Many people have attempted to show that the Bible is a fallible, human product and not the divinely inspired volume it claims to be (II Sam. 23:2; II Tim. 3:16,17). Just one of many examples of this kind is Philip Kitcher’s book Living With Darwin. In the last chapter of that volume Kitcher attempts to argue that a traditional belief in supernatural revelation is outmoded, outdated, faulty and wrong. Thus, Kitcher advances the idea that the Bible is full of contradictions and problematic historical references.
Kitcher’s approach to the Biblical Text is usual for those who advance that agenda. He apparently is quite comfortable with arguing that any omission of a fact in a narrative is evidence that the author did not believe the event ever happened. For instance, Kitcher states that “Matthew has wise men, but no shepherds. Luke has shepherds but no wise men.” In another quote he states that “only John picks out an individual disciple, Thomas, who refuses to believe in the resurrection without seeing and touching.” Yet another is the observations that Mark does not provide details of the beginnings of Jesus’ life. Matthew and Luke tell elaborate stories, however.
Does the fact that Luke does not mention some specifics that Matthew does, and vice versa, mean that either one or both of the records are in error? Does the fact that John is the only one to mention Thomas’ incredulity mean he fabricated this story whole cloth? Surely Mr. Kitcher would not want to make these arguments. But this is what in fact he is arguing. This is a very dishonest hermeneutic. There are many things about Darwin that Kitcher does not cover in his book, but is that reason enough to reject Kitcher out of hand? By his own standard, that would be the case.
There are many examples that could be given where authors chose the material they want to emphasize. This does not mean that they do not know about other events, but those other events do not come under the rubric of their specific purpose. In his autobiography, Ronald Reagan spends several paragraphs discussing the Achille Lauro hijacking. Dinesh D’souza, Reagan’s official biographer, does not so much as mention this event at all. Does this mean that D’souza did not know about this event? Does it mean Reagan made it up? Is there some discrepancy? Obviously, D’souza had a different purpose in writing about Reagan than did Reagan in writing about himself. Likewise, Reagan and D’souza both deal with the Air Traffic Controllers strike, but Reagan includes different details than does D’Souza. Is this another mistake? Does the fact that they were writing for different purposes mean that their respective writings are somehow flawed? These questions, of course, are rhetorical.
Selected works of Abraham Lincoln were compiled and recorded by Michael P. Johnson in his volume, Abraham Lincoln, Slavery and the Civil War. In a letter to Jesse W. Fell, a Bloomington, Illinois newspaper man and an old friend, Lincoln wrote a brief sketch of his life. In it he noted that he was born on February 12, 1809 and that his mother died in his tenth year. Yet six months later when he wrote an extended autobiography written for the 1860 presidential campaign, he wrote that he was born on February 12, 1809 and that his mother died in the autumn of 1818. This is a real discrepancy involving dates, but do we conclude from this that there was no Lincoln or that he was not president or that his writings are wrong?
It seems that Lincoln was using a device often employed in the Bible and by the average writer of rounding off numbers. The autumn of 1818, specifically October 5, 1818–the date of her death, would have been only weeks away from Abraham Lincoln’s being ten years old. Would Mr. Kitcher make the same argument here that he made for the Text of the Bible? I think not.
Mr. Kitcher knows the answers to the alleged discrepancies of the Bible. He even observes on page 136 that the Christianity with which he grew up “solved the problem in the obvious way by combining everything.” Kitcher knows full well–or at least he should know–that the Gospel accounts harmonize together in this way and that Bible scholars have, since the early centuries of Christianity, produced “fourfold gospels.” But Kitcher, and other liberal critics like him, must have mistakes in the Bible in order to hold to their anti-supernatural view of the world.
He states specifically that “not all of these conflicting reports can be literally true.” This is simply dishonesty or ignorance. It is not wise to be so driven by a desire to disprove something to the point one would engage in a dishonest treatment of a text. It is not wise to forsake sound hermeneutics in favor of an eclectic hermeneutical approach to achieve a personally preferred outcome. Mr. Kitcher, I hope, does not approach other subjects with such unchecked bias.
Eric L. Padgett