Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Examination of Atheist Bible Scholarship and Exegesis

[originally uploaded on 18 March 2003]

This paper is a companion-piece to my extensive dialogue: Refutation of Atheists' Alleged Biblical "Contradictions" Concerning Salvation and Supposed Annihilationism and Universalism (vs. Dr. Ted Drange). Introductory comments will be in green. This looks like one of those instances where the person refused to have his words cited, so I paraphrased them.

One person on the atheist list where I conducted the discussion in the paper above (agnostic, I believe), asked how my arguments in Section I confirmed the existence of an everlasting punishment in hell. I replied:

This misses the point entirely. The question I was dealing with was the proposition: "1. Are unsaved sinners eternally tormented?" Under "No" were the ten passages I considered. I showed how none of them disproved a state of everlasting punishment, or stated anything contrary to it. That was all I had to do to disprove the claim. These passages, then, are shown to be consistent with the proposition "everlasting torment exists." In other words, the Bible doesn't contradict itself at all with regard to this matter. It teaches eternal punishment and torment of unrepentant, unsaved sinners. Ted himself provided several excellent passages (some of the very best proof texts) which clearly teach everlasting punishment: Matthew 25:41,46, Mark 9:43-48, Jude 1:6-7, and Revelation 14:10-11.

This is the biblical teaching, and no passage under his "No" list offered anything to overthrow it. So the argument has been annihilated (no pun intended). I look forward to the other nine "arguments" which purport to "prove" biblical contradictions, if they are going to exhibit this shockingly illogical argumentation, complete neglect of context (such as example #6, where Paul was arguing rhetorically and Ted absurdly interpreted it literally), etc. This is why I have no time for this sort of thing. I'm only doing this as an example of the silliness involved; then I will move on to something of substance.

It wouldn't annoy me as severely as it does if you guys wouldn't presume to be such biblical experts, and claim to know as much about such things as educated Christians or biblically-oriented apologists like myself (a point I have complained about many times in the past on this list). The pose and pretense of having knowledge where, in fact, there is little, is just a bit too much to take, and I was in the mood to expose the absurdity of it today. It's fun for a while, as a diversion and pedagogical, educational endeavor (for readers of my website), but I can only stomach so much of it, because I don't consider it a serious discussion. It's a farce.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


The person who presented the list of contradictions (from Ted) and challenged me to repy to them, claimed that he saw "no reason" to believe that I possessed more knowledge of the Bible than "many" of the "sceptics" on that list. I replied:

This will be great fun, then. Stay tuned. It'll make for a very entertaining website paper, when those who claim to know as much about the Bible as 25-year serious students of it, and Christian apologists like myself, prove how little they really know. And of course, if that were the case, certainly you would be willing to let me post your words and "exegesis" on my website (which you have never yet agreed to), so that you could lay bare my lack of biblical knowledge right in front of my (mostly) Catholic and Protestant readers.

If the rest of Ted's laundry list of alleged "contradictions" are as ridiculous and insubstantial as the first portion, it will be a pathetic showing indeed. I fully expect this to be the case, based on my universal past experience in such discussions [it was]. Some things are utterly predictable. Atheists attempting biblical exegesis is one of these. Nothing personal; it is simply something where you guys are over your head and don't have a clue.

A third atheist, who claimed that Dr. Ted Drange and the second person knew about as much of the Bible and its study and interpretation as I did, then claimed that my statements such as those above were indicative of a "vast cockiness." I answered:

Why is it "cocky" to simply state that someone doesn't know what he is talking about? You guys state this all the time about me and Eric (another Christian / theist on the list). Why is it that it isn't cocky when you state it concerning your area of expertise (philosophy), but it is when I make statements in the area of my expertise (apologetics and the Bible)? I'm demonstrating how the arguments are entirely groundless. I've only completed two sections out of ten, and I fully expect to find the same profound ineptitude and illogical "exegesis" in the other eight [I did].

I have never met an atheist who understood how exegesis is properly done. Granted, I haven't met every atheist. I'm simply stating my own experience. You and others here are welcome to show me how you are different. I've seeen no evidence of that thus far, and much evidence supporting my long-held opinion.

He stated that most atheists used to be "pretty staunch Christians."

Not very educated ones, as far as I can tell. And leaving the faith at age 10 or 15 does not suggest to me a great deal of knowledge obtained. I just "heard" many of your "anti-testimonies." I didn't see anyone studying the Bible and Christian apologetics and theology for, say, 25 years, as I have done. I didn't see much at all. So someone maybe read the Bible through once? Whoop-de-doo! That makes you know as much as I do about biblical exegesis? And I'm supposedly the cocky one???? Whatever my experience is, and whatever you think of it, doesn't release you and others here from defending your silly, misguided attempts at biblical exegesis when they are critiqued.

I was supposedly setting myself up for "colossal humiliation."

Well, we'll see who puts up a better argument, as we proceed in this, won't we? I'm not worried. I assure you I won't lose a moment's sleep over the outcome of this thread and discussion. This is my ground you are on now. You're in my ballpark; my turf. I don't claim to be any sort of expert in philosophy. I've never stated that. But for you and your atheist friends to claim to be such regarding the Bible is a manifest absurdity that must be exposed for what it is, once in a while, anyway: a pretense and a farce. That is the cockiness here; not anything on my end, despite my obviously strong feelings on the subject.

I've found that experts in any field get quite upset when people who know little about it come in and pretend that they are some sort of "expert." If you come onto my ground and start talking foolishness, you will hear about it, because no one wants silliness to prevail or to be taken seriously in his own field of inquiry that he loves (and in my case, that which I have devoted my life and energies to). So I have not minced any words. You may consider it cocky potshots; as far as I am concerned it is stating a simple truth, with passion.

He asked if I thought that one must believe the Bible in order to understand it.

Theoretically and as an abstract notion, no. In practice, however, I don't recall ever coming across a skeptic of the Bible (in my many hundreds of dialogues and debates over now 22 years) who didn't quickly fall prey to basic logical errors and silly exegesis based on crude misunderstandings, such as I am presently examining, in Ted's ten areas of alleged biblical contradiction regarding salvation.

The Christian holds that belief will at the very least make a person fair enough to approach the Bible on its own terms. Prior hostility and disbelief, on the other hand, almost inevitably lead to really silly mistakes of even elementary logic. It is clearly the overriding desire to show how foolish Christians and Christianity supposedly are, which lead to such otherwise inexplicable errors from intelligent folks. You can't do proper and constructive exegesis of the Bible if, as I have said, you approach it the way a butcher approaches a pig. Such a person doesn't want to draw out the meaning of what is there, but rather, draw out (what they mistakenly think is) the guts of the Bible and devour it like bacon.

How do you expect a person who loves and defends Holy Scripture for a living to react to that? You can sit there and deny that this is what is happening with lists like Ted's, but I will have to strongly disagree. And we Christians get sick and tired of this. Don't believe in the Bible and God if you wish, but also it would be nice if you didn't pretend to understand things that you clearly don't understand. Context, linguistics, cultural backdrop, and logic are not matters of faith, but things that we can agree upon, as standards. These are what are being violated left and right.

It's not simply a matter of atheists not believing in the content of the Bible or the doctrines being pilloried. You are claiming that what we believe is contradictory all over the place. But you have not established this in the least. The arguments thus far have been atrocious; laughable. My job is to defend the Bible from hackers, and I will do so with vigor, at such times as I decide to engage in this sort of thing, that I consider quite foolish at bottom, because of the desperately flawed approach of my opponents.

Nor is this a matter of mere disagreement. One either knows how to do biblical exegesis or not. Two people who know how to do it can honestly disagree on the conclusion with regard to a passage. That happens all the time. It is the stuff of biblical commentary and scholarship. But at least those two (if they are Christians) love and revere the text they are studying, whereas you are only trying to tear it down. You come to it with your agenda. Pretending to know how to interpret Scripture and acting as if anyone can do it without having to study very much, is what is so objectionable.

Otherwise intelligent, philosophically-sophisticated people like [name] and Ted put up these ridiculous lists of biblical "contradictions" as if they were some profound, unanswerable "argument" against biblical inspiration or the cogency of Christian faith. Well, that gets my dander up. It really angers me, and that is why I decided to take on this latest charade.

It was then stated that the person who put up the list "rightly" opined that some skeptics on the list were as familiar with the Bible as "most Christians" and even "many apologists" like me. I was called "paranoid" for denying this and stating my opinions as recorded above. He complained that I have for some time now "groundlessly" argued that atheists "don't know beans about the Bible."

Not about the Bible per se, but how to exegete it and properly study it, which is a different thing.

. . . and that I felt that atheists are "automatically biblical morons" because they don't accept what the Bible teaches . . .

I granted that there could be such a thing in theory. But in my long experience, I have never met one who didn't commit basic errors of fact and logic, such as we see with Ted. That has been my experience, and I can't "re-write" that, just because you object to it and it offends you. Too much baggage exists, and this makes it quite difficult for the atheist Bible scholar to possess enough objectivity to do a decent job at it. I have little patience with atheist attitudes and dogmatic thinking, with regard to pretentious and presumptuous attempts at biblical exegesis.

Ted and [name] are good at finding bogus, absurd "proof texts" to "bolster" their attempts at tearing down the Bible and trying to make Christians look foolish and ridiculous. Beyond that, I have not observed this ability that you cite. The proof is in the pudding. One can talk a good game, but how do they perform when subject matter and particular passages are actually out on the table? I am showing exactly how such "lists" can be systematically dismantled as worthless and absurd. So that has some value. When someone is this ignorant and doesn't know it, and thinks quite the opposite of his own abilities, it is always entertaining (but ultimately sad as well). It's the sort of thing where you have to laugh to keep from crying. My arguments (and Ted's) speak for themselves. I say that they are lousy and insubstantial, and often illogical and lacking the least consideration of context, which is an elementary principle applicable to the interpretation of any literature whatever.

The fact remains that I have yet to meet an atheist Bible scholar who didn't commit the basic fallacies that I have been complaining about. There may be one out there somewhere; I have never personally met one. And that fits in well with my general theory that all people have bias in one direction or the other, and that this affects their work. In matters pertaining to the Bible, I think it is better to have a bias in favor of its inspiration and essential cogency than to have the opposite view, because (as a rule of thumb) it is better to respect the literature or system of thought that one is studying. The atheist could study Christianity and the Bible, and do philosophy or anthropology of religion, of course. How well they will do at that is another story entirely.

It's simply common sense. I've devoted my life to the study and defense of Christianity. I'm not a scholar, but I know quite a bit about these things, and people often falsely think that I have a master's or even a doctorate in theology (oftentimes, people who themselves have these degrees think that). I've been engaging in dialogues on these matters with people of almost every imaginable belief system for longer than you have been alive. I know about this stuff, and it's not arrogant for me to assert that, any more than it would be for Ted to claim he knows his philosophy. Of course he does; he is a professor. I respect that, and I don't knock it at all.

It's beyond silly (and arguably arrogant as well, since you are throwing around the charge of arrogance) for you to claim that all this study and time devoted to theology and the Bible and apologetics matters not a whit, and that Ted and [name] know as much as I do (or as Eric [the other active Christian apologist on the list] does) about these things. That would be like claiming that if you studied philosophy for the next 21 or so years, that I would still know as much philosophy as you do.

Clearly, if you study something that long and specialize in it, you will know much more about it than someone who hasn't done so. I don't pretend to know remotely as much about philosophy as you or most members of this list. I like to talk about things, learn, and put up a fight if I think I have a strong, reasonable case to make, but I won't pretend to know something I don't know (That's one major reason why I like to cite others who DO know much more about various philosophical matters than I do, because my own opinion matters little to you guys since many of you think so little of my philosophical knowledge and abilities).

The following two propositions are distinct:

1. No atheist can do Bible study simply because he is an atheist, and because, therefore, it is impossible for him to do so, because he doesn't believe in the Bible and Christianity.

2. No atheist I have ever met has shown me that he is capable of doing serious Bible study. Why that is, is a matter of speculation, and I have my opinions. There may very well be such a person, but I have yet to encounter one myself.
I believe in #2, not #1. As long as you keep thinking I believe #1, you will miss the point of what I am contending. Meanwhile, I am showing - as an altogether typical example of that which I decry - how Ted's list suffers from all the usual, garden-variety shortcomings of such endeavors by atheists. We can keep making these statements back and forth, or the atheists among you who claim to know relatively more about the Bible and the study of it, can refute my arguments. I've seen nothing which would sway me from my opinions in the slightest. These discussions always greatly strengthen my faith, in fact, once it is seen how very weak and groundless the opposing views are. I thank you for that. It is a great blessing. :-)

Scholars who study Greek or Roman mythology (that is, those who don't literally believe in the factuality of that which they study) respect their subject matter (unlike most atheists and the Bible). They know what they are talking about. I'm not like the feminists who argue that one has to be a woman to have the slightest inkling of what abortion is about. People can certainly understand and possess insight into things they don't themselves believe or experience.

This is not a question of whether or not one believes something. I understand a great deal about Protestant theology (having been a fervent evangelical Protestant myself for 13 years), and I critique it all the time, where it differs from Catholic theology, but I don't believe it myself. I respect it as a relatively coherent system, and I disagree with it. I don't consider Protestants fools and gullible simpletons for believing such "ridiculous" things, in the way many atheists view Christians en masse and the Bible. I don't think Protestant theology is "ridiculous" at all. I respect Protestants highly and have written as much in print, in my second book. That is the difference.

If you come to the Bible, on the other hand, thinking it is chock-full of silly myths, old wive's tales, legends, moral monstrosities, and contradictions, then you will tend to "find" that which you already believe is there. But that makes for terrible exegesis, because the goal is wrongheaded and fundamentally flawed from the outset. Simple and highly relevant things will be overlooked, and the results will be easily refuted, as we are seeing with Ted's list. The folly is apparent to one and all.

And if one totally refuses to admit that they have botched an argument, then they cannot be persuaded. [name] and Ted are true believers in the Bible's profound incoherence and absurdity. No argument (or so it seems thus far) can convince them otherwise. They are impervious to proof and reason on this score. They can't admit the slightest error in their "exegesis," whereas Christians do so all the time in our exegetical discussions with each other. We're not nearly as dogmatic about exegesis as atheists are when they pretend to engage in it.

Ted's list of "proof texts" are a compilation of "mini-arguments" for the propositions he asserts. For example, his first two false propositions are the following:

1. Are unsaved sinners eternally tormented? NO.
2. Will everyone get saved? YES.

Ted offered ten "prooftexts" for #1 and 6 for #2. I systematically responded to all of these and refuted them. Then I responded to all the other false prooftexts in the other eight sections. Once one claims to find a correlation between a Bible text and a proposition, this is an argument. In fact, that is exactly what systematic theology does. One might, then, call what Ted is doing, "systematic biblical atheology." He tries to prove that the Bible (almost all NT texts) doesn't teach what it in fact teaches, or that it teaches several contradictory propositions simultaneously. He failed miserably at that task, as I think I have demonstrated.

This has always been the case whenever I have examined such alleged contradictions offered by biblical skeptics or atheists. The Muslim apologists engage in the same sort of thing. They get their lists from liberal Christians who deny the inspiration of Scripture, then they run with it and think they have made some profound argument against Christianity. It's the same old same old, and it is laughably devoid of substance and strength as an argument.

I don't claim that my biblical exegesis (as a layman and non-theologian) is superior to Ted's simply because I believe in Christianity and biblical inspiration and he does not. I claim it is more reasonable and cogent because of the exegesis and arguments I offer, derived from my much greater experience with the biblical text and study of theology in general. I can only offer arguments and see what the response is, just as in philosophy. The most basic errors of neglect of context, or simple logical errors are pretty straightforward. One doesn't have to know all that much to know when a person doesn't have a clue what he is talking about.

If, for instance, someone were to tell me that "the Detroit Pistons lost to the Washington Wizards on Friday night, March 14th," they would be guilty of a factual error. If they told me that every foul shot is worth three points, they would be wrong. If they claimed that Michael Jordan is a lousy basketball player or that Rick Fox leads the league in scoring, I don't have to know much about basketball at all to know that all these statements are false. But since I know quite a bit about the Bible and exegesis, it is all the more easy to spot someone who doesn't know how to do it. And I am showing WHY this is so, not merely asserting it. The mere assertions are all on Ted's side, with his silly supposed prooftexts which prove no such thing.

I freely admit (and have always done so) that all people have biases. That has been my strong opinion for many years now. It is best to admit our biases up front and then attempt to be as fair as possible, despite the biases. The fact that atheists (at least those who concern themselves with refutations of Christianity and the Bible) seem unable to do this concerning the Bible is one of the more humorous aspects of this whole fiasco.

My atheist friend stated that I needed to be more "dispassionate" in order to successfully argue.

People are passionate about things they love. I love God and I love what I believe to be His inspired Word. I don't take kindly to people coming in and attempting to do a hatchet job on that inspired Word, when they have little inkling of how to do exegesis, and give the Bible less respect as literature than they would give an issue of the New Yorker or a review of a movie or a book report from a ten-year-old. If a person insults your wife or your children, or mother, you react strongly, in no uncertain terms. People are not utterly rational, completely objective thought-machines, devoid of passion and emotion. We're not a bunch of Mr. Spocks, for heaven's sake. This is not improper, and I will not apologize for it or be ashamed of it. It is a normal human reaction.

I understand that it is uncouth in scholarly circles to show passion, and the pretense is that everything is so dispassionate and "objective." I don't buy that (Kuhn and Gould suggest quite otherwise), but in any event, this is one of the luxuries I have in being a mere layman, not a scholar. You are not a scholar, either, though you obviously know your stuff in philosophy. To my knowledge, [name] is not (I don't know what he does for a living). I can be myself. If I feel something strongly, I will express my disapproval. But I also provide solid arguments in addition to my disapproval and disgust at what I am critiquing. That is the bottom line: giving the arguments and the reasoning.

We've observed plenty of passion from the atheists here, too. One person -- whom I have actually come to like -- is actively ignoring one of the two most active theists, after having severely scolded him in no uncertain terms (and used to do the same with me, the last time around). You regularly take your potshots at Eric. Everyone has feelings, and they come out, either veiled or direct. I prefer the direct approach. I am a straight shooter who says what he means and means what he says. It's my inner-city Detroit upbringing, no doubt. :-) There is never any mystery as to where I stand.

Another person on the list, who later stated that he wasn't an atheist (he is either an agnostic or a theist who is a biblical skeptic) described the Bible as "stone age goatherders' fairy tales." I replied:

This is precisely why atheists are so terrible at biblical exegesis, because this is their opinion of the Bible. This makes my point more eloquently than my many hundreds of words trying to assert this same thing.

Oh, by the way (to clarify a mundane point of fact), the great majority of the texts we have been discussing (all but two so far) are from the NT, which is hardly the "Stone Age." And many of those texts were from the Apostle Paul, hardly a "goatherder," but in fact, an extremely sophisticated, educated, urbane writer (and originally a Jewish rabbi) quite familiar with all the prevailing pagan philosophies of that time, having grown up in Tarsus, which was a center of such learning in that period.

To further belabor an inconvenient point of fact: according to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1985 ed.), the Bronze Age began at approximately 3000 B.C. in the Near East, with the use of copper. Use of bronze itself greatly increased from 2000-1000 B.C. The Iron Age followed. The Bronze Age followed the final Neolithic period of the Stone Age. The Britannica dates Moses at c. 14th-13th century B.C., and Abraham at c. 2000 B.C.

So even the first writings of the Old Testament were approximately 1600 years after the ending of the Stone Age in the Near East, with the beginning of the nation of Israel and the Hebrews 1000 years after the Stone Age. The New Testament is more than 3000 years after the Stone Age. That makes your description a bit off (though I'm sure historical accuracy was not your main concern: taking a shot at the Bible and Christianity was).

Just one example of countless ones of the very thing I have been describing . . .

Another atheist on the list, Leonard Cleavelin, gave permission to post his words (which will be in purple):

The Bible is actually a wonderful work, and I actually do enjoy reading it. But when I do read it (which I've done more of than I may let on), I don't take it any more seriously than it deserves. It's a wonderful work of mythology, interspersed with some interesting moral exhortation, quite a bit of wisdom, a good deal of outright foolishness, some dubious "historical" works, some fascinating tales of a man who may or may not have lived in the first century CE around whom some interesting legends grew, a number of letters of varying quality, and finished up by an account of what has to be one of the greatest drug induced hallucinations ever experienced by a human being (the book of Revelation, of course :-) ).

However, my knowledge about the Bible is limited to the Bible as a literary work: its plots, its stories, its memorable passages and characters. I don't know, and don't pretend to know, anything about the Bible as God's revelation to man, because of course I don't believe that it is such a thing. Therefore, it is no use to me to get to "know" the Bible in the way Dave and other apologists and defenders of the faith have come to know it.

Mine own humble opinion is that Biblical "exegesis" is what computer hackers like to call a WOMBAT: a Waste Of Money, Brains, And Time, but that's because I don't have any emotional or intellectual investment in the truth of the Bible, and therefore I have no great interest in or desire to defend the Bible against its detractors. I can see where someone might enjoy such an activity its own sake, and there's nothing wrong with that;

. . . I sincerely appreciate the time and effort you're taking in producing these lessons . . . and I realize you've still got 80% of your work ahead of you, so don't drop what you're doing to address any of my concerns immediately, but my observations to this point are:

1) Try not to be too bedazzled by your own eloquence. The "worthlessness", "absurdity" and "silliness" of Ted's list are no doubt obvious to someone who shares your faith in the Bible. However, while I admire the amount of time, effort and intellectual ingenuity you've put into explaining away all of the difficulties raised by Ted's list, I'm not convinced by your explanations, most likely because I don't accept the Bible as being anything other than great literature and mythology. Not only is it merely literature, it's not even one coherent literary work; it's a collection of various works, and that collection took many thousands of years to compose and compile. Of course it's going to have contradictions in it. So what? That's only a problem if one is trying to use it to justify a coherent set of beliefs.... :-)

Whether it is inspired or completely self-consistent or not is irrelevant to the question of determining whether said texts teach a particular doctrine or support a particular proposition. Logic applies to the texts and assertions based upon them, and if the latter are illogical or (in many instances) complete non sequiturs, then the argument fails, regardless of what you think about the Bible or inspiration, et al. One can try to determine what a text teaches or asserts, and produce various arguments for points of view, whether that text is fiction or non-fiction. One could claim, e.g., that the character Romeo in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, contradicted himself, and produce the texts which prove it.

My enterprise here (like much of apologetics) is merely a negative one; removing needless obstacles to faith and acceptance of Christianity. These arguments are lousy, period. It has nothing to do with my supposed "eloquence" or how many insults I direct towards the pitiful arguments (not the people). The bankruptcy of the arguments themselves is apparent, in my opinion. Is it forbidden for a theist on this list to charge that a given atheist doesn't have a clue about biblical exegesis?

2) The more basic question seems to me, why should one accept that the Bible represents God's revelation to man? Once you've accepted that premise, then it makes sense to invest money, brains and time in the great exegetical labors you've engaged in. But if one doesn't accept that initial premise, why bother?

Because I am removing an irrational, illogical objection and refuting an attempt to demonstrate profound, massive contradiction in the Bible. The success of that project depends not at all on what one thinks about the Bible being inspired or not. This is strictly a matter of logic and language, and elementary things like consideration of context in deducing the meaning of a text.

3) I'll reiterate what I think was my initial question in this discussion: not how can one believe in the Bible given its many contradictions (though that is a question I've asked many times), but rather, given these apparent contradictions and the amount of time and effort that you have to engage in to "explain" these contradictions away, how can you say that the Bible tells us unambiguous guidance as to what to believe and how to behave?

I can do so only by commenting on the Bible and dealing with so-called "problem texts." I have used this list of Ted's as an opportunity to do so. I don't expect to convince you or anyone else here (what else is new?). But I do expect to demonstrate to many hundreds of people who read the web paper with an open mind (not already made up and set in stone), that such attempts as Ted's are facile, silly, and complete failures. And that is well worth my time, because my goal as an apologist is to defend Christianity and build up the faith of Christians and show them how their beliefs are quite rational indeed. To show the utter weakness of various and sundry cynical atheist attempts to show the irrationality of Christianity and the Bible, accomplishes all these tasks. I would hope that you can at least admit that there are logical problems in Ted's presentation, but perhaps that is too much to expect.

Doesn't this sword cut both ways, though? If you come to the Bible thinking it is the [one can add "infallible" or "inerrant" at this point if one is of that particular stripe of Christian] Word of God, then you will tend to "find" that which you already believe is there, too.

I fully agree, as I stated in a response to Steve. I am biased towards the Bible being inspired and non-contradictory; absolutely. The difference is that I freely admit my biases. You guys are not doing so.

How does that make for any better "exegesis? Why is that goal any less fundamentally flawed from the outset than the other approach which you denigrate?

Because at least the person respects his subject matter, and doesn't have an inherent hostility (usually including an irrational emotionalism) against it. Do you think a guy in the KKK is able to write rationally about African-American culture and contribution to American society? Can a Palestinian terrorist write a fair treatment of Israeli goals, aspiration, and culture? Can a liberal Democratic strategy-maker or office-holder write a fair, logical, sympathetic essay on the "glories and profound political thought and societal and legal contributions of Republican conservatism"?

These are extreme examples, but sometimes those are needed to belabor what I think is a rather obvious point that you guys keep contending against. So an atheist who thinks all this negative stuff about the Bible is able to fairly and objectively interpret it? I think not. It's not absolutely impossible to conceive, but as I have said, I have never seen it myself. And the sad results of that endeavor are in front of us, as I continue to respond to the alleged contradictions.

The bottom line seems to be that what constitutes good exegesis depends on one's presuppositions.

Logic doesn't depend on that. It simply is. Reading the writer's sentence before and after a "prooftext" doesn't depend on that. It's not that difficult. Looking up the meaning of a Greek word in a Greek lexicon doesn't depend on presuppositions, but on languages as they exist, and scholarship in that regard. You could, I suppose, start going after the credentials of the Greek scholar . . . .

The basic question that still needs to be answered is: "What good reason is there for believing that the Bible is the revelation of God to man?"

That's beyond our purview, and I wouldn't try to address that on this list, because it is off-topic, and the discussion would quickly devolve into a three-ring circus. We do best here with clearly laid-out propositions and arguments to be debated (preferably purely philosophical ones, without getting into attempted biblical exegesis by those who view the Bible as the equivalent of Alice in Wonderland or Aesop's Fables or the mythology of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome).

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