The Sensuous Curmudgeon penned yet another fascinating, excellent blog article today. I found myself immediately drawn to this section:
“The biblical claims that don’t qualify as science — and indeed, are contradicted by science — are well known. Among them are the age of the Earth, its location in the universe, its shape, the almost instantaneous creation of its multitude of species, and the existence of a worldwide flood about four thousand years ago. ”
I hesitate to devote the time and endurance necessary to tackle completely that entire list of “biblical claims.” But at the very least I just can’t allow the “creation science” movement to take credit for successfully creating the misperception that “what Young Earth Creationists say” equals “what the Bible claims”. At least three of the five “biblical claims” are not actually within the Biblical text at all. Instead, they are what years of Young Earth Creationist influence–and the traditions established by the 1611 King James Bible in the English-speaking world–have imposed upon much of the general public.
Fortunately, even readers of modern English Bible translations can distinguish, through careful regard to detail, the differences between the traditions listed above and what the Biblical text actually states. Admittedly, those who read the 1611 KJV as if it were modern English might easily be prone to follow the Young Earth Creationist movement’s traditional understanding of the text. Yet even common sense would remind us that “the earth” in 1611 did not presume “planet earth” in the ways it does in a post-Apollo moon-landing world. Not until recent generations has “earth” brought thoughts of “planet earth” rather than “opposite of sky”, “opposite of sea”, along with “dirt”, “soil” and “the ground”. (Of course, one can also cite the English lexicons of past centuries or consult the work of modern day linguists. Languages continually change.)
Obviously, Professor Tertius doesn’t need reminding that Young Earth Creationists have been far too successful in convincing a lot of people that their YEC interpretations are what the Bible actually states and teaches. Perhaps others need the reminder.
One can dissect and debunk much of the list of so-called “Biblical claims” on multiple levels, both individually and in the overall. The “earth” in Genesis 1 and 2 is not “planet earth” but HA-ERETZ, “the land”, that which is “under the sky” and that which extends to the horizon. The ancient Israelites simply didn’t have a concept of “planet earth”. They obviously didn’t have a good scientific grasp of the solar system and the universe. But neither they nor the Biblical text…
1) makes any claims about the age of the earth. It is not even clear whether or not a vast span of time (and events) took place before “Day 1” of Creation Week. Even the casual reader notices that before Genesis gets to “Let there be light!”, there’s already “the waters” over which God’s presence is “moving”. Gap Theorists insert millions and billions of years before even the “six literal days” followed by the approximately six thousand years most of them share with Young Earth Creationists. Indeed, the majority of the world’s Christians deny a 6,000 year old universe or at least have no conflict with billions of years. Seeing how the Bible says nothing about it all starting some 6,000 years ago, it’s not surprising that YEC “creation science” proponents find themselves a minority of the world’s Christians.
2) Technically, the ancient Hebrew did NOT make any claims about their location in the universe because they really didn’t have a “universe” concept. They had a kind of primitive cosmology but it is a big stretch to call that a “universe” in the way that we use the term. However, to avoid being a pesky pedant, I’m willing to give a pass on #2 and even #3:
3) As to the “shape of the earth”, we still have the confusion over HA-ERETZ (“the land”, but translated by the KJV as “the earth”, because in 1611 few would think of “the earth” in terms of “planet earth.”) Considering that the “disk of land” which is circumscribed by the horizon is HA-ERETZ and deviates from “flat” by about 8 inches per mile, it was entirely appropriate for the ancients to speak of their ERETZ (“land”, “country”, “region”) as a circular disk or flat plane. [Yes, that was a joke, a nod to concordists.] But technically, when the Bible itself makes no statements about “planet earth”—because the New Testaments authors were probably mostly or entirely ignorant of what the Greeks had determined about planet earth, and the Old Testament authors probably preceded all Greek discoveries and measurements of the spherical earth—it is a logic fallacy to superimpose anachronistic scientific concepts on an ancient people. It would be more accurate to say that they weren’t even advanced enough at that time to make misstatements about “planet earth”! (They didn’t understand that our planet is a “wonderer”, exactly as the term implies, and just as are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter!)
4) As to “the almost instantaneous creation of its multitude of species”, that is a Young Earth Creationist assumption. The text of Genesis 1 simply states that God issued COMMANDS as described in the form of a six-YOM outline, many of which describe processes which would take place over various spans of time, such as “Let the waters BRING FORTH life….” and “Let the land BRING FORTH life….” Bringing forth takes time, whether one considers a single gestation period or glacially slow evolution over millions of years. There are no statements describing “instantaneous poofing” of ecosystems or entire populations. No descriptions of forests suddenly appearing. Instead, the narrator looks at the results of creation which surround him and declares “It was so.” or “And that’s what happened.” It is very difficult for English language readers from a culture and language where time considerations, durations, and relative times are so important, to realize and to grasp that ancient Hebrew and various other languages have no such focus on time and the temporal. The familiar verb tenses of most modern European languages are absent. Hebrew is so void of demands for temporal details such that many rabbis deny entirely a chronological significance to the six YOM (days) of Genesis 1. After all, even in English not every numbered list is chronological. (Ever give someone the third degree? Or defend the second amendment? How about Second City comedy?)
I won’t try to summarize entire academic journal articles on how Genesis 1 uses a 3 & 3, possibly chiasmic outline of God’s creative commands, and how “instantaneous special creation” of species finds no solid evidence within the Hebrew text and there’s no reason to assume kinds are taxonomic classifications. But even in English translation it is easy to see that various “punctiliar” commands produced entire series of events and extensive periods of time which represent those commands coming to pass. At best, Young Earth Creationist “special creation” might be argued as being allowed by the text but not required by specific declarations in the text.
5) As to “and the existence of a worldwide flood about four thousand years ago. “, we again see the influence of Young Earth Creationists. There are no statements about a global flood–or even of a “worldwide” flood in the geographical sense. In 2Peter 3:6 we see in Greek a reference to the Noahic “worldwide flood”, but the use of the Greek word KOSMOS instead of the Greek word GE tells even the first year exegesis student that the author of the Second Epistle of Peter specifically referred to “the world of people, that is, the descendents of Adam” (KOSMOS, as in “Cosmopolitan) and not the world of rocks and continents (which would have required GE, as in GEology and GEography.) So if we choose to say that the Bible refers to a worldwide flood, we should also clarify that it involved only the entire “world” of the Imago Dei creatures, the Adamic population. And because less than two thousand years elapsed between Adam’s appearance and the time of the flood, the population would have been limited and probably restricted to a single region. (Why do I claim only a single region? The answer would require a feature length article of its own. But even the simple realization that HA-ERETZ best translates as “the land”, “the region”, or “the country” and has become confused with “planet earth” because of tradition (especially as guided by the 1611 English of the KJV), it isn’t hard to understand that the flood was not even described as destroying “many ERETZ.”
So, out of the five statements The Sensuous Curmudgeon attributed to “Biblical claims”, at least three of the five are not actual claims of the Biblical text per se. In fact, they are nothing more than Young Earth Creationist interpretations so often imposed upon the Biblical texts that the general public, especially in North America, simply assumes that the Bible must be read in terms of archaic KJV language and creationist assumptions.