Biblical literalism as blasphemy

“[T]he book of nature, which we have to read, is written by the finger of God.” (Michael Faraday, On Mental Education)

If the biblical account of creation is literally true, then the creator is maliciously lying in the great book of nature, which plainly says otherwise. If it is not literally true, then literalists are in error in their hermeneutics. So literalists have a choice; admit their hermeneutics are mistaken, or call God a malicious liar.

I approach this entire area with diffidence. I was at one time a believer, but always regarded literalism as bone-headed on internal evidence (Maimonides, of course, had made the same point nearly 900 years ago). I am prompted to post this comment because believers whom I respect have found it helpful, and because I regard all those committed to accepting the evidence of things seen as natural allies, however much we may differ on things unseen. I therefore wish to distance myself from those, at both ends of the spectrum, who regard the most bone-headed versions of the Abrahamic religions as for that very reason the most authentic.

Both Faraday and Maxwell are invoked as believers in intelligent design by advocates of the degenerate doctrine that now goes by that name, but it is difficult to imagine a more profound misunderstanding. For more on Faraday’s views on natural law as God’s handiwork, and the distinct but overlapping views of James Clerk Maxwell, see here. From Maxwell, let me quote just this:

The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.

Or even, as in the case of the creationist’s “types”, lead to a hypothesis being resurrected in total defiance of the evidence.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on November 30, 2014, in Accommodationism, Creationism, Education, Philosophy, Religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin and commented:
    A good point here by Paul


  2. Ashley Haworth-roberts

    YEC types say scripture trumps nature in terms of the Christian God’s revelation. But Romans 1: 20b* suggests not merely that the atheist is wrong and in ‘denial’ but that nature both reveals God and reveals from what has been created and made (as observed when Romans was written) the kind of power God has. Thus the ‘creation’ should be studied and marvelled at by Christians. (Though I suppose YECs say scientific study if it does not start with scriptures leads to deception because of the ‘Fall’ and ‘Curse’ and because the Bible warns of various kinds of deceptions and delusions – some of them apparently from God himself. Why – if people are ‘without excuse’ – does real science not confirm the allegedly infallible Genesis account of creation?)

    * “… God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (NIV).


  3. Young-Earth creation “scientists” believe in a god who created the universe and everything in it in six days a few thousand years ago, and who left an *honest* account of that creation in the observable scientific record.

    All available scientific evidence demonstrates that this god does not exist.

    Literalism really does paint them into a nasty corner.


  4. Most Calvinists I have come across are YEC. Yet Calvin, in many ways a bible fundamentalist, said in his comments to Genesis chapter 1:

    Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels ; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the World. He who would learn astronomy,” and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception ; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned.’The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theatre which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. The assertion of some, that they embrace by faith what they have read concerning the waters above the heavens, notwithstanding their ignorance respecting them, is not in accordance with the design of Moses”.

    Of cause the YECs forget, that the creation record had to be understandable for all through the ages.


  5. theologyarchaeology

    Uhm…God did not write a book of nature and anything that supposed book claims has been read into it by secularists and pretend Christians. And the only people who have written a book of nature are humans who do not believe God.

    God already said how he created all things in the Bible–he spoke and it was. Literalists do not have their hermeneutics wrong, it is the pretend Christians who have dismissed God’s word and statement about origins and written their own ideas and say God did it.


    • I see. The Bible is God’s work, but Nature is not. Interesting.


    • Ashley Haworth-roberts

      Yes – creationists, especially young earthers, are anti-science. We cannot learn anything from nature. All science comes from scripture! And the only purpose of nature – as mentioned in the verse below – is to point to God and condemn people who think nature is purely natural. Creationists should stop pretending that they are pro-science. They most certainly aren’t. What they call ‘science’ is a travesty of the scientific method.

      “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NIV)

      However SOME Christians think this verse means that we SHOULD study nature – and accept what scientific studies reveal about present and past processes in biology, geology, astronomy and so forth. Even if those findings are not obviously ‘biblical’. I can respect that.


      • theologyarchaeology

        but you are wrong and make false accusations. creationists are not anti-science biut anti the lies produced by secular scientists and pseudo-christians.

        sure we can learn from nature but evolution and natural selection are not found in nature but read into it by those who reject the truth of the Bible

        the scientific metod is not God’s method and that makes the difference. you do not understand the nature of science and its limitations.

        we can study nature but we are not allowed to read into it secular ideas.


    • I agree God’s book of nature is a bad terminology that goes against the way man has learned through the scientific method making him understand nature much better and enjoy (in comparison to what we know about nature today) little things like cars, that Moses could never imagine. It creates confusion and clouds the issues because it is so important to seperate faith and knowledge from observation. I don’t like the expression “Theistic Evolution” either, it is also an odd lumping together of faith and science.

      YEC on the other hand reads into the creation account lots of things. Just listen to Ken Ham go on and on making things up. When Adam and Eve is placed in a garden with a talking “serpent of the field”, magical fruits etc., then literalism is bad hermeneutics. YEC add and edit, instead we should try to understand what the account says and does not say – and stop highjacking the identity of the Old Covenant people to whom it was written.


  6. False dilemma, loaded terminology and more. Logic isn’t your strong suit, is it?


    • Ashley Haworth-roberts

      Although I accused Bob Sorensen/’Piltdown Superman’ (post awaiting moderation) of ‘trolling’ I think he does have a point (assuming this is what he is banging on about) that saying “God did not write a book of nature” is not quite the same thing as saying “Nature is not God’s work”. But I am not sure exactly what Bob is trying to say – other than his usual rubbish about alleged poor ‘logic’. If he is referring to the ORIGINAL blog then the dilemma set out does makes sense. Unless you shout that “science is a lie” but you then cannot show this as young earth creationists can’t, then either:
      – the literalists are correct in their approach to scripture but those same literalists furiously attack science because the evidence does not remotely confirm Genesis and thus either Genesis or nature is lying to humanity;
      – or else the literalists should be reading the Bible figuratively instead.
      Nothing illogical there.

      For more on Bob see


      • Of course “book of nature” is a venerable metaphor; it becomes a “book” (with the creator, if there is one, as author) by virtue of the fact that we can read it. I have changed some words that concerned me, but left your sense intact.


  7. Ashley Haworth-roberts

    Yes, with the understandings built up by the scientific method it is possible to ‘read’ nature and natural evidence and infer past events and processes on Earth and elsewhere. Even if nature is not actually a ‘book’ specifically written by God assuming God exists. Young earth creationists would probably agree that nature can be read – IF doing this DID confirm what is read in Genesis. But it doesn’t, so they don’t. Thus Romans 1:20 to them at least is simply a reprimand to the atheist – and not an encouragement to undertake scientific studies such as geology or biology.


  1. Pingback: Exposing the Roots of Young Earth Creationism | Primate's Progress

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