A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Divine Inspiration

One of the most common claims made by Christians is that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. How do we know that the Bible is divinely inspired? Why, the Bible says this about itself. Of course, what this means varies depending on the Christian you talk to. For some it means the Bible is perfect and inerrant, that any time we find something wrong in the Bible it's us who is making the mistake because the Bible can't be wrong about anything. For others it means only parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and the confusion comes because we have to sift the human error in the Bible to find the parts that are genuinely inspired.

The first claim, that the Bible is perfect and inerrant is easily refuted. Looking at the conflicting creation accounts in Genesis, the story of the Hebrews in bondage to Egypt, the prophesied destruction of Tyre by Babylon or the attempts to tie both Herod the Great and the Census of Quirinius to Jesus' birth in spite of Herod dying ten years before the census. From a scientific and archaeological standpoint the Bible is very clearly errant.

The second claim is harder to refute because it offers no concrete guide on how to interpret the Bible. It becomes an open invitation to cherry-pick what you like from the Bible and disregard the rest as "tainted" by humanity. The claim goes that we can't judge the morality of the Bronze Age Hebrews or the Iron Age Christians because they had different values. Slavery was accepted and commonplace. Likewise with dehumanizing women and treating them as property. The Apostle Paul wasn't really a misogynist no matter how many Bible verses he dedicated to telling women to submit to male authority. Divine inspiration, the explanation goes, doesn't make unreasonable demands of people.

Except there's a problem here. Paul tells us that no one is righteous and all are sinners. We have all fallen short of the perfect moral standard that is God. So why does the Bible not speak up against slavery and misogyny, two moral values that we're developing in modern civilization? One apologetic I've heard is that we weren't ready to hear those things so God let us figure it out on our own. But the Bible has no problem giving us impossible moral standards that we can't possibly hope to live up to before Jesus came along and added thought crimes. Why then would a divinely inspired book of morality not insist on a perfect morality whether or not we were ready to hear it? Another apologetic is that because of relative cultural mores Paul wasn't really a misogynist, but misogyny doesn't stop being misogyny because it's institutional.

If you claim divine inspiration for something, you're making a very specific claim. You're claiming that the divine inspiration made it better than it could have been with only human ingenuity. That is perhaps the most damning observation about the Bible and every other holy scripture I've ever heard of: the morality and understanding of those scriptures was strictly limited to the morality and understanding of the people who wrote them. There's no sign of any divine inspiration in any of them; no hint of superior morality or indeed anything that can't be attributed directly to human thought. This is why I continue to be skeptical of divine morality.

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