Do snakes eat dust? (part 1)

The debate between young earth creationists and others, progressive creationists, old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists and even secular scientists continue. YEC’s (Young Earth Creationists), which include such noted pastor/theologians as John MacArthur, lay claim to the exclusive truth of the Bible, due to a “literal” reading of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

That reading, summarized in short, postulates that the universe, including the earth and everything on it, was created between six and ten thousand years ago. When Adam and Eve looked up after being made, they saw a 2-day old sun and 2-day old galaxies. The theory further concludes that there was no death of any kind before the fall, that man and all life that can be seen in the archaeological and paleontological records co-existed until the flood of Noah’s time, and that the flood synthesized ice ages, carved out grand canyons and even moved continents.

The above conclusions from YEC’s are justified as giving the ulitmate authority to the Bible, and not allowing science to taint their reading of the historical account in Genesis 1-11. Any alternative interpretations are discounted as not being the simplest reading of the text, and reading scientific presuppositions into the text. References to other parts of the Bible which are clearly not in line with what we know about the earth and the universe are rejected because those parts are considered to be written in another literary style, like poetry in the Psalms, for example.

I’ve been called a heretic, traitor, atheist agent and worse for questioning the YEC interpretation. Such labels don’t bother me much, because ultimately what we are interested in is the truth. I know that I put God and His Word first in my search for the truth, and I am also deeply committed to loving God with all my heart, soul and mind. And maybe that is the problem with me and other YEC doubters. We do not doubt for a second the omnipotent supernatural creative and redemptive power of God, but we are also intellectually honest in trying to understand what God’s general revelation tells us about Him, in other words, loving Him also with our minds.

The most common assertion I come across from YEC’s is the hermeneutic precondition, that the generally accepted grammatical-historical hermeneutic leaves us as Christians no choice but to accept the Genesis account as translated from the Hebrew….six 24 hour days of creation and a few thousand years worth of human generations as recorded. Does that, however, address the full scope of theological understanding?

The hermeneutical precondition is but one of multiple preconditions for understanding the Bible, and while it may be one of the most importnat ones, it leans heavily on other preconditions that precede it. Those include the metaphysical precondition (existence of God), the supernatural precondition (existence of miracles), the revelational precondition (did God reveal Himself?), the rational precondition (logic, or drawing conclusions from valid premises), the semantical precondition (can we deduce meaning from revelation), the epistemological precondition (are those deductions true), the oppositional precondition (are those truths exclusive) and the linguistic precondition (can those truths be communicated via language). And then we arrive at the hermeneutical precondition, the interpretation of what we read and see. In the context of this discussion, there are also two other important preconditions, the historical (knowability of the past) and the methodological (what method do we assume to understand more about God).

In view of the list above, do YEC’s have a consistent approach to reach their hermeneutical conclusions? For me, some doubts are raised around some of the areas mentioned above. For example, the rational, linguistic and epistemological preconditions need to be defined, assumed and accepted before we can even arrive at a hermeneutic, and that needs to be consistent with the historical and methodological preconditions.

But if we look at the premises put forward by YEC’s, it seems to start with the hermeneutic, which then acts as the precondition for all other preconditions. However, to be a consistent presuppositionalist, one starts with the first, the theistic precondition, and work from there. For example, we know that God is an inherently logical and truthful God, who does not lie and does not act or speak irrationally. That gives us the ultimate unshakable confidence in our Christian epistemology, or else we cannot trust it. And that includes the very first thing we have to believe about God and ourselves at a very basic level, if we believe certain things and that those things are true, then it is because God exists.

Therefore, the insistence on the grammatical-historical method includes many preconditions and presuppositions, and which I think will struggle to be reconciled with the YEC interpretation of the creation account.This leads us to the most glaring issue in this debate, do we suspend one or more of the preconditions in lieu of the hermeneutic? Or should we allow the other preconditions to also influence the hermeneutical conclusions? It is my opinion that nothing should stand in the way of the truth, and that every last bit of knowledge should be investigated and understood in terms of God and His existence, the theistic precondition.

But to believe in the YEC position requires suspending the rational precondition, or at the very least, modifying the premises so that it presupposes the YEC conclusions. It also requires a modification of the empistemological and historical preconditions, as well as a tacid acceptance of the linguistic precondition which may be inconsistent with the revelational precondition.

In future posts, I will expand on the arguments above, but for now, here is one small example:

Gen 3:14  The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

Given the YEC insistence on a literal interpretation, should we then accept that snakes eat dust, and not insects or rodents? Accepting that means we suspend our logic, our knowledge of the truth and our knowledge of history. Or do we read that as something slightly different, that it the serpent will be in a condition of humiliation, eating dirt because of the transgression against God and man?

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One response to “Do snakes eat dust? (part 1)

  1. Nice post there John… I think there is a certain fear or proudness among YEC believers to question the english translation of the Bible. I think when we take certain sayings too literal, like we could even do today, we can trap ourselves into a twisted logic that perverts words or God’s word for that matter. Of course there are markers we shouldn’t budge on, and miracles can really happen with God, but when our science is distorted to such an extent where it touches the impossible, and the rest of the scriptures don’t back up what you think you may have read, my belief is that it actually puts God’s works beyond that of the miraculous to take certain literal stances where you don’t need to and turns the words into fables. We know that snakes don’t walk, talk, or eat dust, and when we examine other scriptures for support of this claim and it doesn’t exist or match, there may be some reason to think otherwise….

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