Uniformitarian dogma vs the Bible
Chris L., Canada, wrote with several questions:
There are several points that do not follow logic. You are suggesting a number of ancient scientists supported creationism. The reason for that there was no scientific proof at that time to contradict the theory. In the late 1890's fossils were found to be very ancient, millions of years old. Your suggestion that these scientists contributed to creationism is therefore unfounded.
There are many conflicting passages in the Bible. I have been told the Bible and scripture were inspired by God. This suggests spiritual channeling or automatic writing was used. Surely this is a big no no in your circles. But let us say the authors were inspired, this brings us to another problem, there are many conflicting passages in the Bible not least of which is the four different accounts of the last days of Jesus. It seems that God, being perfect, would not have inspired four different accounts, surely they would all be the same. This then ponders the question, were they, in fact inspired ?
Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:
Thanks for writing in. It was actually James Hutton’s uniformitarianism, popularized by Lyell, that first led some scientists to think that the earth must be millions of years old, and Hutton wrote in the late 18th, not 19th century. In fact, Lyell’s book, Principles of Geology, first published in 1830, which influenced Charles Darwin after Captain FitzRoy gave him a copy on the Beagle voyage. Lyell explicitly wanted to “free science from Moses”.
By the late 19th century, uniformitarianism and a millions-of-years old earth were scientific ‘orthodoxy’. We’ve answered the charge that it is illegitimate to cite scientists like Newton as creationists before: see Newton was a creationist only because there was no alternative? But more than that, what about the scientists today with real scientific achievements who are biblical creationists, like Raymond Damadian, the inventor of MRI; John Sanford, the inventor of the gene gun; Henry Richter, a pioneer of the USA space program, and many others?
Many people claim that the Bible is contradictory, but people who claim that have usually not read the volumes of literature dedicated to showing that in fact such ‘contradictions’ are misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the biblical text. Actually, in many cases, the critic doesn’t even know what a contradiction is, in its proper logical definition. In fact, I have never seen someone substantiate an actual Bible contradiction in my many encounters with skeptics.
Your comment about ‘spiritual channeling’ or ‘automatic writing’ also indicates you don’t understand what inspiration is. There are different levels of inspiration. Sometimes God tells a prophet, “Write this down”, and the prophet is responsible for writing down what he saw (in the case of a vision) or what God said. In the epistles, the author is clearly teaching from his own thoughts and vocabulary in responses to specific situations in local communities. But the Holy Spirit worked in such a way that the words that the apostle wrote were God’s own words, free from error, authoritative, sufficient, and useful for the church for all of time. Sometimes as in the Psalms, the author is writing out of the overflow of his own heart—no one thinks God told King David, “Write this: The Lord is my Shepherd … ”. Rather, King David was writing poetry based on his own experience as a shepherd and expanding that into a lovely metaphor for God’s loving care. And the Holy Spirit was involved in that process such that what he wrote was Scripture.
You mention the differences between the four Gospels’ accounts of the last days of Jesus. There are several commonalities though that run through them.
- Jesus had a last meal with his disciples, foreseeing His death was imminent and giving his disciples some last teachings.
- From there Jesus went to Gethsemane, where he prayed, and where Judas betrayed him.
- Jesus was arrested and subjected to trials in front of both the Jews and the Romans.
- Jesus was beaten and crucified, and buried in a tomb.
- On the third day, Jesus rose. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women who came to the tomb.
- Jesus appeared after the resurrection to his disciples. So regardless of what details they choose to record, there is a core consistency that we would look for when we examine different accounts of the same event.
So if there is this core consistency, why are they so different in the details? The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John records the washing of feet. The women named in the group who were the first witnesses of the resurrection differ from one Gospel to another, because different authors had reasons for mentioning particular women or omitting their names. Different Gospels record different sayings of Jesus from the cross—because they were in three languages, as we have explained.
And the accounts of the post-Resurrection appearances are also different. Luke has the Road to Emmaus account, while Matthew has the Great Commission, and John has Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples. Mark doesn’t even have the resurrected Jesus show up—the women are simply told that Jesus is raised and will appear shortly to his disciples, and Mark leaves us with a ‘cliffhanger’ that disturbed early Christians so much that they made the ending longer to include an appearance of Jesus.
But this is precisely what we would expect if four different people were writing different accounts of the same historical events. They each had their own themes that they wanted to emphasize, and if they were carbon-copies of each other, the skeptical complaint would be that they obviously colluded on the same story. So really, there would be no winning either way.
However, there are incidental details that unwittingly reinforce the authenticity, so are undesigned coincidences. E.g. why does Jesus ask a relatively obscure disciple Philip about where to buy bread before He fed the 5,000 (John 6)? There are two incidental details that explain this: John had mentioned in passing that Philip came from Bethsaida (John 1:44), but a different Gospel, Luke, mentions that the feeding was near Bethsaida (Luke 9). If there had been intentional collusion, then John would have mentioned where the feeding was, and Luke would have mentioned Philip from the region. But as it is, it looks like two authentic accounts of a real historical event where different authors mentioned different things, which together add to the credibility.1
References and notes
- Lydia McGrew, Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, DeWard, 2017, Return to text.