Inerrantists Resolve Discrepancies with ‘It Could Happen!’

Perhaps you know Judy Tenuta. She is now an actress, but in the 1980s she was a stand-up comedian who popularized the phrase: ‘It could happen’. During her comedy routines she would create some outlandish scenario and support her story by saying, ‘It could happen!’

It was all in fun.

Today, inerrantists use similar thinking to protect the consistency of their biblical views—but they are serious about it. Harmonizing apparent discrepancies is vital to maintaining biblical inerrancy, and Christian books dedicated to solving discrepancies are popular. I will use Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties by Gleason Archer for my first example. 

dinosaurs on the ark

Biblical Discrepancies

1. Joshua 10 states that during a battle Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still:

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day…Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

Archer (page 161) suggests that the earth did not suddenly stop rotating, which would cause catastrophes (unless God prevented them); but perhaps the earth only slowed its rotation so that it took 48 hours instead of 24 hours to complete.

‘It could happen!’

2. Recently, a guest on Peter Enns’ blog described something identical to my experience when I was an inerrantist. He says:

I was taught that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, that Deuteronomy’s account of his death and mysterious burial was an instance of prophetic foresight.

‘It could happen!’

Conflict between Evolution and the Inerrant Bible

Young-earth creationists (YECs) use the same technique.

1. The Universe looks old, but Apologetics Press asks:

[H]ow old were Adam and Eve two seconds after God created them? They were two seconds old! Yet they walked, talked, and looked like adult human beings, and even had the ability to reproduce.

If a tree were cut down in the Garden of Eden one day after the Creation week, how many rings would it have had? Possibly hundreds, yet it would have been only five days old…Just because this Earth may appear older than 6,000 years, that does not mean it is older than that.

An early form of ‘apparent age’ theory suggested that the earth was created with dinosaur fossils already in it, and some believed they were put there to test our faith.

‘It could happen!’

2. YECs contend that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and within the past 6,000 years; they even claim dinosaurs were on the ark. The graphic above is taken from an article on Creation.com. The accompanying text states:

[W]e maintain that Noah didn’t need to take ‘grandfather-sized’ ones aboard; those on the Ark were probably much less massive young adults or ‘teenagers’. It was recently discovered that dinosaurs go through an adolescent growth spurt, so God could have brought to the Ark (cf. Genesis 6:20) dinosaurs of the right age to start this spurt as soon as they disembarked.

‘It could happen!’

3. Many discrepancies between science and Genesis are explained by the sudden and destructive impact of the global flood, such as collections of numerous fossils.

‘It could happen!’

But why are fossils found in layers consistent with a long earth history instead of all mixed together?

Dr. Joel Duff is a professor of biology, and a believer, who writes incredibly insightful posts at Natural Historian on how science refutes YEC speculations. In a post on the discovery of particular ichthyosaur fossils, he comments:

Complete ecosystem preservation shouldn’t occur as a result of a global flood. Creationists often try to explain specific fossils, like the ichthyosaur fossils, in two ways. They say that fossils either sorted themselves out, by their differential ability to survive the oncoming flood water, or they were sorted by the global flood waters themselves [‘It could happen!’ ~Tim]. But what they don’t often address are entire communities of organisms that are preserved together. Why would we find such communities together in multiple places on Earth?

Why should a specific kind of extinct ammonite be found in the same sediments as ichthyosaurs on multiple continents? How would a global flood consistently sort small shells, fish, and ichthyosaurs out together and somehow avoid mixing in any dinosaurs and mammals, especially seals and cetaceans?

Creationist Alternatives to Science are Wishful Thinking

Reader Alan Christensen commented on a previous post with insight and excellent examples:

I like to call the creationist approach you described as But-Maybe-ism. But maybe the speed of light used to be faster! But maybe Noah took baby dinosaurs on the ark! But maybe different organisms sank into the muddy water in a way that just looks like they were laid down in strata over millions of years!

Alan is right, and his ‘But-Maybe-ism’ is the same as my ‘It could happen!’; both phrases describe the wishful thinking of YECs. When scientists make claims for observations that don’t fit the Genesis stories, YECs harmonize the facts to the Bible by describing what ‘might’ have happened–though they have no basis to do so. It is as though having a weak alternative is a sufficient answer against scientific analysis. ‘It could happen!’

Image credit: Creation.com
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29 Responses to Inerrantists Resolve Discrepancies with ‘It Could Happen!’

  1. cmgatlin53 says:

    Do you distinguish between Biblical stories with miraculous elements (like Noah’s ark) and Biblical accounts of miracles (like the wedding at Cana or the healing of the lepers)? It seems to me there is an important distinction, and part of the inerrantists’ problem is either not making such a distinction themselves, or attempting to deal with the objections of non-inerrantists (especially non-believers) who also do not make a distinction. The prehistoric narratives seem to be offered by their author (let’s call him “Moses” since that is the convention) to both explain how the world came to be as it is and to show the intervention of God in the history of mankind. The miracles in the gospels are offered as near-eye-witness accounts of wonders that are often explicitly described as occurring to show that Jesus had authority and wasn’t just making nice philosophical conversation. Being raised as a Baptist by parents who were not inerrantists (nobody in our churches used that term back then when I was a kid) but who insisted that the Bible was true, although not always literal, I dealt with such “contradictions” by assuming that there was something I wasn’t fully understanding about the Bible passages, living so remotely from the context of the times that the passages were given. Even the apostles are often recorded as not understanding things that Jesus said until later, and it seems to me the effect is only magnified by our remoteness in time. The concept of genres has helped, and understanding that my denomination uses the Bible not to establish doctrine but to prove it, too. However, the concept “true but not literal” still helps the most. The story of Noah and the ark is true but not literal or historical, in my view.

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    • Chuck, you raise a good question about the miracles of Jesus in distinction from Old Testament miracle stories. I believe strongly that Jesus was a healer, but how he healed is unknown to me.

      Miracles like turning water to wine or multiplying the loaves and fishes are even greater mysteries. Perhaps Jesus performed these things using advanced techniques (any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic to those unfamiliar with the technology); but I don’t think Jesus violated natural laws of the universe to perform them.

      On the other hand, they might have been stories (not lies) meant to make a point about Jesus as a person or his thoughts and sayings. Perhaps there are other explanations.

      Do you have further thoughts on Jesus’ miracles?

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      • cmgatlin53 says:

        I think the miracles of Jesus have to be accepted just as any other “facts” given about him in the Gospel accounts. They don’t read like the accounts of wonders from other religious traditions, and they aren’t set in a “once upon a time and long ago” context like the Genesis stories–they are claimed to have happened in the recent past of the writers, in specific places. I can’t think of any of Jesus’ miracles that violate any rules of nature (the feeding of the five thousand or water into wine, or even the instantaneous healings, can be thought of as amplifications and accelerations of natural processes)– except for the raising of Lazarus, where the process of decay seems to be reversed. If Jesus is who he claimed to be (and I think he clearly laid claim to the name of God on several occasions), I don’t find it impossible that he would manipulate or even reverse natural processes on a few occasions, to establish his credentials, as it were. Several times he is recorded as saying that the reason he does something miraculous is for that particular reason (“that you may know that the Son of Man has authority…”). There’s a very interesting book by Richard Bauckham about the gospels as historical witness called “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” which has good discussion of how history was written in the ancient world.

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        • cmgatlin53 says:

          Even on Old Testament miracles, I think we need to have an open mind. Elijah restoring the heat-struck son of the woman of Shunem, for example, sounds plausible without any extreme credulity being required. Events like the miraculous sustaining of Moses, or Joshua holding back the sun, or even the angel and Balaam’s ass are all more problematical, but I’m not sure we have to discount them entirely. Clearly an “It could happen!” explanation of Rube Goldberg complexity is not very likely to be behind these events, but maybe SOMETHING happened that stuck in the oral tradition, and the written accounts are attempts to convey those events in a religious context. I’m reminded what C.S. Lewis said about the ascension of Christ: how likely was it that eyewitnesses would not interpret whatever happened when Christ removed himself from this physical world as a rising up into the sky? The observer sees what he can comprehend, and describes the unfamiliar in terms, sometimes metaphorical, of the familiar.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Chuck, thanks for the big laughs! I did not know Rube Goldberg so I had to look him up. His designs are so funny.

            I think you are right about some OT miracles being attempts to explain actual events–describing the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. I also think perhaps that some stories were enhanced to bolster the prestige of the nation of Israel and their God.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chuck, I don’t have a problem with Jesus’ miracles, but I wonder if a few of them are more midrash-type sermons than descriptions of actual events–like the feeding of the 5000.

          As I said earlier, I definitely believe in Jesus’ healings; even his raising of Lazarus might have been a healing of a coma rather than a restoration of life to a dead man. This seems even more likely in the light of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, in which he conquered death and demonstrated our own future resurrections. Of course the ancients would interpret the Lazarus event as something more since they had little understanding of comas.

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  2. Great points here. The whole “nothing is impossible with God” retort is in line with “it could happen.” When someone has that mindset its difficult to have a logical discussion with them.

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  3. Hey, thanks for the shout-out! I think another good term for this approach to Scripture is “making stuff up.” I tried to adhere to YEC as a young person, too, but eventually came to see that the evidence against it–and lack of evidence for it–is overwhelming. Thinking specifically of the Flood, it simply makes no sense that, if it happened, the remains of creatures killed in the Flood would be laid down in discrete strata instead of jumbled into mass graves.

    I love Judy Tenuta, by the way. “I have my own religion–Judyism.”

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    • Yes, Alan, making stuff up is a good way to say it. I firmly believed YEC ideas, and the explanations made good sense to me–for a while. Then I began to see through them–not because of evolutionists arguments but because the YEC arguments just didn’t hold up.

      Judy Tenuta promoted the religion of Judyism. I am sure she is gratified to count you among those who accepted her message.

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  4. fiddlrts says:

    Another outstanding post. If anything, it was the attempts by YEC sorts to “explain” evidence that contradicted their viewpoint away that convinced me that YEC was a bunch of made-up malarkey.

    As you note, it all eventually boils down to “who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?” Either God did a fantastic job of faking evidence to fool us…I mean test our faith…or the YEC narrative cannot be true. I have an extremely difficult time conceiving of a God that would deliberately falsify evidence – that doesn’t sound like Christ at all. (And if He did falsify the evidence, why didn’t He fake ALL of it? I mean, we can predict the effects of the laws of physics and so forth.)

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    • Fiddlrts, I like your question: Who are you gong to believe? Me or your own eyes?

      Which makes more sense, the consistent scientific evidence we find all around us or ancient stories? I am sad to say this, but it is true. Though I absorbed them eagerly for many years, YEC attempts to disprove evolution just don’t hold up. And they are damaging to believers and the church.

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    • Exactly. If YEC is true then God is a liar.

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  5. sheila0405 says:

    Tim, do you believe any of the miracles described in the NT actually happened? There are quite a few of them. I don’t know what to think.

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  6. Sheila, what is a miracle? Is it an event for which we have no natural explanation? If so, then some miracles in the Bible might be true events for which the observers had no natural explanation.

    For example I don’t believe Jesus violated natural laws; that would be trivializing. But perhaps he accessed natural laws which we still do not understand. I have pondered miracles for decades, but I admit that I do not have a satisfactory answer.

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    • Chas says:

      Tim. It has long seemed to me that the NT miracles were written in order that Jesus would seem to have outdone the OT miracles, which were merely myths. Examples of this would be having Jesus walk on water, to outdo Elisha having an axhead float; having Jesus feed 5000, when Elisha (or Elijah – I don’t remember which) fed a smaller number of people out of a similar amount; having Jesus raising three people from the dead, to outdo both Elijah and Elisha, who only raised one each, and having Jesus healing various people to outdo e.g Elisha healing Haman of leprosy. In short, if we did not have the OT myths concerning Elijah and Elisha, there would have been no miracles written for Jesus in the NT. Why do we need to have miracles – in order that some may be persuaded to believe.

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      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chas, you might be on to something here. However, it might not be a case of outright deception but telling stories that would remind people of these OT events. Of course, now that followers of Jesus don’t have the mindset of Jesus’ first followers, the stories seem strange and either truth or a lie–without considering the original audience.

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        • Chas says:

          Tim. Yes, I can readily concede that there was no conscious decision to deceive, but that the writers were passionate in their desire for others also to believe in Jesus. However, it is better to stick to the simple truth, as adding to the truth subtracts from it by diminishing its impact.

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  7. scraffiti says:

    A good thought provoking read this! As a young believer I was taught to expect miracles and healings. The idea stemming from Jesus’ statement, “You’ve seen the works I do – greater works shall you do” (loosely put). Over a twenty odd year period of attending ‘healing’ meetings both in the UK and USA, I never witnessed a single miracle healing – although there was never any shortage of those claiming to have received one! For years it troubled me a lot. Are we simply not ‘doing’ it right or are the Bible stories simply a fabrication – believing the latter was hugely difficult at the time. Combining this with the creation/evolution/YEC issues the whole matter was very challenging. The reason being that if I doubted God’s word I was not being a faithful believer. As Christian Evolution eluded to above, unfortunately I was unable to have a useful discussion about it because of the ‘dyed in the wool’ belief of those around me.

    My personal resolution – after years of agony – was accept that I don’t get it and I’m not going to beat myself up over it anymore. If God hates me because of my lack of understanding or belief then it’s his problem not mine. These things are in the realm of the fantastic and we ain’t ever going to understand it. Theorising is our only option and we shouldn’t feel any condemnation for having doubts. Keep the discussion going Tim – it’s great stuff!

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      These things are in the realm of the fantastic and we ain’t ever going to understand it.

      Fiddlrts, I think you are right. We don’t have answers to all our questions yet. By the way, I was a Pentecostal for mare than 20 years. There were healings all around me and wonderful testimonies. But I never saw the lame walk, the blind see, or any other dramatic and obvious result.

      This does not mean I don’t think Jesus healed, but I am not sure how he did it and I don’t see it happening today–even though there are many undocumented stories.

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  8. Michael B. says:

    I don’t believe the great flood story for another reason; I don’t think a loving God would wipe out life on the entire planet because the actions of a few people. As a just God, I don’t believe he would make somone suffer for the actions of another person. I also don’t think he would make all life on the planet suffer annihalation because the actions of one species. If God did in fact cause the great flood and killed everyone because of a few bad people, I wouldn’t worship or support him…

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I agree with you. The story of the Genesis flood, along with other OT stories, describes a God who is angry, violent, and vindictive. I believe Jesus corrected that by telling us that God is a loving Father.

      I too would not worship the angry, violent, and vindictive God that the OT writers imagined; and the two of us are not the only ones.

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      • cmgatlin53 says:

        What was your mood last time you had to clean up a bathroom where the toilet backed up and overflowed? If you had a child who had flushed a diaper and a teddy bear down the toilet, causing the mess, what do you think the child’s interpretation of your mood would have been, especially if you caught the child in the act and administered summary punishment and banishment to the corner? Possibly that you were angry, violent, and vindictive? There are not a lot of details in Genesis 6, but it might be that the human perspective of the author of that passage might be on a level with that toddler’s understanding in the parable above.

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        • Chas says:

          Shouldn’t the reaction to the action of a child depend on whether the child understands the consequences of its actions, and whether it had done something similar before and had the likely consequences of its action explained to it. We can see many examples of adults doing things that have had dire consequences and we wonder why they failed to foresee those consequences when they did them. If we tell a child not to touch the fire, because they will be burned and it will hurt, then they can understand the consequence and choose to avoid it, or do it and be hurt. It may not be as obvious to a child what the consequences of its actions might be. If it cannot reasonably be expected to foresee the consequences of an action, then our response should be one of weary acceptance and showing the child the result of its actions. If it has not foreseen the consequences, it has not sinned, because it has not realized that you will suffer by its actions. (I know that this is much easier to say than to do in the anger of the moment!)

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  9. scraffiti says:

    Kids can make you mad – especially when they get stcky fingers on your clean shirt! But you accept it as par for the course. They’re just kids like we were once. I don’t understand this God getting mad thing and wanting to ‘curse the ground’ and and destroy by flood or fire. If he made people with a free will, why should he get upset when they use it?

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    • cmgatlin53 says:

      Although parents sometimes get mad and act unjustly, I don’t think God does. But I believe it’s possible that his actions might look to us like he’s getting mad, from our more limited perspective, just as a child might misinterpret a parent’s reaction (a child can really scare an adult by doing something risky, for example, and it might look to the kid like his parents are angry when they’re worried about the dangerous situation). That’s all I meant, that what looks simply like anger and vindictiveness to the people writing the Old Testament may be actually something very different and more complex.

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      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chuck, I think you are right that the OT writers misunderstood God’s intentions.

        I think one aspect of this was an ancient belief common among nearly ALL people that God was demanding, angry, and punishing. Perhaps it had to do with destruction from natural fires, weather, and drought (along with military defeats) which they understood to be arranged by the gods.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I agree with both of you that I don’t think God gets mad at us. I think we feel he is mad sometimes because we assume he is legalistically demanding and we feel guilty for not successfully performing all his ‘rules’.

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