The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, defeated?

Question:
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible contains a long list of supposed contradictions in the Bible, but apologetics sites such as LookingUntoJesus.net have published articles reconciling every single one. Is there any remaining argument against the total internal consistency of the Bible, as befitting its divine origins?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve referred to this many times, but it’s always deserved its own piece.

The shortest answer is to point out the fact that the SAB contains links to the responses in each of its articles concerning an apparent contradiction (this one, for example, has three). Why would it do this if the responses in any way undermined the point it’s trying to make?

I’ve read a lot of the responses, and as far as I can tell they all take the same approach. Using this particular interpretation of the relevant passages, they say, there is no real contradiction. Very well, I say, but what is the evidence that this interpretation is the correct one, i.e. the meaning intended by its unknown author(s)?

More to the point, is it more likely that the 2000+ identified passages are each meant to be understood in the specific way a modern apologist has decided, or that the separate authors collectively got a few things wrong here and there when it’s all considered together? If you presume or presuppose not only the existence of God but the divine authorship of the Bible then of course it must be interpreted in whatever way means it’s not wrong, but the whole point of arguing for its incredible consistency is to advocate that it’s the word of God, so you can’t invoke this in the middle of that very argument or you’re “begging the question”.

So, with the thousands of SAB articles and thousands of attempted refutations, where does it ultimately leave us? There are thousands of potential contradictions, each one of which might indicate that the Bible was written by fallible people. For every one of them there’s at least one interpretation that makes it look at least okay. If we say for the sake of argument that no two of these reconciliations contradict each other either, then there is at least one reading of the entire Bible that is internally consistent, but there are still countless others that are self-contradictory, and no objective way to choose between them. Therefore it’s not certain that it’s perfect, and it’s not certain that it’s imperfect, so all we can do is consider probabilities. That approach, in my view, is not favourable to the book.

10 thoughts on “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, defeated?”

  1. The bible doesn’t come with an instruction manual on how to interpret it. Because of that, there is no conclusive way to say which (if any) interpretations are right, or even IF it supposed to be interpreted.

    There are three possibilities really. The Bible is all literal, it is parts literal and figurative, or it is all figurative. All three options lead to conflicts and errors that make the Bible inaccurate and unreliable. In short, there isn’t any good way to resolve the contradictions and errors in the Bible no matter which angle is played.

    Of course, since there is still zero evidence for the existence of gods, there’s no reason to consider any holy text as anything more than your fellow man pulling a fast one….

  2. The Bible was written by over 40 different authors living on multiple continents over a period of about 4,500 years. The fact that there are occasionally apparent contradictions actually supports he fact that it is not a forgery. There is a good answer to every apparent contradiction in the Bible. These answers were written by those seeking to understand he passage rather than undermine it. If one sets out with the intent to undermine, he is always going to be able to find something seemingly contradictory. Unfortunately, that is what the authors of the SAB did.

    1. Thing is, Jordan, I don’t know of anyone taking the position that the Bible is the particular kind of forgery that would be indicated by a total lack of contradictions: a cohesive, orchestrated project completed well after the fact and all in one go. Indeed, there were multiple authors across miles and millennia – which is one thing the SAB seeks to demonstrate – not just one author, god or otherwise.

      My point is that the fact that there’s an explanation for each apparent contradiction doesn’t mean the interpretation required by each explanation is correct.

      1. But every historical document is given the benefit of the doubt if there is a reasonable way to way to reconcile what it says. In fact, as far as historical documents go, by the methods used to discerned if what is written is accurate, the Bible is at the top of the list. It would be terribly inconsistent to argue that the Bible is untrue while simultaneously upholding other historical documents.
        Due to the fact that we have a limited knowledge of past events, we would expect to find things that we need more information to fully understand. It would be highly suspicious if the only things written in the Bible reiterated knowledge we already had. Does that make sense or is there something I’m missing?

        1. Now I genuinely wonder, do you have examples of any other historical documents that have been given “the benefit of the doubt” despite apparent self-contradictions? This seems counter-intuitive to me; if contradictions are apparent, from a historian’s perspective this would cast a document into a certain amount of doubt which would be better dispelled by corroborating accounts from elsewhere, not just re-interpreting the same document over and over until one version makes sense. People have of course tried to do the former for the Bible as well.

          There are two things I think you’re “missing”. Firstly, unknown information in a historical document is fine and indeed very important, but information that contradicts either what we do know or what other contemporary documents claim is a different proposition, and a major red flag. Secondly, the elephant in the room: the Bible makes supernatural claims throughout. All else being equal, this still puts all the “important” parts of it outside of the criteria any non-theological historian uses to determine the accuracy of a documented claim. That doesn’t mean in itself that the claims are false, it just means they can’t be verified by analysis of the document because there is no standard for accepting a supernatural claim, except for those whose faith it supports. There is no standard because no supernatural claim has ever been accepted by secular historians as fact.

          Favourable comparisons of accounts of Jesus to accounts of people like Tiberius Caesar tend to gloss over the second point. They might be valid right up to the first miracle, but then the analogy to secular history goes out the window. Since the virgin birth happens very early in the Gospels, they don’t get far.

          1. Forget the virgin birth. In Genesis 1 it says plants came before the Sun, flying creatures before land animals, and the iron laden Earth before stars. We conclusively know all that is hogwash. From the very start the Bible can be shown to make false claims…

            1. That, Tim, assumes acceptance of multiple scientific principles that those making this pseudo-historic argument often reject. Of course from a modern scientific perspective the claims in Genesis can be shut down in seconds, but if you bring them up in the middle of this particular discussion you’ll find yourself bombarded with pseudo-science as well.

              1. True Eric, but even if they dismiss what science readily knows, there is still a conflict there that cannot be explained. An all powerful and knowing god who creates everything, including the fossil record, and can’t get one part of the creation to jive with the other part? A deity that cannot lie yet deceives us with data and evidence that shows the “word” to be false? We don’t need science when the dogma itself steps all over itself…

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