Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Confusing “Biblical Claims” & “Young Earth Creationist Claims”?

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.



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Lame Complaints about the Bible: “The KJV talks about unicorns!” & the anachronism fallacy.

The Bible.and.Science.Forum fields questions on “unicorns in the Bible” at least twice per month. It’s a great example of how so many of the silliest anti-Bible taunts have taken on powerful mythologies which refuse to die no matter how much evidence is provided.  Indeed, when ideologies are at stake, emotions tend to outweigh evidence. It will always be so.  Therefore, we try to be realistic and accept the fact that linguistic realities won’t matter when an impassioned taunt is so delightfully useful. As a result, we usually address, and certainly publish for, the education-minded third-parties, not the mocker.

So, why did the KJV Bible of 1611–and the Wycliffe Bible (1382-1395, in Middle English, not Elizabethan ) it regularly follows—translate the somewhat obscure Hebrew word as UNICORN?  The answer is very simple: They thought the Hebrew word referred to what we today call an Indian rhinoceros [Greek for “nose” +”horn”], but which until the 1800’s was known to English-speakers as a UNICORN (Latin for “one”+”horn”.)  Now if someone wants to make fun of 1611 English speakers, including the KJV Bible translation committee, for using the Latin-derived UNICORN instead of the Greek-derived RHINOCEROS, by all means,  get your laughs where you can. (I don’t get the joke, but humor is subjective, I guess.)  But keep in mind that zoologists use both words in referring to the Indian rhino, the rhino which is known for having just one horn:  Rhinoceros unicornis.

Of course, if you think that in 1611 the Oxford and Cambridge professors who completed their new KJV Bible translation should have known that after another four centuries uninformed mockers who never learned Latin and Greek would confuse their one-horn/UNICORN with a pixie-pony with a spiral horn coming out its face and appearing on greeting cards and curio shelves in the year 2015, you need to familiarize yourself with the Argument from Anachronism fallacy. (Include the Argument from Ignorance as well.)Yet, just as Ken Ham has been told thousands of times that The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the Big Bang Theory nor abiogenesis but would never dream of correcting the AiG website to remove those errors, the website will never explain to visitors why “The 1611 KJV Bible refers to unicorns!” argument makes them sound stupid. And SAB won’t tell readers that even the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians have never claimed that any Bible translation is 100% perfect (whatever a “perfect translation” might mean!)  For that matter, the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy is not even embraced by all who call themselves evangelicals. Furthermore, the definition of the term itself is far from unambiguous. So beware of ranting and shaking your fists at  an enemy who is not even in the same room with you.

Of course, if someone wants to complain about the KJV Bible, why not go after the BIG problems instead of imaginary pixie unicorns, non-existent Pi=3 declarations, and ridiculous face-palms about “bats aren’t birds” and “rabbits don’t chew cud”? Leave behind the sand pile mud pies and join the adults. You could start with the embarrassing fact that the KJV is sometimes closer to being a translation of late manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate than it is a translation of the Tanakh and the Koine Greek New Testament.  Why split non-existent hairs when an insertion like the Comma Johanneum of the KJV was a translation of a sheer fabrication and has a much more interesting story that goes back many many centuries?

With that said, if someone likes to publish their favorite list of “Bible errors and contradictions” —or even wax eloquent about their contempt for the Bible or why they hate theism—knock yourself out.  As to the Bible.and.Science.Forum. None of us generally call ourselves fundamentalist. We are academics who care when the uninformed ignore the evidence and deny the realities of Biblical lexicography, exegesis, and basic reading comprehension, especially when you pretend that falsehoods are facts and encourage others to lie about an ancient text instead of engaging the facts.  If you think that science is objective but that the humanities departments of the Academy are nothing but subjective opinion, you have far more in common with Ken Ham than sanity should ever allow. But if you want to be taken seriously in terms of your handling the objective evidence from the Biblical texts, don’t keep emulating Ken Ham and Ray Comfort by continuing to post the same lame PRATTs like an AiG or Discovery Institute propaganda mill. When you promote an argument simply because it opposes the Bible, regardless of whether or not it is based on solid evidence and a valid understanding of the topic, you have adopted the same rationalizations of dishonesty that the “creation science” entrepreneurs use.

In all fairness, the 1611 King James Bible translators did a reasonably good job for what limited Hebrew lexicographic resources they had at the time, to name just one tremendous obstacle they faced in translating the ancient tongues.  If you want to make fun of the KJV-only crowd, get in line and take a number. Even most Young Earth Creationists think that the KJV-onlyists have gone off the deep end of the pier. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s evangelicals think that KJV-onlyists are downright loony.

And seeing how the Septuagint—-a Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh from almost 2000 years old before, translated by Hellenistic rabbis–used the Greek word MONOCEROS (“one” + “horn”) you really can’t fault the KJV professors and clergy for going with the Latin equivalent in English: UNICORNIS ==> UNICORN (“one” + “horn”.)  After all, John Wycliffe made the same choice a few centuries before with his ground-breaking English translation. Indeed, in choosing UNICORN, some scholars think the KJV actually got it basically right, even if for the wrong reasons. You see, some think that  the “one-horned” beast might have been much like those seen in some stone inscriptions, where the two-dimensional, flat profile (side-view) of the animal made it look like it had only one horn. Thus, they suggest that the ancients named it accordingly, thus leading to the Septuagint’s MONOCEROS (“one”+”horn”.) This alternative view is held in the minority nowadays but all of these details are quite superfluous when considering that something as simple as “big beast” would have served the nine translation contexts quite adequately. Yes, in the end, the exact identity of the animal holds little importance to the translation per se. Of course, today, we have a much better understanding of Hebrew vocabulary and meanings. But, the names of animals and stones will always remain the most difficult of ancient vocabularies to translate.

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