Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The McDonald-Till Debate On Biblical Inerrancy (1990)

The following is an excerpt from Farrell Till's rebuttal of Jerry McDonald's fourth defense:

Some may think it unkind to call his syllogisms silly, but so far his only direct effort to prove that the Bible is "of divine origin" was a syllogism that, if not silly itself, was certainly "supported" by silly evidence:
Major Premise: The Bible is either of divine origin or it is of human origin.
          Minor Premise: The Bible is not of human origin.

          Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible is of divine origin.
I have analyzed this syllogism twice to show that the major premise does not include all possible sources of the Bible's origin (first rebuttal, pp. 11-14; third rebuttal, pp. 13-14), but McDonald's only response to this was an evasive dismissal: "Since Till does not believe that the Bible is of Satanic origin and since I do not believe in such, I am not going to waste my space elaborating on it" (second affirmative, p. 10). I also showed that the minor premise is, to say the least, very questionable (first rebuttal, pp. 14-17; third rebuttal, pp. 12-13), and had had nothing offered in support of it but McDonald's bad-men/good-men "argument." Bad men couldn't have written the Bible, so his argument goes, because they wouldn't have written something that condemns them; good men couldn't have written the Bible, because it claims to be inspired of God, and good men wouldn't lie. In my last rebuttal (pp. 12-14), I applied this same argument to the Koran and other allegedly inspired books to show that the same "proof" could be offered in support of their inspiration claims, but McDonald said nothing about this, even though he brags continually about answering my rebuttals "point by point." So I hope that in his point-by-point analysis of this rebuttal he will explain to us just why his bad-men/good-men "argument" would not prove equally as well that books like the Koran, the Avesta, and the Book of Mormon--which all condemn evil and claim to be divine in origin--were also inspired by God.

As far as arguments go, this one is about as simplistic as anything we have yet heard from McDonald. It reveals a mind-set that is typical of fundamentalist thinking. Logicians even have a name for it: the either-or fallacy. Sometimes it is called the black-or-white fallacy. It occurs when one sees only two categories or classifications into which a matter in dispute can be put. To such people, everything in life is either black or white. There are no gray areas in between. A fundamentalist will say, for example, that the Bible is either inspired of God or it is not. The possibility that parts of the Bible were inspired and parts were not never occurs to a person who thinks like this. It must be all or nothing as far as he is concerned. And so it is with McDonald's bad-men/good-men "argument." Before he even began his argument, he had already put all people living and dead into just two categories: good and bad. To him, then, all men are and were either good or bad. If a man honestly, but mistakenly, thought that he was inspired of God as he was writing a book and said in the text of the book that he was writing by inspiration, he would be a "bad" man to McDonald no matter how sincere he may have been in his mistaken conviction. I addressed this issue in my first rebuttal and suggested that the men who wrote the Bible were good men who were honestly mistaken, but McDonald dealt with it by setting up a straw man on the issue of moral atrocities. Since I believe that "the Old Testament almost bleeds with moral atrocities," he wondered how I could believe that good men endorsed moral atrocities (second affirmative, p. 15). The answer to that is simple: they didn't believe they were atrocities. They lived in barbaric times when such events as the Midianite and Amalekite slaughters were commonplace. Their level of civilization condoned and even applauded such behavior and believed it to be the will of their particular tribal god. To their way of thinking, they were not endorsing moral atrocities. They sincerely thought they were reporting Yahweh's will.

The only odd thing about the subject of endorsing moral atrocities is that McDonald would even bring it up, because he is the one who spent three pages (13-16) in his third affirmative manuscript endorsing the moral atrocities of the Bible. He thought that Yahweh's command to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites for something done by their ancestors 400 years before was the proper thing to do. He even argued that Yahweh did the children and infants of this nation a big favor in ordering their slaughter, because he mercifully provided them with quick death rather than slow starvation and at the same time saved their souls by keeping them from growing up to become evil heathens. Likewise, McDonald defended Moses' orders (presumably received directly from Yahweh) to kill all Midianite male children and nonvirgin women and girls but to keep the virgin girls alive "for yourselves." He danced all around this dastardly deed but could offer only Gleason Archer's word (p. 15) that this was not an act of mass rape.

To quote someone like Gleason Archer in a matter like this would be sort of like quoting the National Rifle Association to prove that the widespread ownership of handguns is a sane national policy. No matter how appalling the "divine" act, no matter how flagrant the contradiction, no matter how absurd the story, if it is recorded in the Bible, Gleason Archer is going to surmise some scenario to "explain" it, so why does McDonald even bother to quote him? There is nothing even remotely scholarly or scientific in Archer's methods. He approaches every situation with a predetermined intention to "show" that it can be harmonized with the Bible inerrancy doctrine. That makes him everything but a reputable scholar, because reputable scholars accept the conclusions that the evidence points to no matter what those conclusions might be. Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties is itself a volume almost as long as the Bible, and his is only one of many books written for the sole purpose of explaining "alleged" Bible contradictions. Think of the absurdity of it. The fundamentalists tell us that the Bible is the verbally inspired, inerrant word of God and is harmonious in every detail from cover to cover, yet this marvelously written book has spawned an industry that thrives on publishing other books to "explain" that contradictions in the Bible text aren't really contradictions. Shouldn't we expect an omniscient God to produce a more competently written inspired work than that? Certainly, we have every right to expect it, yet Bible inerrantists like Mr. McDonald would have us believe that the omniscient, omnipotent Yahweh apparently knew no more about principles of lucid writing than a lackluster college student struggling to pass freshman composition. Who can believe it?

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