April 2007
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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for April, 2007

    A Review of Sam Harris' The End of Faith Part 1

    Friday, April 20th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    April 20, 2007, Wausau, Wi— I recently began reading  Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.  It is billed on the back cover as a “sustained nuclear assault” on religious belief by one reviewer, while another reviewer claims “Even Mr Harris’s critics will have to concede the force of an analysis which roams far and wide.” While I have only started the book and may yet to have encountered this analysis, rarely have I encountered a book which starts out with so many errors in so few pages.

    For example, after opening his first chapter with the story of a suicide bomber, Harris begins by claiming that “A glance at history, or at the pages of any newspaper, reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” (p 12)   Perhaps Harris is stressing the word “Glance” because any real consideration of the historical evidence show that throughout history people have kill their fellow human being for any number of reasons, greed, power, land, glory, food, self-defense, and others in addition to religion. Even many of conflict attributed to religion have many other and often more important roots.

    For example the conflict between the English and Irish in Northern Ireland is often portrayed as a conflict between catholic and protestants. Yet this ignores that the conflict preceded the Reformation which gave rise to this religious split.  In fact the conflict, rather than being caused by religion difference, is more likely a cause of the religious difference in that the Irish remained Catholic when England became protestants so as to be different from the English. 

    So to claim that most killing has its roots in religion is simply false. Then there are all the efforts of religion to stop or at least limit wars and conflicts, such as the effort of the church during the middle ages to resolve the conflicts that arose between rulers and limit the killings, particularly of civilians. Such efforts makes matters even worse for Harris’s claim. So while religion sadly has nowhere near a spotless record in this area, but instead has much to answer for, it hardly comes close to playing the central role Harris claims.

    From this false claim, Harris immediately goes to what is at best a misleading claim, when he writes, “Our situation is this: most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book.” While there is some dispute about the actual statistic,  it is probably true that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the only major religions about which such a claim would be considered true) together make up a slight majority of the world population.  However, given the variety of religious beliefs in the world, and the related history of the three monotheistic faiths, it really is a distortion to classify this as the norm for all religions, nor is it correct to classify a slight majority as if it were a general rule.   

    Harris then further compounds his error when he builds on this to further claim that  all religions  are in “‘perverse agreement’” that God does not endorse respect for unbelievers.”  What one wonders, would Harris say about 1 Peter 3:15 which says Christians are to give “The reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.”  

    Strangely Harris then proceeds attack the “intolerance” of religious believers  against those with differing views on religion, which presents the interesting paradox in that Harris also shows little tolerance against those with views on religion that differ from his.

    In fact to him “an immediate problem” is not that religions are attack too much, but that they are not attacked enough, making the claim that “criticizing a person’s faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture.”  One can only assume that Harris does not get to too many corners of our culture, as Christianity, in particular conservative Christians and Catholics are routinely criticized and disparate in most of the mainstream culture. In fact a very good case could be made that conservative Christians and Catholics are among the very few groups that are “open season” in our culture when it comes to criticism.

    As these errors form the foundation for the argument that Harris is going to make, they do not make for a very promising start.  But then this type of straw man argument is very typical of those who criticize Christianity.  It hardly makes for the “sustained nuclear assault” the cover of the book promised.  We will see if Harris does any better as he attempts to develop this argument.

     Part II    Part III     Part IV   Part V    Part VI

    A Review of Bart Ehrmans Misquoting Jesus

    Friday, April 13th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    April 13, 2007, Wausau, Wi— Bart Ehrman’s recent book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, has recently been cited by those casting doubt on the text of the New Testament.  Yet, despite the title Ehrman’s book is really just a popular overview of New Testament textual criticism.  In fact when you get down to it, there is very little in the core of the book, that I, someone who believe in Inerrancy, could not have written, and in terms of the evidence presented, there is no major conflict with my book, Evidence for the Bible which claims that “the text we have today is essentially the same as that penned by the original authors.”

    The heart of the issue is that there are over 5000 Greek manuscripts and over 20, 0000 manuscripts of translation of the New Testament.  Since all these manuscripts were manually copied they don’t all completely agree.  The key question is, what are we to make of these differences? For Ehrman, these differences are a problem.  For me, while it may initially sound like a problem, when the actual differences are analyzed, I don’t see much of a problem at all.

    After all, the main goal of Textual Criticism is to evaluate all these manuscripts to determine which of the various versions of a passage is what the original author wrote, and which were changes or errors made by later copyist.  While there are lots of differences between the numerous manuscripts, most of the time it is not difficult at all to determine which version  is the original version and which were the result of later  copyist, particularly  when there are some pretty standard types of errors that can occur when copying, such as skipping a word or line, etc.  As a result most of the difference can be dealt with fairly easily.

    In fact,  Ehrman and I both agree that, in Ehrman’s words, “most of them are completely  insignificant, immaterial, and of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.”  (pg 208)  However,  Ehrman goes on to say that, “It would be wrong… to say – as people sometimes do – that the changes in our text have no real bearing on what the texts mean or on the theological conclusions that one draws from them.”

    As for this last statement, it all depends on what is meant by “text.”  If one means the verse or passage where the difference occurs, then of course this is true, as I discuss in my book. If, on the other hand, this is taken as referring to the Bible as a whole, as Ehrman implies, that is something quite different.

    You can perhaps better understand the reason for our different conclusions on the minority of places where the changes are significant, if you look at Ehrman’ list of his  top ten additions to the Bible.   Two of the ten verses Ehrman’s claims were added are also missing from the main text of modern Bibles like the  NIV, while 4 others are bracketed off and preceded by statements that these passages are not found in  “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses.” Another of the ten is mentioned in a footnote as a possible addition.  The remaining three alleged additions are known variants about which there is some disagreement among scholars, and there is good evidence to support that these three were original, but even if Ehrman, is correct and these verses were added, the teaching in the verses  are duplicated in other portions of the New Testament.   Thus while their absence would obviously  affect the teaching of the passage, it would not affect the overall teachings of the Bible.  

    So of Ehrman’s top ten, Most are already reflected in modern Bibles and none even if Ehrman is correct, affect the overall teaching.  In fact, the first of Ehrman’s top 10 (1 John 5:7) is discussed in my book as an example of a significant change.

    So as a summary of the history and methods of Textual Criticism, Ehrman’s book is a good popular survey.  As an argument for how the Bible is unreliable, it fails miserably.

    The major difference between Ehrman and myself would be over significant to the average reader of passages about which there is some doubt.  As I pointed out in Evidence for the Bible, “no major teaching of the church depends on a single verse, much less a verse in which there is a variant reading.” Nor is any of this information hidden, but is accessible to any who are interested.

    In short, as I argue in my book, Evidence for the Bible the text we have today is essentially the same as that penned by the authors.