Are We Secondary Creators?

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

When Christian write about fiction in general and fantasy in particular, more and more they use the idea of secondary creation. This idea was essential to Tolkien’s understanding of what he was doing as a fantasy author. He viewed himself as the creator of his fantasy world. He is a secondary creator because he is only a reflecting what God has done as the primary creator of the primary world. Tolkien and other believers justify their action of secondary creation by claiming that creativity is a core component of the image of God.

                Although it is certainly true that human beings are creative and that in this creativity we are more like unto God than to a potted plant, is it true that creativity is what is meant by the image of God? The image of God is a notoriously debated doctrine. It is nowhere given a straightforward description in Scripture. Any definition of the image of God is assembled by inference – which is shaky ground for developing a Christian theology of fantasy.

                Furthermore, just because an activity makes us like God, it does not mean that the activity is good, profitable, or justifiable. Certainly setting up yourself as the all-powerful creator of a secondary world of your own devising does make you more like God, but that does not mean such an endeavor is justifiably good.

A quick review of Genesis 3 will make the point quite clear. The serpent tempts Eve with the fruit by telling her that eating of the fruit will make her more like God (verse 5). In verse 6, the Bible tells us the temptation to greater (God-like) wisdom was part of the attraction for Eve. Verse 7 describes how the additional (God-like) knowledge was not a good thing. Finally, in verse 22, God himself remarks that Adam and Eve are now more like God, and apparently for reason of their increased God-likeness, God punishes the human race with death.

The theme is picked up again in Genesis 11 with the story of the Tower of Babel. The human civilization is engaged in creating/building a structure of incredible grandeur. Verse 4 indicates that the motives of humankind were that of pride, self-glorification, and rebellion against God. The language hints at perhaps an underlying motive of wanting to set themselves up in the place of God. There is a sense in which the construction of the Tower of Babel was an act that was very much like unto God, but it was also evil – for the very reason that it was like unto God.

There are a couple of subtler ways in which the construction of the Tower was evil. First, there is the underlying sense in Genesis 11 that the human race was seeking to create something separate from and independent of God. It is the very fact that they were seeking to accomplish something great apart from (and even against) God that made it wrong.

Second, what about the building of the Tower had God most concerned? According to verse 6, it was the magnitude of the project that was most concerning. It was the sheer size of the Tower that made it so wrong and so worthy of God’s judgmental intervention. It was not just the heart motivations of the people that brought down the judgment of God. It was the actual size of the Tower itself. God acted to prevent the human race from ever engaging in a project on such a scale ever again.

So at what point does a building become a Tower of Babel? At what point does an act of secondary creation cross the line? These questions are difficult to answer, but they need to be asked.

Take the secondary world which Tolkien created. What is most striking is the sheer magnitude of his creation in both extent and in detail. Is Tolkien’s world a harmless flight of the imagination, or is it a Tower? Think of the effort, time, and thought that Tolkien expended in his project of secondary creation. Was his project on proper scale, or was Middle Earth his personal Babel?

And I do not need to pick just on Tolkien. Think even of the effort, time, and thought required to write the simplest of novels. Writing a work of fiction is a monumental task. Certainly it is a task of secondary creation, but is it the kind of way in which God intended for us to reflect his glory? Or is it the type of God-like task taken on in response to the voice of the serpent and the call of Babel?

Saying that writing fantasy is like God does not automatically make it a good thing. In fact, many actions are evil for the very reason that they are an attempt to be like God. There needs to be a far better justification for fantasy.

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A New Mythology?

[This is one part of a multi-part series. Please start at the beginning: https://randallfcurtis.com/2016/01/02/the-dangers-of-fantasy/).

                It has now become common knowledge that Tolkien explained a major motivation for his forays into Middle Earth. He loved the mythologies of other cultures, and he believed that England was lacking in a mythology of its own. He was exploring the possibility of providing England with a mythology of his creation.

                I am far from being an expert on English culture in Tolkien’s lifetime, but I wonder if Tolkien’s assessment was entirely accurate. The British Isles were home to a collage of various mythologies from its various constituent peoples, and the British Isles were the incubator for the great myth of King Arthur. However, even more foundational than these was the prevalence of Greco-Roman mythology and the Bible – as was the case in the much of the Western world. Any casual student of Shakespeare knows that it is impossible to understand much of the allusions of the Bard without an extensive knowledge of Greco-Roman mythology. Especially after the translation of the King James Bible, allusions to the Bible also become commonplace in English literature.

                It is hard for many Christians to see the Bible as mythology. Tolkien himself said that the story of Jesus is the greatest True Myth. However, the mythology of the Bible extends beyond the overarching story of Jesus. I suggest to anyone that they read the Prose Edda and some of the Viking Sagas as well as Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and then go back and read the Old Testament. There are broad similarities between such mythologies and the content of the Old Testament. The Old Testament has a creation story, and it has sagas of heroes (the patriarchs, the exodus, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings).

                It is odd to me that Tolkien, a self-professed Christian, would suggest that England needed a mythology when the Bible was so readily available and generally familiar. What role was a mythology supposed to play that the Bible could not?  I would challenge anyone to come up with some benefit of mythology that is not properly the role of Scripture. As believers we are grafted onto the tree of a Jewish faith sprung from a Jewish mythology, and we just have to be OK with that. According to Paul, we are to be cultural chameleons who find our true core identity in the truth of Scripture and the person of Christ. We need no other mythology.

                What worries me most is that Tolkien’s project has succeeded too well. It is beyond my knowledge and wisdom to weigh how much of the blame to lay at the feet of Tolkien, but Tolkien’s end goal has been achieved to an extent that he would probably find distasteful. Not only is Tolkien credited with spawning a revival of the fantasy genre, but much of fantasy borrows heavily from Tolkien’s creations. It is difficult to escape elves, halflings (the non-copyrighted term for hobbits), etc. when reading fantasy, and I do not think Tolkien would approve of much of the contemporary fantasy that steals his ideas.

Beyond just the fantasy genre, our culture has taken the creation of mythology very seriously. Now most people base their cultural identity and worldviews on TV shows and movies. Instead of quoting the King James Bible or alluding to the labors of Hercules, we now quote Star Wars and Monty Python. Our heroes are not just Aragorn and Faramir, but also Batman, James Bond, William Wallace, etc. We even take the myths of the past and continuously rework them (incidentally, this is how mythology has always developed). Think of how Little Red Riding Hood is now generally told as a story about a werewolf. We have taken on the project of creating our own mythology and have carried it to the extreme. And we have made it one of the essential components of our culture.

Is this cultural situation what Tolkien wanted? Doubtful. Is it the logical outcome of Tolkien’s project to create a mythology? I think so. Is it healthy or beneficial? I think not. Is creating a mythology a properly Christian endeavor? Again, I don’t think so. We have our mythology. We have our heroes. With the help of the Spirit we need to take hold of the mythology of Scripture, rather than inventing a mythology that is more to our liking.

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The Dangers of Fantasy

tolkien                Fantasy has always been my genre. At the age of 5 or 6, I fell in love with the legend of St. George and the dragon. From then on I was hooked. I enjoy all things fantasy with a lot of science fiction thrown in for good measure.

                For years fantasy has been gaining respect and popularity as a genre. At first I was amused and pleased by this trend. However, as the trend has continued I have grown more concerned.

                See, I have grown up. I still love fantasy, but I know now that fantasy is not all there is. Beyond that, I have begun to recognize the dangers of fantasy as a genre – especially the dangers of long-term exposure. It disturbs me to see it become mainstream to indulge the escapist tendencies associated with the consumption of fantasy. As I am in the midst of growing out of it, I see more and more people succumbing to the draw of virtual reality.

                Even more disturbing is the number of Christians who have jumped onboard the fantasy fan-wagon – blissfully unaware of the dangers. Christians have found all kinds of ingenious ways to justify their new-found fantasy obsession. They appeal to the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis as paragons of Christian fantasy authors. They have even developed a Christian theology/philosophy of fiction and fantasy.

                In the following blog posts I attempt to challenge some of this mainstream Christian thinking. No, I am not a published fiction author. No, I am not a professor of literature. I am a pastor and student of the Bible who can speak from the depth of personal experience and from years of personal reflection on the ethics and meaning of the fantasy genre.

                I deal mostly with the ideas of Tolkien and a smattering of Lewis. I have not gone into great depth, but I have tried to suggest numerous avenues of further thought. I focus mostly on the medium of the fantasy novel, but this is purely for the convenience of writing. Most of what I say applies to television, movies, graphic novels, video games, etc. Furthermore, a lot of what I say applies to science fiction and even to fiction in general.

                The most common negative reaction I anticipate receiving is that I am taking everything too seriously. It’s just fantasy. It’s just fiction. I hope the inescapable seriousness of fantasy will become clear through what I have written, but in case it is not clear, let me point out that Christians love to speak from both sides of their mouths when it comes to the subject of fantasy. They try to justify and value it by exploring the meaningful themes of many works of fantasy. At the same time, they try to excuse the problems of fantasy by claiming it is just for fun. I am mostly engaging with the one side that tries to justify fantasy, but I think it will become apparent that there are also dangers in trying to enjoy fantasy just for fun.

                Before jumping to counter my ideas, my suggestion is to read all of my posts. Lastly, I want to remind you that I love fantasy. What follows are not the ruminations of a fantasy-hater. All of it has come from one who has spent decades living in fantasy worlds.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens? A Spoiler-Filled Review

I am writing a fluff paragraph introduction in order to give people a chance to avert their eyes from this spoiler-filled post. I went to Star Wars: The Force Awakens with very little prior expectations. I think I watched one of the trailers once. I did not read or listen to very much of the commentaries, predictions, etc. I heard that Abrams had re-signed all of the major cast members, but I tried not to let that color my expectations (especially when the trailer showed a lot of new characters). I also want to say that I went to see the movie with a couple of good friends of mine, and I had an awesome time hanging out with them. In that sense it was a worthwhile evening for me.

So I came to the theater with kind of a blank mind. I do not go see movies in theaters very often, so usually I am overwhelmed by the big screen, big sound, etc. I enter right into the movie and have a good time. Episode VII was different for me. I was not mentally analyzing the movie at all until about two thirds of the way through the movie, when I surprised myself with the realization that I was feeling bored. Please note that this was a feeling, not an overly analytical rational conclusion. I was at a Star Wars movie, and I was feeling bored. As the movie reached a climax, so did my boredom. Except for a few moments of laughter, I only got more bored as the movie went on. The force may have been awakening, but I was having trouble staying alert.

So after the fact, I began to analyze why it was that I was feeling bored. This analysis mostly stems from the time period after watching the movie, but some of it did come to mind near the end of the movie. I do not have time to organize this post, so it is going to be somewhat stream of consciousness. What follows is almost completely negative. This is not because my impression of the movie was completely negative. It is because I am trying to explain my boredom.

The main reason for my boredom was that the movie is “derivative,” as a lot of critics have said. It was basically a retread of elements from the original movies. I think this was a combination of fan service and fan reassurance – sending the not-so-subtle message that they were returning to what everyone loved about the original Star Wars. It may have been reassuring, but it was also boring.

I mean, c’mon, the Starkiller is essentially Death Star 3. I thought the second Death Star was redundant when I watched Return of the Jedi for the first time. Why would I not feel the same about Death Star 3? Saying it was bigger didn’t help. Saying it was a modified planet only made it harder to believe. Why is there ANOTHER trench scene? Why is there ANOTHER fatal weak point in the defenses? Actually, Death Star 3 seemed the easiest one to destroy yet. No bullseye-ing of womp rats necessary.

And that is just one of a multitude of ways in which the movie is just a regurgitation of past Star Wars elements. I could go on at great length. Unlike other fans, I was not geeking out by all of these obvious plagiarisms. What made Star Wars great was its originality, not its traditionalism. And by originality, I mean coming up with better ideas than Jar Jar.

I also thought the director/writer/whomever-is-to-blame made some classic errors. The timing was painfully slow at critical moments. Nothing is more boring than watching a psychic interrogation from the outside…for second after second after second. We all knew Ben was going to kill Han, so why did we have to stare at the lightsaber for twenty minutes? And speaking about staring at lightsabers, what is up with the ending? How long did Rey hold out that lightsaber for anyway? My arm was getting tired for her. It was painful to watch.

Major surprises were telegraphed. As soon as people came for Han on his smuggling ship thing, we all knew the problem was going to be solved by releasing the scary cargo. We just had to wait for it, and wait for it… As soon as Han said “meet back here” we all knew he was going to bite it. Again, we had to wait for it, and wait for it, and stare at the lightsaber, and wait for it…

They tried to throw us into the middle of the action, but I had to work too hard to understand things, especially the political situation. Who is the First Order? How is the Republic different than the Resistance? How is the Resistance different than the Rebellion? When the Starkiller blew up a planetary system, who did they blow up and why? And why does nobody know what happened 30 years ago? Tattoine – I mean Jakku – was the location of a decisive battle against the Empire. I would think most people living there would have some idea of what happened. How did Kylo Ren turn evil? That seems pretty improbable to me.

And then the movie explained things that did not need explaining. For instance, we had to hear the explanation of the force…again. Who in their right mind was watching the new movie without seeing the old ones? It’s a continuing story! It’s not a franchise reboot on an alternate timeline like Star Trek. Explain to us the stuff we don’t know, not the stuff we do know.

The movie too often settled for telling us rather than showing us. How do we know that the First Order is scary and strong? Because Finn told us so. I certainly wasn’t impressed with them from what I saw otherwise. How do we know that Han and Leia loved each other but were in a fight? Because everyone kept telling us. When I saw them together, I did not feel any vibe.

I can’t put my finger on the reason, but I did not feel very emotionally attached to any of the main characters. I didn’t care about the new characters. The return characters didn’t grab me either. R2D2, a perennial favorite, basically wasn’t in the movie. Did they not know that C3PO and R2D2 (for good or for ill) are critical to the success of a Star Wars movie? C3PO just didn’t talk or act like C3PO. Saying “Thank the Maker” once just doesn’t cut it – especially now that we know who his maker was. I felt like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were playing nostalgia rather than acting.

Let me run through some of the characters and stuff from the movie.

Kylo Ren/Ben: OK, so maybe the actor was better than Hayden, but he is almost the same character…maybe worse. I was not intimidated by him from the get-go. He was too scrawny and too much of a Vader rip-off. That of course was the point. He is supposed to be like that. Which makes it all the more annoying. We didn’t get a “good” villain. I think from the way he treats Rey he is more of a creeper than Anakin, and he is even more of an emotionally uncontrolled adolescent. Childish tantrums are not necessary to being a dark Jedi. Look at Palpatine, Vader, Dooku, etc. The Sith were supposed to be sneaky and devious even though they used hate and rage as weapons. What kills me is that the Star Wars expanded universe is chock full of very interesting villain material. Why did Episode VII have to use the despised Anakin as its model? As a side note, I really liked the idea of his lightsaber in concept, but I thought it was kind of dumb in the movie, especially because when it was onscreen it was all you could see.

Supreme Leader/Gollum: A large hologram does not a scary villain make. A big scar does not a scary villain make. After Palpatine, the Supreme Leader seemed tame to me. What does he have that makes him such a big deal? The next couple of movies better have some big reveals.

The First Order/The Empire Lite: I found the First Order less than impressive. We saw one base the size of a planet. But this one base seemed to be almost completely lacking in defenses. There are a few hundred storm troopers. We also saw one large super-star destroyer type thing. When the General called out “all” of the squadrons, the resulting 25 TIE fighters were laughable. Does the Supreme Gollum have a huge fleet hiding up his flaring nostrils?

First Order General guy: No Grand Moff Tarkin. He’s not even any of the various guys that Vader chokes. I can’t remember his name. All I know is that he was stupid enough to build Death Star 3 with a weak spot larger than Beggar’s Canyon, nevermind a womp rat. And he was stupid enough to barely guard it. And he was stupid enough to put the energy of a star inside a planet. And he was stupid enough not to evacuate immediately. Again, I am not scared.

Silver Stormtrooper(ess): Is her armor functional or just a fashion accessory? Apparently the scariest thing about her is that she sent Finn to remedial training, and then she is so pansy that she shuts down the shields for the entire base at gunpoint without a fight. If she is the best and brightest of the First Order, then why hasn’t the Republic sneezed them into submission?

Poe: Who is this guy? OK, so he’s a great pilot, but if we are not really going to get to know him, why tell us much about him at all? And I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy the instant bond between Poe and Finn. Introducing a character is different from developing a character.

Finn: Apparently all you have to do to get this guy to like you is not be First Order and tell him your name. His main role in the movie was to whine, sweat, and tell us how scary the First Order is (because otherwise we wouldn’t have been scared).

Rey: I know more about the force than Luke knew by the end of the original trilogy…totally by accident…

BB8: Relatively lovable. I am not sure why we needed a new R2 when R2 is still around. And what’s with the bobbing head? Either his method of moving works, or it doesn’t. I would think they would be able to keep his head from continuously falling, or else they never would have made a droid like that. If his head controls need to be recalibrated, then why didn’t Rey fix him?

Some other comments.

Where did all of these new force powers come from? So Ben is able to interrogate people telepathically? Somehow if that were possible with the force, I think Vader would have used it on Leia. And Ben is able to stop and hold a blaster bolt in mid-air? Really? I mean, cool visually, but I found it distracting. And again, why was Vader not able to do this?

Do the guys who made this film know anything about science at all? Of course it’s supposed to be a fictional space opera, so we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of science. But the original Star Wars tried not to get too far out with its science. On the other hand Episode VII trampled all over science. How was Han Solo able to see the Starkiller beam and the resulting explosion? Those things should have been light years away. And the Starkiller sucks the energy from a star? Does that mean the whole planet moves from star to star? If so, how does it move? How does the atmosphere stay intact? How is this any easier than building a space station? Did they realize how devastating it would be to a planet to lose its star? We are talking meteorological disaster! And when the star gets sucked up, where is all of the ambient light coming from? Why is the planet not pitch black? The lightsaber battle should have been happening in the dark. And then when the planet explodes it turns into a star? Really? Again, cool visual effect, but totally absurd! And by the way, how in the world did the Millennium Falcon survive atmospheric re-entry at light speed? Did they watch Han Solo’s explanation of the hyperdrive in the original Star Wars? And since when did travel times in the Star Wars universe get so compressed?

Conclusion.

Apparently the point of this movie was to be so much like the originals that it would scour Jar Jar from our minds (if that were only possible). It accomplished this by blatantly repeating much of the originals. I felt it made it boring as a movie in its own right. I also thought it was unnecessary in light of the fact that this is supposed to be a continuing story. However, we have yet to see the next two episodes. Maybe when we watch the next movies Episode VII will be proven to be worthwhile. Or at least, maybe Episode VII may be the boring setup movie that we endure watching in order to complete an otherwise exciting series. Episode VIII, you are our only hope.

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Are Adam and Eve Myths?

Hero and Villain,

You raise a lot of questions surrounding Adam and Eve and the first chapters of Genesis, and I would like to deal with all of them.

Before I start, though, are you aware that there are a lot of Bible-believing, Christian scholars and scientists who think that the first few chapters of Genesis are intended to be symbolic/poetic accounts rather than factual/historical accounts? To these people, what is most important is not the factual details, but rather what those details mean and teach us.

I do not agree with that position, but I do not have a lot of problems with it as long as the main ideas are maintained. For instance, a lot of Bible-believing scientists would say that God created the universe billions of years ago by means of the Big Bang, and then God created life by means of a lengthy evolutionary process. Scientists like Hugh Ross believe that they can see these scientific processes described in the symbolism of Genesis 1. What matters most to me is that these people still believe that God created the world and that human beings have value, since those are the main points of Genesis 1-2.

Even though I do not agree with this perspective, I bring it up because I want you to understand that some of the points you make are accepted by many Bible-believing Christians. They agree with some of what you say. Also, I want you to understand that some of your points do not trouble me as much as you might have thought. I have Christian friends who say the same things, and yet still believe that the Bible is true!

On to your actual points.

You state that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are contradictory accounts. Genesis 1:26-30 gives an account of God creating Adam and Eve. Then Genesis 2:4-25 gives a second account of God creating Adam and Eve. There are several options for reconciling this double account. In my view when I read Genesis 1-2, it seems clear to me that Genesis 2:4-25 is merely a more detailed account of Genesis 1:26-30. Genesis 1 gives an overview summary of the creation of the entire universe. Within that summary, the creation of Adam and Eve is also summarized. In Genesis 2, the book zooms in to the events of the sixth day of creation and describes those events again, but in greater detail.

You ask why the book would give two accounts of the same event back to back. I cannot answer something like that with absolute certainty, but I can give a couple of suggestions. First, I think it is the right question to be asking. You are supposed to be wondering why the book goes into such detail about the creation of Adam and Eve. It has to do with the central place that God has given human beings in his creation. Second, if you skim through the book of Genesis, I think you can see that it is divided nicely into small chunks designed for oral retelling. Genesis is not just intended to be read straight through. It is also organized in such a way that individual stories can be told in a standalone fashion. As a reader you can choose to read Genesis 1-2 in one sitting, or the two chapters can be divided and read separately.

You wonder about the number of ribs. The Bible does not give us any reason to believe that Adam had 25 ribs to begin with. I would assume that he had 24 just like anybody else. After God removed one of his ribs, he would have had 23. All of his children would have had 24. If you removed one of my ribs and if I had any more children, my child would be born with 24 ribs. Removing a rib does not change the genetic material.

Did God create Eve as a clone of Adam? Since God used Adam’s rib to create Eve, was Eve like Adam’s clone? Well, Eve could not possibly be Adam’s clone if only because she was female. We have no idea what God did with Adam’s rib in order to create Eve. Did he use Adam’s DNA but then change the Y chromosome to an X? The Bible does not say one way or another. Since God created Adam from dirt, I think it entirely possible that God could have used Adam’s rib in such a way that Eve was very different genetically.

Why did God make man out of dirt and woman out of a rib? Why does God change up his method of creation? Again, I think this is the right question to be asking. God doesn’t do these things because he is an absent-minded mad scientist. He has a reason. There are reasons why God makes man out of dirt. It teaches humility, the circle of life, etc. There are reasons why God makes woman out of a rib. Some possibilities are that since she is taken from the side of man, she is his equal and companion. She is taken from region of the body associated with feelings and the soul, implying that the relationship between man and woman is close and personal. She is made of the same stuff as man, so again she is equal. Paul comments on how it makes a beautiful symmetry, since every man after Adam was born of a woman, but the first woman came from a man – another circle of life thing.

Was there incest in the Garden of Eden? You have mentioned incest in the Garden on several occasions. I think you have two reasons for mentioning it. First, if Eve is Adam’s clone, then is it incestuous for Adam and Eve to have intercourse? Again, Eve could not be Adam’s clone, and she may not have even been a female version of Adam’s exact genes. Even if she was, what I have to say below, applies.

Second, I believe you may be implying the common problem of where Cain got his wife. How did Adam and Eve’s children find husbands and wives? Did they all marry siblings? It is actually nowhere stated where Cain or Seth found their wives. It is theoretically possible that God created wives for both of them. I kind of doubt that, however. We do know that Adam and Eve had other children besides Cain, Abel, and Seth (see Genesis 5:4), so I would assume that both Cain and Seth married their sisters.

Wait, what? Isn’t that incest? Well, if it is incest, then there is a good chance that even according to atheist scientists the human race is the product of incest. There is some possibility that scientists can prove that all human beings trace back to a common mother known as Mitochondrial Eve (and perhaps even a common father). Whether or not this can be proven scientifically, it just seems obvious that in an evolutionary scheme a new species must initially multiply by “incest,” or else they cease to be a unique species. The issue of incest is as much a problem for people who do not believe the Bible as it is for people who do believe the Bible.

But why does the issue of incest not bother evolutionary biologists? For one thing, there is a matter of necessity. If you are the only two homo sapiens and you want to perpetuate your species, you must procreate and have your children procreate with each other. For another thing, there is the lack of danger of genetic issues. One of the main reasons for banning incest is that excessive inbreeding causes genetic deformities and other genetic problems. However, early on in the history of a species, there has not yet been enough inbreeding to make this an issue. As portions of the population divide up and only breed within their isolated group, the gene pool becomes more and more limited, and then genetic issues are more likely in incestuous relationships.

You can actually see this in the Old Testament. God does eventually put a stop to incest, but it is only after the gene pools in the various people groups have become more limited. Although God does not entirely explain why he bans incest, I think he was well aware of the genetic dangers involved, and I think that would have been one of his reasons.

So, a question for you, how do you explain the “incest” among your early ancestors?

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Why Do You Doubt Miracles?

Hero and villain,

Before I respond to the specific issues you raise, I wanted to respond to a common thread that runs through your comments: skepticism concerning miracles.

Are you writing off the Bible as a fairy tale simply because it contains stories of miracles? In other words, are you assuming that miracles cannot ever happen under any circumstance, and that any account of a miracle must therefore be false? If so, then why do you believe that way?

In your comments, I can find at least three reasons why you are skeptical of miracles. I am doing my best to represent your ideas, but please correct me if I have misunderstood you!

First, you have trouble with the miracle stories because they are unique. You say, “Have you ever seen a talking snake?…I have never seen anyone split a river. I have never seen a burning bush talking to me.” In other words, you are troubled by the fact that some of the accounts of miracles are foreign to the experience of most human beings throughout history.

It is true that the Bible records events that are historically unique, but that is the point. The uniqueness of these events is what makes them important and what makes them worthy of recording in written form. The Bible does not record all of the normal, everyday, boring things that happened to every human being who has ever lived. Miracles were not happening all of the time or all over the place. Miracles were important, landmark events in biblical history.

This is similar to what we find in any history book. History books do not record every time that George Washington stopped to take a sip of water or adjust his wig. No, only the memorable and significant events are recorded, and the most memorable and significant events of history are all unique. This does not cause us to doubt that the events happened. It is their uniqueness that has made them so memorable.

Second, you have trouble accepting miracle stories because you yourself have never witnessed a miracle. I am in the same boat. I would have to say that I have never personally witnessed a miracle. Does this make me doubt that miracles have happened? Not really. As I said above, it is the uniqueness of miracles that makes them so significant. Furthermore, I have never personally been an eyewitness to any significant event of history, but this does not cause me to doubt any of those historical events.

Third, and perhaps most foundationally, you reject miracle stories because miracles violate the laws of science. There is a sense in which I agree with you. Miracles are by definition events that appear to us to contradict, supersede, or bypass the normal ways that we have observed the world to consistently behave. This is exactly what makes miracles so unique. If the events of the Bible could all be explained by a simple appeal to the laws of science, what would be the point of the Bible?

I would like to put forward four thoughts about miracles and science. First, miracles affirm the laws of science. Miracles are only special if the world generally operates according to a set of predictable laws. The fact that the Bible bothers to record miracles demonstrates that the Bible assumes that the miracles are far outside of the norm. The Bible assumes scientific law. That is why the Bible records miracles.

Second, miracles actually do not “violate” scientific law. Let me explain what I mean by using an example. If I were to drop a book, we would all predict that according to the law of gravity, the book should fall to the floor – all things being equal. In other words, as long as nothing interferes with the book’s fall, the book should fall all the way to the floor. But suppose when I drop the book, someone steps in to catch it. Since someone catches it, the book does not fall to the floor. Has the law of gravity been violated? No, because the law of gravity predicted that the book would fall to the floor only if nothing else interfered. Something else did interfere, so everything happened as the law of gravity predicted.

This is how things work with miracles. The laws of science always operate as long as nothing else interferes. With a miracle something interferes. God steps in and acts. God does not violate the laws of science any more than catching the book violates the law of gravity.

Third, there is a sense in which the laws of science are themselves miraculous. The Bible teaches that God created the universe with all of its “laws.” The Bible actually takes it further. God not only created the laws of the universe, but he also is the one who maintains them (see for instance, Genesis 8:22). The reason the universe is such an orderly, predictable place (scientifically speaking) is because God works tirelessly and vigilantly to keep it that way. From this perspective, miracles are a lot less troubling.

Fourth, without the perspective of God-maintained order, how is anyone able to put such faith in scientific law? The reason I am so confident that gravity will continue to work is that I believe in an orderly God who maintains the law of gravity. How does anyone who doesn’t believe in God have that same confidence? How can anyone believe that the laws of science have always been and will always be? There is no reason to believe that way without God. It is merely wishful thinking or a philosophical assumption.

So, I am very comfortable with both the laws of science and the historicity of biblical miracles. I believe that the existence of the God of the Bible adequately explains both scientific law and miracles. But I am curious, how do you explain your belief in scientific law?

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The Lord Reigns: Thoughts on Psalm 93

God is king. He doesn’t just hold a title. He is not just a figurehead or a holdover from a past era. He actively reigns.

God’s kingship is not just a brute fact. It is glorious. He is a king who reigns in majesty and beauty. He deserves not only obedient allegiance, but also awe and worship.

God’s reign is universal. There are no boundaries to his empire. His territory extends the full limits of time and space…and beyond. Every force of nature, every object, every living thing, every human nation, and every human being are within his rightful domain.

God’s reign is eternal. He has always been king. There was no coronation ceremony. No one died to give him the title. No one crowned him. No one voted him into office. No political movement propelled him to the throne. No historical document began his reign or enshrined his dynasty.

God will always be king. He will never die. No rebel movement can overthrow him. No challenger can usurp his power and authority. No plot can bring him down. His reign is not dependent on the will of his people.

God’s justice is inescapable. No evil is hidden from his sight. No wrongdoing will go unpunished. His judgments are final, and his wrath is total.

God’s power is limitless. His strength is not measured by the number of his soldiers or the technology of his weapons. His might is in his own hands. There is nothing that can stop him from accomplishing all that he desires and has planned. There is no obstacle he cannot overcome. There is no vow that is beyond his ability to fulfill.

God is truthful. He never lies. He always keeps his promises. He never hides from his people information that they need to know. There are no surprise skeletons in his closet.

God’s laws are perfect. His decrees aim towards justice and peace. His commands can be trusted to lead to life of goodness and joy.

God is holy. He is neither corrupt nor corruptible. There is no tarnish on his record. He himself is the standard of perfection. Only people who reflect his holy perfection may come into his presence without fear.

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