Let’s lay aside the age of the earth and length of creation week as those elements are way beyond the scope of this post no matter what side you’re on. Dr. Craig also calls the talking serpent “palpably false.” Does that mean that the tale of Balaam’s donkey is palpably false? According to the critiques and podcast, Dr. Craig goes on at great length about the ten markers of myth. If Numbers 22-24 is in a section Craig recognizes as historical narrative (which he does), the mere fact of the serpent talking ceases immediately to mark the passage as “palpably false.” In his Defenders Podcast, he argues that the donkey spoke because God caused a miracle (opened the donkey’s mouth), but does not allow the supernatural to be in effect for the serpent (the serpent, he says, is presented as completely natural and wily in itself). To defend his conclusion, Craig must discover another reason the talking serpent is palpably false.
Craig says, God would not open the serpent’s mouth because doing so would make God the author of the Fall, and I agree! However, Revelation teaches that Satan was that old serpent (Revelation 12:9; 20:2). The Apostle John directly links the two and lets us know that the serpent is more than a physical being. To say otherwise trashes any doctrine of Biblical coherence.
Scripture interprets Scripture. Satan is behind the serpent in some way, be it possession, influence, or shape-shifting. And the serpent’s relationship to Satan is not limited to Christianity! According to a Jewish tradition I came across once, Satan rode the serpent and fed it the words. According to another, Samael (a Jewish name for Satan) was sent to tempt the couple (just as he unleashed havoc on Job). If Dr. Craig is going to deny that Satan and his demons can act against people, he’s got some serious issues within historical parts of Scripture. Looking at his website, Reasonable Faith, in the Defenders Podcast, he several times speaks of demons as real and presents an orthodox belief in them as recently as 2018. What did Jesus cast out of Legion that went into the pigs? Does Craig affirm that event and all the other casting out performed by Jesus and the Apostles but not where admitting the actions of demons would render the palpably false argument palpably false?
Likewise with the “magical tree.” I believe God placed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden. However, I would not call it magical. The Bible displays a clear difference between magical and miraculous. The tree is an item of testing. If the first pair take of the tree, they will bring upon themselves a curse as the consequences of their actions. The Pentateuch presents such curses as real. In Deuteronomy 27 (a passage of historical narrative), the people are instructed to stand on two mountains once they enter the Land to illustrate the choice set before them. They will be blessed like Mt. Gerezim or be cursed like Mt. Ebal depending on their further actions in the land. For example, “cursed be he who does not honor his father and mother.” Joshua 8 shows the instructions carried out. And an archaeology dig has found an altar on Mt. Ebal from the correct time period with a lead amulet that may contain one of the curse verses (the amulet cannot be opened without destroying it, so the scholars are using machinery to peek within it and reconstruct the inscription).
Dr. Craig says he is not antisupernatural and defends the bodily resurrection of Jesus in every book and teaching of his I have had the pleasure of reading. So why does he have a problem with God performing really big miracles in Genesis 1-11? His reasoning in the articles comes across as him not wanting to admit a miracle there. The worse option is that does not want to be ridiculed by those who follow science. He wishes to be accepted by those who hate his fellow Christians.
Let’s take another “palpably false” element, the cherubim that guard the entrance to the garden of Eden. In the podcast, Craig defines them as “fantastic” based on their depiction as composite human-beast-bird creatures. Citing Jewish writer Nathan Sarna, Craig believes them to be fantastic (completely of the imagination) because their imagery being used in the Tabernacle and Temple does not break the commandment against graven images.* However, the prohibition in the Decalogue is not against all art. It is against art to be worshiped. The commandment states:
*Interesting that he invokes a contemporary Jewish commentator while avoiding the ancients on the same subject.
Exodus 20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.
The same commandment prohibiting idols of anything in Heaven also prohibits graven images of anything on earth or in it. Yet the carvings in the Temple include palm trees and flowers as well as Cherubim or “winged creatures” (1 Kings 6). The carvings of trees and flowers in the Temple shows that the ancient Israelites did not view the second commandment as prohibiting all religious art. Further, as we know that palm trees and flowers exist outside of fantasy, we have no reason to believe that the cherubim were allowed only because they are “fantasy creatures.”
Moreover, I quoted Craig above saying that fantastic presumably means “fantastic for us” and the ancients might not have realized the elements were fantasy. This does great damage to Craig’s reasoning. If the ancients did not recognize the cherubim as fantastic, then they were making religious art of something that they believed to exist. According to Craig’s interpretation of the second commandment, that would be breaking it.
The cherubim feature prominently in Ezekiel, even carrying the throne of God. Does that mean the throne is palpably false? Agreed, this would be an anthropomorphism, but that alone does not make it palpably false. Even though the cherubim appear in a vision, things within can still be real. A symbol must exist and what it points to must also exist. For example, looking at the US flag, one might think it symbolizes liberty. For it to symbolize properly, the concept of liberty must exist. If the cherubim are palpably false, what of other angels in Scripture? Are Gabriel, Michael, and Lucifer palpably false? Yes, I am aware that Dr. Craig views Jude speaking of the fight between Michael and Lucifer as being a quote from folklore or mythology and thus not something that binds Christians historically. Again, if Craig is committed to the New Testament, he must believe demons and angels exist in a state of enmity if not war. Why is it then simply folklore that the Devil disputed with Michael regarding Moses’ body? It’s not recorded elsewhere in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Michael is spoken of several times in the book of Daniel. Are those Biblical visions folklore? According to Daniel, Michael aided another angel when the second angel was delayed by the prince of Persia. This prince cannot be human because he stops an angel and Michael (called one of God’s chief princes) is required to aid the angel. If Michael did not aid the messenger angel in his fight, we have no way to know what happened to delay God’s answer to Daniel. If the Bible had not stated a reason for the delay, we would have no answer. However, since the angel specifically gives Daniel a reason, Christians who affirm what the Bible affirms must believe the messenger angel was delayed for twenty-one days by the demonic prince of Persia until Michael, one of God’s chief princes, came to the rescue. And that means angels and demons exist and demons can interfere with God’s work. Cue Satan riding the serpent.
Again, did Jesus cast demons out of people? As you can see so far, the standard of palpably false without an objective standard of palpable leads to hermeneutical harm.
Once you admit that angels exist, such as the angels at the tomb or Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, one cannot dismiss cherubim as palpably false. If the deciding factor is the appearance of the cherubim being composites, why does Craig limit God so? Ezekiel has even stranger-looking angels in service to God. I suppose Ezekiel’s other angels are palpably false. Where will it end?
Regarding the Tower of Babel, Dr. Craig says that it is palpably false that a tower would reach unto Heaven. While I agree the outcome is impossible, who is to say that ancient man knew it was impossible? The point of Genesis 11 is not that the Tower makers succeeded in their endeavor, it is that they tried and God stopped them. If he is going to argue that the splitting of languages in relatively recent history is false, he again needs to explain how he can uphold the supernatural in one part of the Bible while denying it in Genesis 1-11.
He also fails to recognize the humor of the situation at Babel. The people strive to make a tower unto Heaven (they will make themselves gods), but their efforts are so futile God makes a point of saying their tower is invisible to him from Heaven! The irony is also seen in the statements of both man and God saying, “Come now.” The final irony is the similarity of the name of the place of the tower (babel) to the Hebrew word for confuse (balal). They wanted to make the “gate of god” (the meaning of Babel) yet ended up with confusion.
Here at Babel, it isn’t that God does not know what is happening on Earth that he has to come down. God knows, and is making a humorous point regarding the futility of their actions by coming down. We know this from the analogy of Scripture. Clearly the Bible shows God to be omniscient. Therefore, He must likewise be omniscient in the account of Babel, and we must find a different explanation than “God did not know.” I daresay Moses would be thunderstruck that a man as learned as Craig would argue the incident portrays God as less than omniscient.
Related to the tower events, Craig sees the anthropomorphisms of God in Genesis 1-11 as lending credence to it being mytho-history. Again, why? Other parts of Scripture do the same. In just a few chapters of historical narrative, Abraham is going to walk and talk with God! Is that manifestation palpably false? What objective reason makes Abraham’s walk with God regarding the judgment on Sodom any less palpably false than Adam and Eve being judged by God when God walks in the Garden of Eden during the cool of the day? Craig tries to address this in Defender’s, but the explanation is weak and hand wavey.
Can God not manifest to make himself known? Can God not inspire Scripture in a way that we understand it? True, God is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit, but He appears in other places in the Bible in human form and presents human emotions so that we may relate to him. Moses asked to see God’s face. God did not say, “I have no face to show you,” but “no man may see my face and live.” Moses records how he saw God’s back. Clearly, we have a manifestation of God in a form a man could see with his eyes. In theology, these are called “theophonies,” such as when the angel of the LORD appears to Joshua as a mighty warrior.
In the Defender’s class, a student brings up these theophanies and state he sees God’s interactions with Adam in the Garden and God’s work in creating Eve from Adam’s rib to be a theophony and then goes to the serpent. Craig avoids the theophony issue in his response to focus on the serpent.
However, the most important part of the palpably false argument comes into play with Adam. I agree with Craig that Adam must be the first human being not merely the first Homo sapiens who has the image of God given to him.
Craig argues that Genesis 1-11 is mytho-history, meaning it is history with mythical elements, such as the magical fruit. Craig rightly realizes that Jesus’ belief in and teaching of a historical Adam means that if Adam did not exist, Jesus would be wrong and thus not divine. However, if the “magical fruit” is palpably false, then the first sin could not be that they ate from it. If that is not the first sin, then what are we supposed to think is the first sin that Paul refers to in Romans 5:14? Did God inspire Paul to refer to an actual event (whatever that unknown first sin was) knowing that every reader would (wrongly) conclude Paul means taking the fruit? I can’t see any way to read that which is not deceptive on God’s part.
We know that the sin of Adam brought death to all who came after him (1 Cor 15:22) while the righteousness of Christ brought life to all who believe in Him. There in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes many references to the creation account and Adam. It strains credulity that God would inspire Paul to refer to those events and treat them as historically as Jesus’ resurrection if they did not happen as presented.
Similarly, when Peter refers to Noah’s worldwide flood (another palpably false event according to Craig) and links the certainty of God’s future judgment of the world to His past judgment, do we then understand there is no future judgment because the past one is mytho-history? Will the future judgment be mytho-history? How does that even work?
You can clearly see the problems when the criteria of palpably false exists without an objective standard. For each element selected, I have shown how—in Scripture—it is not obviously untrue under the grammatical-historical hermeneutic.
Palpably false without an objective standard of palpable leaves us on shaky ground. We then have no defense against the skeptic who holds a lower threshold of belief. If Craig can get away with saying “The Tower of Babel is palpably false because of the anthropomorphic representation of God,” the skeptic can turn around and say to him, “the bodily resurrection of Jesus is palpably false because dead bodies don’t restart.”
Craig has, by pushing palpably false as a standard of determining truth without providing an objective standard for the same, cut off the very branch he stands upon.