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Backyard Skeptics Message Board › Critical thinking in the Bible

Critical thinking in the Bible

Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 10
In the “List BIBLE VERSES for or against critical thinking” thread Brady responded to one of my posts with this:
You mentioned how the Bible uses the words "reason" and "knowledge" and how they differ from how you would use them. I find that would be a interesting discussion; because I don't believe you have different laws of logic than those found in the Bible, nor a different understanding of induction; but I could be wrong. I do think that you may be reading the word "faith" differently. Given what you wrote, I think there may be a misunderstanding of what the Bible means by faith, That too I would find an interesting part of a discussion. and such a discussion would be to further clarity; whereas agreement would be nice, clarity must be preferred where agreement is not possible.

I don’t claim to be using different laws of logic or a different understanding of induction. I do see believers using the words reason, evidence, and knowledge to refer to things that I would not use those terms for. One of the examples you gave was Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” and I’m assuming that is from the King James version of the bible. When I read that verse in context I don’t understand “let us reason” as “let us examine the facts”, I understand it as “this will all go a lot easier for you if you just do what I say”. Verses 19 and 20 are especially telling: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” That’s not god telling his creation to use reason, it is god telling his creation to obey without complaint.

By the way, for comparison, the NIV renders verse 18 as “Come now, let us settle the matter, says the Lord” and while the English Standard Version has “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord” it includes a footnote that the word ‘reason’ could also be read as ‘dispute’. In none of them do I find any call for people to learn anything except blind obedience.
A former member
Post #: 66
Hi Bob,

I really appreciate you giving your take on the passage. I can hear your passion in your words.
Let me give you my take on the passage, and perhaps WE can reason together and at least achieve clarity, if not agreement.

First, I want to thank you for bringing up context. You are completely correct, as is said so often, the context is king; and that is the case with the passage we’re looking at here. Verses 18 through 20 provides a solution to the problem, which is described in verses 2 to 17. Since, I am the world’s foremost authority on ancient Hebrew (not), allow me to give you the Brady, condensed, paraphrase version of verses 2 through 20:

“Guys, you’ve really messed up. You have forgotten who you are and who God is. You’ve gone out and broken every law in the book (or on the tablet, as the case may be), and you have spit in God’s face. Let’s take a look at what all your evil deeds have gotten you: people are burning down your cities, your fields are being destroyed, your houses are being looted, you are killing each other and other groups are killing you, and unless God had shown some mercy, you all would have been completely wiped out.

“Now, listen up guys, here is what God is saying: ‘I am tired of your meaningless sacrifices, your self-serving prayers and contrived rituals. I am tired of looking at you, I don’t want to hear anymore of your garbage. What you needed to is turnaround and start doing what is right.

“Come, let’s think this through and reason this out together. Here are your choices:

1) If from your heart , you change your evil ways and start doing good (I. E. obeying the law), I will have mercy on you and I will forgive you and you will receive all the benefits that comes with doing what is right.
2) If you continue doing evil, then you will continue getting what you’ve been getting, and worse. You will reap what you sow’”

What do you think?
A former member
Post #: 67
Bob, I agree with your argument. My definition of FAITH is: Faith makes you blind to seeing the reality of your life.
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 11
I disagree that your option #2 is a fair comparison. In the first option god is going to forgive them and have mercy on them and the second option god does not show mercy and instead brings the sword. God is not asking them to reason, just to choose to obey or to be destroyed. For more evidence look ahead to verses 24 and 25: “Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin”. That’s not god simply saying that he won’t help, he’s saying that he will actively eliminate them.

If the bible writers wanted to promote critical thinking they could easily have said something like this:
“Come, let’s think this through and reason this out together. Here are your choices:
1) If you change your evil ways and start being decent to each other you will all be better off
2) If you continue doing evil then life will continue to suck for everybody”
They chose to go with threats and demands for obedience; I can't accept that as a call for critical thinking.
A former member
Post #: 67
Bob, I am really not sure what you are getting at when it comes to reason. Isaiah first states their current condition and the cause of the condition, God then shows them the two options before them. One of the two (the second one) is that they may continue with evil actions and breaking the law, and they will suffer the normal consequences and the just punishment (by God) that goes along with such behavior. I mean, at this point they are already guilty; they deserve not only the consequences for the actions, but the punishment that comes from breaking the law, too.

In the other option (the first one) God offers a way out of the current disaster that they have gotten themselves into. He gives them a new and better option, an option that is undeserved and that they didn't have before; that option is to change their hearts and their ways, come back to their creator, be forgiven and receive the great benefit that comes with that.

It seems God has given them a good reason for choosing one over the other. In giving them a new option, a way out, and the reason for choosing that new option, he has reasoned with them.

Maybe, we are understanding reason differently. Perhaps, you can give me your understanding of what reason is.
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 12
When the "good reason for choosing one over the other" is "I am god and you do as I say or I will destroy you", that's not promoting critical thinking in any meaningful sense. The god of the bible is demanding that the people obey or face destruction. He isn't offering positive reasons why they should change their actions, he's just telling them that they must.

Perhaps the problem we are having is that "reason" has different uses. The god of the bible is giving them a reason to change: fear. He isn't asking them to use reason to pick the best course of action.
A former member
Post #: 68
Thank you, Bob. You are indeed helping me to understand you position. Actually, there were two good reasons given in Isaiah, as has been already mentioned. Let me restate them again.

The first is the one you mentioned; but let's set it in it's true context: They had broken the law and done so by doing vicious things to each other, and doing them often. They deserved the punishment that the law prescribed. They were getting some of it, but God was holding some back in hopes they would change. If they continued to break the law, God was going to give them exactly the punishment called for.

The second reason was that God was offering them a way out, that had the super benefit package that amounted to "and they lived happily ever after."

This really seems like a no--brainer to me.

With that said, Let me address the real issue: You admit that reasons were given, you just don't like the content. If you had broken the law, as they did, and were before a judge with the sentences before you were life without parole or the death penalty and the judged offered you the deal God offered, would you take it? Would you take it begrudgingly? Would you complain that the judge was being a bully because he wasn't going to let you continue committing your crimes?

Tell you what, let's go to death-row and present the problem to the inmates their. Let's see how many of them would complain about such a deal. Let's see if any of them offer your position.

Looking at this rationally, for our purposes, content is not important, form is. You already admitted that the form is that of offering reasons. As far as I can see, from a rational standpoint, we are done here. The only remaining issue that could possibly remain is your subjective like or dislike of the content of the reasons. I already understand that you personally, emotionally and subjectively don't like the content of the reasons; but your likes are not the issue at hand.

Now if you have some objective standard and you could show me why the above reasons are illegitimate, I sincerely would like to see that.
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 13
If you are arguing that the fact that the people were given a choice and not just summarily wiped out means that they had to reason out what to do then to a very small extent I might agree. If somebody points a gun at you and says "you money or your life" they are giving you essentially the same choice that god gave according to Isaiah. You've been given a reason to hand over your money to a stranger and you may have decided that it is better to comply and so you have made a choice. The point of the story is not that people should actually think for themselves though. The point is that people must obey god OR ELSE and, as such, I do not see that it can reasonably claimed to advicate critical thinking.

Out of curiousity, do you mind giving me a general idea of your overall position? Are you a believer? a believer with questions or doubts? an ex-believer still seeing a lot of good in it? a gnostic atheist who sees some good in the teachings? something else?
A former member
Post #: 69

I don't know where you received your training in critical thingking, but I must say that it is very different than mine. Mine has been in how to properly recogize if an argument is valid or cogent (depending on the type of argument used), methods for determining if premises are true or false and analyzing options and consequencenes.

Given that, I must say that your analysis of what is going on in the passage we are looking at is completely off track. I have tried to correct it a couple of times, but you seem intent on misrepresenting the situation.

Let me try it one more time:

The people God is talking to are not innocent victims at the point of a thiefs gun; they are guilty of lots of crimes (in fact many of them were probably the ones holding the gun - or knife. as the case may be). They are recieving the sentence justly do them for their crimes. In fact, if God hadn't shown some mercy already they all would have been wipped out, and justly so. God doesn't have to offer them anything. He can just let the sentence take it course.

So, my analysis of the passage is that God offers them a new option for consideration, where they had no option before. The options are clearly stated, the consiquences are analysed and the choice is given; once again a choice they did not have before. So, clearly there is critical thinking going on. and the people God is talking to have the choice to continue as they are, or take the new and merciful offer.

I must say that your continued mis-portrayal of the situation is what I would call uncritical thinking. You continually portay the guilty, who are receiving a just sentence, as the innocent victim, and you portray the one who is offering a new and merciful option and the villian.

Part of critical thinking is to form an accurate assesment of the argument or situation.

P. S. I am a Christian and a philosopher.
Lake Forest, CA
Post #: 14
Well I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. The crimes these people are guilty of are the arbitrary rulings of the god who has simply told them that they either obey or be destroyed. As I said before, explaining to the people why it would benefit them to change their ways would be promotion of critical thinking. Giving an ultimatum is not. This is not a "just sentence" or an attempt to make people reason for themselves.

It is clear that you view this through a prism of god being always right and just and fair. From my perspective that is clouding your judgement to the point that you are unable to see how monstrously unfair and immoral the god of the bible is. You find excuses to rationalize the behavior no matter what it is. Yes, god gave them a choice. "Obey or die" is not how you promote critical thinking and I'm sorry that you can't see that.

Thanks for the discussion, it is always valuable to gain a clearer understanding of how theists view these questions.
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