In my final post of this week dedicated to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, I want to focus, not on science or Ken Ham’s Twitter trolls, but specifically on the truly muddled and confusing way Answers in Genesis even presents the Bible itself.
The Evangelical Dilemma with Genesis 1-11 and the Book of Revelation
In my life, I’ve come to realize that the most muddled thinking and confusion regarding the Bible stems from the beginning and the end: Genesis 1-11 and the Book of Revelation. Let’s face it, when it comes to your typical Christian layman sitting in the pews, both Genesis 1-11 and Revelation are really confusing. We can read the Gospels, Paul’s letters, the Old Testament stories about Abraham, Moses, and David, as well as Psalms and Proverbs—and we can usually “get” a lot of it, and relate them to our daily lives in some way. But Genesis 1-11 and Revelation? That’s some really weird stuff: talking snakes, angels having sex with women (did they really?—Actually, no, but that’s what many people think), beasts out of the sea, locusts, dragons, hailstones, fire from heaven. Just really bizarre stuff.
Inevitably, there are always some self-proclaimed “experts” who go around selling their particular books, charts, and novel theology. Dispensationalists like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, and the grand-daddy of the Schofield Study Bible, C.I. Schofield, have made a small fortune trotting out complicated “Dispensationalist charts” and writing novels that frighten and confuse many a Christian. And then, of course, there are young earth creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis, who flood the market with their own confusing (and often contradictory) claims that no one can really follow or understand.
I have found the result in both cases tends to be the same among Evangelicals. Nobody really understands those Dispensationalist charts, and nobody really understands all the “scientificy” jargon Answers in Genesis puts in their articles, blog posts, and curriculum—so they just nod, and figure, “Well, I guess they are the experts! I’ll believe it, even though I really don’t get it.” And then they go back to reading the Gospels, or other devotional works, and just leave trying to really understand Genesis 1-11 or Revelation off to the side.
The tragedy is that both Genesis 1-11 and Revelation are absolutely wonderful, powerful, life-changing, worldview-shaping parts of the Bible that are vital to the Christian life, yet they are left on the sidelines in most Christians’ lives, because the so-called “experts” (I’ll call them Bible-distorting heretics) have robbed Genesis 1-11 and Revelation of their transformative power, because they have made them mean what they never have meant.
The key thing with both YEC and Dispensationalism is this odd dynamic where they bombard people with so many specific details and claims, that everything gets muddled, over-generalized, and foggy. And that’s how they want it. It gives the illusion of specificity, yet keeps people dazed and confused, with a recurring case of the munchies for clarity—so they buy the YEC and Dispensationalist literature and curriculum, hoping they will explain what they themselves simply can’t understand.
Dr. Jason Lisle’s Fog that Doesn’t Explain Why the Bible is True (Although He claims It Does)
Case in point: Dr. Jason Lisle, the so-called astronomy expert at Answers in Genesis. In a March 22, 2011 post entitled, “How Do We Know the Bible is True?, Lisle writes seven pages of explanation that left me, a PhD in the Old Testament, scratching my head. Certainly, some of the things he said were true, but they were so wrapped up in what I can only describe as a “linguistical fog” that when I finished reading, I literally said, “Huh? Let’s take a quick look at it.
Now the question is a valid question, and one that is very pressing in our day: How do you know the claims of the Bible are true? Lisle says that some people point to the change it has made in their own lives, and he correctly points out that that might very well be the case, but it still is nevertheless a rather subjective standard. He then brings up another common yet unsatisfactory answer: “We know the Bible is true by faith.” Once again, that might be true, but it still is not an adequate answer that can prove the claims of the Bible are true.
It is at this point that Lisle says something that is, quite frankly, misleading, and actually contributes to the muddling fog. When defining “faith,” Lisle quotes Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.” He then claims that this verse is saying that faith is “the confident belief in something that you cannot perceive with your senses. So when I believe without observation that the earth’s core is molten, I am acting on a type of faith.”
Well, in fact, that is not how Hebrews 11:1 understands faith. Faith is not “believing what your senses cannot perceive.” Faith is believing that the future of a new creation is certain, even though it’s not here yet, because the firstfruits of it has happened with the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Faith has nothing to do with believing something exists in the material universe that your senses cannot perceive. It has everything to do with the future hope and certainty that God will fulfill His promise to redeem and transform His creation.
Lisle’s misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:1, and his subsequent definition of faith actually makes it impossible to understand what biblical faith really is. He has effectively reduced it to a muddled, quasi-scientific, “I believe something exists even though I can’t prove it scientifically” sort of nonsensical mantra. Simply put, what Lisle says faith is…isn’t faith. It’s nonsense.
What About II Timothy 3:16?
Lisle then points to II Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed (i.e. inspired)…” and states that although that is true, again, it doesn’t prove the Bible is true. Once again, though, the way he interprets this verse is utterly false and misleading. He states that II Timothy 3:16 means, “every writing in the Bible is a revelation from God that can be trusted as factually true. Clearly, if the Bible is given by revelation of the God of truth, then it can be trusted at every point as an accurate depiction.”
Again, no, that’s not what II Timothy 3:16 is saying. Saying “All Scripture is inspired by God” does not mean that “every writing in the Bible is factually true.” If Lisle’s statement were true, then there would be no psalms, proverbs, parables, poetry…the list can go on. Once again, Lisle has taken an incredibly important verse, and has reduced its meaning to saying, “If it’s inspired by God, it has to be factually true, in some scientific/historical sense.” He has, in effect, restricted God’s revelation to only the ability to tell of facts.
Such a mindset is, ironically, that of the Enlightenment, and it is an anemic view of Scripture.
Textual and Historical Reliability
Right after his misleading statements and wrong definition stemming from Hebrew 11:1 and II Timothy 3:16, Lisle then pivots back to a very good point: that of the textual consistency and historical reliability of the Bible. We have thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible, and they largely are consistent with each other—they have been faithfully preserved. We can be confident that what we have in our Bibles today is a translation of the original writings. In addition, there is a lot of archaeological evidence that further confirms many of the historical claims found in the Bible.
Ironically, though, despite pointing to the archaeological findings that confirm the Bible’s historical reliability, Lisle then dismisses out of hand other archaeological findings that seemingly conflict with parts of the Bible, saying, “using archaeology in an attempt to prove the Bible seems inappropriate.” So basically, it’s great if it confirms my claims, but inappropriate when it calls my claims into question. I find that reasoning to be less than satisfying. There are better reason on this point than what Lisle gives.
Lisle’s Misunderstanding and Misuse of Prophecy
Lisle then claims that biblical prophecy proves the Bible is true. The only problem with his claim, though, is that his explanation of prophecy is utterly wrong. Simply put, Lisle puts for the idea that what makes prophecy so convincing is that it provides scientific information that has only been recently discovered by modern science and “secular scientists.” He writes:
“The Bible also touches on matters of science in ways that seem to go beyond what was known to humankind at the time. In Isaiah 40:22 we read about the spreading out (expansion) of the heavens (the universe). Yet secular scientists did not discover such expansion until the 1920s. The spherical nature of the earth and the fact that the earth hangs in space are suggested in Scriptures such as Job 26:10 and Job 26:7 respectively. The book of Job is thought to have been written around 2000 BC—long before the nature of our planet was generally known.”
No…that’s not what biblical prophecy is. To be clear, Lisle is claiming that in Isaiah 40:22, in the middle of YHWH calling the Judean exiles in Babylon out from exile, and in the middle of praising YHWH for being faithful to His covenant and saving His people, Isaiah then, out of nowhere, decides to give a modern science lesson, and declares, “Hey! In case you’re wondering, the universe is expanding! Hold on to this little nugget…for 2500 years! Secular scientists won’t figure this out for a long time!”
Does that make any sense? Of course not. The fact is, at that time, ancient people picture the earth and the heavens kind of like a snow-globe: the “dome” of the snow-globe were the heavens that God “stretched out” above the earth, with the “base” of the snow-globe being the land. That’s why Isaiah compares it to God “spreading out a tent”—simply put, he’s not talking about the expansion of universe as we know it today.
As for the Job passages, the Book of Job isn’t even prophetic literature. And, as with Isaiah 40:22, the writer simply is not talking about a spherical earth suspended in outer space. Using the snow-globe analogy again, he is stating that God has placed the earth/snow-globe over Sheol, which was represented as the Sea of Chaos. Sheol was the place of chaos, and ultimately void of any meaningful, ordered life. God had raised up the land from that chaos, established “boundaries” that provided a safe place for humankind to dwell, and he put that place (i.e. the snow-globe) on top of Sheol, on top of that chaotic void. The writer wasn’t doing modern astronomy; he was using the accepted ancient cosmology of his day to explain God’s power over it.
Yet, you won’t know any of this by reading Jason Lisle, because I’m convinced he doesn’t know any of this to begin within. Because of that, he simply trots out these isolated verses, and presents them as “being true scientific statements before their time” as somehow “proving” the Bible is true in terms of modern science.
Lisle’s Standard of Standards…
Nevertheless, the supposed “scientific prophecies” is not Lisle’s main argument. He thinks there is a better way to prove the Bible is true. And here is where is totally lost me.
He starts by saying we need something “absolutely conclusive and irrefutable” to prove the bible is true. And what is that irrefutable argument? Lisle says that the very fact we have standards of truth, that that is the irrefutable proof that the Bible is true. He writes, “Only the Bible can make sense of the standards by which we evaluate whether or not something is true.”
He goes on to say that since we believe things are really true (i.e. if a light is green, then it isn’t red), that such things (he calls them the “laws of logic”) only make sense if God upholds the universe and we “take the Bible as our worldview.” Is that confusing, let Lisle try again: “If we don’t accept the Bible as true, we are left without a foundation for laws of logic.” After all, as Lisle says, “we assume that laws of logic will work in the future as they have in the past and that they work in the distant cosmos as they work here. But how could we possibly know that apart from revelation from God?” And again, “Apart from the truth revealed in the Bible, we would have no reason to assume that laws of logic apply everywhere at all times, yet we all do assume this.”
I’m sorry, I’m confused. Really, I don’t know what he means. The fact that a green light isn’t a red light is a logical statement…and that proves the Bible is true? The fact that the speed of light moves at a constant rate everywhere in the universe…is proof that the Bible is true? We wouldn’t know those things unless God had revealed Himself to Israel?
I’m sorry…but what? I’m being serious—does that make logical sense to anyone?
And Now For Something Even More Bizarre
After making the above statements, Lisle then brings the argument around to modern science, and claims that science wouldn’t even be possible unless there was uniformity in nature: “Science is based on an underlying uniformity in nature. But why should there be such uniformity in nature? And how do we know about it? We all presume that the future will be like the past in terms of the basic operation of nature.”
Now, that is completely correct. We can only do science by assuming the uniformity of nature and natural laws. “So what’s the problem” you may ask? That’s simple: Answers in Genesis (and Jason Lisle himself) routinely rail against “uniformitarianism,” and claim that the only way “secular scientists” can come up with evolution and the idea that the universe is billions of years old is by assuming uniformity in nature! The very YEC claims of Answers in Genesis are rooted in a denial of the uniformity of the natural world. Lisle himself attempts to explain away the fact that the speed of light shows the universe to be 14 billion years old. “That’s just an assumption,” he’ll say. “How do we know that light travels at the same rate everywhere in the universe at all times?”
Simply put, Lisle is saying uniformity in nature is the basis of modern science…yet rejects it when it conflicts with his YEC claims…which it does…that’s why he rejects it. He assumes the basic operations of nature are consistent throughout time…except when he tries to deny those operations to make his YEC claims of Genesis 1-11 work.
…and I still am confused how the speed of light or the color of lights “prove” the Bible is true.
Lisle concludes with a number of statements I simply don’t get. They don’t make any sense whatsoever. So let me just conclude with quoting a few of these statements, and allowing you to try to figure them out:
“Interestingly, only God is in a position to tell us on His own authority that this [the laws of nature] will be true. According to the Bible, God is beyond time, and so only He knows what the future will be. But we are within time and have not experienced the future. The only way we could know the future will be (in certain ways) like the past is because God has told us in His Word that it will be.”
“We must admit that non-Christians are able to use laws of logic and the methods of science with great success—despite the fact that such procedures only make sense in light of what the Bible teaches.”
“So the fact that even unbelievers are able to use logic and science is a proof that the Bible really is true.”
“For if the Bible were not true, we couldn’t know anything at all. It turns out that the worldview delineated by the Bible is the only worldview that can make sense of all those things necessary for knowledge.”
“The proof of the Bible is that unless its truth is presupposed, we couldn’t prove anything at all.”
Like so much else within the YEC and Dispensationalist movements, that’s a lot of impressive-sounding verbiage, but it makes no sense. And that’s the point. It leaves the reader puzzled, and thinking, “Wow, I don’t get that. That’s sounds really deep! They must be smart, so I’ll take their word for it.”
I can’t say that. All I can say is…what?
Thus endeth this week’s Ken Hamfest…next week, it’s back to other topics.