore, I already conceded that nothing more but an educated opinion is possible (see the first item in the list in my first post). But I would say that this is always the situation we are in. Bush made a statement about teaching "alternatives" to evolution in school. How was this statement supposed to be interpreted? You can form an educated opinion, but that doesn't prevent the formation of a several pages thread about the true meaning of his words.

Nevertheless, there are some opinions based on serious scholarship, study of history, comparison of different myths and believe systems, and other opinions just out in space.

The reason that doesn't lend itself to debate much, is because atheists by and large really don't have a problem with someone having an opinion about the bible. It's those that claim their version of the bible is perfect in every way that tend to wind up in arguments, usually by citing the bible itself as an authority to try to settle something.

Usually, this is true. If I am in a debate with a Christian (and outside discussion boards, I don't seek them), I try to figure out what interpretation of the Bible the Christian I am discussing with prefers, and I adjust my arguments accordingly. This may even mean that sometimes I use the old π=3 stunt.

But it seems that, for example, pgwenthold has a different approach and denies that any other besides the most literal interpretation of the Bible is honest.

jan
14th August 2005, 02:40 PM
Originally posted by Ladewig
I will assume that you do not recognize the divinity of Lord Krishna. Is your lack of belief based on a literal interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita or on a broader interpretation of it? Is your lack of faith in Allah based on a literal interpretation of the Quran or a figurative interpretation of the holy scriptures?

I don't have to justify my lack of believe. The burden of proof is for someone who believes in Krishna. The point is: I am willing to hear the arguments of the believer in Krishna, regardless whether she prefers a literal or a broader interpretation.

If somebody claims that all those complicated exercises mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita can be replaced by simply repeating "Hare Krishna etc.", I feel free to point out that it is a bit odd that Krishna takes so much time to explain Arjuna all those exercises, if "Hare Krishna etc." is all you need.

My willingness to hear different interpretations doesn't preclude me to form my own opinion about the Bhagavad-gita, or, more generally, the Mahabarata. For example, if somebody claims that a certain weapon mentioned in the Mahabarata was a nuclear bomb, I think I have reasons to disagree.

The Quran has many descriptions of heaven. Are those descriptions meant literally or are they just meant to give the believers some impressions how great heaven is? I think that this is an interesting question, even if I don't believe anything the Quran says. Personally, I don't know the answer, but I think the question could be more seriously and scholarly examined than it is currently the case.

Are there really that many people who become atheists because they reject a literal interpretation of the Bible?

Perhaps not, but who claimed this?

jan
14th August 2005, 02:49 PM
Originally posted by Darat
Well nothing can rule that out, however it has no more explanatory power then to say it was the inspired word of ghtyuojop or the well known invisible pink unicorn.

Assume that the Bible contained some unlikely predictions that became true; furthermore, assume that we had independent evidence to believe that P didn't believed one word of what he was writing (for example, we found some of his private notes, or his correspondence). In such a situation, it wouldn't be completely implausible to assume that God inspired a writing that the writer himself didn't take serious.

If somebody just claims that the Bible is the inspired word of God, while at the same time conceding that all of the available evidence points to the contrary, then that of course isn't a very interesting position, and not a fruitful base for a discourse.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 03:06 PM
Originally posted by jjramsey
So, when Song of Solomon 7:8 says "I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches," you cannot tell from the context that it obviously isn't about climbing trees?
[snip]
"I am the true vine" (John 15:1), he does not mean that he is a plant? Or that when Jesus says "I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7) and then shortly after that says, "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11), that he did not contradict himself and that he did not actually mean either that he was a door to a sheepfold or that he herded sheep for a living?


This is from an old post, but something about it annoys me. Here, jjramsey seems blissfully unaware that the bible was not written in english, and that the versions of the NT that we are all reading are probably 3rd generation translations. Who knows what the original wording implied in its native language. So there is always the possibility that the wording now is simply wrong (compared to the original intent). And since we can never know what the original was (lost language? Lost copies? I'm not up to date here, someone fill me in?), we can only take a literal translation of things, as it would be fallacious to assume we know the original intent. Therefore yes, we must assume that the original writers really meant say that Jesus said he was a gate. Maybe he was just high on hash?

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 03:15 PM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation. On the other hand, it seems quite obvious to me that any literalist interpretation is grossly misleading about the real intentions of the writers of the Bible. It sometimes borders on the strawman fallacy... Well, YEC would be a straw man if no-one believed in it. Ptolomaism still exists, too. They are fine if you are arguing with a literalist... But we invariably are arguing with a literalist. You don't see us rushing to convert jmercer or stamenflicker or kittynh or Roadtoad or Tmy or MLynn or --- et cetera, whoever --- to atheism. What we would shake, if we could, is the fundamentalists who take some passages of the Bible (the ones that appeal to them) as the literal word of God and don't even look at a lot of the other passages.

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 03:23 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
This is from an old post, but something about it annoys me. Here, jjramsey seems blissfully unaware that the bible was not written in english, and that the versions of the NT that we are all reading are probably 3rd generation translations. Who knows what the original wording implied in its native language. So there is always the possibility that the wording now is simply wrong (compared to the original intent). And since we can never know what the original was (lost language? Lost copies? I'm not up to date here, someone fill me in?) Of course we still have access to the text in the original languages. And jjramsey is a scholar as well as a gentleman, and would not have quoted the KJV if it significantly misrepresented the original texts.

As the metaphors Jesus used are quite comprehensible, there is no need to suppose any corruption in the meaning of the text through scribal error.

You say that "we" are all reading "third-generation" translations. No "we" are not. Nor need you be. Modern "first-generation" translations are available in bookshops and on line.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 03:32 PM
Originally posted by Dr Adequate
Of course we still have access to the text in the original languages. And jjramsey is a scholar as well as a gentleman, and would not have quoted the KJV if it significantly misrepresented the original texts.

As the metaphors Jesus used are quite comprehensible, there is no need to suppose any corruption in the meaning of the text through scribal error.

You say that "we" are all reading "third-generation" translations. No "we" are not. Nor need you be. Modern "first-generation" translations are available in bookshops and on line.

So you have the original texts, do you? Are you sure they are the originals? If you can prove to me that they are, I will happily concede the point (I've done a sum of 0 hours research on this). And again, I point out that even if they are first-generation, they are still a translation. Every language has words and ideas that do not translate to other languages. How do you know these are not them? How do you know that they have not been mis-translated?

And I'm amused by your "a scholar and a gentleman". A) I never said he was stupid, which is what I gather you mean by "a scholar", and I don't even know why being a "gentleman" or not has any bearing whatsoever to this debate.

jjramsey
14th August 2005, 03:41 PM
Originally posted by Ladewig
Are there really that many people who become atheists because they reject a literal interpretation of the Bible?

I don't know. I suspect, though, that there are a number of people who have become or remained theists because they saw atheists use bad arguments, such as absurd woodenly literal interpretations of the Bible. Remember that Christians have often said that atheists are really just running away from God. If a Christian sees an atheist use transparently lame arguments, he or she may conclude "Gee, if that's all this atheist can muster as an argument against God, maybe he has an ulterior motive for unbelief." Now this is not fair, of course, but that doesn't stop it from happening.

This is a bit off-topic, but what I find frustrating is that junk arguments are ridiculously common in skeptical circles. For example, the long-discredited Kersey Graves' book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors is still sold at EvolveFish, while a work like The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible, which actually has some scholarly heft despite being written at a popular level, is nowhere to be found there. This should not be.

BTW, Dr. Adequate, just for the record, I actually used the NRSV, cut-and-pasted from http://bible.oremus.org. I also don't know Greek or Hebrew, except for a cursory knowledge of their alphabets and a few of their differences from English, although I know enough to make use of concordances, lexicons, and so forth, so that I can do word studies.

pgwenthold
14th August 2005, 03:48 PM
Originally posted by jan
I agree. As I said, I think that the most likely and plausible interpretation of certain quotes in the gospels is that the end of times was supposed to happen pretty soon. But that doesn't preclude me from saying that I think that the most likely and plausible interpretation of the creation story is not that the writer of it literally believed that God made the world within six days.


Outside of "No one can be that stupid," any reason for that?

Did ancients once actually believe that the sun was pulled across the sky by Apollo's chariot? It's no more idiotic than believing it was literally 7 days.

How is your explanation any more likely or plausible "they were written by folks who were far less knowledgable about how things worked and therefore attributed it to acts of gods"? And if it is a god, why couldn't it create a universe in 7 days?

Here's another example of where even you are giving the bible more credence than it deserves. You say, hey, the writer really didn't mean 7 days creation. But why not say, hey, the writer really didn't even mean god as the same dude YHWH that is the father of Jesus? (Note that the story even implies _gods_). It seems awfully plausible to me that the authors had a very different version of God in mind than the one who became the God of Abraham. An honest reading of the OT would see this, but do you think the modern theists will entertain the possibility that the author of Genesis envisioned the same being as our current God? Heck, they still argue that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch, conflicting creation stories and all, despite scholarly analysis that says uh-uh, mainly as an attempt to show that they are all from the same basis.

This is an example of how appeals to symbolism are regularly used to reconcile the bad parts of the bible, but not the stuff they like.

Scholars who study the bible as just another ancient text notwithstanding.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 03:59 PM
There was a farmer, had a dog...

jan
14th August 2005, 04:04 PM
Originally posted by Dr Adequate
Well, YEC would be a straw man if no-one believed in it. Ptolomaism still exists, too.

I am aware that proponents of YEC exist. And if somebody defends a literal interpretation of the Bible, it can be useful or inevitable to attack a literal interpretation. But there is a similarity between telling others what they are believing, and attacking a straw man (even if the straw man is a position that has some proponents).

You don't see us rushing to convert jmercer or stamenflicker or kittynh or Roadtoad or Tmy or MLynn or --- et cetera, whoever --- to atheism. What we would shake, if we could, is the fundamentalists who take some passages of the Bible (the ones that appeal to them) as the literal word of God and don't even look at a lot of the other passages.

Who, exactly, is "us" and "we"? I hope it's obvious that I didn't accused all atheists of sticking to a literal interpretation as the only possible one. That would be quite absurd, since it would include myself. pgwenthold, on the other hand, seems indeed to argue that a literal interpretation is the only honest one, and that the only reason to search for other interpretations is to improve apologetics.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 04:09 PM
pgwenthold, on the other hand, seems indeed to argue that a literal interpretation is the only honest one, and that the only reason to search for other interpretations is to improve apologetics.

Exactly, because we have no basis to decide when something is not ment literally and when something is. If the book were written in English, where we could get ahold of the original and read it for ourselfs, then perhaps we could have more of an argument then the current "it looks like a metaphor, therefore it must be!".

jan
14th August 2005, 04:28 PM
Originally posted by pgwenthold
Outside of "No one can be that stupid," any reason for that?

What's wrong with that argument, by the way? Trying to make sense of an ancient text I have troubles understanding, I try to avoid the possibility "they just have been that stupid", if I can. There seems to be some passages in the works of Plato that seem to be rather stupid. Perhaps they are stupid. Other passages indicate that Plato was able to find some good arguments. And anyway, the interpretation "just stupid" can be applied to any difficult text, but is unlikely to gain you much insights.

Did ancients once actually believe that the sun was pulled across the sky by Apollo's chariot? It's no more idiotic than believing it was literally 7 days.

It's indeed as idiotic. And indeed I doubt that it was supposed to be understood that way. A similar reason applies, by the way: it seems several different myths about the same thing (like the movement of the sun) could coexist, and nobody saw the necessity to decide which one was the right one. It seems to me that this indicates that those stories don't work as you seem to assume.

How is your explanation any more likely or plausible "they were written by folks who were far less knowledgable about how things worked and therefore attributed it to acts of gods"? And if it is a god, why couldn't it create a universe in 7 days?

Certainly a god could create a universe in 7 days or in three minutes or whatever you like. I never claimed that such an idea would be so unlikely and stupid that no one would ever believe something like that. Actually, we know people who do.

How do you explain that there are two different creation myths with contradicting details? Just the inevitable consequence of people "far less knowledgable about how things worked" writing books?

Here's another example of where even you are giving the bible more credence than it deserves. You say, hey, the writer really didn't mean 7 days creation. But why not say, hey, the writer really didn't even mean god as the same dude YHWH that is the father of Jesus? (Note that the story even implies _gods_). It seems awfully plausible to me that the authors had a very different version of God in mind than the one who became the God of Abraham.

You are not the only one who found such an interpretation plausible. In fact, several sects believed this.

An honest reading of the OT would see this, but do you think the modern theists will entertain the possibility that the author of Genesis envisioned the same being as our current God?

Do you honestly believe that the NT god is supposed to differ from the OT god? If you do, you are free to explain why you think so. Write books about it, become famous.

Heck, they still argue that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch, conflicting creation stories and all, despite scholarly analysis that says uh-uh, mainly as an attempt to show that they are all from the same basis.

I claimed that this scholarly analysis often comes from Christians (or other Theists). You didn't address this claim, but this quote seems to indicate that you think that such a thing is impossible.

This is an example of how appeals to symbolism are regularly used to reconcile the bad parts of the bible, but not the stuff they like.

I can't follow you here. I don't believe that you claim that all Christians (or Jews) believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. But that seems what you have written.

If I take it literally.

jan
14th August 2005, 04:30 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
Exactly, because we have no basis to decide when something is not ment literally and when something is. If the book were written in English, where we could get ahold of the original and read it for ourselfs, then perhaps we could have more of an argument then the current "it looks like a metaphor, therefore it must be!".

Does this apply to all texts written in a foreign language?

Taffer
14th August 2005, 04:35 PM
No, of course not. Many of these books are Fiction. To problem there. Many (for example, Philosophical works of the greeks) aren't. But they are surrounded with explanations, so the interpretation is fairly fixed. Many are non-fiction, but are translated with the help of the author (for example, articles written for peer-review scientific journals).

The Bible, however, is total illogical. Things are not explained, and if they do not make sense to us, how can me know what 'they' really ment if things are not explained? Also, the Bible is supposed to control our lives. It tells us how to live, love, eat and sleep. Should these important things be left to a book who's interpretations are compleately subjective, and who's meanings are totally ambiguous?

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 04:37 PM
Originally posted by jan
I am aware that proponents of YEC exist. And if somebody defends a literal interpretation of the Bible, it can be useful or inevitable to attack a literal interpretation. But there is a similarity between telling others what they are believing, and attacking a straw man... I would do neither. I would just say: if you believe that the first few books of Genesis are science, doesn't that include the stars being fixed in the firmament? et cetera.

If you believe that the whole Bible is true, then how about the Almighty being unable to withstand iron chariots? And so forth.

These are good questions for fundies. They leave sane Christians unharmed.Who, exactly, is "us" and "we"? All of us. The whole community. We do not go after the Christians I've mentioned and try to deconvert them. Although maybe most of us are atheists, the mood of the forums is pro-science, not anti-religion.

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 04:44 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
Exactly, because we have no basis to decide when something is not ment literally and when something is. Well, we do have such a basis. Parables are parables. When Jesus talks about the good Samaritan, no-one supposes that he's reading the evening news. Still less when he says "I am the real vine and you are the branches".

Taffer
14th August 2005, 04:46 PM
And you know this how? Because it says so in the Bible? Circular reasoning!

What is your reason for you to be able to say if you are interpreting the text right?

bpesta22
14th August 2005, 04:47 PM
What's the problem with using the iron chariot reference???

Seems fairly clear, literally or not, god has a problem with iron?

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 05:11 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
And you know this how? Because it says so in the Bible? Circular reasoning! Well, no. If the Bible says: "This is a parable", and then there's a parable, then it is not "circular reasoning" to suppose that it's a parable.What is your reason for you to be able to say if you are interpreting the text right? Everyone else who's read the Bible knows which are the parables and which aren't. There is no real doubt as to when Jesus is talking in metaphors and when he isn't.

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 05:16 PM
Originally posted by bpesta22
What's the problem with using the iron chariot reference??? Well, if the Bible is the literal word of God, then God is claiming that despite being omnipotent, he can't withstand iron chariots, which would be silly. So this should blow away the literalists.

On the other hand, maybe the Hebrews lost a battle, blamed that on the weakness and inability of their God, and wrote that into their histories. Doesn't that sound more plausible?

c4ts
14th August 2005, 05:20 PM
Originally posted by bpesta22
What's the problem with using the iron chariot reference???

Seems fairly clear, literally or not, god has a problem with iron?

Most people tend to ignore it, or think of it as some sort of error.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 05:22 PM
Well, no. If the Bible says: "This is a parable", and then there's a parable, then it is not "circular reasoning" to suppose that it's a parable.

And it says this where?

Everyone else who's read the Bible knows which are the parables and which aren't. There is no real doubt as to when Jesus is talking in metaphors and when he isn't.

Oh, well there you go. I'm convinced. First of all, I, among others, have doubts, so you can't really say that no one has any doubts. If you meant to say that no one has any real doubts, then it's just your subjective telling me which is real and which isn't. But of course, if everyone else knows something, then it must be right. :rolleyes:

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 05:39 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
And it says this where? In... the... Bible.Oh, well there you go. I'm convinced. First of all, I, among others, have doubts, so you can't really say that no one has any doubts. Well no-one has, Christian and atheist alike. When Jesus says stuff like "I am the real vine and you are the branches", no-one pretends that he should be taken literally rather than speaking in metaphor.

The burden of proof is on you. Will you name one story told by Jesus, accepted by scholars as a parable, which you think should be taken literally?

Taffer
14th August 2005, 06:11 PM
In... the... Bible.

Yes. Where. Chapter? Verse? QUOTE?!

Well no-one has, Christian and atheist alike. When Jesus says stuff like "I am the real vine and you are the branches", no-one pretends that he should be taken literally rather than speaking in metaphor.

The burden of proof is on you. Will you name one story told by Jesus, accepted by scholars as a parable, which you think should be taken literally?

Not even fundies? I've met some people who I wouldn't put it past them.

The burden of proof is on my, you say. Of course I can't name any stories. Lets begin with that I'm not going to waste my time doing a google search. I'm simply arguing from a theoretical (if you can call it that), stance. Therefore I need not prove anything. My argument is thus. You have no definative reason to believe some parts are literal and some are metaphorical, other then it "feels right". I say this because you do not know the write, nor are you reading from the first edition, in the original language. There are a hundred diffeferent ways any passage could have changed in its meaning during the translation. And no, I'm not saying all foreign books are like this, only this one. Why? Because the Bible asks us to obey its rules (yeah yeah, rules of God, blah blah, same difference), but you cannot say FOR CURTAIN if you are interpreting those rules correctly. Thus it's all subjective (what YOU think it means).

triadboy
14th August 2005, 06:36 PM
Originally posted by jan
Those are two different topics, I would say; a certain atheist may be able to let others live in peace and harmony, but if others start a debate (for example, because they are trying to proselyte), he may be unable to recognize that non-literal interpretations of the Bible are possible.

I don't believe the normal xian (non-fundy) has the knowledge to preach to anyone. They've never read the bible. They are fed certain passages every Sunday by that guy...Captain what's-his-name. [That's from The Simpsons :)] If they meet an atheist they aren't offended or appalled.


...it still leaves the question why P, the culprit, felt it necessary to include all this J stuff.

The stories were too common to omit....or change. This is also why there are references to multiple gods - "...let us go down..." This was from a time when there WERE multiple gods.

jjramsey
14th August 2005, 07:24 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
There are a hundred diffeferent ways any passage could have changed in its meaning during the translation. And no, I'm not saying all foreign books are like this, only this one. Why? Because the Bible asks us to obey its rules

Why would a book be translated less accurately than any other book because it asks its readers to obey rules?

Robin
14th August 2005, 07:28 PM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation.
Go to any church and check if they follow a Bible reading with "This is just the feelings of some mere mortals that are unable to know the details and are making it clear that the details are just guesswork". Or even "This is the work of writers who thought in mythological terms and therefore the concept of a single truth corresponding to a single reality never occurred to them".

Or do they more likely conclude it with "This is the Word of the Lord"? What would the Pope say? What would the Archbishop of Canterbury say? Billy Graham? Jerry Falwell? Would any influential Christian agree with either of the first two, or would they say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?

Obviously by definition no atheist prefers a literalist interpretation of the Bible. If you mean that they often prefer to dispute the claims of those Christians who insist that the Bible is literally true, then yes you are right. Considering that many of these people want to use the laws of an ancient bloodthirsty culture as the basis for our own laws then I do not consider this to be unreasonable.

In this case it is not a matter of what the original Bible writers intended, but what influential Christians today believe. So for example when the Archbishop of Sydney says that we are not entitled to our own opinions on matters that have already been decided in the Bible, and his views are widely influential we are entitled to ask what exactly has been decided in the Bible.

It seems unlikely that religious leaders in ancient times would have regarded their sacred texts as mere guesswork and even if they did I doubt they would have shared this idea with anybody. It seems likely to me that these texts served a totemic purpose rather than being a work of reference. This collection of mysterious writings that most people would not have read. As to why Genesis 1 went with Genesis 2 we would probably have to know their filing system, it might have been a case of "this scroll is about the creation and so is that one, so we will put them together".

Dr Adequate
14th August 2005, 07:32 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
Yes. Where. Chapter? Verse? QUOTE?! Where Jesus tells parables. I am making a general and not a specific claim.Not even fundies? I've met some people who I wouldn't put it past them. But have you met people who actually said that? Otherwise, the fact that you "wouldn't put it past them" is a comentary on you, rather than "them".The burden of proof is on my, you say. Of course I can't name any stories. So you fail. You cannot name one parable which should be interpreted as true. Lets begin with that I'm not going to waste my time doing a google search. You're not going to waste your time looking for evidence. Fine. I'm simply arguing from a theoretical (if you can call it that), stance. No, you can't call it that. Therefore I need not prove anything. Interesting use of the word "therefore". My argument is thus. You have no definative reason to believe some parts are literal and some are metaphorical, other then it "feels right". I say this because you do not know the write, nor are you reading from the first edition, in the original language. There are a hundred diffeferent ways any passage could have changed in its meaning during the translation. Give one example of one passage which has a hundred interpretations.

I do know a little Hebrew, and with some patience and a dictionary I could indeed read in the original language. And no, I'm not saying all foreign books are like this, only this one. Why? Because the Bible asks us to obey its rules (yeah yeah, rules of God, blah blah, same difference), but you cannot say FOR CURTAIN if you are interpreting those rules correctly. Thus it's all subjective (what YOU think it means). When the Bible says that Jesus spoke in parables, I guess it means that Jesus spoke in parables. In the same way, when Homer says that Circe turned men into swine, I suppose that Homer meant that Circe turned men into swine, and not that fish rode on unicycles and whistled "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again".

bpesta22
14th August 2005, 07:54 PM
I'm not sure I understand the points being made in this thread.

But, it occurred to me, why not evaluate the bible as we would any test?

A test is good if it's reliable and valid.

Reliability would mean both internal consistency (does the bible contradict itself for example) and the degree to which the bible is free of error (perhaps, logical, historical or factual/scientific error).

Validity would mean does the bible really "measure" what it's supposed too (i.e., the word of god).

Interpreting the bible literally fails miserable. It's contradicts itself in places; certainly it has logical and factual errors, and probably historical errors.

Generally, if something can't be reliable, it can't be valid (the reliability of a test squared determines the upper limit of a test's validity).

Why would God write so cryptically that even his believers disagree on what he meant? Isn't it fair game to point this out to a believer (while citing absurd or contradictory bible passages)?

Why does the bar keep getting raised for what is literal and what is not? Isn't it dubious that the christian default mode has been to assume the whole book is literal; except those obviously absurd passages; and except those passages that now no longer make sense given current scientific knowledge. I guess it's the god of the gaps thing...

If christians can't even agree, what good is the book-- is hell a place with demons and fire, or the absence of god? Did god mean day as in a literal 24 hour period or some other time period? Did god create adam and eve or just intellgently monitor our evolution?

How many questions like these do we have to ask before we can outright reject the entire thing as being unreliable?

The more christianity evolves the more I suspect it's full of crap.

Since there's no instruction manual, the burden's on christianity to show how to objectively determine which parts are literal and which are not (i.e., to demonstrate the bible's reliability).

Or not, maybe I mean something entirely different? But, if you misunderstand my point here, who's fault is that?

pmurray
14th August 2005, 09:31 PM
Originally posted by jan
Wreck your brain until you find a bizarre literal interpretation that makes the contradictions disappear.

The word is "wrack". But making the contradictions dissapear is easy. The writer of the creation story was a polytheist. The earlier section talks about the gods in general. The second section talks specifically about the god "Jehovah".

Each god made a race of humans "in his own image and likeness", and so the gods made man - male and female.

Mr Jehovah went about this business in his private little enclosed garden. When Cain was ejected, he went to the people that Mr Nod (another god) made.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 11:54 PM
Where Jesus tells parables. I am making a general and not a specific claim.

So your argument is that what he says looks like a parable? That is not very convincing.

But have you met people who actually said that? Otherwise, the fact that you "wouldn't put it past them" is a comentary on you, rather than "them".

Not this, specifically, but "I wouldn't put it past them". I had a friend of mine tell me that science and religion could not possibly coexist, because science tells us that the world is far older then the age given in the bible. Thus, science is false, as the Bible is the word of God, and obviously correct.

So you fail. You cannot name one parable which should be interpreted as true.

Yes, I fail. Having never read the Bible, you might not be surprised at that. However, as I pointed out, my argument is purely a theoretical one, not one of specifics. If things can be interpreted in many ways, why can you trust what it says at all?

You're not going to waste your time looking for evidence. Fine.

Yes, I'm not. Why? Becuase I don't need any. Once again, I'm not arguing specifics. I'm not saying "Ah! But in 3:15 of Malachi it is said "And Santa clause ate all the salmon in the Great Sea, and so it came to pass that he was full" it is obvious it is not a metaphor!". What my point is, is that there are ambiguous interpretations of the Bible, so which one can you trust? And if you can't trust some parts of the Bible, why can you trust any of it at all?

No, you can't call it that.

I can, and have, thank you very much. I can call it whatever I like.

Interesting use of the word "therefore".

Not really. I used the word down to its meaning. And are you suddenly having to debate spelling and grammar to win your argument?

Give one example of one passage which has a hundred interpretations.

I do know a little Hebrew, and with some patience and a dictionary I could indeed read in the original language.

How about the stoning to death of your disobedient children? I'm sure some there are a number of views on this one ;).

When the Bible says that Jesus spoke in parables, I guess it means that Jesus spoke in parables. In the same way, when Homer says that Circe turned men into swine, I suppose that Homer meant that Circe turned men into swine, and not that fish rode on unicycles and whistled "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again".

First, you have said that actually, the Bible DOESN'T say that he spoke in parables (since you were unable to give me the exact quote where it did). Secondly, if it did, then you've just argued for my case. If it does, in fact, say he spoke in parables, then yes, we should assume he does. And we should also assume that the Bible is meant to be interpreted that Homer turned people into pigs, as we cannot prove the intent of any supposed rhetoric.

But all this is somewhat moot. I'm going to, for the case of saving me a headache, concede the point. Fine, you are right Dr Adequate, it is obvious that Jesus spoke metaphorically. But what about some parts of the Bible where it isn't so clear? And what is your reasoning behind assuming that the Bible didn't literally mean that I can stone my wife to death for not being a virgin? In these ambiguous passages, you cannot just assume that it isn't intended 'phorically' (is that a word, or did I just make it up?), just because you don't like the passage.

Taffer
14th August 2005, 11:57 PM
Originally posted by jjramsey
Why would a book be translated less accurately than any other book because it asks its readers to obey rules?

It wouldn't, but due to its nature, it must be more heavily scruitinized. If a text in French, for example, is supposed to tell us how everything came into being, how to live our lives so we get to heaven, and the rules we should follow, then it should be more carefully analyzed, in case of misunderstanding, then if it was telling us how to order a pizza.

jjramsey
15th August 2005, 04:39 AM
Originally posted by jan
It seems to me some atheists prefer a literalist interpretation of the Bible and even claim that this is the only possible interpretation.

Originally posted by Robin
Go to any church and check if they follow a Bible reading with "This is just the feelings of some mere mortals that are unable to know the details and are making it clear that the details are just guesswork". Or even "This is the work of writers who thought in mythological terms and therefore the concept of a single truth corresponding to a single reality never occurred to them".


I realize that you are working off jan's non-exhaustive list on possible ways to interpret the Bible. However, the dichotomy between a literal reading and a reading that is mere guesswork is a false one.

One of the things that was drilled into me when I went to Christian college--and this was at an evangelical one--was that the Bible is heavily reflective of the cultures of its writers and its audience, and that the Bible cannot mean what it hadn't meant to its original authors and audience. It was noted that the New Testament writers did violate that rule, and take Old Testament verses out of context and interpret them in funny ways, but we were not entitled to do so because the New Testament writers supposedly had access to a sensus plenior ("fuller sense") of the text that we did not. The dubiousness of the sensus plenior bit aside, this is a good way to approach any ancient text. My guess is that most pastors of evangelical churches, at least the ones that have gone to seminary or Bible college, have been exposed to this understanding as well, and occassionally you will hear them say something from the pulpit that shows this, such as a briefly mentioned word study of a Greek or Hebrew word.

jan
15th August 2005, 05:14 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
No, of course not. Many of these books are Fiction. To problem there. Many (for example, Philosophical works of the greeks) aren't. But they are surrounded with explanations, so the interpretation is fairly fixed.

What do you mean here? How are philosophical works of the Greeks surrounded with explanations? Do you mean modern explanations? It seems to me the issue of the correct interpretation of ancient philosophical texts is as much debated as the issue of the correct interpretation of the Bible. I don't see how the interpretation is "fairly fixed". To give a completely superficial example: there is a rather stable majority view about the chronology of Plato's works. There is also a rather stable majority view about the chronology of the gospels. That doesn't mean that there isn't dissent about the chronology of Plato's works any more.

Also, the Bible is supposed to control our lives. It tells us how to live, love, eat and sleep. Should these important things be left to a book who's interpretations are compleately subjective, and who's meanings are totally ambiguous?

If somebody claims that the Bible is indeed inspired by God, it is legitimate to ask why the Bible isn't clearer about those things. Besides that: Plato also tries us to tell how we should live. Plato is also difficult to understand. To find out what he meant is not an easy task. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible, or not worth trying.

cyborg
15th August 2005, 05:18 AM
One of the things that was drilled into me when I went to Christian college--and this was at an evangelical one--was that the Bible is heavily reflective of the cultures of its writers and its audience, and that the Bible cannot mean what it hadn't meant to its original authors and audience.

Indeed it is. And yet Christians will try to take these ancient texts written for disperate cultures and jam them into a modern context anyway.

What do you mean here? How are philosophical works of the Greeks surrounded with explanations?

The reasoning process was as important as the conclusions. If there was a reasoning process to the many laws and explanations of natural events in the Bible they certainly haven't been placed along side them.

jan
15th August 2005, 05:31 AM
Originally posted by Robin
Or do they more likely conclude it with "This is the Word of the Lord"? What would the Pope say? What would the Archbishop of Canterbury say? Billy Graham? Jerry Falwell? Would any influential Christian agree with either of the first two, or would they say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?

The current version of Catholic dogma doesn't require you to believe in a literal six day creation. Quite converse, the current catechism emphasizes the importance of science to learn about history.

So there is no need to assume that what the Pope says and what Billy Graham says are identical.

Go to any church and check if they follow a Bible reading with "This is just the feelings of some mere mortals that are unable to know the details and are making it clear that the details are just guesswork". Or even "This is the work of writers who thought in mythological terms and therefore the concept of a single truth corresponding to a single reality never occurred to them".

As jjramsey has explained, it is not that uncommon to emphasize that the texts of the Bible must be understood in their historical contexts. If the historical contexts are myths, then you need some understanding what myths are and how they work, if you want to understand the historical context.

Obviously by definition no atheist prefers a literalist interpretation of the Bible.

Obviously (see this very thread) some do, and come to the conclusion that given this interpretation, the major claims of the Bible are false.

In this case it is not a matter of what the original Bible writers intended, but what influential Christians today believe.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I don't want to debate with Christians to show them that they are wrong, I want to know what the original Bible writers intended.

It seems unlikely that religious leaders in ancient times would have regarded their sacred texts as mere guesswork and even if they did I doubt they would have shared this idea with anybody.

I never said that religious leaders in ancient times regarded their sacred texts as mere guesswork.

I mentioned the idea that the details of the creation story could have been meant as guesswork (or, more correctly, as filling, as circumstantial detail), as one possible interpretation. I didn't even claim that this is supposed to be the most likely interpretation.

It seems likely to me that these texts served a totemic purpose rather than being a work of reference. This collection of mysterious writings that most people would not have read. As to why Genesis 1 went with Genesis 2 we would probably have to know their filing system, it might have been a case of "this scroll is about the creation and so is that one, so we will put them together".

So you suggest a solution for this problem, and even a non-literal one. So may I assume that you agree that it is a meaningful question to ask what the writers had in mind, and that the correct answer might be a non-literal?

Taffer
15th August 2005, 05:36 AM
Originally posted by cyborg
The reasoning process was as important as the conclusions. If there was a reasoning process to the many laws and explanations of natural events in the Bible they certainly haven't been placed along side them.

Exactly my point.

jan
15th August 2005, 05:45 AM
Originally posted by bpesta22
Interpreting the bible literally fails miserable. It's contradicts itself in places; certainly it has logical and factual errors, and probably historical errors.

It seems to me that this would indicate that the literal interpretation is not the best one. If a certain interpretation of Plato fails miserable, that wouldn't be the interpretation of Plato I would think to be the most plausible.

Why would God write so cryptically that even his believers disagree on what he meant? Isn't it fair game to point this out to a believer (while citing absurd or contradictory bible passages)?

Indeed, it is fair game to ask this question, and a valid and good argument. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell us anything about what the correct interpretation is.

Why does the bar keep getting raised for what is literal and what is not? Isn't it dubious that the christian default mode has been to assume the whole book is literal; except those obviously absurd passages; and except those passages that now no longer make sense given current scientific knowledge. I guess it's the god of the gaps thing...

Once again, this is not entirely true.

It seems as if the first documents about Jesus we have (that is, what Paul wrote) just mention apparitions of Jesus, not an empty tomb. The empty tomb therefor may be a later addition. I wouldn't say the writers of the corresponding gospels meant the empty tomb as a metaphor; but it seems as if factual accuracy didn't play an important role in their writing. It's similar with those Buddhists writing new "official and original speeches of Buddha", although everybody knows that they are not genuine.

Some theologians have taken this finding to conclude that there was no empty tomb. I concede that they are not an overwhelming majority. But they exist. And I don't see that they have taken this road because it is more convenient. Unlike an old earth with plenty of evidence, we don't have any independent knowledge about the empty tomb. So there is no need to retract the empty tomb. Some Christians nevertheless did it, based on their examination of the Bible.

How many questions like these do we have to ask before we can outright reject the entire thing as being unreliable?

The burden of proof is in the field of the Bible believers anyway, so I don't see why this is a problem.

Since there's no instruction manual, the burden's on christianity to show how to objectively determine which parts are literal and which are not (i.e., to demonstrate the bible's reliability).

Even if there were zero Bible believers, and the Bible would be just another ancient text, it would nevertheless be a problem to determine what this text means.

But discussing with a Christian, why not take the believers interpretation as a starting point?

jan
15th August 2005, 05:58 AM
Originally posted by pmurray
The word is "wrack".

Thanks. My texts are a mixture of faint memories of English instructions and spell checker suggestions. And furthermore, they are supposed to be understood as mere metaphors, of course.

My dictionary says "wreck".

But making the contradictions dissapear is easy. The writer of the creation story was a polytheist. The earlier section talks about the gods in general. The second section talks specifically about the god "Jehovah".

Each god made a race of humans "in his own image and likeness", and so the gods made man - male and female.

Mr Jehovah went about this business in his private little enclosed garden. When Cain was ejected, he went to the people that Mr Nod (another god) made.

This may come as a surprise, but I find this interpretation quite convincing. Not necessarily the most likely, but quite convincing.

Unfortunately, when God curses Adam and Eve, that sounds like an explanation why live is like it is (that is, full of labor etc.). That doesn't make much sense if it doesn't apply to the creatures of MrNod.

jan
15th August 2005, 06:11 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
Yes, I'm not. Why? Becuase I don't need any. Once again, I'm not arguing specifics. I'm not saying "Ah! But in 3:15 of Malachi it is said "And Santa clause ate all the salmon in the Great Sea, and so it came to pass that he was full" it is obvious it is not a metaphor!". What my point is, is that there are ambiguous interpretations of the Bible, so which one can you trust? And if you can't trust some parts of the Bible, why can you trust any of it at all?

So your argument seems to be: the Bible is more ambiguous than your average text, but as God's book of laws, it should be less ambiguous. Indeed an interesting argument, but it doesn't tell you that the literal interpretation is the correct interpretation.

It seems your refusal to discuss specifics makes your arguments applicable to all texts, not only the Bible. So according to you, each and every text must be read as literal as possible, even if it explicitly says "Warning! Metaphors!".

How about the stoning to death of your disobedient children? I'm sure some there are a number of views on this one.

I think this was supposed to be understood literally.

And we should also assume that the Bible is meant to be interpreted that Homer turned people into pigs, as we cannot prove the intent of any supposed rhetoric.

The Bible says Homer turned people into pigs? What? "Homer" as in "The Guy Who Mentioned Circe" or "Homer" as in "Homer Simpson"?

And what is your reasoning behind assuming that the Bible didn't literally mean that I can stone my wife to death for not being a virgin?

This too I suppose to be meant literally.

jan
15th August 2005, 06:17 AM
Originally posted by cyborg
The reasoning process was as important as the conclusions. If there was a reasoning process to the many laws and explanations of natural events in the Bible they certainly haven't been placed along side them.

So you would say that we do not only have the opinions and views of Heraclitus, but also his line of reasoning? Socrates had anything to say about natural events? Paul doesn't argue?

cyborg
15th August 2005, 07:54 AM
Originally posted by jan
So you would say that we do not only have the opinions and views of Heraclitus, but also his line of reasoning?

Socrates had anything to say about natural events?

And I said he had to where now? The Bible wasn't written by a single author even if you insist a god had a part in it and not all the books that comprise the Bible cover the areas I pointed out.

Seems a little incredulous to me.

Paul doesn't argue?

Not well.

jan
15th August 2005, 12:56 PM
Originally posted by cyborg
And I said he had to where now?

Sorry, re-reading your previous post, I now see that I misunderstood you. So I admit that my example about Socrates misses the point. Nevertheless, there are ancient Greek texts (like Heraclitus) not surrounded with explanations.

And even those surrounded with explanations are more often than not very difficult to understand.

The Bible wasn't written by a single author even if you insist a god had a part in it and not all the books that comprise the Bible cover the areas I pointed out.

Neither did I claim that the Bible was written by a single author, nor have I insisted that a god was one of those authors. I even think that there is evidence (as mentioned by jjramsey, see above) that some of the later authors had serious troubles to understand some of the earlier authors.

I don't say that Paul argues very well. But his arguments help us to understand what he means.

jan
15th August 2005, 01:00 PM
Since this might have been unclear in my previous posts:

If a believer accepts some of the laws given in Leviticus, but rejects others, I would agree that this behavior is cherry-picking. Unless, of course, the believer is able to present a reason why some of those laws are still valid, while others are not.

So if somebody, for example, bases his homophobia on quotes from Leviticus, but is also against stoning disobedient children, I would say that his interpretation of the Bible is not conclusive (unless he is able to present some arguments why it is). But I think that only the most stupid homophobic Christians refer to Leviticus anyway; the slightly more intelligent use the creation story.

Taffer
15th August 2005, 04:25 PM
So your argument seems to be: the Bible is more ambiguous than your average text, but as God's book of laws, it should be less ambiguous. Indeed an interesting argument, but it doesn't tell you that the literal interpretation is the correct interpretation.

It seems your refusal to discuss specifics makes your arguments applicable to all texts, not only the Bible. So according to you, each and every text must be read as literal as possible, even if it explicitly says "Warning! Metaphors!".

Perhaps I've not been arguing coherently. :(

My argument is that if the Bible is to be taken anything other then as literal truths, then it should indee dbe less ambiguous. You don't think that the stoning section was not to be taken as a literal truth. I'm sure others thing it was supposed to be a metaphor. So on what basis do you choose? If everyone could have a different reading from a particular passage, the only way to argue against or for it, in my view, is from a literal stand point; all else is subjective, and it is pretty much impossible to argue subjectivites.

Robin
15th August 2005, 06:11 PM
It is hard to know how to put this. If some influential Christian claims divine backing for some prejudice they have by quoting Bible verses then I might counter by showing that the same literal interpretation leads to absurdities. It is then illogical for someone else to take me to task for using a literal interpretation of the Bible or to say that I prefer a literal interpretation of the Bible.

jjramsey
15th August 2005, 06:53 PM
Originally posted by Robin
It is hard to know how to put this. If some influential Christian claims divine backing for some prejudice they have by quoting Bible verses then I might counter by showing that the same literal interpretation leads to absurdities. It is then illogical for someone else to take me to task for using a literal interpretation of the Bible or to say that I prefer a literal interpretation of the Bible.

That depends. If you are making it clear that for the sake of argument, you are temporarily adopting the literalism that fundamentalists profess to believe in order to show it leads to obviously absurd misinterpretations of the Bible, that is one thing. It is another thing to write as if literal interpretation really was always appropriate, and that any resulting absurdities from a literal interpretation come from faults in the Bible itself, not a faulty method of interpretation.

For example, it is one thing to say "Hey, by your woodenly literal interpretation, this passage in the Bible would imply that π = 3. Something is wrong with this picture." It is a whole other matter to say flat out that π = 3 according to the Bible.

I already mentioned that Christians, especially of the fundamentalist variety, often use "literal" when they really mean "inerrant." I'm not sure why this is, except that it probably has something to do with the historical circumstances that birthed Christian fundamentalism roughly around the turn of the 20th century. What that means, of course, is that many fundamentalist Christians are quite aware when figurative or imprecise language is used in the Bible, so attacking a woodenly literal interpretation of the Bible is attacking a straw man.

P.S.A.
15th August 2005, 07:11 PM
It's time for another trademarked P.S.A. flippant comment, but with the usual hidden depth, and no attempt as usual to defend it!

You know, I neither know nor care what parts of the Bible are supposed to be taken literally and which are not... Because if God isn't going to get up off his holy heinie after 1400, 2000, or perhaps even larger numbers of years depending on when you think his last genuine Prophet was here, then the whole argument is moot.

Because God has sat by and watched not just language, but the entire way in which we understand the universe change; We've gone from a primitive, superstitious people, to a scientific, enquiring people... but he's not updated his own words to reflect this, so now no one has a uniform clue what he means anymore. And you can't even get around this by claiming he's tried to update us with recent prophecy, because no current Messiah is able to effectively communicate with anything but a small number of likeminded fools... or in the case of our resident Prophet's here, with no one at all. And in a world where the human population numbers in the Billions, all of us hopelessly divided from each other, God thus clearly sucks the big one when it comes to communicating. He's not a Fisher but a Babel Fisher of Men.

Are Atheists being patronizing by assuming a literal Bible interpretation? Nope. Are those who read it that way, and then this way, and then another way again themselves stupid? Nope. Your guess is as good as mine as to what God really thinks... And God doesn't seem to want to bother to make it any clearer. Lazy sod.

Beerina
16th August 2005, 08:11 AM
Originally posted by Beady
If this is your basic premise, it is completely incorrect. Atheists and agnostics, by definition, cannot believe that the Bible should be taken literally either in whole or in part. As triadboy says, the literallness of the Bible is a fundamentalist Christian view.

However, we also note that science, as it discovers more and more about reality, pushes more and more parts of the Bible into the "impossible to be literally true" category.

In other words, interpreting these as allegories instead of literal history is not the invention of non-fundamentalists, but rather all that is left for those who want to believe. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Science came first, then came the belief these were not literally true.

Those who believe in the Bible as not literally true are there because science pushed them there, not because they determined it a priori.

jan
16th August 2005, 08:47 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
You don't think that the stoning section was not to be taken as a literal truth. I'm sure others thing it was supposed to be a metaphor.

Probably you can find a supporter for every imaginable interpretation. But it seems to me the usual scheme of avoiding the stoning parts is the claim that those laws are to be taken literally, but no longer applicable, outdated, since, you know, we now have Jesus and don't need them any longer (I don't know what the usual routine for the Jews is; anybody else?). You don't have to find this explanation convincing, of course.

So on what basis do you choose? If everyone could have a different reading from a particular passage, the only way to argue against or for it, in my view, is from a literal stand point; all else is subjective, and it is pretty much impossible to argue subjectivites.

How about the usual standards of scholarship? Weighting the arguments for different interpretations? Like one would approach Plato, or Heraclitus, or Homer? Comparing it with similar literature?

Of course I can't produce an indubitable proof that a certain interpretation is the correct one. I conceded this already in my very first post.

jan
16th August 2005, 08:51 AM
Originally posted by Robin
If some influential Christian claims divine backing for some prejudice they have by quoting Bible verses then I might counter by showing that the same literal interpretation leads to absurdities.

And I mentioned why this is allowed, and something I have done too. Besides that, everything jjramsey said.

Edited to add: I see two possibles routes: try to explain the fundie why his interpretation isn't based on serious scholarship, or try to explain why it leads to absurd consequences. The second route might be easier to travel, and therefore preferable.

jan
16th August 2005, 09:01 AM
Originally posted by P.S.A.
It's time for another trademarked P.S.A. flippant comment, but with the usual hidden depth, and no attempt as usual to defend it!

So let's see...

You know, I neither know nor care what parts of the Bible are supposed to be taken literally and which are not... Because if God isn't going to get up off his holy heinie after 1400, 2000, or perhaps even larger numbers of years depending on when you think his last genuine Prophet was here, then the whole argument is moot.

Discussed between Tuffer and me, three posts above yours.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what God really thinks... And God doesn't seem to want to bother to make it any clearer. Lazy sod.

Since I don't believe gods exist, I have no opinion about what they might be thinking. And I already explained why I think the problem of how to interpret the Bible remains even if you don't think that it is the word of God.

Taffer
16th August 2005, 09:11 AM
Originally posted by jan

How about the usual standards of scholarship? Weighting the arguments for different interpretations? Like one would approach Plato, or Heraclitus, or Homer? Comparing it with similar literature?

But here is where I disagree. The scientific/philosophic works of great thinksers like Plato and Aristotle all wrote entire books explaining their theories. The Bible, however, has no such explanations. So, while there could be little things that people view differently in Plato's works, mostly they are much less ambiguous then the Bible. The bible just says this is what happened, and what should be done, while Plato says this is how things are and here is how I reached this conclusion. Not to mention he points out why his theory is better then the others.

jan
16th August 2005, 09:24 AM
Originally posted by Beerina
However, we also note that science, as it discovers more and more about reality, pushes more and more parts of the Bible into the "impossible to be literally true" category.

I agree.

In other words, interpreting these as allegories instead of literal history is not the invention of non-fundamentalists, but rather all that is left for those who want to believe. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Science came first, then came the belief these were not literally true.

Those who believe in the Bible as not literally true are there because science pushed them there, not because they determined it a priori.

I agree that it is an often encountered pattern to change the interpretation of the Bible (or other sacred texts) to adjust it to new scientific findings. But I tried to explain above why this is not always the case (see, for example, my remarks about the end time prophecies of Jesus or the empty tomb). Furthermore, I tried to explain why I think that certain parts where written with the intention that they shouldn't be taken literally. If they have been taken literally later, and this literal interpretation is now retracted, then I don't think that this is objectionable.

Of course modern scientific findings about the earth being billions of years old, about the process of speciation during natural selection and of the sheer number of different species was very important in changing the interpretation of, say, the story of Noah. So was the discovery of the epos of Gilgamesh. And I would say that the discovery of the story of Gilgamesh was the more important one if we are interested in reconstructing the meaning of the Bible. The former shows that the Bible, interpreted literally, says something that can't be true. That doesn't tell us whether or not a literal interpretation is the correct one. It just gives a hint for religious leaders which interpretation would have a greater propagandistic value. The story of Gilgamesh, on the other hand, allows us to compare the story of Noah with other flood myths, and perhaps help us to gain some insight into the minds of the writers of such stories.

jan
16th August 2005, 09:40 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
But here is where I disagree. The scientific/philosophic works of great thinksers like Plato and Aristotle all wrote entire books explaining their theories. The Bible, however, has no such explanations. So, while there could be little things that people view differently in Plato's works, mostly they are much less ambiguous then the Bible. The bible just says this is what happened, and what should be done, while Plato says this is how things are and here is how I reached this conclusion. Not to mention he points out why his theory is better then the others.

Then Plato and Aristotle, I assume, are the only classical philosophers we should study?

If you read Plato, you might get an impression who Socrates was. But if you read Xenophon, you get a completely different impression. Socrates himself didn't write anything, but that doesn't stop people to try to reconstruct what his theories could have been.

There are many ancient philosophers for which we have considerably less body of text than we have from Paul. I think it isn't that hopeless to try to reconstruct Paul's theology. Of course it is far more difficult to reconstruct what Jesus did teach, and it may be impossible to ever reach some stable consensus about this. And I wouldn't even try to bother to find out what the Revelation is supposed to mean (besides that I think that most of it is pretty allegorical), and what the number of the beast is. But then, I also think that it is hopeless to try to reconstruct Plato's number. Trying to make sense of Plato's "Parmenides", especially the second half, is also quite challenging.

I mentioned Heraclitus in a previous post, so I don't want to repeat myself, but it should be noted that Plato isn't arguing that much in the "Timaios".

Taffer
16th August 2005, 09:57 AM
Ok, I must concede this point.

My problem is that most ancient philosophers didn't tend to write their theories as absolute truths (again, I say most), whereas the Bible is portrayed as an absolute truth, yet we must pick at choose which of the things written are actually true, and which are just metaphorical?

The problem with studying the ancient philosophers is that many of their works have not been preserved for us, except in third party accounts. Yes, I agree, these are unrelyable. But often we do have their works. You mention the second half Timaios. I agree, it is often hard to deduce the meanings of works such as these. But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that they actually try to make some argument for their case, even if we can't actually understand it. The Bible, however, makes no such effort, and we are left to interpret as we will. Thus, many parts of it are unrelyable, if they are not meant in the literal sense.

jan
16th August 2005, 10:52 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
My problem is that most ancient philosophers didn't tend to write their theories as absolute truths (again, I say most), whereas the Bible is portrayed as an absolute truth, yet we must pick at choose which of the things written are actually true, and which are just metaphorical?

For me, finding an appropriate interpretation of the Bible is just an intellectual game. For somebody who believes that it is the word of God, or maybe even that the correct interpretation is a matter of heaven or hell, things look quite different, and for such a person, it is indeed, well, unlucky that the Bible isn't easier to understand.

Given the standards of the time the different parts have been written in, I would say the Bible isn't exceptionally bad or difficult written. But I would also agree that it doesn't stand out as being exceptionally clear and easy. One may, of course, wonder why this is, especially if one believes that it is the word of God.

You mention the second half Timaios.

Not that it matters much, but I mention the second half of Parmenides, and the whole Timaios.

I agree, it is often hard to deduce the meanings of works such as these. But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that they actually try to make some argument for their case, even if we can't actually understand it. The Bible, however, makes no such effort, and we are left to interpret as we will. Thus, many parts of it are unrelyable, if they are not meant in the literal sense.

Not all parts of the Bible are equal in this respect. Many of them are historical accounts, so there isn't much point in arguing. Some, like Paul, do argue occasionally. Even Jeremiah occasionally uses arguments. But I agree that much of it is pretty apodictic.

Taffer
16th August 2005, 12:02 PM
For me, finding an appropriate interpretation of the Bible is just an intellectual game. For somebody who believes that it is the word of God, or maybe even that the correct interpretation is a matter of heaven or hell, things look quite different, and for such a person, it is indeed, well, unlucky that the Bible isn't easier to understand.

Personally I am interested in the historical accuracy of some of the accounts in the Bible. Where did this story come from? Is there truth in its roots? I find this facinating, but that's an aside.

Given the standards of the time the different parts have been written in, I would say the Bible isn't exceptionally bad or difficult written. But I would also agree that it doesn't stand out as being exceptionally clear and easy. One may, of course, wonder why this is, especially if one believes that it is the word of God.

Agreed.

Not that it matters much, but I mention the second half of Parmenides, and the whole Timaios.

My bad. I just cut and pasted the wrong thing ;).

Not all parts of the Bible are equal in this respect. Many of them are historical accounts, so there isn't much point in arguing. Some, like Paul, do argue occasionally. Even Jeremiah occasionally uses arguments. But I agree that much of it is pretty apodictic.

Agreed. However, I feel that these things that are historical accounts (as well as things obviously not ment literally, although which parts these are could be argued until the cows come home) are the only points that can be argued against in the Bible, because all the meanings behind all the other parts are subjectivly decided upon, and this is not something you can argue as most of it is personal feeling.

ernon
16th August 2005, 01:02 PM
Originally posted by triadboy

Remember - the first creation tale is from the time of the Babylonian captivity (~550 BC). ("On the first day...etc) It was written by an author known as the Priestly Author ("P"). His creation story was influenced by the Babylonian creation tale.

The second creation tale (Adam and Eve) is from ~900 BC. (This was the "J" author)

"P" grabbed all these stories and crammed them together. (There are also two versions (P and J) of the Noah story crammed together!)

While the author may well have been drunk - P is the culprit for the confusion. [/B]

The tales in Genesis were lifted from the "Enuma Elish", the Summarian creation epic. It was written about 3000 years BC. There you will find all of the major characters, though going by different names; for instance Noah is called Utnapishtem (interestingly he supposedly let a giant named Og hang off the back of the Ark so he wouldn't drown and he also fed him but that is another story).

Like you say, the second creation tale is the older of the two and is more 'mythical' in nature. The first, younger version is actually their 'scientific' version, attempting to get rid of the mythical elements of the older version and is a good representation of the state of 'scientific knowledge' for that earth-centric period. Look at the order of creation in the first story to see what I mean.

Also interesting, the first story ends with mankind being created, male and female, at the same time. The second, older story is the one that has Eve created from a rib after God brings all the animals to Adam to see if any was fit to be a mate for him and none of them is! I guess we're lucky the goat wasn't a good fit or we would all be goat-people. ;) The mythological elements of the stories are so strong I am surprised ANYONE can take these as literal.

ernon
16th August 2005, 01:25 PM
Originally posted by bpesta22
I'm not sure I understand the points being made in this thread.
But, it occurred to me, why not evaluate the bible as we would any test?

Maybe because the Bible isn't a book in the modern sense but a compiliation of scrolls. You could test the veracity of the individual scrolls though. Some would contain a great deal of historically testable information and others would have less to none. For example, most of the New Testsment is Saul's/Paul's opinion and as such is not testable; whereas the Books of the Kings (for example) contain place names and events that other cultures would have recorded too.

The problem lies in thinking of the Bible as a modern book, with one author and a beginning, middle and end. It is provably otherwise if one studies the scrolls origins and not their content.

Robin
16th August 2005, 04:55 PM
In fact sometimes the literal interpretation is more reasonable than the bible scholar interpretation.

Sometimes a love song is just a love song and not a prophetic allegory of Christ's love for the church.

jjramsey
16th August 2005, 05:45 PM
Originally posted by Robin
In fact sometimes the literal interpretation is more reasonable than the bible scholar interpretation.

Sometimes a love song is just a love song and not a prophetic allegory of Christ's love for the church.

That's pitting two different figurative interpretations against each other, not a literal interpretation against a figurative one. If you try to interpret the Song of Solomon totally literally, it comes out as ridiculous.

Also, even the evangelical scholars have come to realize that, yes, the Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and I doubt that the liberal scholars have had much trouble realizing that, either.

pgwenthold
17th August 2005, 05:33 AM
Originally posted by jjramsey
That's pitting two different figurative interpretations against each other, not a literal interpretation against a figurative one. If you try to interpret the Song of Solomon totally literally, it comes out as ridiculous.


So what?

You are making a logical fallacy here. It is an "argument from the assumption that the bible can't be ridiculous," which is tantamount to assuming your conclusion.

Perhaps the real answer is, the bible _is_ actually ridiculous and it is the apologetics that have been invented that distort it completely from its original intent?

You can't start with the assumption that the bible is rational or reasonable and therefore everything should be interpreted to make it that way. That has to be a conclusion. As I said earlier, "No one can be that stupid" doesn't make a basis for a rational argument. Just look at the Book of Mormon, or anything by Charles Berlitz, or (dare I say it) Mein Kampf.

Sometimes, the best conclusion is that "the author is a loon."

jjramsey
17th August 2005, 07:26 AM
pgwenthold, have you even read the Song of Solomon?

Taffer
17th August 2005, 07:33 AM
He doesn't have to, jjramsey. He is correct. Give us your proof in believing that the Bible is rational. If it is a solid proof, then we can talk about which parts we should interpret so that they make sense.

jjramsey
17th August 2005, 07:51 AM
Originally posted by Taffer
He doesn't have to, jjramsey.

Garbage. If pgwenthold had read the Song of Solomon, he would have realized that it was a book of poetry full of similes and metaphors. If you ignore the similes and metaphors, you get gibberish. If you take them into account, you get something coherent. According to pgwenthold's school of interpretation, I should conclude that this particular book of the Bible is gibberish, even though a straightforward figurative interpretation gets me something far different.

Taffer
17th August 2005, 08:16 AM
But what about parts of the book that aren't "similes and metaphors"? What about the parts that make no sense, but have to be interpreted to have them make sense, on the belief that the Bible makes sense in all places?

pgwenthold
17th August 2005, 08:21 AM
Originally posted by jjramsey
Garbage. If pgwenthold had read the Song of Solomon, he would have realized that it was a book of poetry full of similes and metaphors. If you ignore the similes and metaphors, you get gibberish. If you take them into account, you get something coherent. According to pgwenthold's school of interpretation, I should conclude that this particular book of the Bible is gibberish, even though a straightforward figurative interpretation gets me something far different.

Emphasis added to highlight your strawman.

I never told you how to interpret the SoS. You are the one claiming how it should be interpreted. However, you are using a logical fallacy for it.

We am trying to sort out, is the bible reasonable or is it ridiculous? You say that we should interpret it in a given fashion because if we do it is reasonable and if we don't, it is ridiculous. This is why I accused you of assuming your conclusion.

I never claimed how the bible should be interpreted. I just pointed out that your basis for _your_ interpretation is circular logic. It doesn't mean your interpretation is wrong, just that your reasoning for selecting that interpretation is unfounded.

cyborg
17th August 2005, 08:23 AM
Originally posted by jjramsey
Garbage. If pgwenthold had read the Song of Solomon, he would have realized that it was a book of poetry full of similes and metaphors. If you ignore the similes and metaphors, you get gibberish. If you take them into account, you get something coherent.

So I should interpret Jesus as a metaphor then? After all it's pretty ridiculous healing people with a touch, turning water into wine sans microbial action and rising from the dead.

Otherwise the Gospels are just gibberish peices that contradict each other's events and are hence incoherent.

jjramsey
17th August 2005, 09:53 AM
Originally posted by pgwenthold
You say that we should interpret it in a given fashion because if we do it is reasonable and if we don't, it is ridiculous. This is why I accused you of assuming your conclusion.

If you wrote that a tabloid headline from the Weekly World News caught your eye and made you laugh as you were buying your groceries, and I interpreted you as saying that the tabloid somehow ripped one of your eyeballs from its sockets, and then I said that it was odd that you did not scream in pain instead of laugh and wondered how you managed to pay for your groceries in the midst of a medical emergency, that would be an example of a literal interpretation that leads to such an obviously ridiculous result that it has to be wrong. That's the kind of thing I had in mind when I pointed out that a literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon makes it come out ridiculous.

If I have to resort to piling ad hoc explanation upon ad hoc explanation to get a Bible passage to make sense, then indeed, it probably doesn't make sense. That does not mean, however, that if I get "weird" results from applying a particular methodology of interpretation to the Bible, that the weird results might indicate a problem in my methodology rather that the Bible.

Originally posted by pgwenthold
I never claimed how the bible should be interpreted.

Yes, you did: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=1871021880#post1871021880

pgwenthold
17th August 2005, 10:13 AM
Originally posted by jjramsey
Yes, you did: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=1871021880#post1871021880

Sorry.

In the post I responded to, the one we were discussing, I did not say anything about what anyone should do. I just called you on your logical error.

Your attempt to obfuscate does not change the fact that you are making a logical error.

jan
17th August 2005, 11:42 AM
Originally posted by pgwenthold
Your attempt to obfuscate does not change the fact that you are making a logical error.

I don't see jjramsey making a logical error.

Case A: I am trying to read the online book of a certain JREF poster. No matter how hard I try, the only interpretation that fits is that the author is at least partly mad.

Case B: I am reading the Song of Songs. The completely unnatural strictly literal interpretation is as ridiculous as jjramsey's "lost eye" example. A simple and natural interpretation (a collection of poetical erotic poems) instantly makes sense.

So now I am preferring the second interpretation, because it makes more sense. Does that mean that I am an apologetist, or that I am using circular logic? No, I am just using the most likely and plausible interpretation.

jan
17th August 2005, 12:09 PM
Originally posted by Taffer
He doesn't have to, jjramsey. He is correct. Give us your proof in believing that the Bible is rational. If it is a solid proof, then we can talk about which parts we should interpret so that they make sense.

What do you mean with "rational"? I think that parts of the Bible are factually incorrect, and that parts of it are written using mythological language (and some Christians agree with me). Is "rational" supposed to mean something like "not written by a complete loon"?

Parts of the Bible are "rational" (although they might be completely wrong), because it is able to interpret them in a rational manner without resorting to ad hoc hypotheses.

Why not interpret the Song of Songs strictly literally? We know of other similar collections; such an interpretation explains not only one item within the Song of Songs, but all of them; therefore, the unifying principle "if it looks like a collection of erotic poetry, then it is a collection of erotic poetry", that is useful outside and independent from the Bible, can be applied.