Edward T. Babinski, "The Cosmology of the Bible," 109-47.
Yes, we are now into Part 9 of our ongoing series reviewing John Loftus's edited volume The Christian Delusion. I survived the first part, "Why Faith Fails," with my faith still intact. Now it's time for part 2, "Why the Bible is not God's word." Here we begin with Edward Babinski's essay "The Cosmology of the Bible," which provides a solid survey of the background assumptions biblical writers held about the natural world.
To his credit (and in contrast to some of the other more persnickety contributors to Christian Delusion), Babinski writes with a disarming cordiality. For instance, he refers to the books of some recent evangelical and Catholic scholars as "superb". (133) Ironically however, Babinski's appreciation for the scholarship of academics like Kenton Sparks, John Walton, Denis Lamoureux and Peter Enns leaves me with a puzzle and a critical weakness in Babinski's argument. More on that in a moment.
First the thumbs up. Babinski's essay demonstrates that conservative assumptions about the Bible, namely that it contains statements about the origin and nature of the natural world which are broadly speaking in accord with contemporary science, are absolutely wrong. I agree.
The scriptures were written with the assumptions of an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) worldview, a worldview which we now recognize to be false. The firmament, the three storied universe, the movement of the celestial bodies across the heavens, are all obsolete descriptions of the natural world. When Babinski surveys that material he is reproducing information that is par for the course in biblical hermeneutics and biblical survey courses (except perhaps at The Masters Seminary and other fundamentalist/conservative strongholds).
But then here's the puzzle. While Babinski appreciates the work of scholars like Kenton Sparks (an acquaintance of mine) and Denis Lamoureux (a good friend), those scholars don't see the material Babinski surveys as a threat to the authority and inspiration of scripture at all. Instead, they invoke nuanced concepts like accommodation to argue for the full humanity of scripture whilst retaining confession of its full divinity. (Galileo's 17th century quip remains apposite: The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.)
Babinski obviously disagrees with their view (and that of Galileo) and instead is of the conviction that the obsolete science in the Bible counts against its inspired authority. But why is not made clear, even though the why is the critical missing piece of his essay.
The closet Babinski comes to outlining his reasoning comes near the end of his essay when he observes:
"In light of the preponderance of evidence presented here, it's clear the Bible is a product of the prescientific period in which it originated. Furthermore, if there are any ‘words of God' in the Bible it appears that human beings are the ones picking and choosing among them as to which those might be, which to emphasize, which to deemphasize, which to praise, which to question, and how to interpret them." (132)
The first sentence is undoubtedly true. The Bible was written in accord with the background assumptions of the culture, history and science of its original writers. But Sparks et. al agree with this heartily as evangelicals. Moreover they lament the tendency of conservative apologetics organizations like Ken Ham's "Answers in Genesis" and Hugh Ross's "Reasons to Believe" to read the Bible naively like a first year chem. student attempting to legitimate William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" by looking for cryptic references to the periodic table.
So I'm left wondering why we ought to take Babinski's interpretation of the data rather than that of the evangelical scholars who are writing superb books on the ANE worldview of scripture. Until that piece of the argument is provided Babinski's essay, as an exercise in anti-apologetics, does not even get into first gear.