Answering Questions From the Educated Skeptic
- Thursday, July 05, 2012
Let’s take Bill Hamby, for example. One of the first “teachings” of Christianity that he called into question was the claim that the earth is 6,000 years old. His study of biology and geology seemed to provide evidence that the earth and the universe are much older, so he figured there must be something wrong with that “very old book,” the Bible. The problem is that nowhere does the Bible teach that the earth is 6,000 years old. There may be some Christians who believe that, but nowhere does Scripture teach such a thing. So, here’s one strategy for dealing with the educated skeptic: Make sure you clarify what Christianity teaches versus what he thinks it teaches.
The 6,000-year-old earth idea originated with Bishop James Ussher (1581–1656), the Prelate of the Church of Ireland. Ussher postulated that God created the earth at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C. Ussher was a well-educated man, not some guy making guesses. He arrived at this date by looking at the historical events in the Old Testament that we can reliably date and by going through the various genealogies in both the Old and New Testaments. This process required great depth of learning in history, including knowledge about the ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans, as well as expertise in the Bible, biblical languages, astronomy, ancient calendars and chronology. Ussher’s methodology worked—to a point. To give just a couple of examples, he accurately placed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. and the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
The problem for Bishop Ussher was that he didn’t have access to all the archaeological research and scholarship we have available to us now. For example, few biblical scholars today believe that genealogies in the Bible mention every single person in that line of descendants. For various reasons, including cultural and symbolical, the writers of those genealogies skipped some generations in order to, for example, emphasize certain persons in a lineage. In other cases, if you add up the generations listed, you’ll find that they are all multiples of the number seven, which was considered the number of perfection. I’m not saying that these genealogies are made-up, metaphorical or otherwise not true; I am saying that the writer had a purpose other than a literal, straightline listing of every person in a given genealogical line, and it is the work of hermeneutics to discover this. (Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting Scripture.)
I’m not arguing here for an old earth or a young earth. The important points are that the Bible does not teach that the world is 6,000 years old, and that many Bible-believing Christians come down on different sides of this issue. Help your educated skeptic understand this is not a non-negotiable point of Christian doctrine— and therefore not a compelling reason to reject Christian faith…
An Appeal to Authority
In addition to understanding the things the educated skeptic “knows” that just ain’t so, it’s helpful to understand his approach to knowledge. As I said earlier, this skeptic takes pride in his level of education, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to recognize the prejudices he brings to the discussion, nor the prejudices of those he reads. He doesn’t see the barricades he employs/contrives to reach his conclusion about Christianity. He puts great stock in authority— teachers, university professors, writers—who write things he’s predisposed to agree with…
Skeptics will go to extraordinary lengths to deny the obvious if the obvious might cause them to question their skepticism. Often they have accepted a proposition without seriously examining it. Consider this example from discussions about the origins of life. Without God, the only explanation for life on earth is that it came about by natural causes, without any direction or creative activity by a supernatural being. One such view is called “spontaneous generation”—basically, that life just happened when inanimate matter suddenly came to life. That theory was pretty well disproved by the mid-nineteenth century, but without it skeptics and atheists have a hard time explaining the origins of life.
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