Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Moral Argument – A Follow-Up

Courtesy of Google Analytics, I found a link to my post on the Moral Argument on Paul Wright's blog.

Paul paraphrased part of my argument as: “a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn't allow there to be so much suffering in the world.” In response, one commenter wrote “Why not? We do...” This was probably tongue in cheek, but a valid point is raised. Our morality says we should care about a poor person in a third world country even at a small cost to us, but this small cost is sufficient to prevent us from helping them nearly as much as our morality says we should. And yet I talk about what a God who shares our morality would do. This shows there is something is wrong with at least the presentation of my argument – I will show that only the presentation is at fault.

My second rebuttal depends on the dichotomy “God's morality is/isn't similar to ours.” While these two cases cover Christianity, they do not cover all of theism. The implicit assumption in both cases is that God is living in a manner consistent with his own morality. Because this assumption is being made about God but not about people, it makes sense to say God necessarily would help if he could, despite the fact that we quite often don't help even in cases where mortals could solve the problem. I'm perfectly happy with the content of my arguments, I just need to specify that there are three cases: “God's morality isn't similar to ours,” “God's morality is similar to ours and God is moral by his own standards,” and a new case, “God's morality is similar to ours but God isn't moral by his own standards.”

This third option leads to perhaps the easiest of the rebuttals. If God is condemned by a set of standards, these standards must be above God. But now God is in a position directly analogous to the position people are in within the moral argument. So how can there be standards above God without a Higher God who wrote them? This rebuttal cannot be answered without undermining the moral argument. So the moral argument fails in all cases.

In case you are confused by how I can make this argument consistently, I'll put it in symbolic terms.

A: The moral argument is valid.
B: A God exists of the third kind, that is, God's morality is similar to ours but God isn't moral by his own standards.

I'm showing that A implies ~B. This is sufficient to refute the position A & B, and I can consistently evaluate the implications of A, even though I don't actually accept A. This doesn't specify which of A or B is false, but this is not needed to refute “I accept B because of A.”

This is perhaps a trivial point – I'm refuting a position that pretty much no one holds. But I expect my explanation of why it matters to actually be more important than the argument itself.

The outline of most cases for Christianity are: common knowledge implies God exists, given that God exists Jesus' Resurrection is plausible, given the Resurrection Christianity is plausible. But within this argument, games get played with the definition of “God.” The sort of God you get at the end is one who must resort to “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” to “explain” how he is other than a cruel and unjust tyrant. This is very different from the sort of God imagined when the Moral Argument is being made.

So while the logical content of refuting the case for the God no one believes in is low, it blocks a common apologetic tactic – get any God you can in the door, even if its nature is directly opposite that of the Christian God, and then start turning it into the Christian God. While I object primarily to the use of the bait and switch, I will also argue against the bait itself. A God who is implicitly assumed to think about morality in much the same way that people think about morality is such common bait that it deserves a direct response.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Moral Argument for the Existence of God

One of the most common arguments in modern apologetics is the moral argument. Rather than coming up with my own summary, I'll quote a Christian site at length.

“The moral argument appeals to the existence of moral laws as evidence of God’s existence. According to this argument, there couldn’t be such a thing as morality without God; to use the words that Sartre attributed to Dostoyevsky, 'If there is no God, then everything is permissible.' That there are moral laws, then, that not everything is permissible, proves that God exists.

“Some facts are facts about the way that the world is. … For most facts, there are objects in the world that make them true. Moral facts aren’t like that. The fact that we ought to do something about the problem of famine isn’t a fact about the way that the world is, it’s a fact about the way that the world ought to be. There is nothing out there in the physical world that makes moral facts true. This is because moral facts aren’t descriptive, they’re prescriptive; moral facts have the form of commands.

“… If the moral argument can be defended against the various objections that have been raised against it, then it proves the existence of an author of morality, of a being that has authority over and that actively rules over all creation.”

I first need to unpack what the two sides mean by their terms.

What is right and wrong? Most theists will postpone the question to God: right and wrong depends on God's will and/or God's commands. What makes God's actions and commands right? God's will and/or nature are the definition of right, that is, God commands things and/or does things and that makes it right. While there are alternative Christian answers, this is probably the most common and it's the one I know the most about, so I will not address alternatives.

The atheistic answer (or rather, the answer I give) is that morality is a partially unwritten social contract. This contract involves primarily fundamental values, such as treating others the way you want to be treated, as opposed to more specific ethics. To the extent that people share these fundamental values, conversations about specific ethics are meaningful, whether or not people agree on what “morality” actually is.

Apologists often confuse the issue by suggesting that the two views are that morals are either absolute or relative. The better question is “relative to what and absolute in what context?” For instance, if God were different, then Christian morality would be different. That means Christian morality is relative to God's nature and absolute in contexts where God's nature is fixed.

Similarly, my concept of morality is relative to society and relative to human nature. But when human nature and which society I'm talking about are fixed, most of my moral ideas are absolute. Furthermore, with most of the fundamentals there is agreement between nearly all societies – so most of my moral ideas are only relative to human nature.

There is yet another way my moral ideas are objective: “What does society think” and “what fundamental values are led to by human nature” are questions which usually have objective answers. The dichotomy where morality is completely absolute or everything is permissible is a false one. Morality can be thought of as something that is dependent on humanity and still something that I can't change just because I feel like it.

Having laid out what I mean by morality, I will show that the moral argument fails on two independent lines.

First Rebuttal: Exposing the Rhetoric

“For most facts, there are objects in the world that make them true. Moral facts aren’t like that. The fact that we ought to do something about the problem of famine isn’t a fact about the way that the world is, it’s a fact about the way that the world ought to be.”

The problem with this claim is that morals are both kinds of facts within my understanding of morality. The claim “stopping famines is a moral goal” is not a simple fact about how the world is. But on the other hand, the claim “most people have the sort of morality that wishes for no famines” is a claim with physical objects showing it to be true. Similarly, “human nature is such that people are prone to thinking that stopping famines is moral” is a claim with a physical object showing it to be true. Statements about peoples' sentiments and human nature are claims with objects in the world that makes it true. So while the moral claim itself is not a claim about how reality is, the claim that a particular claim really is "moral" is a statement with physical objects in the world making it true.

The entire argument depends on a subtle rhetorical play to hide its most dubious claim. When unpacked, the argument is:

1. People have a moral concept.
2. The only moral concept is the Christian one.
3. Therefore people believe in Christian moral concepts.
4. Christian moral concepts only make sense if God exists.
5. Therefore God exists.

My primary disagreement with the argument is with 2. Notice just how strong the claim must be for the argument to work. To contradict the argument, I don't need to show my moral views to be true – only that I have a view differing greatly from the Christian view. The input data in the argument is a claim about what “everyone believes.” But I don't believe what is claimed that I believe. This alone is sufficient to rebut the moral argument.

Once the terms are defined it becomes clear that no argument exists underneath the rhetoric. With Christian definitions, I don't believe in morality. With atheistic definitions, I believe in morality, and this implies absolutely nothing. It is my intention to be rebutting the moral argument in general and not simply this one articulation of it. However, every single version I have read either depends on this rhetorical slight of hand, or explicitly makes the claim which I have rebutted.

Very little knowledge of apologetics is needed to foresee Christians' response to my position. The response is that the social contract I described isn't really a system of “morality.” What makes it wrong to violate our social contract?

All moral systems have this problem: where to start? Theism has the exact same problem. What makes what God says right? Sure Christians can define that what they mean by “right” is aligning with God's will, but isn't that still just might makes right on a cosmic scale? Christians tend to object when I claim that Yahweh is a barbaric tyrant. But they shouldn't react at all if they consistently hold to their definition of good. God could be a barbaric tyrant, and this simply implies that being a barbaric tyrant is what being good means. The reaction shows that Christians think of good as meaning something deeper than “the way God is.” How could I be accusing God of something unless there is a higher moral law over God and I'm accusing God of violating this higher law? When consistently thinking of good as “the way God is,” objections should only be raised if I say something factually wrong about God, instead of simply using different adjectives to describe the same actions. I don't pat myself on the back for spotting this problem. It's obvious, because all moral systems have this problem: where to start?

It is reasonable to reject either “good is determined by society” or “good is determined by God” as a definitional cheat that avoids the real problem. And they are cheats, unless accompanied by an acknowledgment that they haven't solved the key problem, at which point they simply become unprofound. It is also reasonable to grant that either one could work in principle. What is not reasonable is the double standard that is needed to make the moral argument work.

(On the flip side, this implies that I think the Euthyphro dilemma is an invalid reason to disbelieve in God. While it's a good clarifying question and it shows that theism doesn't answer any foundational moral questions, on the other hand, theism isn't creating new problems either.)

Second Rebuttal

To make an argument for the existence of God, one needs to first specify what is meant by “God.” Our society has a sufficiently specific idea about what this means that it's not always necessary to do so explicitly, but the ideas that different God-concepts have in common are not specific enough for my second rebuttal. The split is based on if the God being argued for has a concept of morality that is at least similar to human moral intuitions.

One half of my rebuttal could work well against some concepts of God while looking like a straw man to people who are arguing for a different concept of God. While either half is easily avoidable, one of the prongs must be faced directly. For this reason, it is important that they be viewed together. For quite while, I bounced between near-Calvinism and C. S. Lewis' explicit non-Calvinism. This wasn't just indecision, but largely due to a disorganized attempt to avoid two different problems that cannot both be avoided. Clarity of thought is sufficient to shut the door on that option.

(By Lewis' position, what I really mean is “what I understood of Lewis' position in 2007-early 2008,” that is, the C. S. Lewis of Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. As John Beversluis painstakingly documents in C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, Lewis himself went through similar indecision later in life, although his indecision went all the way back to his answer to the Euthyphro dilemma. He never articulated a clear reconciliation.)

If God's morality is not similar to ours:

Suppose the moral argument makes it as far as “people believe in moral ideas which imply God's existence.” There is a difference between establishing factual claims that imply God's existence, and establishing that people believe things implying God's existence. If everyone's moral ideas imply God exists, one possibility remaining is that everyone's moral ideas are flawed. Moral dilemmas are inherent in all moral views because they all imply absurdities and/or they are simply not livable. The idea that everyone's moral ideas are incorrect is extremely plausible. Perhaps what's really true is the social contract idea of morality, despite the fact that I and all other freethinking people don't “really” believe it.

Normally, I would be on my last legs if I was reduced to making argument like “sure everyone including me believes X, but we still might all be wrong.” In most cases, this would mean I'm stuck defending the possible, yet highly implausible. But here, there is a key difference: the concept of God that I'm rebutting implies that everyone's moral views are wrong. So it's a very small leap for me to suggest that yes, perhaps everyone's moral views are wrong, but simply in a very different way than the one suggested by Total Depravity.

If God's morality is at least similar to ours:

(*Update* This should be split into "
God's morality is at least similar to ours but God isn't moral by his own standards" and "God's morality is at least similar to ours and God is moral by his own standards." What follows is my answer to the second. My next post deals with the first.)

But God's morality is almost diametrically opposite to our own morality as evidenced by the problem of pain. There are a number of ways to set up this argument, and in my opinion, by far the best way is as an empirical problem. I'm not suggesting that pain proves this kind of God does not exist – what I am claiming is that pain is very strong evidence against his existence, although this is the sort of evidence that could potentially be outweighed by contrary evidence. As an empirical argument, the real issue isn't that pain and evil exist at all – the problem is that there is so much.

Similarly, if you are making the case that the police in a particular city are failing, the existence of a robbery is a poor argument – the level of surveillance needed to achieve perfection wouldn't be worth it even if it were possible. But millions and millions of robberies is good evidence for the failure of law enforcement. An explanation of how, in a free society, some level of abuse of freedom is to be expected completely and utterly fails to explain why there is so much crime. With God, I'm not saying that a good plan couldn't involve any discomfort. I'm saying that based on the extreme level of pain in the world, it sure looks like his plan is either not loving or very poorly thought out.

Suppose a person discovered a cure to every single disease in the world. Suppose they had the resources to deliver these cures to the people who need it, and they knew about the need. Suppose this could be done with very little effort. And yet they then did absolutely nothing about it. They just watched while people died from diseases because doing so helped them seek their own glory. If we rely on human intuitions about morality to tell us what morality is, we would call this person the most extreme kind of evil. This person is God.

Christianity's problem of pain is far more severe than that of general theism. Not only is there the overhead of the inaction of God to deal with, there is also all the genocide and killing that God either did himself or delegated to his minions, not to mention hell.

But I bring up diseases in particular because it's something about which we have experiential knowledge and it cannot be avoided with a weaker view of biblical inspiration. We cannot reasonably speculate that diseases are needed to bring about some other greater good – some diseases have been cured in the past and that turned out quite well. Even while knowing about the lack of negative consequences, God still didn't cure these diseases sooner. Furthermore, whenever a person claims to have a new cure, one question that is not asked is “but is curing diseases a good idea?” We don't look back with skepticism at the morally questionable activities of the World Health Organization and others in eradicating polio. We don't do this because while it is a remote possibility that curing diseases is damaging, it is not a reasonable possibility.

Without a justification for God's inaction, the evidence suggests that if God exists, he does not follow a system of morality similar to ours. And if we are so wrong about morality to have so badly misjudged the morality of cosmic inaction to pain, then an argument cannot be grounded in the trusting of our moral intuitions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Problem of Tongues

As everyone but Christians knows, Christians apply a double standard to their own religious experiences versus similar experiences in other religions. But it's worse than that. The double standard is completely in-house.

Specifically, I'm addressing the inconsistency of the following three positions:

1. My experiences of God are a valid reason for thinking God is real.
2. The gift of tongues has ceased.
3. Many people who speak in tongues are solid Christians.

The doublethink is so glaring that I hardly need to do more than list the positions. Apparently, lots of Christians who are very close to God don't know the difference between a psychological phenomenon (or demons) and an experience of God. “But not my experience! I experienced God! How can you explain that?” With great ease...

If God really was in relationships with people, and God really did speak to people through a certain branch of a certain religion, you would expect them to agree on what God said. Or at least they should agree on a much easier question: how do you know God is the one who is speaking?

But if God doesn't exist or if he doesn't reach out to people through personal relationships, what we should expect to find is an enormous level of disagreement on the most basic questions about how it is that God really talks, and what it is that he says. This is exactly what we find.

One rationalization is that maybe God makes his voice unclear for some reason, or in other words, he likes making it look precisely the way it would look if he wasn't there. It's possible. It's also possible that the reason pictures of aliens are always really grainy is that, well, aliens are just really grainy.

The far better explanation is that Jesus' sheep do not hear his voice, and they do not follow him. Instead, they are scattered in every direction as they all insist that they are the ones' following the correct voice.

None of this excludes the position that tongues are fake and Pentecostal Christians are therefore borderline heretics. Perhaps exactly one of the scattered sheep are following the correct voice. But if this is your position, please hold to it consistently. Don't try to tell me that God is at work spreading the Gospel throughout the world. Third world Christianity is very Pentecostal – consistent cessationists and I are in agreement that all that's going on is the realignment of superstitions.

On the other side a different inconsistency is quite common:

1. Non-Christians disbelieve due to rebellion against God and his laws.
2. The gift of tongues is real.
3. Many cessationists are solid Christians.

The problem here is that cessationists who are solid Christians show that the reality of tongues can be denied for other than hedonistic or rebellious reasons. What would motive a cessationist to accept all the restrictions of Christianity while denying themselves the most dramatic parts? The answer is that it's not about “motivation,” but about actually thinking that tongues are not for real. Once this line of reasoning is accepted, it is extremely hard to maintain the impossibility of non-Christians disbelieving simply because they actually think that Christianity is false. Hell then becomes very difficult to justify when the litmus test is belief.

None of this excludes the position that tongues are real and cessationists are lukewarm believers or less. But if this is your position, don't try to tell me true Christianity existed between, say, 100AD and 1900AD.

It is noteworthy that the more consistent positions often result in more disagreeable people and more divisions in the church. This is the dilemma of trying to think of many different Christianities as some mystically unified “Christianity.” Churches and Christian organizations must choose among being intellectually shallow, segregated along theological lines, or a cauldron churning out apostasy whenever the wrong combination of views interact.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Evangelical Fall v. The Biblical Fall

One surprising aspect of “biblical” Christianity is just how much of it doesn't come from the Bible, and just how much can be refuted without looking at anything but the Bible. A perfect example of this is the Fall.

The Snake/Satan

What happens is that Satan appears to Eve as a serpent/enters a serpent and deceives her. Right? Actually, that's the evangelical version of the story, which is quite different than the biblical version.

The talking snake is to be contrasted with the talking donkey in Numbers 22:28. With Balaam's donkey, the text recognizes that donkey's don't normally talk, and thus it says that “the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey.” This story actually makes sense within the context of Bible. Now, I'm not saying that I just believe stories about a talking donkey just because a superstition scribe who believed in the power of curses wrote it down millenia ago. But at least it's internally consistent with the world of the Bible.

With the talking snake, there is nothing suggesting that Satan was behind this particular reptile's speaking gifts. It's a literal snake that was able to literally speak just because – well, because snakes can talk, I guess. Genesis 3 begins “now the serpent was more crafty than ...” Not, “now Satan was crafty.” The snake. The craftiness comes from the snake.

When the snake talks to Eve, the conversation proceeds without any mention of anything supernatural that allows the snake to talk, and without any mention of Eve thinking anything is unusual about this particular reptile's level of linguistic development. Personally, I think a good case can be made that even the ancient Israelites didn't take this literally, although I appreciate no longer having to care if YECs are wrong due to believing an ancient superstition or due to believing an ancient work of fiction.

The Curse on the Snake

When God hears about what happened, he's not mad at Satan for using an animal to enact his evil plan. God is mad at the snake. And so he curses the snake. The first part of the curse is directly targeted at snakes and they now have have to eat dust(!) and crawl on their bellies. The second part of the curse is about the snake's seed and Eve's seed, but evangelicals consider it to be a prophecy about Jesus' death: “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Several things need to be stretched for this to be talking about Satan v. Jesus. First off, the snake needs to have something to do with Satan, when in fact, there is no biblical connection between the two. (Or a literal snake needs to talk to Judas...) But suppose for the sake of argument that in the biblical version, Satan had entered into the snake when it tempted Eve. Still, the curse is on the snake's seed. Satan still isn't the snake's seed. For the curse to be a prophecy about Satan v. Jesus, it should be enmity between “you and her seed,” not between “your seed and her seed.” The snake's seed is future generations of snakes, and Jesus hasn't bruised their head, and they haven't bruised Jesus' heal.

Next, there is no reason to think “her seed” refers to one person. Unless you're Paul and twisting the words to mean what you want them to mean, “her seed” is referring to future generations of humanity. The exact same arguments that I used in reference to Abraham's seed apply here.

(“He” in “He shall bruise your head” is not justified by the Hebrew words, unless one is operating under the assumption that the prophecy is true and therefore using the NT to guide the interpretation/translation of the OT. But for consistency, I'm sticking to the NASB, even though the KJV uses one fewer male pronoun.)

Finally, suppose that Jesus' heal was literally bruised as a significant part of his crucifixion in one or several of the Gospel accounts. We can be certain that Christians would consider it to be evidence that prophecy is accurate down to the exact detail. We know this because when Isaiah talks about Jesus' “stripes” or being “pierced”, this is seen as a prophecy about the particular details of the crucifixion process and evidence for the divine nature of biblical prophecy. If those literal details are seen as evidence that biblical prophecy has an uncanny accuracy, I think that the lack of a literal fulfillment of this detail should be seen as evidence that biblical prophecy is sometimes wrong.

Alternatives to Literalism

Of course, a good case can be made that none of these are literal prophecies and therefore none of these are evidence for or against the accuracy of biblical prophecy. But if you take this position, think carefully about whether or not Jesus fulfilled a single prophecy and just what prophecy is good for.

Similarly, as much as it complicates the case against Christianity, I actually still agree with position that much of Genesis was not meant to be understand as a literal account. IMO, Christianity's most intellectually robust form includes the positions that the beginning of Genesis is myth and the Gospels are historical. But it's hard to learn to respect the cryptic wisdom and “spiritual truths” of a fable after once having thought of it as “true” in the sense of “actually happening.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Two Creation Stories

Just as there are two flood stories, there are two different creation stories. While Bible contradictions will be part of the argument, keep in mind that I'm not countering inerrancy directly – I'm taking another step in making a positive case for the Documentary Hypothesis that the Torah consists of several conflicting documents woven together. My arguments are not “... therefore the Bible contradicts itself” but “... therefore there are two different creation accounts.” Establishing the existence of a reconciliation between the two versions would not alone answer my arguments. Differences can be less than a contradiction but still evidence that there are two different creation accounts contained in Genesis 1-2 and that neither account shows any signs of having been written to go with the other account.

Understanding the distinction between contra-inerrancy arguments, and arguments that lead to a positive conclusion (in the context of the Gospels) was quite possibly the final “aha” moment for me on the way out of Christianity. With the second approach, to goal is not to find contradictions but to find clues that help us figure out the history of the writing of the Bible. Once dozens of these clues are harnessed together by all supporting the same point, they cannot be belittled one piece at a time as trivial details or something for which an explanation will present itself at a later time.

I would like to begin my argument by pointing out that the prima facie case is mine. Read Genesis 1:1-2:3 by itself and you have a complete story of the creation of the world and everything in it. Read Genesis 2:4-2:25 and you have a complete story of the creation of the world and everything in it. Both stories are begun with verses that would make perfect sense as the first verse in a book.

If these really are different stories, what we should expect to find is differences in the details that must be explained away to maintain that it's really all the same story. If this really is the same story, we should expect the halves of the story to refer to each other in ways that just don't make sense when viewing the stories as individuals – especially because the second half is claimed to cover a time interval contained within the first half. These are the criteria by which I will be making the case for two different stories.

(Don't think that I think I'm some scholar who knows the official criteria by which this is normally judged. I'm merely spelling out precisely what I consider to be common sense so that if anyone disagrees with my overall approach, it's clear what they are arguing against.)

Man Before Plants?

Plants are created on the third day, which is certainly before the creation of people on the sixth day.

However, Genesis 2:5 lets us know that plants are not created yet. “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” Before plants are created in 2:8-9, Adam is created in 2:7. The prima facie case is mine again: Adam is created before plants in the second creation account.

Looking closer at the logic of the story makes the point even more clear. In 2:5, we are given two reasons for a lack of plants: no water, and no man. 2:6 solves the first problem as a mist comes. 2:7 solves the second problem as man is created. Both problem are now solved. So God is now ready to plant a garden and make plants grow, which he does in 2:8-9. It's not just the order in which event are recorded that suggest Adam was created before plants, but the logical flow of the account as well.

Creationists' rebuttal is that Genesis 2:5 refers only to specific kinds of plants, namely cultivated plants. Thus, most of the plants were created on the third day, while the cultivated plants of Eden were created after Adam on the sixth day. I'm no Hebrew scholar, but just looking up all the different words used for shrub and plant in Strong's Concordance offers absolutely no support for this position. I see no reason to think Genesis 1:11-12 excludes some kinds of plants and I see no reason to think Genesis 2:5 includes only the kinds of plants not created on the third day. Without either of these arguments, the YEC position fails without even looking outside the Bible.

The only reason I see for even speculating about either is simply that it is needed to make Genesis 1-2 flow as a single story. Another way of saying this is that the creationist position is to begin with a certain conclusion and then look for an interpretation of the words to make it work. But that's not how you're supposed to read things when the goal is a truth search and not merely the affirmation of preconceived ideas. The intellectually honest approach is to let Genesis tell you what Genesis is saying. The way young-earth creationists cannot do this is precisely the kind of bending over backward that should be expected if there really are two creation stories.

Also, this doesn't make sense of the logic of 2:5-9. The reason for no plants of some kind is a lack of rain and a lack of man. Now, what kind of plants either need rain or need man? Pretty much all of them, at least according to non-technical ideas of what a plant is. If there's a distinction between wild and cultivated plants, then I would guess that no rain is why there are no wild plants and no man is why there are no cultivated plants in 2:5.

Animals Before Eve?

On the sixth day, God first creates the animals, and then he creates people. However, in the second creation account, the order is Adam, animals, Eve. Creationists generally agree with the first part, so I won't belabor that point.

The order in which the events are recorded is the creation of Adam (2:7), animals (2:19), and finally Eve (2:22), so the prima facie case is mine again. But the case is much stronger than the mere order in which the facts are recorded – this is the order that is implied by the logic of 2:18-2:22. In 2:18a, God observes a problem: man is alone. In 2:18b, God suggests a solution: Adam needs a helper. The next thing that happens is God creates the animals in 2:19 as an attempt to find Adam a helper. My claim that the creation of the animals was an attempt to find a helper for Adam is all but explicitly stated in 2:20: “but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.” In verse 2:21, God tries a more successful solution: taking one of Adam's ribs and making a woman.

To argue that Genesis 1-2 is a single literal account means that three things that must be explained away. First, the order in which the events are recorded must be overlooked. Second, the awkward insertion of the story of the creation of the animals (2:19-20) into the story of the creation of Adam's helper (2:18 & 2:21-22) must be ignored. And finally, Genesis' own explanation for why the creation of animals fits into the creation of Adam's helper must be ignored. I don't see how this position can be held unless one is taking the approach that Genesis must be true and literal therefore there must be some way of resolving the contradiction.

This is precisely what should be expected if these are two different creation accounts that were not written to go together. The six days of creation have their own logical structure, and the second creation account has a logical account of needs and solutions. Each makes sense alone, but to view them as going together prevents the reader from seeing what the second author is saying.

Two Creation Stories/Two Flood Stories/Two Authors

The case for two authors gets even better when compared with the two flood stories. In one of the flood stories, God was known as Elohim, while in the other, he was known as Yahweh. In all 38 instances, the God of 1:1-2:3 is Elohim. In all 11 instances, the God of 2:4-2:25 is Yahweh.

Also, in the flood stories, it was the Elohim author that spoke of the opening of the windows of heaven and fountains of the deep, while the Yahweh author says the flood comes because it starts raining. One is giving more of God's perspective while the other is giving more of man's perspective. We see the same thing with the creation accounts. The Elohim author doesn't even mention people until the end, and then man fades into the background again as Elohim rests. The Yahweh author describes the creation of plants and animals in the contexts of plants needing man and man needing a helper.

Furthermore, on the second day of creation, Elohim creates an expanse and calls it heaven. Water is created that is above this expanse. It was Elohim who opens the windows of heaven to let this water out to flood the earth. This suggests that not only are there two authors of the creation and flood stories, but they are in fact the same two authors.

If Genesis 1-2 is a single narrative, it is quite curious that we find internal references and similarities between certain halves of the creation and flood accounts, but we don't find internal references between the two halves of the creation account, in spite of the fact that the time interval of the second half is completely inside the time interval of the first half.

I encourage you to read creationists' rebuttal to these arguments, because it so clearly shows that the arguments I am presenting have been noted and answered poorly. Both sides have reasonable positions if you are just reading an overview of the positions. Where creationists lose is when you compare each position to the specifics of the details in how Genesis 1-2 is written.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Puff of Logic

Douglas Adams inserted a hilarious bit of theological satire into The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I would have added to my last post if I had remembered it in time. Adams has just finished introducing a comically convenient plot device: the Babel Fish. This is a creature that feeds on sound waves and excretes brain waves – all you must do is place a Babel Fish in your ear, and then all languages are immediately translated into your native language.

Now it is such a bizarrely impossible coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence of God. The argument goes something like this:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't though of that" and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

While at face value this is “the Design Argument Against the Existence of God,” don't miss the real point. It's not actually a rebuttal to the Design Argument or a positive argument for atheism. It's a satire of the “it's so we can have faith” defense for a lack of evidence for God or a particular religion.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Divine Hiddenness: The Other Fine-Tuning Argument

“... God our Savior ... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – I Timothy 2:3-4

Why is God hidden? While theists disagree with both me and each other on the level of clarity in the evidence, surely they would agree that if God did something like performing miracles on national TV, he would be obvious in a way that his is not right now. Why must apologetics consist of ancient history, philosophical arguments, and subjective feelings? But before I rebut apologists' explanations for why we even need apologists, I wish to further explain a few of the many ways that God hides himself.

The Bible could have had very specific prophecies about Jesus that he very specifically fulfilled. Pesher may be an acceptable excuse for why the prophetic evidence for Jesus cited in the Bible is nonexistent, but it is no excuse for God choosing to reveal Jesus in a culture that would lead to “fulfillments” like this. Micah could have said “One day, the Messiah will be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem, and yet still manage to come out of both Egypt and Nazareth.” Jonah could have said “just like me, the Messiah will be in the belly of the earth. Unlike me, it will be for one and a half days and two nights.” Isaiah could have told us plainly that the suffering servant of chapter 53 was the Messiah. He could have told us plainly that the Messiah would be literally “pierced” for our transgressions, but not literally “crushed” for our iniquities. He could have told us that “not opening his mouth” would be limited to the trial before Herod and the walk to the cross; this would not exclude a quite lengthy prayer the night before, this would not exclude dialogue with Pilate, and this would not exclude dialogue and a yell while on the cross. He could have told us that “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” is fairly close to the literal truth, while “like a sheep that is silent before its shearers” is not even close to the literal truth. But instead, God fined-tuned the prophecies in the Bible to make it look precisely like God played no role in inspiring the Bible.

The Bible could have had scientific information that was useful immediately. Starting whenever God decided to start inspiring books, we could have known:

“Diseases are caused by tiny things that you can't see. They live inside of you and pretty much everywhere else too, but they stop growing where it's really cold and they die where it's really hot. Cook meat well to kill them – when you don't, these tiny things go inside you and make you sick. With some of them, you can protect yourself by teaching your body how to fight them in advance. It's kind of complicated, but how it works is you need to grow a lot of these tiny things. Then heat up those tiny things to kill them. The shells of their bodies will be left behind – you won't be able to see them, but they're there. Inject these shells into your body and your body will automatically learn how to kill them. Now, if you come in contact with those tiny things in the future, your body will be prepared ahead of time. You might have to experiment a bit to get this to work, but knowing the general idea of what's going on should make it quite a bit easier than it would be if I uncaringly left you to figure all of it out yourself.”

The efficiency with which I have communicated should be contrasted with the wisdom of not eating pork or shellfish. I'd bet with more work and more knowledge of medicine, I could write something shorter, clearer, and more helpful, and that an omniscient deity could do better still. With this is mind, I have difficulty understanding why Jesus wasted his time with trifles like healing blind men one at a time or feeding people thousands at a time. He could have saved so many more people so much more easily, and in a way that authenticated his message for both his audience and for scientists who one day discovered just why his suggestions worked so well. It didn't have to be the case that science and the Bible were set on a collision course. Just think of how much stuff God could have packed into the Bible or Jesus could have shared. Thousands of paragraphs like the one above could have all been packed into a book of the Bible's size. But the ancient Jews were not given any of this information. He fine-tuned the scientific data in the Bible so we couldn't see that he had anything at all to do with it.

While I understand the position that God just worked through the historical process in writing the Bible, I'm not willing to just take it for granted that this is the only option he had. Making the Bible be a book that God literally dictated was one of God's options. There are all sorts of ways in which God could have inspired the Bible. And yet he chose an inspiration technique that is indistinguishable from doing nothing at all.

Not only was modern scientific information left out, but even after receiving the law, the Israelites didn't even have enough contemporary scientific knowledge to beat their rivals. Judges 1:19 “The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.” Science, it seems, has been Yahweh's Kryptonite for a long time.

This also leads to God's hiddenness in war. God could favor the strongest army to end the war quickly and minimize deaths, he could favor the underdog, or he could favor whoever is more moral. But instead, God favors big armies, iron chariots, and technologically advanced weapons. Atheism forces people to this conclusion ahead of time. Theism says that pretty much anything could be the result, but for some reason, God chose the one result that would be consistent with atheism. He fine-tunes his control of battles to make it look like he doesn't do anything.

Similarly with birth defects. If God exists, it could go in many ways. Maybe God gives all the defects to the children of people who aren't Christians. Maybe they are simply more likely to go to non-Christians. Or maybe it's the other way around, and God gives more birth defects to Christians than everyone else. In fact, any outcome is perfectly consistent with the possibility that God set it up that way. But with atheism, one is forced to make a very specific prediction. Faith will not matter, except to the extent that faith is correlated with circumstantial differences, as with missionaries who bring medicine. This very specific prediction is what we actually see in the real world. While any outcome could in principle be explicable in the context of theism, this is a surprising outcome. God fine-tunes the distribution of birth defects to make it look like he doesn't do anything at all.

Christianity has a number of answers to this. The weaknesses of these answers help illustrate the unanswerability of the problem of an invisible God when he's omnipresent, omnipotent, and wants to be known.
God isn't hidden.”

In my opinion, this is the only chance. But a desire to give this answer is where the most easily disproven Christian positions come from. This gives us faith healers, extremes of Pentecostalism, and creationism (not merely that evolution is false, but also that the evidence overwhelmingly supports creation.) Except for maybe faith healers who think they can raise people from the dead, all of these, even if true, seem quite pathetic compared to the options available to an omnipotent deity.

“God's ways are not our ways.”

Translation: “Yes, I admit it makes absolutely no sense.” That's exactly what I'm saying. God's plans contradict human concepts of reason, which are in fact, the only concepts of reason that humans have. “Human reasoning” is not a term that describes a particular kind of thinking, it is a term that describes whether or not you are thinking. To realize something doesn't make sense and to continue to believe it is like looking at one's face in a mirror, observing it is unwashed, and then doing nothing about it. And yet Christians continue to disparage reason and then whine whenever insultingly described as opposing reason.

“It's so we can have faith.”

There are quite a few problems with this. First off, there are options other than all aspects of Christianity being proven and the dismal evidence apologists think we have. God could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's powerful and intervenes in the world while making us believe purely by faith that he's good. God could prove that he's powerful while providing only a little bit of evidence that he's good. He could prove that he's powerful and good while making us believe by faith that salvation actually works. So even if God wants us to have faith, that is no excuse for his absence.

The next problem is that it supposes that something is good about having faith. Without this assumption, to say God is hidden so we can have faith is not an explanation, but merely a description of the particular sort of irrationality behind the plan. There is no basis for claiming that belief in God must necessarily involve faith – it's only necessary because God set it up this way, and he didn't have to set it up this way. While faith can have other meanings, in this context, faith is nothing more than an excuse for being illogical and an emotional shield that makes pointing out the obviousness of this cruel and offensive. But for some reason, God likes it when we don't try to be rational. One of the few systems that I can imagine where justice would be more arbitrary than this would be if God just chose some people and didn't choose others.

In fact, I have proof that the God of the Bible didn't have to set up the system to require faith because he doesn't always set it up that way. In the garden of Eden, Adam was provided with absolute proof that God exists, is powerful, and cares. And this didn't seem to interfere with his ability to have free will or a relationship with God. Furthermore, in heaven, the perfect existence will again not require people to have faith.

The final and most severe problem with this explanation is that even Christians don't believe it. If they did, Christians would doubt the crossing of the Red Sea because that would be too clear of evidence for God's existence and would take away the Israelites' ability to have faith. Christians would doubt that Jesus walked on water because that would take away the disciples' ability to have faith. Christians would conclude that a personal relationship with God couldn't be a valid reason for belief, because that would destroy the ability to have faith. But that's not how Christians think about miracles or proofs of his existence. When God gives proof, well did you see that? That was proof. When God doesn't give proof, it's because it would be against his nature to give us proof.

I only take the “it's so we can have faith” line seriously when it's coming from someone who consistently applies this reasoning. For the other 100%, it's a excuse that allows people to just make stuff up and pretend it's a worldview worthy of respect.

Imagine what it would be like if atheists thought this way. We'd have motivational speakers telling us things like:

“I know sometimes you might see crazy things like someone healed right in front of you, but just try not to see God in it. Sometimes, you might find yourself in a place where it’s just obvious God has done something. It just doesn’t make sense any other way. But don’t believe it! It doesn’t have to make sense. If you need one, find a support group to help you not believe even after you’ve seen a miracle. You aren’t the only one this has happened to! Lots of atheists in the past have seen miracles and still found a way to have faith in God's non-existence! You can do it too!”

Of course, if atheists talked like this, theists would be all over us saying that our words show that we don’t really disbelieve. Yes, I did just make a not-very-subtle remark about whether or not theists are atheists in rebellion against a reality that they don't like. (My apologies for sinking to the level of functional theism.)

“It wouldn't work anyway.”

Gideon disagreed. He didn't believe, so God allowed him to perform a fleece experiment to test his power. Gideon was so impressed by the efficacy of evidence in convincing people that you could have confused him with an atheist. [Or, to be fair, with a Christian evidentialist.]

Thomas disagreed. He didn't believe before Jesus showed him his wounds, and he believed afterward.

Even Jesus disagreed. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.” – Matthew 11:23

The question Jesus didn't answer is why he didn't perform those miracles in Sodom, because he sure seems to think it would have worked. I'd bet millions and billions of people are alive today who are even more open to the evidence of miracles than the Bible's epitome of evil. And yet God doesn't show them miracles. By contrast, I actually want people to stop damaging their lives with faith, and so I try to provide actual arguments against it. I show you my beliefs by my works. God claims that he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. I wish God would have shown us that he really wanted Sodom to be saved by his actions. The Sodomites aren't in hell because they refused to be with God and so God told them “thy will be done” and sent them off to the one place apart from himself. Sodom could have been saved. Unfortunately for them, God was in one of his smiting moods.

And again, Christians are unwilling to consistently think according to this rationalization. If they have a dramatic answer to prayer or observe a miracle, you'd better believe that they are going to tell people. It could be the case that they still don't believe this will have an effect on people who don't believe. But that's not the point. The point is that they realize it makes sense to try. But God doesn't try. He has instead fine-tuned war, scientific laws, birth defects, tragedies, and the Bible to make it look like he doesn't do anything at all.

The Kicker

All of these rebuttals completely and utterly fail to provide a coherent explanation for why God hides himself. There is no excuse for God not making himself known. But it's even worse than that. Suppose for the sake of argument that Christianity provides a completely plausible explanation for God's behavior, one is completely content with the possibility that we cannot have any idea why God doesn't do what he doesn't do, or I'm wrong on every single point when I talk about things God “should” want to do. Then the argument from hiddenness is still a powerful argument. If any or all of these are the case, this would merely explains how hiddenness was one of God's options.

Atheism forces people to make very specific predictions about how things will work, namely that no actions will be performed by God that are distinguishable from no action at all. But Christianity cannot predict in advance that God will fine-tune the outcome to look like he did nothing at all.

Suppose one person predicts that the sun will rise at 5:54 am tomorrow morning, while the second person says it could rise at any time between 4 am and 10 am and there is no way of knowing precisely what the sun will do in advance. And then the sun rises at 5:54 am. Technically, the second person hasn't been shown to be wrong. But this is powerful evidence that the first person knows something that the second person doesn't know.

Every single time that God could preform a miracle, could reveal himself, or could reveal useful knowledge to us but doesn't is a case where theists merely observe this to be one of many possible outcomes. But atheists knew the sun would rise at 5:54 am. How do atheists get these things right so often and so precisely? Personally, I do not find this question to be particularly difficult to answer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Role of Evolution in my Deconversion

Perhaps the most common reason people reject Christianity is evolution, and I am no exception. However, the way it influenced me was very different from the usual way that learning Genesis is not historically reliable leads to learning the rest is not historically reliable either. For me, the primary effect was sociological – it changed my social standing within [evangelical] Christianity and this caused me to see how Christians think about the rest of their faith as well.

It's hardly a revolutionary observation to notice that if Christians thought about Christianity with the same critical thinking they use when approaching the evidence for any other religion, then most of them would stop believing. But as a bare claim, this is something anyone could say about anything. An argument that can refute anything refutes nothing. (See Romans 1:22.)

The fact that Christians believe in Yahweh but not the other deities of antiquity is, in and of itself, no more reason to suspect Christians are wrong than the bare fact that scientifically minded people usually believe in the theory of relativity but not in UFOs. What is needed are the particulars of how the “problems” with and evidence for every other religion are similar to the “mysteries” inside one's own religion that are just accepted. It is only with these particulars that either side can justify the comparison.

Once I became a theistic evolutionist (TE), my Christianity became one of the positions to which young-earth creationists (YEC) apply critical thinking. And consequently, claims about the consistency of evolution and Christianity were both essential to my faith and rejected by most Christians. To understand their position was to view my faith as an outsider.

While the emotional fallout of this situation should not be dismissed, it was also a fundamentally intellectual struggle that could not be wished, tolerated, or loved away. First, a lot of the theological arguments against TE make sense. Second, most of these arguments have a twin argument which is against Christianity as a whole. Most seriously, the arguments against Christianity as a whole are equal to or stronger than the arguments against TE. But these claims are only as strong as my examples:

The Ten Commandments

While supposedly the entire Bible is God-breathed in some sense, with a few parts, more is claimed. Perhaps most dramatically, with the ten commandments, God didn't just work through the historical process of the recording of events. These words were written with by the finger of God. In the Exodus version, right after the specifics of the commandment about the Sabbath, God's finger wrote in 20:11, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. ”

However, Deuteronomy 5 disagrees regard precisely what God's finger wrote. In that version, the fourth commandment is followed in verse 15 by “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”

Even ignoring the question of the degree of similarity and differences, which version did God's finger write? I don't typically hear the phrase “written by God in stone” and think of it as something quite so flexible. As is so often the case, there is an enormous difference between having actual reasons to think that God's finger wrote something, and having a book that claims God helped write it. To outsiders, it can be a bit strange that this isn't thought of more often, but we don't know that God really wrote the ten commandments just because the Bible tells us so. In fact, the Bible itself accidentally testifies that God's finger probably didn't write some or all of the ten commandments.

This is a sticky enough of a question that I was not willing to charge ahead and draw deep theological conclusions out of a trouble text. Another way of saying this is that what the Bible says is so unclear, that even if it is true, trusting what one thinks it says would be unwise.


Luke traces Jesus' genealogies all the way back to Adam. My half-answer was that I still believed in a literal Adam and a literal Fall about which all we know is myth. The reason this only halfway works is that I accepted science's dating of early civilizations that are older than the Bible suggests Adam to be by means of genealogies. However, before I was willing to trust the minute details of biblical genealogies, there were some major issues that had to be dealt with that are internal to the Bible.

First off, Luke and Matthew's genealogies clash. Before giving a rehearsed answer of one being Mary's and the other being Joseph's, look them up. “Jacob the father of Joseph” is clear in Matthew 1:16, and everyone agrees with this. Luke 3:23-24 says “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, ...” This communicates with great clarity that Heli was Joseph's father.

The best inerrantist answer I've seen to this is that the repetitions of “the son” are not present in the original – they are incorrectly added words in English to smooth out the grammar. The literal translation is then “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, of Heli, of Matthat ...” where the implication is “Jesus son of Heli, Jesus son of Matthat, ...” And then the way this is consistent with Matthew is that this is merely a list of Jesus' ancestors without implications of their relationships to each other, and thus Heli could be Mary's father.

This is quite strained, but I accepted the explanation for quite a while. However, notice that it means that Luke failed to communicate clearly. You must twist the text to even get to the point where Heli could be Mary's father. What we know with certainty is that Luke didn't tell us that Heli is Mary's father. Telling us that Heli is related to Jesus because he's Mary's father is, in fact, precisely the sort of thing that genealogies are supposed to communicate. If you just read Luke and trust it to be reliable, you will conclude that Heli is Joseph's father. Perhaps the genealogies in Genesis are the same, and they need to be viewed with a grain of salt – meaning science.

Also, in several places Matthew's genealogy skips generations that appear in the OT. He doesn't tell us why, but presumably, his reason for doing this is to turn it into a clever 14-14-14 pattern. He also fails to make to 14-14-14 pattern work by only coming up with 14+14+13=41 names. If you double-count one name it works out. But there is a commonly accepted term for counting something twice: a mistake. I just don't see why I should take the OT genealogies more seriously than the NT writers took them.

Furthermore, the Bible is consistently quite bad at getting numbers right. Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday, and yet Matthew 12:40 says Jesus was dead for three days and three nights. I'm very curious about which three nights these might have been. While I'm sure Matthew knew how to count, the point is that to think the numbers in the Bible are mathematically accurate is, at best, to misunderstand the Bible. To argue against evolution based on the genealogies is to assume their mathematical accuracy.

Evolution leads to the Holocaust

Suppose for the sake of argument that it does. God told Moses to slaughter the Midianites, including the male children. (The soldiers were commanded to save the girls “for themselves.”) What would become of society if everyone believed in a ideology that condones genocide?

The ease with which Christians see the depravity of the Holocaust is the ease with which I see the depravity of the Bible.

Problem of Pain

Not accepting YEC certainly makes the problem of pain more difficult. Instead of physical death being something that followed the curse of sin, it's present as part of the original creation. But if you believe in hell as I did, this objection is bizarre. The majority of humanity is supposedly going to be tortured for eternity because God didn't call them. And yet if God's plan involves animals living finite and painful lives this is supposed to be something that indicts God as cruel and unloving.

What's going on is very simple. When God's the sadistic keeper of a medieval torture chamber filled with heretics and it's part of my theology, it's just something that I'm supposed to struggle with until I can train myself to realize that it's what justice really means – if I don't accept the answer, then my sin is causing me to have a warped understanding of what a loving God is really like. But think of the bunnies! Look at them! A loving God wouldn't design a system where mean coyotes eat cute little bunny rabbits. If your theology says that God created lots of bunnies to die for no reason better than lunch, that means you are calling God evil. Is seems as though the YEC God is one of the founding members of PETA.

Of course, that's not to say the problem of animal pain is trivial. But it seems more like a concern for a universalist, an annihilationist, or at least someone who thinks God was genuinely surprised by Adam's rebellion and the necessity for hell. Otherwise, it's like a vegan wanting to venerate Stalin for being so loving but first stopping to ponder the moral implications of his occasional steak.

There is actually is a way that an evolutionary story of life can fit with the YEC doctrine of the physical death of animals being due to sin. Maybe God created the first bacterium to live forever. But before he had a chance to split, it rebelled and ate of the forbidden lactose. And then animals inherited its sin, for which they are personally (animally?) responsible, and that's why animals deserved to die for billions of years. I may not have evidence showing it actually happened, but you don't have evidence saying it didn't happen. It also may not make a lot of sense to one's mind, but maybe it's just the kind of thing that should be accepted by faith and believed in one's heart. (By the way, Pascal's wager calls for the baptizing of your pets.)

Why did God take so long?

This is a really good question. It doesn't make much sense for God to create billions of years of existence for the cosmos when the center of his attention is alive for only thousands of years. But similarly, why did God created billions of light years and billions of stars most of which no person will ever see? As a theistic evolution, I thought it was weird that creationists ask only the first. While I appreciate the consistency of asking neither, I now ask both.

Similarly, why did God wait so long after the Fall to send Jesus? Why make so many animals die as pointless sacrifices? Why spent so much time between Abraham and Jesus with only the Jews and a scattering of Gentiles having a real chance to know him? Christians' reaction to this is fairly predictable. God has a plan. We don't always understand it, but it's quite presumptuous for us to think we could have done better than him. This is precisely how I hope creationist readers react to these questions. Here's the kicker: why not give theistic evolutionists/old earth creationists the same leniency? Maybe God made the universe old for a similar “reason” – it's part of his plan that we can't understand.

Paul's use of Genesis

When talking about the Fall, Paul says that death entered the world through one man's sin. While this isn't clear at all, especially because Adam didn't physically die on the day he ate the fruit, I'll suppose for the sake of argument that we know that Paul is talking about not just spiritual death and not just about human death, but physical death and animal death as well.

But since when have the NT authors been a valid source concerning what the OT actually says? When God makes a promise to Abraham's seed, is seed singular or plural? If singular, I would like to know the verse of Genesis that helped you reach this conclusion. If plural, then Paul was not only wrong about what the OT says, but this faulty understanding was his basis for a theological argument about the promise to the Jews being transferred to Christians.

So maybe Paul was a young-earth creationist, Paul was wrong, and Paul tangentially communicated these false ideas in the process of communicating true theological ideas about Jesus' death. And we're still supposed to believe these theological truths even after learning the debunking of the argument for these theological truths. The ease with which YECists see the weakness in this position is the ease with which I look at Galatians 3 and see that it is false.

Blurring the Line Between Man and Animals

Another problem is that evolution blurs the line between man and animals. And it certainly does. This means “human” is not a yes/no question, but rather a question of degree. There are ways around this like believing that in a certain moment in time, God gave an animal that looked like an ape-man a soul, but this isn't as clean of an answer as the one provided by creationism.

Consider embryonic development. The same problem appears. We have a smooth transition between non-human sperm and egg to a fully human baby. This cannot be evaded by just “believing” God creates a soul at conception. Theistic evolutionists believe that God created the first human soul at some point in the evolution process, and YECists don't let them get away with this equally evidence-free claim. Here, the problem is even worse. At least with evolution, you could go back 40,000 years and look at a child and say it is human while the parents were animals – while the line may be arbitrary, at least the line can't be blurred further by looking at the generation between the child and the parents. But with embryonic development, it's a fully smooth transition. YECists easily see that a mostly smooth transition from animal to human suggests that talk of a soul or being created in the image of God doesn't make sense. With the same ease, I see that embryonic development shows the concept of a soul to be nonsensical.


In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, on page 276 he writes “The fundamental difference between a biblical view of creation and theistic evolution lies here: the driving force … is randomness.” This is tangential, but this is a common misconception about evolution. Evolution is like the weather – it's a process involving randomness. Due to the randomness of weather I can only guess within ten or twenty degrees what the temperature will be in a week. But I could guess the average temperature for 2010 within a degree or two (and without knowing about global warming.) Due to random effects averaging out, a process that looks chaotic on a small scale is often one that behaves predictably on a larger scale. Evolution says that changes are the predictable long-term result.

But theologically speaking, the misunderstanding doesn't change the implications. In theistic evolution, God's guidance of evolution looks precisely the way it would look if it looked like he stopped caring billions of years ago.

However, the same issue of randomness appears when thinking through the implications of actuarial science. If you know the rate at which heart attacks occur, and you know the size of the population, you can make a very good guess about how many people in the population will have heart attacks. For a more precise prediction, you don't pray to learn the will of God. You learn more about the population, like their age distribution. Actuarial science requires thinking about death in terms of the naturalistic cause and effect that comes from supposing death is left up to chance. And it works. This means that the way in which God takes away life looks precisely the way it would look if it looked like God doesn't care. There are less fatalist ways of saying this, but it's no different than the spin creationists universally give to evolution. Personally, I find the threat actuarial science and statistics pose to believing God still cares about death to be far more severe than the threat evolution poses to believing God cared while creating.

YECists show the proper approach to theistic evolution – skepticism toward the meaningfulness of talking about a creator who is indistinguishable from no creator at all. With the same ease, I apply this same skepticism to Christianity and see that the reasoning behind actuarial science supports the conclusion that God doesn't exist or doesn't care.

Problems in the Local Flood

Most old earth creationists and theistic evolutionists believe that Noah's flood was a local flood (a myth is the alternative.) The Bible talks about the whole world as a hyperbole in many places, so perhaps here as well. To this position, YECists have an excellent response. Why didn't Noah just migrate several hundred miles? Why not just have the birds fly a few hundred miles away? Noah had a hundred years to kill, so I don't suppose finding the time to pack would have been too burdensome.

I really like this objection. It's an excellent reason to not believe in the local flood. What I like so much about it is the underlying assumption that if a plan is completely illogical, then an omniscient God probably didn't come up with it. This assumption comes as naturally as the basic rules of logic – unless one's own beliefs are under the microscope.

So here's my question: Why didn't God just smite everyone and skip the whole flood thing entirely? This would have saved so much trouble for everyone. Noah could have preached about coming judgment for years and he could have shown he believed his own message by making provisions for surviving on his own. I would be interested in hearing if there are any reasons to send a flood at all that don't also defend the idea of having Noah build an ark for a local flood. Maybe there are reasons, but I could throw in an extra miracle or two if they are needed for the practicality of my smiting proposal.

With the local flood, YECists show the proper way of thinking about dramatic claims about what God did. If the story has God commanding a lot of pointless milling about, this should count strongly against its chance of being true. By applying the same skepticism to the global flood that creationists apply to the local flood, I reject the story of Noah even without the scientific and biblical cases against it.

Reconciling the Bible with evolution is really quite easy compared to reconciling the Bible with the Bible and other realities in the here and now. Creationists' ability to see the problems in my answers to comparably easy questions helped me see how contrived both our answers were to the hard questions.

Failing The Insider Test

Small step at a time, I moved my theology a bit while staying inside what I thought was inside. I would wait a bit, and my idea of “inside” would be stretched with me. After moving a moderate distance, I thought that where I came from was inside while the painful truth is that where I came from thought I was outside. This placed me in a curious position: YEC was still inside to me, YEC viewed me as an outsider, I was seeking to fully understand different positions within my idea of orthodoxy, and therefore the logically inevitable result was viewing my faith as an outsider.

I don't remember if anyone ever told me that I would reject Christianity if I used the same skepticism toward it that I use toward every other religion. If so, I don't remember it because it made no impact on my thinking. But eventually, I found myself looking at creationists and seeing that if they were to apply the same critical thinking to their own beliefs that they apply to mine, they would stop being Christians. Conversely, if I thought about my own faith the way other Christians thought about my faith, I would stop being a Christian.

While I thought my way out of many aspects of faith, here I simply got lucky. The desire and ability to think critically about my own beliefs was a very small part of the final step out. Thinking critically about my own beliefs was forced upon me as an unintended consequence of other decisions that were much easier to make. Perhaps this is the difference between me and Christians smarter than I am.

While many of the arguments against Christianity work just fine as academic arguments, I doubt this can be written so that readers will feel the weight of the argument as I did. It took the grind of over two years of not only trying to fit evolution in with Christianity, but trying to fit evolution in with the Christian community to see the blatant inconsistencies on both sides. It's not a matter of people being dogmatic or whatever negative adjective you want to throw in. It's simply the predictable clash of incompatible beliefs – or rather, different Christianities.

My YEC and inerrantist Christianity failed the insider test because the arguments against it are so solid that any perspective save for closing one's eyes is sufficient to see it. My TE Christianity failed the insider test because even the very idea of an insider test failed the insider test. To define “inside” as bigger than “me” was to include people who don't agree on everything. To be willing to have candid conversations with other Christians who believed a bit differently and to honestly seek to understand where they were coming from was to look at many of my own beliefs and critically think through if I had reasons for believing them or not. Sociological circumstances turned this into looking at all of my beliefs with skepticism.

Few faiths, if any, can survive under the scrutiny that everyone applies to everyone else's faith. Truth has nothing to fear from inspection and Christianity should be terrified. My mortally wounded faith staggered on for a while, but my fate had been sealed. I had escaped.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The New Testament's Most Dramatic Miracle

According to Matthew 27:52-53, right after Jesus died, “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” I know poking fun at this story is like dissing Paris Hilton. It's just so easy that it's almost dishonorable. Almost.

Besides that fact that people are being raised from the dead, this is a very strange story. Why did they come out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection? Did they find little scrolls in their coffins with messages like “Hey, I apologize if this sounds a bit contrived, but when Jesus yelled, I just felt like someone needed to rise from the dead. I don't actually want you seen in public until Sunday. I apologize for the inconvenience. Signed, Yahweh.”

While I don't understand the motivation behind the newly raised saints' behavior, I'm sure Jesus appreciated the way they didn't steal his thunder by showing up first. If they had rushed the whole process of, you know, trying out their legs again, exploring the countryside anew,
telling people they aren't dead, they could have really screwed things up. Imagine what would have happened had they not hung out in their graves for three (meaning two) days. With so many resurrected people running around appearing to many people, by the time we get to Easter morning Jesus would appear to people and they'd be like “Yeah, you used to be dead and now you're not. We know. You aren't the first and if you ask me, I really don't think you'll be the last.” I can just imagine ten of the disciples insisting that Jesus is dead, while Thomas is like “Until I see his corpse with my own eyes, and smell his rotting flesh with my own nose, I will believe that he has been raised from the dead just like everyone else!”

It could have been especially bothersome if only one of the newly raised saints, call him Brian, didn't quite understand what was going on. Suppose Brian came into the Jerusalem on Good Friday. People would naturally conclude that he was the first. They might even assume that because he's first, he must have been the one responsible for all the other resurrections. In reply, someone might still claim that it was really Jesus who raised Brian. “Jesus? Jesus couldn't have done it. He was dead!” You got to admit, as far as the soundness of air-tight alibis go, this one is pretty near the top. Before you knew it, there would be a whole new sect of Judaism venerating the life of Brian and all because of a hapless resurrectees misunderstanding of what a newly raised corpse is supposed to do with oneself.

In a little closer to all seriousness, I'd bet Matthew wanted to write “and coming out of the tombs they entered the holy city.” But the more he thought about it, the more it took away from Jesus' Resurrection, so he just had to add some sort of qualifier to keep Jesus at the head of the story. These do not look like the words of someone accurately recording what actually happened. It can be astounding just how much easier it is to explain how it is that we have a story about a miraculous event than it is to explain the miraculous event itself.

But true or not, I'm rather disappointed that these two little verses are all we get to hear about this amazing event. As Thomas Paine wrote:

“Had it been true, it would have filled up whole chapters of those books, and been the chosen theme and general chorus of all the writers; but instead of this, little and trivial things, and mere prattling conversations of, he said this, and he said that, are often tediously detailed, while this, most important of all, had it been true, is passed off in a slovenly manner by a single dash of the pen, and that by one writer only, and not so much as hinted at by the rest.

“It is an easy thing to tell a lie, but it is difficult to support the lie after it is told. The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterward, and who it was that saw them – for he is not hardy enough to say he saw them himself; whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; or whether they came full dressed, and where they got their dresses; whether they went to their former habitations, and reclaimed their wives, their husbands, and their property, and how they were received; whether they entered ejectments for the recovery of their possessions, or brought actions of crim. con. against the rival interlopers; whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupation of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves.

“Strange, indeed, that an army of saints should return to life, and nobody know who they were, nor who it was that saw them, and that not a word more should be said upon the subject, nor these saints have anything to tell us! Had it been the prophets who (as we are told) had formerly prophesied of these things, they must have had a great deal to say. They could have told us everything and we should have had posthumous prophecies, with notes and commentaries upon the first, a little better at least than we have now. Had it been Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Samuel and David, not an unconverted Jew had remained in all Jerusalem. Had it been John the Baptist, and the saints of the time then present, everybody would have known them, and they would have out-preached and out-famed all the other apostles. But, instead of this, these saints were made to pop up, like Jonah's gourd in the night, for no purpose at all but to wither in the morning.”

Even if you think that miracles happen all the time, this story still fails to maintain a shred of reasonableness. Left unexplained are why the risen saints waited until Sunday, why Matthew tells us so little about them, why no other Gospel writer mentions it, and why we have no secular record of them. It doesn't explain why Peter didn't point out one of the newly Resurrected saints on Pentecost or use the resurrections many of them had seen as evidence for the resurrection that they didn't see. I would have thought that he would have understood the audience appeal of a dead guy walking around.

But there is an extraordinarily simple theory that explains all of this. It didn't happen. Things like this should be taken into consideration when deciding if Matthew's more famous tale of a resurrection deserves to be taken seriously.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Human Irrationality

The theology blog Parchment and Pen had a recent post about human irrationality. It begins with one of Paul's most quoted lines: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them."

My slightly edited reply follows:

Here's what you are saying about nontheists: you know you will suffer for eternity for choosing wrong, and yet you do so anyway, because you are just that retarded. While truth and offensiveness can coincide, it shuts off chances for dialogue.

This is vastly more extreme than an atheist who responds to any anecdotal evidence with "you are superstitious and deluded" and to any rational argument with "you are simply justifying your delusions." While I think there is some merit to the truth value of these claims, it's completely patronizing and the extent to which I'm forced to fall back on argumentative tactics like these is the extent to which I don't have anything worth saying. And which is more insulting: you're so dumb that you think your imaginary friend is real, or you're so wicked that you deserve eternal torment and so dumb that you know it's coming and yet do nothing to try to stop it?

Two Hitchens don't make a right, but this perspective is needed when deciding just how fiercely the new atheists' tone should be denounced, and if at all. And this isn't even an objection to the people in the church, but only to the words in the Bible itself.


I find it to be strange just how often Christians make arguments that either our reason cannot be trusted, or that people aren't nearly as reasonable as we think. It's not that these claims are false. The problem is that even if true, I don't see how it helps the case for Christianity at all. This is an argument that belongs on the agnostic side of either an agnostic v. atheist or an agnostic v. theist debate. If agnostics are "right", then either God exists and has not revealed himself, or atheists hold the right position for bad reasons.

Just as it debunks the foundation under any argument against Christianity, it debunks the foundation under any reason to believe. If people are a lot dumber than we think, that makes it easier for a relationship with God to be something that's just in your head. It makes it easier for answers to prayer to simply be bad estimations of probability and selective memory of the "hits." It becomes even easier to understand the birth and growth of Christianity - if people are just that irrational, skeptics don't even need a theory to explain the sincere belief of the Gospel writers and Paul.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Two Flood Stories

Sometimes surprises are hiding in plain sight. One of my biggest biblical shocks was when I first heard someone make a passing reference to the two flood stories. What? How could I not know about the second story if this is one of the many repeated stories in the Bible? How could someone mistakenly think there are two stories? This would lead to an enormous shift in the way I viewed the history of the writing of the Bible.

The Contradiction

I couldn't count how the dozens of times I've read the flood story straight out of the Bible. I was even told several times that Genesis contradicts itself by saying says seven of each kind in one place and two of each kind in another. But the reconciliation is easy: it was two of every unclean kind and seven pairs of every clean kind – right? No. In one place, it's two of every kind, and in the other, it's two of every unclean kind and seven pairs of every clean kind and bird.

Genesis 6:19-20 “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.”

Genesis 7:2-3 “You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.”

It's not a matter of the “two of every kind” instruction being less detailed. Two of every bird is explicit in the first instruction, and seven pairs of every bird is explicit in the second version, just as it is with the clean animals. I find it to be incredible just how long it took me to notice this after having been trained by creation scientists to not see it.

(Fellow skeptics and liberal Christians, take note: I would have noticed this one a lot sooner if I had been told that the Bible says two of each kind in one place, and two of unclean animals and seven pairs of clean animals and birds in another. If you screw this one up by saying two in one place and seven in another, Christians will remember 7:2-3 and know you are wrong.)

But there is an odd objection to this contradiction. What sense does it make to for this mistake to have been made? Jacob's mistaken view of genetics makes sense – the author didn't know about modern science and hence contradicted a truth that he had no way of knowing. But how could an author get this wrong? With something so blatant, is not the explanation that we misunderstanding the author more plausible than to call this a mistake? This discrepancy is not alone enough to support the conclusion I'm moving toward, so before stating it, I wish to first point out several other weirdnesses in the story.

Premeditated Lambslaughter

Bible contradictions are often dismissed by non-inerrantists is as trivial details that do not matter to the story. I wouldn't hold a newspaper up to a standard of perfection. Surely a report getting the number of sheep in a zoo wrong doesn't compromise the truth of a story about a zoo's existence. But once we get to the ending of the story in 8:20-22, the apparently trivial detail of the number of animals on the ark shows itself to be critically important.

If you plan on making sacrifices of the clean animals at the end, having extras of specifically the clean animals is a very good idea. If you only bring two of every kind like Genesis 6:19-20 says, and then sacrifice one of them when you get off the ark ... um ... that's quite the sacrifice. The pair could have had a baby in the year on the ark, but I wouldn't stretch my luck. (Also, mating in the ark lines up poorly with creationists' speculation that the animals on the ark hibernated.) So back at the beginning of the story, one of the sets of instructions quite specifically prepares for the sacrifices, while for the other set, a sacrifice would make for a comical blunder. Interestingly enough, the bit about the sacrifices isn't repeated like nearly everything else.

(And why is Noah sacrificing only clean animals centuries before The Law? This is like Marco Polo stopping to celebrate Thanksgiving. Now, I know that the laws of God are written on mens' hearts, but an example of a particular law that I have not found written upon my heart is: “You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them.” Maybe Noah was wired differently than I am, but without the Bible, I certainly wouldn't have figured this one out.)

Choppy Narration

Genesis 6:5-8 starts out with a coherent narrative. The earth is wicked and God decides to destroy mankind, except for Noah because he is righteous. But then all of a sudden, Genesis 6:9 begins the story all over again. Starting at verse 9 makes a great opener – Noah is righteous, the rest of the earth is corrupt, so God decides to destroy all mankind except for Noah and his family. In the 6:9-22 segment, God gives Noah detailed instruction about what to build, how many animals to bring on the ark, and Noah does everything he has been commanded to do.

So now we should be ready to get on with the story. Next up should be actually entering the ark and the rain starting. But no, Genesis 7:1-4 takes us back a step and repeats some earlier information. Just like in 6:19-20 (well, not just like), Noah is told how many animals to bring in 7:2-3. It is important to notice that I'm not just pointing out the mere fact of repetition, but the fact that this part of the story is different under a retelling.

7:13 starts out with “On the very same day.” One would expect this to mean that the previous verse was something that happened on a particular day. “The final version of the Declaration of Independence was completed on July 4. On the very same day it was announced” makes sense. “The Declaration of Independence was written in June and July. On the very same day it was announced” does not make sense. 7:12's “The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights” leads into the grammar of 7:13 very poorly.

Two Calendars

In 8:3-4, the days line up differently than might be expected. In 7:11, the flood starts on month 2, day 17. In 7:24, the water floods the earth for 150 days until 8:3's month 7, day 17. What's worth noting is that the forty days of rain are not in there. I'm not suggesting that the idea that the forty days of rain are the first forty of the 150 days is impossible – what I am saying is that the chronology in the form of months lines up seamlessly if you just ignore the forty days.

8:6 tells us that “it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window.” From a purely literal perspective, there is nothing wrong with this. But from a literary perspective, it's out of place. In 8:4 and 8:5, time is marked in absolute terms – the month and day. Now it switches back to talking in time intervals. But this alone would not be that significant of an observation. In 8:3, “at the end of one hundred and fifty days” isn't a new number – it refers back the 150 days the waters prevailed in 7:24. Similarly, 8:6 seems to be referring back to some previously mentioned forty days that are now over. Flood story. Forty days. What could this possibly be referring to? Why the forty days of rain in 7:4, 7:12, and 7:17. I don't mean to oversell the significance of these new forty days. Noah waits seven days before sending out the dove again, and no one suggests it is the same seven days from 7:4. However, it is worth noting that if you ignore the chronology in the form of months, 7:4, 7:12, 7:17, and 8:6 all fit together very nicely: “I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights … The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights … the flood came upon the earth for forty days … it came about at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window.” But if you insert 150 days between the third and fourth mention of forty days, the continuity is disrupted.

Two Birds

In 8:7, a raven is sent out and flies around until “the water had dried up from the earth.” One bird later in 8:9, “there was water all over the surface of the earth.” I understand that “dry” and “water all over” are very relative terms, and in this story, the ground goes from being under miles of water, to under several feet of water, to being covered in pools of water, to horribly muddy, to “dry ground” in the sense of drier than a marsh, and finally to truly dry ground. But surely, the shades of meaning behind “there was water all over the surface of the earth” imply vastly more moisture than “the water had dried up from the earth.” It sounds like the raven wasn't sent out first, assuming these stories go together at all.

What was the point of the second bird? If you have a raven that flies around until the earth dries up, why send a dove? If you have a dove that you can send out until it doesn't return, why send a raven? It's not that I think these problems are completely irreconcilable. What I'm saying is that sending either the raven or the dove is a much more natural story than sending both.

The Two Flood Stories

So here's a recap: Noah is introduced twice. There are two conflicting versions of the instructions about the animals. Verse 7:13 looks like it was written to come after something other than 7:12. The time is marked while switching between seven and forty day intervals and month-based time. Viewed together, the two systems are in tension. Viewed individually, the two systems make as much sense as should be expected from a narrative that coherently keeps track of time. After the ground dries up, water is all over the earth again. Noah redundantly sends out two birds. And after only one of the two sets of instructions prepared for a sacrifice, and the repetition of nearly every detail, we have but one account of a sacrifice.

Suppose someone tried to harmonize Luke and John by cutting up each Gospel and putting them together in what they thought was the best order, added little or no extra-biblical text to smooth over the transitions, and just left the surface contradictions in place. If you only read the final product, you may or may not be able figure out which story went with which author – but you certainly would notice things like Jesus saying “it is finished” and dying followed by saying “into your hands I commit my spirit” and then dying a second time. You also might notice switches between two different writing styles. If you could fully split it up into the two sources this would greatly add to the case for two authors, but it wouldn't be essential to an argument that there are two authors. That's what the Documentary Hypothesis says the Torah is – the splicing together of primarily four sources. In the case of the flood story, there are two different authors.

Start with 6:5-8 and call this story A. 6:9-22 is a continuous piece and it's not A, so call it story B. 7:1-5 is a continuous piece and it isn't B, so it's part of A. (My A and B are usually called J and P, but I'm setting up my argument as step one in making the case for a JEPD source theory, not an argument in support of an existing theory. I'm using my own letters so I can't subliminally cheat and take advantage of what people know about J and P through other means.)

In what we have so far of A, the deity is called the LORD (Yahweh) all six times. In B, the deity is called God (Elohim) all five times. In A, there are sevens of some kinds and pairs of others, while in B there is a single pair of each kind. These differences are even more striking because they show up together in the rest of the flood story. In 7:8-9 and 7:14-16a, there are two of each kind and they come as Elohim commanded (both B.) In 8:20-22, Noah utilizes the extra clean animals and sacrifices to Yahweh (both A.)

From this point on, most my arguments are that this particular way of splitting the text in two is the correct split. They are not meant to be arguments that a split is correct, only that if a split is correct, this is the correct one.

Based on the names of God used, to A we can add 7:16b, and to B we can add 8:1 and 8:15-19.

Because the first mention of the seven days until forty days of rain is in 7:4 which is A, we can place the month-based verses in B and the other time interval verses in A. To A we can add 7:10, 7:12, 7:17, and 8:6. To B we can add 7:11, 7:24, 8:3-5, 8:13a, and 8:14.

One of the most obvious seams in the story is between 7:12 and 7:13. 7:12 is A already and so 7:13 is B. This fits nicely with 7:14-16a already being labeled B. 7:13's “On the very same day” now makes sense because it directly follows 7:11's “on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth.”

In A, the floods come because it starts raining in 7:4 and 7:12. But in B, the floods come because the windows of heaven and fountains of the deep are opened in 7:11. And hence 8:2a is B, while 8:2b is A.

The dove account marks time not only in time intervals but also in seven days like A, rather than speaking in months like B. So 8:8-12 is A and the raven in 8:7 is B.

This leaves 7:6-7, 7:18-23, 8:13b without a clear story. I didn't leave them out because they don't fit, but because at my low level of OT scholarship, it works either way. There is no reason to open myself to criticism by guessing poorly, or doing “too well” and cleverly splitting them so as to create coherence in two accounts of my construction rather than discovering coherence in two accounts as they actually exist.

If you look at the accounts side-by-side, you can see two complete stories. Of course, I haven't completely argued for this splitting, but I have no disagreements with it, and it's certainly easier to see than pulling out a Bible and trying to read 7:1-5, 7, 9-10, 12, etc.

Dissenting Opinions

One criticism is especially important for me to point out because I held Josh McDowell's feet to the fire for a very similar problem. Of course, if I thought my case was even close to equally open to criticism, I wouldn't have written this post at all – but it's open enough that I feel the need to point it out.

The problem is that googling “two flood stories” brings up pages with slightly to significantly different ideas about what verses go in which story. The top 3 agree on how to split 6:1-7:5 and 8:8-22, but for the middle third of the story, two are similar while the third is in a world by itself. The cheap defense is that I'm right and he's wrong – while this is not necessarily false, I didn't throw McDowell this line, so I won't depend on it myself. The key difference between the two situations is that McDowell needs every single detail in his argument for it to work at all. If someone disagrees with his starting event, his ending event, or the time between them by a single day, then their entire arguments are contradictory.

If two people disagree on the authors of only a few verses, then the remaining points of agreement do support each other. Furthermore, details of the unweaving are not even required to argue for two authors. My arguments about the conflicting concepts like one pair/seven pairs, raven/dove, forty days/months, Yahweh/Elohim all stand without figuring out what goes together. People getting different answers is evidence that the stories cannot be fully and definitively separated (or at least not easily.) Contradictory opinions on even significant details is not a rebuttal to the evidence that there are two authors in the first place.

To present a broad theory and only then look back and see if the evidence supports it is a form of reasoning that easily admits poor arguments. He writes “But, what really proves beyond any doubt that there were two authors—not one--is the wealth of unique correspondences found in disconnected passages.” This is quite inconvenient for me because with several of the correspondences (seven/seventh/seventeen, six hundred years, and probably sons), I think the correspondences don't really exist in the correct splitting.

The way scholarship is supposed to work is to begin with evidence and show how the evidence itself points toward the theory. Every single piece of the theory must be individually supported. One cannot bind up related claims into one package and use truth by association. When this is done, five good ideas get mixed with five bad ideas and yet the overall theory has real evidence in support of it due to the parts of it that are true. For instance, he's not completely wrong about one author caring about the number seven, so some of the correlation he's finding isn't just a coincidence. The problem is that lots of authors of the Bible liked the number seven, so you can't just go by that. He writes “Not once does the [Elohim] author use the numbers seven, seventh, seventeen.” Yes, but only in 7:1-5 is seven associated with Yahweh, so that's not saying very much. This is the problem with just presenting a split – it's not clear when you have found a characteristic of one author and when you have simply moved similar verses to one side.

But still, the only reason he can find two stories at all is because there really are two stories which provide an abundance of repetition that makes it very easy to divide Genesis 6-8 into two complete stories. But that is not to say it is easy to correctly divide Genesis 6-8 into the real two stories from which it came.

There are drawbacks to arguing from the evidence instead of starting with the theory and showing it has evidence in support of it. It's much, much more work and when you get done, it might not be the answer you wanted. But that is the price of knowledge.

What it Means for Christianity

While this alone need not undermine Christianity, it can and should very greatly change how the Bible is viewed. It seriously undermines inerrancy by the mere idea that the “surface” discrepancies are actual discrepancies that come from different authors. But it also makes perfect sense for more liberal Christians to use this to make the case that the problems conservatives have come not from the Bible itself, but from misunderstanding what sort of a book it is. Historically speaking, these arguments did originate from within Christianity. (And this is not just because they were “liberal Christians.” These are the reasons many are liberal in the first place.)

But there are two features in particular that are especially difficult to reconcile with Christianity. The first is that this means Moses didn't write Genesis 6-8, or at least not in the way conservatives think he did. Even if Moses wrote the original flood story, which split into two different traditions and were later merged, the Genesis version isn't Moses' version. Or maybe Moses was the compiler of earlier and contradictory sources, but this is vastly different from the idea that God quite nearly dictated the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. And yet Jesus talks about the Law as if Moses wrote it. Of course, we could be misunderstanding Jesus and he might have meant the Law as the legal code rather than the Torah, but the hope that Moses at least wrote the legal code does not survive the remainder of the Documentary Hypothesis. The possibility that Jesus as a man was ignorant of the real authors is possible, but saying that something Jesus said that is directly relevant to core doctrine was wrong is a very dangerous direction to move in for conservative Christianity.

The second problem is that it makes belief in the inspiration of the autograph of the Bible look completely arbitrary. Why not look to the two flood stories pre-combination for the inspired version? If the two stories have a common literary source, why not look to that as the inspired version? Why look to the combination in Genesis? Why not go a step further and say that the Septuagint or the King James Version is inspired? Even under the assumption that something Bible-related is inspired by God, to say it is the original Hebrew of Genesis and not the true original seems just as arbitrary as randomly pointing to an English translation and assuming it to be inspired.

When you come to Genesis 6-8 with the Documentary Hypothesis in mind, the text makes sense. But that's not point. You don't have to come to Genesis 6-8 with the Documentary Hypothesis to come away with it. This is what it means for evidence to support a position. Countering with how it might be a single story isn't an argument. The consistency of evidence with a position is not enough – real evidence for a position is evidence that has the ability to point someone to a conclusion they don't already accept or even know about.

Of course, I have only provided evidence to get as far as two authors of Genesis 6-8 – that isn't the Documentary Hypothesis yet, but it's a start.

(Kudos to Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible. My argument is set up very differently than his and hence any errors are mine, but his book and a private email greatly enhanced my partial understanding of this topic.)