CHRISTIAN TRACTATUS - SECTION 13

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13. There are problems with the Biblical model of the world & its history.

13.1 To be credible, Christianity must be consistent (within certain limits) with the rest of our knowledge of the world. Where it is not apparently consistent, it must have good reasons for not appearing to be so.

13.1.1 We may approach the ironing out of these inconsistencies either by showing that they are only apparent or by demonstrating that one (or both) of the opposing viewpoints does not represent knowledge but only opinion.

13.2 Prima facie, being founded on remote, extraordinary events counts against a system. The sort of dubious events I have in mind are unrepeatable events not explicable within the nexus of normal scientific law. Again prima facie, the more extraordinary the alleged events on which a system is founded, the less likely it is to be true.

13.2.1 We must be careful of circular reasoning if we form a negative evaluation of Christianity. If we define our world view to be one in which the "spiritual" has no place, we should not be surprised that Christianity, which is founded on spiritual presuppositions, has no place in it either.

13.2.2 Nonetheless, a way must be found of evaluating spiritual claims, otherwise there is no logical way of preferring one set of spiritual claims to another (ie. of preferring one religion to another) or of arbitrating between those who accept "the spiritual" and those who don't.

13.2.3 I reject the view that an acceptance of "the spiritual" is a fundamental position that cannot be argued for or against. One who accepts the spiritual must have reasons for so doing. One who rejects it must have some approach to those aspects of experience that the spiritual is said to explain.

13.2.4 Since Judeo-Christianity posits the existence of one physical-spiritual world, rather than a dualism, or a denial of one or the other, the Christian should be able to argue for the place of spiritual values and entities within the world.

13.2.4.1 Hence, the more elements in Christianity that are contrary to, or absent from, our everyday view of the world, the more problems we have with Christianity as an integrated system.

13.2.5 We now proceed to evaluate the areas of friction between the Christian world view and the consensual modern western secular world view.

13.2.6 A number of criteria may be seen to be relevant for judging the goodness of fit of the Biblical model of the world with that developed from secular observation, theory & historical research. The strictures that may fairly be placed on the Bible are that it should display the following attributes :-

a). An historical perspective that is consistent with the records of secular history.

b). A cosmology that is consistent with reasonable observation.

c). A psychology that agrees with our experience.

d). An ontology that does not postulate impossible entities.

e). A cosmogony that is credible within the modern world view.

f). A teleology that is credible within the modern world view.

g). A morality that the common man would not find repugnant.

h). A world view that is recognisably the one in which we live.

13.2.6.1 It will be seen from what follows that I do not think that the Bible stands up to all criticism in the above areas.

13.3 Since Christianity is an historically-based religion, it is essential that the historical events that undergird it can find a place within the historical framework constructed from other sources.

13.3.1 In what follows, I have pursued a (perhaps tedious & tendentious) analysis of the Biblical history, by epoch. Throughout, it must be remembered that the Bible has as much right to a hearing as any other ancient source, which are themselves to be expected to show bias and selectivity in the events they record.

13.3.2 With regard to primaeval history, there is obviously a major discrepancy between the Bible (as literally interpreted) & modern theories of Palaeontology.

13.3.2.1 Were not so much to rest on the doctrine of a literal "Adam and Eve", much of the tension between the Bible and palaeontology would be removed (as we will see later).

13.3.2.2 In fact, although Adam appears in lists of names in Chronicles & Luke, and is referred to in Jude 14 & (possibly) in Job 31:33, the story of Adam & Eve is ignored after Genesis, except in the writings of Paul.

13.3.2.3 The various theories of human evolution do not seem to be empirically well-founded. There is much that is speculative, based on very limited evidence. The objection to the Genesis account is not so much that there is clear evidence for the contrary reconstructions of the origins of mankind as that the Genesis account has the hallmark of legend and is best viewed as a theological statement only.

13.3.2.4 Another major problem with Genesis is its record of a universal flood. That some form of major middle-eastern flood occurred in ancient times is probable from the existence of parallel accounts such as the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic. However, the details of the Genesis account (though more sensible than the Babylonian narrative) are still incredible. Problems include the size of the ark, the gathering of the animals, the volume of water, the height of the mountains, etc.

13.3.2.5 There seems, however, to be broad agreement that civilisation is of fairly recent origin, with the middle east the "cradle of civilisation".

13.3.3 The patriarchal stories are difficult to confirm from secular history, which is not surprising given the nomadic lifestyle of the patriarchs.

13.3.3.1 The world in which the patriarchs are said to have lived is recognisably that of the culture of the times. However, it is difficult to associate Joseph with any recorded personage in Egypt.

13.3.4 The complete silence in Egyptian records with respect to the Exodus requires explanation.

13.3.4.1 If the escape of the Israelites from Egypt really was accompanied by the signs and wonders recorded in the Biblical Book of Exodus, it is surprising that there is no mention of them at all in the Egyptian records.

13.3.4.2 The fact that the Bible refers only to "Pharaoh" in the earlier narratives, rather than to particular Pharaohs by name, contributes further to the difficulty of their identification.

13.3.4.3 Suppression of the record by the vanquished Egyptians is only just a possibility. The Egyptians were obsessive about records, and partial records of other unfortunate times have been preserved (eg. of the Hyksos period of the 14th to 17th dynasties, during which Egypt was ruled by Asiatic invaders).

13.3.5 The history of Israel under the judges appears to contain legendary elements (eg. much of the Samson narratives), but the history of the struggles against the Philistines seems to be based on fact. The theological interpretation of events in the Book of Judges (ie. the association of ill-fortune with a "turning away from the Lord") may be seen either as a simple fact or as a naive system of rewards morality that elements of the later prophetic tradition sought to correct.

13.3.5.1 Personally, I find that the Mount Gerizim versus Mount Ebal (blessings versus cursings) theology carries on through the high prophetic tradition as far as national prosperity is concerned, though it is recognised that righteousness (and wickedness) are not adequately rewarded at the level of the individual.

13.3.6 Similar remarks apply to the history of Israel under the Kings. There may be some embellishments (eg. the greatness of Solomon's kingdom may be exaggerated, some of Elijah's and Elisha's escapades appear to be legendary, etc.) and there are notorious problems with datings, but the over-all tenor does not seen unreasonable. In the later history, there are some cross-connections with secular records : eg. Jehu's submission to the Assyrian Shalmaneser III.

13.3.7 The history of the fall of Israel and Judah seems to fit well into the contemporary scene, though Daniel is contentious as an historical figure.

13.3.8 The historical narratives of the New Testament, where they impinge on secular history, are generally precise and reliable, particularly in Luke/Acts (though there is some controversy about this : eg. the governorship of Quirinius and Augustus's census). However, there do appear to be legendary episodes here as well (as in the stories of the Magi, Herod Agrippa's death [though the romanticisation of the latter's demise is shared with Josephus] etc).

13.3.9 So far, we have placed the emphasis on the relationship of the Biblical accounts of historical episodes to those recorded in secular history, rather than on whether the narrative material in the Bible that cannot be cross-checked can properly be called history.

13.3.9.1 A point that may fairly be made, however, is that if we are unconvinced of the accuracy of a particular Biblical Book when we have the opportunity to check it, we have no good reason to trust it when we do not enjoy this luxury.

13.3.9.2 Another point that we have noted is that we may expect variability in reliability, so errors in (say) one Biblical book do not imply a similar state of affairs elsewhere, nor may we expect excellences to be uniform. In particular, we may not use the presumed excellences in one area to bolster up others.

13.3.10 In summary, we note that, in general and despite some legendary material, the historical records of the Bible seem to be consistent with secular history. Discrepancies have been much exaggerated by those reacting against a strict fundamentalism.

13.4 The Bible does not seem to have a Cosmology that is consistent with reasonable observation. It seems to adopt a three tiered geocentric view of the universe, with heaven "up there" in the sky and hell (gehenna, ie. the abode of the dead) "down there" under the earth.

13.4.1 It may be significant in this context that Hebrew & Greek use the same words (respectively) for "sky" and "heaven".

13.4.1.1 Another pointer that may be relevant is the equipment of heavenly beings (eg. the Cherubim & Seraphim) with wings for flying.

13.4.2 It would be a mistake to read all the ramifications of the pre-Copernican mediaeval or Ptolomaic cosmology into the Bible, but it seems unlikely that the Biblical cosmology is the same as that of modern science.

13.4.3 One may suspect that a naive cosmology is behind the astronomical miracles of the Bible (eg. Joshua's "long day", Hezekiah's sundial, etc).

13.4.3.1 If, as Genesis states, the Sun is simply thought of as "a great light to lighten the day", it may seem appropriate to imagine it "staying up late" in order to provide extra daylight when required (as in the incident in Joshua 10).

13.4.3.2 The problem with physical explanations of these supposed phenomena (eg. the temporary cessation or reversal of the Earth's daily rotation caused, for example, by the magnetic interaction of the Earth with another planet) is that they leave unexplained the lack of other concomitant phenomena (hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes etc) that would have been expected. Hence, we have to rule out a physical explanation (it is no use explaining a big miracle while being left with a number of little ones), and are reduced to brute miracle as the "explanation", which is intrinsically less probable than invention or poetic license.

13.4.3.3 It may, of course, be the case that elements of genuine folk memories of global-catastrophic events have been woven into historical contexts, but this is of no help in accepting the truth of the narratives in their current form.

13.4.4 It may be possible to adopt a principle of accommodation, so that the then current cosmological presuppositions are used, without their truth being assumed. This, of course, does not help elucidate the miraculous elements.

13.4.4.1 The risk in this approach of demythologisation is that, if it is applied more widely, Christianity may degenerate into a moral code with nothing of cosmic significance to say. It is important to most Christians that heaven, if not hell, should exist. If it is not "up there" (or at least "out there") we are at a loss as to what to make of the concept, because there is no further assistance provided by the Bible or other normative Christian tradition.

13.5 At least one aspect of Biblical psychology agrees well with our (or at least my) experience. This is its analysis of man as one who fails to live up to what he might be, and feels he ought to be. In Biblical language, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".

13.5.1 The above sets Biblical psychology apart from all optimistic religions & philosophies that state that all is fundamentally right with man.

13.5.1.1 However, since Judaism has allegedly an optimistic view of man, this negative view of man may be fundamentally a New Testament attitude.

13.5.1.2 The Old Testament view seems to be that righteousness is a simple matter of obedience, which is within the capacity of the servant of God (eg. Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Ezekiel 18).

13.5.1.3 Further, since the extreme pessimistic view, in the sense of "total depravity", is not shared by all Christian groups, there may be an element of confessional interpretative bias in the interpretation of the New Testament teaching, which itself may not have a uniform viewpoint.

13.5.2 Christianity attributes this universal weakness in man to the Fall of Adam, and treats the alleged consequence of the fall, death, as an evil.

13.5.2.1 On the contrary, the modern view attributes weakness, decay & death to other causes (eg. to entropy).

13.5.2.2 Another possibility, supported by Richard Dawkins, is to view bodies as "survival machines" for their genes : once survival of the genes into the next generation has been ensured by reproduction & a period of parental protection, further longevity may become an evolutionary disadvantage in that scarce resources are consumed by less productive individuals. This may explain why, in general, human grandparents live just long enough to assist their children to rear their own children.

13.5.2.3 The fact that Dawkins' view may appear morally repugnant, with its "Brave New World" overtones, is not relevant to its truth or falsity.

13.5.2.4 It is also possible to think of ultimate death as in some sense a good, or at least not as an evil. For example, we may consider it :-

a). As a benefit (to the community as a whole, allowing for more rapid evolutionary development).

b). As a necessary evil (given the relationship between randomness [and hence error and decay] and creativity, or given the limited resources available to sustain any community, or given the joys of parenthood [which would be foregone in a static, immortal society]).

c). As the lesser of two evils (to the individual), treating eternal life in an increasingly morbid state as an evil.

13.5.2.5 The main problem seems to be with the premature death of those (of whatever age) who still felt they had "work" (or "life" or whatever) before them and who died unfulfilled. However, if the dead know nothing (as Ecclesiastes 9:5 suggests !) the main regret at the waste involved in unfulfilled potential is felt by the living. Conversely, the Christian hope of survival after death, wherein the missing fulfillment may be recovered, is of no assistance to the living who are "left behind".

13.5.3 Biblical psychology attributes to human beings souls (and / or spirits, according to the interpretation). This leads to difficulties analogous to the mind / body problem. In fact, the difficulties are worse, for it is not normally suggested that the mind can exist independently of the brain, whereas this facility (of disembodied existence) is often claimed for souls and spirits.

13.5.3.1 Few philosophers now consider that bodies have souls or minds floating about inside them, and even evangelical Christian neuro-scientists (D.M. MacKay, for example) are willing to propose, or at least consider as a possibility, the mind / brain identity theory.

13.5.3.2 The problem with a spiritual or mental entity controlling a physical one is that we have no way of explaining their interaction. Since no satisfactory answer has been found, philosophers have tended to reduce the mental to the physical (materialism) or vice-versa (immaterialism or idealism).

13.5.3.3 It is to be noted that the above problem applies globally to the interaction of the spiritual (should there be such) and the physical. Attempts to explain the spiritual as material, but of another "glorified" kind, are rather desperate and also non-traditional. It is not clear what the Apostle Paul meant by a "spiritual body".

13.5.4 In the age of computers, it is possible to think of living creatures, including man, as complex machines. It may be difficult to imagine a machine being conscious, but this statement says nothing apart from describing the limits of our imagination.

13.5.4.1 The moral consequences of this state of affairs are not relevant to whether or not it is the case. It is possible to make a case that even machines ought to obey some moral code if they value their continued existence, and therefore could become moral beings.

13.5.5 Animals are a test case for Christian psychology. They are evidently conscious (or act as though they are, and we usually act humanely towards them, as though they were). Orthodox Christianity has, however, always denied them souls or spirits, making animal into beings intermediate between men and machines.

13.5.5.1 In fact, a case can be made from the Old Testament that animals, like men, are souls and have spirits.

13.5.5.2 Therefore, if we deny souls or spirits to animals, we cannot therefore use these concepts to explain consciousness.

13.5.6 An apparent advantage of the Christian approach (or of the spiritual approach generally) is that it appears to supply a distinction between men and machines. People don't like the idea of being "merely" machines (however sophisticated) and the idea of having some vital element (a soul or spirit) that can never be wired or programmed into a machine may appear comforting.

13.5.6.1 It is very doubtful, however, whether these animistic ideas have any real content. Consequently, these ideas fall foul of Occam's razor, despite the fact that there is no adequate alternative theory currently available.

13.5.6.2 It is still unclear whether the behaviourist arguments of the supporters of strong Artificial Intelligence - for granting machines to count as intelligent & sentient beings provided they pass the Turing test - will turn out to be sound. It is also unclear whether Searle's "Chinese Room" arguments are cogent or, if not, whether they can be ameliorated to make them so. Pending a resolution of these debates, the question of "what makes a person" must be left open.

13.6 The main problem with Biblical ontology is its postulation of spiritual entities such as angels, demons, Satan, spirits, heaven & hell. Such entities do not seem to have any place in the physical universe (though some have attempted to locate heaven !) and are not normally, if at all, observable.

13.6.1 Such, or analogous, entities seem to have formed part of what was expected in ancient societies. It is easy to suspect that, since the physical universe was not then very well understood, its approved contents was wider in certain directions than is now thought probable.

13.6.2 The fact that we cannot disprove the existence of the above does not count in their favour. Since there is no conceivable experiment we can perform to verify or falsify the existence or otherwise of these entities, they are prime candidates for removal by Occam's razor.

13.6.2.1 We have already discussed the possibility of the existence of heaven & hell. The somewhat extended discussion of non-divine spiritual beings is reserved for an Appendix.

13.6.3 The treatment of the spiritual (including God and the heavenly host) as "wholly other" is an attempt at reconstruction. In this case, how could we obtain any information about it ? The Biblical writers definitely seem to assume the possibility of interaction with this realm in physical terms.

13.7 The Biblical cosmogony (theory of origins) appears to be one of recent creation ex nihilo.

13.7.1 This, at least, is the straightforward reading of the texts. Attempts to make them read otherwise seem to be motivated more by a desire for harmonisation than by the force of the texts themselves.

13.7.1.1 Objections to this Biblical view appear on two fronts :-

a). Theories of the origin of matter.

b). Theories of the origin & evolution of life.

13.7.2 The physical universe appears to be of immense size and, therefore - because of the finite (and constant) speed of light - of immense age.

13.7.2.1 Hence, the overthrow of the Continuous Creation theories of Bondi, Hoyle & Gold in favour of the "Big Bang" does not help much to reconcile modern cosmological theory with the presuppositions of the Bible. According to modern cosmology, the big bang occurred 10 - 20 billion years ago. The Bible seems to place creation within the last 10 thousand years.

13.7.2.2 Attempts to smuggle ancient creation into the Bible by use of the "gap theory" fail to achieve their objective. This theory seeks to understand Genesis 1:2 as saying that the Earth became without form and void, some considerable time subsequent to its creation in a state of perfection, rather than having been created in what is perceived to have been an imperfect state. However, the grammatical points on which this theory is built are not cogent, nor are the Biblical passages used in its support.

13.7.2.3 Attempts by Setterfield to prove that the speed of light has been decreasing from an infinite value in the recent past are to be rejected :-

a). The data on the speed of light is accurately available under so limited a time span that the deduction of any variability is impossible.

b). Also, such a theory, if true, would have such revolutionary consequences for the whole basis of modern physical science that it must be treated with extreme suspicion.

13.7.2.4 Similar attempts by Barnes with respect to the alleged exponential decay of the Earth's magnetic field fail on at least two counts :-

a). Firstly, the data only justifies a linear decay, which extends the "upper bound" for the age of the Earth, under this model, to millions rather than thousands of years.

b). Secondly, the Earth's magnetic field is known to have reversed itself, so any monotonic model, whether linear or exponential, is invalid.

13.7.2.5 "Flood geology" totally fails to account for the volume, diversity & complexity of the sedimentary deposits.

13.7.3 All biological evolutionary theories (whether Darwinian, neo-Darwinian or other) are repugnant to a straightforward reading of Genesis & related passages. The basic assumption of such passages is that all things, whether animate or otherwise, were created (whether ex nihilo or derivatively) by the action of a personal fabricator, namely God. There is no intimation that chance or the action of natural processes over long periods of time had a hand in this.

13.7.4 Certain biological facts, however, require treating with much greater seriousness than they have historically been by fundamentalist Christians. For example, those anatomical facts that are difficult to reconcile with design, eg :-

a). The skeletal isomorphisms between vertebrates.

b). Vestigial organs.

c). Organs displaced or re-used (eg. flat fish with two eyes on the same side; the hand [wing] of the bat).

13.7.4.1 Skeletal and other somatic isomorphisms are often explained by Christian fundamentalists under the supposition that once a good design has been hit upon, why not stick to it ? A common example given is that most tables have four legs because that is the best way to build a table : we don't suppose that tables evolved from one another. I have two objections to this argument :-

a). There is evolution in human design. Changes in requirements or materials do stimulate new designs. Because of the limited imaginations of designers, there is seldom a complete break in design; rather, designs develop (examples are innumerable : cars, bicycles, telephones, etc). In this model, the role of natural selection is played by consumer demand.

b). Sometimes there is no good reason why the "original" design was (or remains) the best. Horses are evidently better off with only one toe whereas cattle prefer two. In this case, the superfluous original digits have atrophied. This argument, of course, presupposes that horses & cattle once conformed to the pentadactyl pattern, as is confirmed by the occasional re-emergence of the original digits in throwbacks.

13.7.4.2 Most Biblical Creationists are willing to allow microevolution. They recognise that variation within a species (defining a species as a group capable of interbreeding) happens all the time, and do not suppose for instance, that God created 500 breeds of dog. They associate species with the "kinds" of Genesis. Hence, the "tables" analogy might be an example of microevolution. We might therefore need to extend this example to include chairs. I am not an expert on the origins of furniture, but one could argue that (maybe) chairs arose from couches & tables from chairs.

13.7.4.3 An argument often raised against vestigial organs is that they are not vestigial, but have some current function that ignorant evolutionists haven't spotted. I consider this argument to result from a confusion of terms :-

a). A vestigial organ is not (at least not by definition) a "useless" organ, but one that is a vestige (or remnant) of one that was originally larger, or had a different function (as, classically, the human appendix, supposedly a vestige of a second stomach).

b). If the vestigial organ has some residual function (maybe an entirely different one to that of the original organ) this is simply an added benefit and one that is entirely to be expected under evolutionary theory.

13.7.5 Evolutionary theory has been parodied by Christians, particularly with respect to probability and entropy.

13.7.5.1 Firstly, the models generated by anti-evolutionists to demonstrate the "impossible odds" against the occurrence of evolution are straw men, for the following reasons :-

a). More attention should be given to the marginal advantage given by intermediate states.

b). Under the evolutionary model, the evolving organism (or at least its genes) does (or do) not have any "goal" in mind. Hence, our calculations should not be based on particular organs having arisen by chance, but on any organ arising that would confer an advantage on the possessor.

c). Attention should also be given to the "genetic takeover" theories of Cairns-Smith.

13.7.5.2 Secondly, Entropy (a measure of thermodynamic disorder) is only constrained to increase within a closed system. The Earth, which receives energy from the Sun, is not a closed system, so localised increases in order do not violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

13.7.6 Attempts to counter the various theories of biological evolution by arguments from design (the cosmological argument) are unsuccessful. The force of the argument is due mainly to a lack of imagination and to current ignorance concerning the precise mechanism of evolution. The evolutionist's contention is that living things have only the appearance of design.

13.7.7 The story of Adam & Eve, ignored by the Old Testament after Genesis, is integral to the New Testament. The Pauline doctrine of the Fall and of the consequent need for salvation is linked to it (in Romans 5, 1Corinthians 15 & 1 Timothy 2).

13.7.7.1 Any theory of evolution clearly has no room for Adam and Eve, at least as portrayed in Genesis. The possibility that all human genes may be descended from those of a single female is not the same issue : it does not rule out the possibility of many other females whose gene-strains have become extinct.

13.7.8 It must be noted that evolution pervades other areas of physical science on which the Bible is silent, eg. the evolution of the chemical elements within stars. I do not think that the Bible objects to evolution per se.

13.8 New Testament teleology does not seem to be credible within the modern world view.

13.8.1 The New Testament seems to picture the fairly imminent destruction of the universe by fire (ie. the heavens "burning with fervent heat" or being "rolled up like a scroll", as in 2 Peter 3:10 - 12 & Revelation 6:14).

13.8.2 Modern cosmology is unsure whether we live in an open or closed universe, ie. it is unclear whether the universe will carry on expanding for ever or whether it will eventually contract again.

13.8.2.1 However, neither model leads to the Biblical expectation. The former leads to frozen extinction (heat death), while the latter leads to the "big crunch". Neither eventuality will occur for billions of years after the Sun has burnt itself out and all life become extinct.

13.8.2.2 Certain other natural alternatives, such as the engulfing of the Earth by the Sun in a supernova or the expansion of the Sun into a red giant, would have the prophesied appearance from the Earth, but would only be local phenomena and would not obviously lead to "new heavens & a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells". They must therefore be rejected for these purposes.

13.8.3 It has been objected that, since the Bible rejects the idea of a natural end to the universe, any naturalistic expectations are irrelevant. All I am noting here is the difference of expectation.

13.8.3.1 However, we should note the parallelism between the Bible's accounts of the beginning and of the end. If we have grounds for being suspicious of the accuracy of the Bible's account of the former we are also justified in being wary of its prognostications for the latter. I take this observation to be self-evidently reasonable even though it does not have the full force of deductive logic about it.

13.8.4 The problem of the meaning of "eternity" is not new. However, it is not clear that the Bible contains the concept of eternity in the mediaeval sense. In Special & General Relativity, time is associated with space and matter, so presumably all three are absent in eternity.

13.9 The passages in the Bible that the common man would find morally repugnant are mainly associated with the earlier parts of the Old Testament (eg. the Israelite invasion of Canaan & the divine command to massacre the Canaanites, as recorded in the Book of Joshua).

13.9.1 The Old Testament records morally repellant acts of a number of groups and individuals without condoning them : usually, such acts are condemned. Sometimes, the Bible is ambiguous and we are unsure, whatever our own moral viewpoint, whether the Bible is treating a particular act as virtuous, vicious or neutral.

13.9.1.1 That the Biblical "heroes" have their weaknesses adds to the realism of the Bible.

13.9.2 Certain laws of Moses (eg. those relating to homosexuality or filial disobedience) seem to be primitive, though some of them may have been more appropriate in the context of their times than they appear today. Others seem to be superstitious (eg. the determination of adultery by forcing the suspect to imbibe poisonous draughts).

13.9.2.1 However, it must be noted that the laws of Moses are much less barbarous than the other law codes with which they are contemporary.

13.9.3 New Testament ethics have (almost) always been praised for their exalted character.

19.9.3.1 Nietzsche's objections to Christian ethics as being a "slave morality" are to be rejected as a misunderstanding of the Christian ethos. While Christians are described as "slaves" (Greek douloi) of Christ (or of God), this should not make them servile - in fact the Apostle Paul exhorts them not to become slaves of men (1 Corinthians 7:23).

13.9.3.2 However, even if we reject the ascetic excesses that developed in the early church as inimical to the fundamental notions of Christianity, the sacrifices to be expected in a Christian life lived to the full only make sense for the individual if the hoped-for rewards of resurrection life are taken into account.

13.9.3.3 As the Apostle Paul said, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable . . . what advantage have I if the dead do not rise? Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:19 & 32, quoting Isaiah 22:13).

13.9.3.4 Incidentally, such a remark would be incomprehensible if addressed to the average modern prosperous evangelical.

13.9.3.5 The common-sense ethics of Ecclesiastes are more appropriate to a "this life only" scenario.

13.9.3.6 Sundry complaints have, of course, been raised concerning certain New Testament ethical positions that seem to indicate a myopic accommodation to the then current social status quo. These issues include :-

a). The status of women.

b). The toleration of slavery.

c). An ambivalent attitude to war.

d). The acceptance of tyranny.

13.9.4 Whatever may be our judgement as to the morality of the Bible, it is the case that all moral theistic systems run up against seemingly insuperable moral problems when faced with the reality of the world, especially the reality of innocent suffering.

13.9.4.1 The world has every symptom of being random and out of moral control, and it is only by the continuous exercise of faith that we can persuade ourselves otherwise.

13.10 The problems with the Biblical world view that have not already been covered above are mainly associated with the miraculous, in that contemporary so-called miraculous happenings are almost universally considered to be dubious.

13.10.1 In this respect, the standard world view has so changed since New Testament times that, instead of miracles justifying a set of beliefs, miracles themselves now require justification within a system they formerly justified. They have become liabilities.

13.10.2 As we saw in a previous section, the wickedness and folly of man (as the Bible itself witnesses) is such, and the negative evidence of common experience so great, that it is difficult to imagine testimony sufficient to establish any miracle beyond reasonable doubt.

13.10.2.1 This is especially so in the case of seemingly irrelevant miracles (eg. some of those of Elijah & Elisha, such as the floating axe-head of 2 Kings 6:1-7).

13.10.2.2 Even in the case of miracles of key theological importance, such as the resurrection of Jesus, the direct evidence is scanty, with divergent accounts proving difficult to reconcile.

13.10.3 This apart, I think it is true to say that the world of the various Biblical stories, with the possible exception of that of the antedeluvians, is recognisably our own, at least as normally understood in the West. This is particularly true of the Acts & Epistles.

13.10.3.1 However, it is an open question as to how much this is due to the great influence the Bible has had on Western culture.



© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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