In this article I intend to address Biblical contradictions, as well as clarify the Bible’s use of myth and allegory. This can also be applied to other esoteric texts. No doubt there are apparent inconsistencies in the Bible. Atheists point to this as evidence that the Bible is inaccurate, when in fact they’re just not looking deep enough into the meaning.
I’m sure all the atheists reading this will agree with this statement: the Bible is not a science textbook. The misconception atheists have is that it’s meant to be, and this comes from the tenet of atheism that science is the absolute epistemology, which is self-contradictory but we’ll cover that in the future. The question atheists need to ask themselves is why would God tell us what we can figure out ourselves? Indeed the Bible does not contain a scientific explanation of our existence, but rather a transcendental explanation.
To atheists, the word “transcendental” just sounds like magical woo. Again, a mistake of absolute scientism. Schopenhauer words it best in an essay about immortality from his collection, Studies in Pessimism.
“Transcendental knowledge is knowledge which passes beyond the bounds of possible experience, and strives to determine the nature of things as they are in themselves. Immanent knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge which confines itself entirely with those bounds; so that it cannot apply to anything but actual phenomena.” Arthur Schopenhauer
In their own epistemology, atheists should recognize the transcendental because they are empiricists. The reason they fail to understand the concept is because they are trapped viewing the world through the monolithic lens of materialism; essentially, they don’t understand their own epistemology. So if you are one of my atheist followers, allow me to explain what you believe…
Empiricism is the theory that all knowledge is derived by the senses. This means everything you know, could ever know, and everything you think you are, came from an inference made by your perceptions. This places a barrier, called the veil of perception, between the world as it is and as we perceive it to be. If the world outside of our senses is exactly the way we perceive it (hint: it’s not; noumena do not have an innate quality of appearance or form), then this still refers to the transcendental world. It’s just that the transcendental world and immanent world, according to this view, are identical.
Why God would communicate a description of the transcendental world should be obvious—because we have no way of experiencing it ourselves; without some understanding of what the world is truly like, we have no claim to Truth. The trick is how one can describe the transcendental. Our language is based in the immanent world. It’s not that we haven’t created words to describe noumenon, the problem simply is we can’t.
Here’s a thought experiment. How would you describe what it is like to see the color blue to a blind person? You could explain all of the immanent knowledge about the color blue—such as that the wavelength for blue is around 475 nm, or even go so far as explaining exactly how the rods and cones in one’s eyes decode EMR and fire synapses in the brain giving one the experience of blue—but this doesn’t explain to the blind person what it is like to see blue. It’s not that language is limited per se, it’s that language is empirically immanent, and the structure of our experience precedes the phenomenon thus inferred.
When attempting to describe transcendental knowledge in immanent language, contradictions ensue. This is in part due to the use of allegories, but mainly because the descriptions will attempt to relate to immanent and transcendental aspect of its reader interchangeably. Your immanent self, sometimes referred to as ego, is your socially constructed idea of what it means to be “you”, while your transcendental self is your true self which cannot be made into a concept anymore than you can conceptualize the likeness of blue.
Here’s an example that atheists love to bring up. In Genesis 32:30, Jacob makes the comment “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” This contradicts John 1:18 stating “No one has ever seen the face of God.” What gives?
What the latter passage is trying to convey can be easily found in almost every other religion. Matter of fact, in the Tao De Ching, it’s the first sentence, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” What this means is exactly what we’ve been discussing; the transcendental Tao, or God, cannot be conceptualized because concepts are immanent. In other words, a thing-in-itself is no longer a thing-in-itself when put into words and concepts, and God is the ultimate thing-in-itself (hence the name Yahweh, meaning “I am that I am”).
Linji, founder of the Linji school of Chán Buddhism, put it this way: “If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” Buddha, in this koan, does not refer specifically to Siddhártha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, but rather the transcendental self. In Christianity, Jesus represents the transcendental self. In Hinduism, Atman is the transcendental self and Brahman is the transcendental All (God). All religions equate the transcendental self to the transcendental All; they are one in the same, we just feel as though we are individuals apart from God because we mistakenly identify with our immanent selves.
Back to Linji’s koan. If you see the Buddha, meaning realize your true nature (often called satori or enlightenment), then you must remove that idea from your mind immediately because you can’t observe your true nature or behold it as an immanent concept. Kill the Buddha. This is precisely the same as saying you cannot see the face of God, or name the Tao. That is not to say you can’t be enlightened, or comprehend the Tao. Gautama claimed to have experienced satori, but it wasn’t by making a concept of his transcendental self, but rather by removing all concepts and constructs from his mind and simply being the thing-in-itself. This is what Jacob meant when he said he saw the face of God.
By now you may see the problem. How do you communicate an idea which can’t be put into words and concepts? The solution in Eastern religions were koans, but in the West we call them myths.
“A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world.” Alan Watts
The term myth is often falsely conflated with fairy tale or fable, but the scholarly usage of the word has no implications for its truth or falsity. Matter of fact, a myth is true so far as it embodies ways of making sense of the world. Think back to when I compared transcendental knowledge to what it is like to see the color blue. I used a thought experiment because it was the best way of communicating something transcendental. This is not unlike how religions use myth for the same purpose.
Now you see that knowledge isn’t so black and white. There’s immanent knowledge, which is knowledge of the world as we experience it, and this can be understood through language and science. Then there’s transcendental knowledge, which escapes our language forcing us to use myth to describe, but it can be understood subjectively if you become enlightened. Hopefully this helped you understand why there are apparent contradictions in the Bible, and how this is the inevitable outcome of conveying transcendental knowledge through immanent language.