Every year, citizens of the United States celebrate Independence Day on July 4.  But why?  Suppose someone answered, “That is the date in which the fictional characters Steve Miller and David Levinson saved the world from invading extraterrestrials, as shown in the sci-fi movie Independence Day.  That is why we celebrate on the 4th of July.”  That would be absurd because the reality of our independence cannot be based on fictional events in a movie.

Rather, Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4 to commemorate the actual historical signing of the Declaration of Independence which signified the separation of the United States from Britain.  It would make no sense to celebrate an event that never actually happened.  On the contrary, the signing of the Declaration of Independence was a real event that actually happened in history.  The events of history are why the United States has independence.

It would be absurd to attempt to explain a present reality on the basis of fiction.  And yet this is exactly what William Lane Craig has been attempting to do with Genesis.  There can be no doubt that the events recorded in Genesis form the foundational basis of the biblical worldview held by Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians.  Even Craig admits this when he says, “The primaeval history of Genesis 1–11, including the stories of Adam and Eve, functions as Israel’s foundational myth, laying the basis of Israel’s worldview.”  Yet, Craig also insists that the events in Genesis are myth, and did not literally happen.  If he were correct, then the biblical worldview would be wrong since truth cannot be based on falsehood.  Craig professes to be a Christian.  And yet, he rejects the foundational truths of Genesis upon which the Christian worldview is based!  Such thinking is dreadfully inconsistent. 

We will now continue to analyze Craig’s claims in his recent article “The Historical Adam.”  After some discussion of the events in Genesis 1-3, Craig continues with the following.

Craig: Further, attempts to ground natural phenomena in the primordial past abound in the account in Genesis 3 of the primordial couple’s disobedience to God as a result of their seduction by the serpent and of the punishments pronounced by God upon the serpent, the man, and the woman.

Lisle: The problem here is that Craig is inconsistent.  On the one hand, he correctly notes that Genesis “grounds” or explains natural phenomena such as death and suffering.  On the other hand, Craig doesn’t believe that such events literally happened in history.  But if they didn’t literally happen, then they cannot ground or explain anything in reality! 

Craig: Though the story does not explain the origin of evil as such—the deceitful serpent simply appears in the Garden, opposing God—it does offer a multifaceted explanation of human misery as a result of sin.

Lisle: The Genesis account only explains human misery as a result of sin if Adam and Eve actually sinned!  If the events of Genesis are not literal history, then they explain nothing.

Craig: So even though attempts to show direct borrowing of Genesis 1–11 from ancient Near Eastern myths are fraught with conjecture and uncertainty, it cannot be denied that these chapters treat ­many of the same themes as do ancient Near ­Eastern myths, and that they seek to ground present realities in events of the primordial past. In terms of genre, Genesis 1–11 has key characteristics of myth.

Lisle: Craig again confuses style with substance.  The style of Genesis is historical narrative.  This means that the author intended for it to be taken as real, literal history.  The fact that Genesis deals with origins is utterly irrelevant to its style, and is thus irrelevant to the way the text should be interpreted.

Yes, Genesis deals with origins.  If origins stories didn’t deal with origins, then they wouldn’t be origins stories.  This is true whether the story is simply invented fiction, or a historical record.  So, Craig’s efforts to dissuade people from believing in Genesis by reclassifying it as myth fails.  The stories of the big bang and Darwinian evolution “treat ­many of the same themes as do ancient Near ­Eastern myths, and … seek to ground present realities in events of the primordial past.”  Would Craig say that they are myth?  If not, then he contradicts himself.  If so, then he cannot claim that myths are always non-literal since he affirms the big bang and Darwinian evolution as literal.

I would suggest that one of the key characteristics of what most people consider to be a myth is that it is a story made up by people who did not witness the events of the story.  That would include all Ancient Near Eastern myths, and it would also include the big bang and Darwinian evolution as myths.  No one saw any of these things happen.  Yet, the events of Genesis are historical and were witnessed by God Himself who inspired Moses to write the text.[1]

The bottom line is that we have every reason to believe that the events recorded in Genesis 1-11 were real, literal, historical events.  And we have no reason at all to believe that Ancient Near Eastern myths (or the big bang or Darwinian evolution) reflect real events since they were made up by people who did not witness such events.

Craig: That is not the whole of the story, however. Another feature of these chapters must be taken into account: their apparent interest in history.

Lisle: And this is the fatal flaw in Craig’s speculation.  Genesis is written as history.  There can be no doubt that the author of Genesis intended for the events to be understood as literal events that actually happened.  But this is contrary to Craig’s claim that Genesis 1-11 is non-literal, and not to be understood as real history.  How will Craig attempt to overcome this inconsistency?

Craig: This interest is most clearly expressed in the genealogies that order the narratives chronologically. The narratives of Genesis are interspersed with genealogical notices that include the principal characters in lines of descent, thus turning the primaeval narratives into a primaeval history. We have in Genesis 1–11 not a cluster of unordered prehistoric stories, but a chronological account beginning at the moment of creation and carrying through to the call of Abraham.

Lisle: Indeed, this is devastating to Craig’s position.  As one example, Genesis chapter 5 records the entire lineage from Adam to Noah.  The account includes such details as the age of one patriarch when the next is born, the time the patriarch lived after the birth of the next one, and the total years of the patriarch’s life.  Such attention to detail is the mark of historical narrative. 

Moreover, these genealogies continue up to and beyond Abraham (Genesis 11, 25:1-20).  Craig wants to accept Genesis 12 and beyond as literal history, while dismissing Genesis 1-11 as myth (or “mytho-historical”).  But there is no change in style at chapter 12.  It continues to record historical details such as the ages and descendants of various patriarchs (Genesis 25:1-20). 

Craig: Mere chronology, however, is not sufficient to indicate a historical interest. The Enuma ­Elish contains chronologically arranged stories but hardly has a historical interest.

Lisle: Notice that Craig has subtly switched topics.  He had pointed out “the genealogies that order the narratives chronologically” but now switches to “mere chronology” which is different.  It is the detailed information in these genealogies (such as ages) that mark the text as literal history.  A fictional story meant to entertain or prove a point would not be bogged down by details that are so irrelevant to the main point.  “Mere chronology” just means a story in which the events are ordered in time.  But that is true of almost any story whether fictional or historical.  Parables are chronologically ordered.  So, Craig’s reference to the Enuma Elish is utterly irrelevant to the fact that Genesis is written in historical narrative. 

The Enuma Elish does not contain anything even remotely resembling the genealogical information of Genesis 5.  It lacks specific details like dates or chronological genealogies that are a staple of historical narrative, but would bog down a fictional story.  You can see this for yourself by examining this English translation of the Enuma Elish.[2]

Craig: What makes Genesis 1–11 different is that the genealogies meld seamlessly into the historical period of the ­patriarchs, where the historical interest is obvious and not in dispute. Just as Abraham is presented as a historical person, so his ancestors are presented as historical persons.

Lisle: Quite right.  And this refutes Craig’s claim that Genesis 1-11 is myth.  The style is historical narrative throughout.  There is no change in Genesis 12. 

Craig: If the first eleven chapters of Genesis are in one sense myth, they are in another sense history.

Lisle: The problem of course is that Genesis is not a myth in the main sense of the word.  We have already exposed Craig’s equivocation fallacy involving the word ‘myth.’  If we define myth as “an origins narrative that grounds the worldview of a people group,” then both Genesis and the big bang qualify.  But such a definition allows for such a myth to be literal history as well, which Craig rejects for Genesis 1-11.  So, Craig then subtly switches to the more common usage of ‘myth’ as something that is not grounded in reality.  Essentially his argument is:

1. Genesis is myth [definition 1].  
2. Myths [definition 2] are non-literal.
3. Therefore, Genesis is non-literal.

Of course, this is an obvious equivocation fallacy, or fallacy of four terms, because the word ‘myth’ does not have the same meaning in the first premise as it has in the second premise.  Another example of this is the following:

1. Feathers are light.
2. Light travels at 186,282 miles per second.
3. Therefore, feathers travel at 186,282 miles per second.

This equivocates on the work ‘light’ which in the first premise is used as an adjective meaning not heavy.  But in the second premise, ‘light’ is used as a noun, referring to electromagnetic radiation.  Thus, the argument is invalid and unsound, just like Craig’s argument.

Since Genesis 1-11 is clearly meant to be understood as literal history, and since Craig wishes to take Genesis 1-11 as myth in the sense of non-literal, he is attempting to combine these two contrary positions.  This is internally incoherent and rationally indefensible. 

Craig: That said, the artificial symmetry of ten antediluvian ancestors from Adam through Noah followed by ten postdiluvian ancestors from Shem though Abraham, together with the fantastic life­spans of the antediluvians, indicates that we are not dealing here with straightforward history.

Lisle: Why?  How does Craig’s claim “that we are not dealing here with straightforward history” even remotely follow logically from his stated premises?  Let’s examine each premise in turn. 

First, Craig asserts that there is an “artificial symmetry” in the genealogy leading up to Abraham.  He claims there are ten antediluvian (before the global flood) ancestors (Adam through Noah) and ten postdiluvian ancestors (Shem through Abraham).  But that is incorrect.  Shem was born one hundred years before the flood, so he is an antediluvian.  Thus, eleven of Abraham’s ancestors were born before the great flood, and eight were born afterwards, not including Abraham himself.  How is that “symmetric?”  If we instead go by when they die, then both Noah and Shem died after the great flood.  This would make nine pre-flood patriarchs, and eleven (including Abraham) post-flood patriarchs.   Again, it’s not symmetric.

Second, even if it were symmetric, how would that even remotely suggest that the events did not really happen?  Mark Twain was born in 1835, the same year that Halley’s Comet visited the inner solar system.  And Mark Twain died in 1910, the same year that Halley’s Comet again visited the inner solar system.  That is beautifully symmetric.  Does that imply that this is not real history?  Matthew records Christ’s genealogy from Abraham in three groups of fourteen each (Matthew 1:17).[3]  The first group ends with David, the second group ends with the Babylonian captivity, and the third group ends with Christ.  The symmetry is beautiful.  But does that symmetry imply “that we are not dealing here with straightforward history?”  If Craig answers “no” then neither can he argue that Genesis is not history.  If he answers “yes” then he denies that the Messiah is a real historical person, since the Messiah is the last of the third list of fourteen.  Clearly, Craig’s “symmetry” argument fails on multiple fronts.

Craig also argues that the “the fantastic life­spans of the antediluvians” indicates that Genesis 1-11 is not straightforward history.  Again, I must ask, “Why?”  People don’t live as long today as they did in the early history of the earth.  But upon what rational basis does Craig argue that it is impossible for people of the past to live in excess of 900 years, such that we must reject the literal meaning of the text?  Is it just his emotional preference, or does he have a scientific or logical argument for this?

At the resurrection, will we not have glorified physical bodies that live forever?  I presume that Craig accepts the resurrection of Christians to eternal life, in which case he too would accept that there will be a time when a human body can live forever.  But, if a human body cannot possibly live over 900 years, then it follows that a human body cannot live forever, since forever is much longer than 900 years.  Would Craig argue that references to eternal life are non-literal on the basis that he somehow knows that human beings just cannot live that long?

Moreover, Craig’s argument backfires on him because he wants to take Genesis 1-11 as non-literal on the basis of the long ages, but Genesis 12-50 as real history.  But in fact, many of the people in Genesis 12-50 lived much longer than what is possible for people today.  Abraham lived 175 years (Genesis 25:7), well in excess of the modern Guinness record of oldest man at 116 years.[4]  Isaac died at the age of 180.  Do these “fantastic life­spans” indicate that “we are not dealing here with straightforward history?”[5]  Craig is simply not thinking clearly on this issue.

In the next segment we will explore Craig’s attempt to meld myth with history.

[1] It is also very likely that Moses had access to early documents written by some of the people named in Genesis who were eyewitnesses to the events.  This is evidenced by the various “toledoths” found in Genesis, as in Genesis 5:1 which refers to the book of the generations of Adam.

[2] Mark, Joshua J. “Enuma Elish – The Babylonian Epic of Creation – Full Text.” World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 04, 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/225/enuma-elish—the-babylonian-epic-of-creation—fu/

[3] Matthew was very intentional in grouping the ancestors in this way.  He includes David as the last ancestor in the first group and the first ancestor in the second group.  He also did not record some ancestors; this was common in Greek at that time since the word “father” can denote a more distant ancestor such as a grandfather or great-grandfather. 

[4] The record is held by Jiroemon Kimura, from Japan.  He was born on April 19th, 1897, and died on June 12th, 2013.  The modern record for oldest women is currently held by Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 years old.

[5] As a matter of fact, the lifespans of the patriarchs tapered off gradually after the flood year.  There is no abrupt change from the long lives of our ancestors to the modern values that would mark some kind of change from fantasy to history.  On the contrary, the lifespans decreased gradually after the flood, and were still in decline at the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even Moses lived to be 120 years old, breaking our modern record.