The Law of The Instrument

  • If you bore easily, don’t linger here.
  • Law of the instrument
  • I’m familiar with Abraham Maslow, and knew of his saying: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
  • The first recorded statement of the concept was Abraham Kaplan’s, in 1964: “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”
  • Anyone still wondering why I asked if any acronyms in another, recent thread are biblical, may begin to make sense of my question. Young Earth Creationists base almost all, if not all, of their argumentation on the Bible, to the near-complete exclusion of any other tool.
  • How long? O Lord, how long?

I think “reading around” is good thing and not just until you find the one you want to anchor your faith to. Once you have one you should examine others and see how well they accord with what you believe and how they differ. We’re a big world getting smaller socially with ever thinner borders. "The other’ is our neighbor and for Christians that shouldn’t lead to wanting bigger walls, not if they understand their hammer.

What about those who never pick up a Bible (at least not when combustibles are lying about)? I’ve enjoyed seeing how what I’ve seen of the Christian mythos fits with my feral sense of the sacred. I can see that there is a lot there. More than enough. But what people do with it messes them up, buries the message and turns people away.

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The problem is not so much that the argumentation is based solely on the Bible but rather that YEC is based solely on a particular interpretation of a few verses, and everything has to be hammered into compliance with that interpretation.

In reality, no argument is based solely on the Bible. The Bible is not exhaustively self-contained the way a dictionary or encyclopedia tries to be. Understanding the Bible requires applying our understanding of the world, of language, etc. But that makes it easy to apply our biases as well.

  • Your response raises another recent topic of interest: Denial, in this specific case: YECs’ or yours. YECs, such as Biologos’ most active proponent of Young Earth Creationism frequently or always (?) reject rebuttals to their arguments based on their reading of the Bible, which you contend is their “interpretation” of one or more texts. This raises the counter-question, are you denying what the YECs say they are doing?
  • More distressing, IMO, is my discovery yesterday, that (a) Denial comes in “flavors” or “colors”, and in “Intensity”, e.g. The Denial Patterns; and (b) “one ‘fix’ does not cure all”.
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Also using this same hammer/nail metaphor, AIG tends to view every single social problem as arising in one way or another from “evolution” or the teaching of it. Looking at any one of their “castle under attack” cartoons, it is a very black-and-white, simplistic worldview, where one evil (“evolution”) is responsible for almost every problem but one good thing (their interpretation of the Bible) could cure it all if people just followed it.


Yes, I am denying that YECs accurately base their claims on the Bible. Their marketing is that they are relying on the Bible, not on secular sources. But that is flawed on several counts. The supposed division between secular and sacred is not very biblical. Not only are things are parts of God’s creation, but also many of the scientists and theologians whose work YEC attacks are Christians, working from a biblical perspective. It is true that YEC do not rely on the scientific evidence at all but rather on their interpretations. But it is not the Bible as a whole; passages that do not fit their claims are neglected and the priority is the promotion of YEC, not serious consideration of scripture as a whole.


This is nothing more than dog barking up trees…it is not just a few verses…i can show throughout the entire bible consistent themes for YEc…a theme is not merely generated by a verse or two (2 Peter 2, Luke 17, Exodus 20:8-11 barely scratch the surface)

Anyway, i like the philisophical statements in the wikipedia article referenced by the O.P, particularly the following one

“Loevinger’s law of irresistible use”, “The political science analogue is that if there is a government agency, this proves something needs regulating.”

The point of 2 Peter 2 is not to talk about the age of the earth nor the geography of the Flood. Thus, invoking it as evidence for a YEC position is in fact an example of hammering the passage to fit the interpretations of a few verses. Peter is warning of judgement on false teachers. (Jude makes an extremely similar argument, so much so that they seem to have a common source, though whether one used the other or both drew the same now-lost warning note is conjectural.) The passage refers to the flood as an example of sweeping judgement on the ungodly, but says nothing about the age of the earth. He says that the flood eliminated the kosmos of the ungodly. Although young-earthers have been careless enough to claim that sedimentary deposits on Mars were made by Noah’s flood, in reality no one holds that the flood affected the entire cosmos. Kosmos is used rather flexibly in the New Testament; Peter even uses it roughly meaning “stuff” (in 1 Peter 3:3 regarding external adornment), but the most common sense (given that it is the most common relevant topic) is using it to mean the “world” in the negative spiritual sense of humanity in opposition to God. Thus, 2 Peter 2 does not give geographic evidence on the extent of the Flood. Besides, a global flood would not require a young earth; they are merely associated in relatively modern times due to the fact that both are similar misreadings of Scripture, require similar rejection of the plain evidence from God’s creation, are promoted by the same people, and a global flood is used as a magic excuse to ignore much of the evidence for an ancient earth.

Luke 17 uses Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom as examples of unexpected, sudden judgement. The comparison with Sodom, as well as the context, show that Jesus is not saying anything about the age of the earth nor the extent of the flood. Once again, this is an example of YEC hammering.

Exodus 20:11 invokes the days of creation as a model for the weekly sabbath. But this must not be used as a hammer to impose a young-earth reading on everything. What else does the Bible say relating to these topics? As Gregg Davidson and Kenneth J. Turner bring out in The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One, there are numerous layers of meaning, themes, and symbols in the text. When Moses reiterated the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5:15, the passage invokes memory of the oppression in Egypt rather than the days of creation as a model for the weekly sabbath. Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7 describe the sabbath year, and Leviticus 25:8-22 goes on to describe the jubilee, a sabbath of sabbath years (incidentally using the word “day”, yom, for the 49 year period between jubilees). Similarly, the seventh month has a concentration of festivals. Thus, the emphasis is not on days but on seven, a symbol of perfect completion. Other ancient near eastern texts use a seven day period as figurative image of perfect completion, and Genesis 1 shares some grammatical peculiarities with those, strongly suggesting that it is not talking about calendar days.

But am I hammering in a different direction? After all, a basic principle of exegesis is to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. How to avoid the hammer approach? One important component is to pay close attention to the quality of one’s arguments. Is the goal to overwhelm with the quantity and frequency of arguments, or is it to create a high-quality case for one’s position, eliminating bad arguments and correcting one’s position if it proves to not be as good as another view?


Besides the fact that they pick and choose what to take as scientific assertions, what to read literally, and when to us made-up ideas or ideas imported from elsewhere – my favorite imported idea being that the Bible makes scientifically accurate statements.

True – if they were seriously considering the whole they would be able to point to where the Bible claims to be historically and scientifically correct.

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Yep. As with the opening Creation account in Genesis, they read that not to ask what it is actually teaching but only to support the premise that a materialistic view of scripture must be correct – and they dodge facing this by talking about worldviews when it is obvious they have no idea what those even are

Whoa – I just spewed ice-cold Sunkist on my laptop.

It’s safe, though because it;s “zero sugar” (right?).

Like rocks that bend while solid and not hot enough for metamorphosis serving as a way to assign a minimum age.

Which works just fine if the days are “divine days” as a good number of ancient scholars concluded long before astronomy showed us why earthly days are the length they are.

I’m not finding that; the only use of ‘yom’ I see is in verse 9 referencing the Day of Atonement.

Especially temple texts!

With the two important aspects of context (literary, culture, worldview – the “historical” part of “historical-grammatical”) and grammar.

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Ask your favorite YEC to reconcile verses 1 and 3 in Genesis while denying the Big Bang; God instituted time space matter and light, all at one go.
Then courteously explain that verse 2 gives a reassuring pat on the head to the commonly accepted cosmology (pagan) which claimed that the ageless universe was all water all the time, until - -
Next we can talk about Day Three that raises Earth from beneath those original waters, vs. what Creation itself makes very clear to us, i.e. Earth is a huge ball with a thin crust of continents, surrounded by shallow films of water, what we call seas and oceans.

After that we can compare Day Two lifting a forever supply of rain up high, on top of “the vault of the sky” or firmament, and Day Four placing the sun, moon, moon, and stars within the upper reaches of that vault. Yet Creation, once again a truth teller, says that Earth orbits the nearest star and the moon orbits Earth. (They never get wet when it rains.)

Provide comfort to the YEC person this way: Genesis is about the Creator. Plain and simple. Creation itself would take a library of scrolls to tell, and explain, what really happened.
Genesis ascribes Creation to God. That is theology. The “fact and history” part has to span considerably more than a few thousand years.

Creation makes evolution plain. They way it works shows Creation in far greater majesty and grandeur just in the way it filters chaotic circumstances into miracles of form and function that we are just now learning to appreciate. God’s foreknowledge is complete because the Universe, created as of “Let there be light,” is perfect. Perfection is what we see in the way this Universe evolves from the moment of Creation into stars, planets, and life.

Using Days to ascribe Creation to the Creator is like writing notes down on a page of music - it is beautiful in its own way but when God sings those notes, no human can approach it.

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Leviticus 25:8 “a period of forty-nine years”, the “period” is “day”, “yom”, if I remember correctly.

Shortly after one of the Mars probe photos of sedimentary deposits gained wide publicity, one of the big young-earth organizations briefly had the claim on their website that the deposits came from the Flood. It disappeared fairly quickly, but not before it had been noticed.

Ironically, the oldest geological time period on Mars is the Noachian, named for Noah, but indirectly - the highland region on Mars called Noachis Terra was named after Noah by Schiaparelli in his early map of Mars. In turn, that region was used as the namesake for the oldest, heavily-cratered areas.

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