(Investigator 20, 1991 September)

The poem below expresses the Christian belief that the Bible as originally written was without errors. This idea that the Bible is infallibly accurate is called "Biblical Inerrancy" and it’s a belief that is still common

Belief in the Bible's inerrancy has always been the usual or "orthodox" position of Christians. In the Bodleian Library of Oxford, for example, is the manifesto drawn up in 1865 by the British Association and signed by 617 scientists and which begins:

We, the undersigned students of the natural sciences, desire to express our sincere regret that researches into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures.

We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God as written in the book of Nature, and God’s written word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ.

We are not forgetful that physical science is not complete, but is only in a condition of progress, and that at present our finite reason enables us only to see through a glass darkly, and we confidently believe that a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular.

Is such a belief testable? Could it be investigated in a way that both the skeptic and the Christian believer would see as fair and unbiased?

Recently I browsed through several 19th-century books which defended religion and was disappointed.

In LETTERS TO A SCEPTIC (1875), for example, the author includes without proof numerous ideas like "Holy Ghost", "Immortal Soul", "Purgatory", etc. After 320 pages of making value judgements and describing his own attitudes and emotions the author finishes without giving the "sceptic" a procedure for testing "the Faith" non-commitally.

The last two lines quoted above from the Manifesto and the third verse of the poem below do imply tests we can make to test Biblical Inerrancy.

We would have to distinguish the person who tests a theory he already believes in from the skeptic who wants to see if he can come up with the theory (of Biblical Inerrancy) from the basic data in the first place.


Last eve I paused beside a blacksmith's door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers worn with beating years of time.

"How many anvils have you had," said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one," said he, and then with twinkling eye,
"The anvil wears the hammers out, you know."

"And so," I thought, "The anvil of God's Word,
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon,
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The Anvil is unchanged, the hammers gone."

John Clifford

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