Linkdump: Ehrman, divine hiddenness, morality, gays

Time to close some browser tabs by writing about what’s in them:

Ehrman not out to destroy Christianity

Bart Ehrman has a new book out. Jesus, Interrupted aims to make stuff about the Bible that Christian ministers are taught in seminaries available to the public. Ehrman was interviewed at Salon. Despite Ehrman’s adoption by the neo-atheist fundamentalist secularists, he seems pretty mild-mannered about religion. In the Washington Post, Ehrman says he’s not out to destroy Christianity, although he hopes that his book will show up the problems with an evangelical approach to the Bible.

Why is God hidden?

There’s a good post from Jeffrey at Failing the Insider Test on the problem of why God is hidden if he wants people to know him. In previous discussions here, apologists say there’s no evidence that God being more obvious would make people come into a loving relationship with him. They say the Bible contains examples of people who saw miracles and didn’t believe, and as the Epistle of James says, even the demons believe (and tremble). Yet even granted the premise that the Bible’s account is accurate (which seems to be generalising from fictional evidence), Jeffrey points out that the Bible itself contains examples of people who believe on evidence from God. Jesus complains that if Sodom had seen his miracles, it would have repented, unlike the towns he’s been visiting. While compelling evidence doesn’t reliably produce the relationship Christians say God wants, it can hardly make it less likely.

Morality again

John W Loftus mentioned a debate between William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan of Yale. You can listen here. Kagan does well against Craig, thus proving that it is possible to beat him.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the moral argument for the existence of God is pretty unclear to me: some people just seem to feel that if there’s no God, there can’t be “real” morality. Kagan talks about what rational agents would do and the idea of a veil of ignorance. Craig doesn’t see how being moral matters if the universe will die a Heat Death. Kagan says that there is significance even if this significance is not eternal, and that eternal significance is not needed for morality.

I’m being oppressed

Slacktivist talks about that awful video which the National Organization for Marriage made, and the tendency of American evangelicals to believe both that they are, and should be, in a Chrisitan nation and that Christians are horribly persecuted.

I suspect that American evangelicals’ persecution complex is an inevitable side effect of sectarian hegemony. Once you believe that your faith requires cultural dominance, and that it deserves it, then any threat to that dominance — even just the unwelcome reminder of the existence of alternative points of view — is perceived as a threat, as a kind of persecution.

The NOM video has spawned many parodies, of which A Gaythering Storm is perhaps the best. NOM were even advertising here on LJ until LJ’s staff booted them. Well done, LJ.

2 Comments on "Linkdump: Ehrman, divine hiddenness, morality, gays"

  1. I’ll get a copy of Ehrman’s new book to find out if he really has found any problems with the Evangelical approach to the Bible. Up until now as far as I can tell he hasn’t, although lots of people like quoting him as if he has. The interview on Unbelievable between him and Peter Williams (the warden of Cambridge’s Tyndale House) was particularly good in that it fairly represented both sides, something you don’t often get. This blog post is a fair summary of the bits it refers to (although I’d say the interview is well worth listening to) I’d say.

    As Ehrman himself says:

    “Most of these [textual] differences are completely immaterial and insignificant….In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple – slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another….when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their motives were as pure as the driven snow….And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the ‘original’ text. This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching….In a remarkable number of instances – most of them, actually – scholars by and large agree [about what the earliest attainable text said]….It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a ‘conservative’ process. The scribes – whether non-professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages – were intent on ‘conserving’ the textual tradition they were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited.” (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], pp. 10, 55-56, 62, 94, 177)

    AFAICT the real issue is between what some Evangelicals believe and what Ehrman discovered (what Evangelical scholars already knew). I’d be all for encouraging those Evangelicals who are not aware of these issues to be more informed, although I’d argue there are probably more important things to spend your time on. I’d also argue for atheists to pick better arguments against Evangelical Christianity or at least to come up with a better articulated argument than “Ehrman thinks there is a problem with the Evangelical approach to the Bible” – at the very least some engagement with what Evangelicals have said in reply would be nice.


    1. I listened to Ehrman/Williams on Unbelievable a while back. Without repeating that post too much, it seems that Ehrman had ideas about what inerrancy meant which caused him to anticipate stuff about the history of the Biblical texts (and the historicity of the stories within them, of which more in a minute). He stopped being an inerrantist (but didn’t stop being a Christian, that came later) when his anticipations were falsified.

      As Williams says, evangelical jargon doesn’t help, but it seems it’s more than just jargon that’s the problem. Ehrman got his ideas on inerrancy from his evangelical education. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for Ehrman to anticipate the way he did if someone had, say, presented the UCCF Doctrinal Basis as a good credal statement of evangelicalism. I’d bet there are many more evangelicals who’d react like Ehrman if they came to believe what Ehrman now believes about the facts of Biblical transmission. There are probably more of those evangelicals than there are evangelicals like Williams, in fact.

      If I understand Williams, he seems to think that inerrancy is about being reasonably sure that we have access the inspired text among all the manuscripts that are available (the extant manuscript differences not being terribly theologically significant, as he and Ehrman both agree). But being reasonably sure is a way off saying that the text is infallible, supreme authority in all matters of etc. etc.

      It looks like Ehrman’s latest is not about transmission but about historicity and contradictions (see the funky promo video). I expect that there will be more disagreement with evangelicals on the facts there than on textual transmission, since ISTR inerrantists tend to take the gospels as historical and be interested in harmonising the differences between them.

      When I imagine someone who accepts the conclusions of scholars about manuscript transmission, the formation of the canon, contradictions internal and external, the NT retconning bits of the OT, and so on, I can’t quite see what such a person would mean by calling the Bible inerrant, except perhaps as a password into evangelicalism. That is, I don’t see what Williams’s version of inerrancy leads him to anticipate about how the Bible got into his hands. Maybe nothing: you mentioned the inner witness of the Holy Spirit before, which I suppose could allow someone to say that what we have now just is inerrant and never mind how it got there, but still, I never did find out whether you think God witnesses to you personally that Hebrews is canon but 1 Clement is not. Maybe you should do a posting on it 🙂

      Of course, even if you’re convinced by Ehrman’s arguments on the Bible, you can still be a Christian (though Chris Hallquist thinks Ehrman is trying too hard not to scare off Christians when he argues that the evangelical attitude to the Bible started with the original Fundamentalists: I’ll probably post over there in a minute). I suppose the main use of this stuff in the Christian/atheist debates is if an atheist encounters a Christian who says “this stuff is true because the Bible says so”.


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