doubting the unicorn

May 18, 2010 at 11:45 am 24 comments

I try to avoid the Answers in Genesis web site. But I recently saw a link to an article there, and confess, gave in to the temptation. I apologize in advance for any pain it may cause, should you choose to click through. The article is about unicorns.

As background, the King James Version of the bible uses the word “unicorn” in several places (blogger Sabio goes into that a bit here).  The article starts out with an assertion that some anti-Christians will use the King James Bible’s references to unicorns to mock Christian beliefs as akin to belief in fairy tales. Fair enough, I haven’t heard that, but I’m sure it happens.

The article then goes on to provide some guesses as to what kind of creatures the biblical authors were referring to, under the assumption that they must have been referring to a real creature. But could it be possible they were referring to a creature that never existed, under the false assumption that a legend was real?

Answers in Genesis says categorically it is NOT acceptable to think the biblical authors referred to a mythical creature. The article ends on a typical Answers in Genesis low note, with polemics against those who would disagree with them, finally concluding, “To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.”

Such a simple equation; doubt the biblical authors, demean God. It is ultimately a call to submit to authority rather than to exercise critical thought, and it preempts honest study into origins and meanings of the bible. If only we could all hear God’s voice as clearly as Ken Ham does. Or on second thought, maybe not…

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Entry filed under: apologetics, belief, bible, Christianity, skepticism. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

an allegory of bitter water not dead yet

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve  |  May 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    What a great find!

    It’s things like this that force me to consider my own type of faith/religious persuasion and that of the evangelicals from which I sprung to be of fundamentally different genre. Our views of how to evaluate all philosophical and/or theological ideas seem completely incompatible.

  • 2. Rich Griese  |  May 18, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I am also interested in the study of very early christianity. I am currently reading, Walter Bauer’s _Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity_. I have studied the topic for almost 20 years now. I have read a number of other of the great works on this topic like Strauss, Harnack, Schweitzer, two additional Bauers (FC & Bruno), and many many others, but this is my current read.

    I am always interested in meeting others that are interested in the study of earliest christianity to have ongoing conversations and share reading lists, etc… you can contact me by email at RichGriese@gmail.com

    Do you have specific aspect of the study that interest you, that you might be interested in discussing, and perhaps having on going discussions on the topic in general? Feel free to email me to talk about it.

    My main interest is the very earliest period. Perhaps from the modified Messiah idea that may have begun around the time of the Maccabean revolt through the beginnings of christianity itself, till the Council of Nicea in 325CE, and perhaps a few years after that as some of the results of that council took effect.

    You can find the beginnings of my religion site at;

    http://richgriese.dyndns.org:8080/tag:religion?do=showtag&tag=religion

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

  • 3. The Wise Fool  |  May 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I have read some skeptics use the unicorns, dragons, the talking snake (Genesis 3), Balaam’s talking donkey (Numbers 22), the Behemoth (Job 40), and my personal favorite – the fire-breathing, invincible sea creature known as Leviathan (Job 41), used to mock believers. However, most skeptics (at least the knowledgeable ones) treat things like this as just the icing on the cake. Sweetly amusing, but not substantial.

    The real issues run much deeper, and are not subject to interpretations of what a particular animal could have been, but I’m guessing you already know that, or are at least well along that road of discovery. ;-)

    BTW, you may want to double-check that fourth paragraph. :-)

    Great post!

  • 4. Jay  |  May 19, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Oh, come on, folks.

    Clearly the Bible is referring to narwhals. The unicorns jumped off of the ark and ran through the rainbow and magically turned into narwhals. That makes at least as much sense as AiG’s position.

  • 5. Geoff Smith  |  May 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Why not just point out that it was probably a rhino or a large bull/ox…or point out that the KJV follows the LXX in those passages and that they got it wrong.

    Ham….ugh.

  • 6. atimetorend  |  May 19, 2010 at 11:39 am

    @Steve, it does seem a completely different genre and way of thinking. It is sad, because the fundamentalist way seems to eschew the value of rational thinking and reason, as far as it disagrees with their tenets. And as such, there doesn’t seem a way to overcome that incompatibility.

    @The Wise Fool, I agree about the about the real issues running much deeper, and sweetly amusing but not substantial is a good way of looking at it. It is interesting to see how these side issues become packaged with the bigger picture of a fundamentalist reading of the bible.

    @Geoff, I think the article does actually leave open the possiblity of the rhino or ox, etc. The problem is with the latter part of your statement, they don’t allow for any possibility of “they got it wrong.” In their minds allowing for that in the bible invalidates the whole thing.

    Magic rainbows, hmmm… :^)

  • 7. Mark  |  May 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Unfortunately, these things distract those who are already doubting and desperately searching for truth.

  • 8. atimetorend  |  May 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Mark, they do distract *anyone* searching for truth, and certainly distract me to the extent I am emotionally affected by silly claims.

    But at the same time, I think they can potentially help us to learn to think more clearly, to recognize what kinds of claims of truth are valid. At least for me it has taken a long time to better understand *why* I disagree with something, moving it beyond just a gut feeling.

  • 9. Mark  |  May 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Yeah, I just get distracted too easily. And unfortunately it is often the silly stuff like creationism and right wing politics.

  • 10. Boz  |  May 19, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    “If only we could all hear God’s voice as clearly as Ken Ham”

    If only God’s voice was auditory, instead of psychological.

  • 11. Jay  |  May 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    @Mark & ATtR:

    Things like this seem like distractions to us, because we’re looking at the topic from outside and above, if you will.

    If you’re a Ken Ham, or (worse) one of the people who think Ham knows what he’s talking about, things like this aren’t distractions. They’re imperatives. We know that dinosaurs (for example) existed. The creationists (and I’m deliberately using that term vice “fundamentalist” because they’re not identical sets) must find something in the Bible that admits the reality of dinosaurs. Likewise with the fact that we know that the continents were not always in the positions that they are now. Thus, the creationists must find some way to admit that fact. They do it by proposing outlandish scenarios where the raging floodwaters caused the continents to race apart or some such. (If you’re not familiar with something called the Hydroplate theory by a guy named Walt Brown, you should take a look.)

    Personally, I come from a very liberal Catholic background, and I have never been encouraged to view the Bible as anything other than the work of people trying to figure out their place in the world, so it’s difficult for me to appreciate the mindset of (say) a Ken Ham. That said, I’ve come to realize that the sort of things that I might be inclined to dismiss out of hand as trivial and unimportant can be extremely important to creationists.

    Now, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone from AIG comments here, or on my article, or at any of the other blogs taking shots at them these last few days. It’ll also be interesting to see if we get any mention on their site, or if we get any link traffic from them. I’m betting that they won’t comment here or link to any of us. We may get a collective mention, though. If I do, I’m framing it…

  • 12. atimetorend  |  May 20, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Jay, you are really getting at what drives me to concern about this stuff. As you said, young earth creationists see these things as imperatives. Additionally, they want to inflict them as imperatives on everyone else. It is too easy for Christians to go with the young earth creationist flow, which is typically the loudest voice they will hear at church.

    Cases in point. One of my sons would come home from school last year with young earth creationist comments his teacher had casually dropped from time to time (though another came home with an accurate dinosaur book he received as a gift from his teacher). I don’t see an option of remaining neutral at that point. Not that my kids need to become militant evolutionists, but I will certainly teach them they can believe in evolution without shame.

    Another example: Our old church advertised a young earth creationist seminar, recommending it as an evangelistic opportunity. I told the pastor later that inviting my father to that would be no more evangelistic than inviting him to a white supremicist meeting. Like you said, the view from outside and above is different than the inside view.

  • 13. Mark  |  May 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I think we could use more militant evolutionists. . . maybe I’ll train my kids to become an army of militant evolutionists :)

  • 14. atimetorend  |  May 20, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    What Mark!!! You’re not doing that already???

  • 15. Mark  |  May 20, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I’m teaching them evolution; however, I need to work on the militant part. Then I can release them into the masses (insert diabolical laugh).

  • 16. atimetorend  |  May 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    The army will need a lot of new recruits:
    http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/2010/05/11/most-us-protestants-belong-to-creationist-denominations/

  • 17. Lorena  |  May 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Interesting comments! I always think it’s interesting when people, atheist or Christian, analyze biblical stories and characters so deeply, looking into each detail.

    My approach is so different. The way I see it, unicorns are mythological. Christians look down upon and criticize mythology as made up stories or, worse, satanic figures.

    But, if the pagan unicorns are mythological or satanic, then the Christian ones are as well. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and if Christian apologists are going to disapprove of other religions’ gods and fetishes, then they shouldn’t approve of their own who are NAMED THE SAME.

  • 18. Joel Wheeler  |  May 20, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    OH look, I found you over here.

    My thoughts on this post are tied to the idea of certainty.

    Creationists and Fundamentalists seem (to me) to have an almost pathological need for certainty. I believe it’s a function of our need for some kind of bedrock in our lives, a stable point of departure for framing our experiences. For DesCartes and the rest of the Enlightenment thinkers, this bedrock was the “cogito.” For post-Great-Awakening Biblical Literalists, primarily in America, the bedrock is, well, Bibilcal Literalism. Personally, I find the narrative contortions required to stuff observed reality into the box of Bibilcal Literalism to be brain-breaking: the cognitive dissonance is simply too much to bear. As an atheist-leaning agnostic, a huge part of finding peace after breaking (gradually) with the tradition I was raised revolved around becoming comfortable with UNcertainty. The ability to say, honestly when required, “I don’t know.”

    But the Biblical Literalists can never say “I don’t know.” Sites like AIG are riddled with phrases like “since we know that the BIble is always true…” I can understand why you try to avoid it, but it is hard to turn away sometimes, no? : )

  • 19. atimetorend  |  May 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Hi Joel, glad you stopped by! Those are good points, applying to this article in particular with its, “…which is true in every detail.” reference to the bible, almost like a dangling reminder tacked onto the rest of their statements.

    Personally, I find the narrative contortions required to stuff observed reality into the box of Bibilcal Literalism to be brain-breaking: the cognitive dissonance is simply too much to bear.

    Exactly, I’ve experienced a lot of that too, getting comfortable with uncertainty. I ended a post before with the words, “I want my ‘I don’t know’ back.

    Evangelicalism does have room for mystery,but often it is only within narrow parameters. Or self-inflicted, where a rigid theology forces problems with what is seen in real life.

  • 20. tysdaddy  |  May 26, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I used to attend regular bible studies with a gentleman who was very taken with the perspective provided by Ham and others that were part of the Institute for Creation Research. They published a daily devotional (and probably still do) that went into all sorts of stuff like this. And I could never seem to get past the way he would read their stuff, then clap his hands and smile, as if to say, “See? There’s the answer!” Implied is that those who would disagree are either uninformed at best or demonically deceived at worst . . .

  • 21. Daz  |  June 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    How do they square the literalistic (and of possibly the most inaccurate version no less) view, with no myths or parables allowed, with the fact that Jesus is shown as using parables…? Talk about seven impossible things before breakfast!

    Nuttier, and nuttier, said Alice. (Well she would’ve)

  • 22. Headless Unicorn Guy  |  August 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    But the Biblical Literalists can never say “I don’t know.” Sites like AIG are riddled with phrases like “since we know that the BIble is always true…” — Joel Wheeler

    “Ees Party Line, Comrade.”

    How do they square the literalistic (and of possibly the most inaccurate version no less) view, with no myths or parables allowed, with the fact that Jesus is shown as using parables…? — Daz

    doublethink, comrade.
    doubleplusdoublethink.

  • 23. Daz  |  August 27, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    @Headless Unicorn Guy:

    “doublethink, comrade.
    doubleplusdoublethink.”

    Are we sure that the word ‘think’ is applicable in any way, here?

  • 24. atimetorend  |  September 1, 2010 at 11:09 am

    @Daz:

    “How do they square the literalistic (and of possibly the most inaccurate version no less) view, with no myths or parables allowed, with the fact that Jesus is shown as using parables…?”

    Interestingly, I have seen that question addressed by literalists saying Jesus’ parables were constructed from true, historical events. With his omniscience, he would have a lot of history to pull from.

    That is obviously pointless (and to me, dumb) speculation. I suppose the impulse being to defend their literalism perspective in other areas. I imagine that is an extreme minority view. It demonstrates creative thinking at least…

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