The Atheist’s Bible

April 8, 2010 — 4 Comments

The other day, I was thinking to myself how helpful it would be for my studies if there was an equivalent Bible, but for atheists. Maybe there is such a thing when considered conceptually, but there certainly isn’t an authoritative written source that all atheists agree to be normative.

Or is there?

Honestly it would be nice if there were. They are to be sure, books that claim this title:

The Atheist’s Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts

The Atheist’s Bible: How Science Eliminates Theism

The problem is that neither of these is a “Bible” in the same sense that the Christian Bible is so. The first is simply a collection of quotes, and while many Christian’s treat their Bible like that, it certainly is not simply a collection of quotes. It is quotable, but it contains historical accounts, narratives, personal letters, and poetry, all in long form, not simply pithy (or lengthy) quotes from various “Christians” throughout the ages.

The second link is probably closer to the mark; however, it still is not quite what the Bible is to Christians. It is certainly claiming to be authoritative, but in the end, it is just a collection of the writings of single individual, which is quite unlike the Bible. And being from a single individual, it is really just that writer’s opinion on the matter, so unless all atheists are willingly to submit themselves to his particular thoughts on the matter, then it can’t really function as a “Bible” in the sense that the Christian Bible is (supposed to at least).

I suppose the question I am asking can be worded as an analogy:

The Bible : Christians :: ? : Atheists

Or, in plain-speak, the Bible is to Christians as what is to atheists?

In reflecting on this question, I found this lack of a written authoritative source to be very consistent with atheism.

The link that the Bible has to Christians is that it is, historically, their authoritative written source for both life and thought. Simply put, it is the source of Christian epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. If we are then to think in terms of source for the atheist, a moment’s reflection should lead one to the answer of what their “bible” is.

It’s their own mind.

Atheists, and rightly so, reject not only God’s existence, but that the Bible is both (a) His word, and therefore (b) authoritative and true. By doing this, they are rejecting a “revelational” epistemology (and metaphysic and ethic for that matter). The alternative is a purely autonomous epistemology (and corresponding metaphysic and ethic), which is to say the source of thought and practice is now each individual’s own mind.

The result is inherently relativistic. Interestingly though, most atheists do not seem keen on moral relativism, and many like to cling to absolutes in terms of existence (abstractions like truth and what have you) and in terms of knowing (adherence to laws of logic).

What this produces is an inherent tension in atheistic thought. By making his own mind the final epistemic authority, the atheist is committing himself to rationalism. However, since no man knows everything, and even cumulatively, all men don’t know everything exhaustively, there is a great deal of mystery out there. In other words, a certain amount of irrationalism must be admitted, since there is no exhaustive interpretation of anything. In a certain sense, the universe is shrouded in irrationalism until the atheist puts his mind to it and “rationalizes.”

In the field of ethics, the atheist cannot escape the feeling that certain kinds of behavior are “clearly” wrong. One might think of rape, child abuse, mutilation and  the like. Because of this, many if not most atheists are committed to the idea of ethical norms or absolutes. On the other hand though, it is central to atheism to reject the authority of God to legislate behavior, but given his autonomous commitments in epistemology, if God cannot legislate morality via his Word, then no atheist has the right to legislate morality by his word either. Because of the freedom that autonomy allots the atheist (or at least what he thinks it allots him), it would certainly be very un-atheistic to have an authoritative written source binding on all who profess atheism.

Who could decide what such a source would include? Further, who would be any more qualified than anyone else to participate in writing in this source? After all, atheism epistemologically reduces everyone’s thoughts to the same level of authority. Who arbitrates conflicting ideas?

The atheist might answer that reason does, and certainly there is some truth to this. The question though that this now brings up is, “Why submit to reason?” Is it un-ethical to submit to unreason, or just merely un-preferable? Certainly we all have some kind of a sense that we should be reasonable, but different people come to different conclusion about what is reasonable. Just as an example, one could look at the philosophies of Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza, each of whom sought to create philosophy from initial, clear and distinct ideas moved to their logical conclusions. The problem is that they each came to radically different conclusions, although none of them could be fault as being irrational in the broad sense (they each have their own internal difficulties, but forsaking logic is not one of them).

Who then arbitrates the impasse? A large group of atheists may be able to agree on several general conclusions, and maybe even a few particulars, but to then put them down into an authoritative body of writing (creating normative universals) would either be (a) too binding for future generations to tolerate, or (b) consist of conclusions so commonplace it would be pointless to write them down.

I’m inclined to think it’s a bit of both, and more so the latter than the former.

In the end, I suppose I know why there is no atheist Bible. The mere idea of something like the Bible is what the atheist is trying to escape, and it would do no good to forsake the shackles of the Christian Bible only to then run to another prison of his own creation. But unfortunately, that is exactly what the atheist does, he just goes to great lengths to deny it.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to The Atheist’s Bible

  1. Nate,

    Here are my comments on this post:

    I agree with the first few paragraphs, particularly with the idea that “[t]he link that the Bible has to Christians is that it is, historically, their authoritative written source for both life and thought. Simply put, it is the source of Christian epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.” However, our views diverge when we take this information and use it to extrapolate the idea of an “atheist’s bible.” Atheism can be crudely defined as a lack of belief in the Christian God or any other supernatural beings. As you put it, this means that atheists “reject not only God’s existence, but that the Bible is both (a) His word, and therefore (b) authoritative and true.” I would extend this definition to include disbelief in any religious text, a clarification I’m sure you’ll agree with. So, given that atheism is defined by lack of belief, the idea of a text explicitly stating what atheists do believe is rather absurd. This is pretty similar to the conclusion that you came to in this post.

    So, then, what is the source of atheistic metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics? You aren’t far off when you say “[i]t’s their own mind,” but there are a few important distinctions about this point that I want to make. Firstly, since we’ve established that “atheist” is a category defined by a lack of belief in the supernatural, it includes a variety of philosophical movements, such as rationalism, empiricism, logical positivism, or even Pyrrhonian skepticism. Each of these philosophies has its own distinct epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Though all of these philosophies reject a revelational epistemology, they then replace them with their own epistemology, in most cases the scientific method. As a result, an atheist’s mind is not always his final epistemic authority; the scientific method or another system is. Though some forms of rationalism hold that knowledge is primarily gained through intuition, this in no way represents all atheists. Furthermore, not all intuition is “relativistic”: mathematics and syllogistic logic, for example, fall into your category of “autonomous epistemology,” but they are quite objective. With the exception of Pyrrhonism and cultural relativism, most atheistic worldviews are based upon the existence of an objective reality (“the territory”), which should be examined so that people’s views (“the map”) are in agreement with the nature of the universe. (This is what is generally meant by “making the map fit the territory.”) Though people may disagree on the exact nature of the universe, this does not mean that atheism automatically degenerates into relativism.

    Now, on to ethics. Though most atheists cling to conventional notions of morality, this does not mean that they assert the same moral absolutes as Christians. In general (and this is a very large generalization), atheists look for forms of morality based upon logical reasoning and enlightened self-interest, such as secular humanism. Again, this is not a contradiction, as atheists use other systems of epistemology besides “revelationary” epistemology to explore ethics.

    “Who arbitrates conflicting ideas?” In general, experimentation through the scientific method does. This is an extension of the idea I discussed above, making the map (one’s beliefs) fit the territory (the physical truth). For ethical and other abstract questions, the problem is much more difficult, but as I’ve stated numerous times before the problem can be resolved using the scientific method or other systems. True, people will disagree, but we should remember that a revelatory epistemology can be somewhat subjective as well, as Bible scholarship is not an exact science that can be tested by experiment. Like atheists, Bible scholars might disagree with the meaning of a particular passage. This does not mean that relativism takes over and renders everything useless, it simply means that there is disagreement.

    “The mere idea of something like the Bible is what the atheist is trying to escape, and it would do no good to forsake the shackles of the Christian Bible only to then run to another prison of his own creation. But unfortunately, that is exactly what the atheist does, he just goes to great lengths to deny it.” Atheists are trying to escape the Bible not because it lays down a definitive set of universal ethics, etc., but because it must be taken on faith. Atheists do not shy away from truth, they simply seek truth in different ways. This lack of presupposition does not lead to relativism, it merely replaces faith in a text with experimentation, the scientific method, etc.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Tet

    • Tet,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I can see you weighed my argument and sought to rationally respond. It is helpful for me to see the argument put in an atheist’s own words, instead of philosophically working out the implications on my own. On the one hand, it does make sense (I understand your argument) but on the other hand, it doesn’t make sense (to me) to argue in this manner, as I think your whole argument is self-defeating. Hopefully I can coherently explain what I mean.

      I would qualify before going further that I understand atheism to not simply be the lack of belief in the supernatural (which makes it sound like you don’t believe in anything) but rather, the belief in the non-existence of any supernatural being. The reason I would qualify it like that is you cannot know a universal negative (such as that no supernatural being exists) so all you can posit is that you believe (with different degrees of psychological certainty) that no such being exists. But that is a belief you have, not a fact you can prove. It is not so much that I have faith and you don’t, it is that we have faith in different propositions. I think though that we are in agreement what this belief then implies regarding Christianity. So, point #1, atheists have faith in at least one thing, so atheism itself is a faith commitment. (Just to be clear, by faith I mean “confidence or trust in a person or thing in the absence of conclusive proof,” keep that in mind as we go along)

      I think the thrust of your second paragraph is that atheism is not monolithic and there are different approaches, but this does not degenerate into relativism. I think this claim itself is highly problematic as you seem to be contradicting yourself, although I do like your analogy about the map and the territory. If we are going to use that analogy, I could ask, which comes first:

      The analysis of the map (which correlates to epistemology) or the analysis of the territory (which correlates to metaphysics)?

      or

      How can you know anything conclusively about the territory without first establishing the type of map you need to use?

      vs

      How can you establish the type of map you need to use without first knowing the type and range of the territory you are going to map?

      The reason I ask, is that I would like you, as a representative of some sort of atheism, to explain how you approach prioritizing metaphysics over epistemology, or vice versa, and whether or not that is your personal opinion on the matter, or is something that comports with objective reality so smoothly that it is the best, or you could say, correct way to approach the problem.

      If you say it is the latter, my follow up question is simply, how do you know?

      The follow up to that question is, how do you know others are wrong? If they are not wrong, then you have a relativistic system of thought as one pick and choose which path to knowledge he wants to take.

      In the second paragraph you also bring up an interesting point about the objective existence of mathematics and syllogistic logic. I would agree that they have objective existence, although that does not place them in the category of autonomous epistemology. You use them when creating an autonomous epistemology, but that does not mean they categorically fit there. I would say rather they transcend categorization into either mine or your epistemology.

      The reason I would say that is that are non-material in existence. Clearly, the laws of logic (the rules of thought that syllogistic logic is based on) are not extended through space of time, and they cannot be directly perceived with the senses. How do you know they exist? It may seem a silly question, but empiricism cannot answer it, nor can their objective existence be proved via the scientific method. You can validate particular instantiations of logic, like for instance this argument, or your argument, but how do you know something like syllogistic logic exists in a universal objective sense? Your whole argument rests on the assumption that it does, or you wouldn’t have bothered to reply. You believe they exist, but can you prove they do? Even if you provide an argument for the existence of syllogistic logic that negates any revelatory basis, your argument itself would be built on the assumption of its conclusion (a deductive argument that would prove the case it already assuming logic exists). Or in other words, you cannot escape the circularity in validating the existence of logic. Yet you mention in passing that syllogistic logic is not relativistic and has an objective existence. So, how do you know that? My point #2 then is that you believe in at least two things (on faith), the non-existence of a supernatural being (or a personal, absolute, infinite non-material being) and the actual existence of other non-material entities such as logic and mathematics.

      In regards to your comments on ethics, I’m not sure much can be said here until an answer is provided to the question of existence. If one cannot settle on a correct approach to epistemology and metaphysics, what hope is there for ethics? You’ve made ethics dependent on epistemology, so ethical questions are then subservient to epistemological questions. If one ends up being relative, then so is the other.

      Further, your view of what exists, dictates your ethical behavior. For instance, whether or not God exists (a metaphysical question) has bearing on how you then live your life (an ethical question). If you cannot validate the existence of syllogistic logic beyond just subjective preference for its use, (is it just a convention everyone agrees on?) then your ethics are just subjective choices as well. If you selectively use logic without any real basis (not being able to validate its existence using your epistemology), then anything derived from your use of logic is ultimately baseless as well. A house of cards built in mid air doesn’t have a foundation no matter how high you stack it. Without a sound epistemological foundation, ethics are just arbitrary and relative. Even if vast numbers of people agree, it is still just everyone individually making an arbitrary choice, and ethics reduces to mere statistics. Point #3 is that ethics on your explanation rests on the existence of an objective, absolute, non-material entity (logic, and self-interest which is a non-material entity as well), something you are taking to exist on faith.

      What’s worse, you cannot condemn ethical choices you disagree with, you can only state your displeasure. This addresses your response in the third paragraph, concerning who arbitrates conflicting ideas. The scientific method has limited application in this scenario. It is a great tool, but cannot yield anything conclusive. Or as my first year logic textbook plainly states: “A scientific hypothesis, even when solidly established, can be no more than probable, and is never beyond question.” (Copi and Cohen, 552) So you can use the scientific method to arbitrate, but you cannot get any objectively sure answers from it, it appears. This also brings the argument full circle in a way, as you use the map analogy again. Point #4 is that your method of settling disagreement rests on a subjective convention that as best only tells you with high probability who is correct.

      I would disagree as well about your analogy to Bible scholarship. I’ll be nice since you’re not the one who has received several years of training in this field of study, but it is a little more objective than you might imagine. For a given passage of Scripture, there is an objectively true interpretation of that passage in its original context (what the author intended it to mean to the person he wrote it to). This is similar to the scientists belief that there is objective truth to be discovered in the universe (or that the universe yields consistent, rational results when tested). Now, the Bible interpreter, given his knowledge of the language and the culture, makes a hypothesis concerning what the text originally meant. He then tests this hypothesis to see if it comports with all the available data. If it does not, he revises his hypothesis and continues. He repeats this process, coming closer and closer to the meaning, as more data is gathered. You could say in the end, Bible interpretation even when solidly established, can be no more than probable and is never beyond question. We call it the hermeneutical spiral when it concerns the Bible, you might call it the scientific method when it pertains to nature. Hermeneutics, if you are not familiar with the word, is just fancy word for the discipline of interpretation. Science, in many ways, is hermeneutics, but the text, rather than a book like the Bible, is the natural universe. Experimentation is simply attempting to validate one’s interpretation.

      All of that was to say, the statement “Bible scholarship is not an exact science that can be tested by experiment” is simply false. If interpreting the Bible is not an exact science, then neither is science itself (remember Copi’s quote). Both systems of interpretation can yield results we can have confidence in, but neither can yield iron clad answers, you have to; (I know you’ll not like this) have a certain amount of faith that the results are true since the method cannot establish it beyond question. Point #5 is that in regard to settling disputes, we both exercise our faith commitments by consulting our text.

      I think this also undercuts your last point as well, that atheists do not like taking something on faith. Well unfortunately, you take everything science produces on a certain amount of faith. You have faith that the law of logic exist objectively, you have faith that your senses work properly and actually perceive an objective world that exists outside of your own mind, and you have faith in the uniformity of nature (the future will continue to be like the past). To me, it sounds like you have just as much faith as I do, you just seem to not quite realize it. You are welcome to prove me wrong though on any of the above points, although you might want to concede the one about Bible scholarship.

      In putting together a rebuttal, you might address what other systems there are of arbitrating a dispute besides the scientific method, and demonstrate an example of how that would work. I would be wary though, because by demonstrating another valid system, you’ve made atheism a pick and choose ideology (I’ll refrain from calling it a religion, as I know no atheist would accept that category). To be honest, that is the glaring tension inherent in your argument. On the one hand, you state twice that atheism does not lead to relativism, but paragraphs 2 and 4 imply at least some level of free choice on how to approach epistemology and ethics. This seems to be the problem inherent in uniting atheism under the meta-narrative of “there is no god.” Everyone can agree on that, but what level of solidarity is there elsewhere? And where there is solidarity, how is that not just the opinion of the people involved?

      You can also answer the question about metaphysics and epistemology. Provide an argument for the existence of logic, and explain how you have come to believe in supernatural entities (logic and mathematics which transcend nature, so in a sense are super-natural) but do not believe in supernatural beings, clarifying how you know one exists while the other does not.

      Lastly, on this further analysis, on both your argument and the original question (what is the Bible to atheists?) the answer embedded in my rebuttal is that the natural universe is the Bible for atheists, at least it seems to be on your account. But this seems to be entirely taken on faith (confidence or trust in the absence of conclusive proof), much like Christians accept that the Bible is the authoritative word of God on faith. So my conclusion is that the thrust of your own argument, invalidates your conclusion that atheists do not shy away from taking things on faith, they just do not want to take the Bible on faith, which is precisely how I ended the original article, and it also what the Bible teaches on the subject.

      I know that is a lot to wade through, but you gave a thoughtful reply, so here is my thoughtful response. Please do not take my argument personally, I do not know anything of you as a person and I tried to stick to just the argument you presented. You will hopefully find no ad hominems here. I look forward to reading your response.

      Nate

  2. Nate,

    Thank you for your reply. Some of the disagreements we have here run tangential to those brought up in the comments section of the evolution post, so I won’t address points that are being argued over there for the sake of brevity.

    First, we seem to disagree on the definition of atheism. I am not a scholar or philosopher so I will ultimately defer to your expertise regarding definitions, but my understanding was that atheism can be broken into the subcategories of “weak” and “strong” (or, alternatively, “positive” and “negative”). From what I have learned, weak atheists have only confidence, not certainty, that the supernatural does not exist. Strong atheists, on the other hand, do claim to be certain that the supernatural does not exist. As I explained in the comments section of your evolution post, this difference is extremely important: even Richard Dawkins does not consider himself a strong atheist, as he is concerned with probabilities, not proofs. Please let me know if these definitions are incorrect.

    Next, I’d like to address what you called point #1, the argument that atheists have faith (defined as “confidence or trust in a person or thing in the absence of proof”). By this definition, I only agree with you halfway. Atheists do have confidence without proof, but rationalists, or at least those who follow the epistemology of the scientific method, do not have faith that runs contrary to evidence. Since science tends to prefer probabilistic confidence over a priori proof, the idea of having faith without certain proof is indeed a part of atheism (and science), but having faith without evidence is not. Again, this is obviously very, very different from having faith in something without evidence.

    I do, however, disagree with you in regards to the laws of syllogistic logic and mathematics (point #2). As I stated in the comments section of the evolution post, these are actually based upon empiricism, and they do not exist independently of reality. The laws of syllogism are as they are because it is physically impossible to create exceptions to them. The same goes for mathematics, but at the risk of repeating myself I won’t delve into that.

    I won’t comment much on ethics, since they are indeed dependent on epistemology and we’ve covered a lot of that already. In general, though, a lot of atheists, including myself, struggle with ethical systems because of David Hume’s Is-Ought problem. However, I think I should use ethics as an segue to address another important point, relativism. My dictionary defines it as “the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.” Let me know if you find this definition unacceptable. Relativism, then, is not the same thing as disagreement. Though some atheists, mostly extreme skeptics, do posit some form of relativism, many (myself included) do not. If two people are arguing about a statement that is either true or false, then one of them is right and the other is wrong. The fact that they disagree or have different methods of approaching the problem does not mean that the problem is unanswerable or has no right answer, it simply means that there is disagreement. The fact that atheism encompasses a variety of epistemologies does not change this, it simply means that not all atheists can be completely correct; some of them must be wrong about some or all of their beliefs. Obviously, the fact that skeptical atheists would disagree with what I just said does not change anything. The point is, there is an underlying empirical truth that can be unearthed, based upon Aristotle’s definition of truth. Unless I’m misinterpreting my own definition, I don’t see this as relativistic. I realize this may not have been clear in my original comment, and please let me know if it isn’t clear now.

    One of the main points I want to address is point #5, your argument that “that in regard to settling disputes, we both exercise our faith commitments by consulting our text.” I now realize that I completely misrepresented Bible scholarship, for which I apologize; I have no training in this area and so I will once again defer to your expertise. However, the fact that it is so similar to the scientific method will make my explanation a bit easier. As I’ve discussed, science often breaks hypotheses down into probabilities, and no hypothesis can be proven with 100% certainty. This does indeed mean that science takes things on faith by the definition we are using, but as I pointed out above it will never do so against evidence. For example, by the definitions we’ve established, it is valid to say that scientists take gravity on faith, even though such a statement would sound absurd in informal conversation. Furthermore, the details of Bible scholarship are irrelevant to the fact that Bible scholars have presupposed that particular text as authoritative. Science does not do so. I won’t address your argument that science presupposes an orderly universe, since we are discussing that elsewhere. However, it is important to note the difference between mathematics, logic and supernatural entities. As I explained above and in another post, mathematics and logic are not as immaterial as they seem, as both are based upon empiricism. I should also point out that we cannot equate supernatural with immaterial, as they are not the same. For a more in-depth discussion of the definition of the supernatural, I would recommend the following article: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    I would, however, loosely agree with your conclusion that the natural world is the atheist’s Bible. Empiricism is based upon observations of the universe, and so the source of atheistic ethics and metaphysics would indeed be reality itself. Epistemology, of course, is another matter, but I don’t think I need to go into that again. Overall, the main source of our disagreement seems to be that you are looking for certainty and I am looking for confidence. My answer is simply that the faith of a fundamentalist is not the same as the faith of a scientist, even though both are included in the definition of faith that you provided.

    The last question I want to ask is this: if the fact that atheism “takes things on faith” makes it untenable, why do you consider taking the Bible on faith acceptable? (Forgive me if this sounds obnoxious, but I think it is an important question that will help us get to the root of our disagreement.)

    Tet

    • Tet,

      I would agree with the distinction you made between weak and strong atheism. It is interesting that Dawkins is a weak atheist, his rhetoric would lead you to think that on the surface at least, he is a strong one.

      I think we actually agree on the definition of faith. I used “in the absence of proof” to mean “unproven but still having evidence in favor of.” To be honest, and this may clear up a stereotype, we essentially have the same kind of faith. Most thinking Christians, and most educated Christians, do not have faith in spite of evidence. Dawkins at least for one, stereotypes Christians having “blind faith,” but no one that I know of exhibits such irrational behavior.

      To use an example, that’s part of how my views of Genesis 1 changed. More data became available to me after learning Hebrew and then even more after reading other ancient Near East creation accounts (so I could understand the genre of literature), all of which led me to come to a different conclusion about what the text meant, what the author was trying to do with the text. So in other words, what I believed changed because the evidence underlying the belief changed as well.

      Just as a side note, you may want to revise your RWiki article on Historical-Grammatical Method. Mainly because no one uses it as you describe it, but also because of how you end the article. After studying rather intently in scholarly articles and the ancient Near background, interpretations of the early books of the Bible are hardly wild guesses and shots in the dark. Interpreting some of the Ugaritic love poetry from about that same time period, may be (how do you understand agricultural metaphors mixed with innuendos?), but most of what is done in serious Bible interpretation (like as in serious scientific research) is much more advanced and precise, and take more into account than just the historical setting and the grammar of the passage. But that’s a discussion, again, for another day. If you’d like help revising that article so it is accurate (or any of the other flawed articles on RWiki) let me know. The article on the Trinity has a glaring discrepancy and puts forward a definition no credible theologian has ever offered and one that directly conflicts with the creeds mentioned.

      As I understand what you are stating about the laws of logic and mathematics, you are denying that they are united by any universal and only exist in the particulars. The question then becomes, how do you know the particular instances are all of the same kind? Something must unite them for you to recognize an instantiation of logic or of mathematics. In a way, linguistically, you cannot escape universal categories, as even calling it logic and mathematics implies the existence of a universal. But I suppose the question is whether that is a linguistic convention or not.

      Even in saying it is physically impossible to create exceptions to them, how would you even know that if you did not have some universal standard to compare them to? Technically speaking, an invalid argument form is an exception because it breaks laws of logic. So how do I know, when looking at an invalid argument, that is it breaking laws of logic, if the laws themselves are not universal? This is probably a discussion for another post, but I do not think your argument supports your disagreement. Logic and math should probably be treated separately, but even allowing some of the argument from the other post to be applied here, I do not find it a convincing argument.

      Thank you for clearing up the issue with relativism. That is an acceptable definition, and I think we are both in agreement with flaws of relativism.

      I’ll accept your distinction between supernatural and immaterial, although as stated above, we disagree about the nature of what counts as an immaterial entity. It seems to me though that science does take its text as authoritative. I suppose this depends on what we both mean by authoritative, and what you think Bible scholars mean by saying the Bible is authoritative. We can discuss that further at another time if you’d like.

      To be honest, we are really on the same page regarding confidence/certainty. You could explain a bit further how the faith of the fundamentalist is different than the faith of the scientist even though the definition encompasses both, and also keep in mind, I’m not a fundamentalist, and neither is any of my friends, people at my church, or any one of my professors. I would say fundamentalists many times have blind faith (being familiar with some of them from earlier times in my life), but historically, Christianity is not defined by people like that. Even at our church, the pastor might say of a person that he puts the “mental” in “fundamentalism.” While they seem the most serious (or at least most vocal), in many ways they are a joke, both intellectually and morally. They are the modern day equivalent to the Pharisees that were around in Jesus day, and one only has to read the Gospels casually to see Jesus was not a big fan of the Pharisees. I have several posts on that idea here, you are welcome to read (its in the Idolatry series).

      In the end, your closing question was actually just the point I was trying to make. I don’t think taking things on faith is untenable. You’re taking things on faith, and so am I, so in a sense we are in the same boat. We can then try to convince the other who’s faith is ultimately more reasonable, but it is not as if I have my faith, and you have your science. I would also say, in a certain way, neither of our “Bibles” undermines the other. I would say my Bible makes sense of yours, but that is claim I’ll have to support at a later time (and I’m sure you could respond that your Bible has proven mine wrong, but I would dispute that, and say instead that science has proven certain interpretations of the Bible wrong, but hasn’t proven the Bible wrong). You could then question which one has more explanatory power. You could also ask which one can answer “Why?” questions. The Bible certainly does not answer all of them, but in closing, I would like to invite you watch these videos on that topic:

      http://www.youtube.com/user/villageChurchTX (start with the Before and After Surgery ones, and then there are weekly updates)

      These are videos of my pastor, a former agnostic himself, who just recently found out he has malignant brain cancer. He’s in his mid 30’s and has 3 young kids. I think in many ways, one of the most powerful arguments for the truth of Christianity is not an epistemological or ethical one, although I think they do carry force, but rather, it is watching someone suffer without explanation and respond the way Matt does.

      This all may seem irrelevant, but I think the discussion here on the Atheist Bible post is probably at a good stopping point, but I would love to continue dialogging (s/p?) in the future. I’ll let you add any closing thoughts and maybe we can work out where to resume. I’ll work through all the articles you have given me and would like you in turn to just watch the videos. I am interested in your response in general, but also what you as an atheist would feel to be your response if it were you in that same situation. I can explain better Matt’s position if the videos do not, let me know if you have any questions.

      Part of what got this conversation started in the first place, I’m assuming, was that it caught you off guard that I would simply admit I was totally wrong about something (I offered a woefully inadequate interpretation of a passage from the Atheist’s Bible and was rebuked for it) and prompted you to comment. I’m really not like that when left to myself though, I’m not really a humble person. In the past, I’ve relished in destroying someone in an argument and then bragging about it publicly to other people. I’ve taken pride in how much I know and how high my test scores are. But as I’ve grown in my faith in Christ, that has slowly started to change, which is counter-intuitive in a way because I know far more now than I did back then, and actually have things to brag about. I have also used much harsher rhetoric in the past in arguing and that too is slowly starting to change. Some of the posts that are even on this blog, I would write differently if I wrote them now. I know a personal anecdote like this doesn’t count for much in rational discourse, but I felt it was worth pointing out, you seemed to have noticed something different about me and I would say that is difference is because of not just what I believe in, who I believe in.

      In a way, I have to commend you as well for your politeness and humility in discussion. I think we both have helped each other eliminate stereotypes, or at least I would hope so. I’ve enjoyed this discussion, and find that we have tended to agree on several distinctions, but still have some points to iron out. We can continue that, but I will probably close comments here on this post after your closing thoughts.

      Nate

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