(Originally published in Get Off The Cross!, Vol. I, #23, 11/10/97)
Is it just me, or can some people not see the truth even when it's staring them in the face?
Before I really get started, I have a secret to reveal. I used to be a fundamentalist Christian - of the Southern Baptist stripe, no less. Even when I first began studying the intricacies of the physical sciences, I held to my belief - my FAITH, if you will - that there was a divine creator who set the universe in motion and took an all-consuming interest in the lives of every last one of his creations. I'd been taught all of that from a young age, and could see no reason to doubt it.
As I studied the sciences, I modified my beliefs somewhat to accomodate my discoveries. The doctrines of creation and evolution need not conflict, I reasoned; could god not have used evolution as the tool for his creation of mankind? Evolution has been demonstrated; to deny it would be foolish - so I incorporated it into my "belief" structure. In doing so, I took the one intellectual step that eludes all fundamentalists: when faced with a contradiction between dogma and demonstrable fact, I chose fact.
The biggest problem with fundamentalism is that it cannot withstand logical thought, so its followers are discouraged from engaging in it. A fundamentalist bases his faith on a single core belief, and considers anything which contests that belief to be a despicable personal attack. The belief he clings so tightly to, however, is fatally flawed.
This core belief is easily stated: "The Bible is the pure word of god, completely and literally true in all it says." To put it bluntly, THIS BELIEF IS FALSE. I am about to show proof of this heretical statement, so I invite anyone who is not prepared for that to leave now. (A word before you go, however. Denial of the truth serves no good purpose, and in promulgating a faith which you refuse to test in the acid bath of logic, you are bearing false witness to others and hence breaking one of the Commandments which you profess to hold sacred.)
I'll make this simple, but I do need to introduce three basic logical principles first. The first of these is that NOTHING IS PROOF OF ITSELF; all verification relies on alternate sources. Consider the Dead Sea Scrolls; they are valuable not because of what is written on them, but because of their age, their location, and the manner of their discovery. Those alternate sources help to lend credence to their contents; this is why those scrolls are so important to Biblical scholarship. However, those sources only place the scrolls at a particular point in time; they do not address their contents, OR THE VALIDITY THEREOF.
This leads me to my second principle: AGE DOES NOT GUARANTEE TRUTH. Homer's Iliad is OLD, but that does not make it TRUE. To ascertain the truth of a document, one must compare it to other accounts of the times it purports to document, and even then its truth could not necessarily be determined. The best one can hope for is to find either that the work is consistent with history - and hence possibly true - or that the work has inconsistancies - meaning that at least one of the accounts is false in at least that detail.
In turn, this brings me to the third principle, which is related to the first: WHILE A DOCUMENT CANNOT PROVE ITSELF TRUE, IT CAN PROVE ITSELF UNTRUE. If a document contradicts itself in even one factual detail, then the entire document cannot be completely true - for events only happen one way. One good example of this is Greg Bear's novel Legacy, which at one point refers to one building and five OTHERS on an island, but subsequently refers only to five buildings TOTAL. (Okay, if you've read the book, you know I'm oversimplifying the terms somewhat - deal with it.) Since the same island cannot simultaneously have a total of five buildings AND a total of six, at least one of the statements must be false - there are EITHER five OR six. Since the book contains a false statement, it cannot be COMPLETELY true and accurate, as should be self-evident. (Luckily for Mr. Bear, his book is clearly labeled as fiction.)
Therefore, returning at last to Biblical fundamentalism, there is really only one question to ask: DOES THE BIBLE CLEARLY AND VERIFIABLY CONTRADICT ITSELF EVEN ONCE? If not, fundamentalism is a viable option going by the book alone. However, if even ONE clear contradiction can be found, then fundamentalism is demonstrably untrue and fundamentalists are simply and irrevocably WRONG in their belief.