What About All Those Smart Guys who Believed the Bible?
By Merle Hertzler
I have shown at this site why I do not believe everything in the Bible. "Ah", some will tell me, "I know a lot of smart guys, and they all believe the Bible." Every week they see the ushers at church, all outstanding men in the community, dutifully doing their service because they believe the Bible. And they see the pastor and deacons, all of whom are outstanding men and very smart, and all agree with the doctrinal statement of the church. How can one even suggest that any point of that doctrine might be wrong, when there are so many smart people who support it?
The answer is quite simple: Smart people sometimes believe dumb things. For instance, some smart people believe in astrology, Scientology, homeopathy, and Bigfoot. Can we conclude then, since some smart people believe these things, that surely they must all be true? Well, no, each claim must stand on its own merits. If there is good evidence for any of the above, then we should believe it. If not, we should doubt it. It doesn't matter how many smart people support a belief. Smart people are sometimes wrong.
When I discuss the Bible and its problems, many people would rather talk about all the smart guys who believed the Bible. But what if those smart people had no good reasons for believing the Bible? Suppose they believe because their friends all believe, or because their mother taught them to believe and they never really questioned it? Suppose they make statements that favor belief because the social consequences of vocal doubt are so serious, that they would rather not rock the boat?
And of course, the local cathedral, The Jewish temple, and the Islam mosque down the street also are filled with smart people, who are also outstanding people in the community, and they disagree with your doctrinal statement. If one could prove something to be true because wise people agree with her, have we just proven the truth of all of these faiths? For all such faiths can claim smart people that agree with them.
Often when I am told of smart people who believed in the Bible, I am referred to someone in the distant past. But that seems to me to be largely irrelevant, for many in the past did not have easy access to the information we have today. If they had access to today's information, would they see things differently?
Another common tactic is to look up the words of a politician who says kind words about the Bible. Well, sure, a politician who is trying to be elected will almost always say nice things about a book that is loved by most of his constituents. But his private beliefs may be quite different. Quotes from Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are regularly trotted out as though these men were fundamentalists, even though their actual beliefs were far from fundamentalism. (See Six Historic Americans)
At my blog, "Honey" has provided some quotes from some smart men who said nice things about the Bible. Not only does she infer that they believe the Bible because they are smart, but she infers that believing the Bible makes them smarter and advances their science. Let's look at her argument (her words are shown highlighted.)
She tells us that Newton believed the Bible, and found no contradiction? How hard did he look for contradictions? We don't know.
You and I have minds. We can read what the Bible says for itself, and can see for itself that it has contradictions. If someone claims that Newton found no contradiction he could not have explained away, what are his explanations? To ignore the errors in the book, we will need to hear more than the fact that someone did not see contradictions. We will need to know his reasons. What reasoning did he use to explain away the contradictions, such as the ones I list at my site?
But why become a slave to the thoughts of another? Why go back into history, and select a Newton, an Einstein, or a Lincoln, and then choose to believe whatever that smart man said? Why not think for one's self? Why not look at the facts, rather than blindly follow what some wise man told you? We need not blindly follow a Newton or an anonymous. Instead, we can think for ourselves, and follow the truth.
Uh, but where do you find that Newton let the Bible shape his view of Science? His writings stated that they are based on the scientific facts. Where does he say he got this from the Bible? Did you just make that up? Check out his Principia here. If he was getting his view of science from the Bible, why didn't he say so?
Einstein's God was a long way from Honey's God. Here are some things that Einstein said:
The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
For more, see Albert Einstein Quotes on Religion. So no, Einstein's beliefs were not based on a personal God, and, if he allowed for a God at all, the god he recognized was little more than the sum of natural laws.
Honey's reference of people behind locked doors, unable to realize the wealth behind the door, is a great illustration of my former life as a fundamentalist. All of my life I had grown up within the door of fundamentalism, with only very limited glimpses of what lies outside fundamentalism. When I opened the door, I found a whole new world. Is it possible you yourself are behind a locked door? Is it possible that there is a wonderful world out there that you have never explored?
Perhaps someday you too will say, "What the...!"
Honey says that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I wonder if she has ever read the Old Testament. I remember the first time I read Isaiah. I thought it would be great to see all of those wonderful prophesies in context, and see how Isaiah weaves the story of Jesus into the context of his time. It was one of those, "What the...!" moments for me.
I think if you started at Genesis on January 1, and read through the Old Testament in the next few months, you too would have a "What the...!" moment.
No, Einstein did not reject Christianity because he was hidden behind the locked door of Judaism. He clearly had searched beyond the religion he had been taught, and, unfortunately for Honey, found something different from what Honey proposes.
Okay, so she lists a number of white, European, Christian men that led the advance of science from the 16th to 19th centuries. Uh, yes, white European Christian men led the advance of science during that time period. So? If you use this to prove that Christians are superior at science, could you not also use that logic to show that whites, Europeans, and males were superior at science? That is where Honey's logic leads, doesn't it? I find that these men excelled at science, not because they were white, European, Christian, or male. Rather, the luck of the draw put them into the position that allowed them to develop science. In the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains how Europe was given the unique access to mass agriculture that allowed some people to concentrate on things other than food production, such as the study of science and technology. This led to inventions such as the printing press, which greatly expanded the performance of scientists, for they could readily learn of the work of others and build on it. Armed with the printing press and advanced agriculture, Europeans went on to lead the world in science and many other areas. But their success had nothing to do with them being white, European, male, or Christian.
If Honey is going to turn to this period of time, and declare that Christianity was the cause of their superiority in science, what if she had selected another period? Before 1300 CE, the Chinese and Arabs had superior advances in science compared with the Europeans. If we were to follow Honey's logic, and select the religion of the pioneers of science, then it seems we should all follow Chinese and Arab religions. And if we were to look at the 20th and 21st centuries, we would find that many people of many races, religions, and nationalities have made great advances in science. In fact, we would find a very high percentage of atheists, as Honey herself has admitted. So why not follow the religion of these pioneering scientists?
Honey turns again to her rant against science, this time claiming that Pasteur was intensely opposed by science, and that his discoveries were suppressed by the mainstream. Once more, this is simply an empty claim. Look at the data: According to Wikipedia, "In 1854, he [Pasteur] was named Dean of the new College of Science in Lille. In 1856, he was made administrator and director of scientific studies of the École Normale Supérieure....Pasteur won the Leeuwenhoek medal, microbiology's highest honor, in 1895.) And yet Honey somehow tries to tell us that he was rejected by science? Pasteur, who lived from 1822-1895, was honored early by science, and remains a hero of science today. So where is the evidence that he was intensely opposed? Honey's claim that his science was suppressed is simply unfounded.
Yes, it is true that somebody once said, “Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” So? People have had many different opinions down through the ages. The fact that one man may have said that in no way proves that most of science rejected Pasteur. The evidence indicates mainstream science was clearly behind Pasteur once his claims had been validated.
And no, Pasteur did not object to Darwinism as Honey claims. In fact, Pasteur believed in evolution. He wrote:
So Pasteur simply was not a supporter of fundamentalist anti-evolutionism, or an outcast from mainstream science, as Honey would protray him.
This doesn't appear to describe an atheist who accepted atheism based on intellectual reasons, but rather, a man who did not want to believe. Yes, there are many who may not want to believe who later identify as believers. But there are few, if any, intellectually committed humanists, atheists, and agnostics who turn to Biblical faith. On the other hand, there are scores of committed Christians, including many pastors, missionaries, and church leaders, who have turned from the faith. This asymmetry of conversion is strong evidence that something is wrong with the faith. Honey can't even seem to find an example of someone who had once accepted atheism on intellectual grounds who now accepts Christianity on intellectual grounds. (See Asymmetry of Conversion.) (And by the way, I don't think folks like Josh McDowell, C. S. Lewis and Lee Stroble count as former intellectual atheists who accepted Christianity. Can they show any writings that they wrote as an atheist in support of atheism, or cite an atheist organization in which they actively participated before their conversion?)
Well, actually Mendel started out in a monestary, not in science. While at a monestary he took an interest in plants, and experimented with genetics. He wrote his findings in an obscure journal. Unfortunately, his work was largely unknown for 35 years. Once it was known and verified, he was quickly recognized for his work. Yes, it is a shame it took so long, but that is hardly proof that science is lonely and thankless, or that scientists are too arrogant to accept new findings. So once again we find Honey's desperate attempts to attack the integrity of mainstream science to be based on misinformation. See Gregor Mendel.
Honey's attempts to characterize men like Pasteur and Mendel as friends of anti-evolutionism and outcasts from mainstream science is simply misguided.
Yes, that is the question we must ask. Did these believers know something which we don't know? If so, what is it that they knew that convinced them to believe the Bible? And then we should wait for the answers. Asking the questions without waiting for the answer would not be productive. We should look at what they have found, and see if their conclusions are logical in light of everything else we know about the Bible. But Honey does not present us with any significant facts that they might have known that would cause us to change our minds. She only suggests that they might know something. That is not an argument. If they had knowledge that would change our minds, what is it?
There are other reasons these great men may have stated faith in the Bible. Many came from backgrounds where most people believed the Bible, and they may have never seriously questioned it. Or they may have secretly questioned it, but kept silent because of social pressure. So if this is why they stated praise for the Bible, that proves nothing about the value of the Bible.
So we must return to our investigation. If there is knowledge that leads us toward or away from faith in the Bible, what is that knowledge? Simply saying knowledge may exist in favor of the Bible is not very convincing.
Ah, so atheists and agnostics are not viable and they are fools? That's odd, for atheists and agnostics have made great discoveries. Where would we be without atheists such as Einstein or Thomas Edison? It sure seems to me that they knew many of the secrets of the universe. God, if he exists, apparently did not regard these men as fools, and saw it fit to hand over secrets of heaven to them.
I don't know if Fabri read Leviticus 11:21-22 where it says insects have four legs. Perhaps he found that chapter so boring--as many others have found--and never read that verse. Maybe he never thought about that verse.
But if he read it and had a good answer, what is that answer? Suggesting that Fabri might have had an answer is not an argument.
Uh, no, Honey did not demonstrate that the Bible is a wealth of science. She showed us that many have considered the Bible to be a wealth of spiritual information. She has not shown us where these great scientists found great wealth of scientific information from the Bible.
Oh, so this is Honey's example of great scientific wealth in the Bible? Let's look at Psalm 8:8: "The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas." Uh, isn't this just poetry? Isn't this just an expression for fish passing through the seas? After all, this is a poem in a book of poems. But Honey somehow suggests this is a verse of science, informing us about ocean currents.
And what about the verse that says the earth has four corners (Isaiah 11:12)? Will Honey tell us that this author was stating a scientific truth that the earth has four corners? No, I don't think Honey will say that. Rather, I suspect she will tell us that this is just a figure of speech. Now, of course, if it had turned out that the earth had four corners, and did not have ocean currents, we might well suspect that Honey would be telling us that the four corners of Isaiah 11:12 was a great revelation of science, and that the paths of the sea in Psalm 8:8 was just a figure of speech. When people look back on the Bible with hindsight, they can interpret it to say what modern science says. But it seems to me that they need to stretch the meanings of the words.
Many have claimed scientific foreknowledge of the Bible based on similar verses. See What About Scientific Foreknowledge of the Bible for more information. Similar claims have been made for the Quran. My guess is that Honey can instantly see that the claims about miraculous scientific knowledge in the Quran are bogus. Why can she not apply
the same skepticism to claims about the Bible?
Ah, I see. So when the Bible says the sun stopped traveling it was only using a figure of speech, but when the Bible speaks of fish in the paths of the sea, that refers to literal paths and sea currents? Can you understand that Honey may be simply forcing an interpretation on the Bible that is consistent with science?
The problem for her view is that the Bible consistently speaks of the earth as flat. See The Flat-Earth Belief of Bible Writers, and The Flat Earth: Still an Embarassment to Inerrantists.
Uh, which great men of science have said that the Bible can help us to understand astronomy? None of the quotes that she gave us (here) mentions anything about the Bible helping us understand astronomy. And even if some scientists said that, are not scientists sometimes wrong? And why must I even explain to Honey that scientists are sometimes wrong? After all, she has launched a blistering attack on the integrity of scientists, claiming they are often wrong (see Can We Trust Science?). But here she says that, since some scientists say something, it is nothing but nonsense to say they might be wrong. Huh? How can she have it both ways? How can she declare something to be assuredly a fact, offering no other proof then the claim that some scientists have said so (even though she has not mentioned one scientist who said it)? And yet she can deny facts such as the age of the earth that are accepted by an overwhelming consensus of scientists.
I find Honey's attempt to link her beliefs with smart men to be an unacceptable argument. If she wants to convince me that her beliefs are right, then she will need a reason. Telling me that many smart people have agreed with her, while ignoring all the smart people that disagree with her, is not an argument. It is a case of special pleading and argument-from-authority that I am sure Honey herself would not accept if similar arguments were made for another religion.
I invite you to comment on this page here.
1. A previous version of this page included the parenthetical phrase, "(an evolution which, as we now know, has been going on for millions, nay, hundreds of millions of years)" in this quote. I have removed this phrase, because it is possible this was added by a translator or commentator, and may or may not be genuine. See http://mindsetfree.blogspot.com/2007/05/louis-pasteur-hero-of-science.html
Copyright ÓMerle Hertzler 2006, 2007. All Rights Reserved.