Talking Snakes! LOOK! Talking Snakes!

A Talking Snake?
A Talking Snake?

Strange things happen all the time, but reality makes some people crazy. They are afraid of anything odd. This is the kind of Christian (God help us) who talks about “evil-lution” and starts joking about how atheists are related to monkeys. “That’s so weird . . . ” is not much of an argument in a universe with the duckbilled platypus. Never trust the person who mocks a thing because he thinks it sounds silly. This is the sort of chap who hears that the world is mostly empty space and says: “Har de har.” 

Hamlet’s friend Horatio was amazed by Hamlet’s experiences, but Hamlet’s response was excellent:

HORATIO: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

HAMLET: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Street atheism falls into this trap frequently. Start talking to a street atheist* and soon an odd obsession with “talking snakes” arises. Here is an example from the last week of my social media stream:

A talking snake, a piece of fruit that confers knowledge, a talking donkey, witches, magic tricks called miracles, demons cause disease, zombies get up out of their graves and walk around Jerusalem, ghost stories. The bible is all mythology.

 One wonders if this person has ever understood a fairy tale or learned from a piece of fiction. Lord of the Rings, written by a devout Christian, is not historical, but it is deeply true. An inability to learn loyalty from Samwise Gamgee is an inability to think well. He was not historical, but he is real in terms of the ability to teach. That is the power of fiction.
Assume for a moment (as I do not) that the talking snake is only a creative fiction. It is a powerful and culture shaping fiction, so deeply true that it has shaped billions of imaginations. If your first thought is: “Har de har” then you need to stop and check your literary aptitude.
Let’s go further: I can think of many things that have happened to me odder than a talking snake. After all, while the combination of traits is odd, there is nothing odd about either basic category.  People talk. Snakes exist. Why is a snake like being that was sentient so odd? We have no such animals now, but that does not mean they did not exist. There are many possibilities in heaven and earth and just because the report comes to me that a snake-like animal talked, I would not discount it.
Why would I?
With all this in mind my interlocutor M**  asks:

42. Do you believe that the story of Genesis with the talking snake in the garden literally happened? If not, how do you understand it?

I believe that snake is real in the story, the most important thing to say. In the story, the snake tempts and we fail.

Was there a snake in human history? Maybe.

We have to look at the text. It is certainly literary, full of archetypes and symbols. That does not mean it is not historical: the archetypes may come from the story! I suspect it is historical and poetic (as Jesus certainly is), but maybe not.

What difference does it make? Truth matters so every person wishes to be right in what he or she asserts as true! If the snake is a literary symbol, then that is what I wish to call it. I see no reason to limit the snake to the literary, however, and the argument from “weirdness” is a very bad reason to doubt.

I have seen odder things in museums! If you hear “talking snake” and merely think “har de har,” then I pity your imagination. If you read Genesis and cannot see the symbolic elements, then you cannot read a text well. On the other hand, if you simply assume that symbols must not be historical, then you are guilty of bad logic.

Talking snakes?



*Street atheism is the dungeon and dragons player who has “seen through” Christianity, but has no training in Christianity or the engineer with no philosophy training who takes to pontificating on philosophy of religion. You know a street atheist if they are overwhelmingly against some form of American Christianity.

**M is a non-Christian that sent me 55 questions earlier this year. He has asked that I not reveal his or her name. I will write as if “he” is a male, but this is for convenience. I do not know if I will get to all his questions.  I try to limit my answers to hundreds and not thousands of words. Here are questions:

 123456, 7, 8910,


21, 222324252627282930,

31, 3233343536,  373839,

4041, 42, 44464749,

5152,  53, 54, and 55.

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