XFiles: The Old One-Two

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

Today we look at a section entitled “Other Evidence Supporting the Old Testament.” I expect you won’t be too surprised to find out that it’s a very short section. In fact, you could sum up the whole thing by the last two sentences in the section:

Our friend Andy Stanley put it well: “My high school science teacher once told me that much of Genesis is false. But since my high school science teacher did not prove he was God by rising from the dead, I’m going to believe Jesus instead.” Wise move.

Just let me double check here… nope, didn’t pick up a different book by accident. This is the argument Geisler and Turek are making in the book they call I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST. Genesis can’t even pass a high school science test? No problem. Just ignore the scientific evidence and believe whatever Jesus told you was “truth.” Or at least, whatever people say that Jesus said. That’ll show those old atheists who the faith-based believers really are.

Geisler and Turek claim that, besides the testimony of Jesus, they have lots of other good reasons for believing that the Old Testament is literally true, even in the supernatural parts of Genesis. “For example,” they tell us, “the Old Testament has many of the same characteristics that make the New Testament believable: strong manuscript support, confirmation by archeology, and a storyline that its authors would not invent.”

They document this claim with a one-two punch.

Let’s consider that last point for just a minute. Who would invent the Old Testament storyline? A story invented by Hebrews probably would depict the Israelites as noble and upright people. But the Old Testament writers don’t say this. Instead they depict their own people as sinful and fickle slaves who, time after time, are miraculously rescued by God, but who abandon Him every chance they get.

That’s part one of the one-two punch. We know that every word of the Old Testament is true, because the Old Testament writers fail to make the Israelites look as good as they “probably” would have had the tale been a deliberate fantasy. Geisler and Turek flesh out this argument by citing examples of sins by Moses, Saul and David, and even go so far as to observe that one of the people mentioned in the OT was a prostitute! Horrors! “This is clearly not an invented storyline,” they assure us, secure in the knowledge that if a story is full of sex and violence, it can’t possibly be untrue.

Well, unless of course it was invented by priests. Priests, you see, aren’t supposed to flatter people with false assurances (or even true ones) about how good and noble and righteous they’ve always been. The righteous are rather an embarrassment to priests, since they don’t need to pay anybody to go ask God to forgive them. Guilty sinners are what priests have by way of job security. Telling people that they’re the descendants of sinners is the priestly equivalent of Verizon saying, “Can you hear me now?”

Making the sacred history of a nation into a history of sin and rebelliousness is exactly the sort of story priests would like to write, because it hammers home lesson after lesson about how wrong it is not to do what the priests tell you. If you see stories about how even the kings screwed up and caused major problems, that just goes to show that even kings ought to be listening to the priests and doing things the way the priests want them done.

Geisler and Turek’s argument, that a patriotic Jewish layman “probably” would have invented a story that made the Israelites look better, is a red herring. Even if it’s true that a layman might have written a more flattering “history,” the fact remains that the laymen didn’t write the Old Testament. Priests and prophets did. But if you think Punch One went sailing through empty air, wait till you see Punch Two:

While the Old Testament tells of one embarrassing gaffe after another, most other ancient historians avoid even mentioning unflattering historical events. For example, there’s been nothing found in the records of Egypt about the Exodus, leading some critics to suggest the event never occurred.

Gee, ya think?

In this short, page-and-a-half section, Geisler and Turek have calmly assured us that the Old Testament is supported by “strong manuscript support, confirmation by archeology, and a storyline that its authors would not invent.” Their one reference to actual archeological evidence, however, consists of pointing out the absence of verifiable evidence of the Exodus. And in their mind, this constitutes proof that the Exodus did happen, because it shows that ancient historians did not report “unflattering” circumstances.

Let me just check that book title again…yep, still the same book. Hmm.

For all their confident smugness, Geisler and Turek are offering us an argument that is as poorly thought-out as it is spurious. The question is not whether simple pride prevented the pharoahs from acknowledging that they’d been supernaturally defeated by the god(s) of their slaves, the question is how is it that none of these pharoahs even noticed that they and their entire chariot army had suddenly died, leaving the wealthiest and most fertile territory in the eastern Mediterranean leaderless and undefended? Why are we not reading the flattering boasts of any of Egypt’s militant and opportunistic neighbors, about how their gods had opened the door for them to expand their own empires at Egyptian expense?

And this brings us to the sentiment Geisler and Turek used as the capstone on this particular section. I did not rise from the dead, so they will simply ignore my questions, and believe Jesus.

[T]he strongest argument for the Old Testament comes from Jesus himself. As God, he holds the trump card. If the New Testament documents are reliable, then the Old Testament is without error because Jesus said it is.

You might have thought you had a hand full of aces, in the form of self-consistent and verifiable facts that don’t add up the way Geisler and Turek want them to. But they trumped your aces by the simple expedient of believing (against all evidence) that Jesus is God, and therefore the Old Testament is never wrong even when it contradicts reality. Gods can do that, you see. Or at least, people believe that they can. If they don’t have enough “faith” to be atheists.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “XFiles: The Old One-Two”

  1. Sherry Peyton Says:

    I’ve followed your blog for some time. I am saddened that unfortunately attacks on Christianity always seem to relate to fundamentalists take on things. Most of us don’t adhere to their form of illogic. Do you folks understand that there are lots of thinking Christians out here who do not think the earth is 6,000+ years old and that evolution is a hoax? We see the bible ever so much more differently than fundies do, and we reject as insane their beliefs.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hi Sherry and welcome. Yes I understand very well that there are Christians who would not call themselves fundamentalists or agree with fundamentalist doctrine. I was one such Christian myself for a good many years.

    Regardless of how you define “fundamentalist,” though, or where you draw the line between those who are and those who are not, we Americans live in a nation where three-fifths of the states in the Union have, by the instigation and support of Christians, amended their Constitutions specifically to deny homosexuals the same rights as their fellow Americans. Sixty percent of the United States have passed a law—more than a law, a constitutional amendment—that has no practical purpose beyond denying happiness to a minority whose sole offense is that they fall in love with people Christians don’t like.

    This kind of Christian-sponsored social injustice is why I blog against Christianity. When liberal Christians can become influential enough within their own religion to curb the outrageous and antisocial behavior of their more conservative peers, I will change my approach.


  3. Hunt Says:

    Sherry and DD, I think there’s more to the issue than just liberal Christianity gaining influence and perhaps displacing the more egregious versions of fundamentalist Christianity. There also must be the motivation, desire and action to accomplish it, and from what I can see this has not and will not take place. One thesis of Harris’s End of Faith is that moderate religion runs interference for more radical elements. He was speaking specifically of Islam, but the same can be applied to American Christianity. Where is the organized opposition to fundamentalism by more liberal Christian factions? Fundamentalism runs under the aegis of their common banner of “Christianity” and moderates seem to be afraid to question it. So, the very people who could actually DO something about fundamentalism too often remain silent. It isn’t enough to just lead by example. For one thing, their numbers are too small to “lead” in any sense. They have to actively oppose what they find repugnant.

  4. Jer Says:

    Where is the organized opposition to fundamentalism by more liberal Christian factions? Fundamentalism runs under the aegis of their common banner of “Christianity” and moderates seem to be afraid to question it.

    Exactly. When liberal Christians stand up against their conservative counterparts I’m standing right there with them. I’m glad to work with them to curb the dangerous behavior of their fundamentalist co-religionists.

    But they don’t. Instead they make excuses and say things like “not all Christians are like that – most of us are quite nice”. Well, that’s fine. But then why are you letting THEM set the agenda and letting THEM define what it means in most people’s eyes to be a Christian? They’re the ones who get the face time. They’re the ones who get the megaphones. And the liberal Christians seem content to let them spout their hatred and only occasionally step up and say “oh, they’ve gone too far. Not all Christians think like that, please don’t think we’re all so hateful.” Liberal Christians should be working to clean up the Christian brand – and make no mistake, the Christian brand is horribly tainted by their fundamentalist co-religionists – and remove the hate from it instead of complaining about “those mean old atheists”.

  5. MiddleO'Nowhere Says:

    G&T’s statement that writing a history that includes unflattering elements lends the history credibility immediately reminded me of Greek mythology. The myths are FULL of people and gods behaving badly and very fickle ways. By their logic, does this lend those stories credibility?

    The same could be said of almost any good work of fiction or comic book. If the protagonist is too perfect, the story is boring and one dimensional, and without some sort of conflict or tension, what’s the point in writing it?