The Trouble With Moderation

Another point made in the Newsweek article mentioned in the previous post is that Harris et al are as hard on religious moderates as they are on the fundamentalists:

It is not just extremists who earn the wrath of Dawkins and Harris. Their books are attacks on religious “moderates” as well–indeed, the very idea of moderation.

The idea is that on the one hand we have the dogmatic fundamentalists, the ones who reject science wholesale and place their hands over their ears when they sense a bit of contrary data coming their way. On the other are more moderate people. They’re the ones who practice the allegedly sensible sort of religion, the sort where you don’t close your eyes to what science has to say and you take your Bible with a big pinch of salt.

The problem is that theological moderation is even harder to defend than fundamentalism.

A lot of people say a lot of things in the dispute between science and religion. There are arguments and counter arguments ad nauseum on both sides. Many of these arguments are fascinating and reward careful study, which, indeed, is why I spend so much time on them at this blog.

But when you strip away all the logic chopping and the careful parsing of Genesis you’re left with a simple truth that no theologian has yet been able to make go away. It is this: Evolution by natural selection just isn’t what you expect from a world created by an act of God’s will for the amusement of humans.

You can explain it after the fact, of course. You can say that evolution is God’s means of creation, or you can transform Genesis from an unambiguous sequence of historical events into a parable meant to teach theological truths, or you can gush that God put in place a system of natural laws so wonderful that it was sufficient to bring about his creative ends, or you can argue that somehow humanity or something like it was the inevitable result of evolution. The fact remains that God chose a mechanism for creation that got hung up at the bacteria stage for three billlion years, and then needed an assist from several mass extinctions after clearing that hump. This, when he could simply have snapped his fingers and brought his world into being.

And it’s not just evolution. The Catholic Church used to think it was a very big deal to claim that the Earth was not the center of the universe. They were right to think it a big deal. If the Earth is the point of it all then it is rather hard to explain why God also created billions of other galaxies with stars orbited by lifeless worlds. Since theological reasoning is constrained only by the imagination of the reasoner, it is possible to conjure up explanations for this fact. And who knows? Maybe you’re one of those people who can actually talk yourself into believing those explanations.

So the choices are clear. The Bible describes a scenario that is pretty much what you would expect if the world were created for man by God. Everything we’ve learned from science tells us that view is wrong. You can either reject the uncomfortable bits of science and cling to the Bible, as the fundamentalists do, or you can accept what the evidence seems to be saying, as atheists do. The third option is moderation, where you twist the Bible out of all recognition to reconcile it with modern science (and then deny vigorously that that is what you are doing), and graft a groundless, “But God started it all!” onto a body of scientific knowledge that has no need of that hypothesis.

It’s not surprising that many people are not satisfied with moderation.

Comments

  1. #1 Koray
    September 8, 2006

    I see where Harris et al are coming from: moderation is intellectual self-delusion while fundamentalism is intellectual incompetence. We can remedy intellectual incompetence with better education, but I don’t see how we can convince the moderates to stop using evasive tactics.

  2. #2 John Farrell
    September 8, 2006

    The third option is moderation, where you twist the Bible out of all recognition to reconcile it with modern science (and then deny vigorously that that is what you are doing), and graft a groundless, �But God started it all!� onto a body of scientific knowledge that has no need of that hypothesis.

    This still pre-supposes Christianity as a whole requires taking the Bible literally. It doesn’t.

    If you said “God underlies it all” rather than ‘started’ that would be more accurate to what the more traditional (Orthodox/RC) churches believe.

    While I’m sure the either/or simplistic approach helps Dawkins and Dennett sell books, and the boobs at the Discovery Institute raise money–it does after a while become tedious, and encourages those funny ‘moderate’ people in the middle to think less of them for being so dogmatic.

  3. #3 Frank
    September 8, 2006

    A fourth option is to accept that we cannot understand everything and to simultaneously hold both ideas in our heads at the same time.

    We Catholics (et. al.) practice this all the time. We have the whole Trinity thing. You know, Father-Son-Holy Spirit three in one. Saint Augustine got in back around 300 AD when he realized he was trying to understand an infinite God with his finite mind. I know the argument is circular, but this is theology, not science. If we could prove the existence of God, there would be no faith. Its OK, Thomas had this problem too.

  4. #4 Fred
    September 8, 2006

    Frank wrote: “If we could prove the existence of God, there would be no faith.

    That’s a fairly common statement but I confess that I don’t understand it. Why does faith matter? If God came down and absolutely proved that he existed, how/why would that be a problem? I really don’t think it’s that God wants us to believe in him with faith, not proof, because Jesus (and Moses) sure as hell showed proof in their time.

    Sorry to hijack the thread, but I’ve always wondered about that. Is there a good answer?

  5. #5 John Farrell
    September 8, 2006

    Fred, you raise a very interesting point–and a related question (to me, anyway) is: what if God intervened to prevent all those evil things from happening that make many people question God? So, just as we wouldn’t need faith in your scenario, we wouldn’t be bothered by theodicy (the question of evil).

    What would we think of living in a giant play-pen instead of a world that operated according to natural laws (come what may)?

    Anyway–an excellent point, and I don’t think it’s hijacking the thread at all.

  6. #6 Koray
    September 8, 2006

    Not taking Bible literally has to be justified. In our own writings, such as in law, science, etc. we try to be as explicit as possible (enter legalese, jargon, etc.) in order to avoid interpretation differences. We consider only a select people qualified to resolve disputes. After all it’s our invention, and we do deserve to suffer if we ourselves interpret it wrong.

    Religious text is totally different. Not only is it claimed to be written by a flawless entity (and naturally expected to be free of ambiguities), but it is also meant to be read by the common folk. You & I can be stranded on an island with the bible and have to interpret it for ourselves without help from clergy. My interpretation could be considered blasphemy by you.

    Furthermore, we don’t let high school kids interpret corporate tax law. Who are we to infer what God really meant unless it is crystal clear? We achieve overwhelming majority agreement on a lot of human subjects, but somehow not on religion.

  7. #7 Robert O'Brien
    September 8, 2006

    Saint Augustine got in back around 300 AD when he realized he was trying to understand an infinite God with his finite mind.

    I think you are thinking of pugnacious “Saint” Athanasius.

  8. #8 David Heddle
    September 9, 2006

    Taking the bible “literally” is literally a position of nobody, so I am not sure why it even arises.

    Actually I do know: Saying, in effect “I don’t take the bible literally like those goofy fundies” allows one to take a palatable position on a number of thorny issues.

    But the truth is, even the people proudest of their literal hermeneutic, the “Left Behind” dispensationalists, acknowledge they don’t take the bible literally in toto. (For example, ask Jerry Falwell what “generation” in Matt. 24:34 means) The question of moderation should be discussed, not in terms of a virtual null set of those who take the entire bible literally, but the rather large set of those taking the bible as inerrant. This is quite a different matter. Conservative Protestants along with the Catholic Church affirm (ex Cathedra, for Rome) the bible’s inerrancy.

    It is not taking the bible literally that demands reconciliation between science and the bible–even the billion plus Catholics, if they follow their own Magisterium, must somehow deal with what inerrant scripture says about science–because the Catholic Church has infallibly declared that (a) both scripture and sacred tradition are inerrant and (b) their validity is not restricted to faith and morals, it also applies to science.

    So a Catholic that pretends bible/science consistency is just for the Baptist trailer park/potluck crowd is not a consistent Catholic. The Catholic Church, of all churches, is by its very nature resistant to moderation, given that it has (by a vast amount) the largest corpus of unimpeachable dogma of all Christian denominations.

  9. #9 Darwin's Beagle
    September 9, 2006

    I am an atheist. While I enjoy the support of people like Kenneth R. Miller in defense of evolutionary theory, I side with the more fundamentalists on biblical interpretation. It seems to me that if one is going to say you don’t have to believe that the bible says what it literally says, then you should be prepared to justify your interpretation of what it does say thoroughly.

    A thorough justification involves a whole lot more than just saying that (1) a literal interpretation leads to an obviously wrong statement, and (2) if you interpret it this particular way you get something that sounds somewhat reasonable.

    A thorough justification involves considering how the people hearing it for the first time would have interpreted it. You would need to give a reasonable explanation for why anyone would try to convey the meaning that you propose in the particular manner the bible did and not in a more straight-forward manner that would be less prone to causing confusion. You would need to give a justification for the confusion that it has caused historically.

    To follow that up with an example, let’s take the day/age interpretation of Genesis 1. Most theists seem to think the apparent conflict between Genesis 1 and science is solved by allowing the word “day” to mean “an unspecified length of time”. That way the universe and everything in it doesn’t need to be 6,000 years old, it can be the 13.7 billion years old science says it is.

    To me that seems to be incredibly shallow thinking. The problem is not resolved at all. It is just shifted to a multitude of other problems. The fact that “day” is always preferenced with the phrase “evening and morning” says that the intent was to present a 24 hour time period. A person having no prior knowledge that the universe must have formed over a much greater period of time (like the people who wrote the story) would certainly have interpreted it as a 24 hour period. There is evidence that they DID interpret it as a 24 hour period. In the story of the 10 commandments in Exodus, the justification for keeping the sabbath as the day of rest is that God created the universe in 6 days and on the 7th he rested. Why would anybody in their right mind whose intent is to convey the information that the universe and the life in it were formed over an extended period of time use the phraseology of Genesis 1? Were they too stupid to know it would cause confusion? Did they intentionally mislead? Or were they just wrong?

    I do not know of any theist who has adequately addressed these questions. Most often they have been satisfied with the superficial resolution of the problem with the day/age interpretation and have never even asked themselves these questions. The rare one who does seems to be satisfied with saying that “God works in mysterious ways”. But if anybody other than God had done that we wouldn’t find it mysterious at all. We would find it duplicitous. So that explanation is a cowardly cop-out.

    Regards,

    Darwin’s Beagle

  10. #10 David Heddle
    September 9, 2006

    Darwin’s Beagle,

    “A person having no prior knowledge that the universe must have formed over a much greater period of time (like the people who wrote the story) would certainly have interpreted it as a 24 hour period”

    Except for Church fathers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Augustine, etc. (There are many more from the early church) None of them had any knowledge of an ancient earth, yet none of them took the days of Genesis One to be 24 hour days. So yes, except for them, you might have a point.

  11. #11 JimT
    September 9, 2006

    Unfortunately “inerrancy” in the Bible achieves nothing. In fact, all it does is provide the necessary wiggle room for Jews and Christians to come up with all sorts of different “interpretations” of the “inerrancy.” This inexorably leads to thousands of different “snake oil” salesmen pushing their “brand” of religion to fit the varying needs of people who feel they need religion in their life. This maximizes their power and profit. Hey, moderates got money, too–and they’re willing to part with a lot of it in their quest for salvation!

    Inerrancy suffices only to change the character of the debate to “My interpretation of the inerrancy is better than your interpretation of the inerrancy.”

    If the Bible is inerrant, but not literal “in toto” then who decides what is literal and what is parable?

    God won’t come down and explain to us which paragraphs are supposed to be which–because there is no God to do so.

  12. #12 Fred
    September 9, 2006

    Right Jim. Like I’ve said before, if the actual words used in the Bible don’t mean what they seem to mean (like, “day” doesn’t really mean “day”), what does “Thou shalt not kill” really mean?

    It seems curious to me that the only things that are “supposed to be interpreted” are the things science has proven wrong. Yes indeed, that’s quite curious. What are the odds?

    I think reinterpretation is fun.

    Bobby: “Teacher, why didn’t I get an A on the math test?

    Teacher: “Because you wrote the 1+1=3.”

    Bobby: “But it does! You’re obviously not aware of the complex mathematical interpretation I’m using.”

    I wish I knew about all of this when I was in school. I’d have gotten straight A’s.

  13. #13 John Doyle
    September 10, 2006

    Truths are rarely as obvious as they seem. Some things that seem intuitively obvious to us now — like gravity — are quite recent interpretations of the raw facts. The data of nature have been available for a long time to genetically modern humanity, but it wasn’t until the last century that any real progress was made on evolution. Empirical science has “evolved” a pretty reliable methodology for achieving incrementally better understandings of the natural world.

    By contrast, it’s difficult to decide the right interpretive framework for an ancient text, religious or otherwise. Do you try to understand it as it would have been understood by the writer’s contemporaries? Do you interpret it in the context of other similar writings? Do you regard the text as pure data and impose on it a strict empirical method for understanding it — that’s what literal interpretation of an inerrant Scripture amounts to. Hey, it’s not as easy as it looks.

    That said, most God-believers impose an interpretive framework on the Bible which presupposes a priori that God created the material universe or is otherwise foundational to it. What would happen if that presupposition was “relaxed,” at least hypothetically? There have been other gods who didn’t claim to have created the universe. Would the Judeo-Christian God no longer be worth worshipping if He had absolutely nothing to do with creating the material world? Conversely, would He become more palatable to those unbelievers whose atheism rests on the implausibility of creation ex nihilo.?

  14. #14 Rienk
    September 10, 2006

    Two remarks:
    (1) Harris comes down hard on moderates too because, as he wrote in The End of Faith, the moderates give a lot of leeway to the fundamentalists. In other words, the moderates have a live-and-let-live attitude even towards the fundatmentalists and since in principle the belief is the same they create an environment in which people like Dobson, Fallwel, Coulter, et al, are free to spew their bigotry.

  15. #15 Rienk
    September 10, 2006

    Sorry, auto-clicked post too early.
    (2) This is an easy one but for some reason many people do not get this logic. If you, as a Christian, do not take whole of the Bible literally, than what is their Christian about you? You cannot pick and choose what is reality and what is an alegory when you are interpreting the Bible. If you say genesis is meant to be symbolic only, how can you assert the historicity of the resurrection? In all honesty, since the Bible is God breathed, you can’t. Logically, you must admit that you cannot be certain about the main tenet of your religion.

  16. #16 John Farrell
    September 10, 2006

    Siris has a thoughtful response.

    You can explain it after the fact, of course. You can say that evolution is God’s means of creation, or you can transform Genesis from an unambiguous sequence of historical events into a parable meant to teach theological truths, or you can gush that God put in place a system of natural laws so wonderful that it was sufficient to bring about his creative ends, or you can argue that somehow humanity or something like it was the inevitable result of evolution. The fact remains that God chose a mechanism for creation that got hung up at the bacteria stage for three billlion years, and then needed an assist from several mass extinctions after clearing that hump. This, when he could simply have snapped his fingers and brought his world into being.

    But there is no ‘explaining it after the fact’ here. Rather, what’s going on is exactly what one would expect of a reasonable person: if you want to know how the world works, you go to the world and look at how it works. And there’s nothing about believing that the world is created by God that would change this. Rosenhouse says that God “could simply have snappend his fingers and brought his world in being”. Perhaps so. But if you want to know what world was brought into being, snapped fingers or no, you will, if you are a reasonable person, look to see what world was brought into being. And the world that we find if we look into this matter is a world consisting of a vast number of galaxies, each with a vast number of stars, around one of which we find ourselves on a planet. Rosenhouse summarizes the history of the planet as “a mechanism for creation that got hung up at the bacteria stage for three billion years, and then needed an assist from several mass extinctions after clearing that hump.” How he or anyone else would know that it got ‘hung up’ at one stage and ‘needed an assist’ at another he doesn’t say; and he apparently forgets that if God can “snap his fingers” and make the whole universe exist, there’s no reason to assume he couldn’t have three billion years of bacteria alone and a bunch of mass extinctions on one tiny planet in a vast array of stars. There’s no room here for ‘getting hung up’ or ‘needing an assist’; it’s either rhetoric backed up by no reasoning, or a rather serious category mistake.

  17. #17 John Farrell
    September 10, 2006

    Hmm. The link didn’t translate in the last post. Here it is:

    http://branemrys.blogspot.com/2006/09/sigh.html

  18. #18 pwe
    September 11, 2006

    The problem is that theological moderation is even harder to defend than fundamentalism.

    True, extremists always have it easier. That goes for both extremes. Since both extremes cannot be right (one of them is left ;-)), extremism is illogical – extremely illogical.

    What the moderate accepts is that human knowledge is finite, a historical phenomenon. We need to learn from our experiences.

    Look at various fundamentalists. Do yjey agree on everything? Only on that all that oppose them should be killed!

    Muslim extremists and Christian extremists may agree on their extremism, but they certainly disagree whether the USA is God’s chosen nation or not.

    And, evangelizing atheists like Richard Dawkins have also chosen the easy way, where they don’t have to understand the opposition.

    It’s easier to be an extremists; but the extremists need to prove that their respective gods meant human life to be easy, before we moderates can accept our defeat.

    - pwe

  19. #19 Frank
    September 11, 2006

    With regard to Fred’s reply….

    “Why does faith matter?”

    With respect to this point of the discussion….
    Faith matters as it is willingness accept that there is a higher power and or purpose (i.e. Gods will) without being compelled to by either overwhelming objective evidence or the removal of your free will. I believe (take on faith) that there is a higher power and purpose.

  20. #20 Rienk
    September 11, 2006

    @John Farrell:
    ‘Siris’ is still reinterpreting after the fact. It’s easy to change the supposed meaning of the verses in retrospect, just to fit scientific understanding. But for how long? Where do you draw the line? Is the resurrection an alegory too? Immaculate conception?
    Come on, there has to be a point where any reasonable person would say to him or herself “now it is enough, I can really no longer defend the Bible as being God’s word. The errors stack up and up, and I need to pull more and more braintwisters to reconcile it with scientific findings. With reality.”
    This is what moderates do. Fundamentalists just ignore reality alltogether, which is more consistent.

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2006

    John Farrell-

    I think you completely missed the point of the discussion. If you’re learning how the world works by examining the world, then you are doing science. According to Christians, however, there is another way to learn how the world works: namely by looking to divine revelation. The first chapter of Genesis purports to be an account of the world’s creation. Yet it conflicts at every turn with what science tells us about those same events. That’s what has to be explained.

    Ignoring the science is one option. Ignoring the Bible is another option. I see logic in both options (though obviously I regard the second as more sensible). What I don’t see any logic in is distorting the text of the Bible out of all recognition to make it compatible with science.

    As for the rest of your comment, the fossil record tells us that bacteria were essentially the only form of life for three billion years or so. It also tells us that humans exist today only because several mass extinctions opened new niches and new opportunities for evolution. Yet the Bible tells us that the Earth was created by God specifcally for humans to live on. I can use phrases like ‘hung up’ and ‘needed an assist’ because the Bible describes a God with desires, goals and intentions. And since science outlines a series of events that run counter to those goals, I’d say there’s something here to explain.

    In other words, I don’t see how your comments address any of the points I made in my opening post.

  22. #22 Fred
    September 11, 2006

    Frank, that still doesn’t answer my question, it just restates the issue. How does knowing for a fact that there is a God affect free will? I know for a fact that I have a boss at work but I still have free will.

    You say that proof would compel us to worship, well, a) why would that be bad? And b) no it wouldn’t compel us. I don’t believe that a God would creat us soley to kiss his ass. What kind of selfish self-centered being would do that? Do you think God wasted his time creating you merely to have another person worshipping him? If we knew for a fact that there was a God, then we’d still be free to worship or not. And if we didn’t worship he’d understand, don’t you think?

    There’s nothing inherently better about faith than there is about proof.

  23. #23 Frank
    September 11, 2006

    “How does knowing for a fact that there is a God affect free will?”

    My point is that the act of free will is beliving in God when you canot prove it. If I know (e.g. by objective evidence) there is a god, it is not faith but knowlege. Apparently I was unclear, my applogies.

    “You say that proof would compel us to worship…”

    No. I am talking about belief, not worship. That’s a different step.

  24. #24 Frank
    September 11, 2006

    To Prof. Rosenhouse…

    If you’re learning how the world works by examining the world, then you are doing science. According to Christians, however, there is another way to learn how the world works: namely by looking to divine revelation.

    Is it more reasonable to say learning how the world works is science and exploring why we are here is religion (at least in part)? This is, in my opinion, the most compelling reason for keeping ID (creationism) out of the biology classroom.

    Which reminds me of a joke..
    One day the scientists decided that mankind no longer needed God, so one of them went to Him, bearing the news. “God,” he said, “we don’t need you anymore. We can do our own miraculous things. We can clone people on our own. So why don’t you just get lost?” God was patient and kind. “Very well,” He replied. “If that is how mankind feels, then let us resolve this with a contest. Let us see who can make a man.” “Sure,” said the scientist, “that’s fine with me.” “But there is one condition,” said God, “We will do this just the way it was done the first time when I created Adam.” “Sure, no problem,” said the scientist. He bent down to grab a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God. “You go get your own dirt.

    Reference
    http://www.endicott-studio.com/jMA0301/menMud.html

  25. #25 John Farrell
    September 11, 2006

    Hi Jason,
    Actually–just in case there is no misunderstanding, most of my post was from Siris.

    However, a couple of points:
    According to Christians, however, there is another way to learn how the world works: namely by looking to divine revelation.

    What Christians? Catholics? Revelation for the Church is not about ‘how the world works’. It is (broadly speaking) about why we are here and what our purpose here is. Again, Fundies may look at their religion in the way you say, but not the moderate churches.

    The first chapter of Genesis purports to be an account of the world’s creation. Yet it conflicts at every turn with what science tells us about those same events. That’s what has to be explained.

    No. It was written initially by the rabbis to explain primarily why the sabbath is a day of rest–and the creation story is laid out in seven days precisely to show that, on the seventh day God rested.

    As for the RC Church, which adopted the Old Testament, it teaches the main ‘must believe’ points of faith to be drawn from Genesis are that the world in its totality was created by God, including mankind, and that the first Man and Woman fell from Grace into Sin. You don’t have to believe it was created in six days.

    So I think Siris’s points are well taken.

  26. #26 John Farrell
    September 11, 2006

    Another of way of putting this, Jason, is: if all Christians are stuck with having to explain the conflicts between Genesis and modern science, I assume you agree that the Catholic Church also has to explain why–for over a thousand years it accepted the Ptolemaic cosmological model–which also directly conflicts with the Hebrew model of Genesis?

    Again, where I think you err is your assumption that all Christians have always believed that Revelation supposedly tells us ‘how the world works’.

  27. #27 Rienk
    September 11, 2006

    Again, John Farrell, who decides what to take literal and what not? Why do Christians take the resurrection literal? Because it it the main tenet of Christianity? But what if the resurrection is just like genesis, an alegory? You keep regurgitating the same old arguments, I will keep regurgitating this question.

  28. #28 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2006

    John Farrell-

    It is part of every Christian denomination that the Bible is the holy word of God, inerrant on every subject it addresses. This is as true for the Catholics as it is for every other Church. And since sometimes the Bible addresses questions of scientific interest, that implies that divine revelation is another source of information about how the world works.

    I can’t imagine where you got the idea that Chapter One of Genesis was written by the rabbis to explain why the Sabbath is a day of rest. I have never heard that before. It seems a bit far fetched to say that the rabbis would concoct from whole cloth a sequence of events and attribute them to God, just to explain to people why they should take a day off. At any rate, it’s hardly a fringe position among Christians that Genesis One describes actual historical events.

    And I’m not denying that many churches are content to ignore most of what Genesis One (and other scientifically troublesome parts of the Bible) asserts. The issue here is whether they have any sound basis for doing so. There is nothing in the text itself to suggest that Genesis One is meant as an allegory. If you are simply going to dismiss it as such, then you really have to answer Rienk’s question: Where do you draw the line? Perhaps the story of Jesus Christ is nothing but an allegory as well? This is one of the main points fundamentalists raise, and they are right to raise it.

  29. #29 Frank
    September 11, 2006

    I believe you are mistaken when you say….

    “It is part of every Christian denomination that the Bible is the holy word of God, inerrant on every subject it addresses.”

    While the some Christian churches beleive this to be true (i.e. literal interpretations) that is not the case for the Catholic Church and some other churches do not even hold that Christ is God. It is not that the Bible is wrong but that it is to be taken as a whole. There is even a Psalm about taking your babies and beating them on rocks. Literal interpretations are not so hot. Besides, which Bible (King James (not Catholic), NRV, the original Greek), which translation (English, Spanish, German, Korean)?

    Where does the Catholic Church stand? Look at the “Teachings” of the Church not the “teachings.”

  30. #30 David Heddle
    September 12, 2006

    Frank,

    In terms of the Catholic Church, what Jason said is true, and what you replied is also true, but you changed Jason’s statement.

    Jason wrote:

    “It is part of every Christian denomination that the Bible is the holy word of God, inerrant on every subject it addresses.”

    This is demonstrably true through the RCC’s infallible teachings.

    You wrote:

    “While the some Christian churches beleive this to be true (i.e. literal interpretations) that is not the case for the Catholic Church and some other churches do not even hold that Christ is God.”

    Jason said nothing of “literal”. Rome does not demand that you take the bible literally. (Nor does any denomination that I know of.)

    The difference between “inerrant” and “literal” does indeed lead to a lot of wiggle room, no doubt about it. But nevertheless, that is what the situation is, so be careful to distinguish the two claims.

  31. #31 Frank
    September 12, 2006

    My appologies for miss quoting you Jason.

    This is an important point, where to draw the line. My point is that each Christian (as we are speaking about the Bible) church draws the line differently. The RC Church draws that line in one place.

    But trying to stay on topic here (i.e. Moderation). I think that trying to use the Bible as a technical manual for the universe is missguided. I think the Bible is more a book on why. By treating the Bible as a technical manual we fall into the trap of Creationism.

  32. #32 pwe
    September 12, 2006

    Sorry for interfering with your discussion; but I do think I have a point of interest.

    Jason Rosenhouse wrote:

    And since sometimes the Bible addresses questions of scientific interest, that implies that divine revelation is another source of information about how the world works.

    If the Bible (assuming “divine revelation” to mean “the Bible”) is another (as in an alternate) source of information, there should be no conflict between science and the Bible. To figure out, what time it is, I can look at my watch. or alternatively I can look at the time display on the computer monitor. Assuming both to be correct, they should give the same result.

    That is, if the Bible is another source of information, it is redundant with regard to matters that can be subjected to scientific investigation.

    The position that the Bible is true outside matters of faith and morals is, I believe, a protestant position. Martin Luther and Jean Calvin condemning the heliocentrists even more than the RCC.

    At any rate, it’s hardly a fringe position among Christians that Genesis One describes actual historical events.

    If you look at a map over the entire earth, you will to your amazement find that there is actually inhabited areas outside the USA. Some of these inhabited areas are inhabited by people who at least in their own minds consider themselves to be Christians. But still, a large number of these same people do not consider that Genesis One describes actual historical events.

    I live in Denmark, where around 86% of the population are members of some Christian denomination (84.6% are Lutherans, and there are 1-2% members of other denoms). Yet more than 80% of the population accept Darwin’s theory of evolution to the exclusion of creationism. So locally at least, the creationist interpretation of Genesis One is pretty much a fringe position.

    In the USA things are different. But wait until the USA has conquered the whole earth, until you generalize from the USA to the whole earth, will you?

    The issue here is whether they have any sound basis for doing so. There is nothing in the text itself to suggest that Genesis One is meant as an allegory.

    Well, what does Genesis One tell us about God? That he does what looks good in his eyes! His final creative act is to create humans in his own image. So what will humans do?

    That is important to understand for reading Genesis 2-3.

    Genesis One establishes monotheism. There is no traditional chaoskampf – there is a state of chaos, the tohu-wa-bohu, not no chaos monsters.

    God puts the sun and the moon on the sky as clock-works. Other religions considered the sun and the moon to be gods. In Genesis One they obey the commands of God.

    God commands the sea and the dry land to bring forth living creatures and they do. In other religions the sea and the dry land are gods. In Genesis One they obey the commands of God.

    Does that help?

    Perhaps the story of Jesus Christ is nothing but an allegory as well? This is one of the main points fundamentalists raise, and they are right to raise it.

    They certainly are, and I have been asked the same question by Glenn Morton (a well-known fundamentalist :-)). My answer is that I make a distinction between, when the Bible itself indicates inspiration and when it doesn’t.

    Assuming verbal inspiration everywhere in some cases lead to sillyness.

    For instance, why does Luke bother to mention that he had carefully examined what had been handed down from the original eyewitnesses, if he was simply having it all dictated by the holy spirit?

    - pwe

  33. #33 dogscratcher
    September 12, 2006

    Koray:
    “Not only is it claimed to be written by a flawless entity (and naturally expected to be free of ambiguities), but it is also meant to be read by the common folk.”

    If you are speaking of christianity specifically, I believe “read by the common folk,” has only been the tradition since the reformation. Previously, only the priests and monks got to read the bible (possibly more to do with printing difficulties than anything else).

  34. #34 Robert O'Brien
    September 12, 2006

    …and counter arguments ad nauseum [sic]…

    That should be ad nauseam.

  35. #35 Frank
    September 13, 2006

    At any rate, it’s hardly a fringe position among Christians that Genesis One describes actual historical events.

    Not so sure of that in the US either.

  36. #36 Jon S
    September 14, 2006

    Jason writes in his article “So the choices are clear. The Bible describes a scenario that is pretty much what you would expect if the world were created for man by God. Everything we’ve learned from science tells us that view is wrong. You can either reject the uncomfortable bits of science and cling to the Bible, as the fundamentalists do, or you can accept what the evidence seems to be saying, as atheists do.”

    It would be more accurate to say that “Everything atheists have learned from science tells us that view is wrong”. Interpretation of science and evidence is the key here, and just because an atheist interprets evidence one way, doesn’t mean that’s the right way to interpret the evidence, nor does everyone else have to bow down and interpret the evidence that way. I’m sure atheists sincerely believe they are accepting what the evidence seems to be saying, but they are sincerely wrong; namely because the evidence doesn’t say anything. It’s people that say whether the evidence is true or not. So, just as there are many ways to interpret scripture, there are also many ways to interpret science. One side is right, and the other side is wrong, but having a majority doesn’t make one’s opinion more right, and believing the logic of atheism is superior to the logic of theism isn’t helpful in the debate, except to other atheists. And as for an explanation as to why God created billions of other galaxies with stars orbited by lifeless worlds, you may have read the biblical explanation (Genesis 1:14-15) that they serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and to give light on the earth.

    Fred wrote: Why does faith matter? If God came down and absolutely proved that he existed, how/why would that be a problem? I really don’t think it’s that God wants us to believe in him with faith, not proof, because Jesus (and Moses) sure as hell showed proof in their time.”

    Faith matters, because nothing else can earn us salvation (For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast- Ephesians 2:8-9). If God came down and absolutely proved he existed, there would still be skeptics and atheists. As a matter of fact, God did come down and showed absolute proof he existed, and people still didn’t believe. The Israelites time and again rebelled against God after he led them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Later God became a man and performed miraculous signs and wonders, and he was put to death on the cross. Jesus even explained in a parable (Luke 16: 19-31) that if people aren’t willing to listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. And in fact that’s exactly what Christ did, and we still have skeptics today that verify his words.

    As for biblical literalism, the Bible should be read in context. By reading the Bible (or any other writing) in context, we can, for the most part, determine whether or not it should be interpreted literally, figuratively, allegorically, etc.

  37. #37 Fred
    September 16, 2006

    Jon S wrote: “Faith matters, because nothing else can earn us salvation” Who says we need salvation? You act as though that’s a proven fact. Oh, we need salvation because the Bible says we need salvation. How do we know the Bible is right? Oh, because the Bible says so. I don’t see why worship based on faith, meaning belief without proof, is more pleasing to God than worship with knowledge. After all, to the faithful, there’s proof all around, so they’re not really acting on pure faith. Why not allow the rest of us some proof?

    You also mention that God did come down and prove that he existed. So then why not come down again? You’ve already said that the Bible itself has no qualm with God proving himself. Why not do it again? And so what if he tried it already and there were still skeptics? (Hey wait a minute, God tried to prove he existed but it didn’t work; God is not omnipotent.) Besides, I think if God, for example, parted the Atlantic, you’d be hard pressed to find a skeptic unless God chose to do it in a way that science could easily explain. And if it WAS in a way that science could easily explain, then it’s hardly proof, and God should try something different. To use a different example, if God tried to prove himself by having American Idol do well in the ratings that wouldn’t be very effective, because it does well in the ratings already. (Yes you could say it does well consisently because God’s been helping it all along, but that still doesn’t negate what I meant, which is that it doesn’t prove very much if he does something that’s easily explained or not out of the ordinary in the first place.)

  38. #38 Jon S
    September 16, 2006

    Fred- You already answered some of your own questions. The Bible does say we need salvation. And the reason is because we can’t save ourselves; that’s why God sent a savior. Of course there may be those who think they don’t need anyone or anything to save them, but I’m not sure how they plan on saving themselves at the end, because when the end comes, they won’t be in control. And atheists deny the afterlife anyway, thus they deny any need of salvation. So, in a sense, the need of salvation will depend upon the individual’s recognition of a savior. Those who recognize their sin and prefer eternal life to eternal death are the ones who realize their need for salvation. Not everyone, obviously recognizes they’re in need of a savior. You wonder how we know the Bible is right. Well, there are many ways to know this, however, I’m not sure if any of those reasons will be satisfactory. Yes, the Bible does claim it’s own authority. In fact, scripture claims to be God breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy, 3:16). Jesus even recognized scripture as God’s word (Matthew 4:4-10, John 7:38, John 10:35, John 13:18). Scripture has also been authenticated historically (of course there are skeptics who deny this), and there are many who believe it stands up scientifically when it speaks about science (of course there are skeptics who deny this too), and there are many alive today who stand as witnesses to the power of God, but, ultimately, it is by faith that we believe the Bible is true. But you can’t accuse it of blind faith. The areas just mentioned are all good areas to research to the authenticity and reliability of scripture. You also wonder why worship based on faith without proof is more pleasing to God. John 20:29 presents an instance where Christ blesses those who have not seen him, yet still believe in him. So we who don’t have the proof you are craving for will be blessed more than those who actually walked and talked with him and saw his miracles, and this is a blessing I accept. While I’d love to talk to Jesus face to face, I don’t need to in order to put my faith and trust in him. As I pointed out before, people who see proof still deny Christ, so why should God show you the proof you demand? Would it cause you to humble yourself before Him, confess your sins, and call him Lord, or would you still reject his free gift of eternal life? You also demand that God come down again. Well, scripture tells us he will come again, and that will be a great day for believers, but a not so good day for unbelievers. You see, we need to come to God on His terms, not ours. Do you think God owes you something, or that God needs to conform to your demands and wishes? If God is real and created you and me, then it’s us who needs to humble ourselves before him, repent, and worship him, not the other way around. I don’t mean to come across as offensive, but salvation is an important issue worth discussing and understanding.

  39. #39 Fred
    September 17, 2006

    Jon wrote: You also wonder why worship based on faith without proof is more pleasing to God. John 20:29 presents an instance where Christ blesses those who have not seen him, yet still believe in him. So we who don’t have the proof you are craving for will be blessed more than those who actually walked and talked with him and saw his miracles, and this is a blessing I accept.

    Sounds like you’re reading an awful lot into that. Looks to me like he’s not playing favorites. How do you read that to say that he blesses people who have not seen him *more* than people who have? And is that fair to the people who have seen him?

    As for salvation, you’re believing what it says in one Bible. There are a great many Bibles and religions. How do you know yours is right? Any answer you give can be mirrored by anyone in any other religion. Besides, is God not allowed to change his mind? I don’t think it’s outrageous to think he’s changed his mind on quite a few things in the past couple thousand years.

  40. #40 Jon S
    September 17, 2006

    Fred- The context of John 20:24-29 is when Jesus appears before Thomas, who had previously doubted the resurrection of Christ. Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail marks and put his finger where the nails were. A week later Christ appeared to him and the other disciples, and Thomas believed. Jesus said to him “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” From this passage it’s clear that God will bless those who put their faith in Christ even though they haven’t physically seen him.

    Now how do you know the Bible is right? Well, there are a number of ways. First, Jesus claimed to be the Christ, savior and messiah, and he backed up his claims by miracles, wonders, and rising from the dead. We can also look to prophesy. Jesus appealed to the Old Testament prophesies to support his claims, and so did his disciples and apostles. There are 60 prophesies about the messiah in the Old Testament, and they were made about 400 years before Jesus, and he fulfilled them all. The probability that anyone else could fulfill them are practically impossible. In addition we can appeal to science, which supports a young earth for those willing to interpret the geological evidence, which supports a world-wide flood. You could also pray that God would reveal the truth to you.

  41. #41 Fred
    September 17, 2006

    Jon, sorry but the Bible can not be proof of its own truth. You can’t point to the miracles in the Bible as proof of anything because there’s no proof that the Bible is accurate. There’s no third-party corroboration of those miracles.

    As for fulfilling 60 prophesies, well, anyone can write a book after the fact that contains prophesies which *miraculously* came true. I can write a book right now that predicts the US will enter WWII and turn the tide of the war, and that President Kennedy will be shot, and that NASA would land a man on the moon, and that the US would go to war with Iraq. What does that prove? The Bible was written AFTER THE FACT, so you can’t believe one single prophesy that it contains for things that had already happened.

    Besides, as I said before, everything you say can just as easily be said by anyone of any other religion. They can point to their Bibles or other sacred writings and stories and say that they are proof of themselves.

    Lastly, if the Bible proves anything, then you are not as blessed as those who didn’t need proof.

  42. #42 Jon S
    September 19, 2006

    Fred- There were many witnesses to the miracles in the Bible, and they testify to it’s truth. The problem that you have is that you were not there to witness the events, so it’s not possible to confirm the findings of the Bible to your satisfaction (and even if you did witness the events, would that be enough evidence for you to become a believer?). But your personal skepticism makes the claims of the Bible no less true. You choose to reject it, and, of course, you are entitled to your position. The Bible can, indeed, be proof of it’s own truth; if it makes claims that can be proven true, which it has and does, then it’s reasonable to believe it’s reliable and trustworthy. You are correct that you could write a book after the fact of WWII and make predictions, but that has nothing to do with the Bible, in which the prophesies were written about 400 years prior to them being fulfilled, which is a lot tougher than writing a book about WWII after the fact. Some people could push the prophesies up to 200 years before being fulfilled, but it would take the faith of an atheist to proclaim that the prophecies were written after the fact. In other words, your claims about the Bible are just as much based on faith as mine. It’s just that you interpret the evidence differently.

  43. #43 Fred
    September 19, 2006

    Jon S.
    Other than the people mentioned in the Bible, what witnesses were there? Where are the copious mention of miracles in Roman writings (for example)? I could write a book that says I walked on water and turned water into wine last year. Would you believe my book? What if in my book I had quotes from other people who said they saw these things happen and were amazed? Would you believe it then? If not, why not?

    And what claim does the Bible make that can be proven true with no alternative possibility?

    As to the prophesies in the Bible being written about 400 years prior to being fulfilled, well, that’s just not true. Besides, these things are so vague that you can make anything fit.

    And again, your responses are no different than the responses anyone else makes in any religion– “our prophesies came true”… “There were witnesses and our Bible says so,” etc. If all religions have the same amount of proof, yet are incompatible, which is more likely, that none of them are true, or that one of them is true and it happens to be the one you were raised on? Let’s say you met a person who had never heard of any religion. You presented your case for your religion, and 10 other people presented their case for theirs. The kid then asks you what makes your religion the real one. What would you say? Do you think you’d say anything different than the other 10 folks would say?

    Lastly, as for faith being necessary, and free will and all that, is a child showing real faith and free will when his belief is based on having been told over and over again in church that he will burn for eternity in the flames of hell if he doesn’t believe in Jesus as his savior? I’ve seen priests preach like that numerous times. Thank God (heh heh) that scientists don’t teach like that. “Believe in special relativity or you will burn forever in the flames of HELL!!!!!!!!!!! Belive in evolution or you will face eternal damnation!!!!” Is it any wonder why religion is so ingrained and hard to shake?

  44. #44 Jon S
    September 20, 2006

    Fred- If you claimed to walk on water and turned water into wine, so what? I’ve seen magicians do many amazing things, but that doesn’t make me believe they have real power. It would be something else if you claimed to be God. If you did that, then I’d be curious and would want to listen to what you have to say. I would also expect other miraculous signs and wonders, and I would expect your teaching to be in line with what you claimed about yourself in the Bible (if you spoke to prophets hundreds and thousands of years ago about yourself), and I would expect you to have fulfilled any prophecies made about yourself. As a matter of fact, Fred, there were about 40 men who claimed to be the Christ before Jesus came. But where are they now? Their bluff was called. But there is only one man who can stake claim to being God, and that’s Jesus.

    The Septuagint was translated around 150-200 B.C., so there is at least a two hundered year gap between the recording of the prophecies and their fulfillment in Christ. Jesus, unlike other religious people, claims to be God, Christ, and Messiah. He backed it up by miracles and rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then where is the body? It seems if anyone wanted to destroy Christianity, which they really wanted to do very badly during the time of Christ, then all they had to do is prodcue a body. But they never did. Pilate made the tomb as secure as they knew how, yet that didn’t stop Jesus from rising on the third day as he promised.

    Fred says “And what claim does the Bible make that can be proven true with no alternative possibility?”

    Let me ask you the same question: What claim does evolution make that can be proven true with no alternative possibility?

    Fred says “is a child showing real faith and free will when his belief is based on having been told over and over again in church that he will burn for eternity in the flames of hell if he doesn’t believe in Jesus as his savior?”

    I don’t adhere to that type of preaching, but hopefully the child will mature and come to put his faith and trust in God because he has come to love God for what he’s done for us, and not have his faith based on fear. Anyway, I’ve heard scientists preach and debate on the meaninglessness of life, and how there is only nothing after we die. No wonder suicide is such a problem among teenagers in America. They have no hope and nothing to live for. There are many other ugly consequences that result from the concepts and practice of evolution. At least in Christianity there is a real hope and future. All you have to do is accept the free gift of eternal life offered by Christ by confessing your sin and trusting in him as Lord and Savior.

  45. #45 Fred
    September 28, 2006

    Jon,
    I can claim whatever I want and fulfill those prophecies if all you or the world ever know about me is what I write. The Bible says Jesus fulfilled the prophesies. How do we know? Well, because the Bible says so. But how do we know the Bible is telling the truth? WE DON’T. Do you get it yet? It’s a conflict of interest for the Bible to make a claim and be the only evidence of that claim. Comprende? If there were other contemporary writings, say, from the Romans, what confirmed what the Bible said, that would be something. But there aren’t any.

    As for my comment about proving something in the Bible true with no alternate possibility, what I meant was no obvious and simple, and more likely possibility, such as “it was just an allegory” or “it never really happened.” There might be a better alternative to evolution but none has been presented so far.

    Now, with regard to preachers threatening kids, sorry if you don’t agree with them doing that, but they do it nonetheless. You yourself have been threatened in a less obvious way. After all, you say that we need saving. What is that other than the fear of not being saved?

    Lastly, sorry to break it to you but teen suicide is not on the rise. And even if it were, it’s pretty crazy to be blaming that on evolution. As for “ugly consequences that result from the concepts and practice of evolution,” given the evil, bloodthirsty hatred and violence issued from so-called religious people on this planet, I’ll take evolution’s consequences any day. Now I know you’ll say you don’t agree with what happened during the Crusades or Inquisition or the religious killings in the Middle East today, but if that’s all it takes to excuse religion, I’ll say I don’t agree with anything bad done in the name of evolution.

    By the way, what exactly are the consequences of evolution? Would the world be a better place if everyone believed in creation? Because wasn’t that the way it was up until the mid-1800′s? And was the world a wonderland of joy and happiness?

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