Biblical Fundamentals vs Religious Fundamentalism

In the ongoing war between religious extremism and secular humanist atheism, labels seem to be created and tossed around with reckless abandon. The term fundamentalist is used in secular literature these days to describe virtually anyone who has a religious objection to anything. Religious literature seems to associate the word fundamentalist with the label ultraconservative. The thing that gets lost in all this labeling and name-calling is the argument that is at the core of the disagreement.

The Random House Dictionary defines fundamentalism as "a Protestant movement that stresses the infallibility of the Bible in all matters of faith." The problem with fundamentalism is that it depends upon humans. Someone has to decide what the "matters of faith" are, and someone has to establish which verses of the Bible apply to those "matters of faith." Because not everyone agrees on these matters, we have literally hundreds of divisions among those who claim to be religious fundamentalists in their following of Jesus Christ. In the area of Christian apologetics, religious fundamentalism has done an incredible amount of damage. Human creeds, doctrines, and belief systems have biased people's understandings of the Bible because the human systems have been laid down, and the Bible has then been forced into the human systems. The age of the earth, the existence of dinosaurs, the place of the caveman, evolution, the role of Satan, UFOs, demonology and exorcism, and the nature of God and angels are just a few examples of areas where the Bible has been forced into a human belief system by a group espousing creation and religious fundamentalism. This process has resulted in a whole series of fakes, dubious scientific models, and misguided claims. Examples include the claim to have found the missing day of Joshua, flood geology, claims of human and dinosaur tracks in the same strata, claims to have found Noah's ark, the Shroud of Turin, etc.

It is our suggestion that what should really be used in our understandings of the relation of science and religion is biblical fundamentals. Fundamental is defined as "being an essential part of, a foundation or basis" or "being an original or primary source." If we deal with the Bible as a fundamental, the claimed conflicts between science and faith disappear. This happens when we look at the meaning of each key word in the biblical narrative, see what the word means in the original language, and then form our own personal understanding of how that word fits into the context of the passage we are examining.

The simplest example of this method of understanding is Genesis 1:1. The key words in Hebrew in this passage are reshith. Elohim, bara, shanyhim, erets. In the beginning (reshith) God (Elohim) created (bara) the heaven (shanyhim) and the earth (erets). Religious fundamentalism has viewed this passage as a summary of the rest of the Genesis narrative. What has been forced upon its adherents is the view that verse 1 says, as a summary, that God did it and the remaining verses explain how God did what is described in verse 1. This procedure has had all kinds of negative implications. It demands the entire creation to have been accomplished in a literal seven-day week instead of recognizing God has been active before and after that week. It has light coming to the earth in verse 3 before the light holders are formed in verses 14-19, forcing religious fundamentalists to propose that God created a fake light to provide the light from verse 3 to 14. It provides no consistent explanation of dinosaurs or any of the things seen in the prehistoric world unless one is willing to butcher the Hebrew words in verses 20-27. It provides those with human creeds which propose a physical 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth a means of supporting that belief. It forces its proponents to advance the notion that God has produced illusions and misrepresentations of historical events in the natural world.

Let us go back to fundamentals and re-examine just verse 1. Before doing that, we need to notice that the context of verses 1-3 is historical. These verses are not written as a summary, but as a series of historical events. In the beginning, something happened. What happened? God created the heaven and the earth. What happened next? The earth was (or became) without form and void and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. These are events, not summaries. Things are happening, and they are happening in a logical sequence. Now let us look at the five words in Genesis 1:1 and their meanings in a fundamental sense (see chart on page 7).

In the beginning. The Hebrew word reshith implies that this is not a recycled object, but a new one. The Bible repeatedly presents time as a line with a beginning and an end. This is easily proven from science and will be omitted from this discussion because of its obviousness. (We have a booklet titled A Practical Man's Proof of God that goes into this. We would be happy to mail you one if you would send us a self-addressed envelope with 41¢ postage on it.)

God. The Hebrew word Elohim conveys the power, strength, and majesty of God. There are many words in Hebrew that can be translated God, but only Elohim conveys these attributes. The reason for this choice is seen when you look at the next word in the Hebrew.

Bara. The Jewish Publications Society (in a book titled Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary by Nathan Sarna, 1989) says, "The Hebrew stem b-r-' is used in the Bible exclusively of divine creativity. It signifies that the product is absolutely novel and unexampled, depends solely on God for its coming into existence, and is beyond the human capacity to reproduce. The verb always refers to the completed product, never to the material of which it is made." When used with the word Elohim, it is obvious that the Bible is stating that there was a cause to the creation. To say that the universe was uncaused when it is known to have a beginning would be to claim that something can come from nothing, which violates all conservation laws of science, not to mention common sense. Religious fundamentalism often refuses to accept the idea that this word literally means what it says. Bara is said to be just one of several words to describe God's creative processes. This is done even though the Bible clearly states "these are the things the Lord God created (bara) and made (asah) in Genesis 2:3, a clear indication of two different processes.

Shanyhim. This Hebrew word in its fundamental form means "heaved up things." The ancient Hebrew would have understood that to mean "everything in space"-- all that is above us. That would include the galaxies, stars, planets, sun, moon, comets, black holes, nebulae--everything. It is used with the Hebrew Erets, translated earth. This word is always used in reference to the planet upon which we and all life exist. Contextually, the meaning is clear. God created everything up there and everything down here. Verse 1 describes the entire cosmos--everything there is.

Religious fundamentalism has said that verse 1 does not mean this at all. The claim is that the sun, moon, and stars were formed in verses 14-19. That means that everything in verses 1-13 functioned without the sun, moon, and stars. This includes the light in verse 3, the plants in verses 11 and 12, the separating of the waters in verses 6 and 7, and the separating of land and water in verses 9 and 10. There is a mountain of scientific evidence that this view is not correct as well as the inconsistent use of the biblical narrative. In addition, this position does not have a logical place to put galaxies, black holes, nebulae, comets, and all the other things that do not fall into the Hebrew words in verses 14-19.

Taking verses 1-3 of Genesis to be fundamentally true, the evidence available to all open, seeking minds matches the biblical narrative perfectly.

If you continue through the remainder of Genesis, taking the words fundamentally, but not relying on religious fundamentalism, every single statement matches the evidence. There are some things the Bible does not explain because that is not its purpose, but everything it does say turns out to match the evidence perfectly--just as verse 1 did. When there is a subject that is not addressed by the Bible, we are free to speculate about that subject. Virus forms, water plants, marsupials, bacteria, platypuses, echidnas, dinosaurs, hot water vent creatures, worms, euglena, flightless birds like penguins, etc., can be argued because no Hebrew word in Genesis can legitimately be said to include them. If Genesis described the 20 million plus forms of life that exist on earth, there would be no space for its primary message and no way to physically lift the book.

The apostasy of religious fundamentalism has been as catastrophic as the forsaking of the simple message of the Gospel by modern denominationalism. Let us speak where the Bible speaks-- using the Word, not the traditions and creeds of man.

English Hebrew Meaning Evidence or Backing
In the beginning Reshith There was a start to time and to the cosmos itself
  1. Expansion of universe
  2. Hydrogen depletion in cosmos
  3. 2nd law of thermodynamics
  4. Existence of black holes
God Elohim There was a cause, an infinite source of energy of a non-physical nature which began the beginning
  1. E=mc2
  2. Conservation laws of science
created Bara
the heaven Shanyhim Everything in cosmos was "heaved up." Includes sun, moon, stars, galaxies.
  1. Expansion of universe
  2. Evidence for Big Bang
  3. Sun's age
  4. Homogeneous nature of matter in space
and the earth Erets Planet Earth in livable form with ecology pointing toward man
  1. Earth younger than sun
  2. Light must have been present early in process
  3. Earth's resource system had to be prepared for man and his world to exist
Note: This chart is schematic by design. Detailed treatments are available in our video, audio, and written materials. Write for a catalog for loan and purchase options.

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, Jan/Feb 97