Okay, I recognize some folks are getting antsy, and I agree. I think we’ve done enough on the Bible for now. But I’m going to conclude the discussion (from my end, anyways) with a final response to some of the comments in response to my article “Attacking the Bible by endorsing the absurd?” (For those who haven’t read the earlier article, I strongly recommend that you do so. Otherwise this won’t make much sense.)
Blank Slate replies to my Jones example as follows:
“What if Jones knew that some people who called themselves Disciples of Jones would take the passages at face value and go out and commit rape and murder all the while being confident of the approval of Jones? It is hard to see how Jones would have a morally valid reason not to include any repudiation of this positively evil interpretation.”
Note that Blank Slate’s objection doesn’t depend on Jason Thibodeau’s J-MAP (to recap):
Jason’s Moral Artist Principle: a morally upright editor/author would dissociate him/herself from any passages within his/her text which depict him/her as commanding/approving of/ [or] bringing about moral atrocities.
This is because Blank Slate’s objection depends on actual foreknowledge of the commission of moral atrocities. I’ll note two things here. First, dealing with objections like this is a bit like playing wac-a-mole. Knock down one objection (e.g. Thibodeau’s) and several more (e.g. Blank Slate’s objection based on foreknowledge of reader-atrocities; Walter’s based on textual ambiguity) pop up in its place. I don’t find these objections persuasive either. But I have been intentional about focusing on Thibodeau’s J-MAP so we are not madly off in a thousand directions.
That said, let me say a quick comment about Blank Slate’s claim. Contrary to his intuition, I don’t think that authors/editors are necessarily obliged not to write texts that they foreknow will result in at least some misreadings that lead to moral atrocities. There may be particular circumstances where that is true, but it surely doesn’t follow as a general principle given the vast range of variables involved in each circumstance (e.g. what benefits are achieved from the text’s form?; To what extent is the person’s misreading indicative of prior corruption of character seeking textual justification? etc.).
“As I understand Jason, he’s presenting an evidential (not logical) argument against biblical inspiration. So his remarks are precisely on the money, and your insistence that you’re presenting a thought experiment, the likelihood of which is “completely irrelevant,” is simply incorrect.”
This comment is simply confused. Jason’s putative defeater to the Bible being in some sense revelation is contingent on J-MAP. In reply I have provided a thought experiment that falsifies J-Map in the same way that Jackson’s “What Mary Didn’t Know” falsifies type and token identity and functionalist theories of the mind. The fact that the scenario described in the “What Mary Didn’t Know” thought experiment is extraordinarily unlikely is utterly irrelevant to its success. Similarly, the alleged implausibility of the Jones thought experiment (though, as I noted, it is positively mundane by comparison) is utterly irrelevant to its success.
“are you suggesting that the command to slaughter Canaanites is ambiguous in the same way that you suppose Jones’ collection to be, such that a person who reads it as a command to slaughter Canaanites is culpable for misreading the text in the same way that you suppose a racist to be culpable for misreading Jones’ collection?”
Yes. Indeed, even more so. There are two issues here: textual meaning and textual significance. Let’s start with meaning. Richard Hess is helpful for pointing out the problems with common English translations. For example, the Hebrew word “iyr”, commonly translated in English as “city”, can also refer to a mere military outpost. Personally, I don’t find the attempts of Hess (and Copan) to read the narrative in non-genocidal terms to be successful. But nonetheless, I do offer the caveat for folks who think that reading a contemporary English translation of a 2600 year old ANE conquest narrative is as straightforward as reading the newspaper.
The deeper issue is textual significance. Here I am reminded of the 6-day creationists who read Genesis 1 and conclude “yom means day and a day is a day” so therefore God created the world in 6 days. Argh! There is no question that yom means day in the narrative. But the question here is textual significance. What is this text doing? Is it providing a newspaper account of the origin of the world? Or a theological account in keeping with standards of ANE cosmogony? If the latter then you will read the significance of the narrative very, very differently than if you think it is something akin to a newspaper account.
We need to ask the same questions of a consequent narrative like Joshua 6-11. The text depicts the mass killing and displacement of one people group by another people group with divine blessing. Now the question: what’s that text doing there? How should it be read within the wider corpus? What’s the significance of the text? On this question there is a diversity of opinion among Christian and Jewish readers. And to suggest that the only interpretations of the text’s significance open to Christian and Jewish readers are those that are morally problematic simply begs the question.
Perhaps most revealing are Jason Thibodeau‘s comments for they reveal a person who seems to be fundamentally confused on the parameters of the discussion. Jason quotes me:
“that is a good illustration of Jason’s overall objection to the Bible. He starts out with bold, magisterial claims about what any author or editor would or would not do as alleged grounds to reject the Bible. “
And then he retorts:
“And what does Randal’s argument for the magisterial claim that the Bible is sacred literature consist of? I have no idea, he has never provided one.”
The problem here is that I never set out to provide an evidential argument that the Bible is in some sense revelation (or as Thibodeau puts it, “sacred literature”). Rather, from the beginning I have simply been rebutting putative defeaters to the Bible’s being in some sense revelation. Jason’s apparent complaint that I have failed to meet a demand I never set out to meet in the first place appears to be either a desperate attempt to redraw the parameters of the debate based on his failed arguments or a more basic confusion about what was being debated in the first place.
Jason’s confusion deepens in an additional comment. He starts off quoting me:
“At this point the weight of Jason’s rebuttal consists of his observation that he finds it difficult to believe Jones would do this. That’s it. But that’s not a serious rebuttal. It is simply a statement of personal incredulity.”
And then he wryly comments “Pot, meet kettle” and quotes my own statement of “personal incredulity”:
“This claim about the moral obligation of the author or editor strikes me as completely ridiculous.”
Yes, Jason thinks he’s being clever here. But in fact he is simply placing his own confusion into broader relief. You see, as I have noted our entire discussion is predicated on Jason’s alleged ability to provide defeaters that should rationally persuade Christians that the Bible cannot be in some sense revelation. That’s what he aims to do with J-MAP. Thus the Christian believes p and Jason is aiming to show that the Christian ought not believe p. The way one does this is by presenting a logically valid argument with plausible premises. Thus, the fact that Jason’s premises rest on nothing more than his own personal incredulity is devastating for the success of his argument. For Jason to reply “Pot, meet kettle” suggests that he doesn’t even understand he has shouldered a burden of proof with J-MAP and has utterly failed to meet that burden of proof.