Darwin Fish: A Critique

A reader asked us to have a look at the teachings of one "Darwin Fish," a cultic figure who claims to be the head of the only group of people heading for heaven, while all others (including others who say the same) are headed for perdition. I find as in several cases that a thorough expose' of Fish has already been done by others with more experience (see link below), so my own comments will be brief, and probably serve mainly the purpose of getting me added to Fish's "bad list".

Some points of interest:

To round things off here, I'll address some of the claims found on Fish's site. Articles there are mostly either profiles of persons or ministries/groups (including cults) with an accounting of damnable errors, or are issues-oriented. The "issues" articles are the only things that cross my scope, and comments on a couple in particular will suffice to expose Fish's exegetical methodology.

Fish on Wine

Fish's article on wine and the Bible actually ends up with a final conclusion on the subject much like our own. Consider that coincidence, however, of the same sort between a person who gets to the bottom of a hill by a path, and another who gets there by jumping off a cliff. We can see clear examples of Fish's disdain for contextualization here, for example, as he responds to someone who used non-Biblical sources from the time of the Bible to inform the context of the Bible:

....Dr. Pietrylo supports this conclusion, not with Biblical proof, but rather he uses the testimony of Aristotle, The Donovan Bible Commentary, Smith's Bible Dictionary, and his own words, which all prove nothing; because Scripture is the standard, not Aristotle, Donovan, Smith, or Pietrylo no matter what they say (Colossians 2:8-10)!

It's no surprise of course to see Colossians 2:8 misused in the usual fashion (see here), but overall this is the usual error of Sola Scriptura Extremis, which rejects informing contexts. We are sure, however, that if Fish found a word in the English Bible he did not know, he would not reject using a dictionary to find out what it meant.

From the articles, it IS likely that Fish has consulted at least a concordance, however, which by his own standard is composed by "men" following linguistic "traditions". Fish however even goes as far as rejecting Pietrylo's account of how wine was made in antiquity because it "is nowhere substantiated in Scripture". For Fish, the Bible is the ONLY source for ANY truth, apparently.

Pietrylo describes the process thusly:

The wine was stored by boiling the juice until the water was evaporated. What was left was a thick, nonintoxicating syrup or paste.

Fish retorts that "such dehydration is depicted as abnormal and bad" and cites Joel 1:10:

The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.

Fish somehow gets from this that purposeful evaporation to create wine as described is the same as agricultural failure.

Some of the sources Fish critiques are, by the way, correct that wine in Biblical times was not as strong, and though Fish is correct in deeming this irrelevant as it is used by these commentators, as before his main issue is that proof of this is not found in the Bible, so that he essentially argues as though when the Bible wrote of "wine" it clearly meant it in the same sense -- level of alcohol, for example -- that it did for the bottle of Morgan David at the ABC Liquor.

To be sure you understand, he warns you with Prov. 30:6, "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." In that case, all of Fish's commentaries on Scripture are no better.

Amazingly then, to "refute" the historical process of mixing water with wine, well documented by historians, Fish cites Isaiah 1:22, "Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water," so that it is said that mixing wine and water is a "bad thing". Fish merely arbitrarily hops from the description of this wine as diluted and designates it "bad" in all cases, whether the dilution is 1% or 99%. He then supposes that Is. 1:22 was some sort of winemaking precept followed by all winemakers of whom every Biblical writer was aware.

One of Fish's targets said:

Wine today is different than Biblical wine. "Strong drink . . . unmixed wine . . ." in Biblical times was only 3-11% alcohol. Those who drank this form of alcohol were considered barbaric! Distillation, which increases alcohol content, was not discovered until A.D. 1500. Modern wine has 9-11% alcohol; 80-100 proof whiskey and brandy has 40-50% alcohol; Biblically and culturally, these would have been unthinkable! (ibid.)

Fish amazingly accuses this commentator of "historical tunnel vision" and remarks, "Just because modern man records distillation as first being discovered in A.D. 1500, this does not mean the ancients of old did not use distillation," and cites Eccl. 1:9, "there is nothing new under the sun".

Not only is this exegetical abuse of Ecclesiastes and its genre (see here -- is "what's new" restrained to narrow categories like "specific methods of winemaking" or to broader categories like "wine making, by any means"?), it is an approach that avoids the data rather than dealing with it. Fish essentially hypothesizes that there must have been secret, unrecorded methods of distillation to make liquor that strong. Fish actually believes that to say that arguments are "only supported by arguments from history and the supposed practice of that day," means he has exposed a problem in historical epistemology.

Much of what else is written is sound on this topic, with the notable exception of using Proverbs 31:6-7 -- again, an misuse of proverbial literature (see link above) -- to justify buying drunkards more alcohol so they can drink even more.

Apocryphal Literature

In an article directed against Catholic canonization of the Apocrypha, we find a great deal more contrived treatments. As for example we note the NT's use of certain apocryphal documents (see here, some of this will be of interest, notably where Fish addresses such documents useful in our arguments.

One point of note is that Fish argues against those that regard the Apocrypha as Scripture. He makes no clear statement about those who accept (as we do) that some of these works were used by the NT in a "allusory" fashion, though he does attempt to address the claim that such references are indeed made. He notes a website that lists about 300 such references, and selects about a dozen of the "worst" as illustrative, with one exception -- Hebrews 11:35 and 2 Maccabees 7:

And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh....When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly...After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, "Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?" He replied in the language of his ancestors and said to them, "No." Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws."

The parallel is clear, but here is how Fish tries to weaken it:

So, all one has to do is find a document (or make one up) that records someone dying for their faith and having hope in the resurrection, and this means that these are the people the writer of Hebrews had in mind! This "indisputable" reference is an indisputable assumption about what was in the mind of the author of the book of Hebrews!

Fish reduces this very complex matter overmuch. It is not just "finding" (much less "making up") documents, but locating documents that the author is likely to be familiar with in his own social setting, and making content comparisons (as if "dying for their faith and having hope in the resurrection" was attested to in hundreds of other documents).

Fish's response amounts to declaring the correspondence a coincidence (which wears thin as the number of such correspondences grows and becomes more dense, as in the article linked above); his charge of "assumption about what was in the mind of the author" is not only easily reversible (he "assumes" the mind of the writer as well) and therefore epistemically worthless, but also stands against every rule for identifying literary allusions (no doubt to be tossed out as the "traditions of men," based on a reading of Col. 2:8).

Two such documents we use in our article are then "critiqued" -- The Wisdom of Solomon (WoS) and Sirach. In much of this critique Fish is apparently trying to address ideas that these documents are to be canonical, by showing that they allegedly contain false doctrine; since we do not need them to be canonical, for us this sort of argument is beside the point. Let's look at some of these claims.

Now to where Fish misuses Sirach. Some selections: