Sunday, November 18, 2012

That's out of Context

I was browsing twitter the other day and I saw the following tweet by another atheist.

I got a good laugh out of it, and for completeness I have looked up the verses. According to Genesis 32:30, Jacob has seen God face to face, while according to John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12 no one has ever seen the face of God. Look like a pretty obvious contradiction to me.

Of course a Christian saw this picture and complained that the verses are being taken out of context. I asked him what he thought the context was, and he replied that no one has seen the true face of God, but some have seen a form that he uses to communicate with people. I'm not particularly satisfied with this answer, but to properly decide if it is acceptable I'd probably at least want to go check out the lexicon and see if the same word is being used for 'seen' in the different verses. But that's not really my point today, my focus here is that when a complaint was made that something was taken out of context, the question of the correct context was asked and answered. In response to the complaint of things being taken out of context, the following tweet was made.
Which I think is completely correct. I know that when I was still a Christian, I used context as a "get out of jail free" card. I don't think I really knew that I was doing that at the time, but if I didn't know how to explain something, I would simply say that things have been taken out of context and hope the conversation ended there, usually it did. The thing is, if this did end the conversation, I would be able to get away with not thinking too hard about it. Even though part of my brain was recognizing that something was wrong, another part would just assume that everything is fine and I would just let it go, we have a sort of superposition where I don't have to take any particular stance and can get away with stuff. However, if I was made to really defend a position and had to actually explain the context involved, the waveform would collapse and I would have to take a stand somewhere. Do this enough times and contradictions have a chance to build up. This kind of thing really did play a part in my discovery that religion has serious problems. This is the main reason I think it is so important to dig deeper when people say things have been taken out of context. Don't let them get away with that until they provide the different contexts.

The other reason I think it is important to ask what the contexts are, is that they may be right. What if the 2 verses really are being taken out of context and they really aren't a contradiction? Wouldn't you prefer to find that out and stop using a poor example of a contradiction from this point forward? I certainly don't want to use substandard arguments. It reminds me of the unicorns in the bible. Yes, there are unicorns in the bible, no it isn't what immediately comes to mind. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation (they are talking about a 1 horned rhinoceros) and it doesn't serve us well to keep pushing forward poor arguments, especially when there are so many good ones out there.


  1. Sonofa...this is the second time you've done a post about something I'm going to post about in a couple days.

    1. It's funny, I've been thinking about doing a post along the lines for a long time, this twitter conversation just brought it out of me. The blogosphere seems to have a short memory, just wait a week or two to post it and it will be fine :)

  2. Good post. There are many contradictions in the bible and I think context is important. In the case of the meme above and Matthew Bell's comments, I think it is absurd to state that the quotes are taken out of context. I think Steve was correct, in pointing out "the get out of jail free" card. This is how so many apologists attempt to justify the many biblical errors and contradictions.

    It is important to get context correct. I agree with you completely. However, when dealing with a 2-3,000 yr old book, that is hard to do--for theists or atheists. In many cases we are left taking the words at face value. We cannot know what the writers of Genesis intended---regardless of what Christians tell us. Matt Bell and his ilk have no more clue than anyone else. In this case, I would argue that what we have here is a contradiction.

    For what it is worth, I find Mr. Bell to be the most dishonest theist that I have dealt with on Twitter, and refuse to enter into discussions with him any longer.

    1. Thanks RB. I agree with you that it is pretty much impossible to know for sure what the original contexts are, at some point this makes the holy books worthless.

      Looking back, I probably should have pursued this conversation further, if memory serves something came up and I just didn't happen to come back to it later, thus is the way of twitter sometimes, although I guess there's really no good reason not to continue the same conversation the next day.

      I only recently started following Mr. Bell, he definitely didn't come off particularly honestly in this interaction, I'll keep my eyes on him.

    2. He is quite bright, but is very dishonest in how he uses it. He is a follower of William Lane Craig and uses those arguments. He is dishonest because he completely ignores anything that doesn't fit with his case, day after day. You will have a discussion with him, in essence win the discussion or some major points, and then see him the following day having the same discussion with someone else, as if his and yours never happened. I find that dishonest. Like Craig, I believe he knows where the faults in his arguments are, but his goal is not discovering the truth, it is converting people or keeping people from leaving the faith.

      He is also incredibly arrogant, which often gets in the way of his thinking. He will make you think though, he knows the apologetics and much of the science. If you are familiar with Craig, you will know what is coming and where his "traps" are.

    3. oh, he's a WLC type guy, I could definitely see that being pretty frustrating. I guess it's nice to see that get challenged, but it would be really annoying to see him repeat an argument which was destroyed recently. I guess he's an "ends justify the means" guy.


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