Stop Playing Chess on my Checkerboard!

In the past few weeks, I have had numerous on-line interactions with YECists (Young Earth Creationists). Prior interactions inspired my recent posts on the tendency of many YECists to react to simple statements in accord with orthodox Christian doctrine with shock and seemingly “righteous” indignation and, subsequently, in defense of their YEC beliefs and supposedly in defense of Christian orthodoxy, they frequently make assertions deemed heterodox by the Christian tradition.

When the error is brought to their attention via relevant quotes and links to texts, YECists will not change their position but change the authoritative source of their assertion. That is, in their initial reaction, they will claim that their position is the traditional orthodox position. Yet, when I or someone else provides evidence from Church Fathers, councils, and creeds to demonstrate their error, then, persisting in their error, YECists will reject the arguments of the Church Fathers, councils, and creeds. Usually, at this point, YECists will then claim that it does not matter what the Church Fathers, councils and creeds say for those teachings are the “fallible words of men” and their position is based in the “infallible Word of God.” In other words, they retreat into the argument that their position is the biblical position based on the plain reading of the text (of course). Any position that is contrary to their position is then obviously not biblical but shaped by non-authoritative extra-biblical sources.

Of course, for those of us familiar with the development of doctrine, this begs the question (and I think I am using this idiom in its proper sense from logical argument). Arius assumed that his teachings were biblical. Apollanaris assumed his teachings were biblical. Yet, whether YEC and indeed the doctrine of inerrancy into which YECists ultimately retreat are biblical and in such a way that excludes all other interpretations of the Scriptures is precisely the question at hand.

Having a “dialogue” (and I use the term loosely) with a YECist is quite predictable in its circularity and its self-serving inconsistency. I have written the following dialogue as a way to draw you into the limited circle of reasoning that is characteristic of YECism.

Imagine I am sitting at a chess board in a park waiting for someone to join me in a game. A man comes and sits across from me. The white pieces are in front of my opponent. So, he proceeds to move the Queen’s pawn forward one space. I am intrigued by this cautious opening but say nothing. I respond by moving my King’s pawn forward two spaces to take control of the centre.

“You cannot do that!” My opponent exclaims.

“Do what?” I ask — taken aback.

“You cannot move two spaces.”

“Of course, I can. It is the pawn’s first move.”

“No. No. You don’t understand the rules. You may only move more than one space, if you jump another piece.”

“But the only piece that can ‘jump’ is the Knight and the only piece that is permanently restricted to moving one space at a time is the King.”

“But you don’t have any Kings, yet, and everyone knows that Kings can jump as well as any piece. We’ve barely begun and you have already cheated.”

“But I do have a King. He is right here.”

“Oh, how can I have been so silly. You have not cheated. I see you do not know how to play at all. You have placed your king on the white square. He should be on a black square like the other. . . Oh My! I see now that you have set the whole board up incorrectly. Here let me . . .”

You watch as the man begins to shift his pieces so that they are all on black squares but as he reaches toward my pieces, I shoo his hand away.

“Stop.” I say. “I see, now. You want to play checkers.”

“Of course, I want to play checkers.” He says with furrowed brow. “We are sitting at a checkerboard. Are we not?”

“Well, yes.” I say. “And no.”

“It is either a checkerboard or it is not a checkerboard. It cannot be both.”

“Yes, it can.” I respond.  “It is a checkerboard when one is playing checkers but at present it is a chess board because I was hoping to play chess. Do you know how to play chess?”

“I have heard of chess but this is clearly a checkerboard and checkers is the only game that one should play on it.”

“Let me show you how to play chess and you will see that there is more than one way to use this board.” I suggest.

The man’s brow furrows again and he crosses his arms. “I see that you are deceived, sir.”

“What? How am I deceived? I am not sure what you are talking about.”

“You have obviously been told some false things about the proper use of this board and now you want me to use it improperly.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I am simply showing you that this board can be used in more than one way. Chess is really a very fun game. Yes, it is more complex than checkers but strategy and tactics make it that much more interesting.”

“Aha! You have revealed yourself, sir. You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“What?!”

“‘Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the strategies of the devil.’ You invite me with a checkerboard and yet you want to lead me into the improper use of the checkerboard. You want to lead me in a game of schemes and tactics just as the serpent lured Eve in the Garden.”

“No, I just want to show you another fun game that you can play on this board. Christians have been playing this game for centuries.”

“No, they have not, sir. No Christian I know plays this game nor has any Christian played this game.”

“Look,” I say, trying to maintain my composure, “see this piece here — the one beside the King. This piece is even called the Bishop.” The man’s eyes widen and he leans back farther.

“Oh, so you are a Catholic.” He sees with a look of fear in his eyes.

“N-no, I’m not,” I stutter, “but what has that got to do with anything.”

“You need to know your Church history, sir. Martin Luther rescued us from all those Catholic traditions and brought the Church back to the plain and simple teaching of the Bible. And it is clear that like the Bible itself checkers is far more perspicuous than chess with its schemes and tactics.”

“But the Bible says nothing about checkers.”

“That may be so but it says even less about chess and clearly speaks against it as I have already shown.”

“When did you show that?” I say now utterly confused.

“‘Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.’ That’s Ephesians, sir, if you don’t know your Bible.”

“Well, I do know something about the Bible and I’m fairly certain Paul is not warning his readers about the dangers of playing Chess.”

“Well, the application is obvious.” The man says with a dismissive wave. “Besides, just this past Sunday, my Pastor warned us about the dangers of chess and its feminist roots.”

“It’s what? I think it was invented by the Chinese.”

“Aha, you see you admit that it is not a Christian game. But again it is obviously part of the feminist agenda or perhaps even has its roots in the worship of Astarte given that the most powerful piece is the Queen.”

“Now, you are just being ridiculous.” I say with obvious exasperation. “It’s merely a game and the Bible has nothing to say for or against chess or checkers for that matter.”

“Typical, when chesscularists are backed into a corner, they resort to name calling. If you are not careful, when you climb Jacob’s ladder, you will find yourself sliding down the serpent’s back. If you ever want to play checkers, then please come to my church. It is never too late to repent.”

“No, thanks. I’m going for a draught.”

Now, if the above conversation seems to have gone off the rails at some point, then I have succeeded in capturing the nature of almost every internet interaction I have had or have witnessed someone else having with a YECist.

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10 thoughts on “Stop Playing Chess on my Checkerboard!

  1. I am EC and non-creedal. It is true that a Creedal believer is “playing a different game” when compared with a non-creedal believer. Appeals to a creed simply do not sway me, but I also know that they mean something to many other believers.

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    1. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

      What is a non-credal believer? Credo means to believe as in I believe. If you believe in the Trinity, or Christ’s two natures, or reject certain teachings as heresy, then you are dependent upon the the thinking, writing, and argumentation of those Christians who have gone before.

      If you attend a church, then your church likely has a statement of faith which are usually dependent on the creeds affirmed by the ecumenical councils although often include more specific doctrinal statements than those creeds.

      Often YECists will appeal to doctrines like the Trinity, two natures etc and assume that these doctrines are simply read out of scripture without argument. Yet, the history of the Church demonstrates that this is not true. If one diminishes the significance of the creeds (as you suggest that you do), then one ends up rehashing the arguments of the early church again and again or simply ignores one’s dependence on the theologians of the early church.

      So, please help me understand what it is to be a non-credal believer.

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    2. As I re-read your comment, perhaps you might see my point more clearly if you see the game board as scripture. Checkers is YEC’s peculiar form of literalism and idiosyncratic biblical inerrancy doctrine whereas chess in the analogy can stand for any other way of interpreting the text. Also, because I understand that most YECists are quite strictly sola scriptura I only bring up Church Fathers, Creeds, etc when YECists make sweeping claims about YEC being in accord with the teaching of Christians from the beginning and OE being a modern teaching rooted in Christians accepting the theory of evolution etc and seeking to conform Genesis to these ideas. So, in other words, it is only when YECists appeal to Church tradition or make erroneous claims about Christian orthodoxy that I bring up Church history. Does that clarify things a bit?

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      1. The reason I posted was simply to point out that non-creedal believers exist and if you want to convince them, you need to “play the game” as they play it, not as you play it as a creedal believer. I think being non-creedal is mostly independent to being YEC, OEC, or EC.
        I agree if a non-creedal believer brings up tradition, then it is right and fair for you to bring it up also.

        I am sola Scriptura, but not solo Scriptura, as I think that would be taking it out of context. I also make no claim to being an infallible interpreter and try to continue to learn how to do better; in other words, I admit I can be wrong, when I find new info that convinces me, I change my beliefs, that has happened many times. To me, sola Scriptura means that Scripture trumps human tradition when the two are in conflict. I am not against tradition per se, I am against tradition that negates Scripture, per Jesus. I have read ECF, church councils, and interpreters thru the ages including modern ones.

        I am willing to discuss why I am non-creedal but do not want to hijack your thread. I do think that the so-called 7 ecumenical councils do negate Scripture in some places, so that is one of the main reasons I am non-creedal.

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      2. Donald,

        Likely, we would agree on our basic approach to interpreting Scripture even if we likely disagree on specifics. When I teach theology or biblical studies, I often introduce my students to what is often referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral or the Theologian’s Toolbox which is what my professor the late Stan Grenz calls it in his book Who Needs Theology?.

        In doing theology, one must take into account Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. I take it that your tendency is to given final authority to Scripture where your best understanding of Scripture is in conflict with one or more of the other three “tools” available to you. That would tend to be my approach as well.

        Yet, as some who accepts OE and has a high view of scripture, surely you have experienced the bizarre game that YECists play which they call “checkers”. Accepting OE, you would be described by anyone from AiG as inserting millions of years into the Bible. You would be described as having accepted the fallible word of man (aka teachings of modern geologists, physicists, biologists, etc.) and rejecting the infallible Word of God and God’s eyewitness account of creation. The more you attempted to play checkers with them the more you would discover that they have “house rules” and that their rules rig the game in their favour(or if all else fails causes them to flip over the board.).

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      3. Yes, I have heard of the Wes. Quad. I agree with those 4 but would add a fifth of prophecy/word of wisdom, etc. as I happen to be Charismatic. My sis is a YEC, so I am aware of how frustrating he discussions can be. I do not think AiG plays fair, which results in people not coming to faith in Christ. I think playing fair is something along the lines of Gerald Rau’s 6 models, rather than the false dichotomy of only 2. All of us are in the position of being interpreters of God’s Words and God’s Works.

        My take is that when one misunderstands Scripture, you end up to 2 concerns, you think Scripture means something it does not as well as not thinking what it does mean, a double whammy.

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      4. Usually, the charisma are included in the category of experience. Of course, the Spirit is involved and ideally listened to in all four areas of the quadrilateral. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and reply. IWP

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      5. Yeah, I know that manifestations of spiritual gifts are sometimes put with experience.

        I like to put things in experience that are generally able to be experienced by another (e.g., science experiments). Besides being experienced as an individual thing, spiritual gifts are also different as some believers do not even believe that some exist nowadays (or worse) and even if accepted as for today no one is required to accept any specific statement as actually being what the speaker purports it to be. For all these reasons, I prefer to have it in its own category. And just like the other 3, it should be aligned with the revelation of Scripture.

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  2. I think overall it is a clever metaphor. It doesn’t quite work on one point, though–the “game” YECists try to play isn’t coherent at all. At least checkers has rules! It’s like you’re trying to play chess, you find out they are trying to play checkers, but they don’t even know the rules of checkers, and are really just making things up as they go…

    To catch the sheer madness of it all, you’d have to realize they’re playing checkers, and think, “Okay, I know what they’re TRYING to do,” but then all of a sudden, they take their knight, move it like a bishop for three spaces, then hop it over a pawn, and it takes out your knight.

    You say, “What the crap are you doing?”

    They say, “My horse can do that…”

    “Why?”

    “I just did…are you changing the rules?”

    “I’m not changing the rules…you are!”

    “Oh no, that’s how the game is always played.”

    And then they take their arm, wipe away all the pieces onto the ground, and yell, “YAHTZEE!!!”

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    1. Joel,

      I totally agree. As with all analogies, this analogy breaks down too. Indeed, I think that you are being too generous for Yahtzee is a game with recognized rules as well.

      To continue the analogy, when all is said and done, you are correct YECists end up being poor checker plays at all. They inconsistently apply the rules of the game. I can certainly beat them at literalism every time but, like you, I don’t think that is how one ought to read the Bible. So, yes, it is almost as if they are playing Bouillabaseball on Melmac with Alf rather than anything grounded in reality here on earth. Which is to be expected, after all, they come from a planet that is less than 7000 years old whereas we earthlings come from a planet that is much older.

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