googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Answering the 10 Theological Questions No Young-earth Creationist Can Answer: Conclusion

Friday, August 28, 2015

Answering the 10 Theological Questions No Young-earth Creationist Can Answer: Conclusion

9. Why is incest wrong?

An extremely common criticism leveled at the Bible is the rhetorical question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” The point being that if only Adam & Eve were created, and they only had Cain and Able, then how could Cain have found the wife mentioned in Genesis 4:17?

This question has always stumped me. Not in the sense that I can't answer it but rather why do people even ask it. I've sometimes answered this with a short analogy: I've heard various statistics but one source says that if you start with a single pair of rabbits, you could end up with over 50,000 rabbits at the end of three years! Do you understand how that works? The first pair has babies, then the babies have babies, and so on. It's not rocket science. Well, that same principle works with people – albeit not quite as fast.

The Bible names three children of Adam & Eve. They are Cain, Able, and Seth. However, the Bible is clear that Adam had other, “sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:4). So, in case you still haven't figured it out, Adam & Eve had babies, then their babies had babies with each other. That's how it worked and it was how God intended it.

As people start to think about this, a queasy feeling of taboo starts to set in. If their babies had babies with each other, isn't that incest? If it occurred today, that's how we'd describe it but obviously it wasn't seen the same way then. In his article, Francke describes incest as, weird and disturbing and more than a little icky.” I believe his view (which I share, by the way) is the product of our Western culture. What we might consider gross, other cultures have embraced. Marrying close relatives – such as sisters, cousins, and nieces – has been practiced around the world for millenia.

Why, then, is incest wrong? It's wrong precisely because the Bible has declared it to be wrong. When God gave the Law to Moses, this thing which had been practiced for thousands of years was commanded to cease. Next you might ask why a practice that God intended, He now would say to stop? I won't pretend that I know exactly why but I do know that God is not arbitrary. I suspect it probably is a matter of health.

In the first few generations after Adam and Eve, marrying a close relative was unavoidable. Many generations later, by the time of Moses, there were enough people in the world that it was no longer necessary to marry anyone closely related to you. Furthermore, the genetic burden each successive generation inherited became worse and worse and marrying a close relative now carried a greater risk of defects in the offspring of incestuous couples. When God gave the Law to Moses, He commanded the practice to cease.

Something similar has happened concerning our diets. When God created Adam and Eve, He told them they could eat any green thing. After the Flood, God told Noah he could also eat meat (likely because the world was not as lush as before the Flood). But when God gave the Law to Moses, it included strict prohibitions against eating certain foods. We have, then, another example of something originally allowed but later commanded to end. So what point is proved by Francke asking this question? Absolutely nothing.

10. And finally, if it is so vitally important that Christians take Genesis literally, why did Jesus never once instruct us to take Genesis literally?

I've always thought it a weak argument to build upon points Jesus didn't make. If it's important that we wash our hands after we sneeze, why didn't Jesus ever tell us to do that?! If it's so important to eat vegetables, why didn't Jesus ever tell us to do that?! It should be obvious that these things are important so the fact that Jesus didn't instruct us about them doesn't prove they're not important. I guess I shouldn't say I've never used a “negative argument” but I still say it's the weaker route.

Now, I don't know everything Jesus said – I only know what is recorded in the Bible. I do know we have no record of Jesus ever having said, “Truly I say to you, you shall read Genesis literally.” Such a statement makes little sense, anyway. I generally do not take things “literally” but I take them in the sense they are intended. Can you imagine having conversations where every word is meant to be literal? How would we interpret expressions like, “scared to death” or “my wife's going to kill me”? So Jesus instructing us to take Genesis “literally” would have probably created more problems than it would solve. Taking the Bible “literally” is a straw man caricature made by critics of conservative Christians.

Instead of looking at what Jesus didn't do, let's look at what He did do. We know that time after time, when confronted by His critics (chiefly, the Pharisees), He often responded with, “Haven't you read...” and would then cite some Old Testament passage applicable to the situation. In those situations, rather than offering some “figurative meaning” of the text, He always relied on the obvious meaning of the passage to make His point.

At the end of the day, though, Jesus did often quote from Genesis. Perhaps His most relevant comment on the subject is found in Mark 10:6-8 where Jesus refers to both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 in the same comment. He certainly seemed to be referring to Adam & Eve as real people. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus refers to a history of martyrdom beginning with Abel and ending with Zacharias (the latter apparently recently murdered by the Pharisees). In Luke 17:27, He compared the suddenness of His next coming to the Flood of Noah. In all of these cases, and others I could cite, He names these people as though they are real characters in History. How ridiculous would it be to talk about Abel (a fictional character) in the same context as Zacharias (a real person known to the Pharisees) or to compare the Flood of Noah (a fictional event) to the Second Coming (a literal event)?

Perhaps I should turn the question around on Francke. I believe Jesus treated Genesis as real history. If Genesis were not meant to literal, why didn't Jesus instruct us to interpret it figuratively? That “what Jesus didn't do” argument works both ways. The difference is that the Bible repeatedly shows Jesus treating people and events from Genesis as “literal” and never as “figurative.” By continuously referring to the things as history, I believe Jesus was indeed instructing us on the correct way to read Genesis.

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Steven J. said...

Regarding point 10, I think the usual interpretation of "Abel to Zacharias" is that the latter refers either to the prophet from the eponymous Old Testament book (who was traditionally supposed to have been martyred, although the Bible doesn't tell his fate), or to the earlier Zachariah ben Jehoiada, who is actually described as being martyred in the reign of King Jehoash. In either case, the reference to "Abel" as an actual person supports your point. Likewise does the reference to Noah.

But note that the references to "from the time of the beginning" strictly speaking only refers to how humans have been since their origin; it says nothing about who the earliest humans were or when they lived, or how much time passed between the beginning of the Earth and the beginning of humanity. And another passage, in which Jesus cites the words of God to Moses ("I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob"), his use of this to support the idea that Abraham still lived (the point of the passage, surely, is that the God Abraham worshiped still lived, not whether Abraham still did) shows a certain willingness to handle scripture in ways that aren't really the "historical-grammatical" or "literal" sense.

I suppose the point might be raised that an omniscient Holy Spirit, in inspiring the sacred text, would know what doubts and heterodox views would arise in the future, and make sure that the text dealt explicitly with these matters. Whether the Holy Spirit should have done that, I cannot say; I've complained before that theology is like a game of tennis played not only without a net, but with the existence of the ball taken purely on faith. Who can say whether a player has scored a point or not?

Steven J. said...

Regarding point 9, if incest became morally wrong when, and because, God forbade it when giving the Law to Moses, then why does the Code of Hammurabi (centuries older than the oldest date assigned to the Mosaic Law) contain prohibitions against incest? Indeed, when Paul notes to the Corinthians that even the pagans do not permit a man to marry his father's wife, how does Paul account for those ignorant of the Mosaic Law grasping that this is wrong? Or, indeed, while Abraham has no problem with marrying his half-sister, why does he expect Pharaoh to conclude he can't be married to Sarah if she is his full sister? His behavior (and later Isaac's with Abimelech about Rebecca) imply a widespread incest taboo long before the Law was given at Sinai, and independent of it. Also, while Genesis doesn't express any explicit judgment of Lot getting his daughters pregnant, I can't help but suspect that the story is a dig at the Ammonites and Moabites for having disgusting and debased origins (note that the daughters have to get Lot drunk to get him to agree to their plan, suggesting that it wasn't viewed as licit even centuries before the Law).

Conversely, while Christians have traditionally viewed some aspects of the Mosaic law as temporary and culturally-specific (so that you don't go to Hell for eating bacon or mowing your lawn on Saturday), others are seen as eternal moral principles, like loving your neighbor as yourself and not making the two-backed beast with your sister. They'd be uncomfortable with, if not outright horrified at, e.g. legalizing brother-sister marriages in cases where one or both partners were incapable of procreation. I doubt that the special disgust that attaches to such matings goes beyond the likelihood of children who are homozygous for some deleterious allele (e.g. are you quite so horrified at the thought of two known cystic fibrosis carriers marrying? would other Christians be?).

For what it's worth, prohibitions against inbreeding may have purposes beyond preventing birth defects. Forbidding people to marry near kin forces them to form marital ties with other families, clans, and tribes (it has often been speculated that the Catholic Church's prohibition of cousin marriage in the Middle Ages was aimed, precisely, at breaking up the clan and tribal structures of Europe in favor by giving people family in other tribes). On the other hand, quite a few species with no organization beyond the nuclear family (if they even have that) have behaviors that tend to inhibit inbreeding. And hermaphroditic species whose individuals can, in principle, mate with themselves generally have features that prevent this, so the "prevent inbreeding" explanation has some merit -- except that it is widespread even in species that know nothing of the Law and could never learn it.

Anyway, this seems to raise an issue. Of course, given just the information in the story (and the assumption that Adam and Eve originally carried no deleterious recessive alleles), we could infer that Cain, Seth, and various other sons of Adam married their various sisters. But that implies that God originally created the human race with no option for "being fruitful and multiplying" except for behavior that virtually all human cultures (an exception was sometimes raised for the high nobility, who needed to keep their bloodlines "pure" and the royal lands and chattels in the royal family) abominated even before Sinai (and that we may have built-in revulsion for: see "Westermarck effect"). This seems clumsy and jerry-rigged for an omnipotent, omniscient Being, and that's the problem addressed in question nine.