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Accurate and honest weights and measures everywhere

Posted at 09:00 on 28 March 2022

Whenever I address young earth claims, I always start off by quoting Deuteronomy 25:13-16.

¹³Do not have two differing weights in your bag — one heavy, one light. ¹⁴Do not have two differing measures in your house — one large, one small. ¹⁵You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lᴏʀᴅ your God is giving you. ¹⁶For the Lᴏʀᴅ your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

There are three reasons why I take this line. First, it establishes a clear Biblical basis for my response. YECs insist that the Bible needs to be our starting point, and accordingly I am doing precisely that. Secondly, my university degree is in physics, and physics is basically the study of what accurate and honest weights and measures look like in a wide variety of contexts.

Thirdly, and most importantly, however, I thought that it was something that we should all be able to agree on, at least in principle, no matter how old we believe the earth to be, or who or what we believe did or didn't evolve from what. I expected the young earth response to be either some sort of attempt (however ill-informed or unconvincing) to try to persuade me that their approach to weights and measures was indeed accurate, or even perhaps to attempt to deflect the question with an accusation that "evolutionists tell lies too."

I turned out to be wrong.

To date, almost every single YEC who has responded to these verses has done so by denying that they are even relevant to the discussion. One person said he thought I was "overthinking" things, and another said that I needed to "balance" them against other verses of Scripture. But by far the most common response has been an accusation that I've been taking them out of context, and that they are all about buying and selling, and not about "historical" science. So far, about a dozen different people have taken this line with me. At least two of them were staff members of one of the Big Three young earth ministries.

Demanding the right to tell lies

Not having accurate and honest weights and measures is, by definition, lying. This is the case in every context that involves measurement, whether it involves buying and selling or not. No exceptions, no excuses. I shouldn't even have to quote the Bible to make this point, let alone quibble about the context. It is simply a statement of the obvious.

This is why you can't play the "out of context" card here. Even if these verses did have some specific contexts in mind, to exclude them from other contexts where measurement is used is flat-out demanding the right to tell lies about those contexts. It is also effectively an admission that you know full well that you aren't telling the truth, but that you are demanding that your falsehoods be accepted as truth anyway.

But playing the "out of context" card has other implications as well. If someone thinks that the Bible’s demands for accurate and honest weights and measures do not apply to the historical sciences, what else do they think they do not apply to? And what other forms of dishonesty do they think are acceptable and in what contexts? If someone isn't prepared to even acknowledge the need for accuracy and honesty about everything, how can they expect anyone to consider them accurate and honest about anything?

For example, if they are undertaking any form of Biblical exegesis, how can their teaching be considered reliable about what the original Hebrew text of the Bible means, or about the cultural, social and political contexts in which it was written? Furthermore, even if they acknowledge the need for accurate and honest weights and measures in trade and finance, are they practicing what they preach?

What is the context of Deuteronomy 25 anyway?

Deuteronomy 25:13-16 comes towards the end of a passage of Scripture consisting of a variety of miscellaneous laws and regulations. In the NIV, Deuteronomy 23:15-25:19 is headed "Miscellaneous laws." Some of them involve trade, commerce and finance, but others do not -- other topics include such matters as marriage and divorce, the treatment of animals, caring for the poor and needy, handling disputes, and so on. The only overarching theme is broad, general principles of fairness and justice in society.

In any case, if you are selling books or educational material that promote a sloppy or dishonest approach to weights and measures, or if you are making a living as a public speaker promoting such an approach, what you are doing comes under the umbrella of trade, commerce and finance anyway.

The rules of measurement are universal.

Accurate and honest weights and measures are determined on the basis of universal rules. These are rules that apply to every area of science, whether you want to call it “operational” or “historical”; to every area of engineering; to finance and commerce; and even to some areas of politics such as how elections are conducted.

If someone’s arguments about “historical science” flout the rules, they will be sowing confusion in people’s minds about what accurate and honest weights and measures even look like in the first place. They will end up applying fallacies that they see in YEC arguments to other areas of science and engineering, to finance and commerce, and to all sorts of other areas. They will believe that they do indeed have accurate and honest weights and measures when in reality they do not. This will have all sorts of bad consequences, from undermining their ability to do their jobs properly, to opening them up to prosecution for fraud, to even in some cases killing people.

In fact we’ve seen that happening a lot over the past two years or so with many of the conspiracy theories around COVID-19. Many of the falsehoods in arguments against vaccination or masks have made exactly the same logical fallacies that I see time and time again in YEC arguments. For example, both adopt a very black-and-white approach to "unreliability" that takes the view that because something doesn't work perfectly, that somehow means that it doesn't work at all. By contrast, the rules of accurate and honest weights and measures tell us that unreliability must be quantified and that you can't claim that a measurement technique is any more unreliable than what is indicated by its error bars.

Accuracy and honesty are non-negotiable.

My position on all discussions about science and faith -- whether we are talking about creation and evolution, climate change, vaccination, election results, or anything else, stands. I don't have a problem with the age of the earth itself, but when discussing what can or cannot be supported by the evidence, honest reporting and honest interpretation of accurate information is non-negotiable. Any creation model, any interpretation of Genesis 1, any attempt to challenge the scientific consensus on the age of the earth or evolution, must obey Deuteronomy 25:13-16, and any that does not is not scientific, not Biblical, and not honest. As for people who deny that accuracy and honesty are even necessary, I find it very difficult to see how such people could possibly even be approaching these discussions in good faith.