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In an attempt to discredit the Bible, New Scientist tells us that God’s Word is full of errors. The question is: how did the article pass editorial review?
A recent issue of New Scientist (16 April 2008), in an attempt to bolster “Darwin’s theory” in the face of increased questioning by creationists and intelligent design advocates (e.g., the new Expelled film), has assembled a list called “Evolution: 24 Myths and Misconceptions.” According to the author, “despite an ever growing mountain of evidence, most people are not taught the truth about evolution” [emphasis added]. In other words, if you doubt evolution, it is because you really don’t understand it—just as most people don’t understand string theory, for example. However, we would challenge the author with the question: in a naturalistic, evolutionary worldview, how can truth—especially objective truth—even exist?
The author sets up a false dichotomy by sorting people into two groups: those who are merely amateur observers of biological origins and those who “really know” the truth (of which he considers himself). If you find the evidence compelling that evolution is not a valid explanation, then it is simply because you are not in the “higher” class. If, however, you believe that God has told us exactly how He created the earth and life, well, the writer has a special section just for you—on why you are wrong. Of course, for the amateur observers who accept evolution as fact, many of them do so out of indoctrination and not in-depth study (usually in a government-run school), and have not heard the case against Darwin. We could also turn his argument around and say that those who “really know” are those who have overcome or seen through this tax-funded indoctrination. Having come to really know the truth about evolution, they now accept the biblical account.
Although there are a number of “myths” the article writer discusses in regard to creationists (and even some held by evolutionists themselves, he claims), this web article will focus on his derision of Christians who claim the Bible is “inerrant.” He opens with this salvo:
A few creationists are honest enough to admit that the evidence supporting the theory of evolution is irrelevant as far as they are concerned: as it contradicts the “Word of God”, [sic] it simply has to be wrong.
I am not sure which creationists he is referring to (since there are no references for his claims), but this is certainly not an entirely accurate portrayal of what most creationists believe. Perhaps he is referring to the fact that biblical creationists typically begin with and even admit their biases upfront—that the Bible is our starting point. No interpretation of facts (notice I didn’t say “facts” themselves, for all facts must be interpreted) can ever be valid if it contradicts a straightforward reading of Scripture. Fossils, genetic data, radiometric dating, population changes—none of these speak for themselves and say “Evolution is true.” That is how some read or interpret that evidence. No amount of straw-man demolition will change that fact.
Regarding his use of the word “honest,” it is interesting to point out that the author assumes there are moral absolutes. However, if the author is a strict materialistic evolutionist, then his argument falls apart right here. Truth or untruth are not things that someone can measure in an empirical sense. They are not material objects that can be researched or quantified (one can’t test truth—a non-material idea). In the naturalistic worldview, either truth is an illusion of the evolved brain (and therefore useless) or truth only exists in the observer’s frame of reference (each person has his or her own form of truth, which is also objectively useless). For the author to claim that truth exists in order to establish his argument as being valid, he must have an objective source of authority to determine what is true. The naturalistic worldview of evolution cannot afford such an objective source. The Bible can.
“Evidence,” by which I assume he means observation and data collected by experimentation, fieldwork, and research, is not the issue. All data and analysis are interpreted within a given framework. For example, many evolutionists see the fluctuations of a peppered moth (Biston betularia) population as evidence for evolution, whereas creationists see it as evidence for variation in a created kind. The same set of facts (though some disputed) when interpreted within a framework produce significantly different conclusions (see Much Ado About Moths). We could further argue that no fact in and of itself supports evolution—only the interpretation of that fact which people hold supports it.
If, on the other hand, by “evidence” he means a just-so story about the past and the origin of life that contradicts what the Bible says, then yes, we certainly would reject it. This has nothing to do with the “facts,” and everything to do with the framework used to interpret those facts. You will often find that authors who use phrases such as “mountains of evidence” or “overwhelming” are using a fallacy called elephant hurling (that is, when one ignores his/her presuppositions and tries to ridicule those of others by making broad, unsubstantiated claims). We at AiG admit our biases from the beginning; the author of this article tries to appear neutral, but his rhetoric makes it clear that this is not the case.
Now, let’s take a look at the article writer’s claims about the Bible.
It is important to point out that the author begins his assessment of Christians with a rather inauspicious presupposition. He claims, “Some Christians regard the text of the Bible as literally true or, to use their term, as ‘inerrant.’” This is very confused. First of all, most Christians who do accept the Bible as being inerrant would say that this is true only for the “original autographs” (that is, the original manuscript [hand-written text] of each book of the Bible as it was first penned by the human author(s)1). Secondly, “literally true” does not mean the same thing as “inerrant.” Inerrant truth can be communicated in non-literal language (e.g., “The Lord is my shepherd” or “The Lord is my fortress”).
The author’s attack on Christianity ultimately begs the point: in an evolutionary worldview, people can believe whatever they want (this is just how they evolved, after all). So, why pick on Christianity and the Bible? That is, if evolution is true and if different viewpoints are only manifestations of the chemical and physical processes going on in the brain, then how can someone assess the truthfulness of one worldview over another? Also, the author, by declaring that the Bible is not inerrant, is placing humanity (and himself) as the highest authority on the matter. His presupposition is humanistic right from the start. In the final analysis, his article really reveals that the creation/evolution debate is a worldview issue—and not an issue of “facts.” Thus, this New Scientist article is really a religious piece, and one wonders why the editors of the magazine would side with one worldview over another if they were truly seeking impartiality in reporting scientific stories. If the editors are going to make quality statements about their beliefs over other beliefs, they have the right to do so. However, using the guise of objectivity, when no objectivity is present, is certainly not tenable.
The author, for all his railing, has revealed his presuppositions as clearly as any Christian. He begins with the premise that the Bible is full of errors, establishing himself as a higher authority, and then proceeds to prove himself right by spitting out his list of supposed errors. We are surprised that an editor would let this article pass muster and not fact-check the author’s claims, since his assertions are largely elephant hurling with seemingly little independent research, as these alleged errors have already been addressed.
The writer buttresses his shaky foundation at the end, however, by leaving no room for disagreement, since any who do disagree with him are “[tying] themselves in knots trying to explain them away.” That is, even if there are logical explanations and even if this “list of instances” is flawed, showing them to be flawed is not allowed. Such hand waving and bluffing should not be much to worry about; so, let’s take a look at some of his so-called “errors.”
The author claims that there are “so many examples [of errors and inconsistencies] it is hard to know where to start.” His proof of this is a link to the Skeptics Annotated Bible, as well as links to Wikipedia criticisms. However, aside from the “hasty generalization fallacy” employed here (i.e., making a broad claim without proof), one must remember that much of the “criticism” on the pages he links to is based on the secular (i.e., often anti-God) version of history and a secular worldview (i.e., believing humanity’s ideas to be the highest authority). The Bible, to them, is wrong and inconsistent because it does not line up with their religion—humanism. So, naturally, skeptics are going to have problems with the Bible.
The bulk of readers of New Scientist may quickly come to the conclusion that there are many contradictions in the Bible based on his seemingly damaging case. However, a remedial search would show such alleged contradictions to be fallacious.2
The real question is this: is the all-knowing God (Psalm 139:2), who has always been there (Revelation 22:13) and can’t lie (Hebrews 6:18), wrong, or are these finite, fallible human skeptics wrong (Romans 3:4,23)?
Much of the author’s criticism begins with the premise that God could not have inspired men to write the Bible, either because He doesn’t exist or because that would make the Bible special. For someone to make the claim that God cannot inspire the biblical authors, he is inadvertently claiming that:
So, really, they are claiming to have characteristics of a God they deny when they say that the Bible is not God’s Word. This is what we would expect from a humanistic reasoning in which people claim to be the highest authority. Thus, in order for the author to make his case, he would have to prove 1) God did not inspire the Bible and 2) subjective humans are the highest authority regarding what truth is. But these are the very presuppositions that the author assumes at the beginning. These same presuppositions are often used to undermine the historicity of the Bible, since humanists cannot allow that the Bible is what it says it is—or else they could not be humanists.
Thus, various models have “evolved” as to how the Bible was “really” written and when (sadly some of these models are even taught at Christian universities). To such people, the Bible is not to be trusted in interpreting itself, since, in their eyes, “modern humans” are more likely to discern the “real” history of the world and how it all happened. If the Bible claims to have been written at a certain time, in such a view, it is “obviously” a myth, or an interloper with an agenda added it later.
You will rarely see such a skeptic wonder if perhaps the secular history is wrong and the Bible correct—strange that they are not at all skeptical of that! The case is, of course, settled before they begin. Interestingly, with secular history, you never know when those dates or popular theories could be “revised” and “revised” again. So, to criticize the Bible based on a fluid, secular account is not defensible.
In fact, there have been numerous times when certain biblical accounts of historical events, though initially rejected, have been vindicated by further research. For this New Scientist writer to substantiate his claim he would have to know, objectively, all things about the present and the past to say that the Bible is inconsistent in these areas.
Finally, it is important to point out that when the Bible reports on someone’s wrong perceptions or actions, this certainly does not mean that the Bible contradicts itself. Instead, the text is faithfully telling us what someone either said or believed—whether what that individual said is true or not. For example, Psalm 53 says, “There is no God.” Out of context, this would seem to contradict what the rest of the Bible teaches, but when we realize that this is the thought of someone who a priori rejects God, then we see that this is not a contradiction at all. In the same way, I have quoted the New Scientist article writer several times and disagreed with his interpretations, but that is not a contradiction of my text.
To substantiate this claim, the author links to an article describing some people who do supposedly believe that the earth is flat based on how they interpret passages of the Bible (it is also interesting to point out that the article he links to is written by a staunch atheist and former president of the anti-creationist group the National Center for Science Education, which has its own agenda to promote). Obviously, the implication here is that creationists who don’t accept that the Bible teaches a flat earth are not really being “literal” in their approach. Apparently, some Bible critics don’t understand what a straightforward reading of Scripture means—metaphors are metaphors, poetry is poetry, etc.
But here again, this is a case of presuppositional beliefs overriding what the Bible really says. Those who say that the Bible teaches a flat earth either believe the earth really is flat (a very small number, if any) or want it to say that so as to ridicule it. Then, they can give a list of verses that they claim show this, such as poetic and metaphorical passages like Psalm 93:1 and Job 9:6. It is ironic that they would deny that the Bible is true or to be trusted and yet claim poetry and metaphorical language in that very Bible must be read a certain way.
You will rarely, however, see skeptics more than cursorily address Isaiah 40:22, which tells readers that God “sits above the circle of the earth,” or Job 26:10, which also describes the earth as circular (keep in mind, that the earth does appear as a circle in space). In addition, many such critics will also not address the Hebrew language directly and rely on specific translations of the English. We know of no Bible scholar with an understanding of the Hebrew language who would argue for a flat earth based on the verses found in the Psalms and Isaiah.
The spherical shape (and even the approximate size) of the earth has long been established—both within the Bible (the book of Job likely being the oldest Bible book) and in other writings. In fact, the flat-earth myth (the modern-day belief that people hundreds of years ago believed the earth was flat) has become part of the popular culture due to a very questionable biography of Christopher Columbus by Washington Irving. It was this invented history that was later used by the champions of enlightenment to show their own superiority, and then co-opted by skeptics to ridicule the Bible and Christians.3
The article writer does not bother referencing this, but we assume he is basing this claim on Genesis 1:15: “Let them [sun and moon] be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light [emit] on the earth.” The writer’s claim is a bizarre one. After all, how many of us say that the moon “shines” even though we know the moon reflects the sun’s light and does not generate its own? (Of course, there have also been secular scientists in years past who once claimed that the moon does, in fact, emit its own light in the form of thermoluminescence.)
Many translations of 1 Chronicles 3:22 read something similar to this: “The sons (descendants) of Shecaniah: Shemaiah and his sons: Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah, and Shaphat, six.” It is of note that the New Scientist writer “selectively” quotes this verse and leaves off the first part, which gives us: “The sons of Shemaiah: Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah, and Shaphat, six” (I could find no translation of the Bible that renders this verse without the preceding clause). At first glance, using the author’s rendering, one would wonder how five sons’ names equal six people.
The author ironically links the verse to a website that gives the full version of the quote and some very interesting commentary concerning this apparent discrepancy: “Six, including the father. But the Hebrew word, Shisha, which is rendered six, may be a proper name of one of the sons of Shemaiah.”
So, let’s take stock. One of the author’s prime examples of an error in the math of the Bible is dependent upon the reader not examining further to see what the whole text says. That is, Shemaiah and his five sons do indeed make up six people, or the last word may, in fact, be a name. (For history buffs, you may know that the Romans sometimes named children based on birth order, such as Sextus.)
Based on 1 Kings 7:23, this argument is probably the most-used argument against the Bible being inerrant. After all, nearly everyone learns in school that the value of pi is approximately 3.14. So, why does the Bible give the value 3? Well, the short answer is that it doesn’t. If you read the verse, the Bible gives measurements of the Sea (a cast bronze metalwork made especially for the Temple at Jerusalem), measurements that skeptics use to derive an incorrect value for pi. The Bible does not tell us the specifics of the measurement (that is, what is being measured, especially if “from one brim to another” means that there was some sort of lip on the sea), and there was also likely a great deal of rounding (if it was measured by the lengths of a forearm, then this is a good possibility). It is no good to make dogmatic claims of fallacy without carefully examining what you claim to be false.
Here’s a question that, at first, may sound unrelated to the charge about rabbits chewing their cud. What would you say if I told you that I am going bite my thumb in front of you? You would likely think I was rather odd, if not crazy. However, to the Shakespearean audience of Romeo and Juliet, that line had a very insulting meaning.
How does this relate? Well, just because we use a phrase today to have a certain meaning doesn’t mean that the phrase has always had the same meaning. What we describe as “chewing the cud” today cannot be used to judge what the text in Leviticus 11:6 said. Otherwise, I could accuse Shakespeare of being ridiculous based solely on my understanding of his phrase from today’s meaning of it (or lack of meaning). So, even if that’s all we had to go on, the author’s argument is again without foundation.
Now, it should be pointed out that rabbits do appear to ruminate and also practice refection, which is a type of re-ingestion (see Cecotrope) and not so dissimilar to what cows and other ruminants do. This is not a way to “get around” the so-called obvious inconsistency; it is, rather, actually using our logic to think through what the Bible says, with a bit of observational science to boot.
Once again, the article’s writer fails to cite a reference for this (he may, in fact, simply be repeating oft-used claims without looking them up himself—something he asks the reader to do, I might add). One can assume he is referring to Job 39:14–18, in which God says that the ostrich “lays her eggs on the ground” (which is certainly true) “unmindful that a foot may crush them” (which is also true), and “she treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers” (again true, as it turns out). In only a few moments of searching the Internet, I found out that female ostriches sometimes crush their own nests, purposefully let eggs not be incubated, and leave their chicks to others to care for. Ostrich mothers, it would seem, are certainly not the paragon of good parenting. (To look into this yourself, start here: Ostrich in the Bible.)
Let’s ignore for the moment that one of the founders of the science of geology, Niels Steensen (Steno), was a biblical creationist and accepted both a 6000-year-old earth and a global Flood. In fact, this framework allowed him to understand the strata he was looking at. Instead, let’s evaluate this argument based on the author’s links and what the “dating methods” really say.
For proof, the author links to a book about James Hutton in the 18th-century “discovering” that the earth was older than the Bible claims. What he does not tell the reader, however, is that Hutton believed that the earth was eternal without a beginning (Hutton also did not take into consideration the fossil record). This would not sit well with most modern long-age skeptics. Charles Lyell would have been the better link, since he was most responsible for putting forth the uniformitarian interpretation of the geological record (a curious omission, but perhaps this is because Lyell was very clear in his desire to overthrow the Bible). For a complete look at the history of a belief in hundreds of thousands or millions or billions of years (depending on the secular “version” of history at the time), see Where Did the Idea of “Millions of Years” Come From?
Once again, the issue here is not what facts we have; the issue is how one interprets those facts. Steno, for example, saw the same facts and interpreted them within the framework of Scripture (modern day young-earth creationists do the same). Others later imposed their own interpretation to get the Bible out of it. It is also interesting to point out that 90% of the dating methods that we have available to us do not yield the billions-of-years age for the earth. These are not obscure methods of dating, but ones that are readily testable (though various “rescuing devices” are employed to get around the implications).4 As with the supposed “evidence” for evolution, presuppositions impact how one interprets the age of the earth and the geological and fossil records. The main issue here is whether the present is the key to the past (which is a presupposition, not a fact) or whether a global Flood transformed the earth (also a presupposition). If the Flood is a real historical event (which the Bible says it is, and which science supports), then the need for billions of years is completely washed away.
Jesus didn’t think so in Mathew 19, since He quoted them back-to-back when referring to the first marriage in Genesis. In fact, Jews for thousands of years didn’t see this as two different (or even contradictory) accounts (interesting that they should have “missed” this for so long). It seems that in English there appears to be a contradiction in some translations. This makes people think there are two different accounts. This discrepancy between English and Hebrew should be a clue right from the start as to the veracity of this claim.
To see two contradictory accounts, one must ignore the conventions of Hebrew literature, the use of a pluperfect to be specific, and decide for themselves how Genesis “should” be read. For a complete look at this supposed contradiction, see Two Creation Accounts? and God created animals, man, and woman—in that order? This canard is so often repeated, one wonders if it must be inscribed in some skeptics’ catechism.
Genesis 1:3 shows this is true. So, how is this a contradiction? The author apparently believes that the sun is required for this particular light of Genesis 1:3 that is hitting the earth. Thus, light could not have existed before the sun. The writer should know that light sources, besides the sun, can exist. Just as God said that He will provide light without a sun after His return (Revelation 22:5), God provided the light of Genesis 1:3. If someone doesn’t believe in God or denies His power, then it is not surprising that this topic would be problematic. Creating light, with or without a sun, is just another reason for His greatness.
The writer here is likely repeating an argument that is brought up time and time again by skeptics. Genesis 7:2 says that God told Noah to take seven (some translations say seven pairs) of every kind of some animals, but it also says two of another kind (unclean). Genesis 7:8 says that “pairs” of clean and unclean animals and birds entered the Ark. So, is there really any contradiction?
“Seven” is likely “seven pairs” (the Hebrew allows for that), but even allowing that it means only “seven,” it seems quite obvious that when describing the animals loading the Ark, the vast majority were pairs. God could have inspired Moses to say, “The animals loaded the Ark in pairs—with that seventh odd animal coming in behind as a slow tag-a-long.” But not stating it that way doesn’t make it false; it’s just a simplification.
If I write of a battle that “the troops came in two waves,” that doesn’t preclude the possibility that the same troops attacked a first time and then a second. When describing a complicated event or concept, we often simplify things for brevity and understanding. Of course, if “seven” is really “seven pairs” (a good possibility), then the whole argument is moot anyway.
This is another bizarre claim that betrays a lack of knowledge of the Hebrew language in Genesis. In Hebrew, the Scriptures do not in any way imply that Adam and Eve would die instantly or soon after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, only that they would die at some point after eating. For a complete look at what the Hebrew really says, see Genesis 2:17—“you shall surely die”.
The writer claims that since the Flood killed “all creatures” (though, this is not entirely accurate, since many sea creatures would have survived) except those on the Ark, then there shouldn’t have been giants (the Nephilim from Genesis 6:4) after the Flood as there are in Numbers 13:33. This, at first glance, appears to be an interesting contradiction. But let’s take a closer look.
First of all, the word Nephilim doesn’t necessarily mean “giants” and could simply mean “men of renown” or “heroes of old”—or it may simply mean “fallen men.” (We could also point out that even today we use the word giant to mean more than just tall stature—e.g., “He’s a giant in the field of biomechanics.”) Genesis 6:4 also says that the Nephilim were “on the earth in those days—and also afterward,” which leads one to wonder if this is perhaps a way of describing a category of people or a type. That is, the spies in the book of Numbers could have used the word Nephilim, a word they had encountered from either Moses’ writings or spoken tradition, to describe the people they saw. Let us not forget that Native Americans were named “Indians” based on faulty reasoning as well. And the story of the spies is meant to show that they were afraid and not trusting God; calling the people they encountered the descendants of the Nephilim would likely have had a certain resonance with those listening. This would be like calling an opposing army “as fierce as the Spartans.” Honestly reporting the faulty reasoning of those who were not obedient to God is certainly not an error in the reporting itself.
One other interesting speculation is that Numbers describes the Nephilim as the “descendants of Anak.” These people, in fact, were most often referred to as Anakites (see Joshua 11:21–22, 14:12–15; Deuteronomy 1:28, 2:10, 9:2). The pre-Flood Nephilim, on the other hand, are not tied to any specific tribe or clan—and certainly not Anak, who came after the Flood. It isn’t too hard to imagine that perhaps the Anakites themselves—or others—had applied the name Nephilim based on what they knew of the term or the association it had with ancient heroes. That is, if a group of people today call themselves Spartans because of the ancient city, that doesn’t mean they are directly associated with the original citizens. Otherwise, Michigan State University’s teams, which are called the “Spartans,” would have a longer history than anyone ever realized.
The bottom line is fairly simple. Even if we accept the word Nephilim to mean “giants,” giants were still people—people lived before and after the Flood.
Now that we have rebutted the author’s claims, we note with irony that he wrapped up his article by stating:
However, there are far too many errors, inaccuracies and contradictions to dismiss them all. The only rational and reasonable conclusion is that the Bible is not inerrant. [emphasis added]
This, of course, assumes that rationality and reason exist in an evolutionary worldview. In a secular (i.e., no God, no immaterial) framework, there is no basis for such things. To claim that truth, reason, and logic exist is actually borrowing from the Bible’s teachings and assuming the Bible is true (even if unwittingly)!5 Such things are not material, and this puts materialists into a quandary. They must either admit that there are immaterial elements like reason and truth (which nullifies strict evolutionary materialism) or admit that there is no truth (which, though it fits with materialism, nullifies any claims for disproving the accuracy of the Bible—or anything else, for that matter). Often, however, as with this New Scientist article, the irony of the claim is lost on the writer. That is, an atheist skeptic has to assume that there is objective truth (as found in a biblical worldview) just to try to argue that the Bible is not true.
Given the article writer’s lack of research into the claims he makes against biblical inerrancy, it is no wonder that he tried to head off disagreement by claiming his own (apparently superior) reason and logic had shown the reader the “truth.” However, not one of his supposed errors and contradictions bears up under scrutiny—with even a little amount of research and thought.
There is one thing we can definitely agree with him on (though probably not with the same intent): look into the Word of God, ask questions, and seek answers. You will often find that the “mountain of evidence” against the Bible is actually a molehill of bravado.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.