Just a few weeks ago, I ran everyone through a thought experiment involving rhinos and unicorns in order to demonstrate that religious belief has the tendency to do weird things to our reasoning capacity. The most common objection I encountered (and anticipated) was that the Bible is God’s Word and therefore is higher than human understanding. Subjecting Scripture to human reasoning wouldn’t make any sense by this view. We should simply accept the Bible on faith and not try to grapple with its claims.
This is a very misguided and potentially dangerous view for a number of reasons. I would contend in response that if the Bible were truly the infallible Word of God, then all of its falsifiable claims would hold up under scrutiny. Thus, we need not accept the Bible as infallible on faith for no reason other than God supposedly having written it, but rather because of every reason — every piece of evidence would then match with what the Bible teaches.
But allow me to defend my first thought experiment about rhinos and unicorns using yet another thought experiment about Zorb the All-Knowing. Zorb is totally not a ripoff of Ziltoid the Omniscient, a Devin Townsend album which I have always meant to listen to but never did because I couldn’t get past the cover art.
Zorb is a supreme entity who is omniscient/omnipotent/omnibenevolent. He created the universe and everything in it. Although few people know of his teachings, he inspired me to write his teachings in his book, the Zorbonomicon. Among its various teachings are that the earth is flat, animals were all created by Zorb during the first and only time Zorb has ever sneezed, and that everything Zorb has said in his Scriptures is true.
Zorb expects you to believe all of these things. If you do not, you will be banished forever to the Forbidden Zone. Now granted, it looks like there is a lot of evidence which contradicts what Zorb says, but unfortunately, you’re just going to have to accept what Zorb says on faith. After all, Zorb’s ways are not our ways, and and Zorb’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Who are we to question him?
All of this should feel pretty familiar, and it should be fairly obvious where I’m going with this. If all this feels a bit sacrilegious, I apologize; I don’t mean to equate Zorbionism with Christianity. Rather, what some people ask us to do with Christianity is exactly like Zorbionism. Consider with me one of the comments on my aforementioned post, Rhinos, Unicorns, Evolution, Gay Marriage, and Scripture. This comment tended to be fairly representative of almost all the criticism I received:
It is based on FAITH that there is a God and that he gave us a life manual in the Bible to relate what He was able to tell Adam and Eve when they were not yet sinners and the Glory of God was able to walk and talk with them in a personal relationship. …
That is where you are getting all messed up. You are trying to make reason out of something logically on what your finite mind can come to grips with.
Based strictly on what this person calls “faith” we have no way to choose between either believing what is said in the Zorbonomicon or in the Bible. What allows us to pick one over the other is our use of reason. And to do this, we examine the claims of each and weigh them against reality. Zorb says the world is flat? Well, I’m sure that’s not true, because now we have 24/7 streaming footage of the earth as viewed from the International Space Station, and I can see that the earth is round. The Zorbonomicon is clearly not infallible.
But what about the Bible? The Exodus, for example, didn’t happen, or so the evidence strongly suggests. But, of course, one might correctly argue that the historicity of the Exodus is not the point. It’s a mythic history/origin story, so it’s not supposed to be about that, anyhow. Let’s take another example: female rape victims have to marry their rapists according to Deuteronomy. Of course, the Bible characterizes this as a “punishment” for the rapist, but of course this is ridiculous and wrong, no matter what time period.
Why do we call this wrong? Well, we check the moral claim against reality. We ask the rape victim how she feels about her rapist and whether it would be suitable to marry him, and we realize that the answer is a resounding “no.” As it turns out, making a woman’s “purity” such a highly-prized object causes you to make really terrible moral judgments.
So let’s take the most contentious claim about my prior post and consider what the Bible says about gays. Granted, it’s actually not much — most of the words we incorrectly translate as “homosexual” in the English Bible are referring to specific cultural practices. Even so, there are a few places it describes same-sex sexual behavior, such as in Romans 1. And in those cases, just as we would with any claim made by Zorb, we check the Bible’s claims against reality.
When the Bible says that “Because [these people exchanged the truth of God for a lie], God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another,” we can see if that’s really the cause of why people became gay. So we ask gay people about their lives, we probe into their histories, and we do all sorts of investigation. As it turns out, lots of these gay people were very devout! They spent their whole growing up years fighting against their natural inclinations toward same-sex attraction. And, lo and behold, it never went away.
Did these people “exchange the truth of God for a lie”? No! So why do we continue to maintain that the Bible is telling the truth about gay people in Romans 1? Are we to ignore the evidence and just pretend that these gay people committed some secret sin that they just won’t tell us? Pretend the Romans 1 passage I quoted was in the Zorbonomicon instead of the Bible: would the evidence against Zorb be sufficiently convincing for you to reject it? I would say so. Why do you give special preference to the Bible but not the Zorbonomicon? It makes no sense.
The point is that you don’t just accept the Bible on “faith.” That’s absurd. I could go on a rant about how that’s not even how the Bible uses the word “faith,” but let’s stick to the point here: all other things being equal, if you wouldn’t believe something if Zorb ostensibly said it, then you have no more reason to believe if God ostensibly said it, either. “Oh, but God is different!” you say. Fine! Show me the evidence that God is different, and I will believe you. It’s really not that hard.
The sort of “faith” used here is totally useless. If faith means to believe something despite absent or contrary evidence, then I am faithless. I don’t have the slightest need for such a thing, and you would do well to discard it, yourself. We should rid ourselves of childish thinking and become adults who temper their ideas with reasonableness and a critical mind. We do not need to be overly skeptical and distrusting, but we should ground our judgments in the application of reason to evidence, not on the arbitrary assignment of some beliefs to a category where we simply have to accept them on faith.
So for your own sake, I would ask you to run the following thought experiment: would you still hold your beliefs if they were actually the Word of Zorb the All-Knowing? This doesn’t have to be about gay marriage. This could be anything. If you couldn’t believe it if Zorb said it, then why is it okay because you think God did?
I will reiterate what I said at the beginning: if the Bible were truly the infallible Word of God, then all of its falsifiable claims would hold up under scrutiny. We don’t have to accept the Bible wholesale without scrutiny. That would be foolish. Check your beliefs against reality, and don’t pretend they’re immune because they belong in the “faith” box. Do this, and I promise you, you will grow.