Religion: Debate vs Discussion


The Bible: Debate vs Discussion

I debate a lot of Christians, not because I am, by nature, argumentative, although that’s debatable. It’s because I know more about the Bible than many of them and it irks me when they make broad proclamations about the Bible that are patently false and discount my ideas with the ever-so-productive, “Well, if you aren’t a man of faith, you’ll never see the truth or understand the reality.” The problem with such statements is they fail to account for the difference between a discussion and a debate.

We can’t debate faith. I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe. We can discuss our respective faiths, hopefully respectfully, and we can try to persuade one another, but we can’t, really, debate. A debate requires logic and evidence with debatable levels of provability. It’s the provability that’s at the core of the difference.

If you believe, on faith and from your personal experience, that every word in the Bible is true, that is wonderful and honorable and I have every respect for your faith. I believe, on the other hand, that not every word in the Bible is true. My belief is also based on my faith and on my personal experiences. I hope you can have as much respect for my faith as I have for yours.

I’m not coming into this as a godless heathen. I truly respect the sincere faith of devout Christians. . . but I expect that if we are going to enter into a debate or a discussion that my faith is not discounted because it differs from yours.

For example, the Flood.

Let’s say you state that the Flood happened, and I ask you what evidence you have to support that assertion. You tell me it’s in the Bible, so it has to be true.

Okay. . . now the conversation just changed from a debate to a discussion. When your source is the Bible, we need to take a step back. Before we can discuss or debate the Flood, we need to approach the source of your information: the Bible. Is the Bible the unshakable Word of God? Is everything in it factually true? That is a separate issue.

Why do you believe the Bible is the Word of God and that everything in it is true? Faith. The Bible has had a huge impact on your life, on the lives of people around you, on the lives of billions worldwide and throughout much of human history. You pray and God answers your prayers. You apply the Bible to your life and miracles occur. You read the Bible and it’s like a veil is lifted from your eyes and everything just makes so much more sense.

I sincerely believe every one of those statements is true. Absolutely factual. I have no argument with any of it, and I say so with all sincerity and in no way do I mean to tease.

Unfortunately, nothing in that paragraph in any way demonstrates a reason, other than faith, to accept the Bible as the literal Word of God. I myself have great faith, but faith is not proof. It is not evidence. You can’t weigh it or debate it.

You believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

I believe it is the inspired work of a great many men over many generations.

We can discuss our beliefs. You can point to the evidence that Jesus really existed, that the locations in the Bible have been archaeologically confirmed, but it will never shake my faith that the Bible is the work of men, not God. I can point out what I see as internal inconsistencies and errors, but that will not shake your faith that the Bible is the Word of God.

Okay, so we can have a lively discussion, as long as we remember we’re discussing differences in faith, not in fact. You will never prove, to my logical satisfaction, that the Bible is the Word of God, just as I will never prove to your logical satisfaction that it is the work of men. So be it.

Back to the Flood.

If the Bible is your primary source of information on the Flood, we can’t debate it. You accept the Bible as the only source necessary and I don’t accept the Bible as a source of reliable historical information at all.

Here’s the thing. We can have a debate without ever using the Bible as a primary source. Nearly every culture on the planet has a flood story from antiquity. Water levels do rise and fall dramatically. Mass extinctions have, in fact, occurred. All these issues can be debated. All this evidence can be weighed. So we can have a friendly debate over whether the Flood happened. You may be rather more convinced because of your faith, and I will likely skew to the side of skepticism because of my faith. But we can debate the likelihood that a Flood occurred

What about Noah and the Arc?

Here we’re back to faith. There is no realistically provable way Noah could have built an arc large enough, no way he could have fed all those animals for forty days, and no way the world could have repopulated with only one male and one female of every species. Not without God and a miracle. Not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I sincerely do. But whether or not God played his hand here isn’t a matter of debate. It’s a matter of faith. Do you believe God saved the planet with Noah and the Arc? Okay. That’s cool.

What about possible remains found on the side of a mountain that fit the description? Okay, maybe there was a boat. Now lets go back to billions of species repopulating from a genetic base of two each. See, none of this debatable science really matters to most Christians. That’s not why they believe in God’s miracle. They believe because of their faith in God.

This is the part that makes me cranky. None of the science really matters to most Christians entering into the debate. Not really. They believe in something like Noah’s Arc based on their faith, and they’d believe just as much without a boat on the side of a mountain. Well, if the archaeology is factually irrelevant to them, why try to convince me with it?

They should just say they believe it on faith and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with faith. Faith is awesome.

Here’s the thing. I believe in miracles. I really do, but I don’t believe in that particular miracle. Why not? What a lot of trouble to reboot the planet. If God is all-powerful and he really wanted to smite all the sinners, why not just send a host of angels? Why destroy and then miraculously restore it all—every plant, animal and person—when it’s just the sinners he wanted to kill off? It doesn’t even make sense to me as a matter of faith. Not to me.

See, that’s why we can only discuss faith. We can’t debate it. Faith is never based on logic or proof. If we knew for an absolute fact that God existed, we wouldn’t need faith. If God invited me out for scones and told me, “Yeah. I wrote the Bible. It’s all true. Here’s the rough draft.” Well, then it wouldn’t be a matter of faith.

Faith is only necessary for something that isn’t factually provable. If you need to resort to your faith in something, like the Truth of the Bible, then you can’t really use anything in it as factual evidence in a debate. You can discuss your faith in it, and we can perhaps even debate whether your God is the sort to wipe out the planet with a Flood or isn’t He. . . but that discussion is like the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: philosophically interesting, but not based on the physical world in any way, shape, or form because it can only happen conditionally. If we take it as a given that God exists, for the purposes of this discussion, then is he the kind of God. . .

Please trust your faith enough to rely on it. If you’re discussing any aspect of religion, spirituality, the Bible, or moral decisions based on any of those topics, please let your faith in God shine through. Don’t throw out the latest evidence hitting the internet if you don’t really care about the science, anyway.

Just say, “I have faith in the Bible, and that’s good enough for me.”

All right. Now I know not to waste our time with scientific evidence or logical arguments.  We can discuss our beliefs respectfully and perhaps each of us will walk away a little more informed. We can agree to disagree, and if I end up damned for all eternity because of my faith, that’s between me and God. You and I can still be friends and neither of us needs to get snippy with the other.


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