William Lane Craig (WLC) was asked by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof six questions about Christianity (part 1). Since “Was Jesus really born to a virgin?” was the initial question, this seemed a good topic to begin the Christmas season. Let’s continue.
Must we take the Bible as literally true?
“You don’t believe the Genesis account that the world was created in six days, or that Eve was made from Adam’s rib, do you? If the Hebrew Bible’s stories need not be taken literally, why not also accept that the New Testament writers took liberties?”
WLC replied that Genesis 1–11 is “history clothed in the figurative language of mythology,” but why think that it’s history at all when it looks like mythology and nothing more? And if there’s history in the Garden of Eden or Flood stories, how do you reliably sift it out of the myth? Why imagine that it’s any more historical than the tales in the Babylonian Enuma Elish or Epic of Gilgamesh? The obvious conclusion is that all three are mythology. Only excellent evidence, which no apologist provides, would save Genesis from the mythology category.
By contrast, WLC calls the gospels ancient biography. Here I agree. But WLC’s argument may be relying on the ignorance of his readership. We understand what biography means, but ancient biography is not merely biography written long ago. Wikipedia gives this definition: “Ancient biography, or bios, as distinct from modern biography, was a genre of Greek (and Roman) literature interested in describing the goals, achievements, failures, and character of ancient historical persons and whether or not they should be imitated.” Ancient biographies often were moral critiques, showcasing a life as a good example to follow. So, yes, the gospels were ancient biographies, not biographies as we know them, which meet the high standards of historical or journalistic accuracy.
But the New Testament has contradictions
“How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he ‘burst open.’ They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?”
I explore the contradiction between the Judas accounts here.
I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity.
Christians don’t lose much sleep if their religion gives no respect to the facts, so we unfortunately won’t make much headway following that angle.
WLC wants to focus on “mere Christianity,” the core beliefs that Christians typically don’t fight over, but problems remain. For example, the Trinity is one of those core beliefs, and yet that doctrine isn’t in the Bible. And isn’t it odd to allow the feuds between denominations define your core beliefs?
As for mere Christianity, why stop there? Why not mere religion, where Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and all the rest find the intersections of their religions? (More here.) It’s nice to seek harmony with fellow believers, but it seems an odd way to find the truth.
Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians.
That’s not an in-house discussion. This is the fodder that apologists will use when I point out contradictions, so let’s not pretend that this is off-limits to critique from outsiders. I will continue to highlight contradictions within Christianity or the Bible.
And let me add an aside on harmonizations. I’m sure that there is some harmonization or rationalization for any contradiction that I might bring up. But the apologist’s job isn’t to simply find an answer to puzzles like these, it’s to find the better answer. A contorted rationalization will never beat the naturalistic explanation, that Christianity is just another manmade religion.
Concluded with the final two questions in part 3.
to prevent your religion from losing arguments.
— seen at the Godzooks blog
Image from Oleg Sergeichik, CC license