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24 September 2009

Biblical Unity

I recently sent the following email to the folks over at Reasonable Doubts, and I figured that I might as well share it:

Good morning, gentlemen!

I listened with interest to (the first part of) your dissection of the unity argument. I was, as always, impressed, but I noted that you focused primarily on the first (and meatier, if you'll excuse the implicit omnivorous bias) part of the argument, the premise that the Bible is a marvelous union of ideas, and paid only passing mind to the supposed consequent, that it must have been crafted by God.

Although taking out the premises is an easy (and in this case, fascinating) way to show an argument to be unsound, I was disappointed that there was little or no mention of the argument's invalidity. It is an obvious non sequitur, as there are countless ways to force unity into an anthology such as this.

One could discard the parts that don't fit (the obvious New Testament example being the Council of Nicea [edit: this should be "Nicaea"], although, as I'm certain you'll mention in your next episode, it didn't really do the trick as intended). One could choose to harmonize, rewriting portions, as many scribes did, either intentionally or unintentionally.

But what seems most obvious to me is self selection. The apologist suggests collecting ten friends with similar backgrounds and educations, and asking them their thoughts on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and he suggests that they would have answers wildly at variance. But this is obviously not how it happened. Give those same people a lifelong education in the religious texts that preceded them, and tell them to write the next chapter, and you'll have much more interesting results. We're still not finished, though, because this is where the selection bias comes along. Surely most would take the scriptures as written, either agreeing or disagreeing in their own minds, and that would be that. Most clerics would refrain from tacking on new bits; only those interested in continuing the story would do so.

There are so many things wrong with this argument that it truly becomes absurd. Thank you folks for your excellent work. I look forward to each new installment.


  1. I'm a Christian who believes the only good evidence there will ever be of God, from our perspective, is us living supernaturally, spiritually, and in love and unity.

    We're doing a terrible job of that, so the fault is ours.

    However, I have got to point out that the part about the Council of Nicea throwing out books of the Bible is simply a myth. Nicea didn't address the books of the Bible at all.

    "Orthodox" Christians were fighting the gnostics from the time of Paul onward, and they got pretty much all of them out of the church by the mid-2nd century. The first list of Bible books turns up around A.D. 160 (the Muratorian fragment), and the use of books by "orthodox" writers is very consistent from at least that time forward.

    Nicea didn't address Bible books, and even if it had, it wouldn't have been looking at all the "lost books" people talk about.

  2. Thank you! I certainly appreciate the correction, and have made a note in the body of the post, above. I am curious, however, as to what precisely you mean when you say "the only good evidence there will ever be of God ... is us living supernaturally, spiritually, and in love and unity". I frankly have no idea what "living supernaturally" would entail, and I'm curious as to how doing it would provide evidence for any sort of deity. Any clarification that you could provide would be beneficial. Again, my thanks.