Atheist bible studies

Aractus 30, June, 2018

Welcome to my brand new academic blog series. I call it my Atheist Bible Studies. This will be the introductory post, and for this series I will choose topics that Evangelical Christians will find challenging, but which everyone else (atheist, liberal Christian, or other theist) probably won’t. I should note that I’m not an anti-theist, I don’t want religion to go away. Like Bart Ehrman I see the value in religion, and I’m only opposed to Fundamentalists, Extremists, and Apologetics.

Preamble: The fallacy of “consensus”

The idea of an academic consensus provides a valid problem. Is it a consensus because the subject matter is true, or merely because academics view the conclusion drawn as most plausible hypothesis? The results of academic study of the ancient world often lead to a number of plausible arguments with strong and even “consensus” level support that can contradict each other in certain ways. And there have been many times in the history of scholarship where the consensus was wrong. This along with the fact that their beliefs are challenged contributes to people having a poor view of academics of the ancient world. Every question in history can be re-examined.

Another problem with consensus or majority opinion is that it may not be shared in other relevant academic fields. For example, most bible scholars believe there was some kind of historical Exodus. But most historians do not think this. Other examples include teachings relating to public health, and science, where matters such as the theory of Evolution we settled for a very long time in the relevant field before bible scholars also came on-board. And even within bible scholarship there are different branches, in this blog series I will prefer the historical-critical scholarship over theology.

So what does this mean for Christians and their apologetic arguments? Firstly, arguments that appeal to an authority “greater than” academic scholarship can be routinely dismissed. Most scholars, and most Christians do not hold a “high view” of scripture any more. Even most Protestants do not. The evidence against it is overwhelming, but that’s a separate discussion. Secondly we should expect their arguments to have academic support. There can be academic support for a range of views on a specific issue, and there often is. Any argument without academic support should be dismissed. Thirdly, the biblical texts (Old and New Testament) are not “special”. They don’t get to be treated differently compared with other ancient writings, and we mustn’t just dismiss all other traditions as having no truth or history to them. Finally, theological arguments are by their very nature subjective. Historical questions are a lot easier to answer, however theology played a very important role in the shaping of the early church and their texts.

Introduction

There are many types of Christian or Jew, and some reading this will feel that I am openly mocking them. Indeed one Christian over on Reddit helpfully suggested the /r/AcademicBiblical sub be retitled “bible trashes united”. LOL. As mentioned in the opening paragraph – this is not my intention, I’m not an anti-theist. If you want to believe in the Hebrew God “Yahweh” that’s up to you. You’re entitled to your beliefs, and to practise your religion. You’re just not entitled to your own “facts”, that’s all. When people cling to beliefs in historicity of events in the Bible that are uncertain, that is perhaps reasonable. But clinging to the belief in events that have been shown to be non-historical is fundamentalist. How can we have an intelligent conversation if you’re going to tell me you believe in an Exodus? Or the Nativities? This blog series I hope will start to open minds, but I’m fully aware that most people will likely ignore it anyway and instead cling to their own “facts” that are not academically supported.

What is the historical-critical method? To put it in the simplest terms, there is a huge elephant in the room: the Bible is a book that makes claims to supernatural occurrences that happen regularly that do not match with our lived experience of reality. Furthermore the Bible is a human document, it’s not a divine work, and it’s not unique. It is typical of ancient near-east religious writings. There are many other ancient (and even somewhat contemporary) texts that make appeal to the supernatural, and believers do not get to say they believe only their events are credible. To that we say we treat all claims equally, and we don’t have a preference to believe miracles claimed by one group over any other. Why should we?

As we explore the academic world of biblical studies please let me repeat: this is not an attack on Christianity only on fundamentalism!

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