XFiles Friday: A brief tangent

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )

Geisler and Turek continue to pursue the question of whether or not miracles are possible, based on the assumption that God exists. That seems like a backwards approach to me: real apologetics ought to show the miracles first, and then, if they prove to be genuine, proceed from there to the conclusion that God exists. But that’s not G&T’s approach, for whatever reason. Speaking of the comparison between a closed-box universe (i.e. materialism is all there is) versus an open box universe (i.e. God is supernatural and can reach into the box at any time), they write:

We know beyond a reasonable doubt that a theistic God exists. Since God exists, the universe represented by the closed box is false. The box is open and was created by God. So it is possible for God to intervene in the natural world by performing miracles. In fact, miracles are not only possible, miracles are actual, because the greatest miracle of all—the creation of the universe out of nothing—has already occurred. So with regard to the Bible, if Genesis 1:1 is true—”In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—then every other miracle in the Bible is easy to believe. [Emphasis theirs.]

Personally, when I was in Sunday School, I was always taught that the Incarnation was the greatest miracle of all. And so was the Resurrection.

I was going to pass over this section, because we’ve already seen how G&T’s “proof” of God turns out to be based on the erroneous belief that the universe had a Cause, and on the superstitious assumption that this Cause could only be God. But I can’t resist the temptation to go off on a slight tangent here because the quote above, and especially the italicized part, gives us an oblique but informative look into why conservative Christians are so hung up on evolution.

If Genesis 1:1 is true, then every other miracle is easy to believe, according to G&T. The converse is also true, however: if Genesis 1:1 has a natural explanation (such as what some people loosely and inaccurately call “Darwinism”), then maybe the other miracles do too. And in fact, what we’re finding more and more is that so-called miracles do have natural explanations, to the point that even Christians sometimes fear for their own faith. God does not show up in real life, and the evidence suggests that He probably never has.

Faith is a toehold on reality. Not a solid rock, not a narrow ledge, not a place to put your foot. A toehold. At the bottom of the cliff (if it has a bottom) are the jagged rocks of everything you’re afraid of: terrorist attacks, armed psychotics in schools, financial disasters, devastating diseases, and everything else that your Heavenly Father is carefully keeping out of your life (unless He has some mysterious higher purpose, of course). Naturally, with so much at stake, your toehold becomes VERY important to you. It may not be much, but you’ll do almost anything to hold onto it.

What makes Genesis 1:1 the toehold is that the beginning of the universe is an event that happened long enough ago that we may never learn all the details of how it got started. In other words, of all the so-called miracles in the Bible, this one is the safest one to believe in. Or is it?

It’s ironic that G&T would pick Genesis 1:1 and say “If Genesis 1:1 is true, then the other miracles are easy to believe,” because Genesis 1:1 is one of the “elohist” creation accounts. That is, the writer refers to God, not as “Yahweh,” or “Adonai,” but as “Elohim.” “Elohim,” as you may have heard, is the Hebrew plural for the singular noun “el,” which means “god” (same root word as the Arabic name “Allah”). Trinitarian Christians and post-Pharisee Jews have adopted the notion that this is a name for God, and/or an instance of the “royal We,” but these are retroactive attempts to reconcile an ancient story with a more recent theology. The early Israelites, remember, were polytheists, and their earliest creation myths refer to gods, plural.

I’ve mentioned this before in discussing the Persian/Pharisee link, but there’s another way we can know that the pre-exilic Israelites were polytheists. First of all, the Old Testament tells us repeatedly that the Israelites worshiped other gods, thus provoking God’s wrath. Secondly, the so-called Ten Commandments tell us that the Israelites believed in other gods to the point that the first two commandments had to spell out, in great detail, that they weren’t allowed to worship or serve them.

But more than this, there’s an extremely revealing story in the New Testament which shows that the Sadducees (i.e. priests of the pre-Exilic faith) were polytheists, in contrast to the strict monotheism of the post-Exilic Pharisees. In Matthew 22:31-33, it says:

[Jesus speaking to the Sadducees] But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

Think about that in the context of traditional, trinitarian Christianity. God is not the god of the dead? He ceases to be your God when you die? Why would He resurrect you, then, if you’re not His any more? It sounds like Jesus is pulling the rug out from under his own Gospel unless you realize that the Sadducees were polytheists, and that what Jesus is doing is quoting their own theology back at them. In polytheistic, Sadducean theology, God was the god of Israel, Baal was the God of the Philistines, and Mot was the god of the dead. So Jesus was right: according to Sadducean theology, God (the God of Israel) was not the god of the dead. Mot was.

What Jesus is trying to do is to show them that their idea of what Moses taught conflicts with what is written in the Law of Moses. The people were astonished at Jesus’s teaching because everybody knew that the Sadducean version of Judaism acknowledged Mot as the god of the dead, and nobody had ever thought of using “I am the God of Abraham” to contradict the Sadducees from their own Scripture.

But put this all together: we know from multiple independent Scriptural accounts that the pre-Exilic, non-Pharisaic Israelites were polytheists. And in their earliest creation accounts, it says quite literally “In the beginning, gods created the heavens and the earth.” Yes, if you’re not a polytheist yourself, you can invent an interpretationthat explains away the literal definition of the word being used, but you can’t change the fact that the actual words written in the original of Genesis 1:1 are the words you would have to use to express the polytheistic idea that gods (plural) created the cosmos.

So I agree with Geisler and Turek that “if you believe Genesis 1:1 is true, then it becomes easier to believe all the other miracles as well.” The question is, can you really believe that Genesis 1:1 is true, as originally written?

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “XFiles Friday: A brief tangent”

  1. VorJack Says:

    “The question is, can you really believe that Genesis 1:1 is true, as originally written?”

    This is one of the things that really irritates me about most biblical interpretation. It ignores the vast gulf between us and the authors. Historians fret about the differences between orality and literacy, about the construction of social memory and the about transmission of ideas. They constantly exhort themselves about avoiding “present mindedness,” or projecting your own thoughts and ideas back into the past.

    Most interpreters ignore all of this. They treat the bible as if it fell from the sky in 1611, fully formed and immaculate, with a big stamp of approval on it from God. (“I am God, and I approve this message.”) In the case here you have modern authors projecting their own ideas about monotheism back onto pre-exile Israelites. Not only is it laughably wrong, but it is arrogant, and it deprives the original authors of their voice.

  2. B8ovin Says:

    I’m thinking I’m going to start calling Christianity “Noahism” or “Mosesism”. Maybe “Adamism and Eveism”. While these people are only a small percentage of the total “Bibleism” belief, mankind and morality would be extinct without them. While Christianity revolves around god and Jesus (hence the name), it is just as correct to compile the whole faith down to one or two individuals who played important parts. If the entire field of evolution and all the many specialities, the phylogenics, genetics, palaeontology etc., can be called “Darwinism” surely calling Christianity “Adam-and-Eveism” is appropriate.

  3. John Morales Says:

    A most excellent post!

    can you really believe that Genesis 1:1 is true, as originally written?

    Sure, in a contrived and poetically allegorical sense.

    Nah, just kidding.

  4. jim Says:

    If you already start with the assumption that magic exists, then I guess anything and everything CAN be explained in terms of that magic. And really, you can overlay it on top of just about anything: evolution, quantum physics, star formation…the works!

    However, it IS amusing how apologists will try for naturalistic reinterpretations of evidence whenever they can, because they actually know science carries a credibility that a plea to the miraculous does not. Thus all the creationist nonsense. But magic is always there, waiting in the wings, to fill in all those nasty little gaps in the theistic worldview.

  5. melior Says:

    The question is, can you really believe that Genesis 1:1 is true, as originally written?

    This particular creation myth is notable for the fact that God did it in the dark. It is mute on whether or not he did it behind his back, no peeksies.

  6. traumerin Says:

    >>And in their earliest creation accounts, it says quite literally “In the beginning, gods created the heavens and the earth.”

    I agree with the overall point that “Judaism” or Israelite religion became monotheistic through a gradual process, but this description of Genesis 1:1 isn’t quite accurate. Even though the noun ‘Elohim’ has a standard plural ending, the verb create (‘bara’) is definitely singular, and this holds true throughout the Hebrew bible–though of course there are also examples of the world ‘elohim’ clearly referring to multiple gods, paired with a regular plural verb.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Thanks for the correction. It’s possible that the mismatched plurality could be the result of later editing, since a scribe might find it easier to “correct” a plural verb ending than to make alterations in the word for “God.” But you’re right, it is worth mentioning that the verb is singular in the modern texts.