Intro: This series is an atheist's review of an important anthology critical of Christian beliefs called, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (pros and cons) and responding to new Christian objections as I find them.
I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to improving the online dialogue between Christians and non-believers on popular battleground issues.
Chapter 5, "The Cosmology of the Bible" by Ed Babinski (part 3 of 5):
Any kind of issue like this gets you a wide range of responses from Christian audiences. I can't recall ever having an online debate about this with anyone and it had been a long time since I'd read up on the issue myself in my Christian years. So I wanted to know how things look across the spectrum. And since I've generally covered all the important stuff, the following is really just for fun.
General Christian Excuses Around the Web (that may or may not have to do directly with Babinski's chapter):
General Christian Excuses Around the Web:
Christian internet apologist (young earth creationist and inerrantist), J. P. Holding writes
It must be admitted outright that SOME of the items listed here COULD be interpreted as giving a false cosmology - but it is also possible to interpret them other ways. The Bible lacks specifics in this regard (i.e., precise distances and descriptions - as were often offered up by the pagans), and so leaves the answer, "Does the Bible teach bad cosmology?", quite ambiguous in a few places. But for the majority of the cites we have seen, there is no such ambiguity, merely misinterpretation by skeptics and/or poetry. We are justified in our assertion that there is no proof that the Bible teaches a false cosmology.
Yes, there's only a slight possibility that the Bible actually means what it says
But then seems to take a stronger stance
As was the case with Seely’s previous article, we have found that there is no warrant for reading an erroneous conception of the earth into the biblical text. Equivocal language, and a proper understanding of what has been written, demonstrate yet again that, unlike the arguments of the critics, ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35
I'm pretty sure just about any book couldn't be "broken" with standards like Holding's. Congratulations for disregarding abductive reasoning.
Liberal Christian reviewer, jayman777 writes
The impact that this chapter will have on any individual Christian will be tied closely with that Christian’s view of the inspiration of Scripture. I will attempt to remain critical of Babinski’s claims even though I accept that the Bible’s cosmology is pre-scientific. [...] The belief that the earth was round was held by many before and during the first century. It’s possible that Paul held more “modern” views on geography but still used “unscientific” language in his letters. Of course, it’s also possible that Paul held “unscientific” views on geography and used “unscientific” language in his letters. I see no way to tell which is the case. Since Paul’s letters are not geography lessons it makes little difference to understanding his message. [...] perhaps Luke believed that Jesus ascended to heaven by going through a solid firmament of some kind. I can still take Acts 1 as an historical report of what the ascension looked like to the disciples while not adopting Luke’s cosmological opinions.
Perhaps that might apply to the NT, but what about the OT? And why shouldn't we assume that the NT authors who paralleled the OT authors wouldn't have disregarded whatever the "evil" Greek philosophers (the wisdom of the world) were saying? I know there are liberal theologians who are fine with differential authority given to different parts of the Bible and I respect those who realize every issue needs its own justification. However, this does call into question why we should believe the Bible about unverifiable things when we can't believe it on the verifiable things. And God seems to be one of the ones
who doesn't know the earth is a sphere.
In a comment to jayman777, agnostic contributor to TCD, Ed Babinski references
(David Friedrich Strauss, Das Leben Jesu, 1837):
We know that anyone who wants to go to God and the precincts of the Blessed is taking a needless detour if he thinks this means he has to soar into the upper levels of the air. Surely Jesus would not have taken such a superfluous journey, nor would God have made him take it. Thus, one would have to assume something like a divine accommodation to the world-picture people had back then, and say: In order to convince the disciples of Jesus’s return to the higher world, even though in fact that world was by no means to be sought in the upper atmosphere, God nevertheless staged the spectacle of Jesus’s elevation. But this would be turning God into a sleight-of-hand artist.
C'mon! It's just flare for the theatrical. And wouldn't it be fun? You've had all those superpowers for like 33 years and have hardly been allowed to use them?
Christian apologist, India, who runs the website RationalChristianity says
It's possible that people living during the times these passages were written would have believed the earth was flat, and that God simply spoke to them in terms that they would understand.
Christian scholar, Paul H. Seely writes
I have never said or implied that the Bible ‘teaches’ either that the ‘firmament’ is solid or that the ‘earth’ is a flat disc. Rather, I believe both are divinely inspired concessions to the views of the times, as Deuteronomy 24:1–4 and 21:10–14 are concessions to the ethics of the times (Matthew 19:8/Mark 10:5).
Yeah, it's almost as if the book is just a product
of the times.
"Evolutionary creationist," Denis Lamoureux writes
A more parsimonious approach to the biblical creation accounts is to suggest, with Enns, that under the inspiring guidance of the Holy Spirit, the science and history of the day were employed as incidental vessels to reveal inerrant messages of faith regarding origins. Of course, such an approach would indicate that God accommodated to the level of ancient humans in the revelatory process. Yet, according to Beale, the hermeneutical principle of accommodation undermines biblical revelation and inerrancy. However, a corollary of divine revelation is that God has to accommodate. He is the holy, infinite Creator, and we are the sinful, finite creatures. It is by necessity (and grace) that he descends to our level in the revelatory process. In fact, the greatest act of revelation is Jesus Christ—God in human flesh. As Phil. 2:7–8 states, God “humbled himself” and “made himself nothing” in order to reveal himself to us. [emphasis mine]
I'm not sure where Lamoureux is going with the second half of the quote there, but "incidental vessels" white washes over the fact those vessels are fiction. Lamoureux is trying to convince other Christians that his principle of interpretation here is no different than other things they accept and he makes an argument from association to defend his views:
Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectation in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers.
If true, I don't think anyone believes the ancients actually thought events actually happen out of order, even if they don't have that literary expectation. So accommodating those kinds of things probably wouldn't generate conflicts of interest. However, with these kinds of standards, can't God accommodate the morality of a culture? The religion?
What falsehood can't God accommodate? Lamoureux doesn't seem to realize he's opening up a huge can of worms since if God can accommodate human fiction in a divinely inspired book, why couldn't we use this principle to extend to everything, including every single piece of literature ever? Why aren't all human documents equally inspired? Or at least, how would we know they aren't?
Christian blogger, Fred Butler points out
This position basically says God had to hide the truth from the biblical writers because their small minds would be unable to grasp it. In other words, God was either purposely vague to help stupid people or He outright lied. I believe such a view of God is deplorable...
To make matters worse, as I've demonstrated in the past, even fundamentalist Christians aren't allowed to have an absolute problem with God lying: See my extensive argument map on "Could Jesus be Lying about Hell?
" So I'm actually fine with the interpretation that God uses spiritual theater and that Christians are still forced to think for themselves about each issue on its own terms. However, I don't see liberal theologians actually defending that case from the Bible, whereas I actually do on my argument map using the classic story of Abraham as my prime example. Inevitably I still think it is a poor way to communicate, but if that's what the Bible actually teaches, then so be it. Liberals can make a more forceful Biblical case for divine lies, but they need to admit they are actually lies and use an argument like mine. Ad hoc suggestions just look really lame in comparison. But if you can't accept that God would lie even for a good cause (assuming you think hurting the credibility of the divine authority of the Bible is a good cause), then you are stuck with what the Bible actually says
Creationist astronomer, Gerardus D. Bouw
, Ph.D. writes
In summary, the Bible teaches that the earth is basically a sphere in shape; that there are pillars which undergird the world and which we conclude to be the crystalline rock corresponding to what we commonly call the mantle; that there are an unspecified number of foundations which range in size all the way from the foundations of the hills and mountains (called roots in modern science) to the usearchable core of the earth and to the very foundation which is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. [emphasis mine]
*baffled* So that's
where Jesus has been all these years. And here I thought he was busy building mansions.
Creationist, Todd Wood writes
Despite the silly attempts to link creationism to flat-earthism (or whatever they call it), the Bible just doesn't say what shape the earth is. I know it refers to the "four corners of the earth" and "the circle of the earth," but there's no reason to believe that these were anything other than figures of speech.
There's a lot more than hodgepodge, unrelated, throw away phrases in the Bible. Sorry. See Babinski's chapter
Answers in Genesis supports the idea
that the flat earth idea was a conspiracy by scientists to make Christianity look bad in the time of Darwin. I didn't realize how popular this idea was until Christian reviewer, Looney said
In this chapter, Edward falls for Washington Irving's hoax of the Flat Earth Theory.
It seems to me that whether or not the flat earth theory was widely believed in Columbus' day has very little to do with all the evidence that Babinski produces in his chapter. I emailed Babinski about this and he agrees (see Ed's comment
The website, Creation Tips says
There might have been debate about a flat earth among some of the ancients, but from our own research of over 5000 books from ancient times we have to say that Professor Russell seems to be correct when he says the flat-earth myth flourished only recently. Claims that people used to believe that the earth is flat are mostly in modern writings.
Some of the ancients? Like perhaps the ones who wrote the Bible? And their neighbors
that Babinski quotes in his chapter?
American historian Jeffrey Burton Russell writes
It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat. [...] A few--at least two and at most five--early Christian fathers denied the sphericity of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements. On the other side tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, and scientists took the spherical view throughout the early, medieval, and modern church. The point is that no educated person believed otherwise. [...] the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science (good) and religion (bad) throughout Western history. This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John Draper (1811-1882) and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. [...] The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists.
And we would have gotten away with it, too...
Then there's the Muslims who say things like this
When it comes to scientific claims, the Bible has the dumbest claims, with all due respect to Jews and Christians. The Bible claims that Earth has four ends and four corners. Nobody can ever think a ball or a cycle to have corners and ends! Only flat items can have corners and ends, and this is exactly what the bible is trying to express regarding the shape of the earth. [...] Not only these verses are seriously very insulting to Allah Almighty because they present Him as a GOD who feared men, but they also reveal a very serious scientific blunder through suggesting that the earth is both flat and sitting still in the universe - something that is quite contrary to what the Holy Quran teaches. [...] The Bible not only failed to claim that the Earth was egg-shaped, but it also claimed in numerous verses as shown above that the Earth is flat, has Edges, has Four Corners, has Pillars, and has Foundations. As I said above, no unbiased person would deny the obvious and embarrassing quotes above. Only the desperate biased Jews and Christians would.
Should atheists be flattered since they must not be desperate and biased? :) Muslims sure do know how to prove John Loftus right about how religious people always know how to be unbiased when evaluating other
religions. Well, they are going a bit overboard in places. Oh well. It's still funny.
Skeptic, Robert J. Schadewald says
When I first became interested in the flat-earthers in the early 1970s, I was surprised to learn that flat-earthism in the English-speaking world is and always has been entirely based upon the Bible. I have since assembled and read an extensive collection of flat-earth literature. [...] Suffice to say that the earth envisioned by flat-earthers is as immovable as any geocentrist could desire. Most (perhaps all) scriptures commonly cited by geocentrists have also been cited by flat-earthers. The flat-earth view is geocentricity with further restrictions. Like geocentrists, flat-earth advocates often give long lists of texts. Samuel Birley Rowbotham, founder of the modern flat-earth movement, cited 76 scriptures in the last chapter of his monumental second edition of Earth not a Globe. Apostle Anton Darms, assistant to the Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva, America's best known flat-earther, compiled 50 questions about the creation and the shape of the earth, bolstering his answers with up to 20 scriptures each. [...] From their geographical and historical context, one would expect the ancient Hebrews to have a flat-earth cosmology. Indeed, from the very beginning, ultra-orthodox Christians have been flat-earthers, arguing that to believe otherwise is to deny the literal truth of the Bible. The flat-earth implications of the Bible were rediscovered and popularized by English-speaking Christians in the mid-19th century. Liberal scriptural scholars later derived the same view. Thus, students with remarkably disparate points of view independently concluded that the ancient Hebrews had a flat-earth cosmology, often deriving this view from scripture alone. Their conclusions were dramatically confirmed by the rediscovery of 1 Enoch.
Very interesting. Haven't checked all his facts, but we'll see if anything turns up after I post this.
That's it for this edition.