Even though I addressed a similar argument by Gleason Archer in my article, "Chew on This . . . Again!" (TSR, Autumn 1994, pp. 8-11), it will be worthwhile to discuss a more elaborate variation of Archer's argument that Dr. Norman Geisler made in his popular fundamentalist reference book When Critics Ask. So here is some more "food for thought" to chew on concerning the biological error of Leviticus 11:5-6. First, let's look at Geisler's version of the argument:
Leviticus 11:5-6, How can the Bible say that the hyrax and the rabbit chew the cud when science now knows that they do not?...
Although they did not chew the cud in the modern technical sense, they did engage in a chewing action that looked the same to the observer. Thus, they are listed with other animals that chew the cud so that the common person could make the distinction from his or her everyday observations.
Animals which chew the cud are identified as ruminants; they regurgitate food into their mouths to be chewed again. Ruminants normally have four stomachs. Neither the rock hyrax (translated "rock badger" in the NASB) nor the rabbit are ruminants and technically do not chew the cud. However, both animals move their jaws in such a manner as to appear to be chewing the cud. This action was so convincing that the great Swedish scientist Linneaeus originally classified them as ruminants.
It is now known that rabbits practice what is called "reflection [sic], in which indigestible vegetable matter absorbs certain bacteria and is passed as droppings and then eaten again. This process enables the rabbit to better digest it. This process is very similar to rumination, and it gives the impression of chewing the cud. So, the Hebrew phrase "chewing the cud" should not be taken in the modern technical sense, but in the ancient sense of a chewing motion that includes both rumination and reflection [sic] in the modern sense.
The list of clean and unclean animals was intended as a practical guide for the Israelite in selecting food. The average Israelite would not have been aware of the technical aspects of cud chewing, and may have otherwise considered the hyrax and the rabbit as clean animals because of the appearance of cud chewing. Consequently, it was necessary to point out that, although it may appear that these were clean animals because of their chewing movement, they were not clean because they did not divide the hoof. We often follow a similar practice when talking to those who are not familiar with more technical aspects of some point. For example, we use observational language to talk about the sun rising and setting when we talk to little children. To a small child the daily cycle of the sun has the appearance of rising and setting (see comments on Josh. 10:12-14). The description is not technically correct, but it is functionally useful for the level of understanding of the child. This is analogous to the use here in Leviticus. Technically, although the hyrax and the rabbit do not chew the cud, this description was functional at the time in order to make the point that these animals were considered unclean (pp. 89-90).
What Geisler implies is that the average Israelite would have been unaware of the "technical aspects" of cud chewing; therefore, the Hebrew Biblical phrase "chews the cud" should not be interpreted in or associated with the modern technical sense of rumination. It should instead be interpreted strictly in the ancient sense of describing a chewing motion. But which "technical aspects" is Geisler referring to? Is he referring to  regurgitation of cud and/or  possession of four stomachs?
Regardless, the Biblical Hebrew does not support this argument. Contrary to what Geisler says, the Hebrew phrase [does he mean the Hebrew based on a lexicographical study of the Hebrew language of the OT or the KJV's inaccurate English translation?] is not "chewing the cud." As I pointed out in my previous article, the phrase consists of two words: gerah and `alah. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible translates `alah [word 5927] literally as "[cause to] ascend" and gerah [word 1625] as "cud." Therefore, the complete literal phrase translates as "brings up the cud." So is Geisler saying that the Hebrew phrase "brings up the cud" does not refer to or was not intended for the ancients to interpret in the sense of characteristic ? Since "brings up the cud" as used in Leviticus 11:5-6 obviously does refer to regurgitation of cud and since rabbits and rock badgers do not regurgitate cud, we may consider both verses as biologically erroneous. What is so "technical" about regurgitation? I don't know, but, nonetheless, this is the same so-called "technical aspect" of rumination that Leviticus wrongly applied to the rabbit and rock badger.
I have already refuted at great length in my previous article what Geisler said about the need to interpret "chews the cud" in Leviticus 11:6 as a reference to refection. Therefore I do not want to rehash everything I have already discussed on the issue but will simply recommend the article to those interested in studying this subject. The main thing to remember is that the ancients would not have thought that eating feces was "bring[ing] up the cud." Only a modern sees what little similarity exists between refection and rumination because of his knowledge of the chemistry of rumination. An ancient would not have had this knowledge, and for reasons I stated in the prior article, the ancients were probably not even aware of refective behavior. Therefore, this verse could not have been a reference to this behavior. It had to refer to an observable behavior known to the ancients or it would not have made sense to them. Why does Dr. Geisler say that we must not interpret this passage in the modern sense of rumination but later says that we should interpret this passage in the modern sense of refection? "Consistency thou art a jewel!"
Notice that Geisler offered absolutely no verifiable evidence or documentation [other than his reference to the NASB] to support his theory. He merely speculated. I don't even have to discuss anything else about his argument. The fact that almost all of his explanation is only speculation is enough reason to dismiss Geisler's argument as unreliable. If Geisler's book When Critics Ask is aimed at convincing intelligent and rational critics that the Bible is inerrant, then he and his cohorts need to stop offering speculation to justify their beliefs because speculation is not going to convince the skeptic and should not in itself convince most rational people, who believe that speculation is very unreliable evidence. Incidentally, Geisler misspelled refection as reflection, a mistake that makes me wonder just how thoroughly he researched his argument.
The matter of researched and documented claims is one of the primary reasons why skeptics abhor many inerrantist arguments, because most skeptics [as I would define the term] usually try to research and examine their arguments thoroughly to ensure that we avoid the logical fallacies that are defined in practically any logic or critical thinking textbook and offer information that can be investigated and verified. If such information cannot be investigated and verified, we willingly and without hesitation, when necessary, admit that such information is mere speculation. This is why we have trouble putting up with or tolerating most inerrantist claims, because after we have researched and documented our claims, many of the inerrantists want to get lazy and offer mere speculation, which cannot be verified and which took only a few minutes of fanciful thinking to fabricate, compared to the amount of time we have spent researching our claims. Unlike us, many of these inerrantists do not like to admit that such information is pure speculation that has not been or cannot be verified or investigated. This sums up and pin points in plain language, for the uninformed average church member who is wanting to know about this, the main reason for the conflict between the inerrantist and errantist. If one is really concerned about what is trustworthy, he will see the justification for our complaint and the need for such literature as The Skeptical Review.
So what is skepticism? I like to think of skepticism as the philosophy that emphasizes investigation and justification of one's beliefs. We believe that undocumented claims, logical fallacies, speculation, subjective feelings, and hearsay testimony [things many inerrantists like to use] are not reliable justifications for belief, as do also most logicians and rational-thinking people. We believe that sound logic, verifiable evidence, and documented claims are the most reliable guides for truth that we presently have, as do most logicians or rational-thinking people. You see, skepticism is just rational thinking with a different name. There's nothing dishonest or mysterious about it at all.
Geisler also stated, "This action was so convincing that the great Swedish scientist Linneaeus originally classified them [the rabbit and the hyrax] as ruminants." However, Geisler never tells us if Linneaeus made an error when he classified the rabbit as a ruminant because he had misinterpreted his observations of the rabbit's chewing action from a lack of modern technical knowledge of rumination and rabbit physiology. Did the "ordinary Israelite" that Leviticus was written for make an error, for the same reason Linneaeus did, in thinking that rabbits and rock badgers ruminated? If one answers yes to this question, then he must agree that clearly an ancient Biblical writer must have also been in error when he stated the ordinary Israelite's misconception as if it were true.
Ultimately, Geisler had to resort to a completely unsupported assertion: "Consequently, it was necessary to point out that, although it may appear that these were clean animals because of their chewing movement, they were not clean because they did not divide the hoof." The Biblical writer did not "point out," at least not explicitly, that the rabbit and rock badger appeared to ruminate. He merely asserted that they did ruminate. Therefore, how is Geisler so sure of his interpretation of Leviticus 11:5-6? Certainly, anyone can add words to scripture [example: "Although you [the ancients] believe that rabbits chew the cud..." or "Although the rabbit may appear to chew the cud..."] to force an interpretation that is true in some sense, but if one is creative, he can do this with any sentence, scripture or not, that is in error; therefore, we need to be cautious. If I say, "The grass in most yards is purple," most people would agree that this sentence is false. If somebody really liked me and was very gullible and wanted to defend me the way some inerrantists defend the Bible, he could say, "Well, you see, the sentence is true. Jeff dreamed that the grass in most people's yards is purple. Therefore, you should interpret his statement to mean that in paraphrase, 'I dreamed that the grass in most people's yards is purple,' and so that is what Jeff was trying to imply. He just failed to say this explicitly." Adding words to an interpretation is sometimes helpful to test how plausible different interpretations sound in comparison to the context of the words being interpreted; however, as we have seen, this is not enough to establish actual meaning and is therefore a very unreliable method of literary interpretation.
Since Geisler's position is that God inspired the words of the Bible and knew in his omniscience that rabbits only appeared to ruminate [whereas the ordinary Israelite wrongly thought that the rabbit really did chew cud], did Geisler mean to imply that we should interpret the words in Leviticus from God's perspective of referring only to the appearance of cud chewing? If so, we must ask, why we should so interpret it if "God" was not concerned whether the ordinary Israelite interpreted this verse to mean that rabbits really do ruminate? Was not "God" depending upon the ancient's misconception of the chewing motion so that these verses would make sense to them? This verse would not make sense if "God" wanted the ancients to interpret it as a reference only to appearance or illusion, because just the appearance or illusion of rumination would have disqualified the rabbit and rock badger as clean because illusion or appearance is not genuineness, and genuine rumination was a necessary qualification of cleanness. Therefore, if the ordinary Israelite understood this as just an "apparent" characteristic, it was absurd and very unnecessary for the writer to go on and point out another characteristic [does not possess split hooves] to disqualify the rabbit and rock badger from being considered clean animals. Pointing out that these animals only appear to [but really don't] ruminate would have been all that was necessary to disqualify them. Besides, the fact that this verse refers to regurgitation [not a chewing motion] demolishes this theory.
Since Geisler and many inerrantists like to assert arbitrarily that many Biblical passages that skeptics point out as scientifically incorrect are actually examples of observational/phenomenological language without giving us any justified reasons or reliable criteria for distinguishing scientific errors from observational language, they need to inform us on this. If they cannot, then we can safely conclude that when they assert that an alledged scientifically incorrect passage is actually just some observational language, they are guessing. So perhaps Geisler, or at least some inerrantist, could enlighten us and tell us how he can determine by provable means when a passage is using either [O] nonscientific, nonliteral, "observational," "phenomenological" language--the use of language to refer to the illusion or appearance of something and not a misconception about the illusion or appearance. Example: using the term "falling star" to refer to "a bright trail or streak that appears in the sky when a meteoroid is heated to incandescence by friction with the earth's atmosphere" [American Heritage Dictionary] because the object appears from the person's limited perspective from the earth to be a star and not because one believes or misconceives the object is "one of the many visible self-luminous celestial bodies consisting of a mass of gas held together by its own gravity in which the energy generated by nuclear reactions in the interior is balanced by the outflow of energy to the surface, and the inward-directed gravitational forces are balanced by the outward-directed gas and radiation pressures" [American Heritage Dictionary], or [S] a scientific error--language that states or reflects one's misconception about the illusion [and not to the illusion alone or observable appearance] of something because one was unknowingly deceived by the illusion and had no modern technical knowledge about the illusion. Example: an ancient saying the earth is flat because he believed that the entire earth is a two-dimensional flat disk because he was deceived by his limited ground level perspective of the earth's appearance and had no "modern technical knowledge" of geology.
Even if Geisler could give us a reliable criterion for deciding what is [O] and what is [S], he concedes that even [O] can be technically incorrect! Do my eyes deceive me? Did Geisler actually say that our use of observational language, when describing the sun rise and set to a child, is not technically correct [What is he talking about here? I personally would never deliberately make a child think that the sun actually moves around the earth, because that would be deceptive] but has a function nonetheless and that this technically incorrect language is analogous to the descriptions in Leviticus 11:5-6? Is he saying that although Leviticus 11:5-6 is technically erroneous, it still had a function? I understand that sometimes people unintentionally give the wrong impression of what they are trying to say [a shortcoming that none of us are innocent of], so I'll give Geisler the benefit of the doubt. But if I understood him correctly, I think he is saying that the Bible can, after all, have errors and still be "inerrant" as long as those errors have functions. I don't believe it! We finally get the inerrantists to admit that errors are in the Bible. Now if we can just get them to admit that whether an error has a function or not, it is still an error. My main conflict with inerrantists is not over the issue of whether "God" or a Biblical writer had an intentional purpose or function for a Biblical error; my disagreement is over whether any kind of error [with the exception of such errors that both of us agree do exist, such as copyist errors], functional or unintentional, exists in the Bible. Could the Bible say something else that is not scientifically correct, as long as saying this served some important function?
Just as adding words or details not stated in a passage to an interpretation can be applied to any error to make it true in some sense [which is why inerrantists like to do this, as they do with their attempt to "harmonize" the Gospels' various conflicting narrative accounts of particular events], so can the "observational/phenomenological language" argument excuse practically any scientific error no matter how erroneous it was. This is because all you have to do is assert; no proving is involved in this approach. However, if you are a rational person, you will not rely on assertions alone. This "argument" [I hesitate even to call it an argument] is the inerrantists' favorite last resort argument when no other argument can be fabricated. Indeed, Geisler even uses this same "argument" on page 140-141 of When Critics Ask to excuse the scientific error in the book of Joshua when "God" halted the sun's movement across the sky. Here he totally ignored the fact that when ancients said that the sun moved across the sky, they meant that the sun really moved across the sky. Geisler ignored this and added the word appear to his interpretation, forcing the passage to be true in a different sense, and asserted that the Bible is only saying implicitly that the sun appeared to move across the sky. Although I do not want to debate that particular issue, I wanted to show that what most people would ordinarily consider an ancient scientific error, the inerrantists will assert without proof is really only observational language that described only the appearance and not a misconception of phenomena. And many people let them get away with this!
Let's notice how Geisler's argument "works" on even the most evident scientific errors. Pick any passage of any religious literature that contains any genuine scientific error of antiquity that you want. You can use an already existing passage or you can make one up. After you make your selection, fill in the parentheses, as I have done, with the appropriate statements:
1. Although this (any ancient scientific error that the passage reflects, such as a flat-earth view) is not true in the modern technical sense, to the ancient perspective, it would appear that (the earth is flat).
2. Therefore, since (pick any hypothetical religious book that contains the error of your choice) was written for ancients without any modern technical knowledge of (any science that pertains to the error of your choice, such as geology) and since the only experience of reality these people had was their limited perception or the observable appearance of things, it was necessary for (pick any "god" as the author who inspired the writing of your hypothetical religious book) to describe the appearance [don't forget to add the word "appear"] of (whatever the error of your choice is, such as the shape of the earth) with words that the ordinary people used to describe their limited perspective of the observable appearance of (whatever the error of your choice is, such as the shape of the earth) so that they would understand him/her/it [whichever you prefer].
3. Therefore, the language of (your hypothetical religious book) is merely observational and is not an attempt to state something as true in the modern technical sense.
You should see that if this "argument" can make even legitimate errors look good, we can know that by itself it is not a reliable way to explain biblical "difficulties."
I challenge any inerrantist reading this article to respond and tell us with precise words how or under what provable conditions he would expect Leviticus to say that rabbits chew the cud so that he would cease to assert that the statement is not erroneous. In fact, we skeptics should, with every passage we point out that inerrantists deny is in error, always demand that they tell us how the Bible in such cases would have to state something for us to be sure that it is erroneous. In other words, just what does the inerrantist define as an error? He never tells us. If he did, he would run the risk of someone finding an error that fits his criteria, giving him no escape by speculating another wild interpretation to make the passage correct in some sense. For him to be convinced, does he expect the Bible to say something like, "Although it is absolutely, positively literal scientific fact that the rabbit literally, and I mean literally and not just apparently, regurgitates the cud, it does not split the hooves"? If this were the case, I think the inerrantist ridiculously expects just a wee bit too much. I think too that even if the Bible were this explicit, inerrantists would still find some way to explain that it didn't really mean this.
(Jeffrey A. Justice, P.O. Box 454, Wylie, TX 75098,
and comments invited.)