“The Bible was WRONG”… or Not; Religious Illiteracy in West Reaches New Low

Drouais Caananite Woman

Letter IImagine for a moment being told that your history book is wrong because archaeologists digging in Georgia have discovered evidence that the United States previously allowed slavery. You would rightly scratch your head, because anybody who knows anything about U.S. history knows that slavery has always been one of its defining features. A similar scenario recently played out in headlines across the web.

As background, the above painting is an oil on canvas by the eighteenth century French painter Jean-Germain Drouais. It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris and is entitled ‘The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ.’

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent headlines this painting should come as quite a shock. Sources from USA Today to The Telegraph and Science and Daily Mail all rushed to the presses in recent weeks to report that “The Bible was WRONG,” “DNA vs the Bible,“The Bible got in wrong,” “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim,” “Was The Bible Wrong?,” amongst others.

Everyone rushed at the chance to throw out a clickbaity title about the how the Bible has finally been proven wrong. Independent, in an attempt to be especially salty, opened their article with a defamatory quote against Christianity by renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, asserting that the God of the Old Testament is “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser … a genocidal … megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

The headlines were all based around a study linking ancient Canaanite and present-day Lebanese genome sequences. The study is standard enough. It doesn’t claim to be culture shattering or a blow against the dogma of the church, it’s just making an observation. The rub comes with the fact that, as ArsTechnica put it:

“[In the Bible] First, God orders the Hebrews to destroy the Canaanites along with several other groups, and later we hear that the Canaanites have actually been wiped out.”

So how can modern Lebanese be related to ancient Canaanites if all the Canaanites were wiped out? Simple, the Bible must be wrong!!! A win for skeptics everywhere!

The problem is, of course, that we never hear later that the Canaanites have actually been wiped out. In fact a key theme throughout much of the Old Testament is the very fact that they haven’t been wiped out:

“They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim”–Joshua 16:10

“However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.”–Joshua 17:13

“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.”–Judges 1:28

“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them.–Judges 1:28-29

Other Canaanites show up elsewhere, with special attention given to the Canaanite woman in the gospel of Matthew (as depicted above). The text of the Bible is emphatically clear that the Canaanites were not destroyed,  indeed, they weren’t even driven out. So why the headlines?

In short:

  1. Because these headlines make good clickbait. Clicks = revenue for websites, so anything they can do to get you to click on their headline is a win in their book.
  2. Because many throughout the world – mainly in the West – will give anything for definitive proof that the Bible is wrong. As G.K. Chesterton put it, it’s “as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.”
  3. Because the culture at large is profoundly ignorant of what the Bible actually says or what Christianity actually entails.

The third point here is of special relevance. It’s nothing new that reporters will write anything to get readers. It’s also nothing new that many outside the faith will grab onto anything that has potential to be used as a blunt object against religion.

What is most noteworthy is the fact that the culture at large is simply and utterly unaware of what is contained in the Bible.

I once had a conversation with someone who was aghast that the God of the Bible would only save those who lived up to his standard, which is the almost the polar opposite of how salvation actually works in the Scriptures. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, Barna has long reported that most non-Christians have a works-righteousness vision of Christianity, believing that those who ‘go to heaven’ do so because of their good works.

That many – indeed, most – in the West are unaware of the basic ideas or details presented in the Bible isn’t terribly worthy of note on its own. The issue is that most in the West seem to be think that are aware of what the Bible contains, have little desire to figure out what it does contain, and have rejected it nonetheless. It must be admitted that this phenomena is to a large degree due to the insufferability of some Christians.

It is often said that the western world has rejected Christianity, but stories like the one here force us to reckon with the fact that perhaps those in the western world haven’t rejected Christianity, for the simple reason that they have no idea what it is. 


In an attempt to regain credibility without outright saying “we were idiots”, many of the news articles listed have edited their original stories, slipping in statements to the effect that “other passages suggest some Canaanite people may have survived the initial order.” But there is no “may have survived” about it, they emphatically did survive, and all the reporters were emphatically clueless about the actual content of the text, so much so that even Evolution News was led to call shenanigans with the wonderfully titled piece: “For Culturally Illiterate Science Reporters, Canaanite DNA Yields Occasion to Slap Bible Around.”

Finally, it’s worth noting again that what we have here is not a clash between science and religion. It’s not “culturally illiterate scientists” but “culturally illiterate science reporters.” The researchers involved in this study didn’t write the headlines, didn’t say their research disproved the Bible, they were just being good researchers. This should not be used as a platform for bashing scientists, as many Christians are wont to do. An error on the side of non-Christians doesn’t give Christians license to make errors of their own in turn.

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