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Discussion 5 to Talk Back 95
An agnostic's review

by: PsiCop

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Michael,

I’ll take you at your word that you’re looking for agnostics’ reviews of your article1, and give you my own comments. There are two portions of your article that I want to comment on.

So, for the first: You explained the reason God wants us to have faith, as follows:

Why do we need faith? It’s more than just a way to believe in something without proof. It is actually essential to God’s plan of salvation that we receive such salvation through faith. For indeed the Devil and the other fallen angels don’t have faith, nor can they, because they KNOW that God is real. They have seen Him in person. They lived in Heaven with Him until they rebelled and were thrown out.

Another way of saying this is: God demands that we know about him only on “faith,” because some other beings who actually knew and lived with him, rejected him. So he created humanity specifically to never “know” him, but to have to learn to accept him only on faith. Aside from making God appear a bit impetuous, peevish, and obsessed with how people view him, there are some other problems with this:

First, God did not originally create humanity to be ignorant of him. He put Adam and Eve in Eden, and he went there in person from time to time2, so they knew him, just as the angels before them. So the idea that God set up humanity as a new class of being who never knew him in person, isn’t scriptural.

Second, if God was rejected by beings who knew him in person, perhaps there’s a reason for that? Maybe he’s objectionable or unlikeable in some way?

Third, what you suggest is that God specified the relationship he would have with humanity, and has withheld himself from us, based solely on his bad experience with Satan and his minions. This would be like a policeman ticketing you, because the car in front of you was speeding. How does this solve his problem? It doesn’t.

Fourth, even if Satan and his minions knew God but rejected him, clearly not all the angels did so. He was not utterly abandoned. The idea that he had to set up humanity as he did … assuming that if humanity “knew” him, they would reject him … doesn’t make sense in light of the fact that not all the angels who “knew” God, had rejected him.

For these and other reasons, your explanation of the need for faith, falls apart. At best, it’s simply not scriptural and nonsensical. At worst it paints an unflattering picture of God. A deity that behaves in the manner you suggest, is not worthy of any respect, much less worship.

One basic problem with any attempt (not just yours) to explain God as conceived by the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is that his assumed omnipotence, infinite extent, and omniscience gets in the way of it all. If you are correct and God has held himself back from humanity because Satan knew him but rejected him, there’s still the problem that he had created Satan, as well as humanity, but knew even before doing so how it would turn out. The idea that God decided his relationship with us as a reaction to what Satan did, could not have happened with an omnipotent, infinite, omniscient God. Such a being can never be confronted with a problem he can solve only in one particular way, because it’s not possible for him ever to be limited to only one strategy.

Moreover, the idea that an omnipotent, infinite, omniscient being, who can do anything he wants, any time he wants, and whose every need is satisfied as soon as he’s aware of it, cannot really “need” the favor of other created beings. Your “explanation” is predicated on the assumption he does want and need the respect and adulation of others; but it makes no effort to explain why. Any explanation that asks more questions than it answers, isn’t really an “explanation.”

As for the second part of your article that I wanted to comment on, it is:

The Bible. Hmmm.. What is it? It is called by many names, the Word, The Word of God, The Holy Scriptures, the Torah, the Law, the Covenant, the Old and New Testaments. It is a collection of 66 books written by about 40 people over a span of about 1,600 years in 3 different languages. It’s mostly historical accounts, that is to say first-person accounts of things happened.

You’re correct that the Bible goes by many names. That, however, only adds to its mystique. It says nothing about its veracity. While it’s often said that “the Bible is historical,” this is not really true. Yes, it’s a “historic” collection of works (as in, having influenced history) … but it is by no means “historical” (as in, containing true history). And precious little of it is “first-hand accounts” of anything.

Most of the Old Testament started to settle in the form we know it, around the time of the defeats of the kingdoms of Israel or shortly after, around the time of the restoration of one of them (Judah or Judea) and after the completion of religious reforms at that time. That said, a few pieces were much older, written by several different sources. The Documentary Hypothesis3 is currently the best explanation for how the Torah, or Pentateuch, came together. It posits several originators (the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly Scribe) for various Torah passages, beginning in the 10th century BCE. The Redactors (there were likely more than one) did their assembly and editing in the 5th century BCE. Other Bible books were written during this time, but mostly closer to the redaction period, in the 6th and 5th centuries that is.

Still, some of these books had much-older sources. The tale of Noah’s flood was inspired by earlier Sumerian and Akkadian tales (with their respective heroes being Ziusudra4 and Utnapishtim5). The story of Moses being set adrift on a river, as a child, had also been said of Sargon of Akkad6. The Tower of Babel story has a precedent in a Sumerian tale7. The Hebrews in some cases made drastic changes to these tales, but their prior sources are nevertheless clear, and must have inspired their writings. As for the overtly “historical” documents in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles), most of those were written centuries after the events they relate, and were finalized around the same time that the Torah Redactors were working. Their authors were not even close to being contemporaneous; they are not “first-hand accounts” of anything.

The books of the prophets were all written in the 7th through the 2nd centuries BCE, and some might actually have been written by contemporaries of the “prophets.” Some are, however, later inventions, written to help justify the reforms of the 5th century. Overall, the earliest O.T. book may have been Job, or perhaps the Jahwist passages from the Torah, and from the 10th century BCE. The youngest O.T. book was Daniel, written in the 3rd or 2nd century.

As for the New Testament, again we have little that’s contemporaneous. The oldest extant books of the New Testament are the “genuine” Pauline epistles, which are 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon8. All indications are — and this is verified by, among other things, linguistic style evidence — that these documents were written by a Hellenized Jew from Anatolia, which would appear to fit the model for “Paul” (or Saul) of Tarsus. The other epistles attributed to him, were not actually written by him, but by later authors who were trying to get credibility for their work by calling it “Paul’s.”

The gospels we now have, were all written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Mark is the oldest, written by 75 CE. The next, written up to 20 years after, were the other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, both of which used as sources Mark as well as an older, now-lost document, referred to as “Q,” a “sayings gospel.” The existence of Q had been only speculative prior to 1945, when another, similar “sayings gospel” (the Gospel of Thomas) was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, which had a similar structure and theme as the proposed “Q” — and in fact they have several passages in common.

In any event, assuming Jesus had lived and taught in the early 30s CE, the bottom line is that none of the gospels was written any sooner than 40 years after the end of his career. This means the gospels are all decidedly not contemporaneous, and unless their authors were elderly, had never known Jesus and had never seen any of the events reported in them. (This remains true, even though the author of Luke claims to have exhaustively verified everything in his gospel9.)

Here again, we have “history” being written by people who had not seen what they reported.

The bottom line is that the Bible was written not over the course of 1,600 years, but more like 1,100 (from c. 950 BCE, to c. 150 CE). That may not seem to be a big difference, but accuracy matters when you’re using this long period of time to support the veracity of the Bible as you see it. It also contains few, if any, “first-person accounts” of anything.

Footnotes:

  1. Talk Back 95
  2. Gen 3:8a (“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day …”)
  3. http://www.answers.com/topic/documentary-hypothesis
  4. http://www.answers.com/topic/ziusudra-2
  5. http://www.answers.com/topic/utnapishtim
  6. http://www.answers.com/topic/sargon-of-akkad
  7. Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
    (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1823.htm)
  8. Mack, Burton L. Who Wrote the New Testament? SanFrancisco: Harper, 1993: pp 99-143
  9. Luke 1:1-4