Freethought Today, September 1997
The Freethought Debater
By Dan Barker
In May, I participated in a debate in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sponsored by the Optimists, against Dr. Walter Kaiser, president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The topic was "God and the Bible: Fact or Fable?"
Preparing for this event, I learned that the primary definition of "fable" involves talking animals. Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary gives: "fable -n. 1. a fictitious narrative intended to teach some moral truth or precept, in which animals and sometimes inanimate objects are represented as speakers and actors."
In my opening statement, I mentioned this fact and then read from Genesis 3: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" In the first pages of the bible, we find a talking snake! Since the theologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam hinge on this morality tale of The Fall, they are founded on a fable.
I also read Numbers 22: "And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day?" The bible mentions other speaking animals, like a lion, calf, and eagle, singing, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" (Rev. 4:6-8).
Satan himself is depicted as a talking beast: "Behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns, and seven crowns . . . And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan" (Rev. 12:3,9).
"I don't think you understand what Genesis 3 is talking about," Kaiser objected. "I think that's a title being given to the Evil One. I don't think that it in any way, in the text itself, indicates that it was a reptile."
"So this was the Devil, 'Satan,' talking?" I asked.
"I think it is," Kaiser responded.
"You mean the red dragon with seven heads and ten horns?" I said. "That's who was talking in the garden?"
"No. Stick to the text in Genesis, what it claims. Don't mish-mash and go from one to the other and therefore confuse it," he admonished.
Kaiser just contradicted himself, because there is nothing in Genesis to support his claim that the Hebrew-speaking serpent was Satan. He denounced my "mish-mashing" the snake of Genesis 3 with the "red dragon" of Rev. 12:3, yet that is exactly what he does with the "Devil" of Rev. 12:9. The book of Revelation, written centuries later by Greek-speaking Christians, is the only place in the bible where Satan is described as a snake. Not a single biblical writer places Satan in the Garden of Eden.
"The bible contains a lot of allegory, with speaking animals," I continued. "To me, that's a fable . . ."
"Those were your words, 'lot of allegory,'" Kaiser interrupted. "You are putting a value judgment on that, and your value judgment is clouding your ability to do rational thought. I thought you were a rationalist. Now you're becoming an emotionalist," he said, laughing.
"When I was driving up here," I continued, "I stopped to get gas, went in for a coffee break, and as I was going into the little shop, a cat came up to me and said, 'Stay away from the tuna sandwiches.' Do you believe that?"
"Uh, I have my doubts about it."
"Why would you doubt that a cat could speak?"
"Because we need evidence, that's why."
Exactly. That's why the bible is a fable.