Why Young Earth Creationism & Biblical Literalism Aren’t Going Away

No matter what explanations I give Young Earth Creationists and Biblical literalists, they always have some explanation for how their position still works. This is because of their unwavering commitment to Biblical literalism.

Sherlock Holmes once said, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

This single quotation revealed the truth to me a few days ago.

  1. For Biblical literalists, their interpretation is the truth of God.
  2. If their interpretation is the truth of God, then anything that disagrees with their interpretation is impossible.
  3. And, according to Mr. Holmes, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

This forces Biblical literalists to accept all manner of harebrained ways of explaining away the contradictions in the Bible and between their interpretations of the Bible and science.

Most fundamentalists were taught that if there are any contradictions in the Bible, then it is untrustworthy. And many atheists became so after discovering that those contradictions did in fact exist. Both start with the same problematic premise:

(1) If there are contradictions in the Bible, then the Bible is false.

Fundamentalists follow (a) with

(2a) The Bible is not false, therefore
(3a) there are no contradictions in the Bible.

Some streams of atheists accept (a), then follow (a) with

(2b) There are contradictions in the Bible, therefore
(3b) The Bible is false.

This is sheer genius. Fundamentalists cannot even consider the possibility of (2b) because they have already accepted (2a)! Atheists reject (3a) by considering the rather obvious (2b). Naturally the naturalist will appear the more enlightened one because he can truthfully say that evidence will change his mind (because it will!).

But they have both accepted (a).

This is how one can be both an evolutionist and a Christian: Reject (1). Consider the possibility that there are nuances in the Biblical text. See scripture as a living document rather than a textbook on theology. See the conversation that Job and Ecclesiastes have with Proverbs. Recognize the beauty in the different truths revealed in the two different creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2.

Or accept (a), and choose between ignoring the evidence and rejecting the Bible.

Reject 1

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

9 thoughts on “Why Young Earth Creationism & Biblical Literalism Aren’t Going Away

  1. That’s a little slick-looking, though I admire the intent. It’s much easier to approach it this way:

    M: If there are irreconcilable contradictions, then we know the Bible is not true.
    m: There are no irreconcilable contradictions.
    C: Therefore, M is irrelevant. We cannot know on the basis of irreconcilable contradictions that the Bible is or is not true.

    I phrase it this way because to be unconcerned with contradictions is absolutely the wrong way to look at it. Christians are not Averroists, just as Christians are not polytheists. There is one God, and one truth.

    Here’s where the real problem is: Two working methods for knowing truth must not arrive at contradictory conclusions. The scientific method is a working method for knowing truth, or at least certain kinds of truths, to a degree.

    Because Bible-and-me-ism reaches a contradictory conclusion to this at least some of the time, then it is not a working method of knowing truth.

    Question: How is your approach to the Bible distinct from the Bible-and-me-ism of the fundamentalist? That is, how is it functionally different, picking and choosing as it does which things to believe as true?

    • Fundamentalists don’t know that they pick and choose. I do.

      I pick and choose based on a Christocentric hermeneutic, and if the Christcentric hermeneutic isn’t setting me up for the most love and most grace and kindness for the most people, I assume that I’m doing it wrong, or that the writers of the Biblical text made a mistake, or perhaps question God’s existence. It’s all about love, man. At least I think it is.

      I love the self-sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross dying for our sins, and I suppose that is what I base my religion upon. Then I pick and choose based on that what makes sense along with it. I accept the creeds because they add layers of beauty to this hermeneutic and do not try to force unkindness or meanness upon it.

      I fear, however, that I may be being unkind to my fundamentalist friends in the process. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I don’t like their theology and wish that they would change. (Being honest here. This isn’t who I wish I was.)

      On a different note, have you noticed that when Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah in Luke 4 that he doesn’t even finish the sentence? As Jonathan Martin pointed out in a recent (and fantastic) sermon, “Those grace preachers are always leaving stuff out.”

      Peace, bro.

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  4. What do you mean by ‘the Bible is false’?

    If we accept that truth and falsity are properties of propositions, and a proposition is false if it fails to describe the world, then all that follows from there being contradictions is that not every proposition in the Bible is true, not that all of them are false.

    While some athiests seem to think the Bible contains approximately zero proposistional truth, I think that’s quite extreme and statistically rare, although perhaps over-represented on the interwebs…

    But perhaps you aren’t talking about propositional falsity?

    • In the post I seem to have used the language of “false” and “not trustworthy” interchangeably. It’s been a few years since I wrote this, but I think I probably meant it was untrustworthy in general, for the purposes of each perspective.

      Meanwhile, since I wrote this I’ve gone to seminary and am in this weird space where I agree with each of the arguments in different ways:

      1. The Bible is not broadly trustworthy on matters of history or science, but

      2. The Bible is a uniquely authoritative witness to Jesus Christ (which is not the same as being broadly trustworthy on matters of history or science even related to Jesus) and is (becoming) God’s word to me. Even though there are definitely disagreements in the Bible on nearly any point.

  5. Pingback: Great article on Biblical Inerrancy | Flying in the Spirit

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