Do Creationists Think?

THE title question is one which has long intrigued us. We’ve attempted to explore it a few times in the past. For example, see: Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked.

Today we have an actual example of deep creationist thinking, which should answer the question once and for all. This comes to us from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. It’s titled Did the Serpent Originally Have Legs?

Hey — what a question! Does anyone know the answer? Is there a way to find out? Does anyone care? Amazingly, creationists seem to worry about issues like this. This is what occupies their minds.

We warn you in advance, the article we’re about to discuss may seem to be a grand waste of time, but it has a purpose — it illustrates creationist thinking. So stay with us. We added the bold font for emphasis. Here it comes:

Perhaps one of the most-asked and most-debated topics is the serpent’s original appearance. The model of the serpent here at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum exhibit just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, is pictured below to consider.

Did you get that? This is one of their “most-asked and most-debated topics.” The picture which accompanies the AIG article is too small, so here’s a link to a bigger image of the same thing. We still can’t figure it out, but let’s read on:

Determining features of the serpent from the precious little information given in the Bible is a difficult task, and there is considerable speculation in this area. For example, we can speculate about what color and patterns were on the serpent’s exterior, what shape of eyes did the serpent have, and so on.

Yes, this is a difficult and challenging problem. And AIG regards it as a question of great importance. We continue:

Even the question of legs on the serpent is one with varying speculation. Consider the biblical text to see what it says of the serpent:

And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:13–15)

We skipped a couple of passages describing the serpent’s beguiling of Eve. AIG then says:

When looking at Genesis 3:13–15 [quoted immediately above], there is no direct indication that the serpent had legs, only that its curse would be “on your belly you shall go.” But in Genesis 3:1, we get a clue that the serpent was likely classified as a beast of the field, which is probably why beasts of the field were also mentioned in 3:14.

Surely, dear reader, you find yourself getting drawn into this fascinating problem. Here’s more:

What makes this an issue is that it was a land animal and/or flying reptile in general — hence, it moved by flying, slithering, or with appendages. If it slithered already, what was the point of the curse and why compare it to creatures which had legs in Genesis 3:14?

Good thinking! Moving along:

Regardless if it was a beast of the field, the serpent was indeed a land animal and capable of locomotion in the Garden of Eden and in the field. Let’s evaluate forms of locomotion to see the possibilities.

AIG then launches into a discussion requiring a few paragraphs about various modes of locomotion. And then:

Was there some other form of locomotion among creatures that are now extinct? Without further research, there is no certain answer. As for the possibility of wings, this can’t be entirely ruled out either. But if so, then the serpent had some form of locomotion other than slithering and some form of appendage that physically changed forms.

We can’t avoid being impressed by the volume of intellectual energy expended on this issue. Then they discuss the Hebrew and Greek meaning of certain words, followed by a long section introduced thusly:

Several commentaries were checked to see what other scholars said about the serpent. They are accumulated below.

Yes, dear reader. By clicking over to AIG, you can learn what great minds in the past have thought about the serpent and its legs. We’ll leave it to you to experience the thrill of reading that material. Here’s one final excerpt from this splendid article’s conclusion:

The more logical answer is that the serpent originally had some form of legs or appendages, and these were either lost or reduced (consider how many reptiles crawl on their bellies and yet have legs, e.g., crocodiles). This seems to correlate with the plainest reading of the passage and the comparison of a curse (“on your belly you shall go”) as compared with cattle and other beasts of the field, which do have legs.

So there you are. As for the question with which we began this post — Do Creationist’s Think? — the answer is that they do. In their own way.

Updates: See Creationist Wisdom #110: The Serpent, and then see Creationist Wisdom #113: The Serpent Revisited.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Do Creationists Think?

  1. Ah! Think I know what the problem is, — they’re running out of topics. After all, if you only have one book, there’s only so much you can write about.

  2. JohnO says: “After all, if you only have one book …”

    But what a book!

  3. Originally the Biblical serpent was a giant centipede like bug:

    Sorry, my mistake, it was more like:

    Damn, I screwed up again, it was actually even worse, it was this:

  4. Fascinating. So what do you have to say now, godless atheist sinners? This is irrefutable proof that Creation Scientists do real research and practice Creation Science at its best!

  5. Armand K. says: “This is irrefutable proof that Creation Scientists do real research …”

    I was a fool to misjudge them.

  6. What happened to the how many angels on the head of a pin question?

  7. I was a fool to misjudge them.

    Yes, you were, of course.

    In the immortal words of Lord Dorwin, the great archaeologist: True science is done by exploiting the wisdom of old books. You get the writings of the great prophets, saints and theologians of the past, “wigh them against each otheh – balance the disagweements – analyze the conflicting statements – decide which is pwobably cowwect – and come to a conclusion. That is the scientific method.”

  8. What happened to the how many angels on the head of a pin question?

    That’s settled. They’re 729. See here:

  9. Armand K. says: “n the immortal words of Lord Dorwin …”

    Isn’t that from Asimov’s Foundation series?

  10. A grand waste of time, indeed. Too bad this intellectual effort was not spent on the truly important question of our time: whether Balrogs have wings.

  11. Isn’t that from Asimov’s Foundation series?

    It is. From the very first book of the series. I think it actually published as a short story initially — by Campbell.

    So? It’s as good to determine truth as any theology writing. Hum… better, actually — much better in many ways.

    As a sidenote I’ll always love Asimov. Nightfall and The End of Eternity were among the very first science fiction stories I read in my early teens and I was fascinated. It stimulated what SF writers called “the sense of wonder” and made me forever fall in love with the genre. Funny though, at the time I didn’t even realize the two were written by the same author, much less who Asimov was and what else he wrote. That omission was corrected later, of course.

  12. I once read somewhere that the question of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin (or more correctly, dance on the point of a needle) was actually a pretty good stab at grappling with the concept of infinite or transfinite numbers. The angels bit is comparable to the modern illustration of a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and the question of whether a new arrival could still be given a room even though the hotel is filled.

    On the other hand, I just did a quick search on “angel dance head pin” and got a swarm of hits all saying the whole thing is a myth, with Wikipedia and The Straight Dope leading the charge. That is, Medieval scholastics never seriously debated such a question as dancing angels on needle-points or pinheads — they did argue over some pretty arcane topics though, and the angels thing may have been somebody’s satire of such hair-splitting.

  13. Angels on a head of a pin… Well, it might very well be a myth — but a damn old one comparative to the crocodiles in the sewers and other modern “urban” myths. It also is a natural extension of the very serious theological discussions on the nature, substance and powers of angels and demons.

    In a The Reasons of the Christian Religion by Richard Baxter (which is also referenced in Wikipedia), London, 1667, it says:

    And abundance of our writers of Physicks, Metaphysicks and Logick, do tell us, that Angels have Materiam metaphysicam[1], and in a certain sense may be called corporeal. And the summ of all is, when they determine questions about their locality, extension or quantity, that they have ubi[2]; their quantity and extension (which are the properties of bodies) suo modo, vel modo metaphysico[3], as bodies have modo suo physico[4]; being not immense or infinite no more than bodies. […] And Schihler with others, maketh the difference of extension to be this, that Angels can contract their whole substance into one part of space, and therefore have no partes extra partes[5]. Whereupon is it that Schoolmen have questioned how many Angels may fit upon a point of a Needle?

    This, supposing Baxter invented it, dates the story at least 350 years back. But he probably didn’t invent it, only reported it.

    I don’t have, of course, access to the original document, but I also don’t really have any reason to think it’s a fake. It would have to be a very elaborate hoax, given that the style and the print are right for that period, and an original exists somewhere. On top of that, there are many writings that not only treat “arcane topics”, but are pure insanity, delusions of a sick mind taken as revelated truth — the infamous Malleum maleficarum, for instance.

    (The typeface is a Garamond or a Caslon, I suspect, but I say this only based on a very superficial look. It has, however some characteristics that were later abandoned, like the two types of minuscule “s”, the form used today being in those times used only at the end of the words.)

    [1] — Latin for metaphysical matter or nature
    [2] ubi (Lat.) — (every/any)where, (every/any) time; pretty often used as a shorthand for ubicumque, the more “correct” word for “everyhwere”
    [3] suo modo, vel modo metaphysico (Lat.) — in its own way (/mode/fashion), or the metaphysical way
    [4] modo suo physico (Lat.) — in its physical way
    [5] [no] partes extra partes (Lat.) — [no] part outside the [one] part

  14. No wonder they don’t ever seem to make sense. Their entire processing apparatuses (apparati?) are stuck on such weighty and meaningful questions. I mean when you are trying to figure out the entire appearance of a talking snake from a few passages and can’t have ANY other details added from other sources, you can’t help but hit a dead end. I can’t help but feel its like Windows getting hung up on Solitaire though…

  15. This also explains how they can completely miss the point of all the evidence that sits in front of them. If they can read a text so carefully to wonder if snakes had legs yet miss that its a symbolic myth for growing up, everything becomes clear.

  16. “Whereupon is it that Schoolmen have questioned how many Angels may fit upon a point of a Needle?”

    Yes, but which Schoolmen? When and where did this argument take place? The authenticity of the Baxter document isn’t at issue here. It’s that Baxter didn’t give a source and he was writing centuries after the fact. The Straight Dope article linked below suggests that Thomas Aquinas came close in the 13th Century in his ponderings on the nature of angels, and the modern form of angels dancing on pinheads may have originated as a burlesque of his work. Whether the Straight Dope is a reliable authority in this matter is another question, but I would think the burden of proof is on those who would claim Medieval scholars really did debate the question of angels dancing on a point. We need names, sources, dates, quotations… (To be clear, I don’t have an emotional stake in this and could be convinced either way.)

  17. When and where did this argument take place? The authenticity of the Baxter document isn’t at issue here. It’s that Baxter didn’t give a source and he was writing centuries after the fact.

    For all we know he could have been writing it two days as well as 200 years after the fact. He doesn’t attribute it to anyone in particular (which isn’t uncommon at all for that period). Using Baxter’s text in support to attributing the “problem” to Aquinas (or anyone else) is, of course, a non sequitur.

    The (uncontested?) fact that Baxter (and others, according to the Straight Dope article you cited) mentions the issue, has three possible explanations, I think:
    1) He invented it;
    2) There was some talking going on about it, but nothing serious;
    3) Some scholars seriously discussed the issue.
    The latter two can both be amended in the sense that Baxter might have exaggerated, misquoted or ridiculed some debates he witnessed or read about.

    Either way, like yourself, I’m not emotionally attached to this issue. I’ve been aware of it as an amusing point, I googled it and that’s it. I really couldn’t care less if Aquinas or some other random scholastic really debated how many angels fit on a pin or whether there are excrements in paradise. No more than I care about the tea of captain Picard from Star Trek. (I’ve seen very heated discussions about such a point on some fan sites…)

  18. Curmudgeon: “It’s titled ‘Did the Serpent Originally Have Legs?’ Hey — what a question! Does anyone know the answer?”

    They’re smart enough (at least in the “trained dog” sense) to know not to ask that question of Michael “reading the Bible as a science test is silly” Behe, or any other “Discoveroid.” And if they slip up and do ask them, the latter are smart enough (at least in the “trained dog” sense) to evade the question for the sake of the big tent.

  19. Geez, I’m sorry I brought up the angels/pin question. Though I’m sure whether the serpent had legs is at least as important.

  20. retiredsciguy

    RogerE :
    “What happened to the how many angels on the head of a pin question?”

    Creationists would say the answer is zero, because so many creationists are Southern Baptists, and the ones I’ve known didn’t believe in dancing. And of course they would believe that all angels are Baptists.

  21. And of course they would believe that all angels are Baptists.

    I also believe all angels are Baptists. Except for those that are Catholics. Or Calvinist. Or Orthodox. Oddly, the numbers are equal to one another and to addition’s neutral element. Numerology (that’s how they call it, right?) is fascinating!

  22. John O: “Ah! Think I know what the problem is, — they’re running out of topics. After all, if you only have one book, there’s only so much you can write about.”

    If by “one book” you mean the Bible, it’s even worse than that. One of their own (Michael Behe) called reading the Bible as a science text “silly.” And none of his Discoveroid buddies use it to peddle their pseudoscience.

    Nevertheless they have an endless supply of arguments. They can always recycle long-refuted anti-“Darwinism” sound bites to new, uncuspecting audiences (last I checked people are still being born). And when all else fails there’s always the trusty “Darwin-Hitler” thing.