I am a regular reader of magazines like Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, American Atheist, Skeptic, The Humanist, and the New Humanist. While each magazine covers a variety of subjects, they generally support scientific inquiry and dismiss, criticize, and sometimes ridicule, religion. (especially Evangelical Christianity)
Skeptics (using this term to encompass all the aforementioned magazines) tend to ridicule religion as being anti-scientific, especially when it comes to creationism. They are quick to attack, ridicule, and dismiss any scientific claim for creationism. Creationism is considered anti-science and nothing more than religious dogma. Creationists are chided for their lack of science training and knowledge. All well and good. I agree with the skeptics.
However, the whole knowledge thing seems to be a one-way street. Few of the skeptics in the above mentioned magazines have theological training. While skeptics like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens,Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, and Sam Harris excel in their respective fields of expertise, their writing often shows they lack sound theological training.
I am not singling out these five authors. I respect these men and I appreciate the good work they do. However, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If the creationist shows a lack of science training and knowledge and thus should be dismissed out of hand, why is it not the same for scientists who speak authoritatively without having training and knowledge of theology or church history?
Let me illustrate what I am trying to get at……In the May/June 2012 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Brian Bolton, a retired psychologist, wrote an article titled, A Feeble Challenge to Evolution from ‘Reasons to Believe.’
The basic premise of the article is that creationism is bad science. I agree with Bolton completely. Creationism and its twin sister intelligent design are nothing more than religious dogma. Try as creationists might to make creationism scientifically respectable, they fail every time. Bolton makes this very clear in his article. Again, I agree with him completely.
However, Bolton makes several claims about the Bible that exposes his lack of theological training or at least a lack of understanding the complexities of bible interpretation and Christian history.
In refuting the notion that the creation story found in Genesis 1-3 is science, Bolton says:
Evolution is a scientific fact that is supported by a monumental corpus of evidence generated by fifty disciplinary specialists, whereas Genesis creationism consists of two stories that total about 1,400 words and were adapted from two distinct Sumerian-Babylonian creationism myths.
Note how matter of fact Bolton is about the origin of the Genesis creation story. Has the origin and authorship of the Genesis creation account been settled? Hardly. Bolton’s opinion is one possible interpretation, but he speaks as if it is a settled fact. Perhaps he should have said, SOME scholars think the Genesis creation story was adapted from two distinct Sumerian-Babylonian creationism myths.
In the same article Bolton ridicules fundamentalists and their claim of Bible inerrancy. Astoundingly, Bolton writes:
The foundational postulate of Reasons to Believe theology is that the Bible is God’s word without error. Rephrased, the Bible is absolutely accurate and truthful in every statement. This assumption is rejected by most Christian and Jewish denominations.
Bolton is flat wrong when he says that Bible inerrancy/inspiration/infallibility is rejected by most Christian and Jewish denominations. Skeptics parrot this claim all the time, and I am beginning to wonder if any of them have actually bothered to research this issue.
All Christian sects believe in some form or the other of inerrancy/inspiration/infallibility . If the Bible is God’s revelation then such a supernatural claim demands some form of inerrancy/inspiration/infallibility. Please think carefully about this before jumping and screaming and saying NO! NO! NO!
Liberal Christians like to distance themselves from Bible thumping inerrantists. I don’t blame them. However, every liberal Christian I have ever met believes that some passage of Scripture, some book of the Bible, to some degree or the other, is inerrant. That it is God’s revelation to humanity. Usually, liberals boil it all down to JESUS but they DO believe certain, infallible facts about Jesus, the Christ. If they don’t then I suggest they stop calling themselves a Christian.
Bolton thinks that most Christian sects don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Again, this is easily disproved.
The United Methodist Church:
The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the church.
The Presbyterian Church USA:
The church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship. The session shall ensure that in public worship the Scripture is read and proclaimed regularly in the common language(s) of the particular church.
Leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be expected to affirm that “… the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments … [are] … by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [them].”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church:
Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (cf. John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–20, 3:15–16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind”
American Baptist Churches USA:
Holy Scripture always has been for us the most authoritative guide to knowing and serving the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer). As the divinely-inspired word of God, the Bible for us reveals our faith and its mandated practice.
National Association of Evangelicals:
We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
The Southern Baptist Convention:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Christianity is a text-based religion. Every Christian sect has the Bible as its foundation. Every sect believes in some form of Bible inspiration, and with inspiration comes some form of inerrancy. I realize they may not use the word inerrancy, but if the Bible is inspired (breathed out) by God then whatever part of the Bible a sect believes is inspired is inerrant. Granted, the Evangelical believes every word is inerrant and the liberal might only believe the words about Jesus are inerrant, but BOTH of them believe in inerrancy.
I know that Evangelicals own the copyright for the word inerrancy, but it is a word that can be applied to the beliefs of every Christian sect. Inerrancy implies: this God said. It is true. Does the liberal, mainline Christian believe anything in the Bible is God speaking, that it is true? Of course they do.
Mainline sects often try their best to hide their belief about the authority of the Bible. They don’t want to be thought of as Fundamentalists or Bible-thumpers. Hide as they might, the fact remains every sect believes the Bible inerrant at some point or the other. If they don’t believe this, then why have doctrinal statements and why have preachers teaching the doctrines of the sect? If nothing is a settled God-given fact then the foundation of Christianity crumbles.
Overall, I found Bolton’s article to be spot on. He and I have similar views about creationism. My only objection is that he, like many skeptics, is careless when it comes to writing about religion. Their lack of training and lack of immersion in the culture of Christianity shows.
I know that I am using the word inerrant/inerrancy in a slightly non-traditional sense. Sects and individual Christians often do their best to distance themselves from “every word is inerrant” Christians, yet they refuse to admit that to some degree or the other, their beliefs require a Bible that is inspired/inerrant/infallible. How else can they know anything about Jesus without an inspired/inerrant/infallible text? If nothing in the Bible is inspired or authoritative then what right does any Christian have to claim that Jesus is the way, truth, and life or that Jesus even existed at all?
This is an issue of degree. The same can be said of Evangelicals and Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps believes the same things most Evangelicals belief. He takes the beliefs a lot farther than most will, but in the main, the belief systems are the same.
reposted, revised, updated