Tuesday, 30 July 2013

You Can Do Better Than This

Those of you who have read my blog for a while will know that I'm something of a fan (for a certain value of fan) of the T.V. Show “The Atheist Experience”. While I obviously have big disagreements with the people running the show, I like the way in which they openly engage in dialogue with all comers. It has occurred to me that, if any of them saw the light, some of these guys would make good Dominicans. I also appreciate the fact that most of the hosts make an effort to fairly represent the views of those they are arguing against.

One of the exceptions to that rule is Don Baker, who co-hosted the most recent episode. Mr. Barker does a semi-regular section on what he calls “the failures of Christianity.” I've seen a number of these sections and quite frankly, he makes no serious effort to understand what Christians are actually saying.
His most recent section is on “The Failures of Scripture” and is found here. He spends most of his time reading from Thomas Paine's “The Age of Reason” and suggesting that this pamphlet presents unanswerable arguments against scripture.
Among these arguments is the claim that God wouldn't have given revelation in ancient Hebrew because words change their meanings so some of the words in the Hebrew Bible now mean different things than they once did. Yes, that's true, that's why we have translators and scholars. We are also told that it's ridiculous to believe in an Old and New Testament, since this implies that an all-knowing God changed His mind. Not the slightest effort is made to interact with the Christian belief that it was always God's plan to deal with humanity in successive dispensations. We are also told that, if Jesus of Nazareth had wanted to found a new religion with new scriptures, He would certainly have written it Himself or at least made sure it was written in His lifetime; how this is known, we are not told.

A somewhat better argument comes when it is pointed out that there was a human process, after scripture was written, of discussion and debate to determine which books would be accepted into the canon of scripture. This is a slightly more valid point; the process referred to was a real one, but Don Baker seriously suggests that anyone who believes the Bible is God's word must be ignorant of this process. This is simply false. For a Catholic, who believes in the authority of the Church, the role of the Church in canonising Scripture is frequently appealed to as an argument for the authority of the Church. Even among our protestant friends, while I disagree with them on this issue, it is simply not true that anyone with a knowledge of the history of this project lose their belief.

The silliest part of the whole argument, however, comes right towards the end. Mr. Barker quotes, uncritically, Paine's assertion that the New Testament could only have been written by people who believed the earth was flat. I really thought this particular piece of silliness had been thrown on the scrap heap long ago. The spherical nature of the earth was well known long before the time of Christ and was universally accepted throughout the Greco-Roman world by the time the New Testament was written. For Mr. Barker to recycle this rubbish is a sign of how lacking his critical judgement is when it comes to any argument against Christianity.
I can imagine some readers will suggest this rubbish is not worth the time to refute. In response to this, first, these guys have a substantial following and are worth responding to. Second, I like this show and want to like these guys and I actually expect better from them.

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