Applying induction to "holey" writ
Suppose we walk into a library - thousands of thousands of books all arranged in tidy rows and ordered by our good friend the Dewey Decimal Classification System. We walk around and look at all the different kinds of books there are - philosophy, religion (we walk fast around that one, only stopping to laugh at the Raelian books), social sciences, language, and so on and so forth. Suddently I stop at one specific spot in the library, point to a book and shout "AHA ! I found it ! This book is infallible !", and start reading it and regurgitating it as absolute truth.
You would say I am very silly, and for good reason. Books do not reflect absolute truth. They might be such a reflection, by accident, but we have no reason to think that they are, and no way to know it for sure. So choosing a particular book, any book, as reflection of absolute truth seems absurd on the face of it, completely arbitrary, completely irrational.
But if I had pointed at the Christian Bible (as opposed to the Satanic Bible, which is a far superior book), a great number of people would agree with me. Why ? Is there anything special about that book ? Certainly not scientific advances : it was written before any such advances. Not wisdom : it was written by people who, by and large, were uneducated, violent, and invented their gods in their own image. Not research : in fact, no research was involved in its composition at all.
The Bible is the greatest example of how horrible "writing by committee" can become. Its books have more than a dozen authors, dispersed in space and time. They were chosen by the interplay of political wrangling in the ebullient, predatory Christian movements feeding off the weak and decaying Roman Empire. There was nothing planned about the Bible.
Did God inspire the Bible ? Well, for one thing, we would need to know what it means for a supernatural being to "inspire" anything. Does this mean that this being can actually enter people's minds and twist them ? If so, this only reinforces the serious problem of the co-existence of God and free will, to which Christians have no answer (for a taste of this problem, see the end of my entry "Unspoken assumptions in denying free will" - a future entry will go more into the details of this problem). So any attempt to justify this inspiration only creates more problems for god-belief.
Not that I want to go into alternate histories (although I find the topic fascinating), but if a group of barbarians slaughter the bishops assembled at the Council of Nicea, the Bible, and the Christian religion, would have turned out quite differently. So how can the Bible possibly be absolute truth ? This is utter nonsense.
All the other books we know were written and made by people. They are composed of paper and ink, and hopefully a nice cover. They are all to be examined critically, and we do not assume that they contain absolute truth, even though we may like some and dislike others. Even the most rabid Christian does not read his favourite theologian or demagogue (depending on his level of education) with absolute truth in mind.
So the question then becomes, how can we possibly assume that all of these inductive facts magically become false when applied to the Bible ? Is there anything that overrides these considerations ? Unless one already subscribes to the bankrupt Christian worldview, nothing can do this.
Now we have to examine the liberal position on the Bible. So maybe the Bible is not infallible, but it can still be true or valid in some way. Perhaps the Bible is a moral guide, or a historical relic, or whatever you happen to believe about it.
Here we run not into an inductive problem, but a problem of logic. One of two things must be true : either the Bible is special, or it isn't. Either the Bible is the exception to all other books ever written in the history of man, or it isn't. Either you accept the Christian worldview, or you don't.
If you believe that the Bible is infallible, then you deny yourself free will (thus invalidating your own belief), you break induction, and you also open yourself to all sorts of epistemic problems, such as determining which books are infallible and which are not. So you run into Mormons, who believe that Joseph Smith's inane ramblings are infallible, and that sort of case. So there is really no defense against this sort of corruption.
On the other hand, if you don't believe that the Bible is special, then it must be examined like any other book. And when you take the conscious decision to do that, you come to realize pretty quickly that it rests on no evidence. Evolution, history and archaeology disproves most of its claims, natural morality makes most of its rules abhorrent, and plain good sense makes basic contradictions apparent. The "holey" Bible has more holes than Peter Singer's moral system.
Either "God" is absolute good or absolute evil. Either "Jesus" is the son of God, saviour of mankind, and greatest thinker in history, or it is a corrupt, despicable mythical invention. There's no middle ground possible here.
Isn't that a dangerous position to take ? Am I encouraging fundamentalism by saying these things ? Well, I don't think anyone should be ashamed of the obvious truth. But more importantly, I don't think that this sort of logic actually encourages anyone. Religious belief, fundamentalist or not, is not based on logic but on hedonism. Liberal Christians will continue to believe in their fuzzy and soft brand of religion, because that is what gives them the most mental satisfaction or pleasure. Fundamentalists will continue to get off on condemning and being self-righteous. This is a personality trait which I, or no one else, can really change.