< 1 2
 
   
 

Question from Atheist about how to counter christian apologist arguments. 

 
Brick Bungalow
 
Avatar
 
 
Brick Bungalow
Total Posts:  4841
Joined  28-05-2009
 
 
 
30 October 2017 00:44
 
heartscontent31 - 27 October 2017 06:42 PM

Many moderate christian apologists will argue that the bible is supposed to be interpreted as a collection of literary metaphors and therefore it’s a harmless and useful guide to wisdom. What’s the historical validity of this claim? My understanding is that the Torah translates to ‘Law’ and was not originally viewed a work of fiction but as a literal guide to morality for the ancient hebrews.

In the early roman empire was the bible thought of as a metaphor or as a literal set of beliefs?

Is this notion of a metaphorical reading simply a dishonest attempt by christians to make their religion square with 21st century society?

I’m not sure how much familiarity an average citizen of the early Roman Empire would even to have with Jewish scriptures. My guess is that they were mostly ignorant of these works and therefore had no real opinion unless they were, themselves academics or historians. Romans did love Greek culture so it seems plausible that some rudimentary rational skepticism filtered through. I believe some Roman Emperors wrote to the effect that they considered religion to be a kind of poetic subterfuge. I’m sure someone on this board knows this history better than I do.

If someone says that the bible is literary metaphor I’m actually inclined to agree. That’s actually an unusual tack for a Christian to take. Christianity generally needs to ascribe privileged, revelatory status to at least some portion of the bible to achieve lift off. It the bible is just a book of poetic symbols it wouldn’t be the trump they card they typically need it to be.

I can’t really answer your question without knowing your objective. I don’t think it’s possible to argue against someones basic epistemology. Nor do I put great stock in winning arguments in the first place. I prefer a sort of counter-apologetic that simply seeks to defend the dignity and coherence of one’s own view.

Many theists will maintain that truth and wisdom are explicitly measured against the word of god therefore their assessment of any argument you produce is evaluated on a biblical scale. This precludes any and all challenges to the bible categorically. The only answer in cases like this is not to play ball.

[ Edited: 30 October 2017 00:49 by Brick Bungalow]
 
MrRon
 
Avatar
 
 
MrRon
Total Posts:  1619
Joined  14-08-2008
 
 
 
30 October 2017 03:40
 
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 05:07 PM
MrRon - 29 October 2017 02:19 PM
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 07:51 AM

As for the specific arguments about slavery, believe me, they are endless.  Here is an interesting example from a current Rabbi.  The crux is this:

If G?d would simply and explicitly declare all the rules, precisely as He wants His world to look and what we need to do about it, the Torah (1st 5 books of the Old Testament, including the Laws given to Moses) would never become real to us. No matter how much we would do and how good we would be, we would remain aliens to the process.

So, too, with slavery (and there are many other examples): In the beginning, the world starts off as a place where oppressing others is a no-qualms, perfectly acceptable practice. It’s not just the practice Torah needs to deal with, it’s the attitude. So Torah involves us in arriving at that attitude. To the point that we will say, “Even though the Torah lets us, we don’t do things that way.”

Which means that we’ve really learnt something. And now, we can teach it to others. Because those things you’re just told, those you cannot teach. You can only teach that which you have discovered on your own.

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, this Rabbi doesn’t think that people would respect/obey an explicit commandment by God to abolish slavery. So why did God give any commandments/laws at all? By the way, the Torah doesn’t just “let” people own slaves, it gives specific instructions for obtaining, selling, and beating slaves. It’s unbelievable the lengths these people will go to to rationalize something as egregious as slavery. 

Personally, I’ve come around to accepting that I cannot change the thinking of theists through argument.

I think that asking the right questions and putting pebbles in shoes is more effective than just debating “facts”.  It’s a tough process, but it can be done. Theists can and do give up their beliefs. After all, many atheists were theists at one time.  grin

Ron

My point is that theists have a million arguments ready at hand, that is, centuries of apologetics.  And arguing on such a hot topic often puts people in defensive mode, rather than listening mode anyway.  Probably most atheists who were theists changed because of their own curiosity to explore different views or due to their life experiences, not because they were bested in a discussion.

True, but as I said, planting that seed of curiosity can be achieved by simply asking the right questions. Not with everyone, of course, but some. I’m a fan of the Street Epistemology movement that’s been gaining steam, and I think that that’s a far more effective way of engaging than sheer “debate”. I have personally found (and the SE videos bear this out) that a surprisingly large number of believers have never really given much thought to what they believe and the reasons why they believe it. Many people just carry what they were taught as a child into their adult lives without much introspection. Those are the people we should target (not sure if that’s the right word) for discussion. Again, it’s not about changing minds on the spot - it’s about getting people to think deeply about whether or not they have good reasons for believing the things they believe. And every now and then, you can get someone to at least admit that believing something simply because you were told by your parents is not a good reason.

Of course, someone who, as an adult, has invested time and effort into detailed apologetics is a different matter altogether, and a much tougher nut to crack. 

Ron grin

 
hannahtoo
 
Avatar
 
 
hannahtoo
Total Posts:  6747
Joined  15-05-2009
 
 
 
30 October 2017 07:12
 
MrRon - 30 October 2017 03:40 AM
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 05:07 PM
MrRon - 29 October 2017 02:19 PM
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 07:51 AM

As for the specific arguments about slavery, believe me, they are endless.  Here is an interesting example from a current Rabbi.  The crux is this:

If G?d would simply and explicitly declare all the rules, precisely as He wants His world to look and what we need to do about it, the Torah (1st 5 books of the Old Testament, including the Laws given to Moses) would never become real to us. No matter how much we would do and how good we would be, we would remain aliens to the process.

So, too, with slavery (and there are many other examples): In the beginning, the world starts off as a place where oppressing others is a no-qualms, perfectly acceptable practice. It’s not just the practice Torah needs to deal with, it’s the attitude. So Torah involves us in arriving at that attitude. To the point that we will say, “Even though the Torah lets us, we don’t do things that way.”

Which means that we’ve really learnt something. And now, we can teach it to others. Because those things you’re just told, those you cannot teach. You can only teach that which you have discovered on your own.

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, this Rabbi doesn’t think that people would respect/obey an explicit commandment by God to abolish slavery. So why did God give any commandments/laws at all? By the way, the Torah doesn’t just “let” people own slaves, it gives specific instructions for obtaining, selling, and beating slaves. It’s unbelievable the lengths these people will go to to rationalize something as egregious as slavery. 

Personally, I’ve come around to accepting that I cannot change the thinking of theists through argument.

I think that asking the right questions and putting pebbles in shoes is more effective than just debating “facts”.  It’s a tough process, but it can be done. Theists can and do give up their beliefs. After all, many atheists were theists at one time.  grin

Ron

My point is that theists have a million arguments ready at hand, that is, centuries of apologetics.  And arguing on such a hot topic often puts people in defensive mode, rather than listening mode anyway.  Probably most atheists who were theists changed because of their own curiosity to explore different views or due to their life experiences, not because they were bested in a discussion.

True, but as I said, planting that seed of curiosity can be achieved by simply asking the right questions. Not with everyone, of course, but some. I’m a fan of the Street Epistemology movement that’s been gaining steam, and I think that that’s a far more effective way of engaging than sheer “debate”. I have personally found (and the SE videos bear this out) that a surprisingly large number of believers have never really given much thought to what they believe and the reasons why they believe it. Many people just carry what they were taught as a child into their adult lives without much introspection. Those are the people we should target (not sure if that’s the right word) for discussion. Again, it’s not about changing minds on the spot - it’s about getting people to think deeply about whether or not they have good reasons for believing the things they believe. And every now and then, you can get someone to at least admit that believing something simply because you were told by your parents is not a good reason.

Of course, someone who, as an adult, has invested time and effort into detailed apologetics is a different matter altogether, and a much tougher nut to crack. 

Ron grin

Maybe.  I guess I’ll go with “works” than “faith” on this one.  Occasionally someone will ask me, “What church do you go to?”  And I’ll respond that I’m not religious.  Perhaps that gives them pause to think that not everyone who is a decent person (I do consider myself at least decent) or maybe even admirable in some ways must be a Christian.

 
hannahtoo
 
Avatar
 
 
hannahtoo
Total Posts:  6747
Joined  15-05-2009
 
 
 
30 October 2017 07:12
 
MrRon - 30 October 2017 03:40 AM
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 05:07 PM
MrRon - 29 October 2017 02:19 PM
hannahtoo - 29 October 2017 07:51 AM

As for the specific arguments about slavery, believe me, they are endless.  Here is an interesting example from a current Rabbi.  The crux is this:

If G?d would simply and explicitly declare all the rules, precisely as He wants His world to look and what we need to do about it, the Torah (1st 5 books of the Old Testament, including the Laws given to Moses) would never become real to us. No matter how much we would do and how good we would be, we would remain aliens to the process.

So, too, with slavery (and there are many other examples): In the beginning, the world starts off as a place where oppressing others is a no-qualms, perfectly acceptable practice. It’s not just the practice Torah needs to deal with, it’s the attitude. So Torah involves us in arriving at that attitude. To the point that we will say, “Even though the Torah lets us, we don’t do things that way.”

Which means that we’ve really learnt something. And now, we can teach it to others. Because those things you’re just told, those you cannot teach. You can only teach that which you have discovered on your own.

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, this Rabbi doesn’t think that people would respect/obey an explicit commandment by God to abolish slavery. So why did God give any commandments/laws at all? By the way, the Torah doesn’t just “let” people own slaves, it gives specific instructions for obtaining, selling, and beating slaves. It’s unbelievable the lengths these people will go to to rationalize something as egregious as slavery. 

Personally, I’ve come around to accepting that I cannot change the thinking of theists through argument.

I think that asking the right questions and putting pebbles in shoes is more effective than just debating “facts”.  It’s a tough process, but it can be done. Theists can and do give up their beliefs. After all, many atheists were theists at one time.  grin

Ron

My point is that theists have a million arguments ready at hand, that is, centuries of apologetics.  And arguing on such a hot topic often puts people in defensive mode, rather than listening mode anyway.  Probably most atheists who were theists changed because of their own curiosity to explore different views or due to their life experiences, not because they were bested in a discussion.

True, but as I said, planting that seed of curiosity can be achieved by simply asking the right questions. Not with everyone, of course, but some. I’m a fan of the Street Epistemology movement that’s been gaining steam, and I think that that’s a far more effective way of engaging than sheer “debate”. I have personally found (and the SE videos bear this out) that a surprisingly large number of believers have never really given much thought to what they believe and the reasons why they believe it. Many people just carry what they were taught as a child into their adult lives without much introspection. Those are the people we should target (not sure if that’s the right word) for discussion. Again, it’s not about changing minds on the spot - it’s about getting people to think deeply about whether or not they have good reasons for believing the things they believe. And every now and then, you can get someone to at least admit that believing something simply because you were told by your parents is not a good reason.

Of course, someone who, as an adult, has invested time and effort into detailed apologetics is a different matter altogether, and a much tougher nut to crack. 

Ron grin

Maybe.  I guess I’ll go with “works” rather than “faith” on this one.  Occasionally someone will ask me, “What church do you go to?”  And I’ll respond that I’m not religious.  Perhaps that gives them pause to think that not everyone who is a decent person (I do consider myself at least decent) or maybe even admirable in some ways must be a Christian.

 
ubique13
 
Avatar
 
 
ubique13
Total Posts:  860
Joined  10-03-2017
 
 
 
17 November 2017 06:02
 
heartscontent31 - 27 October 2017 06:42 PM

Many moderate christian apologists will argue that the bible is supposed to be interpreted as a collection of literary metaphors and therefore it’s a harmless and useful guide to wisdom. What’s the historical validity of this claim? My understanding is that the Torah translates to ‘Law’ and was not originally viewed a work of fiction but as a literal guide to morality for the ancient hebrews.

In the early roman empire was the bible thought of as a metaphor or as a literal set of beliefs?

Is this notion of a metaphorical reading simply a dishonest attempt by christians to make their religion square with 21st century society?


That the Apocrypha exists should say all that anyone need know about Christian mythology.


[Edit: All religions are just tomorrow’s mythology.]

 
 
leebern
 
Avatar
 
 
leebern
Total Posts:  21
Joined  17-07-2018
 
 
 
18 July 2018 09:59
 
heartscontent31 - 27 October 2017 06:42 PM

Many moderate christian apologists will argue that the bible is supposed to be interpreted as a collection of literary metaphors and therefore it’s a harmless and useful guide to wisdom. What’s the historical validity of this claim? My understanding is that the Torah translates to ‘Law’ and was not originally viewed a work of fiction but as a literal guide to morality for the ancient hebrews.

In the early roman empire was the bible thought of as a metaphor or as a literal set of beliefs?

Is this notion of a metaphorical reading simply a dishonest attempt by christians to make their religion square with 21st century society?

I have no problem per se when a Christian claims that the bible is metaphorical.  But that immediately begs the question, how does one discern which parts are metaphor and which parts are literal?

If the answer to that is, “a modern understanding of ethics”, e.g. modern ethics tell us that the bible didn’t REALLY mean to beat your wife or kill your son so it must be metaphorical…if that’s the answer, then my question is why does anyone need the bible if modern ethics tells us which parts of the bible to keep and which to discard?  At that point all I need is modern ethics—I no longer need the bible.  At least not as an ethical guide…the bible could conceivably still have historical or artistic interest.

 
leebern
 
Avatar
 
 
leebern
Total Posts:  21
Joined  17-07-2018
 
 
 
18 July 2018 10:15
 
MrRon - 30 October 2017 03:40 AM

a surprisingly large number of believers have never really given much thought to what they believe and the reasons why they believe it

This is spot on.  This extends beyond religion, too—a surprisingly large number of people really don’t give much thought to most of their beliefs. 

A prime example, I was talking with a buddy of mine who is pro-life, whereas I’m pro-choice.  I asked him why he was pro-life and he said because abortion is “murder”.  So I asked him if a woman who had an abortion was therefore a murderer, and he squirmed and eventually said no.  So in the first 15 seconds of discussion he already had to back off of his main reason for being pro-life, which tells me he hadn’t thought much about the topic. 

Then he said “well, but life does begin at conception”.  So I asked him if he found himself in a burning embryology lab and he only had time to save either a 5-yr old boy or a vat of 1,000 frozen embryos (all “conceived” of course) awaiting IVF transfer, which would he save?  He refused to answer the question.  I told him I would save the 5-yr old boy all day long, and wouldn’t hesitate for a second on that decision.  I know damn well if he was in that burning embryology lab, he would also save the 5-yr old boy not the frozen embryos.  He was just stuck in severe cognitive dissonance because he hadn’t spent any time actually thinking about the issue.

 
Phate
 
Avatar
 
 
Phate
Total Posts:  37
Joined  14-04-2016
 
 
 
10 September 2018 11:31
 

Tell them to go to law school and stop wasting their time or wish them good luck.

Western civilisation has spend a millenia ‘interpreting’ the bible and transposing it into law. There is plenty still to be interpreted when it comes to law and so that’s where the time should be spent since there is very little one individual is going to get out of the bible that the millions before have not already, at least in terms of it’s impact on how we have designed democratic institutions and the laws we use to govern how we live in the modern world.


It’s like reading the first post of a 1000+ post thread, skipping all the responses, and then posting your response at the end and expecting that you will have the best argument…except we are talking 1000 years of debate, not 1000 pages. I guess it’s possible, but good luck with that.

 

 
Walterbl
 
Avatar
 
 
Walterbl
Total Posts:  2
Joined  17-09-2018
 
 
 
17 September 2018 08:20
 

I have no problem per se when a Christian claims that the bible is metaphorical.  But that immediately begs the question, how does one discern which parts are metaphor and which parts are literal?

Looking at the context, the entire text, the way the text is written, what actual scholars and historians say about the subject, etc.

 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16544
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
17 September 2018 08:25
 
Walterbl - 17 September 2018 08:20 AM

I have no problem per se when a Christian claims that the bible is metaphorical.  But that immediately begs the question, how does one discern which parts are metaphor and which parts are literal?

Looking at the context, the entire text, the way the text is written, what actual scholars and historians say about the subject, etc.

Hence the 2000 year old industry of arguing over what version of ignorance, myth, magic and superstition is the right version.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
Avatar
 
 
hannahtoo
Total Posts:  6747
Joined  15-05-2009
 
 
 
17 September 2018 16:02
 
Walterbl - 17 September 2018 08:20 AM

I have no problem per se when a Christian claims that the bible is metaphorical.  But that immediately begs the question, how does one discern which parts are metaphor and which parts are literal?

Looking at the context, the entire text, the way the text is written, what actual scholars and historians say about the subject, etc.

I’d say to use the standard of what makes sense to the reader.  I don’t really care that much about scholars and historians because mostly their views are just links in long chains of argument that have been going on for centuries.  Read the Bible with fresh eyes.  Are you willing to accept that Jonah lived inside a whale?  That all languages arose at the Tower of Babel?  That Noah saved all the species of animals aboard an ark? 

I have challenged a Christian friend (who brought up the topic in an argumentative way), that if a person’s faith is anchored on the tenet that the whole Bible must be literally true or it all falls apart, then their faith is weak indeed. She came around to saying, “Well yes, Jesus did teach through parables.”  A small agreement between friends.

 
 < 1 2