I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. There’s a picture of it to the left. Its name is the Bible, and it’s a book. And I think it’s a wonderful book, if you read it correctly. If you read it incorrectly, you can use it to discount virtually all modern science and send humanity tumbling back into the Dark Ages.
Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis — along with the rest of the “ministries” that promote an exclusively young-earth view — read it incorrectly. That’s my opinion, and you already know all about it. However, I recently got a question from a reader that illustrated the dangerous potential consequences of the young-earth hermeneutic in a simple, powerful way, and I wanted to share it with you.
The reader quoted from an article written by Ham and still hosted on the website of AiG. It was written more than 15 years ago, but young-earthers aren’t particularly known for the rapid progression of their ideas, so we should be able to trust that Ham’s opinion on the matter today is largely unchanged. In the essay, Ham wrote the following:
Recently, one of our associates sat down with a highly respected world-class Hebrew scholar and asked him this question: “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with millions or billions of years of history for the Earth and universe?” The answer from this scholar? “Absolutely not!”
Let’s be honest. Take out your Bible and look through it. You can’t find any hint at all for millions or billions of years.
Ham’s goal in using an argument like this is to advance the idea that he and his ilk are not the bunch of stubborn, thick-headed, backwards-thinking Troglodytes, hopelessly devoted to their personal view of scripture, that folks like me supposedly try and paint them as. According to them, they are simply “taking God at his word.” Their hands are tied, in a sense.
But there’s a very big, very serious problem with this line of reasoning, which is that the exact same argument could be used to “disprove” many, many things modern science has shown us — things that we now know to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.
You could just as well ask an OT scholar, “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with the idea that the earth is round and orbits the sun?” An honest scholar would have to say, “Of course not!” just as vehemently, since, in fact, there are dozens of passages that indicate the earth is flat, and many more that seem to say the sun moves and the earth doesn’t.
Or you could ask, “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with the idea that the diameter of the universe spans nearly 100 billion light-years?” Not a chance. The biblical authors didn’t seem to know all that much about deep space, galaxies, black holes, quasars or the like. In fact, the author of Genesis 1 seemed to be confused about the nature of the moon as a “light” (in actuality, it merely reflects light from the sun, so it is no more a “light” than the sun-warmed desert sand is an independent source of heat), and didn’t even mention the existence of other planets in our solar system.
What about, “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with the idea that matter is composed of molecules and atoms?” Or, “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with the idea that some diseases are caused by germs and other microbes?” Or, “If you started with the Bible alone, without considering any outside influences whatsoever, could you ever come up with the idea that all biological life contains a genetic ‘blueprint’ called DNA, which is encoded into every one of our cells?”
Of course, the answer in all of these cases — and many others — is “No way. Absolutely not.” So, you see, by the exact same logic that AiG presumes to dispose of evolutionary theory and the age of the universe, we could just as easily dispense with the atomic theory of matter and the germ theory of disease — not to mention the foundation of genetics, which sparked the revolutions in medicine and many fields of science that helped bring us into the modern age.
The problem is not in the interpretation of the science. The problem is in the interpretation of the scripture, and it comes when you try and read the Bible like a science book rather than a theology book; when you — in other words — try and read the Bible in a way that it simply was not meant to be read.
The biblical authors didn’t know about deep time, evolution, deep space, atoms, germs, DNA, RNA, fetal development and many other things we now know about today, because they had no scientific means of obtaining this knowledge and because the Holy Spirit (whom I believe inspired them) evidently didn’t think they needed to know about such things.
And why would they? What possible purpose would a PhD-level dissertation on the biological origins of modern man have served for a tribe of ancient Hebrews living in Babylonian captivity thousands of years ago? Answer: Not much. They didn’t need to know how man was created, what they needed to know was why man was created. Science is quite good at answering the former question, but not much help with the latter. That — I believe — is where the Bible appropriately comes into the picture.
When we take the “why” questions to scripture, we come away with a beautiful revelation of God’s love, grace and power that is incredibly profound and imminently relevant. When we take the “how” questions to scripture, we come away with, well…this.
It doesn’t take a “highly respected world-class Hebrew scholar” to tell you which one is a proper use of the text, and which one isn’t.