an atheist viewpoint

thoughts from a non-theist

No True Scotsman

A Scotsman is reading the morning paper, turning the page he sees a lurid headline about the Brighton Strangler, a maniac who has been terrorising the seaside town.

‘Och!’ he says, ‘that’s dreadful! No Scotsman would ever do such a horrible thing!’

The next day the paper records that the Brighton Strangler has been caught, and it turns out that he’s from Aberdeen! The Scot looks at the headline, shakes his head, and says ‘Och! How awful! No true Scotsman would ever do such a thing!’

In my ongoing Twitter run-ins with various Faith Heads, I’ve encountered the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy many times. Initially it was Mad Joe Cienkowski insisting that I’d never been a true Christian, as no true Christian could ever turn to atheism. Lately it’s been sanctimonious Bible bashers claiming that I can’t have studied properly, or understood sufficiently if I didn’t reach the conclusion that gods exist, and that one god in particular was the right one.

When I ask them (sometimes not very politely) why they think their god is the right one, they tell me that they’ve studied long and hard, can read the original Greek and Hebrew, have prayed for guidance, and are convinced they are right. However, if you ask a devout believer of one of the rival faiths, they say exactly the same thing. Each is as convinced of their rightness as the next.

The pious smugster, who claimed superiority due to being able to read the original Hebrew and Greek, got me thinking – why should anyone seeking the supposed revelation of Yahweh have to jump through so many hoops?

It’s the same when it comes to contradictions, apparently if the reader isn’t aware of some obscure law of Jewish genealogy, or is unable to glean that the writer means the exact opposite of what he says, then the failure is the reader’s and nothing to do with the message itself being garbled.

Here’s an example, in Matthew 1:16 the following is written –

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 

Pretty clear, one would think, but wait! What’s this in Luke 3:23??

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.

Which is it? Well, if you read the apologetics site Looking Unto Jesus, you’ll be told that Luke meant that Heli was Mary’s father, not Joseph’s at all. If that’s the case why did Luke claim the complete opposite? Apparently it’s because of some obscure piece of alleged tradition, totally in keeping with the times.

That doesn’t wash for me, why would any deity who wanted his message to be clearly understood down the ages bow to societal pressures of the time? Why would he make sure the story didn’t offend some tiny portion of contemporary society?

The Bible should stand or fall on its accuracy, and the truth (or otherwise) of its message. If it is unclear, muddled, massively contradictory, and denied by contemporary histories and archaeology, then it is not an error on the part of the reader if he or she decides the book isn’t the inspired work of a Supreme Being.

Tell this to a believer though, and you’ll be told that you can’t have understood properly, can’t read the original text, and that you were never a true Christian if you turned your back on the faith.

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