XFiles: Mostly Inerrant

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

Geisler and Turek’s program of indoctrination continues:

If Jesus confirmed that the Old Testament was the inerrant Word of God, then his promised New Testament must be part of the inerrant Word of God too. Of course.

Translation: if you’ve been gullible enough to buy our arguments so far, the rest is going to be easy.

We’re up to the section entitled “How Can the Bible Be Inerrant?” If we start from the assumption that the Bible is inerrant, as Geisler and Turek have been doing for the last several chapters, we’re going to find this a pretty easy objection to answer. Jesus said that the New Testament is inerrant (or rather, he claimed fulfillment of an OT passage in which Isaiah claimed to have been anointed to preach good news to the poor, which is the same thing, right?). Since the Bible is inerrant when it tells us that Jesus said something that modern conservative Protestant apologists infallibly know means that the whole Bible is infallible, we don’t have enough FAITH to be ATHEISTS.

Whoops, sorry, got all caught up in the spirit of Christian apologetics for a minute. Let’s read what Geisler and Turek have to offer in the way of evidence to back up their claims, and then let’s think about it.

The Bible does not have errors, but it certainly has alleged errors or difficulties. In fact, I (Norm) and another professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Thomas Howe, have written a book titled When Critics Ask, which addresses more than 800 difficulties critics have identified in the Bible…

As I mentioned before, when I was a Christian, I always had the feeling that the good apologetics must be in some other book that I hadn’t read yet. For me (and for a lot of Christians, I suspect), it was enough just to believe that there was an answer out there somewhere. In fact, it’s actually better for the answer to be somewhere out where I can’t quite get to it, because then I don’t run the risk of seeing the answers and finding out that they’re just as poor as the answers I’m reading now. I can just have faith confidence that they’re 800 good answers.

But are they? Let’s take just a quick look at a couple “difficulties” that Dr. Geisler “addresses” in When Critics Ask:

GENESIS 1:1—How could the author of Genesis know what happened at creation before he was even created?

PROBLEM: Traditional Christian scholarship has maintained that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses. The first two chapters of the Book of Genesis read as an eyewitness account of the events of creation. However, how could Moses, or any man for that matter, write these chapters as if he were an eyewitness since he would not have existed at the time?

SOLUTION: Of course, there was an eyewitness of creation—God, the Creator. These chapters are obviously a record of creation which God specifically reported to Moses by way of special revelation. The tendency to ask questions like, “How did the chronicler know that minerals preceded plants and plants preceded animals?” betrays an antisupernatural bias and a refusal to consider alternative explanations other than those proposed by naturalistic science.

GENESIS 1:14How could there be light before the sun was made?

PROBLEM: The sun was not created until the fourth day, yet there was light on the first day (1:3)

SOLUTION: The sun is not the only source of light in the universe. Further, the sun may have existed from the first day, but only appeared or became visible (as the mist cleared) on the fourth day. We see light on a cloudy day, even when we can’t see the sun.

Gotta love that first “solution.” God can do anything, therefore God “obviously” must have been the eyewitness telling the Genesis story, and Moses is just taking dictation. Ok, fine, let’s let that one slide because the next one is much more interesting.

Truth is consistent with itself, which means that true answers have a unique property: if you give a true answer to one question, it will be consistent with all other true answers, even if they’re the answers to different questions. Answers that are not the truth have the converse property: even if you give an answer that sounds plausible in the context of one particular question, that answer will have inconsistencies when compared with other answers.

So, the “solution” to light appearing is that (a) the sun is not the only source of light, and (b) the “creation” of the sun on the fourth day is really just the sun burning through the clouds—the sun existed on the first three days, it’s just that the narrator couldn’t see it until the fourth day.

This solution is just a bit amusing in that it completely overlooks the fact that the narrator in Genesis was apparently unaware of the connection between the sun and daylight (or moonlight, for that matter). Saying “there are other light sources” doesn’t solve the problem of what those other light sources might be, or why we can’t see them today. If they’re part of God’s creation, and they’re powerful enough to produce daylight over the whole earth even without a sun, then we can hardly have failed to spot them by now.

So that leads Dr. Geisler to try out his second rationalization of Genesis 1:14. Let’s put that last answer back in context with the first one, which says the narrator was God the Creator. You see the problem? If we accept the first answer as true, that means that the second answer is telling us that the God Who created the sun was somehow unable to see His creation for three days. That’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?

That’s just the first two of the 800 difficulties, and I haven’t even explored all the inconsistencies in just those two answers. Compound those inconsistencies by 798 more difficulties, and I think you begin to see the problem of trying to prove Biblical inerrancy by the give-each-question-an-isolated-answer approach.

There’s quite a bit more in this section, so I think we’ll break here for now and pick it up again next time.

 
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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “XFiles: Mostly Inerrant”

  1. Dave Rattigan Says:

    Debating inerrancy with an evangelical, especially one with the highly narrow conservative definition of inerrancy held by Geisler and Turek, can be an infuriating experience. The explanations for “alleged errors” rely on logic that could be used to prove *any* document is inerrant. The main principle seems to be that if there’s an explanation that is even remotely *possible*, go with it, regardless of whether it is remotely *likely*. The same logic proves the Book of Mormon is inerrant, too.

  2. John Morales Says:

    Dave, I don’t think you go far enough.

    For “*possible*”, read ‘plausible’.

  3. Ben Says:

    These two contradictions are bad examples. Horrible jump off point for your inference about the rest of the 800. You concede one, and then fail to note that Genesis says “let there be light” right from the get-go. Granted the whole misty clouds thing sounds like bs, but it just seems like some sort of bizarre modern fideism in “the sun must come first” that really doesn’t seem to mean anything. Some ancient dude made up a story that has magic light at first, and then the sun takes over when it’s created. What’s the big deal? If God’s ass cheek is where he plants trees at first, and then transplants them to the earth later…big freaking deal. It’s a fairy tale. Are skeptics going to come along and say, “Hey! Earth always comes first! Not divine ass cheek!”

    Speaking of which I think this post needs more cow bell. Srsly.

    Ben

  4. John Morales Says:

    Ben,

    These two contradictions are bad examples.

    How so? If, as you claim, they’re contradictions, then the Bible is not inerrant — and this is the point those examples illustrate.

    Speaking of which I think this post needs more cow bell. Srsly.

    Oh, I dunno. Seems to me you’ve provided plenty.

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The problem isn’t that the Bible failed to claim there was light on the first day. The problem is that the narrator in Genesis 1 isn’t even aware that daylight needs to have a source. If he were, he’d have made some sort of attempt to either designate a source or account for its absence (cf. Rev. 21).

    Dr. Geisler of course does know that light needs a source, so he recognizes the problem and tries to solve it by supposing that we should simply assume the existence of either an unknown light source or of an unseen sun. But if the narrator in Genesis is supposed to be God, neither of those options really works.

    Sure, Genesis 1 works on the level of a primitive myth made up by some because-I-said-so tribal elder. It works because that’s all you expect from that sort of myth. But Dr. Geisler wants more, and it breaks down when you try and push it to the level he’s expecting.

  6. Ben Says:

    Oops. I guess I left out the word “supposed.”

  7. Ben Says:

    DD,

    You provide the reference yourself to Revelations that completes the theme. The point of the idea is that God is the ultimate source of light, physically and in metaphorical ways. “Light needs a source” is just our experience, not some fundamental necessity of being. If God wants to create photons in transit, I don’t see what the problem is. It’s no more trouble for a deity who is writing the laws of nature than it is for a video game developer to create arbitrary instances of light without sources.

    Geisler didn’t write Genesis, so his opinion doesn’t matter. I maintain these are non-contradictions and a poor way to kick off your list.

    Ben

  8. Ben Says:

    Um, how does one get follow up emails here? Maybe I’m just missing it.

  9. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The point of the idea is that God is the ultimate source of light, physically and in metaphorical ways. “Light needs a source” is just our experience, not some fundamental necessity of being. If God wants to create photons in transit, I don’t see what the problem is.

    But if God is the light source, then there’s no reason for it ever to be night, yet the text declares that day/night cycles start on the first day. ;)

    The problem isn’t that believers have ever had any particular difficulty claiming that “Goddidit” is the answer to this or that inconsistency, the problem is that the narrator in Genesis 1 shows no awareness of the fact that light needs a source. Once you realize that light has to have a source, the presence of “sourceless” light becomes one of the more significant and remarkable aspects of the story.

    By the time John wrote Revelation, people were aware that light comes from a light source, and therefore John makes special mention of the absence of the sun and moon, because it’s significant and remarkable that the New Jerusalem would have endless daylight without the need for a sun. Revelation tells the story the way Genesis ought to have told the story, had the author been aware that daylight wasn’t something that “just happened” spontaneously.

    It’s easy to see how primitive men might not have realized the connection at first. After all, it starts getting light before the sun appears, doesn’t it? So it’s “obvious” that daytime is something that happens on its own, and that the sun doesn’t come along until later.

    Another example would be the story of the burning bush. Fire needs fuel to burn just like light needs a light source. In Exodus 3, though, the story says the fire did not consume the bush, meaning the fire had no fuel. The absence of a natural cause is what made the phenomenon remarkable, and what made Moses turn aside to see it (according to the story). That’s why the phenomenon gets special mention.

    Or look at Genesis 2:5-6.

    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. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.

    Here the narrator does realize that plants need water to grow, so in the absence of rain there would be a problem with the story if he said there was a garden. He doesn’t simply ignore the problem and leave us to suppose that it’s possible for God to be physically and metaphorically a water source, he describes an alternate water source. So he does address apparent difficulties in the story—when he’s aware of them.

    We can imagine any number of rationalizations for why the narrator of Genesis 1 failed to notice that there was anything unusual about daylight (and nighttime) being created before there was any sun to cause it. But the simplest explanation would be that he failed to notice the problem because he wasn’t aware it was a problem. This is a primitive creation myth, invented by primitive, superstitious believers. A person who understood that light comes from light sources would not have written Genesis 1 that way, even if he were describing the same sequence of events. The absence of the sun on the first day would be obviously remarkable, and he would hardly have overlooked it. That would be like having the resurrected Jesus show up, and having the disciples say, “Oh, hi Jesus.” Just doesn’t quite fit.

  10. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Geisler didn’t write Genesis, so his opinion doesn’t matter.

    Geisler did, however, write When Critics Ask. I do think the missing sun is an interesting topic of discussion, but that’s not really what I was discussing in my post. My post is talking about how Geisler deals with what he sees as being important Bible “difficulties,” and the inconsistencies between what he presents as being the solutions to these problems. Regardless of whether or not you agree that the problems are really “Bible contradictions,” I should hope that you would agree that there are “Geisler contradictions” in claiming that God was the narrator in Genesis 1, and that He therefore was the observer Who was unable to see the sun for three days after He created it.

  11. Deacon Duncan Says:

    By the way, speaking of what the Genesis narrator didn’t know, can you imagine what would happen to a rocky planet, floating happily along through empty space, if both a moon and a massive star suddenly popped into existence relatively nearby? Ouch!

    PS — There’s no email notification, but if you have a newsreader, you can subscribe to the comments RSS at the bottom of the right-hand column.

  12. Modusoperandi Says:

    Ben “It’s no more trouble for a deity who is writing the laws of nature than it is for a video game developer to create arbitrary instances of light without sources.”
    Somehow, I can’t see your book on “Hard Love: Ben on Harmonizing the Bible” being a big seller. A book consisting entirely of “He’s God!” would have to be in really, really big type to fill up 350 pages (like When Critics Ask. Apologetics, biblical hermeneutics and the like are volume businesses, with piles of thick books on previous books on the Bible (there are theologians who base their careers on analysing what other theologians wrote. Heck, the pile on why other theologians and their other theologies are wrong must be pretty big alone), each of those books using many pages and much bafflegab to prove, say, that you literally eat Jesus. Or to prove the exact opposite of that.
    You’d make for a terrible Christian apologist. Alternately, you’d be the best (certainly the most concise) Christian apologist ever. One of those.

  13. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I don’t think Ben is trying to be a Christian apologist so much as he’s trying to make a point about the probable impact of my argument. I’d like to welcome and encourage such comments because the ensuing discussion may result in him seeing my point or me seeing his.

    He’s not just saying “He’s God” as though it were a sufficient answer for every problem in the Bible, he’s saying that in the specific case, when God is involved in creating the entire universe, it doesn’t seem (to him) like that big a deal if the sun’s a few days late showing up. And I rather agree that it’s a subtle point, though I think that there are points to ponder, as I’ve indicated above.

  14. Modusoperandi Says:

    Oh. Also, um.
    I was just poking fun. Proper apologetics aren’t so terse. Defenders of the Word get paid by the word. True story.