Skepticism, Religion Archive

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - The Book

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index.

The Skeptic's Perspective, Cover
The Skeptic's Perspective: An Atheist Reads the Bible
by Jeffrey Lewis
$9.99 from Lulu.com
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
Have you been following along with this series, and found yourself hoping for a professionally printed and bound copy to put on your bookshelf? (No? Just me?) Well the wait is over. I've collected all of the entries for the Pentateuch and the Historical Books, and compiled them into the first volume of a multiple-part series, The Skeptic's Perspective: An Atheist Reads the Bible.

As with my other book, I'm using the print on demand company, Lulu. I've just this week completed all the work to put the book together on Lulu, and am eagerly awaiting my copy of the book. For this reason, I've made the note on the product page that this is a proof copy version. Now, I was pretty careful to try to make the book correctly, but until I get the review copy in my hand, I can't promise that it's perfect. So, if you'd prefer, you can wait until I look over the hard copy and change the product page to the release version. But, if you're trying to get an early start on your holiday shopping, and you trust that I haven't screwed things up too badly, you can place your order now for everyone on your Christmas list (everyone, that is, who would appreciate a Christmas present written by an atheist).

...

Yeah, yeah. I know that I'm probably going to be the only person to order this book. Unlike my previous book that I really do think has broader appeal, I don't foresee a huge market for this one. And I probably shouldn't write something like that on the page where I'm trying to convince people to buy the book, but it's the truth. Really, I just wanted a nice copy to put on my bookshelf, and with print on demand companies it's just as easy to make it available to the whole world.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Midway Reflections

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index.

BibleHaving completed the Pentateuch and the Historical Books, I figured I would take a hiatus this week on doing actual reviews, and instead pause to reflect on this project thus far. (In fact, as I'll announce in my next post, I'm creating a print version of this series, and this post began as the afterword to the first volume of that collection.)

It's rather interesting reading the Bible anew. When I was still a Christian, the preconception that colored my interpretation of the Bible the most was believing that it was divinely inspired in its entirety. This led to a couple other preconceptions - that everything in the Bible was true, and that the Bible was a coherent work, with a unified message and theme throughout. I never believed in an overly literal interpretation - I knew that the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis couldn't have been true on that simplistic level of believing the universe was created in six actual twenty four hour days, but I believed that there still had to be some truth to the story, and that perhaps it was an allegory or a figurative story. And I believed that the Bible was free of contradictions - anything that seemed like a contradiction must have been a misunderstanding on my part.

But once you abandon that first preconception, all those other expectations about the Bible fall away, and you can begin to read it for what it is - an amalgamation and collection of different legends, stories, oral histories, and other writings from a wide range of authors over the span of centuries. I'm going to repeat myself here, and quote something I wrote in my summary at the conclusion of Chronicles. And while this passage was specifically about Chronicles, it is largely applicable to all the books I've read so far.

...there are multiple levels of interpretation when reading these stories. One is as a skeptic, thinking of the people who believe these stories literally, and seeing all the reasons why they couldn't be true. But moving past that and ignoring those problems, I can try to read this as I would other mythology, and try to see it through the eyes of the people who wrote it, and what it says about their mindset. Perhaps what I find the most interesting level, however, is trying to discern the kernels of truth, and how these stories could have developed. There is real evidence for some of these kings and some of these events, so we can be pretty sure that some of this did actually happen. But then there's the Chronicler's interpretive gloss on the whole thing, trying to rationalize why it all happened. And then there's some myth and legend added to it all as well.

And when you take each book on its own, without trying to force it into some larger narrative that's supposed to tie the whole Bible together, you can appreciate the message that each particular writer/editor was trying to convey.

Taken all together, the books of the Bible are a bit of a mixed bag. There are some parts that really are quite good, but then other parts that are boring, tedious, or even offensive to a modern reader. And then there are all the 'scars' in the books that have come from combining multiple previous sources. But given the Bible's nature as a collection of only loosely related books, that's to be expected.

With all that said, I have to admit to being a bit surprised at my younger self for reading the Bible so credulously my first time through. I'm going to repeat myself again, this time from my summary at the conclusion of Deuteronomy.

I can also say that I almost feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I'd read through the entire Bible once before, but that it didn't shake my faith. As I described above, it seems obvious to me now that the Bible isn't a divinely inspired book, and that it doesn't present a particularly praise-worthy god. I wonder just how I could overlook all those problems the first time I read it. Perhaps it's because I was younger, and hadn't really learned to read critically, yet. Perhaps it was the indoctrination and the fear of God, and not wanting to question the reliability of the Bible out of fear that I'd be punished or end up in Hell.

I started this project without a clear idea in my mind of how exactly I was going to approach the summaries of each book. I suppose I began from a more adversarial position, looking for the flaws in the books. And while those are still clear and I'll continue to point out some of them in the coming reviews, as this project has progressed, my focus has shifted to trying to enjoy the books the same way I would any other mythology.

Next week will be back to the normal reviews, starting on the book of Job.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Texas Science Textbook Adoption - Reminder

Stand Up for Science TexasIf you haven't already seen it, go read my entry, Texas Science Textbook Adoption. To summarize, On November 22nd (a week from tomorrow), the Texas State Board of Education will have their final vote to adopt the currently proposed textbooks and other instructional materials for high school biology and environmental science. So far, everything appears to be going relatively well, but there are a few idealogues on the board who have thrown a wrench in the works before. So, please contact your school board representative and urge them to vote in favor of sound science. Links on how to take action are included in that entry.

For anyone interested, I've posted my letter to my representative, Marty Rowley, below the fold.

Continue reading "Texas Science Textbook Adoption - Reminder" »

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Follow Up to a Follow Up - Morality

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismA couple months ago, I posted a few entries about a conversation I was having with a creationist in the comments section of his site (see the end of this post for links). A real life conversation I had recently reminded of that online conversation, so I went back to look at it again, and decided that I liked my last comment enough to repost it here, to hopefully allow it to be read by more people. For background, my comment was prompted by this question from the creationist:

Therefore, if you'll permit one more question: By what objective standard of morality are you appealing to when you express that those things are wrong?

Here was my response:

As far as objective morality, this is a topic that's been debated ever since there's been philosophy, so I doubt you or I will say anything that hasn't already been said. In other words, I don't foresee this as a very fruitful discussion, either, but I'll briefly indulge your question.

I don't think there is an objective morality. Morality is based on values, which are in the realm of the subjective. I know some people have tried to make a case for an objective morality based on science, such as Sam Harris in his book, The Moral Landscape. And while I haven't yet read the book, I don't understand how he could get there. Rather, I think you must start with givens that come from our human values, for example, that causing pain is wrong, or that increasing positive emotions is good. You start from your givens, and build from there. And sometimes, single actions can cause conflicting effects, so you have to weigh the good and bad consequences. For example, I already wrote that one of my givens is that causing pain is wrong. But sometimes, the beneficial effects of causing pain outweigh the negative ones, such as spanking a misbehaving child to improve their behavior or keep them from repeating a dangerous action, or putting criminals in jail as a deterrent to crime. But all this weighing and considering is subjective. It depends on how much you value the positive aspects you want to promote, or how much you oppose the negative aspects you want to curtail. While I only spanked my daughter a handful of times because I thought inflicting physical pain was a pretty big negative that needed a very substantial positive to justify it, I know other people who spank their kids on a daily basis, and have even heard of people that whip their kids with switches.

I can guess that you think God is a source of objective morality, but I wouldn't agree, even if Yahweh existed. I'm sure you've heard of the Euthypro Dilemma [Wikipedia], which I think sums up my stance pretty well. Appeals to God's authority like Divine command theory are merely dictating obedience to authority, not true morality. And I can further guess that you might accuse me of trying to put myself above God, but how can you truly be considered to be a moral agent if you abandon the up front work of trying to determine what's moral and fall back on a divine version of the excuse 'I was just following orders'.

I'll use an example. I can think of no inherent reason why homosexuality is immoral, yet Yahweh obviously doesn't like it. Now, just imagine that we were having this conversation 3000 years ago, before Jesus supposedly came along and told people to stop throwing stones. If I found out that somebody was homosexual and had engaged in homosexual acts, I'd be in a quandary. The Law makes the punishment quite clear, that they should be stoned to death. But according to my own moral compass, I'd think that stoning the person to death would be horrible - I'd basically be committing murder, since the person had done nothing wrong. So, do I attempt to follow my moral compass, or do I abandon my moral compass in place of obedience and a selfish fear of being punished by Yahweh. Is it more moral to do what you think is moral, or what you're told?

To add one small point to that, I think the Christian interpretation of the New Covenant completely does in any argument for objective morality. If the just and right thing to do 3000 years ago was to stone a homosexual, but the just and right thing to do now is to judge not lest ye be judged, then it shows that there never was a single proper reaction to learning that someone was a homosexual. It makes morality the whim of God (and also removes the attribute of unchanging or immutable from the description of God).


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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Texas Science Textbook Adoption

Stand Up for Science TexasI haven't written about the Texas School Board in a while, but it's time to, again. On November 22nd, the school board will have the final vote to adopt the currently proposed textbooks and other instructional materials. Now so far, things appear to be going the right way for our students' educations. Despite some school board members appointing creationists and other idealogues to the textbook review panels, and those idealogues making recommendtions against sound science, the publishers haven't made any changes undermining science education. There's still full support for evolution and climate change, the two big controversial points for the extremists.

If the final vote approves the recommended materials without any last minute shenanigans, then our students will at least have good science textbooks. But, given the school board's past behavior, it doesn't hurt to send the members a gentle reminder to vote properly. If you would like to send such a reminder to your representative, the links below provide you the means to do so (and please remember to be polite).


Links to Take Action:


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Links to Past Entries on This Site Related to SBOE or TEA:

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