Subjectivity and No Definitive Answers in the Bible
Kevin R. Henke, Ph.D.
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Woodmorappe (1999), Kent Hovind and other young-Earth creationists (YECs) frequently mischaracterize geology, biology, geochronology and other sciences as being "subjective" or "religious". However, if we look at the claims of YECs and their biblical interpretations, we quickly discover that young-Earth creationism and other aspects of fundamentalist Christianity are full of subjectivity, refuted claims and groundless speculation. Any problems with subjectivity in geology and other sciences are minuscule when compared to the subjectivity and inconsistencies in fundamentalist Christianity. For example, the constant in-fighting among YECs and other fundamentalist Christians over infant baptism, the "gifts" of the Holy Spirit, keeping a "Sabbath", salvation by grace alone and countless other "fundamental" issues demonstrates that their biblical interpretations are far more "plastic", subjective, and unreliable than anything in geology. Specifically, conservative Lutherans and conservative Baptists quote the same Bible and derive opposite conclusions about infant baptism. YECs Kofahl (1977) and Johnson (1986) cite Genesis 1:7 as "evidence" of a "vapor canopy" in the Earth's "Pre-Flood" atmosphere, while YECs Brown (1995, p. 174-179) and Whitelaw (1983) read the same Bible and reject the existence of this "canopy". Matthew 7:3-5 clearly applies to YECs.
As shown by the numerous examples in Morris (1986), YECs will grasp at any extreme and ridiculous argument to "prove" that the Bible is "scientifically valid". As Christian fundamentalists, YECs want us to believe that their Bible interpretations are "objective", "final", "scientific", and "reliable evidence of inspiration from God". However, the absurdities of these fundamentalist interpretations become very obvious once they are reviewed in detail. For example, Morris (1986, p. 12) cites Genesis 22:17 to argue that "scripture" correctly "predicted" that the number of sand grains on the Earth roughly equals the number of stars in the Universe, or about 10 to the 26th power. I really question that we can know the number of stars in the Universe or grains on the Earth's seashores within several orders of magnitude. Also, depending upon how "stars", "sand grains", and "seashores" are defined, the estimates will widely vary. Nevertheless, Morris' interpretation of Genesis 22:17 is an excellent example of a fundamentalist taking a piece of Genesis poetry too literally. A careful analysis shows that Morris' interpretation is inconsistent and flawed. Genesis 22:17 (King James' Version) states:
"That in blessing I will bless thee; and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore... "
Now, if Morris insists that the verse says: number of stars = number of sand grains on Earth's seashores = 10 to the 26th or some other huge number, then, to be fully consistent, the verse must also say: number of stars = number of sand grains on Earth's seashores = number of Abraham's descendants = 10 to the 26th or some other huge number. So where are the trillions and trillions of descendants of Abraham? Unless they moved to other planets, they certainly are not living now and there's no evidence that the Earth ever had all of these people during the past few thousand years.
Elsewhere, Morris (1986, p. 28) argues for a literal interpretation of Jonah's fish story by quoting Matthew 12:40 (King James Version):
"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's [sic, fish's] belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Morris (1986, p. 28) argues that either Jonah was literally swallowed or Christ was mistaken. However, this is a false dilemma. Besides Morris' two alternatives, it is possible that "Matthew" may have used a false quotation. Jesus may never have quoted Matthew 12:40. While Matthew 12:38-40, 16:4 and Luke 11:29-32 claim that Jesus' generation would be given the "sign of Jonah" as a warning, Mark 8:11-12 says that there would be NO sign at all. That is, the reference to Jonah is absent from Mark 8:11-12. The earliest version of the Gospel of Mark is generally considered to be older than the first versions of Matthew and Luke (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985, p. 1600-1601). Therefore, a lot of false statements may have been attributed to Jesus between the final version of Mark and the final Greek version of Matthew. Of course, fundamentalists don't want to admit this possibility.
The fundamentalists also fail to consider the full implications of taking Matthew 12:40 literally. Since Morris believes that a fish physically swallowed Jonah, does he believe that Jesus literally and bodily went 4000 miles into the core (literally, heart or center) of the Earth? How did Jesus physically fit into a core of dense nickel and iron? Miracles, no doubt. Why would Jesus want to be inside of an iron and nickel planetary core for three days? Only when we reject the scientific view of the Earth's interior and embrace the ancient Israelites' Sheol-view of the Earth, does Matthew 12:40 make sense. The ancients viewed the Earth's interior as full of caves haunted by demons (2 Peter 2:4) and as a literal place of the dead, rather than a dense and impermeable core of nickel and iron. Now, if Morris denies that Jesus literally went into the nickel-iron core of the Earth, then why should he believe in a literal bodily swallowing of Jonah? If Morris says that Jesus went there "in the spirit," then why couldn't Jonah only have been swallowed "in the spirit"? If Morris argues that the word "center, core or heart" of the Earth should not be taken literally but only refers to an above ground tomb in Jerusalem, then why should we take the words of Jonah and the rest of the Bible literally? Why should we take the "days" of Genesis literally? If Morris insists on reinterpreting the words of Matthew 12:40 in a selective non-literal manner, he only proves my point: when the Bible is wrong, fundamentalists redefine and twist verses to make them conform with science. If a Bible verse vaguely guesses or accidentally pokes at some scientific discovery, the Christian fundamentalists loudly proclaim it as evidence of "divine inspiration" (e.g., Job 26:7; Is 40:22; Morris, 1986). This "tails, I win; heads, you lose" approach to interpreting the Bible gives the book a false air of inspiration and infallibility. If science later changes and the Bible verse is no longer consistent with the new scientific discoveries, YECs can always "reinterpret" the verse to make it consistent with the new science or just say that it's "non-literal poetry". The new interpretations are then proclaimed as the "perpetual Truth" unless science later refutes them. As a specific example, 1 Chronicles 16:30; Job 38:4-6; and Psalms 93:1, 96:10 and 104:5 were once used to argue for geocentricism; that is, the idea that the Earth is "motionless" and located at the center of the Universe. Once heliocentricism replaced geocentricism because of the research of Copernicus and Galileo, most Jews and Christians no longer took the verses literally. That is, the verses became "non-literal poetry". To be exact, YEC Sarfati (1999, p. 100-101) openly scoffs at the idea that Psalm 93:1 should be taken literally to support geocentricism. For him, it's "obvious" that the Psalms are non-literal poetry "unlike" the "history" of Genesis. While a geocentricist takes Psalm 93:1 literally, Sarfati (1999, p. 101) argues that the verse simply indicates that the Earth will not stray from its current orbit and rotation. Certainly, the Bible is more than plastic enough to accommodate both of these contradictory views!
While it's commendable that Sarfati (1999, p. 100-101) clearly admits that verses in the Psalms are not literal, it's too bad that he won't make the same admission with the talking snake and magical fruit in Genesis. Then, of course, Sarfati still has to respond to Job and 1 Chronicles, which have also been used to support geocentricism. Are Job and 1 Chronicles "history", supposedly like Genesis, or "non-literal poetry", like Psalms? If the geocentricism and atmospheric storehouses for hailstones in Job 38 are not literal, why should Sarfati and others at AiG believe that the "Behemoth" of Job 40 is literal? Maybe all of these verses are nothing more than myths. Who decides the correct interpretation? Again, considering all of the Christian denominations and branches of Judaism, Bible interpretations are so numerous and subjective that no one can find any "final answers". Furthermore, it's all too obvious that if the verses about a talking snake and a motionless Earth were in the Koran or the Book of Mormon, the YECs would ridicule them and would never accept the verses as "inspired".
Another example of subjectivity and non-inspiration within fundamentalist Christianity deals with the recent events at Bob Jones "University", which is located in Greenville, South Carolina, USA. This "Christian university" is ultrafundamentalist and strongly supports young-Earth creationism.
In a radio speech on April 17 1960, Bob Jones Sr., founder of the "university", attacked desegregation as being "anti-God" (see "Preaching the Anti-Evolution Propaganda"). According to Jones, Acts 17:26 states that God has "set" boundaries between the different "races" (nations) and that desegregation is a "violation" of these boundaries. Later, when minorities were admitted to the "university", interracial dating was prohibited, probably on the basis of this racist interpretation of Acts 17:26.
For decades, leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, sensible theologians, more liberal Bible-quoting evangelicals, and even many YECs could never succeed in convincing the leaders of Bob Jones "University" to change their archaic and racist policies. Both the racists and anti-racists thought that they were doing the will of God. Nevertheless, after a series of scathing speeches by Senator McCain of Arizona during the 2000 US Presidential campaign and pressure from television talk-show host Larry King, Bob Jones III of Bob Jones "University" forgot about his grandfather's uncompromising pronouncement on Acts 17:26, denied that segregation was "scriptural" and dropped the "university's" decades-old prohibition on interracial dating. Without using a Bible and over the course of just a few days, Senator McCain, Larry King and other secular critics did what sensible Christians couldn't do. They persuaded the "university" leadership to abandon one of its racist policies. So much for fundamentalists' claims that the Bible is an "objective", "straightforward", "powerful", "steadfast" and "never-ending" standard. Once the public recognizes that these biblical interpretations are barbaric and stupid, the fundamentalists "reinterpret" or ignore them, and the doctrines wither into oblivion along with witch hunts. In contrast, when was the last time that a YEC Senator succeeded in using public and political pressure to persuade the United States Geological Survey to change its views on the age of the Earth?
Brown Jr., Walter T., 1995, In the Beginning..., 6th general edition, Center for Scientific Creation, Phoenix, AZ.
Johnson, Gary L., 1986, "Global Heat Balance with a Liquid Water and Ice Canopy," Creation Research Society Quarterly, v. 23, September, p. 54?61.
Kofahl, Robert E., 1977, "Could the Flood Waters have come from a Canopy or Extraterrestrial Source?", Creation Research Society Quarterly, v. 13, March, p. 202?206.
Morris, H.M., 1986, Science and the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.
The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985, Doubleday: New York.
Sarfati, J., 1999, Refuting Evolution, Master Books, Green Forest, AR.
Whitelaw, Robert L., 1983, "The Fountains of the Deep, and the Windows of Heaven', in Science at the Crossroads: Observation or Speculation?, papers of the 1983 National Creation Conference, Bible-Science Association and Twin Cities Creation-Science Association, Minneapolis, MN, p. 95f.
Woodmorappe, J., 1999, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA.