Monday, April 25, 2011

Humpty Dumpty Semantics--What This Means, and how Christians Use It

 If you have ever read "Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, you might recall Humpty Dumpty discussing semantics and pragmatics with Alice:

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master      that’s all.”
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

Yes, Humpty Dumpty was master over the meaning of his words--which is a tactic Christians attempt to use as well.  Forget the meaning of words, all that matters to them is to be "masters" over their words.

I am going to illustrate this with a examples of a conversation I was having on a Christian blog. I stated that the "sons of god" in Genesis 6, were the "sons of god", and Satan is one of the "sons of god" and comes in the entourage of "sons of god" in the book of Job. They were not idols or angels or nephilim. And then the fun started....

I was told that I was "wrong again on multiple counts" when I said:
"Now, your god did not say “Put no other idols before me.”–he said “Put no other gods before me.”(Deuteronomy 5:7)–which implies there were multiple gods."
My Christian friend said:
"Your false conclusion here results from your misunderstanding of the text. “Before” does not imply a long line of gods from which the God of the Bible is requiring allegiance “before.” It is more properly understood to be “besides,” which is an edict to NOT believe in other [false] gods. False is implied here because the people knew the context very well, which you failed to consider. No Jewish person of the time in their right mind would mistake this to mean that Moses is supposedly calling the people to believe in YWHY, (Notice how he got the tetragrammaton almost completely wrong--it is supposed to be YHWH or and I can verify this as I took a webshot) instead of a panoply of other earnestly believed “authentic” gods from which the people had the prerogative to choose from.

This is me again:
"Also, Genesis 6 tells us the “sons of god” took the women and had children with them.  Idols CANNOT have children. They were not nephilim, as they were the sons OF the sons of gods, and the women on earth–similar to a Herculean type of being."
And my Christian friend:
"I’m not sure what exactly you are trying to say with this, but I think you’re trying to again make the point that the Jews had other false gods. This passage does have various interpretations, but your highly selective choice of interpretations to include is very telling. You’ve chosen the ones that will further your argument and avoided the ones that may be detrimental. The other and arguably better interpretation of the passage equates the “sons of God” with godly men (probably from the noble line of Abel). In contrast (as the context affords and even entails), “daughters of men” is understood to be the sinful women (probably from the wicked line of Cain). This intermarriage of the “Sethites” (ch.5) and the “Cainites” (ch.4) indicates the breakdown in the separation of the two distinct groups.
This is me again:
"If they were angels, it would have said angels, as there is a Hebrew word for ‘angel.’"

This is my Christian friend:
This is pure conjecture that carries very little weight."

This is me:
"Therefore, they were gods, just as the Jews tell us they were–as they had MANY gods and goddesses."

This is my Christian friend:
"This is a false conclusion based on false premises."

This is me:
"And they had MANY gods and goddesses."

This is my Christian friend:
"Yes, this is true. They had many FALSE gods and goddesses. Does this argue that there is no TRUE God? Absolute Not! To argue that it does is to commit a non sequitur logical fallacy. I can just as easily make the claim that since there were many false gods then there must be one TRUE God. You see the problem with this line of thinking? The conclusion does NOT follow from the arguments!"

Now for the good part.

He was getting frustrated with me, and said:
"I’m continually utterly amazed at your lack of willingness to concede any of your failed points. Since humility must precede discernment I can only conclude that you do not really care to know the truth, but are intent on simply spreading a fictional tale that caters to your comfortable cocoon of unbelief. Good luck with that. Your arguments full of logical fallacies of various kinds have all failed masterfully."

Now, this is me:
"My points are not failed, I can back them, as well as my arguments up.
Your repeated use of Humpty Dumpty semantics to make the text mean whatever you want it to mean is pathetic. As you point out, the writers of the Old Testament can’t get their facts straight about gods that you claim are false gods. For example, they tell the story about how the sons of gods came down and took the women of earth as wives and had children.
Again, as you point out, they talk about lots of gods in the bible, that you are saying are false–illustrating that they can’t get their stories straight, and they made up lots of stories about gods and goddesses! If this is the case, then we should not trust their claims about Yahweh, as they are prone to just making up stories about “false gods”
One last point–since the Hebrew word ‘god’ in “sons of god” means ‘angels’, I guess any reference to Yahweh being a god, just means he is an ‘angel’ And when it says, “put no other gods before me,” it means “put no other angels before me.”
See how your Humpty Dumpty semantics work.
Let me show you the actual Hebrew:
וַיִּרְא֤וּ בְנֵי־ הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־ בְּנֹ֣ות הָֽאָדָ֔ם כִּ֥י טֹבֹ֖ת הֵ֑נָּה וַיִּקְח֤וּ לָהֶם֙ נָשִׁ֔ים מִכֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּחָֽרוּ׃
In particular the Hebrew word–הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ ha·’e·lo·him meaning ‘of god.
Note, it does not say sons of “angels”–it says sons of god (actually, in the original Hebrew it says GODS–but scholars have been hiding this for centuries)"

He then told everyone on the thread that I was not worth wasting time on. Why? Because they have no argument, and they resort to red herrings and ad hominem. It is typical in my experience with Christians.

Lewis Carroll was a logician, and wrote his stories to teach logic to children. Logic tells me that we cannot make words mean whatever we want them to mean, as then they become meaningless. There must be criteria for a definition, and if we cannot meet that criteria, our arguments just fall and break--much like Humpty did.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post. Lately, I have come across Christians who insist that they are not Christians but are Christ Followers. Often they insist that they don't follow any sort of religion even thought they have all the marks of a religion

  2. Humpty Dumbty,A good term. Liked this post a lot ! The stories in the bible predate the rise to power of Yahweh-El from the much older religion of the Summarian ,and early Semetic peoples .Only after the Abraham did Yahweh -El emerge at the head of the Elohim as Yahweh-el was the favored city god of Jerualem .Check out Wiki Acient semetic gods for more info. Until one can see how the Evolution of the cast system of the Elohim came about nothing in the narrative will make much sense SBJ1964

  3. very enlightening