A recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on the veracity of Biblical creationism drew quite a bit of publicity. Questions of Science vs Religion always seems to draw quite the impassioned crowd on both sides. At this juncture of my life, I tend to view the ultimate nature of reality as largely unknowable, so I don’t get too caught up in questions of origin. Known existence in the seeming-present is mysterious and enigmatic enough for me. But in the past, my personal views were closely aligned with the creationist views of Ken Ham; I was raised with Biblical literalism as the default truth.
As such, I am sympathetic to the idea that an omnipotent God can do anything at all. I am sympathetic to the idea that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. So the skeptic in me actually sympathizes with many of Ken Ham’s arguments (though for vastly different reasons than he put forward). But this little blog entry isn’t about the uncertainty inherent in all scientific discovery. This commentary is about literal creationism, and why I think the argument against creationism is most striking to young-earth creationists when it is advanced through theology rather than cosmology and anthropology.
The arguments of science against the young-earth creationism are self-evident to those who don’t interpret the Bible literally, and irrelevant to those who do. The intractability of Ken Ham’s views were best displayed by his assertion that “No one is ever going to convince me the Bible is not true.” And, it seems, he meant “true” in the most literal sense. When cosmological, anthropological, or archaeological “facts” seems to contradict the Bible, a believer in Biblical inerrancy can always rely upon the Wild Card of an omnipotent God to cure any apparent inconsistencies. However, if the Bible is inerrant, there cannot be a single false account, so when two accounts contradict each other within the Bible – a Bible vs Bible conflict – it creates a far more troublesome dilemma for the believer of inerrancy than any scientific claim from an outside source.
To me, this is where the most convincing arguments against Ken Ham’s version of creationism can be made. Rather than trying to prove that the science of the Bible is wrong, it is more impactful to use the Bible against itself to prove that it is not an inerrant historical account. If the Bible is not inerrant, then the Genesis account of creation is closer to metaphor than Divine journalism. Once that is established, the discussion of origins and evolution is more narrowly restricted to the specific merits of different theories, and the interpretation of whatever evidence is available at the time.
There are countless places in the Bible where one account directly contradicts another.
I have put together an essay on reasons why the Bible is not an inerrant document, and dozens of books have more closely examined the topic. For a believer in Biblical inerrancy who is up for the challenge, I would suggest a close cross-examination of the gospels. The four gospel accounts share many of the same stories, and there is no shortage of explicit discrepancy. I count at least ten contradictions between Jesus’ final supper and his ascension. They are documented in this post, which is a cut-down of the longer essay I linked to at the top of this paragraph. As someone who once held a belief in Biblical inerrancy, I wish someone had pointed out these fairly glaring – and often explicit (not implicit) – contradictions when I was younger.
As someone who read the Bible regularly, it’s amazing to me that I did not notice the many contradictions. How could I have missed them? Countless studies have shown humans use remarkably selective observation when attending to a particular task. The most glaringly obvious observations can escape us when they are outside our area of focus or belief.
The video below is a re-creation of one of the most famous studies on the subject. It’s worth a minute of your time if you doubt the selective nature of human observation.