Allen, Steven Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality, 1990,
By Jeffrey Stueber, all rights reserved
My essay seeks reviewers, see how
One day as I browsed my local half-price bookstore, I came upon Steven Allen's Steven Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality. A book by Steve Allen? The comedian? Here I suspected I could find an unbiased useful survey of the Bible. I was truly surprised. Allen is a totally biased student of the Bible and my first clue should have been the publisher, Prometheus Books, a leading publisher of atheist and humanist thought. The second hint I should have received was the introduction written by Martin Gardner, a leading religious skeptic and naturalist. Apparently it doesn't disturb Prometheus Books to publish Allen's pulp on the Bible when he is not a scholar. Constantly I've heard, and read, atheist evolutionists say many Christians who don't believe in evolution don't understand it and those that write against it aren't scientists. Yet, apparently the non-scholar Allen has no trouble being thought of as a scholar of the Bible and his books are also advertised in humanist publications like those from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
you've heard the term "fundamentalist" which usually means anything
from a non-Catholic to a "Bible banger," but usually among skeptics
it means the latter. A fundamentalist is
usually a stubborn Christian who prefers his own interpretation of Biblical
events despite evidence contrary to his opinion. Usually a fundamentalist is a
Christian who actually believes events in the Bible happened and is willing to
defend his viewpoint. Skeptics like
Allen don't usually say so; they hide behind this demarcation between "fundamentalists"
and "Christians." Frequently the
prefix "ultra" is added to the word "fundamentalist" to add
even more emphasis to the point to be made as Gardner does when he asks,
"Since the new ultra-extreme fundamentalists are so displeased by
democracy, what, specifically, do they recommend as its replacement?"
These people they discuss are Christians, plain and simple. You may disagree with them as I do with many of my fellow Christian debaters, but it never occurs to me to label each group I disagree with as "ultra" or "ultra-extreme." It wouldn't make sense for me to label a tax specialist with his own interpretation of the tax code as a "tax fundamentalist," but skeptics like Allen do much the same with Christianity. It suits their purposes. Maybe his interpretation is right or mine is, but that doesn't make either of us stubborn fundamentalists. We just have our own way of viewing things. This dichotomy will also show up in Allen's discussion of evolution, a topic to which I shall return later.
My study of Allen can't neglect some of his Biblical exegesis and it starts with his study of the book of Genesis. The non-scholar says:
As a host of devout scholars has clarified - at least to the satisfaction of one another even if their work has escaped the attention of many of the faithful - the two accounts given in Genesis are not only contradictory but were written by authors familiar with earlier Canaanite and Mesopotamian creation-myths. (p. 91-92)
I have looked hard and long for a sign that there are two contradictory creation accounts, only to come up with nothing. I don't mean that casually either. I mean, I looked hard. Genesis chapter one describes the creation of light, the earth, the stars, animals and plants, and finally man. Genesis chapter two opens up with this:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. (Genesis 2: 1-4)
Thus, Genesis chapter two starts out reviewing the work done in Genesis chapter one by saying that all was completed and goes on to mention God resting on the seventh day and says all this is an account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. It then goes into more detail on the creation of man.
Genesis chapter two is not even close to being a creation account. It closes the account of chapter one instead of starting a creation account and does not even describe the creation of the animals, plants, stellar bodies, and the earth, as Genesis one does. It is instead an extension and summary of Genesis one and continues into a more descriptive account of the creation of man. Genesis chapter one and two are not contradictory because they are not accounts of the same creation or creating. What is worse is that early Hebrew texts were not divided into chapters; this was only added by later compilers and revisers. Upon eliminating the chapter segments, the whole creation account falls into line as one narrative with no contradictory accounts at all. It is that simple.
claims there are Biblical contradictions by quoting John the Baptist who said
that nobody has ever seen God face to face. (p. 242) Allen states that Moses
had seen God face to face, but has Moses really? In all the readings on Moses and the exodus
Allen attempts to back up his belief in this contradiction by saying that all who have seen Christ have seen God since He and the Father are one. Christ has said that all who have seen Him have seen God (the “Father,” specifically), but we must understand this in the historical context of the situation. When Christ said this he meant that those who saw him were seeing the qualities that God has and his intentions. Seeing Christ is not to see what God looks like facially, especially since Christ is the union of God and human flesh.
Allen cites Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of the Woman's Bible, who lists the two different creation accounts of the Elohist and Yahwist versions. Allen asks "are we to understand that the early compilers of the Old Testament were working with distinctly separate materials and could not make up their mind which account was true?" Allen derives this interpretation by comparing chapters one and two and proclaiming that there are two different creation accounts when, in fact, there are none as I previously explained. As far as the multi-author (documentary hypothesis) theory of origins of Genesis and other books of the Torah, a theory Allen seems to accept so uncritically, Gleason Archer has critiqued this theory and found it wanting.  (Interestingly, Archer is one author you won't find included in Allen's bibliography.) Archer notes this theory has been disproven. Archer points out the presuppositions that bring about this theory such as the fact theorists believe authors could not and would not use more than one name for God. However, often the same text that is used to argue for a clearly naturalistic creation of Genesis et. al. is ignored when it brings to light evidence against such naturalistic presuppositions. Names mean a lot in the Bible, as when "the woman" in Genesis is changed to "Eve" as she becomes the mother of all the living. Names represent characteristics and properties and therefore it would be no surprise that different names would be assigned to our Lord depending as how God would be perceived or would be expected to be perceived. If I applied this same approach to Allen's work, I might discover that multiple authors created his book. Does he not use different words to refer to Christians - "fundamentalists" and "ultra-fundamentalists"?
Poor logic also accompanies Allen as he says:
One is tempted
to ask our fundamentalist friends who insist on Creationist
"science": Since God ultimately "permitted" mankind
to discover that the world was not created in six days, that there are worlds
beyond our solar system, and that man was not created in his present form in
one day, why didn't he tell the author(s) of Genesis those facts? If he could part the waters of the
Ignoring the obvious debate over the meaning of the word "day" hinted at in Allen's listing of the first few passages of Genesis and his questioning of why God allowed man to think he was created on the sixth day when in fact it wasn't, Allen's suggestion the author of Genesis be granted more knowledge of science bears close scrutiny. Presumably, assuming the earth is billions of years old (which is in doubt), Allen would have God inform Moses that "on the five-hundred millionth day of the earth's existence, I created plants, and on the five-hundred and twenty millionth day of the earth's existence I created elephants and tigers and bears [ad nauseam]." Allen for all his fine efforts at looking behind every nook and cranny, can't see the obvious poetic method of writing where days creating parallel "days filling," a fact brought out brilliantly in my NIV Bible. Imparting knowledge or wisdom to others using poetic methods of arranging data is not unknown to the Jews and often I read that Jesus may have used this method when speaking to his disciples. We can see the ease of remembering was more important than scientific description while we may so scrupulously attempt to derive scientific theories of creation from these Biblical accounts.
Similarly, Allen criticizes the Genesis record when it says the waters would be gathered together in one spot and dry land would appear. Allen says, "One does not have to be a geologist to know that the waters of the earth are not gathered into one place. There are five oceans and many seas, gulfs, bays, fiords, rivers, lakes, ponds, and puddles." Again, what would Allen have had God say? Perhaps the account should have read, "The waters were gathered in two oceans, five bays, ten rivers [ad nauseam]." What was important here is that water was separated from land and water was now "in one place" (in one spot) whereas land was "in one place," in a place its own.
Trying to debunk the picture of Jesus presented in the Gospels results in some wacky theories. A short time ago I read something in a science magazine (I could not find it at the time of writing) about scientific explanations for some of the Biblical miracles. As I peered at the article while an acquaintance of mine read the magazine I noticed a so-called "scientific explanation" for Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead. This theory came from a humanist (big surprise?) who claimed that Jesus merely resuscitated Lazarus and did not raise him from the dead.
There are a few problems with this. First, as we look at the account of this, we find the disciples misunderstood the words of Jesus and thought that Lazarus was only sleeping. However, Jesus quickly corrects them and informs them Lazarus was not alive anymore. Was Jesus lying?
We should also ask how Jesus knew that Lazarus was still alive. If Jesus really knew that Lazarus was not dead, then He lied when He told the disciples that Lazarus was dead. This however goes against the nature of Jesus clearly portrayed in the Gospels. He was not a deceiver nor did He speak as one. If he really knew that Lazarus was alive, how was it that he knew this? Knowing this amounts to almost a miracle because there would be no way of knowing the state of Lazarus' body in that tomb. Also, how did Lazarus know that Jesus knew that he was alive and how did Lazarus know that Jesus was going to come to the tomb and say, "Lazarus come out"? We must picture in our minds Lazarus sulking by the entrance waiting for Jesus to give the word, but this goes completely against the grain of the story. There is no evidence that Jesus was in collusion with anyone to pull off any false pretenses of being the Messiah. It clearly doesn't make sense. What makes sense is that Jesus and Lazarus weren't in collusion and that Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead according to his divine word. No other theory fits the facts including this humanist theory.
It has always been the desire of the skeptic to denounce and disprove the historical biography of Jesus presented in the Gospels. They, the skeptics, either downgrade Jesus from Lord to man, try to claim his existence is fabrication, or take other routes. The Bible casts Jesus as the dividing point in history; either you're for him or against him. History reveals this perspective to be accurate.
Of course, Allen can't leave the subject of Christ's resurrection alone either. Allen discusses certain "resurrection" myths by noting that some people believe others besides Christ have risen from the dead. He compares sightings of Christ to tales of sightings of Elvis and James Dean. (p. 370) I should perhaps mention that one other person has received that honor: Marilyn Monroe. The issue is not how many people have supposedly been sighted like this. The issue is whether Allen's comparison stacks up to the available evidence. Allen is incorrect because in no way, shape, or form do we find that the Christian church's belief in the resurrection of Christ is comparable to the mythical sightings of Dean, Elvis, or Monroe. Can anyone show me a group of people that have so quickly built a church out of sightings of Elvis and others and been so ready to preach the truth of their resurrections and proclaimed it far and wide even to the point of willingness to suffer to the point of death? Can anyone show me a group of people that built a church that claims to have originated in less than two months after a celebrity died and was supposedly seen alive, such that gravestones are found with the words of people who prayed to that celebrity as a god?  Can anyone show me a church built around the sighting of that celebrity which is still functioning today? I can't think of anything that fits those criteria which the Christian church demonstrates. Obviously Allen hasn't done his homework on this one either.
Now to his discussion of evolution, a favorite subject of mine. Allen states:
Just as it is absurd for the fundamentalists, who interpret the entire Bible literally, to deny the existence of evolution, given that the reality of that process is readily observable, it is equally erroneous to suggest that if evolution exists, the mere fact of its existence rules out the possibility that there is a God. In reality, there is no necessary connection or disconnection, between evolution and God. The majority of well-educated Christians and other religionists believe, in fact, that evolution has been God's practical method of creating and developing all aspects of nature that are alive, which is to say, plants and animals. It is apparently only fundamentalists who are confused about this.
Allen does score some points with me when he later says that evangelicals do draw a line at what they believe evolution can do because animals take on different forms - the Biblical "kinds" -wherein limited variation is possible. While there are many questions to be yet debated, one fortunate result, he says, is that both sides have more sharply refined their arguments. Yet, this wisdom is hurt by Allen's failure to understand the breadth of the concept in evolution as proposed by writers who speak for mainstream science - Gould, Dawkins, Sagan, and the like - science textbooks and magazines such as Discover, and television shows on many cable channels such as TLC (the Learning Channel) and PBS (the Public Broadcasting Station). One key teaching of the Bible is that God created the world and life on it and Darwinist evolution and non-Darwinist evolution teaches us that any god in the Christian sense had nothing to do with that process. How Allen might proceed to merge these two ideas, non-guided evolution with guided-evolution, I would appreciate having explained because it is like arguing random evolution created a motorcycle and then saying this does not interfere with the beliefs of millions who hold to the belief that Harley builders create them. Allen would pale in comparison to the likes of Phillip Johnson, Charles Hodge, Duane Gish, Robert Shapiro, Michael Behe, Alan Hayward, Robert Jastrow, Stephen Gould, Richard Dawkins, Michael Denton, and so forth who understand what is meant by evolution and what's at stake in this debate. Also interesting is the fact that in the discussion Allen has no quotations to back up his wisdom, something common in other parts of his book.
While Allen believes that the majority of well-educated Christians believe there is no contradiction between evolution and Christianity, a recent poll in a New York Times report of August 29, 1982, stated 44 percent of Americans polled held to the Genesis account of creation and of those remaining, 38 percent believed that man evolved from lower life and God directed the process. Only nine percent believe in evolution in which God had no part.  That poll is old in comparison to Allen's book but it is doubtless the figures could have changed that much and they certainly don't show that the "majority" of Christians see no contradiction between evolution and creation.
What we actually
see in these words from Allen is the standard bait and switch. We're given Christianity with all it's glory
- the creation, the fall, the redemption - and it is torn down by skeptics with
few tears. Yet, in the eyes of skeptics like Allen, it's not Christians that
believe that God created the world and that there's an irreconcilable
contradiction between creation and evolution, it's just some fundamentalists
that believe this. This same method can be used elsewhere. It's not all
Christians who believe in Christ's redemptive acts and his resurrection, it's
just some fundamentalists who believe this. It's not all Christians who believe God led
The real problem
with humanists is their inability to clearly understand Christianity and its
tenets. They're often well versed in
their Bertrand Russell or their Huxleys but know so
little about "mere" Christianity (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis)
or Biblical apologetics. To give an
example, I start with Gardner who uses Jimmy Swaggart
for his sample of Christianity when asking rhetorically, or so it seems,
"Has not that biblical `authority,' Jimmy Swaggart,
assured us that even Mother Teresa and most Catholic priests are on the road to
The real problem Gardner and Allen see is one Allen refers to when he speaks of the proposition that the entire human race would be placed in danger of a fiery eternity because a man disobeyed a deity by eating a piece of fruit. (p. xiv) Allen later says even though there is something that resembles original sin, it is absurd to suggest its mere existence merits divine punishment or the existence of a divine savior. (p. 340) This first statement suggests sin is merely a manifestation of one man (Adam) while we are bystanders with no ties to Christ's redemptive work which was not for us, while Allen's later suggestion claims we aren't bad enough to merit any redemptive work. I don't know how many times I was reminded in grade school that Christ died for me (the same would be said by others). Astronomer Hugh Ross even goes so far as to suggest the multiple dimensionality of God allowed Christ to suffer for the sins of each and every one of us - "experience the payment for the sins of every human who has ever lived or will ever live."  What this means is that Gardner and Allen grasp one Christian truth (sin, hell, salvation) while failing to grasp another (Christ's death as payment for all sin and the necessity for it) and this leads to the skewed interpretation and commentary of Allen and Gardner. (I don’t agree with Ross, by the way, but this does show that the concept that all people are to blame for Christ’s redeptive act is so well known that even progressive creationist Ross has to find a way to explain how Christ could pay for all sins.)
As far as humanism goes, Steve Allen is obviously biased toward it. He refers to the "accomplishments of humanism" while showing no such obvious regard to Christianity. He refers to those who are "threats" to secular humanism by alluding to a supposed convention where religious fundamentalists are gathering to discuss what must be done about humanism.
Who might be present at such a convention? There would be a sizable representation of Christian and other religious fundamentalists, and it would be a good question as to whether Islamic fundamentalists could set aside their differences with one another and with their Christian counterparts long enough to attend to the business of the moment.
There would be few, if any, astronomers present, although astrologers would be well-represented. So would spiritualists and supermarket-journal prognosticators. There would be frequent squabbles between such quacks and charlatans on the one hand and Christians on the other, since the latter often attribute pseudoscience to the Devil. (p. 203)
The number of errors in this rant are numerous. First, Allen forgets that in 1964 the Supreme Court ruled that secular humanism is a religion. Edward Ericson agrees that humanism is a religion and argues that "it is possible to base a vibrant religion on Humanistic and ethical faith."  Secular humanism is based on evolution and its corollaries, and atheist evolutionists can be very religious at times. Therefore, if he wants to throw a group of religious fundamentalists together, perhaps he should throw in secular humanists and evolutionists as well.
Allen states that there would be few astronomers and "all physical anthropologists are all evolutionist" obviously because he feels astronomy is a science beyond the reasoning and research of the religious and because of the disgust he has for creationists who believe in a young earth. What he doesn't realize is that there are creationists who do believe in an old earth and accept it unconditionally. Hugh Ross, certainly an avid Christian, is one. So, if we did have this convention he is talking about, perhaps Hugh Ross would at least be in attendance, and perhaps a few other astronomers he doesn't know. As far as all anthropologists being evolutionists, one author I have, Marvin Lubenow, is an anthropologist and creationist. I don't blame Allen for not knowing of Lubenow; no one person can have knowledge of all writers. Yet, Allen has said "all" anthropologists are evolutionists and has thus left himself open to criticism for making a bold statement without anything to back it up.
So after I have quoted from Allen several times, what judgment can we make of his position on religion? Allen states that his research has not weakened his faith in God. (p. xxxv) I would like to know which god he is referring to. If it is not the God of the Bible, then which one? Maybe he is referring to some God that "is just out there" waiting to be discovered. Maybe it is some type of pantheistic god he hopes for. Allen speaks of a belief in a god but appears to talk like an atheist. Allen, in my opinion, is very close to being an atheist, despite his appeal to a god which he does not seem to know. This is the stuff of atheism is made of and Allen is dangerously close to it.
On a passing note, I have been informed that Allen is dead now so my criticisms fall on deaf ears.
1. I used to believe that God appeared literally to the Jews in a cloud, as in the clouds we see in the sky. I now think that the cloud was a cloud of sand or dirt, as what would be expected when the Jews were in the desert. Since the cloud led them, this fact no way hinders the narrative.
2. Walter Kaiser et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, 1996, Intervarsity Press: Downer's Grove, IL, p. 155
3. Gleason Archer,
A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1964, 1974, rev., Moody
4. I am referring to ossuaries, limestone boxes used for the redeposit of the bones of the dead. Two osssuaries from Talpioth, discovered in 1945, were called the earliest records of Christianity. These contain inscriptions which seem to be prayers to Jesus for the help and the resurrection. The find indicates that the tomb in which they were contained belonged to the period before 50 A.D. See Yamauchi, Stones and Scriptures, p. 121-122; As recently as 1995 Grant Jeffrey refers to these in his book Final Warning.
Also see an article by Jean Gilman at http://www.leaderu.com/theology/burialcave.html which speaks of these same types of burial caves
5. Richard A. Baer
Jr., "They Are Teaching Religion in the Public Schools," Christianity
6. Alvin Platinga, "Methodological Naturalism?" Origins & Design 18:1; www.arn.org
7. Ross, Hugh, The Creator and the
Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific
Discoveries of the Century Reveal God, 1993, NavPress:
8. Edward Ericson, The
. I used to believe that God appeared literally to the Jews in a cloud, as in the clouds we see in the sky. I now think that the cloud was a cloud of sand or dirt, as what would be expected when the Jews were in the desert. Since the cloud led them, this fact no way hinders the narrative.
. Walter Kaiser et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, 1996, Intervarsity Press: Downer's Grove, IL, p. 155
. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testmant
Introduction, 1964, 1974, rev., Moody Press:
. I am referring to ossuaries, limestone boxes used for the redeposit of the bones of the dead. Two osssuaries from Talpioth, discovered in 1945, were called the earliest records of Christianity. These contain inscriptions which seem to be prayers to Jesus for the help and the resurrection. The find indicates that the tomb in which they were contained belonged to the period before 50 A.D. See Yamauchi, Stones and Scriptures, p. 121-122
As recently as 1995 Grant Jeffrey refers to these in his book Final Warning.
. Richard A. Baer Jr., "They Are Teaching Religion
in the Public Schools," Christianity Today,
. Alvin Platinga, "Methodological Naturalism?" Origins & Design 18:1; www.arn.org
. Ross, Hugh, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of
the Century Reveal God, 1993, NavPress:
. Edward Ericson, The