Steve Allen was an accomplished composer (he wrote somefour thousand songs). He was also a popular comedian (having hosted The Tonight Show and The Steve Allen Comedy Hour). While these accomplishments have been rehearsed in light of his recent death, few recognize that he was a humanistic philosopher of sorts. He had a vengeance toward the Bible that may be unparalleled in modern times.
One of his recent books is titled Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality. His knowledge of religion was minimal, his understanding of morality was grossly flawed, and his acquaintance with the Bible was both limited and distorted. The bibliography in his hostile composition revealed that he had read widely in works promoting skepticism, but that he knew almost nothing of conservative scholarship.
Allen was reared a Roman Catholic. However, in his early thirties he was automatically excommunicated from that association because of a second marriage. He claimed, though, that in his mid-twenties he began to have doubts about Catholicism-Christianity. Those doubts eventually led to the production of the work under review.
In this article, we will note several of the positions set forth in Allen’s book. Space limitations, of course, prevent a thorough analysis, but we will give the volume such notice as space allows.
Apparently Steve Allen is not an atheist, though it is difficult to figure out exactly what he is. For instance he confesses:
There are time-honored, creative, and intellectually respectable arguments for the existence of God" (1990, 179).
Yet, elsewhere, he alleges:
[B]oth the existence and non-existence of God seem in some respect preposterous. I accept the probability that there is some kind of divine force, however, because that appears to me the least preposterous assumption of the two (xxix; cf. 183).
According to Allen’s own admission, his faith in a “God” is significantly “preposterous,” and yet to such he clings. The reader will have to use his own judgment as to whether or not this is an intellectually respectable viewpoint.
The author makes it perfectly clear, however, that he has no regard for the God of the Bible. He hates him.
[T]he God of the Old Testament is a jealous, vengeful God (180).
Has the gentleman never read the twenty-third Psalm?
Allen cannot see how a “God” could be both virtuous and yet a being who punishes the rebellious (he constantly harps on the judgments inflicted by the Lord in Old Testament history). His conclusion would seem to be that virtue allows wickedness to reign supreme! The truth is, the “God” that exists in his mind is one that he has created—a god that has no reality in fact.
Allen makes the same hackneyed charges against the Genesis record of creation that are argued by his skeptical colleagues—baseless assertions that have been answered countless times.
For example, he contends that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two contradictory accounts of the creation. There is utterly no evidence for that position (see Jackson 1991, 9-12). He alleges that Genesis is unscientific in that it describes the heavens as a “solid platform in space containing reservoirs of water, the valves of which open to produce rain” (92).
Allen is obviously unaware of the fact that the Hebrew term raqia (erroneously rendered “firmament” in the King James Version) in Genesis 1 simply means expanse, or that which is stretched out. There is nothing in that initial chapter that would warrant his unfair caricature.
Here is another example of the author’s criticism of the Genesis record. Moses wrote that the waters of the earth were “gathered together into one place” (Genesis 1:9). But our celebrity-author asserts:
One does not have to be a geologist to know that the waters of the earth are not gathered into one place (164).
Mr. Allen is apparently unaware of the fact that “the world that then was” (2 Peter 3:6) is not the same as that which now is—a circumstance which even agnostics admit (Jastrow 1977, 69). The universal flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-9) considerably refashioned the topography of the earth.
Allen suggests that it is “absurd” to deny that living creatures have evolved from primitive life forms because “that process is readily observable” (128).
Really? On this point he differs with some of the leading evolutionists who concede that actual proof for the theory of evolution is unavailable. One prominent scientist has written:
Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation—both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present, has been capable of proof (Matthews 1971, x-xi).
When creationists challenge evolutionists to show some example of “observable” evolution (e.g., a transitional creature that is in the process of changing from one form to another), the quibble always is that the transformation is too minute and too slow to be observable!
The author charges that “the Bible is full of error, contradictions, and inconsistencies” (416-417). He describes the Scriptures as being inadequate, narrow, vindictive, absurd, illogical, and stupid (420).
When I read statements like this (and the book is riddled with them), I cannot but smile and think of Steve Allen’s self-indictment. He says that you can often identify individuals who “know little or nothing” about a topic by “the heat and anger with which they present their arguments” (64).
Let no one labor under the illusion that this book is a calm, objective, and scholarly analysis of the Bible. Allen wrote this book with a self-serving, humanistic agenda, and his work is characterized by both misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Here are some examples of his indictments against the Bible:
First, it is supposedly characterized by historical error. For instance, the reference to Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31), he claims, “is one of the Bible’s hundreds of mistakes,” since, supposedly, Ur was not associated with the Chaldeans until a thousand years after the time of Abraham. The reference is thus characterized as an anachronism.
The assertion is based upon incomplete historical information. Donald Wiseman, professor of Assyriology at the University of London, has responded to this charge:
This ancient city of Ur certainly lay in the territory called Kaldu (Chaldaea) from the early first millennium B.C. Since this area was normally named after the tribes living there, and no earlier general name for the area is known, it would be unscientific to call the reference to Ur “of the Chaldees” in the second millennium an anachronism (1975, 846).
The suggestion is also made that the narrative regarding the tower of Babel and the multiplication of languages (Genesis 11:1-9) is a “nonsensical” legend. Says the author:
It is highly unlikely that the human inhabitants of the whole earth have ever spoken only one language (43-44).
Competent language scholars, however, have argued otherwise:
Though there are countless languages and dialects, yet ultimate derivation from a parent language is revealed through the continuing studies being made across the boundaries of the major language families. Common features of syntax and vocabulary, which are similar enough, yet different enough not to be labeled borrowings, indicate that one must posit a common ancestor (Stigers 1976, 130).
Moreover, archaeological evidence has lent support to the Genesis record. George Smith of the British Museum translated a clay tablet fragment from Babylon which suggested that a certain ancient people attempted to build a huge temple. The project offended “the gods,” and so the structure was thrown down; the people were scattered abroad, and their speech was made “strange” (Caiger 1944, 29).
While the account is corrupted, it nonetheless clearly contains a reference to the Babel incident.
Another alleged example of biblical error is the record of Jericho’s fall (Joshua 6). Allen says this account “cannot possibly be defended as accurate history” (225). He quotes liberal scholars to the effect that Jericho was not even inhabited at the time Israel entered Canaan.
But he is wrong again. Archaeological evidence has clearly shown that the scriptural record is quite precise (Wood 1990, 44-58), and recent scientific tests on pottery discovered at Jericho have further verified the reliability of the book of Joshua (Livingston 1993, 2).
Allen thinks the Bible, scientifically speaking, is rather pathetic. He says that if he could cite but a single example of this weakness it would be the fact that the various writers of the Scriptures had not “the slightest idea that the earth was spherical. They all believed it to be flat” (163).
What the biblical writers may have personally believed about the shape of the earth is irrelevant. The question is did any scriptural author ever state, or imply, while writing under the claim of inspiration, that our planet is flat? Not once—and it is significant that our critic did not cite even one example.
The fact is, Isaiah spoke of the “circle of the earth” (40:22), which is quite consistent with reality.
According to Allen, examples of flawed moral instruction abound in the biblical documents. He declares that Jesus’ demand “If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother . . .” is “one of the most puzzling passages” in the entire Bible (277).
The departed author was simply uninformed of the type of idiomatic expressions that were common in ancient literature. The word “hate” is figuratively employed for loving less, as a comparison of Matthew 10:37 reveals.
Allen even faults the Lord’s parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). He charges that the shepherd’s interest in retrieving the animal was strictly selfish since all he wanted with the sheep was to rob it of its coat or to eat its flesh (279). That really is an allegation born of desperation.
These examples are but a few of the scores of unfounded accusations that Steve Allen makes regarding the Bible. They certainly illustrate the fact that he cannot be regarded as a serious scholar who is characterized by intellectual integrity. He ought to have taken his own advice and recognized that the Bible is “a profoundly important document; it has been a mighty influence on Western culture and is well worth scholarly study by every thoughtful person” (180).
Some of Steve Allen’s unbelieving kinsmen are doubtless disappointed that the illustrious entertainer-philosopher has conceded the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
Dan Barker, a Pentecostal preacher who converted to atheism, says that “the New Testament Jesus is a myth” (1992, 378). But Allen confesses his conviction that Christ was real:
My own belief is that he did indeed live in the time of Augustus Caesar.
He goes even further:
Heroic figures invariably embody ideals, but among human heroes, Jesus is supreme. For he not only preached but apparently demonstrated the virtues of compassion, charity, love, courage, faith, and intelligence. To millions he seems perfection in human form (229).
The curious thing about this tribute is this: where did Allen obtain the information regarding the magnificent Christ? Certainly not from secular historical sources. These are wholly silent regarding the character of Jesus (though conceding his existence). Allen is relying on the very book he so strenuously attempts to discredit—the New Testament.
Elsewhere he alleges that it cannot be asserted that any of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament “is true history” (320). This type of reasoning just will not commend itself to a reflective person.
Aside from the few compliments that he seems to bestow upon Jesus Christ, Allen absolutely repudiates the concept that the Lord was the Son of God (226-236). But here again the gentleman has impaled himself on the horns of a logical dilemma.
If Jesus was not the Son of God, as he surely claimed to be (see Matthew 16:16-17; Mark 14:62), then he was a dishonest charlatan—a religious huckster—who hardly deserves the accolade that he “approaches the ideal of perfection more closely than anyone else who has ever lived” (229).
Allen contends that the Bible is horribly immoral in numerous places. However, in an inconsistent fashion, the gentleman never attempts a systematic defense of his standard of morality. In a sort of off-the-cuff manner, he suggests that ethical obligation is indicated by “common sense, social custom, and practicality” (7).
Whose common sense? His? Hitler’s? Charles Manson’s? Among certain primitive tribes it is the “social custom” to eat your captured and cooked enemy. Is such moral? What if it is more “practical” to kill the elderly than to care for them? Would that have the endorsement of Mr. Allen? This volume forces us to suggest that Allen has no rational sense of morality.
Here is an example of his logic: Mr. Allen unequivocally states that “rape is wrong.” But, why is it wrong? Because “it is a cruel violation of the Golden Rule” (7). As everyone knows, however, the so-called Golden Rule was uttered by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12). Yet, in his discussion of that Sermon, and specifically in connection with Matthew 7, Allen claims that the narrative contains much that is “wrong” and very “shallow.” He suggests the material was likely thrown together by uneducated men whose “literary gifts or wisdom was not great” (391).
Contrast that with the testimony of prominent psychiatrist J. T. Fisher who suggested that “the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified psychologists and psychiatrists” would not begin to compare with the Sermon on the Mount. He stated that the Lord’s discourse is “the blueprint for successful human life” (1951, 273).
But Allen simply constructs his own “moral code of ethics”—a fact which he admits (229). He argues that the “vows of mutual love, exchanged in marriage, are legally and morally binding” but he can appeal to a standard of proof no higher than the “natural moral awareness that appears to reside in most human hearts” (86-87). That is quite arbitrary, and it makes every man a law unto himself. Such a philosophy could never work.
Is anyone ultimately accountable to that ambiguous “awareness”? He contends that “truth is superior to falsehood,” while arguing that it is permissible to lie whenever such is convenient (84). This philosophy of moral chaos is precisely what results when men repudiate divine revelation as a code of conduct.
We do not doubt that Steve Allen’s book impresses a certain class of people. It is beautifully printed, he was a celebrity, and he wrote in a very readable style. Anyone with a smattering of Bible knowledge, however, will see through this superficial and spiteful tirade.