This summer, I’ve spent some time going through an apologetics book called E-mails to a Young Seeker: Exchanges in Mere Christianity. The author is a professor at Grove City College, from which I recently graduated and where I encountered this book during an assignment in an English class. Throughout campus, Dr. Hogsette, or “Prof Dave”, as he calls himself in the book, was praised as a gifted author and apologist, but with every page of this book I find myself disagreeing more and more. (Check out my full introduction and Part 1, too!)
This week, I read email exchanges six through nine between the writer and the fictional Christian seeker, an airheaded college student. The questions are as follows:
Exchange 6: I’m having some problems accepting the Cain narrative in Genesis.
Exchange 7: Why are there genealogies in the bible and can they be used to date the Earth?
Exchange 8: Isn’t the bible just a bunch of tales compiled by men to achieve their subjective agenda?
Exchange 9: I don’t know if I can trust the New Testament record.
Upon my first inspection of the table of contents of this book, I was immediately puzzled by Exchange 6. If the seeker is reading through the entire bible as he says he is, and he’s read the entire book of Genesis, I can’t help but ask: why the Cain narrative? That’s really what you had a problem with? Not the fall, or Noah’s Ark, or Moses and the 10 Commandments, or Abraham’s age and God’s command to sacrifice his son? My theory is that this question was included because it was the only hole in Genesis’ plot that Prof Dave had a answer, albeit a very illogical one, ready for.
The seeker’s main problem with the Cain narrative was, when Cain was out wandering, who was he afraid of if the only other living people were his parents? Prof Dave first rambles on for a while that every human is fallen and sinful and needs Jesus, then he goes through the idea that Genesis’ genealogies don’t list women (which isn’t sexist, it’s just how it is!), before getting to the fact that since Adam lived for 930 years, he probably had time to help a lot of ladies pop out a lot of babies. He explains how people lived that long before defending the fact that most of these ladies would have been Adam’s own daughters:
Cain’s wife’s name is not mentioned, but it is logical from Scripture to deduce that she was his sister born from Adam and Eve. Genesis chapter 5, verse 4, records that Adam lived 930 years and had sons and daughters (so, the Bible does mention sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, not just all of them by name). You can have a lot of sons and daughters in that time frame. Indeed, many people today find it hard to believe that humans could live such long periods of time; however, it is not an illogical claim. If God originally created humans in a pure and sinless state as described in Genesis, then it is reasonable to conclude that these first humans were physically purer and more genetically rich than we are today, and because of disease and mutation entering into the human condition via the fall into sin, it makes sense that humans would, over time, become more and more impure, more diseased, and thus live shorter lives now than in the very beginning. Since humans were more genetically pure during the time of Adam and Eve and lived longer lives, we can understand how populations grew and how different people groups developed into various cultures and religions over time as they moved further and further away from the revealed truth of God. So, Cain’s wife was one of his many sisters that Adam and Eve had during their many years of procreating.
But, if Cain married his sister, doesn’t that mean he violated the incest taboo? No, because incest was not a necessary taboo until much later. It is logical to conclude, based upon what we know of genetics, that the further we go back in genetic history, the more information-rich and diverse the gene pool (even though there were fewer people as we go back in history, each person’s DNA was informationally rich and diverse). In other words, it is reasonable to maintain that Adam and Eve contained all the genetic information of all the possible human people groups or races that were to develop later. Thus, it was not biologically problematic for Adam and Eve’s children to intermarry and procreate. However, as the gene pool thinned out, so to speak, or became more narrow and specialized, it became necessary to worry about the negative ramifications of inbreeding; thus, incest eventually and rightfully became taboo.
So there you have it. Fool-proof apologist logic.
I have to admit that Exchange 7 begins with possibly the stupidest question I’ve ever heard. “Can the bible’s genealogies be used to date the earth?” Really? You can’t figure out on your own that that is insanely unreliable? The inane response from Prof Dave matches the stupidity of the question itself. He begins with the excuse that Earth-dating is not an exact science (I suppose it’s not, but using actual science, we’ve gotten pretty close), so he doesn’t know for sure. I’ve said it before about Dave here, as well as about Lee Strobel’s claims in The Case for a Creator, but I don’t know why apologists seem to love the big bang so much and hate evolution. As for the whole old-earth thing, they really go hand-in-hand.
Prof Dave argues for a literal Genesis, a big bang, and strict microevolution. On top of all that, he claims in this exchange that he “grapples with what amounts to overwhelming evidence that the earth is old.” This is understandable because there is overwhelming evidence that the earth is old. He is held back from the truth only by his religious beliefs. I’ve never heard of anyone who knows the true age of the Earth grapple with any evidence that it is young. Anyone who is compelled to believe that, only does so because of the book of Genesis.
Exchange 8 deals with the biblical canon and how we ended up with the books that we have. I myself think this is a fascinating topic, although I haven’t really started looking into it yet. Prof Dave provides five extremely vague ways that the church fathers determined which books were biblical. They are:
1. “Was the book written by a prophet of God or a person accredited of God?”
2. “Was the writer confirmed by acts of God?”
3. “Did the message tell the truth about God and his nature?”
4. “Does the message come with the power of God?”
5. “Was it accepted by the people of God?”
If I were to structure a holy book myself, I would use much more specific criteria. Maybe that way, it would have fewer contradictions, but that’s just me.
Exchange 9 consists of Prof Dave pulling out all the classic stops on why the New Testament isn’t a myth. His strongest argument? The writings don’t feel like myths. It’s written in a nonfictional tone; therefore, it is nonfictional. It seems to me that it would feel like nonfiction because it was meant to be believed. Arguably, the people who wrote it believed it was true themselves. That doesn’t mean it was.
Dave’s next argument is one that I’ve heard plenty of times, but I must be understanding it wrong because I don’t know how it correlates with whether or not the New Testament is true. He claims that there are many, many copies of New Testament manuscripts from relatively not long after the events are said to have taken place. This is supposed to attest to the writings not being tampered with as they were passed down, but even if they weren’t, who says we should believe anything they said to begin with?
The author predictably compares the New Testament to the writings of Homer and Plato, which have a higher chance of having been tampered with, and he argues that no one questions those writings. It should go without saying, however, that these writings aren’t said to be the only relic on Earth that we have from the one true god, complete with instructions on how to live our lives, how time began, and the secret of the meaning of the universe. So yeah, the bible is going to be scrutinized more thoroughly than other works.
(My later post on Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus goes more in-depth into the origins of the New Testament.)