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Charmed, I’m sure!

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Charming serpent

Published: 23 July 2009(GMT+10)

Let me ask a question I’ve posed to numerous people.

When a snake charmer plays his flute, “charming” the serpent, does it hear the music or is it just swaying to the movement of the charmer’s instrument?

The almost unanimous response I’ve received is; “It’s just responding to his movements; snakes can’t hear because they don’t have ears!”

Was that similar to your answer? Obviously many people must have been taught this judging by the majority of similar responses. Now ask yourself, why do they believe that?

Most people believe what they get taught by authority figures (presentations/lectures/books by “experts”). This makes sense, because we all have to rely on the authority of others often because we can’t study everything personally. So it’s not a matter of accepting authority or not, it’s a matter of which authority you accept! Take the above question. Let’s say you wanted to verify your answer, where would you look?

Today the internet is a common place to get information, so pretend you look up some online encyclopaedias and punch in keywords like “snake charmer”.

The wicked … have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers … —Psalm 58:3–4

This might lead to the following information on the entrys on “snake charming” and “cobra”.

Snake charming

The animal cannot actually hear the tune (emphasis mine) being played, though it can perhaps feel some of the sound vibrations as well as those from any tapping by the charmer.1

Cobra

The cobras appear to respond to the music played by the charmer, but, like all snakes, they are deaf (emphasis mine) and only follow the movements of the charmer.2

For most that would settle it, the “experts” seem to indicate the majority is right and that snakes can’t hear. Now let’s look at what the Bible says.

Psalm 58:3–4

The wicked go astray from the womb,
they err from their birth speaking lies.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
or of the cunning enchanter.

Here the Bible compares a serpent with “the wicked” (people) who have the ability to listen but deliberately don’t want to. They “stop up” their ears like a child saying “La la la la I can’t hear you!”

But this goes against what the experts seems to believe, and many science journals would seem to back this up. Some sceptics have used this passage to show the Bible isn’t scientifically accurate, and some compromising Christians who say passages in Genesis shouldn’t be considered scientifically accurate have pointed to this passage as an example to show that the Bible shouldn’t be taken “literally”. Is the Bible wrong? Or are the scientists?

Some Bible defenders have attempted to say “Yes but the Bible says the deaf adder (so it is admitting snakes are deaf)” as an apologetic. But for the comparison of a serpent with people to be valid, the snake must have ears and be able to hear, but sometimes “stops its ear” to deliberately avoid listening to the charmer. (It wouldn’t make sense to say “The wicked are like snails that deliberately cover their ears so they don’t have to listen to wise instruction”!) So the Bible says snakes have ears!

Science to the rescue?

Now look at this extract from an article from the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (located north of San Diego US) website.

Can snakes hear, you ask? A few decades ago the answer was no, for-obviously-snakes don’t have external ears. And any way, snakes don’t appear to respond to loud noises. Further support for this view is found in some current zoology texts, which still report that snakes lack the sense of hearing. But research begun about 35 years ago, especially the extensive investigations over many years by E.G. Wever and associates at Princeton University, has shown that snakes have a hearing capability (at least in an electrophysiological sense) comparable to that of lizards.3

More research has shown that snakes do hear. Their quadrate bones (in the jaw) move slightly in response to vibrations and transmit this to a pair of inner ears. And it’s been shown snakes respond to both airborne and ground vibrations. In fact, “the auditory response of snakes in the range of 200 to 300 Hz is superior to that of cats ”.3 (Middle-C on a piano is 256 Hz.)

Christians might think this is good news because science has now “proven” the Bible to be true. But there is a danger with this line of reasoning. Was the Bible true before science showed that snakes can hear or only after science had “proven” it right?

To say that science “proves” the Bible actually elevates science above Scripture. Christians should always start from Scripture because the Bible reveals itself as the infallible Word of the One that cannot lie. It can’t be wrong.

Was the Bible true before science showed that snakes can hear or only after science had “proven” it right?

Some Christians find this way of reasoning too “fanatical” and concede that one needs to be “open minded” about the interpretation of Scripture, even when the meaning seems plain, because of what “science” has shown. But what other paradigm are you then going to use to determine what truth is? Your own fallible reasoning? The same kind of reasoning that “proved” snakes can’t hear but then “proved” they can?

Trusting man’s fallible reasoning over Scripture is what causes many people to compromise the truth of God’s Word in Genesis. Taking the word of scientists that come to different conclusions about what the “facts” prove in areas such as the age of the earth (geology) and the origin of living things (evolution) has caused many to abandon the belief in Scripture and/or to be unable to defend it consistently.

For those of us living in a sin cursed world it pays to remember it was a serpent that said “Did God actually say … ” (Genesis 3:1). Yes, He did! And whatever God says is true, and every man a liar. Satan has used the strategy of causing people to doubt the Word of God from the very beginning, and the results have been disastrous! The Apostle Paul’s warned against it in 2 Corinthians 11:3.

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

So the next time someone says that the Bible can’t be trusted, remember that scientists now know that snakes can hear and never lay down your belief in God’s Word! Science changes all the time, God’s Word never does.


Recommended Resources



References

  1. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_charmer>. Return to text.
  2. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright 2008 Columbia University Press. <www.encyclopedia.com/topic/cobra.aspx>. Return to text.
  3. Shh! The Snake May Hear You, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve <www.torreypine.org/animals/snakes.html>. Return to text.

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A reader’s comment
Pooly M., Canada, 2 February 2010

Thank you for the enlightening article. As an open minded agnostic I am always on the look out for anything ready to persuade my beliefs. You article really spoke to me as I have read the bible and remember reading that exact passage and saying to myself “Wait snakes can’t hear, I know what scientists and lecturers have taught me therefore this passage is evidence the bible is false and God does not exist.” Now though, after reading your article and learning that indeed snakes do “hear,” I must go back and reevaluate my beliefs about God. That science could be so audacious as to change its so-called “facts” in the face of “evidence” continually frustrates me. Am I right in thinking that more people would believe in “science” if it simply picked a story and stuck with it? Thanks again, or should I say I’ve been the one charmed (by your delightful article).

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