Thursday, March 14, 2019

Worshiping a Bronze Age sky fairy

1. I'd like to comment on two contradictory objections to Christianity. Before I do that, a preliminary observation: There's a certain dilemma in Christian apologetics. Do we respond to the sophisticated atheists or the village atheists? Normally, you want to take on the toughest opponents of your position. If you focus on the most naive objections to Christianity, that's too easy. It looks like you're ducking the more formidable objections. However, village atheists outnumber sophisticated atheists by a million to one, so there's a problem with ignoring all the dumb objections, if that's the level at which most atheists operate. If we're too elitist, we're ignoring most atheists. Mind you, when atheists start talking about sky fairies and invisible pink unicorns, intelligent dialogue is futile. 

2. Back to the main point: on the one hand, Christopher Hitchens used to recycle an argument as part of his stump speech when debating Christians. It went something like this: modern man is said to be about 100,000-200,000 years old. Yet according to the Bible, God only revealed himself to Abraham 4,000 years ago and Moses 3200 years ago, while the climax of redemption occurred 2000 ago. For 99% of human history, God said and did nothing. 

So his argument is that Biblical theism is too late. If God existed, we'd expect him to intervene far earlier in human history. He wouldn't let humans suffer in darkness for such a long time. 

3. However, it's more common for atheists to raise this objection: why should we believe the stories of Bronze Age goatherds? 

That argument, if you can call it an argument, is just the opposite. The objection is that Biblical theism is too early. Too primitive. Too archaic. If God existed, he'd wait until the era of modern science to reveal himself. 

Of course, both these arguments can't be true. It can't be the case that biblical theism lacks credibility both because it's too early and too late. 

4. In addition to the contradiction, we might assess the objections individually, on their own terms. Genesis is a very truncated history. It skips over many intervening events and periods. We need to be cautious about inferring what God didn't say or do from what he's recorded as having said and done. The fact that Genesis is silent on many fronts doesn't mean God was silent. The fact that most things go unreported doesn't mean God was in absentia. 

5. Is there any antecedent reason to presume God wouldn't reveal himself to Bronze Age goatherds? Does the message of salvation require a grasp of modern physics, set theory, and fractal geometry? Does redemption require a space-age setting?

How future is modern enough? Suppose the Incarnation took place in the 20C, and the Second Coming takes place in the 26C. Imagine a 25C atheist complaining about those primitive people back in 20C Europe and North America.  


  1. Also:

    1. The argument assumes a mainstream scientific timeline is accurate. That may be the case, but it's not an absolute given. For example, how many ancient human fossils are even in existence? And of what quality are the fossils? Given the quantity and quality of human fossils, shouldn't claims about the age of humans be weaker claims rather than stronger claims? By way of analogy, consider how much evidence there is for the NT mss, but consider how critics and skeptics judge that evidence. How is the human fossil evidence better than the evidence for the NT? If it's not better, then how are strong claims about the age of humanity so confidently believed?

    2. According to Hitchens, it's not as if humans 200,000 years ago would have been literate enough to record God if God did appear to them. Wouldn't Hitchens have found cave art to be insufficient?

  2. The most recent research, really just coming to light in the past decade or so, indicates that the invention of a phonetic alphabet arrived "just in time" to enable Moses to write the Pentateuch. While hieroglyphic and cuneiform writing had existed for some time, the alphabet was the game-changer that brought reading writing to the masses. Proto-sinaitic and proto-canaanite adapted hieroglyphic symbols for use as alphabetic letters, and it appears these were the basis of Phoenician and proto-Hebrew writing. These inscriptions have been found in Sinai, Egypt (as far south as Luxor) and in Canaan. The oldest apparently go back to the 17th or 18th century B.C. Moses would have been writing toward the very end of the 15th century.

    It is interesting that these inscriptions mostly seem to have come from commoners, not a scholarly class. Turquoise miners in Sinai inscribing on cave walls, and workmen in Jerusalem scrawling on storage jars.

    I could post many links, but here is a good start, for anyone interested in the topic: