Whilst browsing the Fall 1999 edition of the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal the other day, as one does, I came across this lovely little passage from William W. Combs in his article “Errors in the King James Bible?”
There have been a number of well-known printing errors in various editions of the KJV over the years. A 1631 edition omitted the word “not” from the seventh commandment (Exod 20:14), yielding “Thou shalt commit adultery.” For this error the king’s printers were fined £300 and the offending edition was commonly known as the “Wicked Bible.”
A 1795 Oxford edition became known as the “Murderer’s Bible” because Mark 7:27 read “Let the children first be killed,” instead of “filled.”
Not extremely deep or insightful, but pretty friggin funny!
As I often do, I picked a book off the shelf the other day to keep me company through a lonely lunch. It had been a while, so I revisited The God Delusion and picked a random chapter.
I’d forgotten how FUN a book it can be in places! I give you a bit of pp. 34-35:
Jefferson heaped ridicule on the doctrine that, as he put it, ‘There are three Gods’, in his critique of Calvinism. But it is especially the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity that pushes its recurrent flirtation with polytheism towards runaway inflation. The Trinity is (are?) joined by Mary, ‘Queen of Heaven’, a goddess in all but name, who surely runs God himself a close second as a target of prayers. The pantheon is further swollen by an army of saints, whose intercessory power makes them, if not demigods, well worth approaching on their own specialist subjects. The Catholic Community Forum helpfully lists 5,120 saints, together with their areas of expertise, which include abdominal pains, abuse victims, anorexia, arms dealers, blacksmiths, broken bones, bomb technicians and bowel disorders, to venture no further than the Bs. And we mustn’t forget the four Choirs of Angelic Hosts, arrayed in nine orders: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels (heads of all hosts), and just plain old Angels, including our closest friends, the ever-watchful Guardian Angels. What impresses me about Catholic mythology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented.
Richard Dawkins (2006), The God Delusion
When Dawkins booms from the stage to “Ridicule them!”, as he famously did at the Reason Rally – I’m sure this is what he meant. Just to look at the claims of religion, repeat them publicly, and call bullshit on it.
We don’t have much choice – doing it with a straight face would just make it too hard!
This came up on my Quiz Show (Bible Contradictions) video recently. It’s an analogy I’ve heard before.
Here’s an expanded version of my response.
What the commenter fails to realize is that in making this analogy he opens the new testament accounts up to some very unfavorable comparisons. And I start salivating.
Mark’s gospel was written probably in the 70s CE, and was the first. Matthew’s most probably came next, and Luke’s in the 90s. John’s not until the 2nd century.
So let’s put that on a Titanic time-frame. That would have the first written account (the first to survive long, anyway) of the Titanic’s sinking coming out in the 1950s. It would need to be written by people who weren’t there, who didn’t see it happen, and who were getting their ‘facts’ from 40-50 years of word of mouth. Different versions, claiming to be authoritative, would still be emerging in the 1980s.
For this analogy to work, the first written account, and all subsequent accounts, would need to be written in a language other than English, the most common language spoken on the boat, and thus the language of the eye-witnesses. You’d have to trust that nothing of any consequence got mixed up in translation.
But that’s only just getting us started. It’s not yet biblical enough. Let’s have these first written accounts from the 1950s made ONLY by hand. Hand-written accounts, never ever to be printed or copied on any technology that didn’t exist before the 14th century; including modern paper. Add to that that we’re not allowed to look at these documents just yet. We have to wait a few centuries. And we can’t look at the originals, they have to be lost. To “know” what happened that night in the middle of the Atlantic, we only get to look at whatever is left at the end of a few centuries of copying everything by hand, letter by letter, word by word, page by page.
Now, add into the mix for the bulk of this copying-copies-of-copies period, warring factions of Titanicists, some of whom claim certainty that it went down intact, others claiming it split in two. Let them battle it out for a few centuries like the Gnostics, Marcionites and Ebionites did over the early Christian writings, altering the written accounts (in subsequent papyrus and parchment copies) as they distribute and hand-copy each one- towards favoring their side of the story. Let’s have some copies add new details after a few decades, like we know the early Christians (and some not-so-early Christians) did, and let’s have others drop details, or alter them. We’ll know they did it, because we’ll end up, at the end of this busy period of copying and copying copies of copies, a wide variety of discrepant texts, with changes apparently made along very obvious ideological lines.
Let this experiment run for a couple of decades, or centuries if you’re brave. And now, if the reliability of these accounts isn’t under enough doubt, let’s have the story be filled with SUPERNATURAL EVENTS – because we all know how much THAT adds to the trustworthiness of any text. So, let’s have it included in these reports that the boat wasn’t constructed by Harland and Wolff in a ship-yard in Belfast, it appeared unto The White Star Line and its arrival was heralded by angels. It didn’t need to carry food for its passengers – their meals were manifested magically (even if they consisted only of fish and bread). It wasn’t brought to an untimely end by an ice-berg, it was a horde of sea-demons (escaped from a group of possessed pigs that had run into a lake once,… hmmmm…..) that breached its hull. And best of all, after the boat sank, it resurfaced, tipped upside-down and floated up into the sky. And promised to one day return.
And you can communicate telepathically to Captain Smith, and he (He) hears everything you mutter to him in your mind.
Of course, no analogy is perfect. But if anything I’m going to broad with this, biting off more new testament scholarship than I can chew. But hey~ he started it!! with HIS terrible analogy!!!
No, you wouldn’t say “The Titanic disaster never happened,” or that reports of it even sinking at all were entirely wrong in every single detail. But neither would you trust that four written accounts, all of them discrepant, all of them originally written by non-eye-witnesses based on 40-80 years of hearsay, all of them lost and only represented by copies of copies of copies of them which we later come to know were being butchered by amateurs and altered by people with an agenda, were worth basing your world-view upon.
Instead I’d look at those documents and say “OK, there was a boat called Titanic, it isn’t here now… I guess it probably sank. And all this other stuff is obviously overblown exaggerations of things that in all likelihood never even happened.” Would anyone dispute that given the documents I’ve imagineered here, that’s the most sensible approach to take?
How about this, then? “Yes, there was a man called Yeshua, he isn’t here now. I guess he probably lived and died like every other human. And all that other stuff about him doing supernatural stuff is obviously overblown exaggerations of things that in all likelihood never even happened.” Say that to a zealous believer, though, and you’re told that you’re not looking at it the right way, that you’re closed minded, or that you need the assistance of a supernatural spirit to help you suspend your rational disbelief. And that if you can’t, an eternity of possibly torturous separation from God awaits.
There are lots of blogs that share and present the newest and best atheisticish movies that come out on youtube as soon as they’re up… That’s great, I benefit from that all the time, for my own videos and for finding good stuff from channels I haven’t seen before. But, just because a video was produced a few years back doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to today’s discussion or ought to be left gathering dust.
So, I’m occasionally going to present videos that aren’t new, perhaps even from people who aren’t active on youtube any longer, but which I think still make a good point that ought to be heard. It’s not quite ‘back to basics’, – but I often feel good to be reminded of the things that got me interested in this debate, rather than constantly seeing if I can find new ways to present new aspects of it for a culture that always wants something NEW!
Here’s one from a great channel (eequalsfb) that I’ve been subbed to since 2008. He commented here the other day, which reminded me of this idea I had for the blog.
Don’t forget, if you dig it, let HIM know on the comments section of the vid ON YOUTUBE (as opposed to here). That way he’ll get them all, & might make more vids!
“If your god is all-knowing, then he’s never had to believe anything without evidence in his life!”
The Bible Contradictions Quiz Show video (linked below) is by far my most watched, most commented-on, and most repetitive for me as far as those comments go. One after another, believers in an inerrant bible jump onto the comments page claiming that I have thoroughly misinterpreted the text or taken every example out of a context in which it would naturally make perfect sense in harmony with all other bible verses, and that they can explain away every single ‘so-called-contradiction’ I included in the script.
I find that a point-blank question is usually enough for them to leave immediately – such as “Has any living human ever seen God?” They quickly come to see that any possible answer taking into account
Genesis 32:30 “…For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”,
Exodus 33:11 “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”, or
Exodus 24:9-11 “Then Moses [etc] went up… and they saw the God of Israel.”
is going to be flatly refuted by me bringing up
John 1:18 “No one has seen God at any time.” or
1 Timothy 6:16 “[God],…whom no man has seen nor can see”,
and they either disappear pretty quick, or attempt to explain that every bible scholar who has every worked on any translation from the original language into Latin or English has ben wrong, whereas they are right, and most of all: that taking the words on the page to mean what they actually say is an utterly misguided way to interpret scripture, and will certainly lead to a skewed understanding of what the author is intending to communicate. After all, this is GOD we’re talking about, so there is a supernatural explanation for everything, and in calling the passages “contradictory”, I have failed to search hard enough for what the hidden meaning/explanation/mystery could be.
I’d like to focus here on an explanation that none of my many critics on this video ever want to confront.
They’re often happy to claim that they’re the first living humans since the original authors to have gotten the exegesis right; they’re happy to invent, whole-cloth, narrative or theological “glue”, with absolutely no biblical support, to blend the two or more conflicting biblical accounts, (more often than not changing the meaning of both in doing so); they’re more than happy to declare that words need not be considered to carry the meanings associated with them in every single other instance of their use. Or, of course, they plead their singular understanding of the “Context!!!” out of which I have taken the verses- until I tell them to take all the context they need to explain whether or not the tomb was; a) open, or; b) not open, when the women arrived
Matt 28:2 “…For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door…” ;
John 20:1 “…Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”
and Luke 24:2, and Mark 16:3-4
Or perhaps to argue that there being a magical context in which the tomb was both open and not yet open when they (she?) arrived is THE MOST LIKELY explanation of the two accounts. After all, again, it’s the bible, so the least likely and most illogical answer to a problem is a viable option when looking for the most likely and logical explanation.
The mental and linguistic backflips that I’ve seen going on, in the research I carried out for the video itself, and since posting it more than two years ago, is truly amazing. Biblical inerrantists go to extraordinary lengths, and place their faith in the most mind-bogglingly elastic, over-stretched, flaky ‘explanations’… without daring to confront the most astonishingly simple explanation that ties everything together. What explanation is that?
I’m talking about the idea that one or more writers (or copyists) made a mistake.
Someone wrote it down wrong.
Someone got their facts wrong.
Someone heard wrong.
This explanation for there being two (even ‘seemingly’) discrepant accounts is utterly satisfying. It accounts for EVERYTHING. It leaves no mysteries behind, nothing unexplained, nothing left to investigate. Yet they just won’t go there. It’s the one explanation that is entirely off-limits. It just happens also to be the very best one.
The investment in the belief that the bible is inerrant is enormous. They’ve bet the house on it, and they apparently recognize that to give it up would mean no less than the end of their faith.
Take for example a few of the contradictions dealt with in the video. 2 Sam 8:4 says that David took 700 horsemen out with him. 1 Chron 18:4 says 7,000. What’s more likely – that both are entirely true, that there is a context in which both numbers are correct, some hidden back story that is not given anywhere in the text but is discernible through communication with an invisible spirit whispering facts into your heart – or that some copyist either dropped or added a zero somewhere along the line? What on Earth is so bad about THAT explanation that it needs to be competely taken off the table?! It is PERFECT!!
When we have over 5,000 manuscripts of the Greek new testament at hand, no two of which are identical, and terminologies for the kinds of errors that we can see in them all, is it really so hard to believe that errors and alterations may also have made their way into the ancient manuscripts of the old testament as they passed along?
2 Sam 23:8 says David’s captains killed 800 men in one encounter, the author of 1 Chron 11:11 puts it at 300. Someone wrote a digit wrong. Perhaps the digit wasn’t clear on the copy they were reading. Or wait!- maybe 300 DOES equal 800 in some context. Yeah, I wonder. I invite any believer to explain to me why a contortionist explanation featuring some magical behind-the-scnese mathematics or invisible narrative ‘glue’ is better than “Someone made a mistake”.
Judas hanged himself (Matt 27:5).
Wait, no, he died by falling over in a field bursting open in the middle (Acts 1:11).
So… rather than inventing the narrative that he must obviously (derrrr,….) have hung himself in a field, died, the rope snapped, and since rigor mortis had obviously set in the fall obviously caused his middle to burst open when his obviously bloated corpse hit the ground,… [NonStampCollector WHY can't you SEE this?!] why not be satisfied with “Well gee, perhaps two writers in different times and places reported different versions of the FORTY year old story?!” The same two authors, mind you, who also had differing accounts of the time of Jesus’ birth – reporting two dates differing by eleven years! Is it really so difficult to imagine that in a largely illiterate oral culture, an 80 year old story had split into two versions, or are both dates for Jesus’ birth independently true, too?
Yes, apparently it’s possible to consider them both true, if you’re so totally invested in the idea that the text is inerrant, and that ANY explanation, no matter how flimsy, contorted and made-to-order it is, is better and more likely than “a human author (or scribe) made a mistake”.
“A person wrote it down wrong” is not, in any context, an unlikely eventuality. It is attested by centuries of biblical scholarship; it is nothing new. It explains everything, and leaves nothing to be explained. There is simply no better explanation for the texts to be in the state they’re in, in these cases; yet not even the most liberal Christians are entirely comfortable going there. We all know why – only the non-believers are happy to go where that fact inevitably leads: These texts, and the errors that fill them, are the products of exclusively, and entirely, human minds. [shudder]
I challenge any believer reading this to give me an explanation of any of these contradictions that is better, more fulfilling, or more all-encompassing than “A person wrote it down wrong.”
This by no means covers all the contradictions given in my video, and I’ll be back again some time looking at some of the other kinds, and why the inerrantists’ explanations are, once again, crap.
Recently a guy posted a comment on one of my vids…. Unfortunately he removed it so I can’t show it to you in its exact form,…
But it went along the lines of how he’d had a friend come over, and they were playing a board game, and he prayed to God that he would win, and his friend would lose. And you know what happened?
The friend won the game. Won BIG TIME. It appears that this had been God’s will – God had detected a selfish “wickedness” in this guy’s heart, and intervened to TEACH HIM A LESSON. Isn’t God AMAZING?!
OK, so it’s obviously some kid, probably about the age I was when I was all born-again, and ordinarily I would just ignore the comment, or maybe throw the guy a few soft-ball questions to see if I could get the grey-matter working. But that afternoon I’d heard a Scientific American podcast that had impressed me mightily, and I just couldn’t hold back.
So, here it is. I finally have my soapbox. This is certainly going to be a major aspect of my nonstampcollecting life from here on. “NonStampCollector: YouTuber/blogger.” YEEESSSSS.
Making videos will always be my primary mode of stating my case, but as I’m sure you can understand, making videos takes an awfully long time. I love doing it, I love every aspect of it, but I’ve got much more to add to the larger discussion than I have time to give to adapting things into script form.
Every video I have come out with has largely written itself in my head, barging in, demanding use of my faculties, and bugging me mercilessly to carry it to birth. At the beginning, I had a lot of time to devote to obeying this unholy spirit of inspiration, but in recent years, all too often I have had to tell that inner muse to shut up and leave me alone while I get on with real-world stuff. Pulling out my laptop to tinker about on a script is a real treat nowadays. In fact, it’s something that I allow myself to do as a reward for getting my other work done. Too bad I usually get things done with no time to spare before the next thing starts!
Thus, my joy in finally having arrived upon this forum. Producing publishable output from beginning to end, on a bus if need be?! Unreal. And I’m extremely happy to have been given this opportunity to join the ranks of FreeThoughtBlogs. There are some serious heavy-hitters writing here. I’m aware that I’m in esteemed company.
But to quickly anticipate an objection: Yes, there are more videos coming. Posting a few pieces here each week is not going to be taking time away that i would otherwise be putting into writing scripts or drawing beardy Yahwehs. I’m writing a real cracker of a video right now in fact. It’s just that it’s the kind of video that requires that I read several books and dozens of articles to make sure I get it spot on. It takes a while – and again; I love every afternoon I spend in the cafe reading up on the subject.
There are about six projects in my ‘Works In Progress’ folder.
In the meantime, I’ve got heaps to share, heaps to say, lots to cover. Not everything lends itself to cartoon dialogues, after all!
So, what’s on the agenda?
Well, that question will answer itself differently every week, I anticipate. It’s my sincere wish that what I come out with here is as useful to people as I’m told my videos have been. I’m definitely going to have a focus towards topics of a more ‘enduring’ nature, rather than simply responding to news events or flash-in-the-pan trends or controversies.
Also, some candy: when I come out with a particularly witty (or obnoxious) response to a comment I get on YouTube, you’ll read a copy of it here. When I blow my stack at someone who sends me a particularly stupid message, you’ll read a copy of my response here. (Sometimes I crack myself up.) As well as, of course, great videos and writing that comes my way that I want to share and add my 2 yen’s worth to. Plus whatever aspect of religion suddenly strikes me as being particularly absurd as I’m walking down the street or washing the dishes. (It happens a lot. I don’t know why. Must be that unholy spirit bossing me around still.)
So please join the discussion, let me know how I’m going here, in as-yet unfamiliar territory. Check back often, follow me on twitter for regular updates, or grab the RSS feed. I hope to put something up at least a few times each week.
If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.
Since 2008, NonStampCollector has been making anti-theistic videos on youtube, criticizing as many aspects of Christianity as stick-figures and bubble-headed cartoon caricatures will allow.
After being ‘born again’ as a teenager, then enduring a slow, drawn-out, miserable deconversion, he did little about his atheism until discovering the work of Christopher Hitchens in 2007, and immediately joining the debate. A short time later, an imaginary dialogue between God and an atheist, literally scribbled on the back of an envelope, came to be the script of the first of over 50 youtube videos pointing out the shortcomings of Christian theology and apologetics that have accumulated more than seven million views.
From Sydney, Australia, now living in western Japan.