by Amanda Read | March 24th, 2010
“How do you gain protection against the dragon? By naming the dragon.” – from The Hobbit Companion‘s analysis of the dragon Smaug in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit
I’m a History major, and the history of science is one of my primary interests. On a technical level science is not my specialty, though the recent debate on this blog is prompting me to want to get into it again. I’m not quite sure I want to change majors over it yet, but I’ll admit that it has crossed my mind. I’ve got this desire to get my hands in the dirt and see the evidence for myself instead of relying on a crossfire of scholarly links that tell a different story perpetually (“Well according to this…” “Oh yeah? Well take that!”). I was always a hands-on sort of child, so science was my favorite subject for years. I’m looking forward to my Physical Geography class this summer. However, there are more facets to the origins debate than that of science. I don’t intend to leave the scientific debate hanging, but there is a question nagging my mind that I want to take the opportunity to ask my skeptical commenters.
Richard Dawkins admits that we cannot scientifically verify the origin of life. He is even open to the idea that intelligent design could have been involved, so long as that design was not divine. In a purely argumentative sense, I find that to be a mystifying aspect of atheists. Why would an atheist not mind the concept of aliens creating life, but have a problem with God doing it? It seems to me that the core of this rebellion against God is directed at the Biblical God, Yahweh. Or, as some might define Him in a more politically correct fashion, “the God of the Old Testament” (ha, as though He’s a completely different God in the New Testament).
Here is an illustration of the rebellion I’m speaking of. There is a popular atheist YouTube channel called NonStampCollector that produces videos that appeal to anyone of the doubting persuasion. One particular video was shared with me by a liberal college acquaintance. It is titled “Forgiveness, Grace, and God’s Death Sentence” and attempts to discredit Yahweh by comparing Him to psychotic parents who torture their son for their daughter’s disobedient act of getting chocolate out of the refrigerator. This argument is riddled with so many intellectual errors that it couldn’t hold water. Some talk of Creationists using “strawman” arguments. Well, this is a strawman argument if I ever saw one, but I think that many Christians might be at fault for it instead of atheists. Too many believers try to dismiss the Old Testament instead of study it. Thus, they aren’t presenting the Bible wholly and accurately. [Note: I have historical science reasons for believing the Bible is accurate; I'll address them later.]
If you watch the video, you are probably so appalled at God that you don’t realize a significant character is missing from the story. From the videos I’ve watched by NonStampCollector (who seems to have too much time on his hands), the trend is that Yahweh is made out to be the villain, the bully, the enemy. He’s the bad guy in this version of the story. But the individual who would approve of this view doesn’t show up in the videos. The most rebellious God-hater of all never even makes a cameo appearance. My initial theory is that this is because he is actually telling the story in first person, slanted to make himself out to be innocent (but that would be over an atheist’s head – never mind it now). His name is Satan, if you haven’t already figured that out. I never see the devil mentioned in these atheist YouTube videos, with the possible exception of occasionally being portrayed as the horned, red-spiked-tail goofy caricature that nobody takes seriously.
In this particular video Eve is not shown to be tempted by Satan, which permits him to escape the blame (and why was Adam left out? Adam is just as guilty, and could probably have reversed the curse if he rebuked the serpent). Sin is made out to be a harmless, malum prohibitum act, and in fact the punishment is made out to be only for the first sin of Adam and Eve rather than any subsequent individual sins. Thus, the event that according to the Bible was an act of the highest political and personal treason is reduced to the equivalent of a child getting into the cookie jar. No wonder God looks ridiculous! If you are going to judge the Bible, please evaluate it in an intellectual and historical context. The Bible welcomes intellectual examination (Acts 17:11, Isaiah 1:18, 2 Samuel 22:31, Proverbs 30:5). Philosophically, to examine the story and its implications, you must try to imagine for a moment that it is real even if you don’t believe it. Then begin your honest questioning (i.e., if such is the case, then this follows). The following is what you should realize (though I’m putting it very briefly now).
Yahweh is not some sort of one dimensional wizard with fiery darts and spells and bombs. The spiritual conflict in the Bible is of two powerful entities that are constantly at war, much like political operations between nations in our world today, only on a much larger and more complex scale. You view Yahweh as beating up on poor helpless people in the Old Testament, without acknowledging the likelihood of demonic possession and strongholds that were exercised over certain tribes (as that was a time when the devil was trying to thwart the plan of a Messiah entering the world). Satan wants his kingdom, condemned though it may be, to be larger than Yahweh’s, hence the strength of his opposition. Thus, it was Yahweh vs. Satan, not Yahweh vs. poor innocent people. Sure, Yahweh is more powerful than Satan, but He plays fair and keeps His word, sticking to the plan He promised in Genesis (Genesis 3:15). Satan is no match for God, but Yahweh gave him a chance to have full domain over the earth by fighting him with one hand behind His back – in the weakest form imaginable – the human form of Jesus. Thus, Yahweh empathized with our humanity entirely and gave everyone a chance to choose His side or His opponent’s side. I would think that those of you who are obsessed with equality and leveling the playing field would be impressed by this.
There is another important detail left out of NonStampCollector’s video – the Resurrection. In Forgiveness, Grace and God’s Death Sentence, Jesus is said to have been brutally tortured and never seen again. But according to eyewitness accounts, He was seen again at least eleven times, once even appearing in front of 500 people (1 Corinthians 15, John 20, 21, Luke 24, Mark 16, Matthew 28, Acts 1,9).
In short, people have failed to correctly name the dragon. I think that the Church is greatly at fault for this. My intention is to expose the dragon in this debate by naming him. The dragon doesn’t want to be named, because that reveals his vulnerability and exerts dominion over him. Staying out of the picture is his favorite strategy, as Keith Green aptly illustrates in his song, No One Believes in Me Anymore, and C.S. Lewis likewise does in The Screwtape Letters. The dragon would rather you never notice him and thus see his enemy as the bad guy. The existence of Satan (name definition = “adversary”) is a crucial missing link (if I dare say so myself) in understanding the Biblical account.
For intellectual stimulation on a slightly different course, here is an interesting story from the biography of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter. C.S. Lewis, as a non-Christian, had some poignant questions:
“In Tolkien, [C.S. Lewis] found a person of wit and intellectual verve who was nevertheless a devout Christian…Lewis argued, but more and more in the matter of belief he was coming to admit that Tolkien was right. By the summer of 1929 he had come to profess theism, a simple faith in God. But he was not yet a Christian…[O]n Saturday 19 September 1931 they met in the evening. Lewis had invited Tolkien to dine at Magdalen, and he had another guest, Hugo Dyson, whom Tolkien had first known at Exeter College in 1919. Dyson was now Lecturer in English Literature at Reading University, and he paid frequent visits to Oxford. He was a Christian, and a man of feline wit. After dinner, Lewis, Tolkien, and Dyson went out for air. It was a blustery night, but they strolled along Addison’s Walk discussing the purpose of myth. Lewis, though now a believer in God, could not yet understand the function of Christ in Christianity, could not perceive the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He declared that he had to understand the purpose of these events – as he later expressed in a letter to a friend, ‘how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now – except in so far as his example could help us’.
As the night wore on, Tolkien and Dyson showed him that he was here making a totally unnecessary demand. When he encountered the idea of sacrifice in the mythology of a pagan religion he admired it and was moved by it; indeed the idea of the dying and reviving deity had always touched his imagination since he had read the story of the Norse god Balder. But from the Gospels (they said) he was requiring something more, a clear meaning beyond the myth. Could he not transfer his comparatively unquestioning appreciation of sacrifice from the myth to the true story?
But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver. No, said Tolkien, they are not. And, indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out a different line of argument. You call a tree a tree, he said, and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.
We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
In expounding this belief in the inherent truth of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the centre of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of The Silmarillion. Lewis listened as Dyson affirmed in his own way what Tolkien had said. You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand…
…Twelve days later Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves: ‘I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it.’”
UPDATE – 03/25/10: Here are my responses to some points raised by commenters…
“Dawkins point which he stated at the time, is that the Aliens themselves would still have to have come about by natural means. Moving the source of life off the planet doesn’t explain anything.”
I didn’t state that Dawkins firmly believed that. I just said that he is open to the concept of aliens starting life on this planet.
“It would be much more accurate to say ‘He’ll believe in naturalistic explanations of Origins, but not Magic’.”
There really are no naturalistic explanations of origins outside of life already in existence. Darwin thought that natural selection would explain the origin of different species, but that does not explain the origin of life. The Big Bang concept of getting things formed in the universe is extremely hypothetical, unobservable and un-experimental. The Biblical account of Creation comes from a book of historical value, and we know that Jesus is a historical figure more influential worldwide than any other. If philosophizing about origins is likened to a game of “hot and cold”, I would say that taking a closer look at the person and heritage of Christ is getting pretty warm.
The Biblical model of Creation explains the existence of the universe by saying that an infinite Being outside of its realm created it, and thus offers an explanation for why we cannot determine the origin of even the tiniest particle of matter through naturalistic means. That’s not a simple “Goddidit” argument – it’s a sensible, philosophical and historical way to explain what empirical science cannot tell us. Consider it this way – a figure in a painting cannot explain its existence outside of the canvas because it does not originate outside of it – an artist outside of the canvas formed it there. That’s a lame analogy since figures in a painting aren’t alive and can’t reason, but hopefully the point gets across. It is far more rational to presume that something outside of the natural realm put the natural realm into existence than to presume that the natural realm jump-started itself through its own processes. After all, how would those processes have existed? What got them started? It gets even crazier when you try to imagine the process in a “pre-biotic” universe that relies on mutations to get the job done. You might as well call that the “MotherNaturedidit” argument.
“The only thing really missing is that the Parents needed to have another child specifically conceived by the parents so that he could tell the younger children to misbehave.”
Actually, in order for it to have even been remotely accurate, it would have to be a brilliant, powerful prince disguised as a child, enticing them to disobey their parents’ rules by arguing that perhaps their parents didn’t really mean what they said. Also, he would have been wicked by his own design, not by the design of anyone who raised him. Just because God knows that people will do wrong doesn’t mean that He wants them to do wrong.
The laws that people obey reflect their citizenship. A citizen of the United States of America respects the laws of this nation, whereas a citizen of China or Saudi Arabia respects very different laws. The laws you submit yourself to reflect your allegiance. The issue at stake in Eden was Adam and Eve’s allegiance – were they going to obey the commands of Yahweh, or the commands of someone who contradicted Yahweh?
“As for the Devil? Well he’s just following God’s plan right? God created the Devil and all the Demons knowing full well what was going to happen. And he only continues to exist with God’s blessing. I have no idea how Genesis 3:15 is supposed to be ‘fair’ in any sense .
‘The Serpent’ (only retroactively identified as satan) is only punished with crawling in the dust. Whereas Humanity is cursed with all manner of things including painful childbirth, and must be quickly kicked out of the Garden in case they eat from the Tree of Life.”
You missed the symbolic part about the Messiah crushing Satan’s head. The fairness comes in the Scriptural fact that Yahweh kept His promise of sending a Messiah in human form (descending from Adam and Eve themselves) for Satan to combat, rather than evicting the devil right then and there. Adam and Eve had given Satan dominion by obeying him, and he was thus entitled to a reign on this earth because of their foolish surrender. For the sake of analogy, think of C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. The White Witch Jadis was entitled to Edmund’s blood because Edmund willingly chose to follow her. Aslan played fair – He knew Jadis had won Edmund fair and square, so instead of devouring the Witch to bits instantly like we furious readers would have wanted the Lion to do, He gave himself up as a sacrifice instead. Aslan represents the Messiah, Jesus. They both made a deal to free their lost prisoners of war and kept it.
By the way, the man and woman had to be prevented from eating from the Tree of Life, or else mankind would be trapped in an eternal life of pain (a previous natural law in Eden – that’s why no such trees exist now). Everything deteriorated from there on out. In fact, I think that in a physical sense we sort of “devolved” – not into different creatures, of course – we’re still made in God’s image – but our bodies are far less perfect than they would have been had sin not happened.
This whole ordeal has NOT been God’s plan, but He is a gentleman and will not force anyone to obey Him. Yahweh takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). But since justice is very important to Him, He will not change the deal that was made in the beginning. It is not in His nature to contradict Himself. Thus, the devil does not continue on with Yahweh’s “blessing,” but rather so that the built in laws of the universe will play out. By the way, there is a time limit on that…