RE: sciDocument.rtf

From: Shuan Rose (
Date: Fri Jul 05 2002 - 18:12:12 EDT

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    -----Original Message-----
    From: Peter Ruest []
    Sent: Thursday, July 04, 2002 11:12 AM
    To: Shuan Rose
    Cc: Ron Scheller; Armin Held; ASA list
    Subject: RE: sciDocument.rtf


    I'd like to strongly endorse what Ron wrote, adding a few further

    Ron Scheller wrote:
    > Shuan:
    > To be fair, I think you are caricaturing the conservative approarch when
    > you use phases like "simple literalist interpretation" and "Conservative
    > interpreters therefore see science as the enemy". It is true that there
    > is a very vocal segment of conservatives who might be classifed as such
    > (Creation Science advocates and the YEC crowd), but there are also
    > conservatives who have a very nuanced view of verbal inspiration that
    > recognizes that a wooden, literal approach is too simplistic, and
    > therefore introduce many different literary genre in their
    > interpretative activities (and yet try to integrate that approach with
    > verbal inspiration).
    > Oh well, just wanted to throw that it and see if it sticks.
    > - -Ron
    > Shuan Rose wrote:
    > > As has been noted, many conservative apologists has spent an
    > > inordinate amount of time explaining away various errors and
    > > inconsistencies in the Bible.They have at best been partially
    > > successful.I shall discuss two approaches to interpretation, and the
    > > result when we apply those approaches at texts that appear to contain
    > > errors. The two approaches are: the centrist approach, which I
    > > discussed in my earlier post, The Human Word Of The Almighty God, and
    > > the conservative approach.The conservative approach to interpretation
    > > rules out the possibility of errors in the Bible, on the theory that
    > > it is the inspired word of God and so must be free from error. .The
    > > centrist approach also has a high view of Scripture as the inspired
    > > Word of God, but affirms that the Word of God is human, time
    > > conditioned and subject to error. I shall treat three different types
    > > of problems that may appear in the text of the Bible.Problems will be
    > > characterized as scientific, historical, or theological.

    Apparently, I missed your earlier post, The Human Word Of The Almighty
    God, while I was away for 10 days and disconnected from the list. So I
    am basing my remarks just on this post. I appreciate that your centrist
    approach has "a high view of Scripture as the inspired Word of God". Of
    course, much still depends on what you mean by it. I'll try to show that
    you are lumping together extremely different views in your
    "conservative" bin, ranging from YEC to evolution-and-old-earth views. I
    am as fully opposed to YEC as you are, but I cannot join your centrist
    approach as you are describing it below. I guess you call it "centrist"
    to distinguish it from both YEC and unbelievers. In general, I get the
    impression that you overemphasize the contribution of the human writers,
    while all but ignoring a divine influence in inspiration.

    > > 1.Scientific problems.
    > >
    > > People who hold the conservative interpretation of the Bible tend to
    > > have a negative view of science, particularly the life sciences like
    > > biology and geology.This is because science has gradually built up a
    > > picture of the prehistory of the world very different from that
    > > suggested by a simple literalist interpretation of
    > > Genesis.Conservative interpreters therefore see science as the
    > > enemy.Any advance in the life sciences is seen as a retreat for
    > > religion.The Answers in Genesis Website is typical that approach, and
    > > spends most of their time debunking the achievement of life
    > > scientists.Indeed, scientists are often seen as part of a global
    > > conspiracy to inculcate " secularism".

    Here, you are dealing with YEC only, ignoring all OEC and many theistic
    evolution approaches.

    Well they DO tend to be the loudest and most obnoxious on the conservative

    > > I will not discuss the well-worn topic of Genesis, but will look at
    > > another passage of Scripture that contains clear scientific errors.I
    > > refer to Leviticus 11, which lists clean and unclean animal.In this
    > > passage, bats are classed as birds, (v.19) insects are described as
    > > having four legs (v.20-22), and rabbits are classified among the
    > > animals that chew their cud (v. 6).Conservative arguments that the
    > > passages do not contain scientific errors are unconvincing.I have
    > > heard one conservative argue that the classification of bats as birds
    > > is not erroneous because "a bat is somewhat like a bird".By the same
    > > logic, I suppose that the baseball is somewhat like tennis (they are
    > > both sports), a law professor is somewhat like a football coach (they
    > > are both educators), and Pluto is somewhat like the sun (they are both
    > > celestial bodies).Another conservative has argued that the word "bird"
    > > use in the passage could be interpreted to mean "flying
    > > creature".However, it is my understanding that that word used is
    > > translated bird everywhere else in Scripture, and that the Hebrew has
    > > other words that mean generally flying creature.

    There are a few other Hebrew words for flying creatures, but the one
    that is used much more often is ^oph, usually translated as bird or
    fowl, e.g. in Gen.1. But interestingly, Lev. 11:20, which clearly speeks
    of flying insects, uses the term sheretz ha-^oph, meaning creeper which
    flies. Here you certainly wouldn't want to translate ^oph as bird. The
    paragraph of Lev. 11:13-19 deals with several kinds of ^oph, of which
    the last one is the bat, while all others are birds. If we want to know
    what ^oph meant to the Hebrews, we have to observe how the word is used
    in Hebrew, not how modern English versions have translated it. Thus, the
    most consistent translation of ^oph into English is not bird but flying
    creature (especially since ^ooph, having the same root, means to fly). A
    good translator might use different words to translate ^oph, depending
    on the context. But if the context does not unambiguously indicate which
    translation is correct, like in Gen.1:21, I consider it quite legitimate
    to translate "flying creatures", which is in better accordance with
    reality than "birds", if we believe that the text is meant to tell us
    (beyond the theological message) something of what really happened. In
    any case, it is plainly incorrect to claim an error here.


    Others have made this point, but its clear to me that the writer meant to
    categorises a bat as a bird. Every other member of the list is a bird.
    Moreover, every translation that I have read, including "evangelical" ones
    by NIV and NASB, translate the term in question as " bird". See the link
    inserted below.

    Similarly, with the insects "walking on four" and the rabbit (or
    rock-badger, or hare) which "chews the cud", we would have to find out
    exactly what the ancient Hebrews meant when using these terms, which may
    not always be easy with a text written almost 3500 years ago. Do we
    really know whether "walking on four" was not an idiom used for anything
    that did not walk upright? (I am sure the centi- and millipedes had to
    be counted among these unclean "creepers"; do they have exactly 100 or
    1000 feet, respectively?). The only places in the OT where the term
    translated cud occurs are the specifications of the clean and unclean
    animals in Lev.11 and Deut.14. "Chewing" translates a very frequent verb
    which literally means (in the form used) "make to come up". Hares and
    rabbits apparently are known to eat again a certain type of their
    droppings, which results in a better resorption of the vegetable matter
    pre-digested by bacteria. And when they do this, they can be observed to
    move their jaws sideways like the true ruminants. You may consider such
    propositions of conceivable explanations unconvincing, but it is much
    more reasonable to say we cannot tell for sure what the text means than
    to just dogmatically claim errors.

    Well, whatever hares and hyraxes are doing, they are not "chewing their
    cud". The point is that the ancient writers are not really being
    scientifically accurate here, and no modern biology teacher would ever mark
    as accurate any student paper which placed hares and hyraxes in the same
    category as the true ruminants.
    AS to the references to insects, Lev. 11:23 definitely seems to say that
    insects, etc. have four legs and rules out the interpretation that "walking
    on all fours" is another way of saying "creeping". See the NIV translation:

    Leviticus 11
    23 But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.

    Is there such a creature, Peter? :)

       understands that the writer shared the pre scientific view of his time
    > > and of the audience, views that we now know to be wrong as regards
    > > zoology.Moreover, centrist interpreters can argue that the purpose of
    > > the writer was to instruct his audience as to clean and unclean
    > > animals, not to instruct the audience as to modern scientific
    > > taxonomy.To take the writer to task for committing scientific errors
    > > given his purpose would be as silly as to dismiss AesopĚs fable of the
    > > hare and the tortoise, because hares and tortoises do not speak.The
    > > fable of the hare and the tortoise was meant to be a story to instruct
    > > children, not to give a scientific description of the behavior of
    > > hares and tortoises.Centrist interpreters may further point out that
    > > modern scientific journal articles usually fail at being religious or
    > > inspirational literature, yet no one says that scientific journal
    > > articles are useless or absurd because of that.In the same way,
    > > centrist interpreters can argue that God and the writer of Leviticus
    > > fulfilled their purpose for writing, even if the writing contained
    > > scientific error.

    All this is beside the point. It is never the concordists who think the
    Bible was intended to "teach science", but this charge is always made by
    those who want to refute all attempts at harmonization. The real
    question is whether a text with a theological main content, which was
    written under divine inspiration (not dictation!), may be formulated in
    a way that concords with reality. It may use anthropomorphic
    formulations which reflect an appearance, such as the sun rising or
    setting (which we also use today), while avoiding erroneous concepts. If
    God was guiding the writer in any way (using the writer's full inventory
    of capacities and knowledge), i.e. if "inspiration" has any meaning at
    all, it is certainly possible for the inspired writer to produce a text
    which fully communicates the theological message intended by God, while
    being both understandable to listeners/readers of his and any later
    times and cultures - and at the same time free of scientific,
    historical, or other errors of fact. Of course, this pertains to the
    original text, not to any copies and translations, although with the
    available manuscripts, we usually have a very well founded idea of what
    the original said. I don't claim inerrancy for any copies and
    translations, but I believe the originals were error-free. I cannot
    prove this, but neither can you prove the contrary. It is on the basis
    of theological considerations that we must try to evaluate these claims.

    Shuan writes:
    The problem is that instead of explaining why there might be errors in the
    text, there are usually strained attempts by conservative writers to explain
    why what looks like plain error is not error. I find that such explanations
    work well only for those who want to be convinced. Others tend to be
    repelled by the implausibilities that they are asked to swallow.

    > > 2.Historical problems
    > >
    > > A major historical question concerns the Hebrew conquest of
    > > Palestine.In the book of Joshua, the conquest is described as being
    > > accomplished in a single military campaign that begins with an
    > > invasion from the North.However, the Book Of Judges speaks of a
    > > gradual, long, "stepwise" process that began in the South and lasted
    > > until the time of David.The archeological evidence is
    > > inconclusive.There is some evidence of warfare and destruction
    > > associated with the Hebrew entry into Palestine (about 1200 B.C.).On
    > > the other hand, cities such as Ai and Jericho, which were described as
    > > having been captured by Joshua, may have been unoccupied at the time
    > > of the invasion.This does not mean that there was not a historical
    > > takeover of Canaan by the Hebrews.Indeed, Old Testament scholars have
    > > suggested various reconstructions of what happened.(See Bernard
    > > Anderson, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1984).However, we cannot
    > > understand what happened by a simple, literalistic interpretation of
    > > the two accounts.
    > >
    > > Conservative interpreters tend to simply glide over the
    > > inconsistencies, falling back on the assertion that the accounts were
    > > inerrant in the original autographs, as if we were talking about a
    > > spelling error or minor inconsistency, instead of two fundamentally
    > > different accounts of the conquest.
    > >
    > > Centrist interpreters understand that there were diverse traditions
    > > concerning conquest, and that the scribes incorporated the traditions
    > > into their account without attempting to harmonize them.Their concern
    > > was not so much historical reconstruction as theological
    > > interpretation.

    Again, you claim errors without carefully trying to harmonize Joshua
    with Judges, and both with the archeological evidence. Many date the
    entry into Canaan at 1200 B.C., while other scholars place it into the
    15th century, which is more in accord with internal biblical evidence.
    The discrepancy between Joshua and Judges which you describe is
    artificial. If all relevant evidence is taken together, a very
    reasonable harmony can be deduced. God promised to give Israel all of
    Canaan and to drive out the Caananites completely. But this promise was
    conditional on Israel's obedience. The conquest was delayed for 40 years
    due to their disobedience. Nevertheless, under the rule of faithful
    people like Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and others following them in their
    faith, much was nevertheless accomplished (Jos.24:31). Yet even in these
    times, there were setbacks due to unbelief and disobedience, such that
    after a successful conquest, when Joshua was old, there remained "yet
    very much land to be possessed" (Jos.13:1). And this pattern continued
    throughout the period of the Judges. But there is another aspect to this
    pattern. Even right after the exodus, God had told Moses that he
    wouldn't drive out the Canaanites all at once, "lest the land become
    desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you", but little by
    little, "until you are increased and possess the land" (Ex.23:29-30).

    Shuan writes:
      But see Josh. 11:16-20! I would say there are two remembrances of the
    conquest here-one in which Joshua conquers the entire country( 11:16) and
    another, more historical remembrance of a gradual process, which crops up
    even in the single campaign account

    There is really no reason for accommodation to the destructive Bible
    criticism of the "liberal" scholars, talking of "fundamentally different
    accounts" and "diverse traditions". There is no reason to doubt that the
    accounts we have were first written down in the times of Moses, Joshua,
    and the Judges, right after they happened, leaving hardly much time to
    introduce fictions.

    Shuan writes:
    Most scholars disagree. Since I don't know Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or have
    not studied ancient Near East literature, history, or religion, I am going
    to go along with the consensus among scholars who have studied in the field,
    just as I go along with the scholarly consensus in quantum mechanics,
    geology, paleontology, and other sciences. I have a hard time believing ( or
    even understanding) such concepts as continental drift, general relativity,
    or radiometric dating, but I believe the experts when they tell me that
    these are valid concepts, well established in their particular fields.
    The scholarly consensus is that the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and
    1-2 Kings comprise a history written during the Exile by a school of
    religious thinkers who interpreted Israel's history from the point of view
    of Deuteronomy. Now, they did not make this history up out of whole cloth,
    as some truly liberal scholars would say. Rather, they collected, combined
    and excerpted from the various historical sources available to them, notably
    "The Annals of the Kings of Judah". Their intent was to provide an answer to
    the question of why the Judean monarchy fell, despite the traditional
    promises that Jerusalem would never be taken(Ps. 46)and that YAHWEH would
    never remove this steadfast love from the throne of David ( 2 Sam. 7:8-16).


    This has been the scholarly consensus since the 1940s, I believe. Now
    conservative scholars disagree, but their arguments have failed to move the
    majority of scholars.
    These writers had no interest in constructing a scientifically accurate,
    objective, wholly consistent account of the history of Israel.
    Unsurprisingly, they failed to do so. There is nothing "destructive" about
    pointing out problems and inconsistencies in their account, so long as we
    can provide a theological explanation why it should be so. The rich
    complexity of the text, realistically understood, will yield a complexity of
    interpretation, but we should not shy away from that and return to some
    illusory view of a perfectly consistent and harmonious text. Physics would
    be simpler if we could go back to pre-Einsteinian formulations but it would
    also be incomplete and wrong.

    > > A similar approach can be taken to the gospels.The gospels represent
    > > diverse traditions about life, ministry, and death of Jesus.Different
    > > writers incorporated different traditions into their
    > > accounts.According to scholars, Mark probably wrote the first gospel,
    > > and later Matthew and Luke combined Mark with another source, called
    > > Q, plus other traditions, to create the other Synoptic gospels.The
    > > Gospel of John relies on a tradition separate from the Synoptic and
    > > develops the material in a completely different way.This concept of
    > > gospel formation explains inconsistencies such as the three different
    > > versions of the parable of the wicked tenant, the differences between
    > > the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, and the differences between
    > > John and the Synoptic gospels.In both the conquest and the gospels,
    > > the centrist interpretation is that it is better to see the creation
    > > of these accounts as a historical, human process, guided by God,
    > > rather than as a product of a divine dictation process.

    Here, the problems with the source-critical approach are basically the
    same as with respect to the conquest of Canaan, only much more acute, as
    we know much more about the history of the origin of the gospels, and
    there are virtually no textual uncertainties at all. Q is entirely
    hypothetical, with NO manuscript or fragment, but we have thousands of
    full or partial Greek manuscripts of the New Testament books. Of course,
    the four gospels are dependent on each other, as they deal with the same
    events, and as their authors knew each other intimately. There may have
    been older written notes about these events, and an original Aramaic
    version of Matthew is hypothesized on linguistic grounds. But the
    attempts to find discrepancies or inconsistencies between the gospels
    tell us more about the mind-set of the source-critics than about
    reality. Any two true eyewitness accounts of the same event will differ
    slightly, but without contradicting each other.

    It is evident that John's Gospel is different from the Synoptics, and
    the selection of much of the material is different, but none of the
    claimed inconsistencies has been proven. As John was written about 30 to
    40 years after the Synoptics, it is most reasonable to assume that he
    intended to supplement, not rehash them. For each claimed "doublette",
    it has to be asked whether it is really the same event, and if so,
    whether the two accounts can be meshed together without conflict, or
    whether incompleteness in one or both reports may account for the
    difference (no eyewitness report can ever be complete). With supposed
    discrepancies between teaching texts, the possibility must be considered
    that the tension may be part of a didactical device to illuminate two
    complementary aspects of a complex truth.

    Shuan wrote:
    John's Gospel tells us that Jesus was crucified on Thursday-the day that the
    paschal lambs were slain. The synoptics are unanimous that it happened on
    Friday, the day of Passover. To this very day the Eastern and Western
    churches are split over the issue of which the day to celebrate Jesus'
    death, because the Eastern churches follow John, the Western the synpotics.
    Yes, Virginia, there are inconsistencies in the Gospels.
    The Synoptic Problem is one of the enduring conundrums of Gospel analysis.
    Those who want to read up about it can start here:

    Even if you disagree with the Q hypothesis, it represents the scholarly
    consensus on Gospel formation. Peter, your ideas have been considered and
    rejected by scholars as far back as the nineteenth century, for pretty much
    the same reason as the ideas of flood geologists are now rejected by modern
    geologists- they don't fit the evidence. Conservative interpreters like
    those ideas for the same reason YECS like the idea of a six thousand year
    old earth and a global flood-it fits in with the simple view of the Bible
    they learned as children or when they first got saved. But these ideas do
    not fit the evidence.

    > > 3.Theological problems
    > >
    > > We should realize that there are that there is theological diversity
    > > in the Bible.Conservative interpreters have a hard time admitting such
    > > differences but the differences certainly exist.
    > >
    > > For example, Genesis 1 portrays a transcendental God who creates the
    > > universe by his word, yet in Genesis 3 God walks around in the Garden
    > > of Eden (presumably on two legs) enjoying the evening breezes.No one
    > > has ever seen God, according to John 1: 18, yet in Numbers 33: 11,
    > > Moses talks to God face-to-face.Job denies a meaningful afterlife, yet
    > > the New Testament affirms it.

    Again, you are seeing problems where there need not be any. Of course,
    the perspective of (a) Gen.1:1-2:4 is different from that of (b)
    2:5-3:24. In (a), the origin and development of the creation is in view,
    but in (b) it is God's personal relationship with the individual pair
    Adam and Eve. Gen.2:7 does not talk about the same event as Gen.1:27, as
    Armin Held and I showed in "Genesis reconsidered", PSCF 51/4 (Dec.
    1999), 231-243;,
    and there are neither discrepancies nor "different theologies". The
    difference in outlook between (a) and (b) is compatible with the same
    author for both texts. Why should we have difficulties understanding
    anthropomorphic figures-of-speech for describing God's actions, like
    "walking around in the garden"? Any supposition of basically idolatrous
    concepts in this text would certainly be in error. The same applies to
    Moses "talking to God face-to-face". Whether Job denies a meaningful
    afterlife is at least questionable, as his speeches are often quite
    emotional, and the interpretation of his poetical figures-of-speech may
    not always be straightforward. In any case, Job 14:7-15 and 19:25-27
    have been interpreted as indicating Job's belief in a "meaningful

    Shuan wrote:
    Peter, you are the classic conservative interpreter, waving away two
    centuries of biblical scholarship as "destructive liberal criticism" , only
    recognizing those bits that support your position, and generally floating
    overt difficulties in the text without really engaging them. Those critics
    have a point, Peter. Its not your great-grandma's Bible anymore, just ads
    its not pre-Einsteinian physics, pre-Darwinian biology, or pre-Lydellian

    > > Those who hold that the Bible is "a propositional revelation of the
    > > unchanging truth of GodÓ cannot explain these differences, because
    > > there cannot be inconsistencies in the Bible.Centrist interpreters
    > > understand that no one writer has a complete picture of God and his
    > > message.Rather, each writer has a partial perception of a larger
    > > truth.For example, the prophet Amos sees God simply as a righteous
    > > judge.Hosea, however, adds the picture of God as a wronged husband who
    > > loves his adulterous wife Israel.In the New Testament, the Synoptic
    > > gospels portray Jesus as the Son of God from birth.The Gospel of John
    > > adds to this portrait the view of Jesus as the divine Word sent from
    > > heaven.

    Of course, different biblical books emphasize different aspects of the
    truth. But to fabricate inconsistencies out of this is altogether
    unrealistic. By the way, to suggest concordists believe in "a
    propositional revelation", possibly by word-by-word dictation, is just
    as unrealistic, as I hope to have shown in my comments.

    > > A historical view of the Bible see a gradually deepening perception of
    > > God, from AbrahamĚs personal God to the King of the universe, to a
    > > suffering God who goes into exile with his people and who dies on a
    > > cross.I believe that a centrist interpretation that explains the
    > > differences and errors as the product of a gradual process of
    > > deepening revelation is better than a conservative interpretation that
    > > tries to explain the differences and errors away.

    I agree that there was a gradually deepening perception of God. But I
    beg to differ about your second sentence. In your last phrase you mix up
    two very different things. One can fully agree that there are
    differences, while trying to find a harmonious concordance between
    different aspects of reports or teachings. Proposing a meaningful
    possibility of such a concordance is very different from "explaining
    errors away".

    Shuan wrote:
    I actually agree that you should harmonize as much as possible. The danger
    comes in committing to an a priori view that there MUST be harmony, even
    where the texts suggest otherwise. That I think is where we disagree. I
    thank you for your thoughtful and well considered response.

    Peter Ruest

    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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