Patty Rob shatters my brain and other type musings.

Today, November 29th, 2012, Pat Robertson challenged creationism.

What. The. Fuck?

Now, I’m not complaining that a famously conservative man of God argued against Young Earth Creationism – I’m just confused. My world view has taken a heavy blow to the head. Confusion aside, I think it’s great. I am convinced that the cultural gulf between people of science and people of religion is both harmful and unnecessary,  so it tickles my tummy to see a conservative media power like Pat Robertson suggest that dinosaurs could have existed in a Created world.

Still, that sense of living in a world where nothing makes sense. . . lingers.


Pat Robertson – Taking unpredictable stances since November 29, 2012.


All kidding aside (“Just joshing ya, Patty Rob.”), Robertson did manage to say something that struck a nervous note in my stomach. After taking a question submitted by a 700 Club viewer who was worried that her family might go to hell for questioning Creationism, Robertson responded by discrediting James Ussher, a former Archbishop of Ireland and the man who is credited with creating the 6- to 10-thousand year existential time frame that underlies Young Earth Creationism. According to Pat, Ussher, “wasn’t inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years.”


Pat Robertson – Pointing out the obvious since November 29, 2012.


My first thought, after reading those words, was, “Well, yeah. Obviously.”

My second thought, after reading those words, was, “Holy shit, people really thought that crap was Holy Spirit inspired.”

After a nervous internal pause, my third thought was, “How does anyone ever know if what they think is the Holy Spirit upon them is. . . actually the Holy Spirit upon them?

This question makes me nervous, to be honest, because it’s the hardest question I’ve had to confront since I left the safety of skepticism to embrace faith. My quandary can be summed up thusly:

When two or more parties disagree on any given point, and all parties involved are convinced that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to a conclusion that reflects God’s will, how do we know who is right?


In the Old Testament, such questions were answered by the theological equivalent of a West Side Story Jets/Sharks rumble – a good, ol’ fashioned Miracle Fight. Each side would throw down some deific kung fu, and the side with the most impressive magic was the winner (spoiler: it was God).


YHVH – Winning Miracle Fights since the Big Bang.


Since the Miracle Fight doesn’t seem to be an option these days, the question lacks a clear-cut answer. For years, my rational-skeptic mindset provided me with a comfortingly simple explanation for this question. In my mind, neither party was right. In fact, because both parties believed that they were getting orders from on high, it showed a dangerous mental deficiency, and it would really be better for everyone involved if someone a little more emotionally stable took the reins.

A part of me still wishes I could take the easy way out and just assume that nobody gets inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the fact of the matter is that I have been changed by personal experience that teaches me the fallacy of simple answers. That goes for almost all simple answers, by the way – so someone saying, “I’m right because God told me I am right” is, for better or for worse, just as unconvincing as “neither side is right because there is no God.”

I’ve heard that scripture is the answer to this quandary – the person who is right will be the person whose position is supported by scripture, end of story. This worked wonders for the anti-abolitionists preachers of the American pre-war South. In fact, according to a famous sermon given by Georgian minister Joseph Ruggles Wilson,

Now, we have already seen that the Holy Spirit employs words which He has intended to be understood as distinctly enunciating the existence of domestic servitude–that He has sent to all the world a volume of truth, which is indisputably addressed to men who hold slaves and to the slaves who possess masters–and that, from the connections in which these highly suggestive words occur, He has included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State.”

See that? The Holy Spirit gives us words which tell us that slavery is okay!  But what would happen if a Christian abolitionist felt compelled (by the same Holy Spirit) to declare that slavery was against God’s will? The two people couldn’t both be hearing the voice of God giving His will, could they? Well, if the question is to be settled by scripture, the abolitionist has a much harder case to present. The fact is, the argument that God supports slavery has some pretty strong support in both the Old Testament (Exo 21:2-6, Lev 25:44-46)  and the new (Eph 6:5, 1 Tim 6:1-2). And if you ask people who right now are arguing against gay marriage, a common reasoning for their stance is that homosexuality is prohibited in both the OT and NT.

And yet, I am thoroughly convinced  that God was, in that argument, on the side of the abolitionist. I imagine I’ll be able to find very few people who disagree with me on this point.

So if two or more people can be equally convinced that they are doing the inspired work of God as given to them by the Holy Spirit, and those people are doing opposite things (one supporting slavery, one supporting the abolition of slavery), and scripture does not give us an obvious answer to the debate, what is our next step? Do we turn to classical philosophy for our answer? Do we kibitz with folks of alternate faiths to get their take? Do we (stay with me now) turn to science for insight? Or do we just ask a Magic 8 Ball and hope for the best?


Magic 8 Ball – Providing answers (to stoners) since 1972.


I’ve presented this question to folks of various backgrounds and different times in my life, and so far I haven’t found an easy answer. Some people, when presented with this conundrum, just kind of double-down on the scripture answer.

Them : “Go to scripture – the Holy Spirit will never disagree with the Bible!”

Me: “But what happens when scripture doesn’t give a clear answer, or more clearly supports a side that history shows is completely wrong?”

Them: “. . . .Go to scripture.”

I’ve found this response to be less than helpful. So I’m asking you guys for your take! Has this happened to you? Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit compel you to take a stance that is the opposite of someone else’s Holy-Spirit-fueled stance? How do you know that you’re right? How do you make the argument that the other person is wrong?

And sub question – for extra intriguing conversation – did you ever have to reverse a stance that you were once convinced was the will of God? How did you deal with that? Give me your thoughts, and as a reward, I’ll stop beating a dead horse with my caption jokes. 


Dan Mitchell – Totally being a dick and refusing to stop using the same stupid joke gimmick since 27 minutes ago.


Okay, I’m done.  This is all of the world-shattering I can handle for one day. I need to get away from the internet before I find out that Sean Harris supports gay marriage and my brain liquefies.


About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

19 responses to “Patty Rob shatters my brain and other type musings.

  • Jennwith2ns

    I have comments, but for right now, unless I can submit them for my NaNoWriMo word count (see the post I just wrote), I’m gonna save ’em for later and just say . . .

    . . . totally get that quandary. Totally don’t have an answer.

  • Darren Beem

    Do you really want to dip my toe in this proverbial water?

    Yes, I have totally reversed my stance on something I once thought was spirit led.

    As someone who once lived in a legalistic church(you know my story), everything was stated in the imperative.

    For example, in Ephesians 4:15 it talks about speaking the truth in love. Formerly the people from my old church would interpret this to mean that the truth, no matter how cruelly spoken, is automatically loving.

    Later I came to understand this text differently, insofar as the truth should be spoken compassionately.

    There were all sorts of other funky translations of scripture as well. This is essentially what cults do. They look at scripture, interpret it narrowly and then apply it broadly.

    In the NT the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees was basically that in trying to be textually correct, they lacked love and compassion. Jesus restates the law, saying the greatest command is that we love one another and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Jesus seemed to be saying that we could be 100% right in interpreting scripture, but still be 100% wrong if we lacked love and compassion for our brother. So, the highest law is love.

    In the early Church, the early disciples would often have differences of opinions, even to the point of breaking into factions. In 1 Corinthians 3 believers would brag about being followers of Paul or Apollos, What did Paul say? Stop being infantile. (Message version)

    In Corin 2:2 Paul says he’s resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In his letter’s Paul basically tells us to stop focusing on a bunch of crap that doesn’t mean anything. Instead focus on Jesus.

    So here’s my rule for determining if something or somone is Spirit filled or inspired by the Holy Spirit? Are they focused on Jesus? Is it loving?

    Going back to my legalistic church, I think this is where they went astray. In trying to preach a fidelity to a system and a way of life, it stopped being loving and stopped focusing on Jesus.

    Anyway, apologies for the long response. BTW: Nice to see you post again.

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Hey Darren. It’s good to be back! 🙂

      You said,

      “So here’s my rule for determining if something or somone is Spirit filled or inspired by the Holy Spirit? Are they focused on Jesus? Is it loving?”

      I think that’s a pretty good litmus test. What about things that are focused on Jesus but don’t have anything to do with love? Let’s use Pat Robertson – he said that Bishop Ussher of Ireland was NOT spirit inspired. Since Ussher was saying that the earth was 6,000 years old, that’s not something that would be decided by love. How would Ussher test himself, to see if he was actually inspired by the spirit?

      • Darren Beem

        Hey Dan:

        Well, I’m not sure if I would agree that the age of the earth is really a matter of being focused on Jesus.

        I’d refer to Titus 3:8-11

        8-11 I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off.

        If Paul is saying that arguing about the law code is mindless and pointless, I cannot imagine why arguing about the age of the earth would not be mindless and pointless.

        A question that is generally helpful for me to ask is “What are the stakes?” Why is this important?

        IMO: the stakes for the age of the earth are pretty low.

        A better remark for Pat Robertson might be something like, “Yeah, I think the old is probably much older. How much older? I don’t really know. So, I’d disagree with with Bishop Ussher, but he’s still my brother in Christ”

        This kind of remark would have put the disagreement into the appropriate context and would have been a more loving response. It would also remind his listeners that the most important thing is Jesus.

        Overall, I love this blog post, Dan, because it illustrates how we should disagree with other followers of Jesus. There are any number of issues I can disagree on with fellow believers, including the age of the earth. I should be able to disagree with someone without condemning them, or saying they don’t have the Holy Spirit.

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Sorry it took me so long to respond to this comment, Darren, but it really got me thinking. So much so that I think it’s going to be fodder for my next post. But as a preview, let me ask you this question – how do you (or how does anyone else) respond to skeptics who see the unscientific information in the Bible (including the extrapolation of the age of the earth) as a mark against its truthfulness? Do ideas like “the earth is 6000 years old, look at the geneaology!” hurt the Bible as a source of truth?

      • Darren Beem

        I think the best way of addressing it is head-on and with grace. Secular people are like the rest of us. They have a BS meter and can sense it a mile away.

        Secular folk might see the Bible as fiction, whereas fundamentalist Christians see it as a word for word account from Gods lips to a stenographers hand. The reality is somewhere in between. For example, there are portions of the Bible which are clearly poetic or metaphorical. Keeping in mind it was written before modern scientific or historical method, the Bible should not be seen as either a science book, or as a verbatim history. If we enter into a conversation with these impressions, we might miss out what its actually saying.

        When we look at the Apostles or Nicene Creed, the focus is clearly Jesus, but the Creed also credits God with making all things. It doesnt say how God made all things. I think the creed is instructive for us because it reminds us what is truly important, namely Jesus.

        In some respects, fundamentalist and the skeptic are very much alike. Each of them seems to approach faith as a zero sum game. For some fundamentalists, all of the Bible must be literally true for their faith to be true. For some skeptics, all of faith is wrong if the Bible is wrong even once. I think you will agree, the most difficult part of faith is dealing with uncertainty or a lack of clarity. For the fundamentalist they are probably not giving God enough credit. For the skeptic, they are trying to get off too easy.

        As far, as whether creationism hurts the Bible as a source of truth, in my opinion generally not. It does offer some distracting static, but that is about it. More significant I would say is how we live and how we express our faith as followers of Jesus. Frankly speaking, I would be surprised if there were skeptics who pointed at fundamentalists espousing creationism as the reason for their lack of faith. More likely, skeptics would likely point to Christians as the reason for their lack of faith. In the words of Ghandi, It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” On Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 10:09 AM,

      • Darren Beem

        A better remark for Pat Robertson might be something like, “Yeah, I think the world is probably much older. How much older? I don’t really know. So, I’d disagree with Bishop Ussher, but he’s still my brother in Christ”

  • visitingmissouri

    I don’t know why I never saw this post. I really like it, even though I can not completely follow the different schools of thinking (I have never heard of young creationism). I do have a line of thinking, and I would like to use this comment section to lay it out.

    First of alll, I think science and religion (read: the church) are not as far apart as they think. What science has done excellently, though, is incorporate the idea of opposing theories in its bigger methods. In other words: a big part of science is the internal debate, where different theories and their schools pitch against each other using the same set of rules. They will all submit to the grand ideas of science, but use opposing views to get further. When science as a whole is attacked, the grand ideas are suddenly more valuable than the little theories on themselves.

    Surprise! The church basically does the same thing. We’ll argue about all sorts of ideas (infant baptizing anyone?), but we all agree on the grand ideas. I think that’s a thing forgotten many times, where we can learn from science (besides what the outcomes of science can teach us). The difficulty in church, as you pointed out, is a more diffuse set of rules. Even worse, we can adjust the rules (scripture) to our own thinking, and as the Holy Spirit never contradicts scripture, we always have His (Its? Her?) support.

    Now for a more personal approach to the rest of the argument. As you might know I have been thoroughly brainwashed by Tim Keller. He states at several occassions that depicting slavery as we know it (racial, for life) on the biblical application of slavery (a time where slaves were not recognizable by their appearance, got education, payment and could buy themselves out after a period of time) is an anachronism. More importantly, if you would apply the rules for slaves that Paul lays out, Keller argues, you can never sustain a brutal slavery as we have come to know it. When it comes to recognizing the Holy Spirit, one of the ways to see how it aligns with the bigger idea of scripture, is to measure it along the famous fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). This last part is all my own work and can perhaps be disputed on more theological levels.


    Galatians 5:22-23
    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

    The sermon I drew my argument from can be downloaded at:

  • JT

    This is a wonderful discussion, one I wish we would have in our churchs … as I grow older and hopefully more mature my ideas theological have grown simpler. 1) I don’t need to prove to some else I am right, 2) I can’t change anyone only God can. 3) If i can only see my own faults and others successes there won’t be time enough left for anything else

  • Jenny

    I am reading this late in the game, but, I have some thoughts…

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that there needs to be a relationship of trust. People who know (or feel like they know him) and trust Pat Roberts are going to believe that he is generally in tune with the Spirit of God. I know (have a realtionship that has been built for 38 years) and trust my Dad and have seen the things that he has said and done “In the Spirit” or Spirit led” turn out to be good or fruitful or matching what I was already feeling/sensin/thinking or needing.

    Even then, the Bible does talk about testing the spirits. Also measuring according to the fruit of the Spirit as was mentioned above and thinking about the verse that says that they kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy. And as mentioned above, scripture tested. If the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t seem to exist, and/or the person speaking or acting is generally untrustwothy or questionable or I don’t have a relationship with them or someone whom they are close to,then I would question whether or not it (the act or word) is of God (unless all of the other measures seem to match up and it resounates with my own spirit).

    There is always that possibility becasue of our humaness that we will get it wrong. This is where trusting God with ourselves and others comes in.

    I, personally try to avoid saying, God says or the Holy Spirit says so that I don’t unintentionally pressure or manipulate someone who trusts me and my relationship with God, into saying or doing or believing something that may just very well have been the pizza I ate for dinner (or my own thoughts or feelings or desire to fix, etc.), rather than the Spirit.

    Power and authority can be abused so quickly and even Pat Roberts gets it wrong sometimes because he is human,but I’m sure he gets it right sometimes too, because God has spoken through lesser vessels (like a donkey:)).

    Just thoughts:)

  • Jenny

    Robertson, I meant to say Robertson every time:)

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