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Entry 1583, on 2013-10-26 at 21:15:16 (Rating 4, Religion)

In the comments for a recent blog post I repeated one of my favourite quotes by the famous enlightenment philosopher Voltaire who said "Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities" and my opponent agreed. Of course, I'm sure he only thinks that while most other people's religious views are absurd, his (by some unknown process) are immune and make perfect sense.

So I guess the challenge is to show that Christianity is absurd, surely one of the simplest tasks I have ever set myself! But is it really? The problem is that Christianity doesn't really exist. What does exist are various sects which have split off from the original belief system (the first major split was just a few hundred years after the founding of the church) and now number about 38,000.

That in itself is absurd because many of these sects show massive variations in their beliefs. Some believe in creation, some in evolution, some both. Some believe Jesus was some sort of supernatural god, some think he was a manifestation of God, some think he was just a man. Some interpret every word of the Old Testament literally, some basically ignore it.

So when preparing a case against Christianity it's just too easy for my opponent to claim that I am disproving a version of the religion which he also disagrees with, but which isn't "real" Christianity. And naturally, many people will never explicitly tell you what they believe because that would mean you can disprove that belief.

So I guess I just have to take a few of the more important and widely quoted Christian beliefs and show they are absurd. That's not perfect and those who insist on denying the obvious will still no doubt still find some way to escape but it's probably the best approach I have available.

So let's start at the beginning. Genesis is absurd. Anyone with the smallest amount of intellectual honesty will agree that it simply cannot be literally true. Every branch of science contradicts it and anyone who still believes in creation (no doubt while still accepting the benefits of the science which disproves it) is showing absurd ignorance.

Some people will say it is metaphorical. OK, so what is the deeper meaning? There isn't one because it was clearly meant to be the best explanation of the origin of the universe, Earth, and life that a primitive desert nomad tribe could invent at the time. To pretend that such a mechanistic story is a metaphor is absurd.

Most of the other origin stories in the Old Testament are also absurd. That applies to the Exodus and the Flood which clearly didn't happen. I guess there might be some sort of case to say that these are metaphorical but there are two problems with that.

First, if they are metaphors how do we know? Maybe every story is a metaphor so is nothing in the Bible true? There would be absolutely no way to know. How absurd is that?

Second, what is the metaphorical message here? For the Flood it seems to be that if some people upset God he will kill practically everyone, plus almost every animal and plant as well. So the message is that God is a monstrous, evil tyrant? Somehow I don't think that's what most Christians want to believe.

So let's move on to the more central message of Christianity from the New Testament. Surprisingly, in some ways this is even more absurd.

Maybe the basic belief of modern Christianity (and this is debatable for the reasons I gave above) is portrayed in that most famous Bible verse, John 3:16, which is "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (New International Version).

So what is this all about? Well here's my interpretation (please correct me if I'm wrong). God saw that there were problems on Earth so he sent his son (not really, or was he?) Jesus down to sort things out. But part of this process was to sacrifice Jesus through his crucifixion. This was God's ultimate sacrifice for the good of humans.

At this stage you might guess what word I'm about to use to describe this... absurd!

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and good right? So how did he let this situation get so out of control to start with? And who was Jesus? Some people say he was a manifestation of God. So God sent himself to be sacrificed to himself to convince himself to fix problems that he himself let happen in the first place? Absurd!

And what was the point of this sacrifice? Why not let Jesus stay on Earth a bit longer and spread the message more widely? Was his brutal execution really necessary? What does that tell us about God? That the whole idea of the sacrifice of Jesus is absurd!

I could go on for pages listing absurdities in Christianity but anyone who isn't convinced by the flagrant abuses of logic and common sense I have already listed will probably never be convinced.

Clearly Christianity is absurd and, as my religious opponent agrees, that can easily lead to atrocities being committed. I'm not saying anyone who believes this stuff will become a homicidal terrorist, but it does encourage those who might be a bit unstable to begin with to act on those tendencies.

I'm also not saying that Christianity is all bad. There are some cool stories and some quite positive philosophy there, but there's also a lot of completely absurd nonsense. If we gave it the same respect as a work of philosophy or mythology (Plato's works or the Iliad for example) I think the atrocity aspect of it could be avoided, but I don't think that's likely in the near future!


Comment 8 (4601) by OJB on 2016-11-02 at 17:46:55: (view earlier comments)

OK, I’ve got to admit it: you creationists are the masters of the post hoc rationalisation! I have never heard that particular excuse before. How widely is this view held?

I mean, even with your arbitrary hand waving explanation it’s still wrong, because humans evolved well after other animals and flowering plants were quite late. Also birds evolved after dinosaurs and mammals but before humans. There’s just no way this makes any sense.

You know what this reminds me of? Trying to find the truth in a child’s nursery rhyme. I mean, like “Jack and Jill ran up the hill to fetch a pail of water”. We know this is wrong because wells are never located on the top of hills. Maybe the hill was a metaphor for the challenges life poses and Jack and Jill symbolised humanity? Who’s to say I’m wrong?


Comment 9 (4602) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-11-08 at 23:18:43:

I’m not sure when the term “chiasm” was coined, but it is from the classical Greek. It is millennia old. The structure was widely used in many writings (including the Odyssey and the Iliad). It is widely known by scholars and seminary-trained pastors because it is ubiquitous. Call one up and ask them; it is where I learned about it.

Imagine trying to read and understand a Limerick without knowing the rhyme scheme, meter, and that the content is often humorously obscene? You might read it literally, but you’d miss the intended meaning if you took it for unstructured prose. It’s equally ignorant to read Genesis without knowing this.

You continue to read the Genesis account as if it was written in this century. All of your objections and conclusions reflect this. Saying that interpreting a text in its proper literary context is post hoc rationalization is equally silly. By failing to do this, both you and fundamentalists are necessarily guilty of post hoc rationalization. (Of course all interpretation of historical documents is post hoc by definition.)

You are making the same kind of category mistake that fundamentalists make. You’ve accepted their flawed assumptions and then argued that the conclusions are wrong. Well of course they are!
The text does not say that birds evolved before dinosaurs. It doesn’t say that light was created before the sources of light or that plants evolved without photosynthesis. It’s not saying that birds and fish are not animals either. That’s all nonsense. You come up with strange interpretations and then complain that they don’t make sense.

Interpretation of ancient texts requires a lot of work. You are trying to oversimplify and insist on a particular interpretation. It doesn’t work that way. Your post reflects your ignorance of the topic you are attempting to discuss. If you want to refute views held by fundamentalists and slam them for being inconsistent and contradictory, go ahead. That is low hanging fruit. But if you want to reject the account in terms of a literary work, then you have to argue against it as a literary work.


Comment 10 (4603) by OJB on 2016-11-08 at 23:19:32:

I have no issues with accepting Genesis as a literary work, but I got the impression you also thought it had some merit as a true description of the origin of the universe. Maybe that’s where the problem lies. So just to clarify, could you answer two questions: 1, is there any value in Genesis as a source of real information about real events (let’s stick to Genesis 1 and 2 at this stage); and 2, if there is could you describe briefly what it claims actually happened.


Comment 11 (4616) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-11-12 at 17:08:40:

I am using the term “literary work” to be a work of literature, that is a work of writing, not as the narrowly defined “imaginative fiction”. All writing, including science textbooks, must be viewed in light of its literary context. It is impossible to fully determine the truth in a writing without first understanding its literary context.

“1, is there any value in Genesis as a source of real information about real events; 2, if there is could you describe briefly what it claims actually happened.”

In short, yes. In long, how many months do you have? I’ll try ‘briefly’, but don’t expect a complete answer.

Genesis 1:1 is quite plain: God created everything and it has a beginning. The steady state theory created metaphysical problems for Christianity. The Big Bang theory caused metaphysical problems for Naturalism. It has always been the case that Christians believed in a beginning to the universe, long before science arrived at that conclusion. So the first primary point is that God is by nature a ‘creator’. It is no mistake that one of the primary attributes of humanity is its creative power.

We know from the literary analysis that the purpose of the creation story is to show that God did it and why: to highlight God’s relationship to man. The second primary point: God created man in his image and his method of communication with his creation is relational. It is no mistake that God sets up marriage as the type to his relationship with mankind. I can’t use science to get know my spouse. I have a relationship where she reveals herself to me. Naturalism explicitly excludes any possibility of relationship with God.

As far as other scientific claims, it is hard to be definitive. God is responsible for the celestial bodies, for the water and the land, the plants, animals, and man. But we don’t know when or how. We can only speculate. There are a lot of hints that could lead to specific scientific predictions, but we are only talking about two chapters. How much could it say about real events?


Comment 12 (4617) by OJB on 2016-11-12 at 17:08:58:

I have so many problems with this that I don’t know where to start. There is one thing you say that has always intrigued me though (off topic a bit) and that is what does “God created man in his image” actually mean?


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