Friday, June 23, 2006

"Damning" questions!

Paladin has a number of “damning” questions for Christians.

Before delving into the details, I’d just note that Paladin is posing a number of speculative questions. The Bible is not a how-to manual, and so it doesn’t supply detailed information to answer all these curious questions. Hence, the answers will also be speculative. But speculative questions deserve speculative answers. If Paladin doesn’t like speculative answers, then he shouldn’t pose speculative questions.

I’d also add that we can have a perfectly good reason for believing that something happened even if we don’t know the process.

For example, an anthropologist assumes that people migrated to the new world at some time in the distant past. They were not indigenous to the new world.

So he begins with the fact that they are here. He then speculates on how they made it over here. Did they cross the Bearing Straights during the ice age? Did they travel by boat?

He doesn’t reason in reverse. He doesn’t begin with the process. He doesn’t say that unless he can determine the process, he can’t believe that people migrated to the new world in the distant past.

“1) What did predatory animals i.e. lions and tigers, eat prior to the ‘Fall’? plants? if so, why do they have teeth and claws designed for tearing meat. Did God ‘attach’ those after the ‘Fall’"?

i) Different Christians give different answers. A creationist like Henry Morris or Kurt Wise will attribute the predation to the Fall. Certain predatory features would be a mutation, due to the curse.

ii) On the other hand, there are Bible scholars like Meredith Kline, who believe, on the basis of Ps 104 and other passages, that predation antedates the Fall.

For them, the distinction is spatial rather than temporal: not before and after the fall, but inside and outside the garden.

The expulsion from Eden was punitive in part because conditions outside the garden were less hospitable. Although I disagree with Kline on various issues (e.g. the framework hypothesis), I agree with him on this score.

“2)Did poisonous snakes have venom and fangs prior to the ‘Fall’?If so, why?and if not, why did God give it to them after the ‘”Fall"?”

i) The second question is similar to the first. So I’d give the same answer. As for the purpose:

ii) Predation is a natural part of a balanced ecosystem.

iii) A wilderness also supplies a theater of operation for the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28). Man’s original mandate was, and will be in the future, to extend the garden to the globe. To tend and tame the wilderness.

“3)Where did ‘Mrs Cain’ come from? Cain's sister? Does God sanction incest?”

i) There is a moral difference between intergenerational incest (e.g. between parent/aunt/uncle and child) and intragenerational incest (e.g. between siblings, cousins).

Intergenerational incest is intrinsically evil. Intragenerational incest is not.

ii) Some things are licit or illicit depending on the circumstances. For example, the state of the gene pool was quite different for the first few human generations than afterwards.

iii) There’s also a moral difference between incest (e.g. between adult siblings/cousins) and pedophilia (between adult and child).

Pedophilia is intrinsically evil. However, intragenerational incest between consenting adults is not intrinsically evil, although it may be, and generally is, evil under the circumstances.

iv) Does Paladin believe it’s intrinsically immoral for a brother to marry his sister? What is his secular basis for sexual ethics?

“4)Didn't Eve find it unusual that a serpent could speak?”

The question is unanswerable.

It also depends on the identity of the serpent. It may be a case of possession.

Or it might be a pun. As one commentator explains, the noun (nahas) may well be related to the verbal form (nahas), as well as a cognate noun, which is used in divination and the casting of spells. Cf. V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (Eerdmans 1991), 187).

In that event, the name may be a play on words. It doesn’t tell us what the “serpent” was (e.g. a snake), but what he was like, what he did: one who places a curse or hex on another.

So it depends on how we render the Hebrew word.

“5) If there was no death in the Garden of Eden, what would keep the Earth from becoming over-populated if the ‘Fall’ had never occurred?”

i) I, for one, believe that animal mortality did, at least in principle, antedate the fall.

ii) But even if I didn’t, animals have breeding cycles, and God can vary the breeding cycles.

“6)If God is the creator of life, why and when did he create viruses and bacteria which cause sickness and disease?”

i) Where human illness is concerned, this is due to the Fall.

ii) But disease, like parasitism and predation, is also a natural part of a balanced ecosystem. It's one way of curbing overpopulation.

So #6 answers #5.

Paladin is so intent on attacking the Bible that he’s blind to the internal logic of his own accusatorial questions.

“7)Why do people born thousands of years after the ‘Fall’ have to pay the price for someone else's crime? Is that justice?”

i) This is an old objection. We need to avoid the extremes of radical individualism and blanket solidarity. We are not automatically complicit in the actions of a second party. That would overgeneralize the principle of collective guilt. But there is also a transitive principle in human relations.

For example, favoritism is an element in friendship. And that may extend to a third-party. I will do something for a friend of a friend as a favor to my friend.

All other things being equal, I might not do that for a stranger. But if the stranger is a friend of my friend, and my friend is asking me to do something for his friend, then I’ll do it.

I’m treating the third-party stranger as if he were a personal friend of mine. I’m extending to him the good credit of my relationship with our mutual friend.

ii) Paladin has his own burden of proof. He talks about justice. What is his secular theory of ethics?

“In order to believe the story of Noah's Ark , you are expected to believe that a 500+ year old man, working with only 3 carpenter helper's(his son's) built a boat the size of a small aircraft carrier completely out of wood.”

Genesis doesn’t say how long it took. And Genesis doesn’t say the work force was limited to four men. For all we know, Noah hired a number of workmen or contracted out various aspects of the job, as we see in the construction of the tabernacle or Solomon’s building projects.

“I'm sorry, but that seems like a stretch of reality. Building a boat this size, especially out of wood, would require an almost ingenious understanding of nautical structural engineering. You don't throw together a boat the size of a small aircraft carrier like some huge wooden box and expect it to maintain structural integrity on the high seas.”

Noah did this at God’s behest. If he needed special expertise, then God could have granted him the wisdom to carry out his task, just as God inspired Bezalel and Solomon.

“1) Where did Noah obtain the precision tools necessary to build this thing, and get replacements when they wore out?”

Metallurgy antedated the flood (Gen 4:22).

“2) How did Noah and his son's mill the timber in order to make them fit precisely?”

Woodcutters and carpentry are an ancient trade.

“3) How did Noah lift logs weighing hundreds of pounds, especially to the upper decks?”

You can ask the same question about ancient shipbuilding and monumental architecture generally. It’s a combination of ingenuity and manpower, given a sufficient labor force.

Ancient peoples were problem-solvers. Look at the irrigation-systems of ancient Mesopotamian.

“4) Where did Noah obtain the hundreds of gallons of pitch necessary to hold the wood together?”

How do people make maple syrup?

“5) How did animals traveling hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away from their natural habitat, survive along the way without food?”

This question conceals a number of extraneous assumptions not present in the narrative:

i) Genesis doesn’t pinpoint the state of prediluvian biodiversity, ecological zonation, or biogeographical distribution.

ii) Animals often migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles. They eat along the way.

ii) Paladin is also making extraneous assumptions about the degree of dietary specialization before the flood.

“6) What did predatory animals who require fresh meat to survive eat on the ark? It is probably a safe bet that Noah did NOT have refrigerators on the ark, and a predatory animals(lion or tiger) will NOT eat salted or preserved meat.”

Most so-called carnivores do not require a meat diet. They simply prefer a meat diet.

Due to food rationing during WWII, British zookeepers put the lions and tigers on a vegetarian diet.

Dogs and cats are carnivores, but if Paladin had ever been inside a pet store he'd notice that dog food and cat food often take the form of something other than red meat.

“7)How did Noah dispose of the hundreds of pounds of manure and hundreds of gallons of urine that surely accumulated on ther ark?”

i) How does a rancher muck out a stable?

ii) Also, it wouldn’t necessarily rely on manpower alone. Not only do animals generate manure, but they can also be put to work, viz. draft animals.

Apparently, Paladin has never seen a farm or a ranch.

“8) If the entire world was deluged with water, where did it run off to?”

That depends on the flood mechanism. For example, coastal flooding depends on the mean sea level in relation to the altitude of the dry land. And if, for instance, God were to reverse the orogenic process of Gen 1:9, lowering the natural barriers (e.g. mountain passes), that would flood the earth. And if God were to restore the orogenic process of Gen 1:9, that would redistribute the water. It’s just a question of where you place the natural damns, viz. hills and mountains.

“9) If the entire world was deluged with water, all vegetation on Earth would have died. The surface of the Earth , at least dry land, would look like the surface of Mars. How did God ‘restore’ vegetation?”

Even if the flood killed all the trees, it wouldn’t kill all the seeds. Indeed, many otherwise arid regions would benefit from a thorough soaking, followed by the recession of the floodwaters.

“10)How did amphibious animals(crocodiles and alligators) , who require both water and land to survive, survive on the ark? Did Noah build a small lagoon in the ark?”

Do crocodilians require land to survive? They need air to breath, but they could surface on an open body of water.

They lay eggs on land, but the flood only lasted a year.

Let’s not forget that there would be plenty of flotsam and jetsam floating on the surface of the floodwaters. So “amphibious” animals, if they needed to, could crawl onto tree trunks and other suchlike.

Hasn’t Paladin ever seen footage of a flood?

11) After exiting the ark, what did Noah, his family, and the animals eat? Obviously, not plants, as I refer back to question #9

Whatever they were eating on the ark, in addition to new growth and animal breeding.

Remember that the recession of the floodwaters was a gradual process, allowing plants to gradually spring up (Gen 8:11ff.).

“The entire premise of the story of Noah's ark lends aspersions to the character of God and his concept of justice. God destroyed all mankind becuse he ‘repented’ of making him.”

This is hermeneutically naïve.

“In essence, God admitted to making a mistake, and in order to correct that mistake, he plays judge, jury, and executioner, and annihilates all mankind without a trial, thus committing genocide. I have no doubt that there was evil, but how evil is a one year old child?”

A one-year-old wouldn’t stand a chance in a pervasively depraved society (Gen 6:5).

The fact that children may be victims of divine judgment does not, of itself, imply that God is taking punitive measures against the children. Actually, it can be an act of mercy for God to remove a child from a pagan environment like Sodom and Gomorrah.


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  2. I have to mention John Woodmorappe's book "Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study" for speculations on answers to questions about the ark's capacity, animal feeding, waste disposal and other topics related to the flood. He assumes a "worse case" scenario of Genesis "kind" = our modern "genus". He argues "kind" could be as large as "family" in some cases.

    In relation to question about post-flood recovery,I also remember seeing sometime in the past year an article about the speed at which a new ecosystem can form when a new environment becomes available for colonization. Hint: it doesn't take millions of years. However I have beeen unable to find it. Anyone biologists or ecologists out there know where it might be?

  3. While Steve and other Christians answer questions like these ones raised by skeptics, how often do we see skeptics answering such detailed questions about their theories? When they do attempt to go into such detail, how good are their arguments? When they're speculating about evolution or are trying to dismiss the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life, for example, do they maintain the standards they expect Christians to maintain when discussing creation or Noah's flood? They speculate about the universe coming from nothing, they attempt to fill spaces in the fossil record with highly unlikely theories about how evolution might have occurred, and they try to dismiss the resurrection appearances of Christ by appealing to widespread hallucinations. But then they tell us that something like how Cain got a wife or how Noah took care of the animals on his ark is too difficult for them to accept.

  4. Excellent point, Jason. Atheists are hypocrites.