Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, January 30, 2006

Evangelistic Atheism / Defining Religion

I didn't know about Dan Barker's article "Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray". It's a pretty basic article, but a good introduction to atheist evangelism.

The blog Philosophy, et cetera tries to define the term "religion" :

(1) The belief that there is some supernatural reality
(2) A cult -- public, private or both.
(3) The belief that there is some causal connection between the supernatural reality and the cult.

Seems like a good rule of thump to me, although I would define a religion more in terms of specialness than in terms of supernatural. This would both include god-belief and other more materialist beliefs like race-belief or greenie beliefs.

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At 1/30/2006 10:27 AM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

I for one am glad that Dan Barker is no longer a wolf in sheep's clothing. His exgetically atrocious rendering of Matt. 12:47 displays his ignorance of the bible as well as a total misappropriation of Jesus' use of parable.

Does the entire atheistic apologetic revolve around a few misapplications of scripture?

At 1/30/2006 10:46 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Dan Barker was a wolf in sheep's clothing? How so? Are you suggesting that he was always an atheist with an anti-Christian agenda, even when working as a missionary, pastor, and Christian songwriter, leading people to Christ daily?

Where does Dan mention Matthew 12:47 in that article? I'm not familiar with that particular "atrocious" rendering.

But this raises an issue to which I'm perennially denied an answer. What is the correct interpretation of the Bible? Which denomination can I trust to interpret the Bible for me, and what are their exgetical credentials? Aren't we supposed to be able to read the Bible as simply as we read a newspaper?

At 1/30/2006 11:56 AM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

Hi Zachary,

In answer to your first question, yes I believe that Dan Barker was what the bible calls a "stony ground hearer" I don't believe he was ever a believer in the first place. Now I realize that there is no way for me to prove this, and you can dismiss it as a groundless assertion but as the old saying goes "the proof is in the pudding".

He mentions Matt. 12:47 toward the end of the article. It's his starting point to help the believer see the error of his beliefs by undermining the believers confidence in the Word of God. He basically throws out a few challenging verses as the atheistic apologetic.

Is your last question a sincere one? I am inclined to believe that it is so I will answer assuming the best. Personally I believe that the only way someone can truly exgete scripture is to read in the original language(s). Second, the bible is simple to read "prima facie" however you can't assume that the bible is simplistic. When the exgete looks at scripture he must dig into the text critically examining 1)mood 2)context 3)nuiances in the original languages 4)audience etc.

For example many Christians view John 3:16 as a universal nvitation rather it is a statement of fact.
One can only know this by studying the original language.

Why would you want to know whom to trust? If you presuppose that the bible is just a book of fairly tales and contradictions why would it matter what denomination you can trust? Your sarcasm is not quite subtle enough for me to entertain this last question.

At 1/30/2006 12:40 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Are you sure it's Matthew 12:47, or is it Luke 12:47? The verse where Jesus says, "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes." It's in the course of a particularly violent diatraibe by Jesus where he also says things like, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!" And also, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division."

Now, he seems to be jumping from one metaphor to the next, but regardless, those are pretty violent metaphors. And why pick slavery as a metaphor anyway? It indicates to me an acceptance of the practice at the very least.

If, as you say, the only way to properly understand the Bible is to read it in the original language, then you must surely be against translations? As you are no doubt aware, a translator may insert his own bias of the meaning of the source text during his process, and this can be seen clearly by comparing various extant translations of the Bible today.

So surely the only effective way to hear the gospel message is to understand it in Koine Greek and Ancient Hebrew. So perhaps then evangelists should focus less on propagating faulty English translations of the Bible, and more on forcing people to study Koine and Hebrew- otherwise, they'll never receive the True gospel message accurately.

Oh, and incidentally, my last question comes from R.C. Sproul, a Reformed theologian who wrote in his book, "Knowing Scripture", that the Bible should be as easy to read as the newspaper.

At 1/30/2006 1:00 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


You are correct it is Luke as opposed to Matthew. I stand corrected. As for translations, of course I am not "against" translations, what I am saying is that we cannot make that the end game when one is attempting to build a case "for" or "against" Christianity. I have spent little time reading RC Sproul, as I am not all that interested in Classical Apologetics, his books however valauble are low on my list of priority reading materials.

I would like to point out that there is a fundamental difference between understanding the gospel message and attempting to disprove the bible by sloppy exegesis. Those who teach the word of God should have a working knowledge of the biblical languages in order to carefully examine the text to make sure that they are teaching it correctly. Paul commends the Bereans (Acts 17:11) for searching the scriptures, and the Pastoral Epistles exhort Christians to study to show thyself approved, rightly dividing the word of truth.

At 1/30/2006 3:30 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Well, on the one hand you say that you shouldn't try to disprove the Bible by engaging in sloppy exegesis, but on the other you don't have any problem with people learning about Christianity from translations which derive from such.

Doesn't that seem like an odd double standard to have?

At 1/30/2006 4:19 PM, Blogger Gorgs declaimed...

Jesus totally loves Krispy Kreme doughnuts and shit. If you see him walking down Sunset or something and he's elbow deep into a box of them you should just keep your distance and shit.

Jesus loves you too, though.

I just hope he doesn't love you enough to get elbow deep in you. Unless you like that kind of thing, yo.

At 1/30/2006 4:54 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


You have twisted my words just a little. What I said was that when a person such as Dan Barker takes a text out of context and tries to use it to further his anti-theistic cause, he is not treating his subject matter fairly and likely misrepresenting the text.

On the other hand, dismissing all English translations based on the assumption that some translator x may have a presupposition toward something begs the question.

At 1/30/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


So if Dan Barker takes a verse out of context for his anti-theistic cause, it's not okay, but if a Christian takes a verse out of context for his theistic cause, it is okay?

And of course, the above begs the question of what constitutes the proper context of a verse, which is what I'm trying to understand about translations. Certainly you would be able to look at different translations of the Bible (let's say, a Catholic translation versus a Protestant translation) and conclude that theological bents exist in translations. What I'm trying to figure out is, without begging the question, which translation can we trust?

At 1/31/2006 9:49 AM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


I have foolishly walked into your trap haven't I? Why would you care which translation a Christian would use? Aren't they all flawed according to you? I wonder how you read any piece of classical literature without being caught in the conundrum that you are asking me to solve for you?

At 1/31/2006 2:15 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


If it's a trap, it's not one that I've gone out of my way to set. It's just that whenever I hear a Christian talking about "proper exegesis," I'm compelled to ask how one is able to conduct such a thing. It's not that I particularly care about which translation is accurate, but as a Christian, you are required to because your entire belief system is based on a document. If you can't know absolutely how that document is to be interpreted, then why are you so sure that any aspect of your belief system is absolutely true. This isn't the time to point your finger back at me in accusation- I'm not the one who is claiming to have an infallible document by which I establish values. This is your chance to really let us have it, so please- pony up.

At 1/31/2006 2:50 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


This is really fairly simple. Good exegesis is based on comparing the available translations with the original autographs. Variations can and do exist based on whether the translation is a transliteration or is based on dynamic equivalence. Exegesis involves drawing out the actual meaning so inferring that the meaning cannot be known is a misnomer.

Are you claiming that atheism is not based on written propositions? If this is the case can you give offer an explanation of this a priori knowledge, i.e. that there is no God? This is self-referentially absurd. If naturalism is true, then knowledge must be a posteriori therefore all knowledge must come from sense experience. The mind is a tabula rasa and therefore must be filled with information from some source i.e. books or propositional truth of some sort. What infalliable source are you drawing your conclusions from? Sense experience? Are all of your beliefs a priori or not? If they are not please cite your infallible sources.

At 1/31/2006 3:06 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Excellent! Now, if you could just point me in the direction of those original manuscripts?

At 1/31/2006 3:33 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


Answer a few of my questions and provide me with your infallible sources.

BTW there are a little over 5000 Greek manuscripts, I am certain that you could locate a copy if you are really interested.

I am not so naive as to think that your pretentious interest in manuscript evidence will lead to some sort of paradigmatic shift in your thinking. As a former Christian you should have all of this information (unless you're not a former Christian??)

At 1/31/2006 4:39 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Atheism does not claim to have infallible documents. This isn't about atheistic exegesis, this is about Christian exegesis. Don't try to dodge the issue.

I'm aware of the number of Greek manuscripts. My question is, which one is the original copy? Otherwise, how am I to know what my starting point is for proper analysis?

At 1/31/2006 4:53 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


I am well aware that atheism has no infallible documents. Are you going to address my question regarding epistemology?

At 1/31/2006 6:35 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Stop dodging. Answer my question or stop posting here.

At 1/31/2006 9:58 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

One of the original and perhaps the oldest extant copy of the NT can be found in John Rylands Library in the University of Manchester.

For more information on this subject you can visit the following website:

Since you won't answer my questions here, should I post my questions on my blog so that you can respond?

At 2/01/2006 8:17 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


I'm not asking for the oldest extant copy. I'm asking for the original manuscript. How else am I to know absolutely that what I'm reading is the original intent of the actual writer?

Post whatever questions you want on your blog- that's your business. If you have direct questions for me, contact me by email.



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