Friday, September 29, 2006

Babinski on the Bible


Dear Dave [Armstrong], Please note that I did not head this article, "Flat Earth Teachings of the Bible," but "Flat Earth Assumptions of Biblical Authors." I agree that the question of "Whether the Bible TEACHES the world is flat" is separate from the question of "What the ancient Hebrew writers of the Bible may have thought about the shape of the cosmos." One can accept all of the prima facia evidence that the ancient Hebrews believed and spoke in terms of a flat earth without necessarily having to believe that the Bible was written in order to "reveal to future mankind" the true shape of the earth. Therefore Evangelicals (like Seely and Walton, mentioned below) as well as Catholic biblical scholars can and will continue to employ the historical approach when it comes to discovering what the Hebrews mostly likely believed about the shape of the cosmos based on their writing in the Bible, and at the same time argue that the Bible might not have been written in order to provide accurate information as to the shape of the cosmos. So we probably agree there.

However, one point I wish to add to the above is that IF God allowed ancient naive flat-earth views of the cosmos (as well as views of a "six day creation" of the entire cosmos that revolved around "earth" evenings and morning) to exist in the minds of his ancient followers, what other ideas in the Bible might not also be the result of naiveté rather than truth?

What about the ancient view that animal sacrifices were necessary to appease god(s) for instance? Was that the result of naiveté or eternal truth? Or the idea that "the life was in the blood" instead of being primarily in the brain and nervous system? Might it not have been naiveté that inspired the ancient Hebrews to view the world in terms of "sympathetic magic," as in the case of their belief that by laying their hands on a goat and then driving the goat into the wilderness, their sins would thus be carried away? (Lev. 16:20-22) Or was it naiveté that inspired the Hebrews to use the SAME word to describe both mildew stains on walls, and leprosy sores on the human body, and in both cases employ a bird to which the priest claimed to transfer such stains and sores, and then let the bird go into the sky to try and make both of those unwanted things likewise go away? (Lev. 14:4-7,48-53) What other beliefs and practices in the Bible might not also be based on naiveté rather than truth? That is my question.


Babinski is confounding two quite distinct issues, and is therefore drawing an inference from a false premise.

I don’t know of any intelligent inerrantist who would deny that Bible writers held false beliefs. Being a Bible writer doesn’t make you omniscient or confer exhaustive inerrancy on everything you happen to believe. So this is a straw man argument.

The point at issue is not whether the Bible writers were infallible in whatever they believed, but in whatever they wrote.

The Bible writers were not inspired in everything they ever thought. Rather, inspiration applies to the subset of beliefs which they committed to writing.

In many cases, this would also include the spoken word, which was later inscripturated.

Now, Babinski is interacting with Armstrong’s formulation. I’m not commenting on Armstrong’s formulation, which may or may not be vulnerable to Babinski’s critique. I’m making a separate point.


“For instance, the Bible has much to say about the all-directing heart of man, his life-blood, and his soul-breath, i.e., the pounding heart, the whistling breath, and the sharp color of blood, together with its lack being a sign of death, attracted the attention of the ancients. While the organ known as "the brain," a silent unobtrusive organ, was overlooked (see here and here) and therefore not granted the meagerest mention or symbolic association in the Bible, unlike the heart, bowels and kidneys which are all granted symbolic "guiding" mentions. The brain was ignored even when animals were offered up to Yahweh who wanted their hearts, kidneys, bowels and blood, but not their brains. Yet today we know that it is the organ of "the brain" that is our chief directing organ and holds the "life" most precious to us, being the center of our conscious life. All of which goes to prove that the Bible is far from being an authoritative guide to science and/or the authors of the Bible dwelt more on appearances than on scientific facts.”

This is fallacious on several grounds:

1.The use of idiomatic language does not, of itself, carry any ontological commitments. It’s just a figure of speech.

2.Ancient peoples could hardly be unaware of the fact that head trauma might result in mental impairment. This would be a matter of common observation.

3. There is also evidence of brain surgery among the ancients:

As well as trepanation:

4.To answer Babinski on his own grounds, we can see the same usage in modern discourse. Modern people, who do know about brain function, including those who limit mentality to brain function, continue to employ metaphors which assign various attitudes to various organs, viz. “heartless,” “heartache,” “hard-hearted,” “heartbroken,” “heart-rendering,” “intestinal fortitude,” “gut reaction,” “full of bile,” “thinking with one’s (fill in the blank),” &c.

Moving along:

“Seely's research, along with that of several other Evangelical scholars (like Gordon Wenham's commentary on Genesis 1-15), helped convince Dr. John Walton, a professor of O.T. at Wheaton College, that the ancient Hebrew writers of the Bible imagined the shape of the cosmos was flat. See Dr. Walton's NIV APPLICATION Commentary on Genesis (Zondervan, 2001). Keep in mind that Wheaton is an Evangelical Christian institution, Billy Graham's alma mater in fact. Walton's APPLICATION commentary is worth a read, because he agrees as I do with much mainstream scholarship in the area of the shape of the ancient biblical cosmos.”

1.Although Babinski has finally corrected the publication date of Walton’s commentary, notice that while he continues to “cite” Walton’s commentary, we still don’t see him “quoting” from Walton’s commentary or even giving any page references.

So has he actually read the commentary, or has he only read a review of the commentary? Where are the specifics?

As I read him, Walton does not contend that the Hebrew writers subscribed a literal triple-decker universe. Rather, they were using categories of sacred time and sacred space to symbolize the world as a cosmic temple, foreshadowing the tabernacle and the Sabbath. Cf. 79f.; 123f.; 147-52; 182.

This is not the same thing as Seely’s position.

2.I'd add that Christian institutions often liberalize over time. The fact that an old man like Graham can claim Wheaton as his alma mater says nothing, of itself, regarding the present state of Wheaton.


  1. Steve,

    I forgot to check this the last time the subject came up, but is Walton's commentary the best source to read about the "world as a cosmic temple" concept? I hadn't encountered this before you first posted it and bears some looking into. If any other authors cover it, I'd be interested in checking it out.

  2. Steve --

    I just wanted to note that either you are too stupid to see that ancient people were too stupid and superstitious to write in an idiomatic way (except, of course, in all the other great literature they produced outside of the Bible), or Babinski needs to see that ancient people held written expression in the highest regard and wrote in ways thay he is far too stupid to grasp in spite of his apparent abandonment of (allegedly) superstitious beliefs.

    No offense, of course.

  3. A good place to start is Gregory Beale's The Temple & the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (IVP 2004).

    That's an excellent work in its own right, and it will point you to other related literature as well.

  4. Babinski's assessment struck me as very simplistic. Good job of exposing him.

  5. Superb job, Steve.

    Dave Armstrong

  6. Personally, I do not believe that anyone has ever subscribed to a flat earth cosmology. The earth is so very obviously curved.