April 6, 2013
I recently found an old printout of Theodore Drange’s 1996 critique of the so-called “Argument From The Bible.” Drange was an early contributor to Internet Infidels, and to this day I still hear atheists occasionally praise him as some sort of competent critic. When I stumbled across the printout, I asked myself why I’d saved it. After reading a few snippets, it all came back to me: I saved it because it’s another shining example of the illogic that passes for rational criticism in atheist circles. So, from time to time I’ll be addressing certain points in this article. First let’s take a look at Drange’s summation of the Argument From the Bible.
Almost all evangelical Christians believe that the writing of the Bible was divinely inspired and represents God’s main revelation to humanity. They also believe that the Bible contains special features which constitute evidence of its divine inspiration. This would be a use of the Bible to prove God’s existence within natural theology rather than within revealed theology, since the book’s features are supposed to be evident even to (open-minded) skeptics. Furthermore, since a divinely inspired work must be true, those features are thereby also evidence of the Bible’s truth, and thus can be used in support of Christianity as the one true religion. When expressed that way, the reasoning can be construed as an argument both for God’s existence and for the truth of the gospel message from the alleged special features of the Bible. We may refer to it as “the Argument from the Bible”. Although almost all evangelical Christians agree with it at least to some extent, it is an argument that is for the most part ignored by professional philosophers of religion. One explanation for such neglect is that the argument can be easily refuted. In this essay/outline, I shall try to sketch how such a refutation might be formulated, though I am sure many will feel that I am attacking a strawman. (I believe there are millions of such “strawpeople” out there!)
1. The Argument Formulated
The Argument from the Bible is usually regarded as a kind of “cumulative-case” argument. It may be formulated as follows:
(1) The Bible contains a large number of prophecies of future events which have been remarkably fulfilled.
(2) The Bible does not contain any unfulfilled prophecies.
(3) The only reasonable explanation for the above facts is that God used his foreknowledge to make the prophecies and inspired the authors of the Bible to record them.
(4) The Bible contains a convincing eye-witness account of the resurrection and subsequent appearances of Jesus of Nazareth.
(5) The only reasonable explanation for the above fact is that Jesus was and is a divine being, which shows the truth of the Bible and its gospel message.
(6) The Bible contains no contradictions.
(7) The Bible contains amazing facts about the planet earth, compatible with modern science, which were unknown in ancient times. Also, the Bible contains no conflicts with modern science or errors of a factual nature.
(8) The Bible contains a perfect morality, and no ethical defects.
(9) The only reasonable explanation for facts (6)-(8), above, is that the ultimate author of the Bible is God himself.
(10) Putting together results (3), (5), and (9), above, we may infer that the Bible is not a purely manmade work, but divinely inspired, which establishes the truth of Christianity and its gospel message.
Right away there are problems, but we can see the basic notion Drange is grasping at. Unfortunately, as he himself concedes, Drange’s argument has some strawman premises. For example, I don’t know any serious believer who would assent to the second sentence in (7). I expect the Bible to have conflicts with modern science, because modern science is a big hodge-podge of observations, some of which are true, others of which are false. Nor do I accept (2), that the Bible doesn’t contain any unfulfilled prophecies. For example, there are many end-times or “last days” prophecies in Revelation that haven’t yet come to pass. Nonetheless, these are just minor points thus far. There’s certainly enough meat to launch a counter-attack on Drange’s piece, so let’s get started with just a small sample.
Drange doesn’t clearly specify just what constitutes a “contradiction” in his mind, so I’ll go with my standard definition of, “An instance of X and ~X.” Attempting to show a contradiction in the Genesis creation account, Drange poses the question, “Did fowl come out of the water?” He then claims that Genesis 1:20 says “yes” while Genesis 2:19 says “no,” that fowl came “out of the ground.” Indeed, Genesis 2:19 reads,
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.”
Drange is correct there. However, what does Genesis 1:20 read?
“And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”
Did you notice the complete absence of support for Drange’s claim? Nothing in Genesis 1:20 or any surrounding verse suggests or even implies that birds came “out of the water.” Rather, this is just another instance of a would-be critic making the text say more than it actually says. In my experience, this has been the case with practically every alleged “contradiction” I’ve ever seen an atheist pose, whether pop-atheist types like JT Eberhard, or the ostensibly more careful types like Adam Lee.
Alas, untold numbers of would-be critical thinkers and self-proclaimed “rational atheists” swallow these bad arguments hook, line and sinker. Think critically, people! Your eternal fate might just depend on it.