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. ”
— https://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/the-bible-as-evidence/

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

  1. For those not familiar with my articles on the exegesis of Noah’s flood and the details of ERETZ (“planet earth” vs. “land/country/region”) in Christian tradition, I should have provided links to more detailed exposition. But I’m an old man who sometimes cuts corners. Google should help. Or you can simply look through the blog links.

  2. Obviously, my comments are not meant to be critical of Mr. S.C. My point is simply that Young Earth Creationist traditions have become virtually synonymous with “what the Bible says” in the minds of many.

  3. TheMolinistApprentice

    I too like to read the Sensuous Curmudgeon blog. I just posted a comment there about Ken Ham’s Ark Park plans and happened to mention Professor Tertius in it. I also consider it relevant to the professor’s blog of the day in how Ken Ham’s opinions are not necessarily the same as the Bible’s:
    ____________________

    Retiredsciguy said: “AIG has been searching for somebody for the Ark project with a CAD background.”

    Will the CAD expert hired for the project also have enough engineering background to remind Ken Scam that the structural requirements of an ark-like tourists’ exhibit would be very unlike those of a sea-worthy, floating warehouse. (I got the “floating warehouse” description from Professor Tertius’ blog. I like it because the ark as described in Genesis is not a ship or navigable vessel. In Hebrew it is just a container, a box, a several levels-deep super-barge.)

    Indeed, if Ken Ham really wants to make some sort of scientific statement about Noah’s Ark representing real history, why not build an actual ark that floats on water and defies the warnings of nautical engineers who claim that a vessel of that size would not be structurally sound? (Of course, the greater feat would probably be in accomplishing that while also remaining in compliance with federal and state fire codes and occupancy permit standards–as well as the countless rules and regulations for maintaining and housing exotic animals in such tight quarters while also including food and water storage. And how much ark space would be needed for provisions alone?)

    I’ve even wondered–in the unlikely event that Ham manages to raise the enormous piles of money needed to pay for his Noahic boondoggle–if the project will actually serve to underscore and undermine his global flood tradition arguments because the problems he will encounter at every stage of development and even in simply maintaining the monstrosity will be amplified for all to see. A saner and more intelligent man might even decide to listen to the Hebrew scholars who explain that the flood destroyed only Noah’s eretz, the land and “world” he knew. No need to import kangaroos and penguins from far-away lands unknown to Noah. Ham would only need to house the “kinds of animals” from Noah’s eretz, not all others.

  4. Ashley Haworth-Roberts

    YECs make spurious claims about ‘mountain uplift’ during Noah’s Flood (something certainly not recorded in Genesis) and also speak freely of eg a totally UNbiblical ‘ice age’ after Noah’s Flood ended (this link addresses a YEC article promoting the former to ‘explain’ high altitude salt flats in Bolivia):
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=2970&start=795

    • TomS

      One of the most egregious inventions by YEC is the business of “kinds” or “baramins”, first raised to manage fitting the necessary sampling of animals on the Ark, and then expanded to include the rapid speciation by “micro”-evolution after the dispersal from the Ark.

      • Ashley Haworth-Roberts

        Indeed – if you read Genesis, ‘kinds’ (as translated into English) are simply subdivisions of each type of creature created on a particular day or in a particular instalment on a day. There is nothing about ‘boundaries’ between the various groups of animals (whether birds or sea creatures or whatever) ie the so-called YECs’ ‘kind boundaries’ beyond which evolution/adaptation/diversification/speciation could never proceed. A ‘plain’ reading of the text implies to me that ‘kinds’ are simply types or species of eg birds – the text does not talk of the ‘bird kind’ etc.

  5. TomS

    Excuse me, but this is something that bothers me. I know that all the standard dictionaries translate MIN as “kind” or “species”. I will concede that in post-Biblical Hebrew it has the meaning of a collective of some sort.
    But as the word is used in the Bible, there is no hint that it has that meaning. I will overstate my case that there is no reason to assume that MIN as any denotation. (The definition of “noun” that we all learned, “a name of a person, place or thing” doesn’t work for all nouns.) But let us assume that it does have reference to something.
    There is no indication in the Bible that there was any recognition of or interest in dividing up the world of life – that animals were considered as being categories which were fixed for life, or which were determined by their ancestry, etc. Humans, in particular, are never mentioned as being of a kind. They do belong to tribes, to be sure.
    Did you know that it was only in the 17th century when Jan Swammerdam established that caterpillar and butterfy were merely stages in the life of an individual? The concept of “species” isn’t much older.
    In brief, when the Bible says “according to their kind”, it might be just an idiom meaning no more than “they were as they were”.

  6. As to MIN (“kind”), along with all of the usual definitions and contextual clues, I always like to make these two points:

    1) If an observer was asked about “all kinds of animals” going into the ark in pairs (two by two), those kinds would probably have been described as “big ones and little ones, predatory and prey animals, wild beasts and domesticated grazing animals, strong and delicate animals” etc. etc. That is, MIN was just as generic as our generic English expressions like “all kinds of” and “all sorts of” and “every variety of”. There’s just no reason to think that MIN was used as some kind of TAXONOMIC term.

    2) The Theory of Evolution and the Book of Genesis agree on this: Animals produce offspring that are much like them. So when Young Earth Creationists point to “each after its own kind” as some sort of anti-evolution declaration, they need to realize that The Theory of Evolution DEPENDS upon the truth of that fact: parents produce offspring which are very similar to them. So if YECs could cite lots of examples of offspring which were NOT of the same “kind” as their parents, The Theory of Evolution could be devastated.

    And everybody has noticed that one can never get a “creation science” fan to give a solid definition for MIN (or BARAMIN, the linking of the verb and the noun in a particular context.) But what is even more embarrassing for them is that as they have taken “BARAMIN” from its former association with “species” to something more akin to “taxonomic family” (e.g., Ken Ham makes such statements), they’ve been unable to cite uses of MIN in the Bible which would make that case. And in terms of biology, they claim that all “cats” are a single baramin even though that represents far greater “genetic spans” than that which separates the Great Apes and Homo sapiens sapiens.

    Of course, if all “cats” on the planet today descended from a pair or even several pairs of “proto-cats” on Noah’s ark just a few thousand years ago, that would have to be a land-speed record for hyper-fast evolution in terms of diversification!

  7. In brief, when the Bible says “according to their kind”, it might be just an idiom meaning no more than “they were as they were”.

    The Young Earth Creationists groan whenever I make the point that we always have to leave open the possibility that various familiar phrases, especially in the oldest Hebrew texts, may be idioms for which we have lost their original meaning. Sometimes they even complain that this is “special pleading”. However, admitting our lack of understanding of ancient texts is honesty and humility, not presumption. Just because we feel familiar with the text from knowing it word for word does not mean that we necessarily know the meanings just as well.

    For example, “the evening and the morning were the Nth day” could very well constitute an idiomatic expression with very little to do with the portions of a “literal day”. Indeed, “nighttime and daytime” might seem more like the two parts of a typical day–but neither idioms nor languages in general have to “make sense” in that we can render judgments on likelihood from a vantage thousands of years later.

    Some have thought that “the evening and the morning” became idiomatic for something “from beginning to ending” or “being completed in its entirety” after the tabernacle (and later, the temple) sacrifices were always performed at those two times: evening sacrifices and morning sacrifices. So perhaps “the evening and the morning” is even an anachronistic idiom imposed on the ancient events of “creation week” by an author using much later Hebrew which could reflect on those two daily sacrifices. “And the evening and the morning” could have been their way of saying “And from start to finish, that was the Nth day.”

    So when TomS brings up the possibility of idiomatic meanings, that’s always worth mentioned when we are looking back through thousands of years of linguistics change. I’m always amazed that the same Bible translators who worked on the revision of the NIV or the NAS95 Bibles, explaining to their students how even thirty years of English language changes easily justifies new Bible translations, will pretend that several thousand years of Hebrew language history nevertheless means just one Hebrew lexicon and “one” Hebrew language where vocabulary doesn’t change by much!

    In brief, when the Bible says “according to their kind”, it might be just an idiom meaning no more than “they were as they were”.

    The Young Earth Creationists groan whenever I make the point that we always have to leave open the possibility that various familiar phrases, especially in the oldest Hebrew texts, may be idioms for which we have lost their original meaning. Sometimes they even complain that this is “special pleading”. However, admitting our lack of understanding of ancient texts is honesty and humility, not presumption. Just because we feel familiar with the text from knowing it word for word does not mean that we necessarily know the meanings just as well.

    For example, “the evening and the morning were the Nth day” could very well constitute an idiomatic expression with very little to do with the portions of a “literal day”. Indeed, “nighttime and daytime” might seem more like the two parts of a typical day–but neither idioms nor languages in general have to “make sense” in that we can render judgments on likelihood from a vantage thousands of years later.

    Some have thought that “the evening and the morning” became idiomatic for something “from beginning to ending” or “being completed in its entirety” after the tabernacle (and later, the temple) sacrifices were always performed at those two times: evening sacrifices and morning sacrifices. So perhaps “the evening and the morning” is even an anachronistic idiom imposed on the ancient events of “creation week” by an author using much later Hebrew which could reflect on those two daily sacrifices. “And the evening and the morning” could have been their way of saying “And from start to finish, that was the Nth day.”

    So when TomS brings up the possibility of idiomatic meanings, that’s always worth mentioned when we are looking back through thousands of years of linguistics change. I’m always amazed that the same Bible translators who worked on the revision of the NIV or the NAS95 Bibles, explaining to their students how even thirty years of English language changes easily justifies new Bible translations, will pretend that several thousand years of Hebrew language history nevertheless means just one Hebrew lexicon and “one” Hebrew language where vocabulary doesn’t change by much!

    • TomS

      One thing which I find stunning about the coining BARAMIN is that in the opening words of the Bible we come across the phrase BARA ELOHIM, the verb-noun pair meaning “God created” (typically, in Hebrew the subject follows the verb). BARA MIN looks like one is replacing the subject ELOHIM/God, saying that a kind did the creating. If one wanted to say, in Hebrew, “created kind” it would be MIN BARU.

      • TomS wrote: “BARA MIN looks like one is replacing the subject ELOHIM/God, saying that a kind did the creating.”

        I can see how some might see it that way. However, in lexicography, one often links words in this way, almost like the first word modifies the second. That is, of all of the MIN contexts in the Old Testament, the lexicography is concerned with the BARA contexts of MIN. One can also think of it as BARA + MIN contexts.

        Many English lexicons show such relationships within a word’s entries by using italics. As a I try to think of examples of this, I am mostly coming up with idioms. But I’ll try it with one of my favorite “rich” vocabulary words in English: record, the noun.

        “break + RECORD” has a very different meaning than: “broken + RECORD”

        Other “modifications” of RECORD can be seen when the important word near it is:
        “have + RECORD”
        “set + RECORD”

        Likewise, when I see “BARA + MIN”, I consider whether MIN is changed/modified by having the verb BARA in the vicinity. (Not really. And I’ve not seen any Young Earth Creationists present a convincing lexicographic argument.)

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