A friend has written for advice about how to debate with an atheist mathematician who thinks Dawkins and Co. are quite clever fellows. He is fond of finding inconsistencies and contradictions in Scripture to ‘disprove’ Biblical inspiration. His favorite at the moment is pointing out the contradictions between the geneologies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.
One hardly knows where to start with such puerile arguments. The geneologies in Matthew and Luke are recorded for particular theological purposes. Matthew wants to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham, and Luke wants to show that he is descended from David and Adam. The geneologies are rough sketches of Jesus’ ancestry to make a point. They are not the complete geneological ancestry of Davidic clan of the sort that a keen family historian might spend hours compiling.
Think of a modern Englishman who wants to prove that he is descended from King Henry VIII. He compiles a partial family tree tracing his desecent from the Tudors. But let’s say his son wants to show that the family is also descended from the ancient Scottish king MacBeth. He traces another strain of the family tree to prove his point. The literalist says the two geneologies are inconsistent and are therefore bunk. Anyone who knows more about geneology and the reason for compiling the list in the first place wouldn’t make such an embarrassingly pedestrian criticism.
Pointing this out to otherwise smart men is embarrassing in itself. Do they really know so little outside their own area of expertise? Apparently so. Furthermore, their arrogance and know it all attitude is also frighteningly immature. Do they really think people in the past didn’t pick this up? Do they imagine that 2,000 years worth of Christians are so blind and dull that they didn’t see the ‘inconsistencies’ and have an answer for them? They blame Christian fundamentalists for being overly literal, and then fall into the same trap themselves. Picking apart the Scriptures to find little inconsistencies is about as smart as the village idiot who took apart a clock to find time, and when he didn’t find it concluded that there is no such thing.
Think how the scientist feels when a fundamentalist non-Scientist looks at, say, the fossil record and draws all the wrong conclusions, or makes some inane observation about science because it doesn’t fit with his religious assumptions. I once heard of fundamentalists, for instance, who thought there were never such things as dinosaurs, but God put the fossils in the ground to give the earth the illusion of great age. The fellow said it with all seriousness, but a scientist would rightly be flabbergasted that anyone can take such a view seriously, and that anyone could possibly be quite so ignorant or blind to anytyhing outside his own world view. Ditto the theologians who have to endure equally ridiculous criticisms of Dawkins and Co.
When large swathes of the population then buy their books and buy their theories it is even more galling—just as galling as when the atheist scientist discovers that a huge proportion of the otherwise intelligent public buy into creationism and extreme Biblical literalism.
Beneath the questions of the modern secularists is the genuine difficulty they have in understanding the ancient worldview, and therefore ancient literature. Because they are trained to be critical and literal in their logical positivism, they have rarely developed a mindset that typifies the ancient mind. The ancient mind was as instinctively religious, symbolic and sacramental as the modern mind is atheistic, literal and materialistic. For them to understand ancient religious writings they would have to first accept that there is a totally different way of looking at the universe (the religious way) and then they would have to accept that this other way of seeing might actually be valid, and then they would have to try somehow or other to actually learn to ‘see’ in this way.
That’s a huge problem, and something a few arguments over geneologies in the gospels is unlikely to overcome.