Bilateral Foolishness

In one of our weekly magazines (Newsweek) we read the following:

On one side of the theological fence stands William Floyd, retired New York real-estate dealer, descendant and namesake of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Twenty-seven years ago, after reading Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason,” he quit Christianity and began editing a freethinking journal called The Arbitrator. He is now a member of Dr. John Haynes Holmes’ Community Church in Manhattan.

On the other side of the fence stands Dr. Harry Rimmer, Presbyterian evangelist. Nineteen years ago he incorporated a Research Science Bureau, to investigate man’s origin and the Bible’s scientific accuracy.

For the past fifteen years Dr. Rimmer and the bureau have offered all comers $100 for proof that the Bible contained a scientific error. In all that time, he claims only one man ever tried to force payment of the $100 in court. In 1932, Col. Ode C. Nichols, a Los Angeles freethinker who had seen the offer advertised, cited several alleged errors in the Bible and demanded the $100. When Dr. Rimmer refused to pay, Colonel Nichols sued him for the reward in New York. But the Californian lost on a technicality: the evangelist argued that the bureau, not he personally, had sponsored the ad.

Two months ago, Dr. Rimmer, consult his flawless record, decided to raise the ante to $1,000. On Oct. 31, he advertised in The New York Herald Tribune, announcing a week’s preaching engagement at Central Baptist Church—and the new offer. Last week William Floyd snapped him up. He brought suit in municipal court demanding $1,000 for “proof” of five Biblical mistakes.

By the oddest coincidence Floyd chose as an attorney the very man who had argued the Nichols case against Dr. Rimmer in 1932—Joseph Wheless, 71-year-old director of Freethinkers of America and veteran of many a lawsuit involving church vs. state. And by another coincidence, the Floyd-Wheless brief turned out to be a second edition of the Nichols-Wheless brief. Its main points:

1—The Bible says the world was created in six days. Scientists claim it evolved through millions of years.

2—Noah’s ark, as described in Genesis 6, “could not possibly contain all. . . . animals and living things and the food necessary for them.”

3—Leviticus 11 states that the coney and the hare chew the cud. Neither does.

4—Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 declare God let quail fall around the wandering Jews’ camp—“as it were a day’s journey (28 miles, according to Floyd) on this side, and as it were a day’s journey on the other side. . . . and as it were two cubits (3.66 feet) high upon the face of the earth.” The quail-covered area, according to Floyd and Wheless, would be about 2,992 square miles; the volume of quail, 305,288,552,448 cubic feet. Allowing 27 cubic inches per quail, this would mean God had sent 19,538,467,356,672 quail. Since there were at least 2,414,200 Israelites in the camp, who took 36 hours to pick up the birds, each person must have picked up 85 quails per second.

Last week both Floyd and Dr. Rimmer felt confident of victory. They had their views recorded for broadcast over 150 radio stations. The evangelist attacked three of Floyd’s arguments: science, he said, hasn’t proved evolution; the biblical coney and hare are extinct; and the quail didn’t necessarily cover the whole area around the camp.

Yes, and Dr. Rimmer might also consider that there is an admonition in the Bible warning us against pearls before swine.

I consider that the folly of this case must at least as much, if not more, be sought at the side of Dr. Rimmer as at the side of Mr. Floyd.

To be sure, it is folly on the part of the latter to “snap up” Mr. Rimmer and submit the question as to whether there are scientific errors in the Word of God, to a worldly court. And the alleged errors he found are mostly so old that he ought to be ashamed to call attention to them once more. But what can you expect of “freethinkers,” who confuse true freedom of thought with the licentious divorce of their mind from the Word of God? The natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness to him, because they must be spiritually discerned, which he cannot do.

But I consider it no less foolish, and also in conflict with a proper sense of respect for the Word of God, on the part of Dr. Rimmer thus to offer Holy Writ to the world of unbelievers to snap at.

If is all very well, we think, to defend the Word of God and the truth of it over against anyone that profanely attacks it, although even in this respect one should employ proper discretion. We are, indeed, called to preserve the truth, to profess it, and to defend it against the attacks of the enemy.

But it is an altogether different question, whether we ought to provoke the world of unbelief and challenge them to find “scientific errors” in the Bible. In the first place, it seems to me, that anyone with a proper sense of respect for the Bible as the Word of God does not so expose it to the attack of freethinkers. It always hurts our Christian feelings when they do heap their contempt upon Scripture, or upon part of the truth. Why should we, knowing what is their spirit and attitude over against Scripture, intentionally provoke and challenge them to do so? In the second place, the challenge itself on the part of Dr. Rimmer is foolish. He must know quite well, that in such a case as he and his bureau propose, there will be no agreement on the fundamental question at issue. In other words, before such a challenge could mean anything at all, Dr. Rimmer and whoever chooses to accept his challenge ought to agree as to what constitutes a “scientific error.” No, we heartily believe with him that there are no scientific errors in Scripture. But I also maintain that Scripture is the revelation of God in Christ, and not a book of “science.” And will Dr. Rimmer and Mr. Floyd agree on a definition of “scientific error”? Will not Mr. Floyd as an unbeliever insist that it is a scientific error that Jonah was swallowed by the whale and emitted alive three days later? And what will Dr. Rimmer do in such a case? Will he demonstrate scientifically that this is quite in harmony with “science”? Or will Mr. Floyd accept it as scientifically quite correct that Christ is born of a virgin? And if he denies it, will Dr. Rimmer appeal to science to prove or disprove the Incarnation? In other words, the challenge is foolish because Dr. Rimmer and those whom he deliberately challenges do not stand on common ground, proceed from different basic principles, ought to, at least, and look at things with different eyes.

In the third place I consider it far beneath the dignity of the Bible and of any teacher or preacher of Scripture, to make the Word of God a subject of betting. He offers a thousand dollars to anyone that will try to attack the Scriptures!

And, lastly, I consider it folly to send forth such a challenge, because to my mind there is no secular court that can properly determine the matter. According to what laws or standards of judgment will the judge in the case determine the matter? Must he consider the case from the standpoint of Dr. Rimmer or from that of Mr. Floyd. Must the case be decided by faith or by reason? And will it not largely depend upon the question whether or not the judge is either a freethinker or a believer?

And what is the fruit of a challenge of this kind? Suppose that Dr. Rimmer wins his case; will he have served the cause of Christ, of the Bible, of the truth? Not at all. And suppose he loses it? Will he not be the cause that mockery and contempt is heaped upon the Word of God?

A provocation of this kind may serve, indeed, to make Dr. Rimmer and his bureau famous, or notorious, but it can do no possible good to the kingdom of God.

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and I love its truth. But frankly, I care not one whit whether Dr. Rimmer or Mr. Floyd wins this case.