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A patronizing letter to the author of Genesis

Answering Richard Holloway’s anti-Christian diatribe.


An open letter from the Right Reverend Richard Holloway to the author of Genesis betrays the ex-bishop’s lack of reverence for God.
Published: 27 February 2020 (GMT+10)

The following open letter is CMI’s response to an article published in The Scotsman by the Right Reverend Richard Holloway,1a former Bishop of Edinburgh (1986–2000), professor of divinity, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and patron of LGBT Youth Scotland.

The reader is encouraged to first read Holloway’s letter in its entirety (with discretion as his language and tone at several points may be offensive to some of our readers), then to return to read Gavin Cox’s response:

Dear Richard Holloway,

I recently read your rather condescending “Letter to the author of the book of Genesis.”2 The way you have misunderstood Genesis bothers me greatly. In fact, not understanding it has brought the church you once served to a moment of great danger, a danger I want to tell you about. Furthermore, the “Author of Genesis” to whom you addressed your letter didn’t just live three thousand years ago as you state, for ultimately He is God—and He is alive and well today.

You describe Genesis as a “great poem”, “parable”, “fable” even a “great fiction”, but this is not how Jesus, or the New Testament writers read Genesis. They treated it as history, and built their theology on it. You won’t appreciate me pointing this out, but there are people alive in our time who insist on reading Genesis that way—theological scholars and prominent church leaders. The laws of Hebrew grammar demonstrate Genesis was written as an historical, narrative not as poetry and certainly not as fiction.

You quote Genesis 1:27–28, but mistakenly claim that following God’s instructions will result in the planet’s destruction. How you twist Scripture Richard! The opposite is true: rebelling against the Maker’s instructions has caused all the problems. God in His wisdom gave humans—in their perfect, sinless state—stewardship and responsibility for creation.3 It was never meant to be a license to destroy as you so wilfully and incorrectly interpret it. You state:

“I want to pause for a moment to reflect on what you thought you were doing when these words came to you. … In a single sentence you captured humanity’s arrogance, its belief that it owned or had dominion over the earth, and could do anything it liked with it. And that’s what we have done. The planet is marked with the smudge and ugliness of our abuse of it. It is littered with the debris of our greed.”

Those final sentences are true, but this is the result of sin, not of following God’s instructions in Genesis. Genesis is clear, and you even quote it: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). This is not fiction; we ignore these words at our peril. Genesis gives humanity ultimate worth, because we are created in His image.

Moral and ethical decay

Humans were given responsibility for Creation by God, to steward the world, not worship it. However, sin has effected these relationships for the worse.

When leaders in the church stopped viewing Genesis as historical, they consequently left the moral implications of its truth claims undefended. As the Judeo-Christian foundations of western society became ever more eroded by anti-biblical thinking, the moral claims based upon those foundations were themselves eroded. This resulted in society’s moral decline, which included the legalised murder of the unborn. Since then, a silent genocide has been perpetrated upon them—because people officially abandoned the ethical implications of being made in God’s image. And in your own writings you commit the same grave error by excluding God’s Word as the foundation to ethics.4 You reject Genesis as being anything other than quaint ‘myth’, and certainly not to be relied upon as the basis for morality in modern life.

Furthermore, Genesis defines who we are as human beings, made by God as male and female. And yet today, even this fundamental truth is being reinterpreted to suit the latest fashion and thinking. To redefine basic biological reality is foolhardy indeed, and we are seeing the consequences of this damaging confusion and irresponsible thinking in society today. Again, your own writings question the wisdom of a divinely ordained distinction between the sexes.5

The biblical definition of marriage is clearly defined in Genesis as a life-long union being between one man and one woman. However, you feel at liberty to re-define this sacred, divinely-sanctioned institution and celebrate the resulting confusion within the church.6

People like me who consider Genesis as real history are deemed as “literalists” in your eyes. It’s a position you obviously despise, judging by your scoffing, demeaning language and offensive innuendo. But we do read Genesis correctly, not literalistically, but according to the rules of literature.

Idolatry of the creation

Despite your claim, reading Genesis as history doesn’t lead us to invent a vengeful god:

“There are literalists out there who believe this is what God actually wants. And because they don’t know how to read, they’ve come up with a god who hates the world so much he is coming soon to destroy it and everything in it… [so let it burn].”

How you contort the Bible so! It is as if you had never read John 3:16. But yes, I do believe that God will return to bring final judgment to humanity for the sin committed primarily against Him, and secondarily against His creation (2 Peter 3:3–8)—scoffers beware!

en.wikipedia.org, Julia Hawkinsextinction-rebellion
Environmentalism and activism have become a new religion for many people.

And here you have the priorities reversed, because you consider sin against the environment as the highest crime. The most sacred religion in your eyes is worship of the Creation, rather than the Creator. Romans chapter one describes this brand of heresy all too well (Romans 1:25–26) and its resulting moral decay in society.

Finally, you rejoice in the fact that people are rebel sinners:

“The good news is that young people everywhere are rebelling against humanity’s God-given right to destroy the earth, their home. Their religion is love of the little blue planet that bore them and sustains them. And they are fighting hard to save it. You’d admire them.”

You are a blind leader of the blind Richard. There is nothing to rejoice in here. I hope many readers will have the presence of mind to peer through your sarcasm. You know full well that the Author of Genesis never gave us the right to “destroy the earth”, a home He entrusted us with. And these keen young eco-warriors can fight for all they’re worth, but they are not the ones ultimately in control. Like you, they have rejected the fact that this is God’s world, over which he made human beings His stewards (Genesis 1:26, 28). The writer of Genesis would not admire their futile actions as you speculate because, in their “love of the … planet” rather than its Creator, they have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). 

Future hope—imaginary and futile?

You conclude your anti-Genesis diatribe by quoting from Isaiah 11:6, which describes the future restoration of what was lost at the Curse; this is poetry as you rightly state.7 However, poetry doesn’t make the future hope of a restored Creation any the less real, because it isn’t mere poetry, rather it is divinely inspired prophecy. Only the Creator can promise to restore His Creation. It was marred by sin but “will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21)—when Christ comes again and restores all things. Saved people from every nation will one day worship Him for eternity in a restored paradise (Revelation 21:22–26).

However, if life evolved over 4.5 billion years as you believe,8 Darwin was correct when he wrote:

“What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.”9

What is the point of your concern over the environment Richard, if only the fittest are going to survive? So let natural selection do her wasteful and horridly cruel work. To quote a favourite author of yours, Richard Dawkins, an evolved universe knows:

“no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”10

Frankly, if that is true, all your posturing and self-righteous words might as well fall on deaf ears. Such an evolutionary scheme applies to all life, from pond-scum to people. We may be here today but gone tomorrow, wiped-out by time and chance, or replaced by a fitter species. Planet Earth and eventually the universe will die—so we’re told—and then nothing, but eternal darkness. There really is no hope (therefore no gospel) according to Darwin.11

So in conclusion, it strikes me you entirely lack a sure foundation upon which to build truth, ethics, meaning and morality. Instead of building on Genesis and the hope of God’s unchanging Word, you have chosen the inescapable futility that goes hand-in-hand with having the evolutionary process as your foundation. But then again, you and those who follow your lead would have to take the author of Genesis seriously to avoid building on such quicksand. Tragically, I don’t see you doing that any time soon.

Sincerely yours,

Gavin Cox

References and notes

  1. Bishop of Edinburgh in 1986 and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopalian Church in 1992, he retired in 2000. See: gresham.ac.uk/professors-and-speakers/professor-richard-holloway/; accessed 18 December 2019. Return to text.
  2. Holloway, R., Richard Holloway writes a letter to the author of the book of Genesis, scotsman.com/arts-and-culture/books/richard-holloway-writes-a-letter-to-the-author-of-the-book-of-genesis-1-5044785, 13 November 2019; accessed 16 December 2019. Return to text.
  3. Sarfati, J., The biblical roots of modern science: A Christian world view, and in particular a plain understanding of Scripture and Adam’s Fall, was essential for the rise of modern science, 29 September 2009, creation.com/biblical-roots. Return to text.
  4. “To suggest that [pro-life] is the only morally serious position, and that only they have any reverence for life, is demeaning to those of us who have wrestled with the issue and reach, however uncomfortably, different conclusions.” Holloway, R., Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out of Ethics, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, p. 124, 1999. Return to text.
  5. Holloway, R., Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, p. 50, 2001. Return to text.
  6. Ref. 4, Holloway, pp. x–xi and 65. Return to text.
  7. Of course, some evangelical Christians also believe that this verse refers to a literal millennial reign of Christ to come. CMI takes a ‘no-position position’ on such eschatological differences among believers. Nevertheless, all agree that the future “new heaven and earth” will be a full restoration of what was lost at the Fall (Revelation 21:1–4, 22:3). Return to text.
  8. Holloway, R., A callous world: Richard Holloway finds Richard Dawkins insisting that nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent, in his collection of essays, A Devil’s Chaplain, theguardian.com, 15 February 2003. He states in this book review: “This is the best book of sermons I have read for years. So please go on preaching to us, Reverend Dawkins, and don’t mind the things they throw at you. After all, prophets always get stoned.” Return to text.
  9. Cited by Richard Dawkins in Dawkins, R. A Devil’s Chaplain, First Mariner Books, New York, p. 8, 2003. Return to text.
  10. Dawkins, R., River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, Basic Books, New York, p. 133, 2005. Return to text.
  11. Indeed, he once wrote: “I’m sorry to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as divine revelation, and therefore not in Jesus as the son of God”, see: Darwin, C., letter to Frederick McDermott, darwinproject.ac.uk, 24 November 1880. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Richard A.
The words of Jeremiah in ch. 2 are very apt: You have committed two sins, disobeyed God and then claimed innocence and the right to go your own way. Nothing has changed and it is this fact (among others) that convinces me the words of scripture are 100% reliable. But how sad that those who the world recognizes as religious leaders have so betrayed the God who they once claimed to serve.
Ivor L.
Excellent article and of course such views MUST be argued against by a right reading of God's word.
In respect to Gavin's last comment, "Tragically, I don’t see you doing that any time soon",
I think there was a fellow called Paul who said he was the chief of sinners, yet our Saviour's love, mercy and Grace saved him and what a great work our Lord did through Paul in his life, and how many have been blessed by Paul's comments in the Bible under grace.
I would go a step further and say that if the Holy Spirit could do a work in my heart, he surely can save Mr. Holloway. With our Saviour, nothing is impossible, as I am sure you too believe.
For one, I will surely put Mr. Holloway on my prayer list for the Spirit to do a work of grace.
Thanks again Gavin for a great article.
Jean-Philippe M. M.
Richard Holloway doesn't understand the scripture and He is rebel to God. His anger against Gob brought him to mix up the fall and profound human crooked heart with the beauty and perfection of God's creation.

He seems to have anger against God probably because he can't tolerate corruption around him. But, in his narcissistic behavior, [he] forgot all the bad he is doing to others. He feels that he is more wise than others and feels the right to patronize those who "don't understand".

My hope is that your letter [Gavin Cox] will bring repentance and light to some who think the same way Richard thinks.

I would add about environmentalism and activism that their possibility even to rebel comes from the fact that they are the product of industrial society. A society which brought a 35 hour work schedule, summer vacation, schooling and time to spare. If oil wouldn't be in the equation, we all of us would be harvesting potatoes in fields. And we would expect to live up to 40 years. We wouldn't have the time to fight for the environment. They miss the big picture and in their rebellions and narcissism, blame the past generations for their misfortune. It's a classic case of human comportment but what a shock they will have when their fight for the environment will result, in a way, a more unpleasant diet of worldwide rationalization where all of us probably will lose a lot of rights.
John P.
Sadly the Wrong Irreverend Richard Holloway is not only hollow but a man like Spong, an apostate, heretical man professing to be wise but instead has become foolish. Hopefully he humbles himself and repents because if he does not I doubt he'll be telling Jesus He's wrong as he's sent to his final destination. We need to have the same passion that God does, not wishing any to perish-even those like him who are setting up the religion of the antichrist. CMI does have that passion and is being used mightily by the Holy Spirit.This man it can be said is at least named appropriately.He is hollow and his way is hollow and leads to destruction.I'd hate to be a member of his church- it would be like a cartoon in Ex Nihilo- the predecessor of Creation Magazine, where a liberal pastor and his parishioner were on a plane flight discussing sin, repentance ,God's forgiveness and so forth. The liberal pastor told the other man not to worry. Their plane crashed and they were before the Lord who sent them to their final destination. The liberal pastor was still saying the general assembly said this wasn't what was meant to happen (implied) while the parishioner told him his teachings had consigned them both to hell.Despite Richard Holloway, people are not gods. He seems to believe the devil's scam-did God really say?What God told Moses to write is true.Neither Moses or Jesus would admire the rebels fighting for the planet, thinking they are gods.
Jeff W.
Being an environmental activist is not futile and it does not mean that you have rejected God. Quite the opposite in fact, my environmental activism come from the fact that I take the responsibility of stewardship seriously and someone needs to hold leader to account for their responsibility in this regard. As an eco-warrior I have not overlooked the fact that this is God's world over which he made people stewards, I am an eco-warrior because I have accepted that this is God's world over which I am called to be a steward. This is my calling, fully compatible with God's word, my Christian faith and also fully compatible with my acceptance of Genesis as literal history.
Jordan C.
Thanks Gavin, hopefully Richard will realise how silly his comments are. Richard Holloway seems to be just another wolf in unconvincing sheep's clothing trying to trick the flock into buying into pop-cultures trendy ideas of the day. These guys are a dime a dozen. Christ Jesus took Genesis as the Word of God, and that's good enough for me. Richard's god does appear to revolve around the sun though as his concern for earth seems more important to God' plain Word. God created earth, so surely He can sustain it, and soon it will be fully restored by God once sin is taken care of once and for all.
John W.
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves"
From the establishment of the first body of believers the wolves have come to distort, delude, dissilusion and divide the body the Lord called to set the benchmark for society.
I'm thankful for the work of CMI for calling out and exposing falsehood. Through the study of Creation resources one can clearly see how the relentless war upon the integrity of the greatest written source of truth, freedom and the wonderful life it brings, started in the Garden and has raged relentlessly ever since.
One thing that is so wonderful however is the fact that, as this great letter of response points out, is that the Author and Finisher of the work He started will be the One who will bring it to glorious eternal fulness according to His will and not fallible, sinful man's.
Jeffrey C.
I am reminded of Jude verse 8, as in Young's Literal Translation: "In like manner, nevertheless, those dreaming also the flesh indeed do defile, and lordship they put away, and dignities they speak evil of". Though many suppose those "dignities" are angelic beings, that interpretation doesn't seem to fit what I know of apostates.

But apostates most certainly do reject the prophets and apostles through whom, once for all, God entrusted to us His "most holy faith" (Cf. Jude 3, 20) --- authors of holy writ. In the case of this apostate, even including Moses and Jesus.

As contemporaries, the false apostles did not get along with the true. (I'm told that in Jewish thought the authors of holy writ are considered even yet to be alive; they are merely now "asleep"

No less than the apostle John writes of another: "but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us"! (3 John 9). The so-called "Right Reverend" is merely another misguided Christian authority rejecting those God chose to bequeath to us scripture.

In the course of time "Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet ... having destroyed every ruler and authority and power" ... especially false, contrary 'authorities'. When Christ is finished, "God ... will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere" (1 Corinthians 15:25, 24, 28)... falsehood will disappear in the light of truth.

True apostles seek solely our "undivided devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).

As Moses puts it: "Follow none but the LORD your God, and revere none but Him; observe His commandments alone, and heed only His orders; worship none but Him, and hold fast to Him." (Dt.13:5, Tanakh; 13:4 in Christian Bibles).

We can be sure this scoffing Johnny-come-lately is NOT "Heaven-sent"!
Richard P.
The first thing that's obvious about Holloway's article is that it's absolutely dreadful. The second is that nowhere does he even begin to make any attempt to produce evidence or reasons to indicate why his interpretation of Scripture should be believed. No arguments. No rationale. Nothing whatsoever.
It's as though he's never studied, never had to learn to establish and support his position by reasoning. Or as though he doesn't feel he needs to, because he has credentials, and should be heeded purely by dint of his own superior insight. "Dear God Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the Universe, or Whoever You are. I'm sorry, but I have to inform You that I am RIGHT Reverend, so obviously this means that You must be WRONG."
But no, rather "What if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar." Romans 3:3-4.
Bill P.
What you folks posted here put me in mind of my sister. She passed away a year ago and I pity her. Many yrs. ago she had heard that I'd became a Christian and asked me if this was true. I told her "yes I do believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ". She was w/one of our cousins and whispered something to her and they both walked away laughing. I took it in stride. Shortly after that she told me that she worshiped "mother earth" (Gaia). I did some study on this religion. I learned how wide spread this pagan worship was, how many powerful people(Al Gore, Ted Turner, etc) were involved and the organizations(U.N., Roman church, environmental groups,etc)were very clever in their support of this religion. Also saw the legislation they have been able to get support for in the U.N. and gov't's. They also were not shy about expressing their hatred for Christians. We were(Christians) "the only thing standing in the way of making this the world religion". They are powerful. I looked at that picture and read that quote concerning the people in that picture and how this man Richard admired them. I know from scripture this is one of many lies that will be part of life during the Tribulation, (Romans 1 points out this religion). The more I learned the more pity I felt for my sister. I have no doubt The Lord saves to the very end of someone's life if they call out to Him in faith even w/their last gasp of air,(thief on cross next to our Lord comes to mind). I can only hope that maybe this happened w/her (we never spoke again). What this man supports is only going to lead to the destruction of souls. Along the way they are going to get their hands stained w/the blood of many who won't join them. This man supports a false gospel just as The Lord said it would be in these last days.
Stephen N.
Thanks for the great article. The hypocrisy and betrayal of the truth of some of the clergy is appalling. I imagine that at the Last Judgement some of these hypocrites will be very nervous when they stand before their Creator.
Dan M.
I believe a quote by Malcolm Muggeridge is applicable here, “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, HAVING EDUCATED HIMSELF INTO IMBECILITY, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.” This is a succinct explanation of evolutionary, self-worship, Atheism from which radical environmentalism stems.
I don't understand. If there really is such an environmental crisis, why spend so much money trying to subject people to your geo-religion? Rather spend that money to develop clean, sustainable energy, (wind and solar is not a dependable) source thereby making the debate mute. The answer is out there, and it is atomic in nature. I believe they are truly more interested in political power than they are worried about the environment. If they were, they would be more focused on Russia, China, and India the biggest polluters out there? The short answer is, they have no power in those countries and will never have the power there.
Monty J.
I think atheist and Darwinist have a fundamental misconception about the nature of human being. Theists and Christians know that human nature is evil all the time and has to be held in check. Atheists and Darwinist think that human nature is good and evil is an aberration.

"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." --Genesis 6:5
Don D.
"You are a blind leader of the blind Richard. There is nothing to rejoice in here. I hope many readers will have the presence of mind to peer through your sarcasm. You know full well that the Author of Genesis never gave us the right to “destroy the earth”, a home He entrusted us with."
A man preaching destructive heresy and causing untold harm to both those weak in the faith and to the already hardened by giving them "justification" for their misguided ideas. Thank you, Gavin, for so insightfully exposing this man's pretensions and to Philip for explaining why this is a valuable piece of work.
Chuck R.
Right Reverend's like Holloway are not a new problem -
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness."
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."
Chris C.
You knocked it out of the park, Gavin! My sincere thanks to you and all who minister through the work of CMI.
Nicely written! A much more gracious response than I could have written. Thank you!
Scott P.
This simpletons thoughts are not even worthy of a response.
Philip Bell
See our reply to Jeff D
Lucas O.
How this man can call himself a reverend is astounding. He sounds like every hostile atheist I've ever talked to. How can one claim belief in God while not believing a single word He has given us through His word?

God bless CMI for having the grace and patience to answer his falsehoods so clearly and concisely. It is dangerous for a man such as this to be seen by the world as being some sort of authority in the church body. He preaches humanism in the guise of Christianity. If all reverends were like Mr. Holloway no one would ever find hope in Christ.
Donald E.
The author of the letter is of the same mind as those he criticizes. He takes the direction to subdue as to mean conquer and vanquish. To subdue something or someone is not that extreme, but more to get control over, take charge of; just as a farmer takes control over and charge of the land he is cultivating. Yes, people have misused the directive to subdue, but that doesn't change its intent, only reveals the hearts of those so doing.
David G.
Two comments, if I may.
1. Based on my travels around the world, it is the countries with a Christian underpinning that are the most environmentally tidy.
2. Holloway's theology is a theology of despair. Like humanism in general, it offers no hope, little forgiveness, no grace and no restoration.
Gavin Cox
Hi David,
Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree that Holloway's theology is one of despair and offers no hope. I wish that your first point could make a clear cut case, but one of the tidiest countries in the world would be Japan, which is second to the top ten of least religious nations in the world. All we can say is that biblical creation offers the theological underpinnings for care for Creation. But as we both know this theological foundation has been completely replaced in most Western nations with naturalism, which actually worships creation, instead of the Creator. In which case environmentalism may not have the Christian underpinning we would hope for. It is the moral fruit in the culture that really is the indicator of it's moral foundations. And judging by that factor one comes to the tragic conclusion Britain and other Western nations have completely lost their way, in no small part thanks to the leadership of people in high places like the ex-Bishop Holloway.
Rocky S.
I am utterly astounded by the ignorance shown by a learned man who has carried great responsibility in the church. God has a special place for false prophets and blasphemers.
Does he realize at all that by his utterance he blurs the line between any truth in the Bible, as if one part is fiction how are we to know which parts are not.
Thank you for not leaving this heresy un-answered.
Terry H.
Great response Gavin
Pauline T.
Thank you Gavin. Your response contains a great selection of scriptures along with consistent logic to help us biblical creationists in our conversations with compromisers and unbelievers. I appreciate your boldness and pointed clarity.
Nichola W.
So tragic that a bishop of a church does not love God and is not obedient to his word. When the leaders fall away who cares for the sheep?
Jeff D.
It´s pointless to answer the idiotic open letter of the wrong reverend richard hollowhead to the "Author of Genesis" as he calls God though he doesn´t believe He is its author at all, since a marxist-liberal clergyman like him is an atheist in disguise (and poorly disguised at that), the fancy dress he wears while discharching his duty as a hireling doesn´t conceal the fact that a rotten spiritual and moral corpse stalks beneath his robes.
Philip Bell
With respect, we do not be believe it is pointless to counter falsehood since, sadly, there are folk who perceive such things as this man's letter to have merit, and left unchallenged, they may be strengthened in that opinion. The whole point of apologetics is in giving a reasoned defence of Christian faith, especially in the face of such diatribes.

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