Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Taking Things Literally

After writing that post about the Moonies and wondering how on earth there could be millions of people who believed something so monumentally absurd, I came across this poll from ABC News:

“I’m going to ask about a few stories in the Bible. Do you think that’s literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word; or do you think it’s meant as a lesson, but not to be taken literally?”

Literally True Not Literally True No Opinion
% % %
“The story of Noah and the ark in which it rained for 40 days and nights, the entire world was flooded, and only Noah, his family and the animals on their ark survived.” 60 33 7
“The creation story in which the world was created in six days.” 61 30 8

It isn’t any less ridiculous to believe in a six day creation and a global flood than it is to believe that God wrote a letter to Rev. Moon calling him the Messiah, and a whole lot more people believe the first bit of silliness than believe the second.

Comments

  1. #1 Lynn
    June 15, 2004

    You know my feelings on this Ed, I have only one thing to say, this is scary!!

  2. #2 Lynn
    June 15, 2004

    You know my feelings on this Ed, I have only one thing to say, this is scary!!

  3. #3 bear, the (one each)
    June 15, 2004

    You don’t know my feelings on this Ed, but still, I have only one thing to say, this is scary!!

    Seriously: I can see folks wanting or needing a spiritual guidance for their lives, but to believe this sort of thing strikes me as just plain silly.

  4. #4 OGeorge
    June 16, 2004

    Based on an estimated US population of 270 million, that’s 164 million irrational people sharing the air and water with us. I suppose we can aways hope for another flood…Oh…I forgot…the Rainbow covenant…damn!

  5. #5 Cara
    June 16, 2004

    “It isn’t any less ridiculous to believe in a six day creation and a global flood than it is to believe that God wrote a letter to Rev. Moon calling him the Messiah, ”

    Are you calling God illiterate?

    No, I can’t believe that anyone accepts the Bible as a literal record of events either, and I am frequently shocked when I meet people who do. Otherwise intelligent people, even.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    June 16, 2004

    No, I can’t believe that anyone accepts the Bible as a literal record of events either, and I am frequently shocked when I meet people who do. Otherwise intelligent people, even.

    I think you hit on an interesting point. It’s not really a question of intelligence. There are many very intelligent people in creationism, even in its young earth variety. Kurt Wise and Paul Nelson come immediately to mind as the best and the brightest in that camp. These are brilliant and well educated men. It’s a testimony to the power of faith and the ability of the human mind to maintain contradictory thoughts simultaneously (which is something we all do in one area or another). The claim is ridiculous, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person making it is stupid.

  7. #7 Lynn
    June 16, 2004

    Sinners (as the average person is spoken of in the Bible) will believe anything that keeps them out of hell, fire and damnation. I don’t think the followers of Moon are as dumb or stupid as we like to think they are. I believe they are afraid, easily misled and swayed by a Rev. who puts fear into their hearts.
    The real danger comes from Jerry Farwell, Robertson and others like them who have sold out to Moon, and some of us know why. $$$$$

  8. #8 Aaron Pohle
    June 16, 2004

    I find it interesting that the commenters here are quick to judge other people as irrational for believeing in something, simply because it is in conflict with their view.

    I assume that the people here mostly believe in what science teaches abut the universe. Some of you are probably well educated on the matter and understand concepts that are far stranger and mystical sounding to someone without a scientific background than the idea that there is a being in the universe with powers beyond our understanding that can do things we cannot explain. (Do you think it would be easier to get someone with no scientific background to understand a God that can create the world or even the universe in 6 days or to understand Quantum Dynamics?)

    If you want to take things to a higher level and look at the creation of the world in 6 days, what does that really mean? 6 days to who? From what perspective? There was no man, would it the be from God’s perspective?

    If the universe began, as we suspect, in a big bang, then the concentration of gravitation force in the early states of the univers would have been immense. That would have had a tremendous tiam dialation effect as gravity slows the passage of time. As the universe expands time slows. Of course, that is only true to an observer outside the universe. If the gravitational force of the universe was compressed into a small area time inside the universe would harldy be moving comared to the time of an outside observer, as the universe expanded the two times would grow closer and closer to matching. From that view, the 6 “days” from the outside could have been millions or billions of years inside(though each day would be much shorter).

    Is that what happened? Is that what the bible means? I don’t know. It is, however, an explanation that supports both a literal interpretation and does not conflict with science. Unless you think that it is also, silly.

    There are many things in this world that most people do not understand. When you don’t understand something you have to believe. The fact that some people choose to believe that there is something beyond the natural at work in the universe is no more silly than to believe that there are just natural laws and phenomonena that we do not yet understand. At least, not in my thinking.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    June 16, 2004

    I find it interesting that the commenters here are quick to judge other people as irrational for believeing in something, simply because it is in conflict with their view.

    But no one here is doing that, certainly not me. First, saying that a belief is irrational is not the same thing as saying that a person is irrational for holding it. I made that fairly clear, I thought, in my response to Cara. Brilliant people who are rational in their approach to most things can be incredibly irrational in specific areas, especially areas in which their strong emotional commitments conflict with evidence and logic. More importantly, no one is arguing that believing either in a literal 6 day creation or a global flood is irrational “simply because it is in conflict with their view”; it is irrational because it is simply in conflict with the evidence, in the extreme.

    I assume that the people here mostly believe in what science teaches abut the universe. Some of you are probably well educated on the matter and understand concepts that are far stranger and mystical sounding to someone without a scientific background than the idea that there is a being in the universe with powers beyond our understanding that can do things we cannot explain. (Do you think it would be easier to get someone with no scientific background to understand a God that can create the world or even the universe in 6 days or to understand Quantum Dynamics?)

    Assuming you mean Quantum Mechanics, I would point out that there is a big difference between an idea being counter-intuitive, as QM tends to be, and an idea being counter to the evidence. The evidence for QM is strong; it’s counter-intuitive nature is due to the fact that we are used to seeing how objects behave at a macro level and at a micro level they don’t behave that way. Regardless, though, your last statement is off point. The relevant question is not whether an omnipotent God hypothetically could have created the universe in 6 days, the relevant question is whether the evidence supports the claim that it did happen that way. And the fact is that the evidence is monumentally against that claim.

    If you want to take things to a higher level and look at the creation of the world in 6 days, what does that really mean? 6 days to who? From what perspective? There was no man, would it the be from God’s perspective?

    Again, not relevant to this discussion. The question that was asked was whether they believed in a literal 6 day creation and a literal global flood, meaning literal to us, not to God. Of course there are ways to interpret the text so it need not conflict with the evidence, but that requires a non-literal interpretation and the poll dealt only with a literal one.

    Is that what happened? Is that what the bible means? I don’t know. It is, however, an explanation that supports both a literal interpretation and does not conflict with science. Unless you think that it is also, silly.

    Again, it’s possible, it’s just not relevant to the discussion. What I called silly is the notion that 6 days was 6 literal days, not 6 hypothetical days from a non-human perspective.

    There are many things in this world that most people do not understand. When you don’t understand something you have to believe. The fact that some people choose to believe that there is something beyond the natural at work in the universe is no more silly than to believe that there are just natural laws and phenomonena that we do not yet understand. At least, not in my thinking.

    At the risk of repeating myself yet again, that’s not what I said. I did not say that it’s silly to believe that there might be something beyond the natural at work in the universe. In fact, I didn’t say anything even close to that statement, nor would I since I am not myself an atheist. Arguing against a literal interpretation of biblical passages that are contradicted by the evidence is not the equivalent of arguing against the existence of God.

  10. #10 DonM
    June 16, 2004

    Aaron said: “When you don’t understand something you have to believe.”

    Why?!

  11. #11 Aaron Pohle
    June 16, 2004

    My comments were not directed at you, Ed. It was more to the statement of

    “Based on an estimated US population of 270 million, that’s 164 million irrational people sharing the air and water with us. ”

    I did mean quantum mechanics and I agree there is a great deal of evidence to support the theories of quantum mechanics. Most of the evidence is effectively meaningless to most people and must be taken on faith in scientists and in their scientific method, just as some people take religious matter on faith in books, prophets, teachers, etc.

    As far as evidence being monumentally against the idea of the world being created in a literal 6 days from our perespective, I agree. However, how much of that evidence are most people exposed to? How may of them have cared enough to study it or look at it? There is a large difference between being uninformed and being irrational. Of course, there are many people who support creationism that I would certainly describe as irrational. I simply don’t think this poll is a meaningful reflection of that.

    You are choosing a specific definition of literal in your interpretation presented here. There are a lot of people who do believe in a 6 day creation as you are describing. There are also a lot of people who believe in what I described. My point is that if I were someone polled, I would have answered yes that I believe the 6 day creation is literal. I do not, however, believe that the world was created in 6 days from our perspective. So, I would be characterized as irrational by some of the comments here and would be generally lumped in with the people who think that the earth is a few thousand years old, when I do not believe those things. My point is that people taking the poll may not be interpreting the question the same way you are.

    Instead you put people such as myself in the same category as people who believe the ridiculous document that Rev. Moon put out. While I realize that is not your intent, I was attempting to point out how not all of the people that answered yes in the poll you cite would fit that characterization.

  12. #12 carpundit
    June 16, 2004

    Don’t worry about the results. I guess that the poll is inaccurate because a large percentage of the sample group did not know what “literally” means.

  13. #13 Aaron Pohle
    June 16, 2004

    DonM,

    I shold actually have said that when you don’t understand something but are expected to have an opinion on it, you have to believe. I doubt that many people in the poll had rally thought about the issue significantly before they were asked the question. Some of the probably thought things like, “Well I don’t believe it, but yeah I think the bible meant it literally.” How many people have really thought about how the earth was created enough to make a well formed opinion of it? Not many, I would think. Most people rely on their belief in someone or something else. Of course, to a certain extent that is true of everything, we all fill the gaps in what we with with what we believe to be true. Sometimes that is not a very big stretch and sometimes it is.

  14. #14 Aaron Pohle
    June 16, 2004

    Carpundit,

    That’s a rather shallow and thoughtless characterization of what I was saying. I think that most people understand what literally means, but that still leaves a lot of room in the question asked.

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    June 16, 2004

    I shold actually have said that when you don’t understand something but are expected to have an opinion on it, you have to believe. I doubt that many people in the poll had rally thought about the issue significantly before they were asked the question. Some of the probably thought things like, “Well I don’t believe it, but yeah I think the bible meant it literally.” How many people have really thought about how the earth was created enough to make a well formed opinion of it? Not many, I would think. Most people rely on their belief in someone or something else. Of course, to a certain extent that is true of everything, we all fill the gaps in what we with with what we believe to be true. Sometimes that is not a very big stretch and sometimes it is.

    I think your point is correct that most people just don’t give it much thought and probably fall back on ingrained things they were taught as children. The 60% is a bit higher than most other surveys on the subject, which generally have found around 40% believe that the world is only a few thousand years old and in a global flood. What disturbs me more than anything is that people are so easily manipulated because of their ignorance. But the fact is that the age of the earth and the basic reasons why we know it are taught in high school science classes.

  16. #16 Aaron Pohle
    June 16, 2004

    I agree that it is sad how little people generally know about a wide variety of subjects and how that ignorance often leads to manipulation.

    Still, even when people are not completely ignorant of a subject when you introduce a supernatural element, it gets trickier to judge things. Certainly the world has every appearance of being millions of years old(and I personally believe that it is), yet that doesn’t prove that it is that old. I don’t think there is any real reason to believe that it is any age other than what it appears.

    The bible contains a great deal of knowledge and wisdom that represents a higher truth that what men know. Many have been convinced of the truth of the bible through logical and rational means. When confronted with something they don’t know, they are going to fall back on a source that they trust. Some people fall back on what their parents believe, some on what they read from a trusted source, and some rely on the bible. Even if the bible doesn’t make complete sense to them in a specific area, the fact that it has been “proven” to them in other ways allows them to offer the bible benefit of doubt.

    Not everyone is a scientist, nor do they think or reason in that way, especially about subjects that have so little apparent impact on their individual lives as to how and when the earth was formed.

  17. #17 carpundit
    June 17, 2004

    Aaron,

    Gosh, that was a quick turn to the ad hominem. But your premise is wrong: I wasn’t trying to characterize anything said by you.

    I was looking at the results and trying to guess what could cause them. That 60% of respondents think Noah actually herded every type of animal two-by-two onto a giant boat defies belief. With the widespread use of ‘literally’ in common parlance as a word of emphasis (akin to ‘very’ or ‘really’), I think it’s likely that the results don’t mean what they, er, literally mean.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a huge part of the population is educated enough to know what literally means and yet stupid enough to think those stories are literal. But I hope not.

  18. #18 Aaron Pohle
    June 17, 2004

    Carpundit,

    Ad hominem? I said nothing about you personally so how could that be an ad hominem? My remarks were directed at your statement, which appeared to be simplified and sarcastic summary of what I was saying. I attacked your statement on that basis. If that was not your intent, I apologise.

    Of course, I also disagree with your view that someone who believes that these stories from the bible actually happened are stupid, but I doubt there is any point in discussing that with you.

  19. #19 carpundit
    June 17, 2004

    Aaron,

    You’re right about that last part. I am unwavering in my faith-based conviction that anyone who thinks those tales are the literal truth is an idiot.

  20. #20 SH
    June 20, 2004

    It may be that many people would misunderstand the word ‘literally’. But the poll spelled it out pretty carefully: ‘meaning it happened that way word-for-word’. How much more help does anyone need?