One of the big divides between authentically observant Jews and the Orthoprax is how to understand the Torah and other parts of the Bible. The former group sees the Torah as the divine word of God, pretty much unchanged since the original copy was deposited by Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, in the original Aron Kodesh at the end of his life. The letter see it as a hodge podge of various writings that were sloppily redacted together in what must pass for the worst editing job in history.
The core reason for this difference in approach is due to each group's view of the origins of the Oral Law, that huge section of the Torah that didn't make it into the orignal Chumash but is considered just as divinely created. Observant Jews believe that the Oral Law has been an indivisible part of the Torah since it was handed over to Moshe Rabeinu. The Orthoprax and friends believe that it was an invention designed to give "the rabbis" control over Jewish life and religious practice.
The reason this difference of opinion is so important is because it affects how one reads the Torah and draws conclusions from it. For the Orthodox, variations in the text are clues to corresponding areas of the Oral Law. Wording is, far from terse, highly specific and meant to be read in only certain ways. Omissions, changes between two repetitions of the same narrative, all these things hint towards the deeper layers of the Torah, the ones contained in the Oral Law.
For the non-observant, however, the lack of an authentic Oral tradition dating back to Sinai means these changes in the text contain no deep legal or spiritual significance. As a result, they are wrongly interpreted as mistakes, errors or proof of multiple authorships.
As a result, when an observant Jew reads the Torah he is doing so from its perspective as a book whose purpose is to impart God's plan for the world and the laws by which He wishes us to live. He sees a cohesive whole which comes together through the lens of the Talmud and which has relevance down through the ages. When a non-observant Jew reads it, he sees part of it as a history book, part of it as an ethics manual and part of it as a legal text. For him, the history is inaccurate or downright wrong, the ethics are questionable and the laws archaic.
On Rav Gil Student's blog, there has been a recent posting regarding that hero of the Orthoprax, James Kugel. Kugel is famous for his book How to Read the Bible which is yet another entry in the never-ending blather that is biblical criticsm. In it he purports to show how the Bible should be read in light of modern scholarship's analysis of the book. However, there are two problems with this approach that he does not, to my understanding, address.
The first is the essential difference between the Torah and the rest of the Bible. While Torahs have always been prepared and copies according to very strict rules, the rest of the Bible cannot make claim to this. Unlike the Torah which was put finished and completed into the Aron Kodesh at the end of Devarim, Biblical books were written in parts during the lifetimes of their subjects and only later edited and assembled. As a result, there is a fidelity to the text of the Torah that is lacking in the rest of the Bible. This should not shock anyone. The Torah, as the revealed word of God, had to be keep intact to act as a proper companion to the Oral Law. The rest of the Bible is on a lower level than that. If one of David's tehillim went missing over time, Jewish life could continue on. A missing or changed verse in the Torah would have incredible ramifications and couldn't be afforded.
The second is that Kugel does not give validity to the belief that the Oral Law is contemporary with the Written Law. Well, why should he? He rejects Sinai which is the easiest way to get around having to deal with the Oral Law in the first place. As a result, he can only approach the book from the position of scholarship and cannot see the "errors" in the text for what they truly are, those hints to something deeper.
Several months ago, Climategate revealed that the science of climate change is not what its proponents would like people to believe it is. Instead of admitting these limitation however, those proponents led by high priest Al Gore continue to soldier on repeating the same mantras and discredited statements. A recent piece by Al Gore even referred to Climategate as irrelevant because it is so "obvious" that climate change is happening.
Biblical Criticism and modern scholarship on the subject are nowhere as definitive as the scholars would like it to be. Despite oozing confidence, there are huge holes in each and every one of the theories which, in turn, are based on evidence-free assumptions. Scholarship might explain a thing or two on the obscure sections of the text but it cannot disprove the legitimacy and integrity of the Torah. The only reason scholars can continue to do so is because, like their climate change fellows, they dismiss all opposition as unworthy of debating with so that they don't have to confront the weakness of their position.
As a result, there is no point from our perspective in debating with them. As the old saying goes, one does not try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes one's time and annoys the pig.