Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Skeptic Month: Does the Bible Contain Mythologies?

Is the Bible made up of mythology?

This is a common criticism: the Bible does contain certain historical and geological truths – often proven by archaeology, but it also comprises a significant amount of wild stories and mythologies.

This is noteworthy because a lot of Christian doctrine is based on these narratives. Pastors guide their congregations based on principles learned from these ancient stories, and these exhortations are given authority because they are assumed to have come from the word of God.

But, the critic would ask, what if they didn’t come from God? What if they are simply man-made stories passed on through generations until someone wrote them down? What if we are being led by nothing more than a collection of fables?
Case in point: Joshua, the Amorites, and the Sun.

The tenth chapter of the book of Joshua tells about the battle between Joshua and the Amorites. After all the warfare and a miraculous hailstorm (that kills off a bunch of the Amorites but apparently misses the Israelites), there is just not enough time in the day for all the God-ordained killing. Joshua orders the sun to stand still and we are told that the sun stood in the midst of heaven, “and did not hasten to go down for about a day.” The moon, we are told, also stood still – apparently to preserve the natural order of things. We can’t have the moon gallivanting around while the sun is in timeout, now can we?

Okay, quick show of hands: how many out there would say, “I have no trouble believing that the God of Miracles could stop the sun as it traveled about the heavens”?

Wow, there are a lot of you out there!

Okay now, those of you who raised your hands, how many of you understand that the sun doesn’t actually travel anywhere? You do realize that the sun stands still and the earth revolves around it, right?

And now the million-dollar question: Doesn’t the geocentric nature of this story reveal that it was created by man? Certainly an all-knowing, creator God would have gotten this little detail correct.

Now, Christians dismiss this pretty flippantly by saying that it was simply told from man’s perspective and is no more damaging to the veracity of the Scriptures than the weather man’s giving the time of today’s sunrise and sunset is damaging to the science of meteorology.

Fine. But then you're left with the idea that in the Joshua story, God actually stopped the earth’s rotation for about a day! Are you comfortable with that? Do you realize what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning? One astronomer has imagined that very scenario:

Earth is rotating at a speed of about 1100 miles per hour. If our planet suddenly stopped rotating, the atmosphere would still be in motion at that speed. The atmosphere would be moving so fast it would literally sweep the land masses clear of anything not anchored to bedrock, this would mean rocks, soil, trees, buildings, people and animals. All would be swept up into the atmosphere.

Now, you can still say that God is the all-powerful, creator and sustainer of all things, and by Him all things hold together. If He so ordained that the earth should stop its natural course of action, He is more than able to maintain everything as it should be.

But, the laws of nature are important; we often explain away such natural disasters as earthquakes and hurricanes by blaming them on the natural laws of creation. Cold air mass meets warm air mass and trouble ensues – because that’s the way God designed it. And if it is to be believed that God is so cavalier about upsetting the natural order of the universe, why did He bother to include the little detail about the moon stopping as well? Either He was concerned about that, or the person who made up the story was . . .

In his excellent study Bible, John MacArthur says that this story, ". . . is best accepted as an outright, monumental miracle", and therein lies the problem for many. When the Christian literalist's back is finally pushed to the wall, he's left with the simple, feckless assertion that God did it, which reduces the power of God to an absurd deus ex machina.

How do you respond to this criticism?
To understand what's going on this month at Pastor Kip, click here.


Ari C'rona said...

It all comes down to a matter of faith. That's the bottom line in my mind.

By the way, I like your style - nice flow and well stated!

Pastor Kip said...

I agree, Ari - it does come down to a matter of faith.

The critic will argue, however, that if faith is ". . . being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1 NIV), it is impossible to have faith in the ridiculous and absurd.

Kristin said...

We can neither have religion nor science if we are to discount anything subject to human bias.

Science requires faith just as much, if not more, than religion. This is not to say it is not worthwhile or useful, but that it is also subject to the same complaint that scientists make about religion.

Assumptions must be made in either case as well.

With regard to the phenomena from Joshua's encounter, I believe that science tends to explain 'how not' and not 'how'. If you go from the assumption that it were somehow true (as science refuses to do - more of that human bias in there), what would have to happen in order for that extraordinary event to occur? There is no question that it is a disruption in the pattern of 'normal' behavior of the environment. However, there are disruptions in natural patterns all the time. They aren't as predictable as scientists would tell you.

If they can't predict accurately going forward, that tells me that the points from which they extrapolate are inaccurate. Either they do not properly consider 'outlying' data or they disregard factors that are only seemingly insignificant.

I can't explain how the sun stopped in the sky that day. But, science can't either. They don't like not being able to explain things so they choose instead to explain how it couldn't have happened. That's not the same approach that the Bible takes, nor is it the same question.

Science seeks to answer 'how' and the Bible tells you 'why' or 'what' and not 'how'. No wonder there is a disconnect!

Ari C'rona said...

I guess there'll always be skeptics and critics - as faith is a gift, not something we can generate on our own, there's just no convincing unless the Spirit grants them the gift as well.

OJB said...

This is one of many things in the Bible which simply didn't happen. If the Earth stopped spinning - and even if by some miracle the surface of the planet wasn't destroyed - don't you think other people would have noticed?

If you want to believe it did stop, based on faith, then I think you should be questioning whether faith is a good thing. What is faith? Just a way of convincing yourself that a myth, fiction, lie, or piece of propaganda is true when it clearly isn't. Doesn't sound like much of a gift to me!