AIG and the Pillars of the Earth

As you know, we’ve been critical of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo) — the Australian entrepreneur who has become the ayatollah of Appalachia. He runs the online creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AIG), and he also created the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.

Our criticism is because he rejects science — unless it’s AIG’s perverted “creation science” which is consistent with a nothing in this world except a literal reading of Genesis. His insistence on a simplistic, word-for-word reading of Genesis is what supports his young-earth creationism. Nevertheless, Hambo and his creation scientists ignore the fact that there is nothing in scripture to contradict the many passages declaring that the earth is flat, stationary, and rests on pillars while the sun, moon, and stars revolve around it. See The Earth Is Flat, and also The Earth Does Not Move.

Perhaps it’s in reaction to our criticism, we don’t know, but they’ve just posted something that does respond to some of it. Take a look at Is the earth immovably set on pillars or hanging on nothing? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us. They begin by stating “The Problem,” in two scripture passages that we mentioned in our posts:

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them. (1 Samuel 2:8)

He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing. (Job 26:7)

The first was one of many flat-earth passages we quoted in The Earth Is Flat. We discussed the second, from Job, in The Earth Does Not Move. We weren’t concerned with whether the second passage contradicted the earth’s resting on pillars; we discussed whether it contradicted many other passages describing the earth as being stationary. We said:

What’s that all about? It’s the same earth that the same book of Job says has a place and rests on pillars (Job 9:6 — “Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.”), and that also has a foundation (Job 38:4 — “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth”). Whatever “hangeth the earth upon nothing” means, it definitely doesn’t say that the earth moves (except when God shakes it) or that it’s located anywhere other than the central hub of the universe. Maybe it means that it’s not turtles all the way down.

By the way, AIG didn’t have to go to the book of Samuel for their “pillars” quote; there’s a much handier one in the book of Job — but then the contradiction with their other quote from Job is even stronger. Anyway, here’s what AIG says:

At first glance, these verses appear to contradict each other: how can the earth rest on pillars and at the same time hang on nothing?

In addition, the idea of earth having “pillars” and “foundations” seems to defy observations made by astronauts who have seen our planet from afar. To some, it may even sound vaguely like certain pagan beliefs, such as the Hindu idea that the earth is supported on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of a gigantic tortoise. But we should not view these biblical statements as myths, because God’s Word is truth.

Okay, it’s truth. Now what about those pillars? Let’s read on:

The supposed contradiction quickly disappears when we examine the context of each passage and recognize it as figurative language. … This sort of poetic imagery (pillars, foundations, etc.) is commonly used in Scripture to describe how God upholds the world.

Ah, it’s “figurative language,” so AIG doesn’t have to take it literally. That’s a relief. We continue:

We know that the earth does not literally have foundations and a cornerstone like a building; instead, God uses this figurative language to create a mental picture for Job.

Uh huh. But we also know that the world is considerably older than 6,000 years, yet AIG won’t retreat from that. Why not? Well, presumably those parts of Genesis aren’t “figurative language.” How does AIG know? They just know, that’s all. Here’s more:

Critics of our ministry often ridicule Answers in Genesis because we endorse the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. They claim that we must take everything in the Bible in a wooden literal sense.

That’s right, and we’ll continue to do so — hermeneutic or hermaphroditism notwithstanding. Moving along:

However, the historical-grammatical hermeneutic recognizes figures of speech are used in everyday language, and we should interpret them as such.

As we said in Creationists And The Scriptural Value Of Pi, in which we discussed AIG’s flailing about to explain two scripture passages indicating that the value of pi is 3:

A few poetic or metaphorical passages about the heavens, and even a math error or two, are insignificant in a book that was never intended to be a flawless science or math text. But those who adopt rules like AIG’s Statement of Faith are compelled to struggle with difficulties of their own making.


If creationists can manipulate the text to the extent that they do in order to preserve the illusion that scripture is accurate about the value of pi — when it obviously isn’t — why can’t they employ the same skill to understanding the six days of creation, and thereby harmonize Genesis with modern science? They could thus be spared all the mind-destroying nonsense they force upon themselves to oppose the theory of evolution and so much else that science teaches us.

So we shall continue to criticize AIG for their selectivity in deciding which passages are literally true and which aren’t. If they want to be consistent, they’re all true (except for obvious poetry and dreams). If they’re worried that they’ll look ridiculous being flat-earthers, they have nothing to fear. They already look ridiculous for being young-earth creationists. In for a penny, in for a pound.

See also: The Struggle of Answers in Genesis.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “AIG and the Pillars of the Earth

  1. As soon as AiG allows that some straightforward statements in the bible are figures of speech or metaphors or whatever, then they can no longer claim that the bible is 100 percent literally true. Especially when those statements are attributed to God.

    Once they cross that threshold, they must defend their conclusions that the remaining passages which defy common sense and scientific knowledge are not simply figures of speech or just-so stories. Without an objective basis for their conclusions, their position has no credibility at all.

    That you AiG for admitting that the bible is open to subjective interpretation, and is not to be taken as word-for-word truth. That’s refreshing.

  2. Ed says:

    Without an objective basis for their conclusions, their position has no credibility at all.

    You don’t understand. They have the “historical-grammatical hermeneutic” which clarifies everything.

  3. One thing in particular really bothers me about this defense. The guy says that we know that the earth doesn’t rest on pillars. And of course, we do know that today, thanks to science. But what about all of the Bible scholars a millennium or two ago? Back then, the accepted wisdom – from Aristotle to Ptolemy, then lasting until Copernicus et al. – was that the earth sat immobile at the center of the universe.

    Would believers back then have recognized those passages as poetic language, like AIG does so easily? I don’t think it’s clear that they would – it doesn’t conflict with their knowledge of the world, as it does with ours. And even if they did see it as a metaphor, it still reinforces the idea that the earth is unmoving. Poetic language is supposed to convey some meaning, isn’t it? And in this case, it implies that while there may not be literal pillars, some force is keeping the earth in its appointed place.

    So here’s the real question AIG should be answering: why would their God, who is supposed to be the source of all truth, use language that was profoundly misleading for thousands of years, until human science advanced enough to discover the truth independently? Surely he could have used poetic language that implied a heliocentric system, and given the righteous a leg up in understanding creation.

  4. Curmudgeon: “Our criticism is because he rejects science — unless it’s AIG’s perverted ‘creation science’ which is consistent with a nothing in this world except a literal reading of Genesis.”

    In fairness, he does reject the perverted “science” of ID. Though for all the wrong reasons, and nothing about that rejection justfies his brand of pseudoscience one bit.

    I also note on occasion the irony that heliocentric YECs are just as “accommodationist” as they accuse OECs and IDers of being. Picking and choosing what “feels good” is an essential ingredient in any pseudoscience. But it comes at the risk that another peddler will pick-and-choose differently, ant that those contradictions undermine all efforts to fool the “masses.” That would not be a problem at all if one of the mutually-contradictory literal interpretations of Genesis had some promise of evidence. But the peddlers have known for decades that none do, and the the evidence gets more ominous for all each day. So long before the courts made it mandatory to omit the designer’s identity, peddlers “speciatated” into those who continue to risk exposing the fatal flaws and contradictions, and those who prefer a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when.”

  5. Biblical literalists have had many years of practice in discovering what they want to find in the Bible and explaining away what they do not want. Therefore, I find it pointless to argue with them about the “true meaning” of the Bible.
    However, we can point out that for a couple of thousand years, no one guessed that the Bible was telling us that the Earth was a planet. It seems that the first person who suggested that the motion of the Earth was compatible with the Bible was Nicholas of Cusa, in the 1300s, and not until the 1600s did it get much attention. It is difficult to argue that “the Earth is a planet” is an obvious reading of the Bible.

  6. Yr Curmship: Fifth para, “By the way…” — it’s ‘contradiction’ not ‘contraction’.
    J. Meyers

  7. Thank you, Anonymous. All fixed now.

  8. Even some mainstream faiths can’t let go of the ‘it’s all literal’ idea. The Missouri Synod Lutherans still push literal genesis and literal everything else, while also using the ‘it’s a metaphor’ approach when it’s convenient. so the loons at AIG don’t have a corner on this. It’s either all literally true, or it’s all up to interpretation. Anyone who still thinks it’s all literally true has their head stuck in a very dark place.

  9. why would their God, who is supposed to be the source of all truth, use language that was profoundly misleading for thousands of years…

    Have you tried to read a science textbook lately? They don’t exactly inspire religious conversion. If Moses had come down the mountain with “F = Gm1m2/r^2; if m1 equals…then what is F?” on a tablet, I don’t think they would’ve walked to Canaan for him. They probably would’ve sacrificed the poor guy to that golden bull while chanting “We hate math! We hate math!” ;P

  10. you’re right about that, Eric, but he/she/it still could have used the poetic approach and said something more consistent with reality. such as… “the earth is suspendend in nothingness and it is by my will that it is sustained.” kind of hard for us to refute that sort of concept.

    the literalists will never shut up as long as they have a willing audience who gives them financial backing.

  11. TJW, I wouldn’t call the Missouri Synod quite “mainstream”. It’s a bit out there are far as most Lutheran churches are concerned.

  12. TomS: “It is difficult to argue that “the Earth is a planet” is an obvious reading of the Bible.”

    For that matter, as you know, for the first ~4000 years Biblical literalism was a mere belief system. Only in the 20th century did it “evolve” into a full-blown pseudoscience. Ironically the pseudoscience is in the process of “evolving” away from Biblical literalism, and toward a new-agey “don’t ask, don’t tell” scam that centers on its obsession with “Darwinism,” and welcomes any “kind” of evolution-denier under the big tent, including people like Behe who is not a Biblical literalist by any measure.

    My radical hypothesis is that this would have been happening anyway even if the activists had won the court cases from Epperson to Edwards. Had they won they they might still be talking about “creation” (and avoided the “cdesign proponentsists” embarrassment) in their “alternatives” for science class, but the “evidences” for YEC would be steadily abandoned as it is now. They would have still realized (some groups earlier than others, as it is now) that exposing easily-falsified claims and hopeless contradictions is not good for the big tent.

  13. So kennie ham believes in evolution, after all it is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of man from dust as the pillars of the Earth being gravity!

  14. @Frank J: Biblical literalism was a mere belief system
    It is difficult to find Biblical, or any other early support, for the kind of Biblical literalism that we know from modern times. “Literal” shared the interpretative space with “analogical”, “anagogical”, and “moral” meanings of Scripture. An interesting book gives a wide selection of just how “free” people were in their interpretations for the couple of centuries around the “turn of the era” (BCE to CE):
    James L. Kugel
    The Bible as it Was
    Belknap (Harvard U. Press) 1997
    This was the society, and these were the people, who were responsible for the construction of the Bible, so one might think that they had some insight into how to read the Bible.
    Of course, for someone who “knows” what the Bible says (that it agrees with me), any such discussion is pointless.

  15. Lynn,

    I guess it’s about where you’re from. Around my parts, they’re the most common group, so I (perhaps wrongly) have a tendency to equate them with all Lutherans.

  16. My question is whether Hammie boy ever unties himself from the pretzel form he must take to wend his way thru all these contradictions? Can you imagine the twisted convoluted path his mind must take?