Homer's Iliad is such a disaster. The Iliad is responsible for every major scourge on the planet. I just wish that people who like literature would really read the Iliad and see how out of date it is, how totally unscientific it is. Why we could never build a supercomputer using the Iliad as a guide. Homeric Greek is even antiquated and hard to read compared to Attic. Since Attic is what most people learn that should be the standard.
How absurd to it would be to see someone seriously make such arguments, don't you think? Why should we use only the standard of scientific advancement as a worthy goal of literature? Why is Attic Greek any better than Homeric? How foolish it would be judge great immortal classics of literature by the standards of a modern science text book, technical, guide or journal. Yet this is exactly the sort of thing Lee Randolph proposes doing with the Bible in his very silly article "IDQ Flow of Meaninglessness Representation in the Bible." (Debunking Christianity blog, 12/31/08).
Very little in the Bible can be understood as it is written. To be understood as relevant and applicable to today necessitates speculation, interpretation and pre-processing for general consumption. The Bible, as it is written, has become meaningless even though Church leaders try to speculate, interpret and derive meaning from it. Since Christian leaders don't agree, large portions of the data in the Bible is demonstrably meaningless which is a result of the Information and Data Quality flaw of "Meaningless Representation".
This Article is part seven of the series of articles applying Information and Data Quality (IDQ) Principles to the Bible. The purpose of the series is to show that the Bible is not a reliable or trustworthy source of information about God because it has problems from its origin identified in Information and Data Quality research as causing inaccuracy and unreliability. Links to the previous articles are listed below.
Information and Data Quality is something from the computer world, but it reminds me of a model of speech/communications that assumes expository prose and a clear attempt to be as open and concise in meaning as possible. It's the sort of thing I studied as a communications major, its designed for business conferences and to help factory managers learn to communicate with workers better and that sort of thing. The idea actually applying it to read the bible is total inane. I am not going to try to disprove all the little fiddly bits because they are very unimportant. The fact of the matter is there are just a major principles that atheist refuse to ever learn. the rational for this kind of approach has been dashed in the head a million times. These guys have to mentally impaired because as many times as we have answered this stuff they keep making the same basic mistakes over and over again. How many decades? in fact I doubt atheists would even make the same assumptions about the Bible and communications that they make constantly if it wasn't' for message boards and websites. Every time one group of atheist finally get's the idea through their heads, another group comes up and finds the old web sites and starts on the classic misconceptions. But there are enough that refuse to ever let go that they just never learn. I wont bother to answer the little fiddly crap about a mistake here and mistake there, a real perfect God wouldn't have a book that's a bad science text book, and so on. I'm going to deal with the major misconceptions overall.
The first major assumption these guys always make is that the bible is word for word verbatim a memo from God. God wrote it. I see atheists make the statement "God wrote the Bible," many many times. I have never seen a fundamentalist or Evangelical of any strip actually say "God wrote the bible." I don't think any kind of Christian is stupid enough o think that god actually sat down at a desk with heavenly pen in hand and wrote the bible. No one really thinks that, and in fact among conservative view points there are quite a few that would surprise even other Evangelicals. What follows are several different view points as to what verbal plenary inspiration really means. In his great book Models of Revelation Avery Dulles documents several of these views.
Dulles Lists Five Versions of Inerrancy.
*Inerrency of original autographs and divine protection of manuscripts.
Proponents of this view include Harold Lindsell.
*Inspiration of autographs with minor mistakes in transmission of an unessential kind.
Carl C.F. Henry.
*Inerrency of Textual intention without textual specifics.
*Inerrancy in Soteric (salvation) knowledge but not in historical or scientific matters.
*Inerrent in major theological assertions but not in religion or morality.
Donald Blosche and Paul K. Jewett
Those are the conservative view now. Not the liberals but the conservatives, the f undies, the evangelicals. As the reader can see these views include mistakes and non literal statements and they all assume a human author through whom inspiration travels, not the actual writing of God himself.
The next misconception is that perfect can't produce imperfection. In fact The author of the article says this to me in his response to my comment in the comment section:"Humans are defective products of a perfect being." (Lee Randolph). That's Randolph's concept of a problem with the Bible. Just a couple of problems here:
(1) This principle is never stated in scripture.
This is atheists deciding for themselves what they think God should do and how they think god should Be. It has nothing to with any actual claims made by any actual religious people.
(2) contradicts the entire basic set up of the bible.
Not only does it contradict the concept of sin and the need for redemption, but also of sin and rebellion in the OT. I get that he's trying to turn this into an argument against the Bible. What he doesn't get is that you can't do that because it's at the foundational premise of the whole bible nd the whole religion. It's opposed to all religion. All religion is about resolving the human problematic. he wants to say if there is a problematic at all then religion of any kind is disproved a prori. that's just not cricket because the basis of religion assumes this is an attempt to recover something we've lost. I hate to quote someone I basically regard as a crack pot, but occasionally he did find place to stand that gave himself a fine vantage point: as Francis Shaffer once said "the atheist assumes an unbroken line between God and man. But the bible assumes the line is broken." For better or for worse they are just not willing to allow the Bible to proceed along the lines of its own assumptions.
(3) The idea that the Bible must be totally accurate in all that it says,
especially history and science. This assumption just flows out of the one above, as does the next one. It assumes that everything has to be perfect and problem free if God is perfectly, for why would a perfect God allow problems. Of course my theory of Soeteriological drama answers this problem perfectly (which should prove something). This concept tells us that God allows the world to be as it is so that we will have to seek truth for ourselves and thus internalize the values of the good.
There are three basic assumptions that are hidden, or perhaps not so obivioius, but nevertheless must be dealt with here.
(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.
The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impitus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential.
(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complainance that would be the result of intimindation.
That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truely beileve in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about.
(3)the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end.
The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultaimte meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internatlized.
The argument would look like this:
(1)God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.
(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).
(3) Allowence of free chioces requires the risk that the chooser will make evil chioces
(4)The possiblity of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpsoe of creation would be thwarted.
This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entials. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclinded to sin.
This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it.
Argument on Soteriological Drama:
(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tention exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultiamte goals, ends and puroses for which we are on this earth.
(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us
(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probalby all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from teh heart.
(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internatilized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; intetrsubective, internal, not amienable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.
In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we resond to the situation as characters in a drama.
This theory also exaplins why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search.
Thus, there are perfectly logical reasons for imperfection to be allowed by a perfect deity.
(4) A perfect God would communicate so perfectly that his followers would only have one view point.
The final assumption I will deal with here is this:if God is real than all communication form the divine would say the same thing and be of the same view point. That's a very silly point of view for people who are suppossed to believe in "free thinking." But I think the reason is since they imagine that religion is about being a good little sheep and all saying the same things, then they can't imagine that this is not the case. Of course no group of people are enslaved by their ideology than atheists, except perhaps communists, anti-communists, and people who watch Dragnet.Unless of course it's people involved in Amway. So these guys are once again imposing a preconceived view upon Christian thinking. but this time they have a classy gimmick: a communications model that charts unclear and clear communication. Of course it's not meant to work on literature or narratives. But why let technicalities stop us?
I know this kind of model. I have not studies this one in particular but 's so very like all the one's did study. It goes back to a guy Kenneth Burke, and to something called "JoHari window" which is not by Burke but influenced by the kind of thing he did. It's nothing more than charting the way communication flow works. You start with the assumption that there's a sender, there' a receiver, and the interference such as static on the telephone or the temperature of the room or anything disrupts communication is "noise." So in charting the bible one could say God is the sender, man is the receiver and sin nature is noise. But let's don't. Instead let's talk about what the bible is suppossed to do, and the arbitrary assumptions some people make about what they think it's suppossed to do.
Randolph uses these assumptions, all tacitly implicit and applying computer programmer speak basically argues that the Bible is not the product of a perfect God because it is not perfect communication. Of course what is perfect communication but his computer speak? So it's just another exercise in imposing modern standards upon the world.
When the information system contains superfluous information then it can lead to a situation where the Information System does not accurately represent (map back to) a real world state. For example this can occur by the use of too many descriptive terms, undefined terms or some minor addition to the story intended as an elaboration. Meaningless states can still represent Real World states properly, however it is not a good design in principle to include meaningless data if for no other reason than users may expend resources and make commitments based on the data only to later discover the data to be meaningless. For example, the ancient Greek historian Heroditus, while accurate to a large degree, is known to have exaggerated and to have uncritically included information from apparently unreliable sources.
Figure 1 illustrates this point by showing two instances of data represented by spheres in the column labeled RW (Real World) and three instances of Data in the D column. One instance of an information state is not represented by or does not map back to a real world state.
Insert here a nice little graphic consisting of circles are arrows and totally meaningless.
In human terms, garbling occurs at the point of "consumption" or reading and interpretation. In Information Systems, it occurs at operation time or when the database is being accessed. Garbling occurs when a Real World state is incorrectly mapped to a wrong state in the Information System. There are two cases in which this occurs. If a meaningless state exists, then Real World mapping will be to a meaningless state, or the mapping might be to a meaningful but incorrect information state. This can occur as a result of inaccurate data entry or omissions of real world states at the creation or origin of the data. Analogous examples of this type of garbling are legends, folktales and the "Artistic License" of the author or originator.
What does this pseudo techno babel indicate? He uses the typical atheist Bible contradiction pablum to shovel in more of the same. It's a tribute to the same old think for the fifty thousandth time. Liberals take the bible Metaphorically, sure God could be more clear, therefore, religion is wrong and bad. The same old same old. Long lists of thumb nail descriptions of Bible passages in the Genesis creation story to get across the point that some people take it metaphorically.
As one goes line by line through the Bible elaborating and assessing the information contained within, its mythological character should become undeniable to most people. If we take the Bible to be 100% true when we start reading it, then as we go through it and find statements that we know to be false and we find statements whose truth depends on false statements, then we should reduce our percentage of belief with every fact shown to be false.
Below is an overview of some major but not all inclusive problems with the remaining chapters of Genesis up to chapter eleven. Why is Genesis important? Because it lays the foundation for the human necessity of redemption by way of the Human Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
GENESIS 1 continued
* Genesis 1:1-25 Is An Amalgam of Near Eastern Creation Myths
* Genesis 1:26-1:27, Creation of Humans in Near Eastern Myths And The Paleolithic Era
ADAM AND EVE
The Story of Adam and Eve is considered a metaphorical story in Liberal Christian Circles. Several disconfirming facts are listed below with links to my articles elaborating on them.
- Being made in the image of God is meaningless, there is no consensus on what "the image of God" is.
* Disqualifying Adam and Eve. There is no reason outside of the Bible to accept this story as representing a Real World event.
* Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil. Shows how the Christian Tenet that humans are "incompetent" nullifies any reliable interpretation of the Bible or any knowledge supposedly gained through flawed Human reasoning.
* GENESIS 1:28-2:4a, Be Fruitful And Multiply, Founder Effect and Genetic Diversity. Shows how lack of Genetic Diversity would prevent the establishment of a Robust and Healthy population.
* Genesis 2:4b-20: Man Made From Earth Is Folklore, Conflated River Elements and the Myth of Adapa. Discusses a correlation between Hebrew and all other Folklore typologies regarding the first humans.
* Genesis 2:21-25: Woman From Rib and Mother Goddesses of Near Eastern Myths. Discusses a correlation between Hebrew and all other Folklore typologies regarding Eve.
Of course it's only a problem if you make the assumptions that he makes above. His ultimate argument is going to be that if he were a prefect being trying to communicate with a bunch of know nothings he wouldn't do it like God did with the Bible. He would use his computer diagram of clear data info and maybe through in the JoHari window for good measure.
At this point we can stop the exorcise and just make one observation which kills this whole argument: my view of Biblical inspiration is designed specifically to answer these kinds of problems. Pointing that the Bible contains mythology is not a serious argument against the validity of the Bible, because I point that out all the time. Serious evangelicals from Dallas Theological Seminary have argued the same thing. I don't have a published source by I know Bill Tsamis did argue this on my message board and others. The more sophisticated evangelical has been aware of such view points for a long time. This is one of the drawbacks of the Dawkamentalists who think they don't need to learn theology. But then they wind up missing everything that is being said by theolgoians and arguing in ways that are centuries behind the times.
In a nutshell here is my take on Biblical inspiration:
The problem with the notions of revelation in the Christian tradition is that they don't really conform to the earthly or human idea of what revelation should be. The human notion can be seen with the Book of Mormon—handed down from angels on high on Gold tablets—or the Koran—dictated by an Angel who grabbed Mohammed by the throat and forced him to write. The human notion tells us that there should be no mistakes, no problems, and the revelation should be ushered in with fanfare and pomp, clear and indisputable. But that is not the way of many religious traditions, and certainly not Christianity. There are problems, and even though most of them are conceived by ignorant people (most of the Internet atheists claims to "contradictions in the Bible" are based largely on not understanding metaphor or literary devices), there are some real problems and they are thorny. There are even more problems when it comes to the historicity of the text. But the important thing to note is that the revelations of the Christian faith are passed through human vessels. They contain human problems, and they are passed on safeguarded through human testimony. Even if the eye-witness nature of the individual authors of the NT cannot be established, the testimony of the community as a whole can be. The NT and its canon is a community event. It was a community at large that produced the Gospels, that passed on the Testimony and that created the canon. This communal nature of the revelation guarantees, if not individual authenticity, at least a sort of group validation, that a whole bunch of people as a community attest to these books and this witness....
"The Bible is Just Mythology"
The most radical view will be that of mythology in the Bible. This is a difficult concept for most Christians to grasp, because most of us are taught that "myth" means a lie, that it's a dirty word, an insult, and that it is really debunking the Bible or rejecting it as God's word. The problem is in our understanding of myth. "Myth" does not mean lie; it does not mean something that is necessarily untrue. It is a literary genre—a way of telling a story. In Genesis, for example, the creation story and the story of the Garden are mythological. They are based on Babylonian and Sumerian myths that contain the same elements and follow the same outlines. But three things must be noted: 1) Myth is not a dirty word, not a lie. Myth is a very healthy thing. 2) The point of the myth is the point the story is making--not the literal historical events of the story. So the point of mythologizing creation is not to transmit historical events but to make a point. We will look more closely at these two points. 3) I don't assume mythology in the Bible out of any tendency to doubt miracles or the supernatural, I believe in them. I base this purely on the way the text is written.
The purpose of myth is often assumed to be the attempt of unscientific or superstitious people to explain scientific facts of nature in an unscientific way. That is not the purpose of myth. A whole new discipline has developed over the past 60 years called "history of religions." Its two major figures are C.G. Jung and Marcea Eliade. In addition to these two, another great scholarly figure arises in Carl Kerenyi. In addition to these three, the scholarly popularizer Joseph Champbell is important. Champell is best known for his work The Hero with A Thousand Faces. This is a great book and I urge everyone to read it. Champbell, and Elliade both disliked Christianity intensely, but their views can be pressed into service for an understanding of the nature of myth. Myth is, according to Champbell a cultural transmission of symbols for the purpose of providing the members of the tribe with a sense of guidance through life. They are psychological, not explanatory of the physical world. This is easily seen in their elaborate natures. Why develop a whole story with so many elements when it will suffice as an explanation to say "we have fire because Prometheus stole it form the gods?" For example, Champell demonstrates in The Hero that heroic myths chart the journey of the individual through life. They are not explanatory, but clinical and healing. They prepare the individual for the journey of life; that's why in so many cultures we meet the same hero over and over again; because people have much the same experiences as they journey though life, gaining adulthood, talking their place in the group, marriage, children, old age and death. The hero goes out, he experiences adventures, he proves himself, he returns, and he prepares the next hero for his journey. We meet this over and over in mythology.
In Kerenyi's essays on a Science of Mythology we find the two figures of the maiden and the Krone. These are standard figures repeated throughout myths of every culture. They serve different functions, but are symbolic of the same woman at different times in her life. The Krone is the enlightener, the guide, the old wise woman who guides the younger into maidenhood. In Genesis we find something different. Here the Pagan myths follow the same outline and contain many of the same characters (Adam and Adapa—see, Cornfeld Archaeology of the Bible 1976). But in Genesis we find something different. The chaotic creation story of Babylon is ordered and the source of creation is different. Rather than being emerging out of Tiamot (chaos) we find "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Order is imposed. We have a logical and orderly progression (as opposed to the Pagan primordial chaos). The seven days of creation represent perfection and it is another aspect of order, seven periods, the seventh being rest. Moreover, the point of the story changes. In the Babylonian myth the primordial chaos is the ages of creation, and there is no moral overtone, the story revolves around other things. This is a common element in mythology, a world in which the myths happen, mythological time and place. All of these elements taken together are called Myths, and every mythos has a cosmogony, an explanation of creation and being (I didn't say there were no explanations in myth.). We find these elements in the Genesis story, Cosmogony included. But, the point of the story becomes moral: it becomes a story about man rebelling against God, the entrance of sin into the world. So the Genesis account is a literary rendering of pagan myth, but it stands that myth on its head. It is saying God is the true source of creation and the true point is that life is about knowing God.
The mythological elements are more common in the early books of the Bible. The material becomes more historical as we go along. How do we know? Because the mythical elements of the first account immediately drop away. Elements such as the talking serpent, the timeless time ("in the beginning"), the firmament and other aspects of the myth all drop away. The firmament was the ancient world's notion of the world itself. It was a flat earth set upon angular pillars, with a dome over it. On the inside of the dome stars were stuck on, and it contained doors in the dome through which snow and rain could be forced through by the gods (that's why Genesis says "he divided the waters above the firmament from the waters below”). We are clearly in a mythological world in Genesis. The Great flood is mythology as well, as all nations have their flood myths. But as we move through the Bible things become more historical.
The NT is not mythological at all. The Resurrection of Christ is an historical event and can be argued as such (see Resurrection page). Christ is a flesh and blood historical person who can be validated as having existed. The resurrection is set in an historical setting, names, dates, places are all historically verifiable and many have been validated. So the major point I'm making is that God uses myth to communicate to humanity. The mythical elements create the sort of psychological healing and force of literary strength and guidance that any mythos conjures up. God is novelist, he inspires myth. That is to say, the inner experience model led the redactors to remake ancient myth with a divine message. But the Bible is not all mythology; in fact most of it is an historical record and has been largely validated as such.
The upshot of all of this is that there is no need to argue evolution or the great flood. Evolution is just a scientific understanding of the development of life. It doesn't contradict the true account because we don't have a "true" scientific account. In Genesis, God was not trying to write a science text book. We are not told how life developed after creation. That is a point of concern for science not theology.
How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Not because it contains big amazing miracle prophecy fulfillments, not because it reveals scientific information which no one could know at the time of writing, but for the simplest of reasons. Because it does what religious literature should do, it is transformative.
All religions seek to do three things.
All religions seek to do three things:
a) to identify the human problematic,
b) to identify an ultimate transformative experience (UTE) which resolves the problematic, and
c) to mediate between the two.
But not all religions are equal. All are relative to the truth but not all are equal. Some mediate the UTE better than others, or in a more accessible way than others. Given the foregoing, my criteria are that:
1) a religious tradition reflect a human problematic which is meaningful in terms of the what we find in the world.
2) the UTE be found to really resolve the problematic
3) it mediates the UTE in such a way as to be effective and accessible.
4) its putative and crucial historical claims be historically probable given the ontological and epistemological assumptions that are required within the inner logic of that belief system.
5) it be consistent with itself and with the external world in a way that touches these factors.
These mean that I am not interested in piddling Biblical contradictions such as how many women went to the tomb, ect. but in terms of the major claims of the faith as they touch the human problematic and its resolution.
How Does the Bible fulfill these criteria? First, what is the Bible? Is it a rule book? Is it a manual of discipline? Is it a science textbook? A history book? No it is none of these. The Bible, the Canon, the NT in particular, is a means of bestowing Grace. What does that mean? It means first, it is not an epistemology! It is not a method of knowing how we know, nor is it a history book. It is a means of coming into contact with the UTE mentioned above. This means that the primary thing it has to do to demonstrate its veracity is not be accurate historically, although it is that in the main; but rather, its task is to connect one to the depository of truth in the teachings of Jesus such that one is made open to the ultimate transformative experience. Thus the main thing the Bible has to do to fulfill these criteria is to communicate this transformation. This can only be judged phenomenologically. It is not a matter of proving that the events are true, although there are ensconces where that becomes important.
Thus the main problem is not the existence of these piddling so-called contradictions (and my experience is 90% of them stem from not knowing how to read a text), but rather the extent to which the world and life stack up to the picture presented as a fallen world, engaged in the human problematic and transformed by the light of Christ. Now that means that the extent to which the problematic is adequately reflected, that being sin, separation from God, meaninglessness, the wages of sin, the dregs of life, and so forth, vs. the saving power of God's grace to transform life and change the direction in which one lives to face God and to hope and future. This is something that cannot be decided by the historical aspects or by any objective account. It is merely the individual's problem to understand and to experience. That is the nature of what religion does and the extent to which Christianity does it more accessibly and more efficaciously is the extent to which it should be seen as valid.
The efficacy is not an objective issue either, but the fact that only a couple of religions in the world share the concept of Grace should be a clue. No other religion (save Pure Land Buddhism) have this notion. For all the others there is a problem of one's own efforts. The Grace mediates and administrates through Scriptures is experienced in the life of the believer, and can be found also in prayer, in the sacraments and so forth.
Where the historical questions should enter into it are where the mediation of the UTE hedges upon these historical aspects. Obviously the existence of Jesus of Nazareth would be one, his death on the cross another. The Resurrection of course, doctrinally is also crucial, but since that cannot be established in an empirical sense, seeing as no historical question can be, we must use historical probability. That is not blunted by the minor discrepancies in the number of women at the tomb or who got there first. That sort of thinking is to think in terms of a video documentary. We expect the NT to have the sort of accuracy we find in a court room because we are moderns and we watch too much television. The number of women and when they got to the tomb etc. does not have a bearing on whether the tomb actually existed, was guarded and was found empty. Nor does it really change the fact that people claimed to have seen Jesus after his death alive and well and ascending into heaven. We can view the different strands of NT witness as separate sources, since they were not written as one book, but by different authors at different times and brought together later.
The historicity of the NT is a logical assumption given the nature of the works. We can expect that the Gospels will be polemical. We do not need to assume, however, that they will be fabricated from whole cloth. They are the product of the communities that redacted them. That is viewed as a fatal weakness in fundamentalist circles, tantamount to saying that they are lies. But that is silly. In reality there is no particular reason why the community cannot be a witness. The differences in the accounts are produced by either the ordering of periscopes to underscore various theological points or the use of witnesses who fanned out through the various communities and whose individual view points make up the variety of the text. This is not to be confused with contradiction simply because it reflects differences in individual's view points and distracts us from the more important points of agreement; the tomb was empty, the Lord was seen risen, there were people who put there hands in his nail prints, etc.
The overall question about Biblical contradiction goes back to the basic nature of the text. What sort of text is it? Is it a Sunday school book? A science text book? A history book? And how does inspiration work? The question about the nature of inspiration is the most crucial. This is because the basic notion of the fundamentalists is that of verbal plenary inspiration. If we assume that this is the only sort of inspiration than we have a problem. One mistake and verbal plenary inspiration is out the window. The assumption that every verse is inspired and every word is true comes not from the Church fathers or from the Christian tradition. It actually starts with Humanists in the Renaissance and finds its final development in the 19th century with people like J. N. Drably and Warfield. (see, Avery Dulles Models of Revelation).
One of my major reasons for rejecting this model of revelation is because it is not true to the nature of transformation. Verbal plenary inspiration assumes that God uses authors like we use pencils or like businessmen use secretaries, to take dictation (that is). But why should we assume that this is the only form of inspiration? Only because we have been conditioned by American Christianity to assume that this must be the case. This comes from the Reformation's tendency to see the Bible as epistemology rather than as a means of bestowing grace (see William Abraham, Canon and Criterion). Why should be approach the text with this kind of baggage? We should approach it, not assuming that Moses et al. were fundamentalist preachers, but that they experienced God in their lives through the transformative power of the Spirit and that their writings and redactions are a reflection of this experience. That is more in keeping with the nature of religion as we find it around the world. That being the case, we should have no problem with finding that mythology of Babylonian and Suzerain cultures are used in Genesis, with the view toward standing them on their heads, or that some passages are idealized history that reflect a nationalistic agenda. But the experiences of God come through in the text in spite of these problems because the text itself, when viewed in dialectical relation between reader and text (Barth/Dulles) does bestow grace and does enable transformation.
After all the Biblical texts were not written as "The Bible" but were complied from a huge voluminous body of works which were accepted as scripture or as "holy books" for quite some time before they were collected and put in a single list and even longer before they were printed as one book: the Bible. Therefore, that this book may contradict itself on some points is of no consequence. Rather than reflecting dictation, or literal writing as though the author was merely a pencil in the hands of God, what they really reflect is the record of people's experiences of God in their lives and the way in which those experiences suggested their choice of material/redaction. In short, inspiration of scripture is a product of the transformation afore mentioned. It is the verbalization of inner-experience which mediates grace, and in turn it mediates grace itself.
The Bible is not the Perfect Revelation of God to humanity. Jesus is that perfect revelation. The Gospels are merely the record of Jesus' teachings, deposited with the communities and encoded for safe keeping in the list chosen through Apostolic backing to assure Christian identity. For that matter the Bible as a whole is a reflection of the experience of transformation and as such, since it was the product of human agents we can expect it to have human flaws. The extent to which those flaws are negligible can be judge the ability of that deposit of truth to adequately promote transformation. Christ authorizes the Apostles, the Apostles authorize the community, the community authorizes the tradition, and the tradition authorizes the canon.
The true purpose of scripture is not to commuicate a memeo fromt the boss. This is the mistae the Reformers made in truing the Bible into epistemology. For a better understanding of this view see Willaim Abraham's ground breakign work Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology.
The true of scripture is to administer the sacrament of Grace. It's not a history book, it's not epistemology, it's not a science textbook. It's a source of healing, and its a source spiritual enlightenment. Before we go tearing it apart under the pretext that its' "outdated" or something foolish like that, we need to be sure that is outdated (and as long as it does actally administer grace--and it does--then it's pointless to call it dated). To judge its relevance by people outside the community of faith is quite foolish. The collection of materials called "the Bible" is not meant to be an apologetic handbook, its not for the outsider its not for the uninitiated.
In taking this approach the atheists demonstrate their blind nonspiritual nature. I recommend therapy. They should start by exploring self realization through JoHari's window which might have some insights they need to know.