I don't propose to defend Exodus 11. It's a difficult passage from within a theological framework (which I'm sure you recall), but even more difficult when taken in isolation from the whole counsel of scripture. I struggle with it myself, and I suspect I'm meant to do so. But I do have to insist that we either differentiate between ethics and theology, or admit up front that there is a commitment to assuming God is made in man's image, and not the other way around.
I fear that in my zeal, I may have drifted into waters I didn't intend to swim in. Eliezer's point is that religion can be disproven. How does he prove it can be disproven? By showing aspects of a particular religion(s) that are disprovable.
Do I agree that religion can be disproven? Sure, some of it. It really depends on what we count as religion. What I really found myself reacting strongly to was the paragraph that begins
Back in the old days, people actually believed their religions instead of just believing in them.
Perhaps I did violence to his thought, but my point is that all of us, I think, believe in things (believe them despite contrary evidence). (I understand that he may have meant that people believe despite a sense of the futility of belief. To me, this is not belief. Doubt is not the same as despair. If there is no content to the belief, and no content believed, then it is nothing but superstition and lies) To me, the idea of reducing bias smacks of an anxious, pre-Kuhnian rationalism--a return to Platonic ideal. Ironically, as a Christian, I found myself occupying Sophistic territory. To reduce bias is actually to substitute one bias for another. For instance, we might reduce the bias we find in interpreting things through a Christian lens by substituting the bias of a scientific, rationalistic lens (which aspires to a non-lens, but is a lens nonetheless).
My goal is not to prove Christianity here, but to express doubt at the idea that it is disprovable merely by these machinations.
I'm intrigued by your comment about the bible being folklore, and especially that the NT is propaganda. I suppose if we take Jesus to be a Jewish revolutionary, I could see the Jewish apocalyptic propaganda, but where do you find the Roman imperialist propaganda?
Do I understand, then, that you reject the possibility of revelational knowledge of the divine?
Sure, he could be talking about Orthodox Judaism. But even if that is taken in conjunction with Christianity, it hardly comprises "religion." But if his intention is merely to show a test case, I concede the point.
I can't help feeling that these "awe and wonder" religionists are straw men. Awe and wonder, from a Christian perspective anyway, are only part of what is offered in scripture.
It's a categorical error because it assumes an equivalent relationship between God and people. (It also ignores the context of the occurence, but that's another issue) We aren't always to do as God does. That's the difference between ethics and theology. Another question is, why should this occurence be singled out as factual when the rest of the OT is taken as suspect?
How do we know how the OT was originally intended? What specific things have been misinterpreted for centuries?
The parallel that I'm making is between one (apparently unproven) principle: people can be unbiased, or at least that bias can be reduced, and another (apparently unproven) principle: the biblical account could be true. If we say that certain evidence (people have been unable to eliminate bias in themselves) doesn't disprove the first principle (lack of bias is achievable), then we might extrapolate that some evidence (there are archeological and theological difficulties in the OT) doesn't disprove the second.
Apologies; in point 5 I said you referenced the following link. You did not in this post. However, it does exist on this site: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/we-are-not-unba.html
Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I do, however, have some criticisms:
1) Not to be snarky, but you obviously aren't talking about "religion." You are discussing Christianity. Clearly you cannot disprove Hindu on the basis of disproving the Old Testament (if you had disproven the Old Testament, which I don't believe you have).
2) You mention Christ once: to call his miracle into question. Other than that, He is a footnote. Everything necessary for salvation, however, from a Christian perspective, is contained in the New Testament. Should we discard the Old? No. But historical accounts unchallenging to modern sensibilities were no more the intention of Old Testament writers than was "Origin of the Species" intended to be a religious text. If you wish to disprove Christianity, you would probably do better to start with the life and claims of Jesus Christ. If you merely wish to introduce the possibility of doubt into the conversation, I doubt any thinking Christian would argue with you.
3) You mention twice that the Old Testament doesn't display a sense of wonder at the complexity of the universe. Consider if you will Yahweh's address to Job at the end of the book. How does your assertion stand up to that text?
4)There are some category-confusion errors evident here. For instance, you mention the ethical problem of "slaughtering...innocent...male children," as though the Israelites themselves did the slaughtering. This is a theological, and not an ethical question. If you propose to discuss theology, how do you propose to do so? As a cultural construct? There are some thorny problems built into judging the actions of a God that you also deny exists.
5)The sense of your post seems to be that if some portions of the Old Testament can be falsified or called into question, then Christianity (or, as you euphemistically put it, "religion") can be disproven. You are applying to the scientific method to historical/cultural accounts of the world; something rarely done. But fine. My challenge to you is this: can you quantify the exact criteria that the biblical account would have to meet in order to be falsifiable?
You reference in this post a link to another post, in which the authors of this (fascinating) site admit to failing their own test of bias. They note that, like Christians, they strive for an unbiased view of the world, while occasionally failing in their own lives. The principle (a theoretical lack of bias) is therefore not abandoned despite evidence to the contrary.
Could the same courtesy not be extended to religious adherents?
Thanks for challenging me here. In an effort to avoid insisting too much, and leaning too much on the goodwill of all involved, I'll let that be the last word.