Gingerich on Genesis

In a number of recent posts I have remarked that when it comes to Biblical analysis, I think the young-Earthers have more going for them than is sometimes acknowledged. I have also commented that I have been generally unimpressed with the more highbrow sorts of Biblical exegesis I have seen with regard to the text of Genesis. Let me give you an example.

I just finished reading a book called Is God A Creationist?, an edited anthology of essays published in the eighties defending various sophisticated approaches to Genesis. One of the contributors was Owen Gingerich, a professor of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard. After an admirably clear exposition of some of the evidence for an old universe and a primer on modern astronomy, he writes the following:

This is indeed a thrilling scenario of all that exists roaring into flame and charging forth into emptiness. And its essential framework, of everything springing forth from that blinding flash, bears a striking resonance with those succinct words of Genesis 1:3: “And God said, Let there be light.” Who could have guessed even a hundred years ago, not to mention two or three thousand years ago, that a scientific picture would emerge with electromagnetic radiation as the starting point of creation?

Later Gingerich writes this:

There is, however, something more in Genesis 1 that does not, and probably cannot, emerge in a scientific picture of creation. Natural theology can argue for the existence of God the Creator and Designer, but it falls short in revealing the essential significance of the biblical creation story. Without doubt the most crucial sentence of the chapter is verse 27, so quintessential that the idea is immediately repeated lest we miss it: “God created man in his own image, in his own image created he him, male and female created he them.” Succinctly put, the stance of the biblical account is that God is not only Creator and Designer, but there is within us, male and female, a divine creative spark, a touch of the infinite, consciousness, and conscience.

This sort of thing really drives me up a wall. The Young-Earthers I understand. If you can grant their rather dubious assumptions about the authority of the Bible, you can understand why they believe the things that they do.

It’s people like Gingerich I don’t understand. He cherry picks two verses that he wants us to take very seriously. In verse three we find that God begins by creating light, and, hey!, that’s kind of like what modern cosmology says. Then he turns to the end of the stroy and tells us we should ruminate on the verse that asserts we were created in the image of God.

And the twenty-three verses in between? Where the Bible enumerates, in great detail, a sequence of events that is utterly fictitious? Well, just ignore that part.

Even worse, Gingerich’s points do not make sense. He asks us to see a concordance between God’s creation of light in verse three of Genesis with the picture painted by the Big Bang model. Sadly, by the time we reach verse three the heavens (which presumably refers to space) and the Earth have already been created. The Earth even has water on it. I’d say that’s a big point of departure between the Bible and the Big Bang.

That second excerpt is even worse. Gingerich claims that a scientific picture of creation “probably cannot” capture the special role of humans. But a scientific picture could certainly have included things that would get any reasonable person thinking seriously about concordance between science and Genesis.

For example, what if scientists had discovered some fundamental anatomical difference between humans and animals? What if different animals used fundamentally different genetic codes, and these codes appeared in a pattern that corresponded to some reasonable notion of different kinds? What if geologists found no trace of a long history of life? These are the sorts of things science might have discovered. If it had, then we could talk reasonably about concordance.

That science has found no such thing is therefore highly revealing. Not only has science failed to find any evidence that human beings are the purpose of creation, or that we occupy some exalted role in the grand scheme of things, it has found very clear evidence to the contrary. In particular, most biologists see no evidence that a lengthy process of Darwinian evolution inevitably leads to the creation of human-like intelligence. You have to accept some very dubious arguments about evolutionary convergences even to get inevitable humans.

So how does a smart guy like Gingerich come to these conclusions? I’ve read so many books and essays of this general sort and it always feels like the writer is just making it up as he goes along.

The young-Earthers make sense. They’re out of their minds, but they make sense. It is people like Gingerich I don’t understand. His arguments seem weak on their face. More than that, the whole approach that says the Bible has a great deal in it that is absurd from a scientific standpoint, but should still be mined for the few verses here and there that can be related to something in modern science (or which flatters our sense of cosmic importance), does not make a whole lot sense.

Comments

  1. #1 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 2, 2008

    Why didn’t he concentrate on Gen 2:17, in which God lied to Adam?

  2. #2 Steve
    September 2, 2008

    Pity, Gingerich is a good author when he sticks to History of Science. His book on first editions of Copernicus is an entertaining and informative read.

  3. #3 Brett McCoy
    September 2, 2008

    I daresay you could “quote mine” any sort of religious text, whether it’s Christian, Buddhist or Southeast Pacific Islander, and find hits here and there that could, metaphorically, correspond to some scientific principle in some vague way. So what? There are more misses than hits but those will get ignored.

  4. #4 jimvj
    September 2, 2008

    In God’s image would imply God has two eyes, two ears, bowel movements, etc.

    That is what many primitive peoples did believe. If they wanted to say that humans have a divine spark, they woulda/ coulda/ shoulda said that.

  5. #5 Alex, FCD
    September 2, 2008

    They’re out of their minds, but they make sense.

    According to Google, you are the only person who has ever written that sentence, IYI.

  6. #6 James McGrath
    September 2, 2008

    Gingrich (and others like him) are trying desperately to relate the details of this text that is so important to them to the findings of modern science wherever they feel they can. What should be appreciated is that, even though the results are “cherry picked”, Gingrich and the like are letting science call the shots, as it were.

    I must strongly disagree with your statement that the young-earthers make sense. None of them believes in the dome mentioned in Genesis 1. They too cherry pick, and the key distinctive feature about them is that they pretend they are consistent literalists and somehow persuade those with insufficient familiarity with the Bible who don’t know any better (i.e. most people, including Christians) that they are consistently standing for “what the Bible teaches” and “taking it all literally”.

    The latter, however, are mere PR claims of the fundamentalists, and not statements of fact. I’d be extremely grateful if you wouldn’t give them credit for consistency where it isn’t due.

  7. #7 Mike Beidler
    September 2, 2008

    Jason,

    The best theistic evolution book I’ve read to date is Denis O. Lamoureux’s newly-released Evolutionary Creation. Fabulous stuff. Surprisingly, despite his claim to be an evangelical Christian, he’s unwilling to commit intellectual suicide and puts Genesis 1-11 rightly in its place as a ancient origins account that was believed literally by the Hebrews, from Abraham to Paul. In essence, it outright rejects the common YEC/OEC mantra that Genesis 1-11 is scientifically or historically accurate.

    If you really want to convert Christians who ignorantly rely on Creation Science and Intelligent Design to make sense of their world — if you really want to bring them in line with, at the very least, physical reality — you need to plug this book tirelessly. It certainly doesn’t align with your atheistic stance, but with each person you reach with this book, you will be one step closer to shutting this blog down permanently, for there will be no need for it. =)

  8. #8 Jon S
    September 2, 2008

    Bayesian Bouffant, God didn’t lie to Adam (See Genesis 5:5). Adam did die; in fact he died both spiritually and physically. If neither Adam, Eve nor their descendants sinned, none of us would die. In fact the reason Jesus came was to save us from death, and whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16-17).

  9. #9 Paper Hand
    September 3, 2008

    God did lie.

    God clearly said “for in the day that you eat it you shall die”. Not “930 years after you eat it you shall die”

    Furthermore, the serpent said “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”

    A few verses later, God’s speaking to his unnamed companion(s) and said “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22), and so he expelled them from Eden and placed cherubim, with a flaming sword, to keep them from the tree of life.

    The story clearly says that they died not because they ate the fruit, but because God kept them away from the tree of life! God not only lies, he effectively commits murder!

  10. #10 kereng
    September 3, 2008

    Some Muslims claim that the Big Bang is described in the Koran
    “21.30. Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them”

    And of course the earth is already there when it happens.
    “41.11. Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth …”

  11. #11 Mark B.
    September 3, 2008

    “If you really want to convert Christians who ignorantly rely on Creation Science and Intelligent Design to make sense of their world…”

    I’m curious how people use the creation of the world (no matter the method) as a guide to make sense of their world?

    It seems as if the important component of creationism is not the creation of the world per se, but the common basis for belief in creationism, anti-gay rights, etc. etc. The common basis is, of course, the Bible. For people who subscribe to an evolutionary perspective that basis would be science. The polarizing methods for making sense of the world are science and the Bible (or other religious texts). The creationism vs. evolution debate seems symbolic of the underlying science vs. religious texts debate.

  12. #12 John Farrell
    September 3, 2008

    The best theistic evolution book I’ve read to date is Denis O. Lamoureux’s newly-released Evolutionary Creation.

    Sounds like a tome worth checking out, Mike. One book I enjoyed, although it has nothing directly to do with evolution, per se, is the late Herbert McCabe’s ‘On Aquinas’. Probaly the best expositor of T.A. I’ve come across. McCabe was trained in chemistry (or geology I can’t quite remember which) before he became a Dominican. But he has a refreshingly unsentimental view about Genesis and an interesting take on the evolution of language.

  13. #13 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 3, 2008

    Thanks for the follow-up, Paper Hand.

  14. #14 mufi
    September 3, 2008

    Just to add to James McGrath’s comment above, sometimes modern practitioners of the historical-critical method (think: secular, academic scholarship) argue for more literal interpretations than even the fundamentalists do.

    For example, how many fundamentalists (including Young Earth Creationists) insist that the earth is flat, surrounded by water, and encased in a dome? Yet that is the Near Eastern cosmology suggested in the Hebrew Bible, as explained by bible scholar Richard Elliot Friedman.

    The difference, of course, is that non-fundamentalist scholars are not afraid to admit the the Bible is of human origin and, therefore, is fallible and, in many respects, out-dated.

  15. #15 Glen Davidson
    September 3, 2008

    It’s called homiletics. You pick out the bits that you want people to focus upon and talk them to death.

    What I would say for it is that it is the kind of talk that the people he is targeting actually understand.

    What I would say against it is that it is the sort of framing that blurs the sense of integrity that science generally wishes to maintain. That it might work is not much of an argument, since science is trying to defend precisely that integrity against people who would like to replace it with homiletic pablum.

    So while I can’t help but hope that it will nudge a few believers away from their literalism, I can’t agree that it is a proper tactic to use.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  16. #16 heddle
    September 3, 2008

    mufi,

    For example, how many fundamentalists (including Young Earth Creationists) insist that the earth is flat, surrounded by water, and encased in a dome? Yet that is the Near Eastern cosmology suggested in the Hebrew Bible, as explained by bible scholar Richard Elliot Friedman.

    Then he is an idiot. Please present his case that the bible teaches the earth is flat, surrounded by water, and encased in a dome. (That is, if it is something interesting and novel. If it is the same-old same-old “all the kingdoms of the earth as seen from the pinnacle” crap I have no interest. Then again, I guess it can’t be that because you said the Hebrew bible–so let’s have it.) I will state without equivocation that such a theory cannot be defended unless you rule out, a priori, some inconvenient facts

    1) the bible uses figures of speech.

    2) translation errors exist.

    3) biblical Hebrew had far, far fewer words than modern English, therefore there is a 1-N problem.

    4) Eastern writing was far more apocalyptic, poetic, and imprecise compared to western writing. For example, a quote often meant this is what he meant as opposed to these are his exact words. And numbers were often imprecise, often orders of magnitude ~ 1000 sheep.

    The problem is not that bible believers simply do not want to admit that the bible is incompatible with science. The problem is that armchair bible critics demand that we interpret it as they want, which is usually the hyper-literal interpretation of the YECs, and in a manner of western writing, in order that their job of demonstrating incompatibility is trivial. Any explanation that tries to use one of the inconvenient facts listed above will be labeled “cheating.”

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    September 3, 2008

    Gingerich needs a copy editor.

    There is, however, something more in the Great Hymn to the Aten that does not, and probably cannot, emerge in a scientific picture of creation. Natural theology can argue for the existence of Aten the Creator and Designer, but it falls short in revealing the essential significance of the Atenist creation story. Without doubt the most crucial sentences of the chapter are verses 8 and 9, so quintessential that the idea is immediately repeated lest we miss it: “One God, like whom there is no other. Thou didst create the earth by thy will, thou alone existing, men and women, cattle, beasts of every kind that are upon the earth, and that move upon feet, all the creatures that are in the sky and that fly with their wings, and the deserts of Syria and Nubia, and the Land of Egypt. Thou settest every person in his place. Thou providest their daily food, every man having the portion allotted to him, thou dost compute the duration of his life. Their tongues are different in speech, their forms, and likewise their skins in colour, giving distinguishing marks to the dwellers in foreign lands.” Succinctly put, the stance of the Atenist account is that Aten is not only Creator and Designer, but there is within us, male and female, a divine creative spark, a touch of the infinite, consciousness, and conscience.

    There. Fixed it for him.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 3, 2008

    Alex –

    Just to be clear, when I say they make sense I mean I understand what they believe and why they believe it. That doesn’t mean I think they are being reasonable. I think they have some bizarre ideas about the legitimacy of the Bible as a source of evidence regarding the natural world, and they are breathtakingly ignorant of modern science, but I still see a lot of internal consistency to their view of the world.

    James McGrath –

    Gingrich is an impressive fellow. He came to Harrisonburg a few years ago to give a talk. When he talks about science and the history of science he’s terrific. I’m less impressed by his theological musings, obviously. He reminds me of Ken Miller.

    Sadly, I must strongly disagree with your strong disagreement. First, if you’re curious, here’s how they deal with the firmament issue. (Short version: the Hebrew word ‘raqiya’, translated as ‘firmament’ is vague, and does not have to represent a solid dome.)

    More to the point, however, is that they are not really Biblical literalists. A better description is that they favor a plain reading of the Bible. I have seen their view described as `literal, where possible.’ They have no trouble with the idea that some verses are figurative, or poetic, or metaphorical, or just flat vague. They have no trouble with that verse in Kings that taken literally would imply that pi equals three. Liikewise for verses referring to the circle of the Earth or the corners of the Earth.

    There’s no comparison between what the YEC’s do and what Gingerich is doing. Gingerich is discarding virtually everything in the Genesis creation account, but then asking us to be impressed by his own dubious interpretation of two remaining verses. The YEC’s are taking the creation account at face value, and arguing that there is one verse that should be seen as a bit vague. To argue that the single verse about the firmament shows that they cherry pick no less than Gingerich, and that they are inconsistent in their analysis seems rather unfair, to put it kindly.

    Mike Beidler –

    Thanks for the Lamoureux reference. I have seen him speak as well, and he is certainly very impressive. I’ll look forward to reading the book, though I am not optimistic that he will change my views about evolution and Christianity.

    John Farrell –

    And thanks for the McCabe reference. Er, did you mean TE, instead of TA? If that wasn’t a typo, could you tell me what TA means?

    mufi –

    See my earlier response to Professor McGrath.

  19. #19 BobbyEarle
    September 3, 2008

    Hello, Jason…

    Er, did you mean TE, instead of TA? If that wasn’t a typo, could you tell me what TA means?

    Thomas Aquinas.

  20. #20 Jon S
    September 3, 2008

    Paper Hand, I’m reading from the NIV, which says “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17). I found your translation in the New American Standard Bible, but that translation doesn’t support your argument. From that context you can compare Genesis 35:3, 2 Samuel 22:19, Psalm 18:18, Psalm 27:5, Isaiah 9:4 and Isaiah 13:13. Each of these use the term “in the day”, and none of them refers to a specific day, so neither should Genesis 2:17 be referred to as a specific day. Your argument is purely based on skepticism and is not convincing. Also see Numbers 23:19.

    You claim that Genesis 3:22-24 clearly says that Adam and Eve died not because they ate the fruit, but because God kept them away from the tree of life. That’s clearly an irrational statement. It sounds like you’re trying to say that when God created Adam and Eve he created them so that they would eventually die, and that he created a tree that would allow them to live forever, but because they disobeyed him he prevented them from eating of the tree because he was mad at them and didn’t want them to live forever… is that the gist of what you’re saying? But why not accept what the Bible actually says instead of trying to twist it to say what it doesn’t say, and even suggesting that you know God’s motives were evil. The Bible actually says that God’s creation was very good. God gave Adam and Eve only one simple command, saying that they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or they would die. This suggests that if they didn’t eat from it they would not die, which is consistent with the rest of scripture and the reason why Christ came. Furthermore, God is sovereign and is not bound by his own commands. He binds himself to His promises, but not his commands, so he can’t commit murder. It’s no different than when a father tells his child not to do something that he himself is allowed to do. Furthermore your mention of Satan only shows how deceptive and cunning he is and how he’s able to manipulate the truth and tempt us to sin.

  21. #21 Morgan- LynnGriggsLamberth
    September 3, 2008

    Gingerich is like haughty John Haught in his arrogance of trying to dismiss our criticisms of religion. PZ, thanks for taking on such nuts!
    Theistic evolution is an oxymoron based on the contradiction of non-teleological natural selection [ the atelic arguemnt] and teleological god. Selection is its own boss, not needing God. The presumption of naturalism shows that and the ignostic-Ockham reinforces it.
    Fellow naturalists, what is your animus against theistic evolution?

  22. #22 Morgan- Lamberth
    September 3, 2008

    Jason, thanks!

  23. #23 J. J. Ramsey
    September 3, 2008

    Jason, I googled the key phrases Seely and “The firmament and the water above”, which are the title and author of the article from Westminster Theological Journal that J.P. Holding criticizes. Here is the article:

    http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Seely-Firmament-WTJ.pdf

    Here is a part that Holding doesn’t quote:

    Jews speculated as to what material the firmament was made of: clay or copper or iron (3 Apoc. Bar. 3.7). They differentiated between the firmament and the empty space or air between it and the earth (Gen. Rab. 4.3.a; 2 Apoc. Bar. 21.4). They tried to figure out how thick it was by employing biblical interpretation (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2). Most tellingly they even tried to calculate scientifically the thickness of the firmament (Pesab. 49a).

    Here’s another part that Holding doesn’t quote:

    If the writer wanted to communicate the idea of a nonsolid divider, his choice of the word raqiac was particularly unfortunate since its verbal cognate raqac (“stamp, beat, spread out”) is used of hammering metal into thin plates (Exod 39:3) and hence suggests that a raqiac was something hammered out, an idea consonant with both Egyptian and Sumerian views of the sky. In addition a Phoenician cognate (mrqc) means “plating.”

  24. #24 Jim Harrison
    September 3, 2008

    One can imagine a universe in which Yahweh informs Moses, “Verily, I say unto you. The Earth seems to be in the middle of the universe, but it actually goes around the sun. You won’t understand that now, but someday you will discover is true; and even scoffers will have to admit that I am the LORD.”

    That is not our universe.

  25. #25 Paper Hand
    September 3, 2008

    Where did I mention Satan? The identification of the serpent with Satan is a later Christian reading.

    I don’t see how I’m “twisting” the reading. Even if you’re right, and the original meaning was simply “you’ll eventually die”, there’s still the fact that the Serpent was revealed to be telling the truth about God’s motives. Also, God makes it clear that they would live unless kept from the Tree of Life. Eating the fruit did not make them mortal. Death came from God’s inhumane response to Adam and Eve’s “sin”. I would say it’s not even sin, since they did not have knowledge of good and evil prior to that! How can they be held to a moral standard that they have no knowledge of?

    Besides which, how is it just for God to not only inflict horrific penalties on Adam and Eve, but on all of their descendants, for a single minor transgression?

    And I find it ironic that you’re attributing my reading to “skepticism”, when I first realized it while I was still a believer. It was part of what eventually lead me to reject the cruel deity of the Bible, after desperately trying to rationalize it away.

  26. #26 Paper Hand
    September 3, 2008

    Furthermore, why would God even place the Tree there in the first place if he didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat it? It would be like a father placing some poisoned candy where his child could get it, and then saying “Now, don’t eat that or you’ll die”. Well, of course the child’s not going to understand what that means! So, the child eats the candy, gets poisoned, and dies a painful death. Would you excuse the father’s actions because he had given his kid a verbal warning? Of course not!

    If death came into the world through Adam and Eve’s actions, as you say, then how would “you will die” have any meaning to them? What would they understand of death? It would be meaningless to them!

    No, any way you look at it, God is portrayed as a sick sadist, and a liar.

  27. #27 mufi
    September 4, 2008

    heddle,

    I cannot do justice here (even though I read Hebrew myself) to the interpretation I mentioned above re: Genesis and its roots in ancient Near Eastern cosmology/mythology. Suffice it to say, R.E. Friedman is by no means the only “idiot” among modern-critical scholars of the Hebrew Bible to point out the connections between them (although he might be the first one to popularize this understanding, to the point of visually diagramming it, and thereby argue for the absurdity in reading modern-scientific cosmology into biblical accounts of the Creation and the Flood, even *before* we get into a debate about biological evolution vs. special creationism).

    If you prefer a religious-fundamentalist version, there’s always the Flat Earth Society, but I suppose it’s easy enough to dismiss them as “idiots”, too (especially given their extreme rejectionism, although that’s not necessarily a sign of low intelligence, as opposed to some other psychological factor).

    Of course, if you’re ideologically committed to the belief that the biblical author(s) understood the cosmos the same way (or even more accurately than) you do, then I recommend that you just stay put.

    mufi

  28. #28 Lofcaudio
    September 4, 2008

    Jason, if you are interested in finding other scientific types who respect the Bible and attempt to reconcile it with what we know through science, I would recommend Hugh Ross and his book The Genesis Question.

  29. #29 mufi
    September 4, 2008

    Jason,

    As I just told heddle, I lack time or space to do the matter justice, so suffice it to say that I agree with you that the “raqia” (or “firmament”, as it’s often translated) “does not have to represent a solid dome.” It’s just that the biblical language (particularly in Hebrew) makes alot more sense when it’s understood that way. [By analogy, I would tend to argue that the biblical creation story makes alot more sense when understood as a literal six-day creation, in which life does not evolve from earlier forms, but is rather shaped by God into its current diversity of forms.]

    I should add, however, that modern-critical scholars of the Hebrew Bible (including R.E. Friedman) also argue that the Pentateuch (“Five Books of Moses”) was not written by Moses, but rather by multiple authors over a long span of time. (This argument is known as the Documentary Hypothesis, or DH for short.) In fact, as illustrated in Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed, they divide fragments of the Creation and Flood stories themselves into separate sources (J, E, and P, if I recall correctly).

    If the article you referenced rejects the DH, as it appears from a quick scan, then that might help to explain some of the author’s objections (although I suspect that religious indoctrination is his real problem).

    mufi

  30. #30 John Farrell
    September 4, 2008

    Hello, Jason…

    Er, did you mean TE, instead of TA? If that wasn’t a typo, could you tell me what TA means?

    Thomas Aquinas.

    Thanks, BobbyEarle. :)

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 4, 2008

    Thanks for all the comments. I was not endorsing the AiG article regarding the firmament. Since James McGrath used that verse as an example of how YEC’s cherry pick the Bible, I thought it would be worthwhile to get their views on the matter. That is why I linked to it.

    For what it’s worth, I am convinced by the arguments showing that the ‘firmament’ referred to a solid dome suspended above the Earth. In addition to the textual arguments, I would add the fact that it makes perfect sense for a prescientific people to see things that way. If you look up at the sky, it does kind of look like a dome. Even the AiG article conceded that that is probably how most people at the time viewed the matter. So I agree that the YEC’s are accepting a strained interpretation of this verse to bring it into accord with modern science.

    But I think it’s silly to argue that because of that they are cherry picking the Bible in the same way that Gingerich is, or that their view of things is some seething cauldron of inconsistency and special pleading.

    Personally, I think it is silly to view the Bible as anything more than an anthology of ancient, purely human, documents, valuable for their historical and literary significance but for nothing more than that. But if we are going to accept for argument’s sake that the Bible is something more, then I think the YEC view has more to offer in the way of internal consistency than the high-minded, non literal interpretations I have seen.

  32. #32 Robert O'Brien
    September 4, 2008

    In God’s image would imply God has two eyes, two ears, bowel movements, etc.

    That is what many primitive peoples did believe. If they wanted to say that humans have a divine spark, they woulda/ coulda/ shoulda said that.

    I do not know Hebrew, but I know Greek and the Greek of the Septuagint belies your claim. Eikona can refer to a spiritual image just as well as to a physical image.

  33. #33 mufi
    September 4, 2008

    Jason,

    Just for the record, I think we may be of like minds on this matter. In fact, what I meant to suggest in my initial post is that the YEC view is closer to my own understanding of the plain meaning of Genesis. Even closer is that of the Flat Earth Society (FES). For those of us not under the influence of a biblical inerrancy doctrine, this is quite a comfortable interpretation of the text, and one supported by academic expertise.

    And that’s kinda my point (if not yours, as well): If one must adhere to biblical inerrancy (which is how I tend to define a “religious fundamentalist”, or “fundie” for short), then the only way to reconcile the Bible with science is to contort one horn or the other. In my experience, fundies commonly engage in both types of contortion.

    So, about the only reason for us modern science/rationality advocates to focus our attention on YEC rather than FES is that one is more politically influential than the other. For that matter, ID advocates (which include some secularists) deserve the most attention of all.

    But I think it helps to remind ourselves every now and then (if only for academic purposes) just how much cherry-picking goes on across the religious spectrum, from conservative to liberal (and not only in the domains of science and history, but in the domains of ethics and law, as well, which seem to me at least as important).

    mufi

  34. #34 mufi
    September 4, 2008

    Robert wrote:

    “I do not know Hebrew, but I know Greek and the Greek of the Septuagint belies your claim. Eikona can refer to a spiritual image just as well as to a physical image.”

    As I recall, the term in Hebrew for “in God’s image/likeness/semblance” is “b’tzelem elohim.” As far as I know, the word “tzelem” literally means just that: “image/likeness/semblance.” Did the original author of that verse intend to use it metaphorically? I don’t know for sure.

    But, based on my recollections of the Hebrew Bible (parts of which I used to read every year in Heb. as part of my religious duties), I suspect that the spiritual/physical dualism you suggest was alien to that author, only to be read in centuries later by exegetes (perhaps under Greek influence).

    mufi

  35. #35 heddle
    September 4, 2008

    So we have:

    1) The simplistic (yom must mean 24 hours) view of YECs is preferred (but not, no never, just because it shows the bible and science are incompatible.)

    2) The view-too-complicated-to-present of R.E. Friedman is preferred (but not, no never, just because it shows the bible and science are incompatible.)

  36. #36 mufi
    September 4, 2008

    heddle,

    “Yom” doesn’t mean “day” (in the 24 hour sense) just because it renders the creation story incompatible with modern science. That’s just how the term’s normally been used since antiquity, and prior to the modern era, few (if any) commentators understood it any differently. (In fact, many fundamentalists still understand it that way.) If that renders the biblical creation story incompatible with modern science, then so be it. (As Jason suggested above, it’s hardly surprising that it does, given the text’s antiquity and the historical evolution of science, but it’s not logically necessary, either.)

    Arriving at the flat-earth/solid-dome/watery-cosmos understanding of Genesis is more complex than that, if only because it involves more text and thereby more definitional debates (i.e. not just about “raqia”), although external evidence from Babylonian and other ancient Near Eastern text helps to provide an historical context, as well.

    For that reason, I prefer to stick with my reference to Friedman, who’s books are the most easily accessible (say, at a local library).

    mufi

  37. #37 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 4, 2008

    heddle –

    It’s comforting to know that whenever I do a post on this subject I can count on you to show up and spew your usual talking points, though you do seem a bit sulkier than usual.

    Is it really so absurd to think that a stretch of time referred to as a day, that is described as being bracketed by an evening and a morning, that is used as part of a model that is later used to show us what a proper work week looks like, and that was written at a time when people had no sense of long ages or of just how old the Earth really was, might actually be referring to normal, 24 hour days?

    And since I can already feel you just itching to respond to mufi’s comment by pointing to Augustine (who allowed for non-literal days, as opposed to folks like St. Basil who argued for what today is considered the fundamentalist view), let me remind you that he, like virtually everyone else who pondered the Bible prior to the findings of modern science, regarded it as the clear teaching of scripture that the entirety of human history is measured in a few thousand years.

    As for the business of the firmament, you are fighting a losing battle on that one. You can hurl your childish insults at Richard Friedman, who is a prominent Biblical scholar of vastly greater accomplishment in this area than you, but he is hardly the only one to have made this argument. Even the AiG article I linked to conceded that the solid dome model of the Earth was probably how many premodern people understood the text. It is one thing to say that we need to interpret this verse figuratively in the light of modern science. It is quite another to deny its plain meaning.

  38. #38 SLC
    September 4, 2008

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    Prof. Heddle has been taking quite a beating over at Ed Braytons’ blog which may account for his surly attitude. Prof. Rosenhouse should read some of the threads over there to see Prof. Heddles’ apologia for Governor Palin; he didn’t get his brown lips from sucking doorknobs.

  39. #39 heddle
    September 4, 2008

    Jason,

    Let’s see, I can’t argue with Friedman, because he is a better scholar than I. But in dueling scholars, you can summarily declare those who claim that yom in Genesis has other possible interpretations as “absurd.” To argue by authority on one hand and then turn around and summarily dispute authority on another hand is a neat trick.

    I will keep popping in, as long as you keep claiming “Only the YEC interpretation makes sense, because I say so, and that’s not because I want the bible and science to be incompatible, but, sure enough, my assertion of the only acceptable exegesis is the YEC exegesis does lead indeed one to that conclusion, how unexpected–but fortuitous.”

    SLC:

    Prof. Heddle has been taking quite a beating over at Ed Braytons’ blog

    Translation: SLC is arguing with heddle on Ed’s blog, SLC gets pissed off and comes over here and declares victory. I invite anyone with an open mind to visit the thread in question and see if it is fairly characterized as “Prof Heddle has been taking quite a beating” or more accurately as “SLC done got hisself worked up into a hissy fit.”

    mufi

    “Yom” doesn’t mean “day” (in the 24 hour sense) just because it renders the creation story incompatible with modern science. That’s just how the term’s normally been used since antiquity, and prior to the modern era, few (if any) commentators understood it any differently.

    Yes, few (if any) commentators understood it any differently, except for a few nobodies named Augustine, Irenaeus, Justin, Origen, … most of whom thought or accepted as a possibility that each Genesis yom was a thousand years, to solve the “on that day you shall surely” die problem–(Augustine was the exception with his instantaneous view.) So apart from some of the more renown church fathers, if we discount them, then maybe most people took it to mean a 24 hour day. Probably. Maybe. Perhaps. (Oh, I understand non-literal accounts that are not “billions of years” are acceptable. We’ll ignore that they were quite willing to interpret yom as 1000 years, and had no reason to think the earth was old and so would never think that yom might be a longer period, and just sweep them under the YEC umbrella. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, but we’ll let you be a little bit literal. A thousand years is fine. Just stay away from billions, Can’t have any of that compatibility with science.)

  40. #40 Robert O'Brien
    September 4, 2008

    Re Jason Rosenhouse

    Prof. Heddle has been taking quite a beating over at Ed Braytons’ blog which may account for his surly attitude. Prof. Rosenhouse should read some of the threads over there to see Prof. Heddles’ apologia for Governor Palin; he didn’t get his brown lips from sucking doorknobs.

    This coming from the dimbulb who claimed Heisenberg was an atheist?

  41. #41 Robert O'Brien
    September 4, 2008

    Dr. Heddle,

    Have you considered “Gap Theory?” I am not particularly solicitous about the historicity of Genesis but Gap Theory seems as plausible as the Day-Age interpretation.

  42. #42 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    Robert O’Brien,

    I have, and I think you you have a fair point.

  43. #43 Iapetus
    September 5, 2008

    “Have you considered “Gap Theory?” I am not particularly solicitous about the historicity of Genesis but Gap Theory seems as plausible as the Day-Age interpretation.”

    Talk about damning with faint praise…

    Mr. heddle,

    there is no need for you to answer this, but I am curious.

    Why are you (and other people like you) so insistent that the bible in general and the Genesis account in particular are scientifically correct? Is it a case of “One bad apple spoils the apple pie”, i.e. do you believe only a historically and scientifically inerrant bible is acceptable for your faith? If this is so, you have got your work cut out for you, because interpretatively mangling issues like a virgin birth or a resurrection of the dead to align with scientific findings makes the Genesis task look relatively easy in comparison.

    Or do you hold that the latter ideas refer to real events which are outside the purview of science due to their supernatural character? Would this not result in a totally arbitrary process whereby any biblical concept that is so incompatible with the scientific worldview that even the wildest contortions and re-interpretations could not hope to bridge this chasm simply gets declared “supernatural”?

    As I see it, the most reasonable stance is to acknowledge the Genesis story as a poetic, valiant but ultimately flawed attempt of people from a pre-scientific era to explain their origins and the world they saw around themselves in the framework of the knowledge and cultural background of their time. IMO, any efforts to transfer/translate this particular ancient worldview into our modern understanding of the universe is mainly driven by certain urgent, emotional (i.e. religious) needs and would be rejected by their proponents if it were attempted with e.g. the cosmology of the ancient Egyptians.

  44. #44 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    Iapetus

    do you believe only a historically and scientifically inerrant bible is acceptable for your faith?

    Yes, in the sense of the Chicago statement on biblical inerrancy. (You can google that.)

    because interpretatively mangling issues like a virgin birth or a resurrection of the dead to align with scientific findings makes the Genesis task look relatively easy in comparison.

    No, those are the easy ones–they are called miracles (as opposed to parlor tricks) for a reason. Their irreconcilability with science is a feature, not a bug.

    Or do you hold that the latter ideas refer to real events which are outside the purview of science due to their supernatural character? Would this not result in a totally arbitrary process whereby any biblical concept that is so incompatible with the scientific worldview that even the wildest contortions and re-interpretations could not hope to bridge this chasm simply gets declared “supernatural”?

    No. The miracles are relatively few, short in duration, and clearly tied to God’s redemptive plan, and clearly presented as something extraordinary. If the bible said “The universe existed from eternity, and then God placed the earth in its center, and the forced the hosts to rotate about the pinnacle of His creation” then you would have a irreconcilable difference with science that could not be explained as a miracle.

    As I see it, the most reasonable stance is to acknowledge the Genesis story as a poetic, valiant but ultimately flawed attempt of people from a pre-scientific era to explain their origins and the world they saw around themselves in the framework of the knowledge and cultural background of their time.

    I have no problem with that or other Genesis views. Christianity is “justification by faith alone” not “justification by a correct view of the end times, beginning times, or middle times.” I am arguing here against self-serving and demonstrably false views such as: the only reasonable interpretation of Genesis is the YEC interpretation. I am not arguing against the YEC view per se (not here), but rather the proclamation that any other view is absurd.

  45. #45 Joe
    September 5, 2008

    Heddle,

    I think that you’re working too hard to interpret Genesis in ways other than obvious way (a day is 24 hours, more or less). Given that you can explain away scientific disproofs of the New Testament, there is no need for alternative explanations for Genesis. The Earth was created 6000 years ago, and the reason why this senario doesn’t fit the scientific evidence is that the event was supernatural and outside of the “normal behavior” of the cosmos. For example, the light from stars that are 10 billion light years away was created in a continuous beam from the star to the Earth during the Creation Week. See? It’s easy. No need for interpretive gymnastics. That just encourages the heathens.

  46. #46 SLC
    September 5, 2008

    Re lapetus/Heddle

    Actually, I don’t think that the issue of the virgin birth is a good example of a miracle. Contrary to popular belief, a virgin birth (i.e. defined as a birth that does not involve sexual intercourse, not including cloning or IVF) is not a biological impossibility. There is a class of humans called hermaphrodites who have the sex organs of both sexes and an additional Y chromosome (along with 2 X chromosomes). Although, most of these folks have external male sex organs which presents something of a mechanical impediment to self fertilization, there is nothing to prevent such a person having internal male sex organs and thus appearing to casual observance to be a normal female. In the latter case, self fertilization becomes a possibility. Thus, if Mary, the mother of Joshua of Nazareth was such a person, she theoretically could have impregnated herself, in which case the answer to Ken Millers’ query as to the origin of the latters’ Y chromosome is his maternal grandfather.

    Now of course, biblical literalists like Prof. Heddle will not find such an explanation to their liking but that’s life.

  47. #47 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    Joe,

    Absolutely! Good show! You should call that novel approach something interesting like, say, the “Apparent Age Theory.”

  48. #48 Joe
    September 5, 2008

    Indeed, that is what’s it’s called. But to my point, why tie yourself in knots? Call it a miracle, and call it quits. To even begin to try to reconcile this with science is to head down a dead end road.

    If Genesis is to be interpreted as a flawed poem, why is it flawed? The poem described events as occurring in a specific order. Why does it get the order wrong? A poem it may be, but if you’re God, it’s just as easy to get the order right as it is to get the order wrong. If you’re God, you know that getting it wrong is going to create all kinds of trouble in the future, just like…

    so, why not get it right? Ahhhh….

  49. #49 mufi
    September 5, 2008

    heddle, people are free to read anything they want into the text. That doesn’t necessarily make for a plausible argument, however, with respect to what the author(s) actually intended.

    And like I said: “that’s just how the term’s normally been used since antiquity, and prior to the modern era, few (if any) commentators understood it any differently.”

    “Few” does not mean “none”, and I regard the “few” that I had in mind (namely, rabbinic exegetes, like Nachmanides, who Gerald Schroeder likes to cite) to be just as guilty (despite their strong grasps of biblical Hebrew) as your Christian examples of reading in meanings that contradict the text’s plain meaning.

    Fortunately, we now have several generations of historical-critical scholars (of varying degrees of religiosity) to draw from in helping us to judge the plain meaning (or “peshat”) – scholars willing to take a broad, evidence-based approach to the text (presenting both internal and external sources), rather than allowing prior religious doctrine alone to drive their interpretations.

    Again, you’re free to take it or leave it (clearly, I’m happy to take it). It was not my intent to get into a heated religious debate, but simply to emphasize that sometimes modern scholarship validates the interpretations of fundamentalists (e.g. YEC), and sometimes it doesn’t.

    mufi

  50. #50 Iapetus
    September 5, 2008

    heddle,

    “No, those are the easy ones–they are called miracles (as opposed to parlor tricks) for a reason. Their irreconcilability with science is a feature, not a bug. {…]The miracles are relatively few, short in duration, and clearly tied to God’s redemptive plan, and clearly presented as something extraordinary.”

    So what you are effectively claiming is that the bible is scientifically accurate, except for those parts where it is not. But this is not a problem, because said parts refer to “supernatural” miracles which can not be falsified by scientific findings.

    I would say that this is a prime example of what the philosopher Hans Albert termed an “immunization strategy”, i.e. a proposition of choice (here: the inerrancy of the bible) is formulated in such a way that it can not possibly fail. It goes without saying that such a strategy is held in high regard and employed widely in the field of religious apologetics, although it is often not realized that such an approach is lethal for an honest and earnest attempt to approach the truth.

    I only have to wonder on a practical basis how you solve the hermeneutical problem of deciding what constitutes a “true” miracle and what is amenable to creative interpretation, considering that scientific knowledge is ever evolving and expanding. The criterion of “extraordinariness” seems a little vague to my eyes.

    “I am arguing here against self-serving and demonstrably false views such as: the only reasonable interpretation of Genesis is the YEC interpretation. I am not arguing against the YEC view per se (not here), but rather the proclamation that any other view is absurd.”

    Well, the usage of the term “reasonable” in this context is generally pretty bold.

    I would rather say that a plain, straightforward reading of the text is the natural approach which is employed in the case of virtually every other text as well and does not lead to internal contradictions. It does, however, suggest the conclusion that the story taken at face value does not concur with our scientific account of the origin of the universe, the earth and the biosphere. Obviously this is a problem for people who can not accept this conclusion for emotional and/or dogmatical reasons. So one tries to reconcile this conflict either by rejecting the scientific findings or by interpreting the story in such a way that one hopes the conflict will disappear. Naturally, I deem both approaches to be ultimately futile. The question whether one approach is more reasonable than the other is more a matter of personal taste.

  51. #51 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    Iapetus

    So what you are effectively claiming is that the bible is scientifically accurate, except for those parts where it is not. But this is not a problem, because said parts refer to “supernatural” miracles which can not be falsified by scientific findings.

    No, that is not what I said. I gave a specific example of how the bible might make a scientifically false claim that could not plausibly be explained away as a miracle. I know it is comforting to trivialize my position as “well alllll-righy then, you can always invoke the miracle loophole any time you get stuck!” I’m getting too old to argue with people who take this tactic. But I’ll try another example: Jesus walking on water. This is clearly a miracle. There is no need to reconcile it with science. You are not supposed to be able to reconcile it with science. It was presented as a miracle. It was presented as an event isolated in time and space. It was presented as a significant moment in redemptive history. It was not presented as science. That is the hermeneutic principle used to discern miracles. It boils down to: they are easy to spot, and can easily be enumerated.

    You criticism amounts to:

    1) You must deny all miracles, or

    2) You must give up reconciling the bible and science.

    But my position is:

    3) There were miracles, they have certain obvious characteristics and are easy to pull out of the biblical text, and when they are all removed, whatever is left, which is ~ 99% of the bible, must be reconcilable with science and history and archeology.

    mufi,

    “Few” does not mean “none”, and I regard the “few” that I had in mind (namely, rabbinic exegetes, like Nachmanides, who Gerald Schroeder likes to cite) to be just as guilty (despite their strong grasps of biblical Hebrew) as your Christian examples of reading in meanings that contradict the text’s plain meaning.

    Actually you wrote “few (in any)” which certainly sends a different message than “few.” In particular, it implies that “zero” might be the actual number. Yet if you take a vote and come up with the top-ten commenters of the early church, here is what you are likely to find: none insisted on a literal 24-hour view, some (one that I can think of likely to be on the top-ten) supported it, some didn’t write about it at all, five or six took a yom=1000 years view, which is a literal view but employing a different, acceptable definition for yom, and one (Augustine)took a radically non-literal differs-by-inifinite-orders-of-magnitude view.

    Should I list scholars who do argue that yom need not be interpreted as a normal day, so that you can play: “Oh, those scholars don’t count because of their obvious presuppositions. Only my scholars are totally objective.” There really is no point. You’ve already indicated that anyone who disagrees with your scholars, even if they are Hebrew scholars themselves, are, to use your words, “just as guilty (despite their strong grasps of biblical Hebrew) as your Christian examples of reading in meanings that contradict the text’s plain meaning.”.

  52. #52 Iapetus
    September 5, 2008

    heddle,

    “But my position is:

    3) There were miracles, they have certain obvious characteristics and are easy to pull out of the biblical text, and when they are all removed, whatever is left, which is ~ 99% of the bible, must be reconcilable with science and history and archeology.”

    Can you really not see the arbitrariness of this procedure? These characteristics which you employ to identify miracles might be “obvious” to you, but they are purely subjective. Other people might draw the boundary between “miracle” and “non-miracle” in a different way and e.g. see the whole creation process as a divine, supernatural act, so there is no need for mental gymnastics to reconcile it with science. Going the other way, maybe Jesus walking on water was not a miracle but was used in a metaphorical way to show that faith in him will enable the believer to traverse fearlessly over the abyss of inner turmoil or whatnot. Your criteria for identifying a miracle are nothing more than those that you are most comfortable with.

    “I know it is comforting to trivialize my position as “well alllll-righy then, you can always invoke the miracle loophole any time you get stuck!””

    You misunderstand my point when you try to portray it as simple schoolyard-taunting. I see your whole approach as fundamentally flawed. Your starting point is that the bible is an infallible document which is scientifically accurate. This proposition is not treated as a hypothesis that is subjected to criticism with a risk of failure, but rather as an unassailable dogma. Any evidence to the contrary is either rationalized away (see the Genesis story) or declared a supernatural exception (“miracle”). Consequently, your position is inherently immune to criticism and not falsifiable.

    However, this process of immunization can by employed with ANY proposition of choice. The price you pay for this is that the certainty you achieve is illusory, because you abstain from critically testing your proposition.

    If I am wrong, please give me a concrete, non-hypothetical biblical example that constitutes a reason for you to at least doubt the hypothesis of biblical inerrancy.

  53. #53 Joe
    September 5, 2008

    Actually, I don’t think that Heddle’s classification scheme is entirely arbitrary. There is, in fact, I think I’ve figured out the pattern here.

    If an event goes against our understanding of how the world work, and is thus disproved by science, BUT there is no way to test it today, then the text can be read as is and the event can be claimed to be a miracle. There is no way to test the hypothesis that Jesus walked on water or was born of a virgin. There is no way to go back to review the event in real time, no contradictory data are going to inconveniently appear, and so…there’s no need to reconcile it with science. It’s a miracle.

    If an event goes against our understanding of the natural, and is disproved by science, AND there IS a way to test the hypothesis, then the text must be reconciled with science, and if it can’t be reconciled, then re-interpret it until it is reconciled. Unlike a one-time-only “walking on water” event, we can test predictions made by the Genesis story. The contractions between Genesis and scientific observation can not be ignored, so now we don’t use the word “miracle”, but instead, re-interpret the text.

    Still seems like a lot of wasted effort, but that’s the algorithm for determing “miracle” versus “must be reconcilable with science and history and archeology”.

    Oh, and again, why is the order of events in the Genesis poem so wrong?

  54. #54 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    lapetus,

    If I am wrong, please give me a concrete, non-hypothetical biblical example that constitutes a reason for you to at least doubt the hypothesis of biblical inerrancy.

    The story of the Exodus. There is, as yet, no archeological support.

  55. #55 KeithB
    September 5, 2008

    So was Jacob’s “mating by the rods” to increase his flocks at the expense of Laban’s a miracle or not?

  56. #56 mufi
    September 5, 2008

    heddle,

    Fair enough — I should not have included that “(if any)” remark, as I was vaguely aware that certain Jewish commentators have asserted otherwise. Yet I also recall that they are the exception, rather than the rule.

    Most commentators (like most haredim/ultra-orthodox Jews today) never thought to question the literal meaning of “yom/day” (including Rashi, perhaps the most read Medieval rabbinic commentator on the Hebrew Bible). And why should they? Science hardly existed in their times (and haredim today don’t care to know about it), so there was nothing to reconcile it with.

    As for why any pre-scientific exegete would care to read in interpretations that contradict the plain meanings, I can only guess. Perhaps they were bored with the standard reading, or felt the need to be innovative (which they did at their own risk), so they took license with the text.

    Regardless, if your goal here is to convince me that “yom” means something other than “day” (in the normal sense that it’s used in Hebrew literature), I agree that you’re probably wasting your time.

    mufi

  57. #57 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    mufi,

    Regardless, if your goal here is to convince me that “yom” means something other than “day” (in the normal sense that it’s used in Hebrew literature), I agree that you’re probably wasting your time.

    That was never my intent, how could you miss the boat so badly? My intent was to point out that some scholars, even if they are not your scholars, do indeed acknowledge that yom need not mean 24 hours.

    And by the way, it does mean day, as in “My grandfather’s day,” i.e. the era my Grandfather lived, which was longer than 24 hours.

  58. #58 mufi
    September 5, 2008

    And by the way, it does mean day, as in “My grandfather’s day,” i.e. the era my Grandfather lived, which was longer than 24 hours.

    Yeah, right.

    mufi

  59. #59 mufi
    September 5, 2008

    Most commentators (like most haredim/ultra-orthodox Jews today) never thought to question the literal meaning of “yom/day” (including Rashi, perhaps the most read Medieval rabbinic commentator on the Hebrew Bible). And why should they? Science hardly existed in their times (and haredim today don’t care to know about it), so there was nothing to reconcile it with.

    Sorry to comment on myself, but it occurred to me afterwards that modern science isn’t the first and only challenge to a biblical worldview (cosmology included) – Greek philosophy came before it, and we know that some learned Medieval Christians, Jews, and Muslims (e.g. Augustine, Maimonides, and Averroes) came into contact with it and responded to it (giving rise, e.g., to scholasticism).

    mufi

  60. #60 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 5, 2008

    heddle –

    Let’s see, I can’t argue with Friedman, because he is a better scholar than I.

    You are welcome to criticize whomever you want for whatever you want. The fact remains that you referred to a prominent Biblical scholar as an idiot for espousing a perfectly mainstream and almost certainly correct view. You did not bathe yourself in glory by doing that.

  61. #61 heddle
    September 5, 2008

    Jason,

    You did not bathe yourself in glory by doing that.

    Point taken. I should have said: other Hebrew scholars of merit hold different views.

  62. #62 mk
    September 5, 2008

    Regarding people like Heddle… Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if you’re beating up a little child and their belief in Santa Claus? Sometimes?

  63. #63 JimCH
    September 5, 2008

    mk…
    I also do not understand how someone who has given it more than 10 minutes thought could believe such utter nonsense, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Heddle is a soft target. He’s deluded, not stupid.

  64. #64 mk
    September 5, 2008

    Jim…

    No, no… I agree. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Not saying it’s stupidity.

  65. #65 mk
    September 5, 2008

    Oh… and to the above I should have added: And that’s the really sad part of it!

  66. #66 Robert O'Brien
    September 5, 2008

    Incidentally, I’ve read a couple of Richard Elliott Friedman’s works and I have a favorable impression of him. I didn’t realize he was at my university until he left for another one.

  67. #67 Joe
    September 5, 2008

    Maybe I missed the answer, but why is the order of events in the Genesis poem so wrong?

  68. #68 Jon S
    September 5, 2008

    Paper Hand, you say that the Serpent was revealed to be telling the truth about God’s motives. It would be more accurate say Satan was telling half-truths. Satan is good at twisting the truth, which is deception. God’s motives was for Adam and Eve’s best interest. If they were obedient to God they would have been in paradise forever. Do you really think living in paradise forever is such a bad thing?

    God made it clear that they’d die if they ate from the tree he told them not to eat from. Eating the fruit brought down God’s curse upon their sin, which was not an inhumane response as you suggest; that’s justice. God is a righteous God and hates sin. In fact the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Adam and Eve knew God told them not to eat from the tree, and they knew there would be consequences if they disobeyed, for Eve even admitted this (Genesis 3:2-3). When they sinned they tried to make excuses by blaming each other and the serpent, but God wasn’t interested in excuses. He expects obedience, and it’s to our benefit. He ‘inflicted’ these penalties to demonstrate how much he hates sin, even for a single transgression.

    You say you were a believer at one point and rejected God, and I’d say if you rejected God because of his cruelty then you never really knew God because he’s righteous and just. He, in fact, became a man to rescue us from sin and death so that we could have eternal life. If he was some cruel monster why would he subject himself to torture and death at the hands of his own creation? He did it because he had a bigger plan than what you care to acknowledge, and that plan is eternity in heaven where there will be no more death, disease or suffering. That sounds like a pretty awesome God to me. For believers we only need to persevere until we receive the reward of eternal life, and when the time comes it will be well worth all the suffering we had to endure.

    You ask why would God even place the Tree there in the first place if he didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat it? God had a plan right from the beginning. He knew Adam and Eve would sin. He put the tree there and gave the command knowing full well what would happen, but he did it because of his redemptive plan. Aren’t we more thankful for something we’ve had to work hard for… just take a look at the Olympic gold metal winners for example. All the hard work, blood and sweat it took to receive the prize was well worth the effort. Likewise the prize will be well worth all the suffering for those who persevere and put their hope, faith and trust in Jesus (John 3:16). And lastly, if you think God is so sadistic, Satan is far, far worse. If God is really so horrible, perhaps you’d better get on his good side!

  69. #69 mk
    September 5, 2008

    JimCH…

    And then there’s Jon S.

    Wow!

  70. #70 JimCH
    September 5, 2008

    Jon S…
    You are so wrong. If Hansel & Gretel had eaten the gingerbread house before the witch noticed they’d have been in the clear because then there wouldn’t have been a stove for them to be cooked in (Grimm’s Fairy Tales; chapter 5, verses 8-36.)

  71. #71 JimCH
    September 5, 2008

    mk…
    Yes, I suspect that sometime during the gestation of Jon S oxygen was denied or alcohol was supplied. I’m not being flip, by the way.

  72. #72 SLC
    September 5, 2008

    Re JimCH

    Prof. Heddle has a PhD in physics from a reputable university and teaches physics at a branch of the Un. of Virginia. As someone who also has a PhD in physics from a reputable university, let me say that it is virtually impossible for someone to be stupid and and achieve such a degree in that major. Since my former thesis adviser was an old earth creationist, I have some experience in this regard and can say that people like Prof Heddle and the former can do good science, despite their religious nuttiness. Of course, it’s a little harder for them then for a mainstream religionist like Ken Miller who doesn’t take the scriptures literally.

    Prof. Heddle is no Jon S who is not only ignorant and stupid but is obviously seriously mentally impaired and probably belongs in an asylum or some other institution where he can be cared for. In his case, I would not agree with Prof. Dawkins that he has been brainwashed as that would assume a fact manifestly not in evidence.

  73. #73 nicki
    September 5, 2008

    This has probably been said before, but how unfair of God to punish Adam and Eve for disobeying him when, before they actually ate the fruit, they didn’t know the difference between good and evil, and so didn’t know they were doing wrong.

  74. #74 tresmal
    September 6, 2008

    jon s: Can you hook me up with your dealer?

  75. #75 Iapetus
    September 6, 2008

    heddle,

    “The story of the Exodus. There is, as yet, no archeological support.”

    Correct. Furthermore, as far as I know there is also absolutely no indication in the Egyptian records of that time mentioning the escape of a large number of Hebrew slaves, strange calamities befalling the country or the loss of Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea. So any reasonable person would come to the conclusion that the events depicted in the Exodus story are either wholly fictitious or at most a fanciful distortion. If you agree with this assessment, would you accept the consequence that your hypothesis of biblical inerrancy is falsified?

    Incidentally, I wonder why you take the Exodus story at face value and see if it aligns with historical/archaeological findings. If you are prepared to put the Genesis account into the interpretative torture chamber to make it fit with modern cosmology, why not Exodus?

  76. #76 Robert O'Brien
    September 6, 2008

    Furthermore, as far as I know there is also absolutely no indication in the Egyptian records of that time mentioning the escape of a large number of Hebrew slaves, strange calamities befalling the country or the loss of Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea.

    That is not necessarily correct:

    The Admonitions of Ipuwer

  77. #77 Iapetus
    September 6, 2008

    “That is not necessarily correct:

    The Admonitions of Ipuwer”

    It seems the author´s assertion that “The papyrus was written by an Egyptian named Ipuwer and appears to be an eyewitness account of the effects of the Exodus plagues from the perspective of an average Egyptian” is not shared by the majority of Egyptologists:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipuwer

    Furthermore, I find many of the juxtapositions between the Ipuwer poem and biblical passages to be spurious, to phrase it charitably.

  78. #78 JimV
    September 6, 2008

    There are a several points about the Moses/Exodus story that have always bothered me (assuming it is not just a tall tale), but no doubt there are answers which I just haven’t heard yet.

    1) Why did the Angel of Death need a sign (blood smears) to know which houses to enter? (Sounds more like something a a gang of human terrorists would plan.) (Leaving aside the morality of killing Egyptian children for something neither they nor their parents were responsible for.)

    2) Why didn’t the Isrealites sink in mud up their hips walking across the bottom of the Red Sea?

    3) Why did Moses have to go away for several days before returning with something from within the technological capabilities of the time, carved stone tablets? Why weren’t the commandments instantly engraved on stainless steel, or something even better? (Maybe we would still have the originals of these important documents.)

    4) Okay, those are minor, but here’s the one that really baffles me. Why, after witnessing the plagues, Angel of Death visitation, parting of the Red Sea, etc., did a significant fraction of the Isrealites think they could make a better god by melting some trinkets and casting the statue of a calf?

    No, I haven’t researched the writings of Thomas Aquineas on these issues, because I have an explanation which makes sense to me (the same one I use for the inconsistencies in most films and novels).

  79. #79 mufi
    September 6, 2008

    I took Mike Beidler’s advice to Jason above and looked up Denis O. Lamoureux. I haven’t read his book, but I did spend enough time to watch an on-line presentation of his.

    Just to sum up my reaction: it was mixed, but as Mike said, Lamoureux rejects what he calls “concordism” between modern science and the Bible, and instead argues (convincingly, IMO) that the Bible uses what he calls “ancient science” in its attempt to teach “spiritual truths” to its readers. (I think that’s a fair description of Richard Elliot Friedman’s view, as well, even though Friedman is theologically liberal and is Jewish.)

    Given Lamoureux’s endorsement of some form of “intelligent design” (albeit, one that’s subtler and less direct than that of OECs in that as it accepts “macro-evolution”), not to mention his conservative Christian views on other philosophical matters (both ethical and metaphysical, including belief in miracles), I suspect that Jason & other bloggers on this topic will find plenty of grist.

    But I would agree with Mike that, if Lamoureux’s “evolutionary creationism” were the only form of creationism still in business, the debate would be alot more focused.

    mufi

  80. #80 Robert O'Brien
    September 6, 2008

    It seems the author�s assertion that “The papyrus was written by an Egyptian named Ipuwer and appears to be an eyewitness account of the effects of the Exodus plagues from the perspective of an average Egyptian” is not shared by the majority of Egyptologists:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipuwer

    According to wikipedia, yes. But even if that is correct, I would have to read their justifications for dismissing the association before I gave them any credence.

  81. #81 Jon S
    September 6, 2008

    nicki says “…how unfair of God to punish Adam and Eve for disobeying him when, before they actually ate the fruit, they didn’t know the difference between good and evil, and so didn’t know they were doing wrong.”

    The Bible never accuses God of being fair. God is just, merciful, righteous, loving, but not fair. Yes, Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan, but God didn’t hold them guiltless, even after they made excuses and blamed one another. God, being righteous and hating sin, brought down the ultimate judgment for sin, which is death. This demonstrates how much God hates sin, and now the whole of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22) because of it. But God also demonstrates his mercy by becoming a man, subjecting himself to us, and dying on the cross so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, where there will be no more death, disease or suffering. That’s pretty awesome indeed!

    tresmal asks, “Can you hook me up with your dealer?” Sure. God is listening, just give him a ring :-)

  82. #82 Peter Henderson
    September 6, 2008

    In a number of recent posts I have remarked that when it comes to Biblical analysis, I think the young-Earthers have more going for them than is sometimes acknowledged.

    As they say in these parts Jason “Catch yerself on”.

    I certainly have no respect whatsoever for the YECs who I feel have seriosly damaged the church, irreperably in my opinion. I agree that they may very well be sincere (many of my relatives are YECs) but they are seriosly misguided, largely through lack of knowledge/education. I detest those YECs that are well educated even more (like the ones at the conference that you’ve just attended). As you have often pointed out in your various reports, many of their claims are simply fraudulent. Surely lying to the ignorant deserves contempt rather than respect ????

    As for cherry picking the bible, YECs do this just as much as the rest of us that don’t take a literal view of Genesis. I’m sure you must be aware of this.

    On a final point, what exactly is your view of the clergy letter project and evolution Sunday ? Christians are being urged by certain science groups to support these events, but I assume from your recent postings that you don’t accept that “a person can be a christian and accept evolution (mainstream science)” ?????

  83. #83 mk
    September 6, 2008

    God is just, merciful, righteous, loving, but not fair.

    Just: Honorable and fair in one’s dealings and actions…

    Jon S. How are you not embarrassed by the stupidity of that archaic superstition you practice?

  84. #84 Jon S
    September 6, 2008

    Peter Henderson, Sorry to hear you have no respect for YEC. Sounds like you’ve had a bad experience. What kind of lies have you heard? Is it lying when someone tells you that dinosaurs turned into birds? What version of the truth do you adhere to? Do evolutionists ever lie or cherry pick? Should they be detested as well, or do we give them a pass? Why should you be respected? Do you believe in God?

    As for evolution Sunday it’s simply compromise, and it’s sad so see churches fall down that slope.

    mk asks, “How are you not embarrassed by the stupidity of that archaic superstition you practice?” The answer is simple, just look up Romans 1:16.

  85. #85 SLC
    September 6, 2008

    Re mk

    Since Mr. Jon S is a moron, he could hardly be embarrassed by his demonstrated stupidity.

  86. #86 JimCH
    September 6, 2008

    Jon S…
    What does your acceptance of sloppy seconds have to do with the fact that, despite your assertion, it is not possible to be just without being fair?

  87. #87 mk
    September 7, 2008

    Jon S.

    Directing me to absurdities does answer quite a lot.

  88. #88 386sx
    September 7, 2008

    Is it lying when someone tells you that dinosaurs turned into birds?

    Why you make it sound like it’s impossible for dinosaurs to turn into birds? You’re rejecting your own hypothesis that eveything is possible. That’s because you know it’s a pile of phooey.

  89. #89 Jon S
    September 8, 2008

    JimCH, Justice is getting what one deserves, such punishment for a crime. Sin must be atoned for, and God exacts punishment for sin, which is death. He demands perfection (Matthew 5:47-48). Fairness is treating everyone equally, marked by impartiality, free from favoritism, but these are not traits of God. If you look around you can see that not everyone is a king, or rich, or popular, healthy, athletic, etc. If God was fair he’d treat everyone equally, which he doesn’t. Even when we get to heaven God says those who are first will be last and those who are last will be first (Matthew 19:29-30). God came first for the Jews and then for the Gentiles. So God is just, but not fair, nor impartial. Most importantly for us God is a merciful God, giving us a way out so that we don’t have to receive punishment and taste death, for Christ paid the penalty for those who put their hope and trust in him (John 3:16).

    386sx, why do you make it sound like it’s impossible that the universe is young, perhaps 10,000 years young? With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Of course he could have used evolution, however he told us a lot about our origin and the origin of the universe and never gave us the option of evolution. He made it quite clear that he created the heavens and earth in six days (Exodus 20:11 & Exodus 31:17).

  90. #90 Joe
    September 9, 2008

    “Justice is getting what one deserves”.

    So, you would execute *both* the mass murderer and a five year old shoplifter?

    “With God all things are possible.”

    Right, and with that goes any rational, systemic, evidence-based, hypothesis testing-based understanding of the natural world. You have just discarded all of science.

  91. #91 Joe
    September 9, 2008

    Oops. Change “systemic” to “systematic”.

  92. #92 386sx
    September 9, 2008

    He made it quite clear that he created the heavens and earth in six days (Exodus 20:11 & Exodus 31:17).

    No he didn’t make it quite clear. It’s in an old book that the entire frakin planet questions all the time. That is not quite clear. There are ways for making it quite clear, and that ain’t one of them. So, why are you saying that it’s quite clear? Quite clear, it is not.

  93. #93 Jon S
    September 9, 2008

    Joe asks “So, you would execute *both* the mass murderer and a five year old shoplifter?”

    Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, and Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So yes, both the murderer and five year old shop lifter deserve death in the eyes of God, but remember that he gives everyone a way out. Even the worst sinner can be cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-20).

    Joe says “Right, and with that goes any rational, systemic, evidence-based, hypothesis testing-based understanding of the natural world. You have just discarded all of science.”

    Joe, your reasoning doesn’t make any sense. God created atoms, gravity, elements, space, time, etc. So if he created everything to obey certain laws that He himself created, then how can you possibly make such an absurd statement? You’re not discarding science, you’re observing it.

    386sx says “No he didn’t make it quite clear. It’s in an old book that the entire frakin planet questions all the time. That is not quite clear. There are ways for making it quite clear, and that ain’t one of them. So, why are you saying that it’s quite clear? Quite clear, it is not.”

    It’s true people question the Bible. In fact Satan questioned God too (Genesis 3:1-3), and that ended in man’s fall. But you know what, people also question whether or not we’re related to apes. So evolution isn’t clear either, it’s based on faith, just like any other religion.

  94. #94 Joe
    September 9, 2008

    “Justice is getting what one deserves”.

    A five year deserves the same punishment as the mass murderer? A five year old deserved death for stealing a cookie, followed by eternal torture if he picks the wrong God? Hitler and the Holocaust victims suffer the same fate? That’s not justice. That’s absurd. That’s grotesque.

    “God created everything to obey certain laws”. But “with God all things are possible.” So, we can not trust any observation of nature, because nature can behave in completely arbitrary ways at any point in time, so long as it’s God’s will. That is, these ” certain laws” can be suspended at any time for any reason. There’s no consistant patterns, the patterns can be altered at any time. Therefore, hypothesis testing is impossible. Science can not be done.

    For example, if hypothesis testing repeatedly disproves the hypothesis that the 6000 years old earth (and it does), then you say “well, we can discard the evidence, because God can suspend the laws of nature”. We’ve observed the natural world, but it only looks like the earth is billions of years old, because we’ve forgotten that with God, anything is possible. Since we can use this rule (anything is possible) to ignore any disproofs we don’t like, we can not discard any hypotheses and there really is no way to observe anything here. So, again, there is no science that can be done here. You’ve discarded science.

  95. #95 386sx
    September 10, 2008

    It’s true people question the Bible. In fact Satan questioned God too (Genesis 3:1-3), and that ended in man’s fall. But you know what, people also question whether or not we’re related to apes. So evolution isn’t clear either, it’s based on faith, just like any other religion.

    So you agree that it isn’t “quite clear”. But you said it was “quite clear”. But it obviously isn’t.

    Maybe Satan questioned God, but Satan would have been “quite clear” about what he was doing since he grew up with him and saw him on a daily basis and had battles with angels and stuff like that.

    Comparing Satan questioning God with people questioning the Bible (the Bible isn’t even God for cryin out loud) is only yet more outrageous (and obvious) hyperbole. Why do you do that?

  96. #96 386sx
    September 10, 2008

    So evolution isn’t clear either, it’s based on faith, just like any other religion.

    So why do you talk about your religion like it’s a bunch of definitive facts all the time? Why aren’t you more tentative and more respectful of the evolution “faith” all the time? More hyperbole, that’s why.

  97. #97 Peter Henderson
    September 10, 2008

    What kind of lies have you heard

    Bill Buckingham at the Dover trial for a start Jon, who lied under oath (politicians in this country have served prison sentances for such behavior). Snellings fraudulent claims over radiometric dating (i.e. Mt St. Helens etc.) and not forgetting of course,AiG’s trickery involving Richard Dawkins:

    http://www.skeptics.com.au/journal/1998/3_crexpose.htm

    surely a contemptable little piece of work. This is why I can’t understand Jason’s respect for such people.

  98. #98 Laser Potato
    September 10, 2008

    [So evolution isn’t clear either, it’s based on faith, just like any other religion.]
    WOW! YOU LOSE!
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA612.html
    youtube(dot)com/watch?v=HzmbnxtnMB4

  99. #99 SLC
    September 10, 2008

    Re Peter Henderson

    Don’t forget Alan Bonsall who also lied under oath at the Dover trial. But of course, lying for Joshua of Nazareth is okay for the Jon Ss of the world.

  100. #100 Jon S
    September 11, 2008

    Joe asks, “A five year deserves the same punishment as the mass murderer?”

    According to scripture, ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All means all. Everyone who is born is born into sin, and we can’t escape it. Only Jesus was not born into sin, and only he led a perfect, sinless life, which explains why faith in him is our only hope for salvation. He was a perfect sacrifice, and died on the cross for our sins. So everyone who puts their faith and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins will have eternal life, regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they were. Now on another note I believe God does judge people differently; for example, those who teach will be judged more strictly. So God may very well be less strict with a child who doesn’t know any better. The bottom line is that God is sovereign, and the decisions and judgments he makes are good.

    Joe says “So, we can not trust any observation of nature, because nature can behave in completely arbitrary ways at any point in time, so long as it’s God’s will.”

    This is silliness, Joe. If God parts the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites, causes a world wide flood, gives sight to the blind, and raises the dead, then doesn’t he have that right? And if he made laws that govern the universe, is he not allowed to violate them? Mainstream science claims these things can’t happen. If you want to be silly and say that makes nature so arbitrary that we can’t trust our own senses, then that’s up to you. Christian scientists, such as Newton, Pasteur, Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, and others did just fine observing the world and universe around them, just as Christian scientists do today.

    386sx says “So why do you talk about your religion like it’s a bunch of definitive facts all the time? Why aren’t you more tentative and more respectful of the evolution “faith” all the time? More hyperbole, that’s why.”

    I could ask you the same thing. Why do you and others talk about evolution (your religion) like it’s a bunch of definitive facts all the time? Why aren’t you more tentative and more respectful of Christianity and creation? Actually, I do try to be respectful, even when I’m being disrespected by others, which is why I don’t stoop to some of the tactics thrown at me. However I believe in God, and I believe the Bible is God’s word, so if God reveals himself in scripture, and tells us about or origin, I’d argue that we can talk about those things as though they’re definitive facts, because they would be. If God says he created the heavens and earth in six days, then why should I reject what he says over mere human beings who think they can figure out the universe all on their own and without God’s input when they weren’t even there at the beginning to observe it? Isn’t that a bit naive to think they know more than God, who was there at the beginning?

    Peter Henderson, your evolutionist scientists at the Dover trial also lied. They presented many lies about Creationists and ID, convincing the judge that it’s not real science because it’s religious. Scientists who claim radiometric dating is accurate are lying, and Richard Dawkins has a habit of lying too and deserved to look foolish. I believe lying is wrong, and I don’t condone anyone who lies, especially if they claim to be a Christian. There’s no reason for a Christian to lie, but unfortunately we’re not any more perfect than anyone else, which is why we all need Jesus.

  101. #101 Joe
    September 12, 2008

    You can say God is sovereign if you’d like. You can not say that “God is just” without stripping the word of all meaning. Orwell would be proud. Justice. You keep using that word. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    You seem to think that citing Bible verses constitutes a credible, rational argument. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Sorry, but this is not the path to a reasoned argument.

    If men as intelligent as Newton, Pasteur, Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, et al., were working scientists today, do you really think they’d discard the disproofs of the 6000 year old earth hypothesis and fall back on a “God can do anything at any time” excuse? If so, you’re an idiot. None of these men would look at what we know today and conclude that the earth is 6000 years old.

  102. #102 CheTaylor
    September 18, 2008

    heddle-

    To argue by authority on one hand and then turn around and summarily dispute authority on another hand is a neat trick.

    and then

    Yes, few (if any) commentators understood it any differently, except for a few nobodies named Augustine, Irenaeus, Justin, Origen

    enough said.

    The word clearly means day in the context and any honest reading shows that to be the case.

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