Brown on Good Religion

The Anglican Church has decided to apologize to Darwin for the rude manner in which their nineteenth century forebears responded to evolution. That’s decent of them, I suppose.

Spearheading the effort is Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs. In this article, entitled “Good Religion Needs Good Science,” he makes his case for the compatibility of evolution and Christianity.

Alas, it is a sadly typical, and poorly argued, representative of the genre. Here’s the opening:

The trouble with homo sapiens is that we’re only human. People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges which changes the way people look at the world, it’s easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights.

Hard to argue with that. Sometimes, however, big new ideas really do challenge, and refute, old verities. Moving on:

But if Darwin’s ideas once needed rescuing from religious defensiveness, they may also now need rescuing from some of the enthusiasts for his ideas. A scientist has a duty to the truth: he or she is called to be fearless in discovering the way the world works. But how a scientific theory is used, and the ways in which ideas can be deployed politically or ideologically, are the responsibility of a less easily defined constituency.

This is from the second paragraph. I expected Brown to go off on the “New Atheists” at this point. Actually his target, as revealed in the remainder of the essay, is just ye olde Social Darwinism, which has precisely zero followers outside the more deranged corners of the right-wing blogosphere. It’s a telling statement. The second paragraph of an essay devoted to an apology to Darwin puts a thumb in the eye of the scientific community, lambasting them for an ideology that hasn’t been defended by anyone of importance for decades.

Now let’s move on to the guts of the matter:

As a result, our understanding of the world is expanded, but the scientific process continues. In science, hypotheses are meant to be constantly tested. Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection. There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6: 25-33). Christian theologians throughout the centuries have sought knowledge of the world and knowledge of God. For Thomas Aquinas there was no such thing as science versus religion; both existed in the same sphere and to the same end, the glory of God. Whilst Christians believe that the Bible contains all that we need to know to be saved from our sins, they do not claim that it is a compendium of all knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples that there was more that he could say to them and that the Spirit of truth would lead them into truth (John 16: 12-13).

Lot’s of odd things there. I have no doubt that Thomas Aquinas saw no conflict between science and religion. In his time science was in so rudimentary a state that it had not yet had a chance to challenge any fundamental religious teaching. As soon as science got around to challenging church dogma, the relationship between science and religion grew distinctly chilly.

Brown sees no conflict between scientific methodology and Christian teaching. As far as I know, neither does anyone else. The conflict is between specific findings of science and specific teachings of Christianity. The church has always been happy to have people conduct whatever experiments amused them and then report back that the church had it right all along. Their bailiwick in those days was natural theology, that is, the investigation of nature for the purposes of glorifying God, as opposed to science as we understand the term today.

Nor has anyone claimed that the Bible is a compendium of all knowledge (though I’ve heard some fundamentalist preachers claim that the Bible contains all the knowledge a sensible person should care about). But many have claimed the Bible is inerrant on any topic it addresses, and that claim looks dubious indeed in the light of modern science. In particular, the first eleven chapters of Genesis must be discarded almost in their entirety if modern science is to be accepted. Jettison those chapters and the Bible’s foundational teachings go with them. Suddenly all the references to these chapters in the New Testament must be reinterpreted as well. Brown plainly wants us to accept the verses he cites as being normative for Christians. But he gives us no insight into which verses are the ones central to our spiritual health, and which must be discarded for their conflict with science.

Darwin’s meticulous application of the principles of evidence-based research was not the problem. His theory caused offence because it challenged the view that God had created human beings as an entirely different kind of creation to the rest of the animal world.

But whilst it is not difficult to see why evolutionary thinking was offensive at the time, on reflection it is not such an earth-shattering idea. Yes, Christians believe that God became incarnate as a human being in the person of Jesus and thereby demonstrated God’s especial love for humanity. But how can that special relationship be undermined just because we develop a different understanding of the processes by which humanity came to be? It is hard to avoid the thought that the reaction against Darwin was largely based on what we would now call the ‘yuk factor’ (an emotional not an intellectual response) when he proposed a lineage from apes to humans.

Christianity and evolution are easily reconciled if you insist on addressing straw men. The issue, you see, is not simply that evolution has shed light on the processes by which humanity came to be. It is that those processes, to put it gently, do not seem like the sort of thing an all-powerful, all-loving God would set in motion. How does Brown propose we view four billion years of savagery, suffering, death and extinction? Is this really the way a morally respectable God does His creating?

And then there is the issue of contingency. Evolution shows not merely that we share a previously unsuspected kinship with other animals, but also that there was no guarantee that anything like human beings would ever arrive on the scene. Did I say no guarantee? I mean it is exceedingly unlikely that anything like human beings would evolve a second time. If this is accepted then I fail to see how humanity can be viewed as in any way the point of creation. It would seem this argument can only be avoided by accepting some various dubious claims about the pervasiveness of evolutionary convergences, as offered by folks like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris.

Science can undermine the Christian’s faith in the sepcial relationship between God and man by bringing to light facts that make such a relationship seem highly unlikely. And science, in fact, has done precisely that.

Near the end we reach this:

At a university in Kansas, I asked a biology professor how he coped with teaching Darwin’s theories to students whose churches insisted that evolution was heresy and whose schools taught creationism. “No problem,” he replied, “the kids know that if they want a good job they need a degree, and if they want a degree they have to work with evolution theory. Creationism is for church, as far as they’re concerned. Here, they’re Darwinists.” Perhaps he was over-cynical. But he was also pointing to young lives which could not be lived with integrity — the very opposite of how Christians are called to live. There is no integrity to be found either in rejecting Darwin’s ideas wholesale or in elevating them into the kind of grand theory which reduces humanity to the sum of our evolutionary urges. For the sake of human integrity — and thus for the sake of good Christian living — some rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential.

No, it is not essential. The cause of human integrity is not furthered in the slightest by Christianity. Nor is there integrity in trying desperately to preserve outdated ways of thinking in the face of scientific advances that show them to be entirely without merit.

Brown refers to his sort of thinking as “Good religion.” It is good in the following sense: the world would be a better place if fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity disappeared off the face of the Earth and were replaced with Brown’s way of thinking.

But in another sense it is not good religion. Brown has not squarely faced the problems evolution poses for Christianity. He does not even seem to recognize them. The fundamentalists do recognize the problem, and they have made their choice as to which side they are on. He is free, of course, to believe whatever he wants. I object, however, to the suggestion that somehow he is doing it right, and those Christians less sanguine about reconciling Christianity and evolution are doing it wrong. Picking and choosing the parts of Christianity you like while ignoring the parts that conflict with science is not an act of integirty. It is an act of intellectual desperation.

Comments

  1. #1 by-stander
    September 15, 2008

    Enter Heddle, now . . .

  2. #2 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 15, 2008

    In particular, the first eleven chapters of Genesis must be discarded almost in their entirety if modern science is to be accepted. Jettison those chapters and the Bible’s foundational teachings go with them.

    Jaons, this is simply untrue. One does not have to discard Genesis, one merely has to recognize that the Bible is not a science textbook and not misread it as such. St. Augustine came to that conclusion in the fifth century with the limited amount of scholarship available in his day, as Ken Miller has pointed out on more than one occasion.

    Now, Jason, I have to admit that I can’t rule out the possibility that you feel that a literal reading of Genesis is (in your words) foundational. If so, you’re wrong. The Catholic Church does not require such a reading as a litmus test of faith, and neither do the mainline Protestant churches—in other words, the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian do not find it necessary to regard such a reading as foundational. Given that, isn’t the above declaration a bit of a ‘straw man’?

    The cause of human integrity is not furthered in the slightest by Christianity.

    That may be true, but it is a non sequitur with respect to the passage that you are quoting from Brown: “For the sake of human integrity — and thus for the sake of good Christian living — some rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential.” Here Brown is not saying that human integrity is furthered by, much less dependent upon Christianity. Rather, he is saying ‘good Christian living’ must be in accord with ‘human integrity.’ It is a poor faith that denies the existence of facts simply because they seem to be at odds with traditional beliefs. I don’t doubt that a believer like Brown sees Christianity as making a world a better place, and as a skeptic you are more inclined to see it as a plague, but that’s not the claim that’s being made. You clearly misread the claim because you are provoked by any association with Christianity.

    Brown has not squarely faced the problems evolution poses for Christianity. He does not even seem to recognize them.

    No, what you mean is that he does not appear to accept the zero-sum game you are playing as an inevitable outcome. You don’t actually have any evidence that he doesn’t as a personal matter recognize the very real problems that evolution poses for Christianity—which, I might add, are not based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, but on Pauline theological glosses. Rather, you just presume that such must be true and appear wistful that all religious aren’t as polarized as Ken Ham.

    Picking and choosing the parts of Christianity you like while ignoring the parts that conflict with science is not an act of integirty. It is an act of intellectual desperation.

    As mentioned above, there are legitimate textual reasons to reject a literal understanding of Genesis as theologically binding. There is nothing desperate about using scholarship and reason to place a text in the appropriate historical context. To find real desperation, you should look at the extraordinary pretzel logic employed by evangelicals to justify the radical inerrancy that they are committed to due to decades of poor scholarship and worse theology.

  3. #3 Irradiatus
    September 15, 2008

    Scott,

    You are right that the specific example of Genesis, when read from a non-literal interpretation, isn’t itself refuted by the scientific body of knowledge.

    However, I think Jason’s point in that argument is that there are many specific and foundational tenets of the bible that simply don’t fit the view of reality that science has painted.

    As Brown points out, the church cannot question the methodology of science. He is saying that nothing we have learned of our universe through empirically using our senses (and extensions of them) is antithetical to the bible, and that religion should not and cannot refute these “facts”. Brown is saying that Christianity can fit snugly around and behind the natural laws we have discovered, not refuting the laws, but being separate and unrelated to them.

    But there are many other points that simply cannot be reconciled between science and the Bible – points that call into question the entire religion (if we are to accept Brown’s contention).

    Take Jesus’ water to wine miracle. We know what water is: it’s two hydrogens and an oxygen. Wine has ethanol, which also has carbon atoms. Everything science tells us – the laws that govern chemistry and physics and which we can plainly see govern this universe – argues that turning water to wine is sheer impossibility.

    Sure, you can say “but Jesus is divine he has powers beyond physics”. But that statement simply refutes everything that Brown was saying.

    So Jason’s point – that the Bible and Christianity are not reconcilable – still holds. Only certain aspects, such as metaphorical interpretations of certain aspects can be reconciled. The rest, again, simply requires a faith in things that go against what our empirical knowledge tells us.

  4. #4 Paul Murray
    September 15, 2008

    A literal reading of genesis 1-3 is nessesary for the doctrine of original sin.

    Original sin comes to us all by virtue of the fact that we come from Adam’s “seed”. I read this as being intended quite literally. The ancients knew nothing about sperm and zygotes and whatnot. The knew only that the seed that comes out of a man somehow has life-creating power (the female, of course, is a mere passive recepticle). We each of us inherit our life by our direct descent from Adam – like a relay baton – and this life is tainted by his sin. It really is that simple and primitive an idea.

    Without original sin, salvation makes no sense and you can discard most of christianity except the homilies about being a good person.
    Without a literal descent from a man named Adam, there’s no need for St Paul’s second Adam.

    It’s that simple. The fundies are right – evolution by descent and modification makes the core message christianity irrelevant.

  5. #5 Pseudonym
    September 16, 2008

    A literal reading of genesis 1-3 is nessesary for the doctrine of original sin.

    There is no single thing called “the doctrine of original sin”. Catholics believe one thing, Eastern Orthodox believe something else, Lutherans believe something else and so on.

    There’s a good analogy here with evolution. There is the theory of evolution, which posits that descent-with-modifications is the cause of the origin of species. Then there are the theories about evolution, which posit mechanims by which evolution occurred (e.g. mutation and natural selection), tracing the history of specific lineages and so on.

    Suppose that some mechanism other than random mutation and natural selection was discovered tomorrow, say, some Wolfram-like cellular automaton process. (Not that this is in any way likely, quite the contrary in fact, but I’m just picking something random for the sake of argument.) Suppose furthermore that new research discovered that that most speciation in history was caused by this other mechanism, not random mutations plus natural selection. What would this mean to the “theory of evolution”?

    The answer, of course, is “very little”. The origin of species was still evolution, even if what we previously knew about it was false.

    Apart from Restorationists, pretty much any Christian would agree that there’s such a thing as “original sin”, in the sense that humans have a habit of not doing what they’re supposed to. But given two Christians picked at random, they would probably disagree on what exactly causes it.

    Most mainline theologians these days (including, I would wager, most Church of England theologians who take an interest in the topic) are of the opinion that the Adam and Eve story is a mythological tale told to explain “original sin”, in much the same way that the Tower of Babel tale is told to explain the origin of languages. Finding evidence against the literal Tower of Babel story doesn’t mean that we were wrong, and the world only speaks one language after all.

    The fundies are right […]

    Every time an atheist says that, I die a little inside.

  6. #6 Pseudonym
    September 16, 2008

    Erm.

    I wrote:

    The origin of species was still evolution, even if what we previously knew about it was false.

    I didn’t word that well, but I hope everyone can see what I meant.

  7. #7 Paul Murray
    September 16, 2008

    Well what do make, then, of St Paul’s assertion that “In Adam all died, in Christ shall all be made alive” (or words to that effect). If you simply mean that humans have a propensity to sin, in the light of evolution should our understanding be revised to “In our monkey ancestors all died”?

  8. #8 Julian Gall
    September 16, 2008

    Jason says “the first eleven chapters of Genesis must be discarded almost in their entirety if modern science is to be accepted”.

    It is a provable fact that many people do not see any conflict between Genesis and science. Some have posted here. As Jason is presumably aware of this fact, how can we interpret what he says?

    Either, Jason will only permit an interpretation of Genesis that is in conflict with science because he is the authority on the interpretation of Genesis (seems unlikely).

    Or, Jason cannot himself see any way of reconciling Genesis and science, therefore it must not be possible. This is an argument from uninformed opinion as surely as those who say they can’t imagine how random mutations could drive evolution, therefore they didn’t.

  9. #9 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 16, 2008

    Without a literal descent from a man named Adam, there’s no need for St Paul’s second Adam.

    As mentioned, that’s one of the tent maker’s little glosses, in that he was fond of sweeping parallelisms to drive home his observations. Paul was a product of his times and clearly believed in the existence of a literal Adam. So what? He also felt women should keep their head covered in church. Are you going to tell me that all the evangelicals who don’t follow Paul’s lead on that topic are not of the true faith? They are very numerous, after all! Everyone interprets scripture, even fundies. They can talk about inerrancy all they want, but when Yahweh is described with eagle’s wings, very few of those in the pews visualize a winged deity. The ultra-consistent strict Biblical literalist is no more real than Russell’s teapot.

    In other words, I regard the attempt of non-believers to couch acceptance/rejection of the Bible with respect to science as an exercise in self-indulgence. Believe what you want, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can get science to rule on every possible claim made by believers. It can’t, and when that claim is made in a ham-fisted way in the public square, it’s likely to do more harm than good to science education. There are thoughtful arguments to be made in behalf of a general skepticism where the supernatural is concerned, and science can inform those claims….it just can’t ‘prove’ them in the sense sought here, certainly not with the self-deception that you can rule out all of a rich, millenia-old tradition by knocking off some contemporary outliers.

  10. #10 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    There is nothing desperate about using scholarship and reason to place a text in the appropriate historical context.

    Well of coarse not. In fact, the text can be whatever you want it to be! The appropriate historical context is that people were gullible as hell, and they still are.

  11. #11 Pseudonym
    September 16, 2008

    In fact, the text can be whatever you want it to be!

    And that’s your expert opinion, is it?

  12. #12 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    St. Augustine came to that conclusion in the fifth century with the limited amount of scholarship available in his day, as Ken Miller has pointed out on more than one occasion.

    “In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.”

    Yeah, it’s good that St. Augustine came to the conclusion that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, and that it was not the intention of the Spirit of God who spoke through them to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation. I wonder how he came to that conclusion. He must have prayed or something, because he wouldn’t just make stuff up. Good for him. One does not have to discard Genesis!

  13. #13 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    And that’s your expert opinion, is it?

    Well, insomuch as one does not have to discard Genesis.

  14. #14 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    Everything science tells us – the laws that govern chemistry and physics and which we can plainly see govern this universe – argues that turning water to wine is sheer impossibility.

    Sure, you can say “but Jesus is divine he has powers beyond physics”. But that statement simply refutes everything that Brown was saying.

    Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Just say Jesus turned water into metaphorical wine. Put the text in the appropriate historical context and stuff. One does not have to discard the gospel of John!

  15. #15 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    Original sin comes to us all by virtue of the fact that we come from Adam’s “seed”. I read this as being intended quite literally. The ancients knew nothing about sperm and zygotes and whatnot. The knew only that the seed that comes out of a man somehow has life-creating power (the female, of course, is a mere passive recepticle).

    St. Augustine said that the authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but he didn’t say if they knew the truth about the nature of all that stuff. So you might be right about that.

  16. #16 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    Or, Jason cannot himself see any way of reconciling Genesis and science, therefore it must not be possible. This is an argument from uninformed opinion as surely as those who say they can’t imagine how random mutations could drive evolution, therefore they didn’t.

    Good point. If we read Genesis literally, then God created the sun on the fourth day, and that would be uninformed opinion. But if we read it metaphorically, then of course God would be creating the sun on like the second or first day or something like that. And the second day would be like a million years or something and the fifth day would be like maybe a couple thousand or something.

  17. #17 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 16, 2008

    One of the big questions that I do have for theistic evolutions is the meaning of “sin” in light of the dispensation of the need for Salvation. Evolution does cause problems for Christianity in light of that context. If original sin is discarded by evolution in light of the fact that much of sin and selfishness should be interpreted for self-interest in competition with altruism, how does Jesus fit in?

  18. #18 Iapetus
    September 16, 2008

    And here we are, another day, another merry-go-round with “Genesis is not a scientific account and must be interpreted metaphorically!” protestations…

    Look folks, no one here is seriously doubting that it is POSSIBLE, against a plain reading of the text, to mangle the Genesis account or virtually any other biblical story sufficiently so that it is no longer in conflict with our scientific understanding of the universe. This is why hermeneutics can be such fun.

    However, the point is that such a procedure can be applied to ANY proposition/theory/story of choice by emptying it of any content that might cause said proposition/theory/story to fail. If one is ideologically committed and/or has an emotional investment at stake, this is understandable on a personal level. What one has to realize, though, is that employing such an immunization against criticism and failure results in a certainty/comfort which is totally illusory. The confidence value of a proposition that was treated in such a fashion is greatly decreased, since it was formulated in a way that the risk of failure is essentially eliminated. It is, in other words, a hermeneutical endeavour with an apologetic rather than a critical purpose.

    So if you want to pretend that the Genesis writer(s) had an understanding of cosmology comparable to ours, but phrased it in a way that on its face suggests the opposite and must be interpreted as one big metaphor, be my guest. I have my doubts whether this is ultimately more reasonable and in line with critical thinking than adhering to the most literal interpretation possible and trying to prove it scientifically.

    As I see it, declaring a story to be a “metaphor” normally means that a factually correct state of affairs is figuratively expressed. So in the case of Genesis, this would mean that while the details of the account are not necessarily true in the literal sense, they nonetheless describe the specific, real creation deeds of the deity Yahweh. Would anyone say that this is in accord with our scientific knowledge? I do not see how one could do this short of retreating to a deistic position. Would it then not be appropriate to state that adherents of the “Genesis as metaphor” stance, while trying to accommodate scientific findings to a certain extent, have nonetheless terminated their critical thinking at a point where it is perceived as a threat to their faith? Is the difference to literalists not merely quantitative and not qualitative, i.e. it is not a question of IF, but rather of WHEN criticism is abandoned.

    What would the reaction of a reasonable person be if the same procedure was undertaken with e.g. the creation myth of the Aztecs?

    Furthermore, I would be interested in the criteria that are employed for deciding what is a metaphor and what is not. What makes unsophisticated biblical literalists obviously wrong with regard to Genesis, but correct when it comes to the resurrection of the dead (I take it that this is not supposed to be another metaphor?)?

  19. #19 Philip H.
    September 16, 2008

    As a Scientists, who is also a practicing Christian, I’ve never understood this “take one or the other but not both” approach to Scripture and science. Like many Christians, I believe Scripture to be the word of God, but clearly written down and passed on by humans. This means that, like it or not, the literalists are caught in wording that is a translation (often of a translation) of an ancient way of speaking. This leads to imperfections in the words, and thus to human fallability in interpreting the words.

    And no, you don’t need to discard genesis to accept science, because Genesis isn’t a scientific description of creation. Rather, it is a human interpretation of the creation story handed down by God. Being . . . a deity . . . God recognized that he needed to put His work int o language that humans could understand, so creation was 7 days in the making as He told it to them. So, if God puts it in human terms so humans can grasp His message, then how is that an assault or attack on science?

  20. #20 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    Being . . . a deity . . . God recognized that he needed to put His work int o language that humans could understand, so creation was 7 days in the making as He told it to them.

    Being a deity, God recognized that he didn’t need to put his work into a language that creationists could understand. An understanding that would be the complete freakin exact opposite of what the text says of course. That’s a good way for putting something in a language that humans could understand: put it the complete exact freakin opposite of reality. That’s a real good plan.

    So, if God puts it in human terms so humans can grasp His message, then how is that an assault or attack on science?

    I’ll let you know as soon as God puts it in human terms so humans can grasp His message! Thanks!

  21. #21 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 16, 2008

    This ‘either it’s literal cosmology or a metaphorical cosmology’ discussion is quickly becoming as polarized as the ‘Christianity vs. science’ trope that inspired it. To my mind, both miss the point. Anyone who has actually studied Genesis 1-11 recognizes that there are multiple accounts from different sources woven together not only for the Creation but for the Flood story.

    And that’s what they are: stories, not grand, all-explanatory cosmologies. The people who assembled this literature knew that they were cobbling together different traditions, but they valued them all of them enough to do so. That many Christians habitually regard the stories as literal history is an artifact of the subsequent compilation of different authors into one book that generations of editors sought to harmonize with one another. Obviously!

    Since this is what scholarship reveals, it would be foolish for anyone who knows this stuff to insist upon a literal reading of Genesis—not because it conflicts with science, mind, but simply because it goes against the textual analysis. By and large the fundies don’t know this stuff, or pretend they don’t, because it would undercut a lot of their traditional source of authority. Christians who come from a ‘high church’ tradition, on the other hand, recognize things other than the Bible as authoritative, among them tradition, personal experience and (surprisingly) reason.

    Along those lines, I commend Lawson Stone’s article on Genesis, which you’ll find here. In a nutshell, Stone argues that much of Genesis 1 should be understood as a liturgy to accompany a change in seasons, rather than an actual history, interpreted either literally or metaphorically.

  22. #22 pough
    September 16, 2008

    Speaking of the first 11 chapter of Genesis and the misunderstanding of a variety of things…

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/09/incisive_onenewsnow_analysis.php

  23. #23 Joe
    September 16, 2008

    Nice of the church to acknowledge reality and to issue an apology to Darwin. In my humble opinion Science and Religion are incompatible. The term Good Religion is an oxymoron as no religion is ever good, if good is defined as furthering human societies and reducing human suffering. As a race, we have just begun to challenge our limbic brain and its unfortunate proclivity towards fear and supernatural explanations. We still have a long way to go. The tortured logic in Maclom Browns essay is amusing and Jason has some fun analyzing specific passages. Enjoyable reading.

  24. #24 Thony C.
    September 16, 2008

    I have no doubt that Thomas Aquinas saw no conflict between science and religion. In his time science was in so rudimentary a state that it had not yet had a chance to challenge any fundamental religious teaching. As soon as science got around to challenging church dogma, the relationship between science and religion grew distinctly chilly.

    Actually Jason you couldn’t be more wrong. In the twelfth century a group of European scholars went to Spain and Sicily where European culture bordered on Islamic culture and translated large numbers of Greek and Islamic scientific text from the Arabic into Latin. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries these translation spread throughout Europe producing the first so called scientific renaissance. Many scholars eagerly took up the study of this newly arrived intellectual treasure trove. Unfortunately many of these texts stood in direct contradiction to the Church’s teachings. A simple example is that for several Greek philosophers the universe (read solar system, without telescopes that was all you could see) had existed for infinity without a beginning, the Church taught however that God had created the world and so it had a definite beginning. This situation led to the Church condemning the new heathen learning on various occasions in the twelfth century. Enter Aquinas and Albertus Magnus; these two Christian scholars did not want to give up their newly acquired intellectual riches and so they forged an acceptable compromise between Aristotelian science and Christian theology. The Church adopted this compromise and it is known as Thomism and still forms to basis of Catholic theology, unless I am very much mistaken. Far from there being no conflict between science and religion in Thomas’ times he is famous exactly because he solved the first great such conflict.

  25. #25 Christophe Thill
    September 16, 2008

    There may be different versions of the notion of “original sin”, I don’t know. But they have to have a common basis: we are all sinners, even if we haven’t done anything bad, even the small children; we’re born sinners. Why did Jesus have to come? In order to wash away this stain with his blood.

    Given this idea, what reason can be given for it? “It’s just they way we are” didn’t feel convincing enough, I guess. And I suppose that, at the time the the need to find an explanation was felt, the preferred mode of explanation was the origin myth: things are what they are because, in a remote past, an ancestor did this and that.

    So, yes, it definitely seems like, without a literal Adam, the concept of original sin falls apart.

    As for the analogy with the myth of the Tower of Babel, it doesn’t hold. The diversity of human languages is a simple fact that has (almost) always be known. You can invent a good story to try and explain it, but it’s there anyway. On the other hand, the idea that people are born sinners is not a matter of observation. It doesn’t have to be explained, but created out of whole cloth.

  26. #26 Tulse
    September 16, 2008

    Since this is what scholarship reveals, it would be foolish for anyone who knows this stuff to insist upon a literal reading of Genesis

    The fundies argue quite reasonably that if you genuinely believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, then you do have to take it literally, or else you’re calling God a liar.

    And invoking “scholarship” and rational analysis doesn’t just undercut Genesis. Scholarship says there is little evidence that the Hebrews were ever enslaved in Egypt. Scholarship says that a city walls cannot be destroyed by blowing a horn. Scholarship says that seas cannot be parted. Scholarship says that the sun can’t dance in the sky. Etc. etc. etc.

    In other words, it seems to be a dangerous game to try a rational, historically informed approach to the Bible, since such an approach effectively eviscerates much of its factual content. And when that happens, it just becomes stories, on part with Aesop’s fables or Ulysses.

  27. #27 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    That many Christians habitually regard the stories as literal history is an artifact of the subsequent compilation of different authors into one book that generations of editors sought to harmonize with one another. Obviously!

    Okay but what’s the reason that many Christians habitually regard the rest of the Bible as literal history? Must be for different reasons.

    Along those lines, I commend Lawson Stone’s article on Genesis, which you’ll find here. In a nutshell, Stone argues that much of Genesis 1 should be understood as a liturgy to accompany a change in seasons, rather than an actual history, interpreted either literally or metaphorically.

    Is the rest of the Bible liturgies too or something like that?

  28. #28 Kevin
    September 16, 2008

    “Christians believe that God became incarnate as a human being in the person of Jesus and thereby demonstrated God’s especial love for humanity”

    aw that’s sweet…I wonder if I could get my girlfriend to do that for me…

  29. #29 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 16, 2008

    Scott Hatfield –

    The cliche about the Bible not being a science textbook really needs to be put to rest. No one is saying otherwise. But the Bible does at times make assertions that can be investigated scientifically, and these assertions usually end up faring badly. This is especially true of the claims made in the early chapters of Genesis.

    You are mistaken about Augustine. He allowed for a non-literal intepretation of the creation story in Chapter One of Genesis and of certain points related to original sin and Adam and Eve. But he also believed that Genesis was recounting actual historical events. For example, he believed, on the authority of scripture, that humanity’s time on Earth was numbered at about 6000 years. Since we’re tlaking about early Church auithorities, I would also point to St. Basil, who hewed to what nowadays is called the young-Earth position. That Genesis was recounting actual historical events was a pretty commonplace belief in the early Church.

    My claim about what Brown does and does not recognize was based on what he wrote. His essay gave every appearance of trying to address the conflict between evolution and Christianity, but he did not discuss any of the major arguments made by people on my side of this, and the points he did address were mostly straw men.

    I did not misread Brown’s statement, “For the sake of human integrity — and thus for the sake of good Christian living — some rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential.” The sentence couldn’t be clearer that a rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential for the sake of human integrity. That statement is nonsense, for the reason I gave in the post. The dashed clause does nothing to change that fact.

    Of course the Bible is a collection of human stories interwoven together. That’s precisely the point. The trouble is that Christians generally claim that it is something much more than that.

    When I say that Genesis must be discarded if modern science is accepted, I am saying that the idea that the events described in the early chapters of Genesis are historical must be discarded. In my experience a great many Christians, not just fundamentalists, regard that claim as crucial. Of course you can keep these chapters around if you regard them as a collection of fables. The question is whether there is any sound textual basis for doing that. I’ve been unimpressed with the arguments I have seen in that direction.

    Thony C –

    Thanks for the correction regarding Aquinas. I was simply accepting Brown’s statement that Aquinas saw no conflict between science and religion. Perhaps you should go leave him a comment as well. :)

    I’d be curious to know more regarding the compromises the Church made to bring it’s teachings into line with what science was telling them. The example you gave seems inapt. That the universe had a definite beginning has always been a part of Catholic teaching, so far as I know, and that is certainly part of their teaching today. They did not compromise with Greek and Islamic philosophers on this point.

    As for the remainder of your comment, I don’t see it as relevant to the point I was making. I said the relationship between science and religion grew distinctly chilly as science discovered more and more things that challenged church teaching. That claim is not contradicted by pointing out that in some cases the Church, after first condeming some new bit of wisdom, later compromised with it. It also does not alter the fact that the Church to this day arrogates to itself the right to make blunt statements about scientific topics, based solely on its own teachings. Nor does it alter the fact that what the Church was promoting was natural theology, an activity subordinate to its own teachings as a source of knowledge, and not science as the term is understood today.

    I should add, in conclusion, that I had not inteded my remarks to be confined solely to the Catholic Church, though in context I can see how I could have been clearer about that. Protestant Christianity certainly has a long history of rejecting scientific and scholarly discoveries simply because they contradict long held teachings.

  30. #30 Iapetus
    September 16, 2008

    “Along those lines, I commend Lawson Stone’s article on Genesis, which you’ll find here. In a nutshell, Stone argues that much of Genesis 1 should be understood as a liturgy to accompany a change in seasons, rather than an actual history, interpreted either literally or metaphorically.”

    First of all, it is pretty bold to take the opinion of one particular theologian and pretend that he is the ultimate arbiter on the interpretation of Genesis which renders all literalist approaches false. Stone himself acknowledges that a literal interpretation is certainly valid. However, in his mind it is not the ONLY possibility allowed by the Hebrew original and thus tries to provide an alternative view.

    Secondly, his approach is a good example of the different stages where the critical method can be abandoned that I alluded to in an earlier post. Stone is certainly willing to apply the historical-critical method to a wider degree than a biblical literalist, no doubt partly because his scientific ethos demands this of him. So he comes up with his pet theory that the Genesis author(s) was/were inspired by contemporary narratives like the Babylonian creation myth and that the story can be seen as some kind of hymn or liturgy in a festival or service. This is all fine and dandy. However, he can not bring himself to draw the obvious conclusion from his theory, namely that the creation story of the ancient Hebrews and its main protagonist Yahweh are just as fictitious as its Babylonian counterparts Marduk and Tiamat. Instead, he tries to argue that the Genesis story is in some sense superior to the stories it was inspired by and therefore more “true”, i.e. the critical method is suspended before it can seriously threaten what he sees as indispensable to his faith. The irony is that the results of this procedure will be seen with horror by people who use exactly the same approach, but suspend their criticism at an earlier stage.

  31. #31 Thony C.
    September 16, 2008

    Sorry my misleading!My blockquote is too long, when I said you were wrong I was only refering to Aquinas not to later developments :)

  32. #32 Koray
    September 16, 2008

    Which almighty god would not want to avoid the need for complicated interpretation (and possible misinterpretation) of his only message to his creature for thousands of years?

    Believers attribute all kinds of powers to the creator, yet they expect very little in efficiency, clarity and correctness. They’re even willing to accept the blame in translation errors, but are willing to perform error correction by their understanding of the ‘gist’ of the whole message (which requires well placed redundancy in the original if you know anything about error correction).

    The delivery and dissemination pattern of this message is the same as one by any ancient charlatan or false prophet. But, nobody is making excuses for them, providing alternative interpretations that reconcile with modern knowledge.

  33. #33 386sx
    September 16, 2008

    The delivery and dissemination pattern of this message is the same as one by any ancient charlatan or false prophet. But, nobody is making excuses for them, providing alternative interpretations that reconcile with modern knowledge.

    That’s because they talk to their own God. They don’t talk to all those other gods. How else would they even know! They must be carrying on conversations with their God. Right?

  34. #34 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 16, 2008

    Jason, your detailed reply is much appreciated. A few comments….

    This is especially true of the claims made in the early chapters of Genesis.

    Yes. If taken literally.

    But he also believed that Genesis was recounting actual historical events. For example, he believed, on the authority of scripture, that humanity’s time on Earth was numbered at about 6000 years. Since we’re tlaking about early Church auithorities, I would also point to St. Basil, who hewed to what nowadays is called the young-Earth position. That Genesis was recounting actual historical events was a pretty commonplace belief in the early Church.

    Jason, if St. Augustine held to a young Earth on the authority of scripture, why didn’t he hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis on the same basis? Clearly St. Augustine had other sources of authority, which is to say reason. And, the truth is, the evidence that might’ve led reason to consider the antiquity of the Earth was largely unavailable to the people of St. Augustine’s time. It’s not just St. Augustine that thought the Earth was mere millenia in age. Everybody thought that, and condemning all Christian thought under the sun, past and present, on the basis of an error that was held nigh-universally in the ancient world by Christian and non-Christian alike is a strange way to argue your case.

    His essay gave every appearance of trying to address the conflict between evolution and Christianity, but he did not discuss any of the major arguments made by people on my side of this, and the points he did address were mostly straw men.

    (throws up his hands) Well, what can I say? Surprisingly, I agree. I would’ve much rather read a discussion of the problems posed by evolution for the doctrine of original sin than another namby-pamby ‘let’s all play nice and hold hands’ piece. That’s why I appreciate the opportunity to have a franker discussion with someone who is not worried about playing nice. I learn more that way.

    When I say that Genesis must be discarded if modern science is accepted, I am saying that the idea that the events described in the early chapters of Genesis are historical must be discarded.

    Well, if that’s the case, then I not only misread you, but I am forced by the facts to agree with you. You either missed an opportunity to point out my error, or you are too kind to kick a man when he’s down…:)

    I did not misread Brown’s statement, �For the sake of human integrity — and thus for the sake of good Christian living — some rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential.� The sentence couldn’t be clearer that a rapprochement between Darwin and Christian faith is essential for the sake of human integrity. That statement is nonsense, for the reason I gave in the post. The dashed clause does nothing to change that fact.

    I’m sorry to still disagree with you, but to my mind the clause does change things a bit if you perceive Christians, rather than the world at large, to be the intended audience for that sentence. I definitely don’t think that you, skeptical math prof, were what the author had in mind! What I think Brown is saying is not that all folk of all sorts much make some sort of peace with Christianity and Darwin in order to have integrity. If that is what he meant, then I agree with you, that statement is nonsense. A person can in fact have integrity while being perfectly skeptical about one or the other (as much as it might pain me to admit it!)

    Rather, I think he was trying to say something along these lines: “The evidence supports Darwin to a large extent. Pretending otherwise is an exercise in self-deception. We Christians have got to acknowledge the evidence exists if we’re going to be effective witnesses to our faith.” I know that may seem a torturous rending of Brown’s intent, but that’s pretty much the same argument that St. Augustine was making about the Creation stories.

    But you know what? I could be wrong. So tell you what: I’ll write Brown and ask him to explain his position, because I have to admit that the way he put it sounds odd.

  35. #35 Morgan- LynnGriggs Lamberth
    September 16, 2008

    Thanks fellow naturalists for showing theistic evolution as an oxymoreom!As we were not destined to arrive and if not for that meteor, no other such being would have arrived, to invoke God is to beg the question and also to go against the weight of evidence [Paul Draper, George Gylord Simspson, Ernst Mayr / What Evolutin Is”/ and Prof. Weusz / “The Science of Biology/, where he shows teleology to be backwards causation; causalism is the force instead.] that there is no cosmic teleology and therefrom derives the atelic argument that no god need apply for work. Besides, God is a incoherent term – the ignostic challenge- or else violates the Razor with its convoluted ad hocs.
    Logic is the bane of theists.
    Then Hume points out imperfections of nature in his dysteological[ atelic] argument.
    Thus saith Skeptic Griggsy.

  36. #36 Morgan- Lamberth
    September 16, 2008

    Sorry for the typo- oxymoron instead.

  37. #37 Jeremy
    September 16, 2008

    Genesis 30:37-39

    “37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted.”

    That is a primitive understanding of science; it cannot be taken figuratively and it is a clear representation of why the bible cannot be taken as divinely inspired.

    And where the hell are all these “moderate” christians who believe in evolution? Send them down here to the bible belt; I’m getting tired of all the fundies.

  38. #38 Pseudonym
    September 17, 2008

    Christophe:

    As for the analogy with the myth of the Tower of Babel, it doesn’t hold. The diversity of human languages is a simple fact that has (almost) always be known. You can invent a good story to try and explain it, but it’s there anyway. On the other hand, the idea that people are born sinners is not a matter of observation.

    I think that we might have a terminology issue here.

    The Greek word which we translate into the English “sin” was originally an archery term essentially meaning to miss the target. (Note: This isn’t the whole story of its etymology, but it’s the basic idea.) It’s very easy to observe that, despite the existence of ideals on how to live, or any number of moral issues, we as a special constantly fail to get these things right.

    Procrastination is an obvious example, which applies to a lot of people: We know we have certain things that need doing, but we just fail to do them. The reason that democratic governments have a checks-and-balances system is because it’s a very safe bet that if there isn’t, power will be abused.

    (Yes, this seems to affect some more than others. From the point of view of whether you “hit the target” of absolute perfection or not, that’s irrelevant.)

    So if you understand it that way, “original sin” seems like a pretty obvious thing. Yes, typical Christians will couch this in religious language. Conservatives and fundies will hold up some kind of “divine law” as the standard by which perfection is judged. Liberals will point out the inability of people to live up even to their own standards. It amounts to the same thing.

    I think that there’s a real confusion of the idea of “original sin” with a specific mythology (or set of mythologies) developed to explain it.

    It’s kind of like how creationists sometimes define “evolution” to be whatever Darwin said, no more, no less, so that if even one small thing that Darwin said was later shown to be wrong about anything at all, evolution is completely undermined in their minds. I think we all understand why this argument is complete crap, no?

    Similarly, a bunch of people here are confusing the basic idea of “original sin” with a bunch of other theological baggage (e.g. “total depravity” or “ancestral sin”). Disproving the theological baggage (and, BTW, it’s high time someone actually did!) does not undermine the central idea.

    I’m seeing a lot of comments of this general form, too:

    In other words, it seems to be a dangerous game to try a rational, historically informed approach to the Bible, since such an approach effectively eviscerates much of its factual content. And when that happens, it just becomes stories, on part with Aesop’s fables or Ulysses.

    First off, Aesop’s Fables is a poor comparison. Ulysses is better. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Australian Aboriginal “dreaming” legends or Star Wars are even better comparisons. Mythology is not “just stories”. It’s much more noble than that, and I wish more people appreciated it. (I understand why not, though. A lack of appreciate for good mythology is one of those unintended side-effects of the Enlightenment. Before you ask: No, I wouldn’t want to go back, either.)

    One piece of subtext is that modern theologians just discard the bits they don’t like and keep the bits they do. This is strictly incorrect. The modern approach to exegesis is actually to treat it just like you would any other ancient text, and apply the same rigour and methodology to try to understand what it would have meant to a contemporary reader.

    (This, incidentally, is why I find attitudes like “the fundies are right” coming from Atheists disturbing. The very idea that an Atheist would want to treat the Bible unlike other ancient texts is, on the face of it, disturbing.)

    One of the reasons why it can sometimes look like it’s “throwing away the bits we don’t like” is because it never occurs to people to revisit some assumption until it’s challenged. Think Special Relativity: It never occurred to people that simultaneity is relative to the observer until evidence suggested otherwise.

    Incidentally, if you want to know what that entails, it’s a bit complicated to explain this, but consulting Google about terms like “higher criticism” or “historical-critical analysis” should give you the general idea.

  39. #39 Pseudonym
    September 17, 2008

    Jeremy:

    That is a primitive understanding of science; it cannot be taken figuratively […]

    Certainly.

    […] and it is a clear representation of why the bible cannot be taken as divinely inspired.

    That’s only true for a small number of definitions of “divinely inspired”, mostly fundamentalist ones. Surely you wouldn’t argue that Animal Farm couldn’t have been written by anyone who knew anything about politics because it depends on talking animals?

    And where the hell are all these “moderate” christians who believe in evolution? Send them down here to the bible belt; I’m getting tired of all the fundies.

    They’re everywhere in the English-speaking world, and a lot of the non-English-speaking world, except the bible belt. Malcolm Brown, for example, is from England. I doubt you could persuade him to move near you.

    Jason has commented a few times that he never developed his “unhealthy obsession” with creationism until he moved to Kansas. I can certainly respect that. I’ve never been to the bible belt (or, indeed, anywhere in the US apart from California; it’s a long flight from here in Australia), but from what I can tell, it seems like it may as well be another planet.

  40. #40 386sx
    September 17, 2008

    That’s only true for a small number of definitions of “divinely inspired”, mostly fundamentalist ones. Surely you wouldn’t argue that Animal Farm couldn’t have been written by anyone who knew anything about politics because it depends on talking animals?

    Look at all the other divinely inspired writings in the world. What’s the difference! It’s a mythology for crying out loud.

    Do you imagine that you have conversations with your god, and so you are convinced that your religion is not a mythology but all the other ones are? Is that the difference? Is it because you really talk to your god, but the other religions are only pretending that they talk to their gods? Good grief.

  41. #41 Iapetus
    September 17, 2008

    “One piece of subtext is that modern theologians just discard the bits they don’t like and keep the bits they do. This is strictly incorrect. The modern approach to exegesis is actually to treat it just like you would any other ancient text, and apply the same rigour and methodology to try to understand what it would have meant to a contemporary reader.”

    Unfortunately, this rosy picture of the theological reality is not quite accurate.

    For one, there exist theological schools of thought (the one based on Bultmann comes to mind) which do not see their task as deconstructing the biblical narrative, but as providing their church and the faithful guidance on how to properly understand the sacred texts that are themselves seen as immune from criticism.

    Furthermore, many theologians may claim that they follow the demands of the historical-critical method in theory. Practically, virtually any theological work I have read has suspended this methodology sooner or later because the author tried to preserve certain notions he/she deemed indispensable to maintain the faith. And we are only talking about Protestant theologians here. After all, their Catholic colleagues enjoy the superintendence of an institution that officially and openly limits their freedom of thought and inquiry. It is no coincidence that Ratzinger´s recent Jesus biography deemed the historical-critical method to be “improper” for this subject matter due to its corrosive effect on faith.

    A good example of a widespread mindset among the members of this academic dicipline is provided by the well-known theologian Hans Kueng in his book “Does God exist?”, where we can read the following: “The results of the historical-critical method can never undermine the faith, since they can not found the faith, either.” I am sure that this is pretty reassuring to the faithful, but what it means is that he will simply disregard any findings that he perceives as a threat to his faith. One wonders why he bothers with a historical-critical analysis in the first place.

    A notable exception to this widely-held stance is the 19th century research into the life of Jesus, which was mostly conducted by Protestant theology and which revealed that both he and his early followers had the erroneous expectation to see the beginning of God´s kingdom on Earth within their lifetime. The fact that this event did not occur and that Jesus, the son of God, was mistaken in a matter of cosmic importance was a very disturbing finding, not least because it raises the possibility that he could have been wrong about other things as well. Albert Schweitzer rightfully labeled this research a “deed of truthfulness” by Protestant theologists. Of course, their modern counterparts mostly ignore these findings or try to explain them away.

  42. #42 heddle
    September 17, 2008

    Christophe Thill

    But they have to have a common basis: we are all sinners, even if we haven’t done anything bad

    No, that is not the Augustinian concept at all. Original sin means that we are born with the moral inability to do anything that pleases God.

    Tulse,

    The fundies argue quite reasonably that if you genuinely believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, then you do have to take it literally, or else you’re calling God a liar.

    Actually, not even the fundiest of fundies argue that, so you can’t claim that they are “reasonable” for taking a position they don’t take. Ask them how long the weeks of Daniel’s seventy weeks are. Ask them if “this generation” in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) means, say, 40 years or so from the time the words were uttered. Ask them if “and not just our sins but the sins of the whole world” means that Christ was a propitiation for every human. Ask them if John’s comments in the first chapter of Revelation about the imminence of his prophecy things that must soon take place … for the time is near means that the events described therein did indeed happen “soon” as John wrote. I could go on and on listing the things fundies do not take literally, without touching the obvious–that they accept passages like “I am the vine” as metaphors. They do not think you can pick grapes from Jesus.

  43. #43 heddle
    September 17, 2008

    Iapetus

    which revealed that both he and his early followers had the erroneous expectation to see the beginning of God’s kingdom on Earth within their lifetime ..Of course, their modern counterparts mostly ignore these findings or try to explain them away.

    There is good tagential point here, which is that atheists of a bygone generation actually made substantive arguments. Several, including the formidable Bertrand Russell, latched on to Schweitzer and hounded the theme of “Parousia delay.” Today’s marquis atheists could take a lesson, instead of, in my opinion, embarrassing their predecessors by arguing “If God made everything, who made God?” or “So many bad things happen in the name of religion, so many people have been killed! Bad religion, bad!” or “Religion is dumb, but eastern mysticism, now that’s the cat’s meow.” But I digress.

    This problem has not been ignored, not then, not now. There is an entire school of thought called preterism that deals with the apparent delay in fulfillment of many prophecies, mostly by attributing them to the events of AD 70. Of course, par for the course on the blogosphere, you could claim that such legitimate theological efforts are just “explaining the problems away.”

  44. #44 Iapetus
    September 17, 2008

    heddle,

    I will just note in passing that the “formidable” Bertrand Russell, who you mentioned approvingly as a heavyweight atheist of happier times gone by, raised the same facile “If God made everything, who made God?” objection in his essay “Why I am not a Christian”. Obviously it was one of his weaker days when he wrote that. Could you just quickly remind me of this devastating theistic retort which settled that pesky issue once and for all?

    Regarding the Parousia delay, please note that I said this topic is “mostly” ignored by contemporary theologians. I am aware that some were and are working within this field. Whether their attempts are convincing is another matter. The fact remains, however, that this issue is not addressed in the large majority of mainstream theological books, especially those which are targeted at a mainstream market. I wonder why that is. Probably not because the problem was solved and is no longer relevant.

  45. #45 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 17, 2008

    Jason: I’ve emailed Brown and am awaiting a reply.

    (commences holding breath)

  46. #46 Antonio Jerez
    September 17, 2008

    This discussion on the incompability/compability of Darwinism with Christianity certainly gives me a sense of deja vu. I think Jason makes some very strong points. Just like him I do not believe Darwinism squares well with Christianity, and with Christianity I mean the religion that Jesus the Jew preached. Christian apologets can always try to delude themselves and others by claiming that Genesis and other parts of the shouldnt be taken litteraly. Sure, the authors of Genesis dont appear to have taken their own writings literally but Jesus and Paul certainly did. The truth claims of a religion are to be judged by the roots of that religion, which is Jesus and his teachings (or the teachings of the earliest christians). If that is done Darwinism and Christianity are hardly compatible. That later Christians like Ken Miller try to mutate Christianity into something which he claims is compatible with Darwinism is another depressing example of the effects of cognitive dissonance and the too well known human capacity for self deception at whatever price.

    To see my thoughts a bit more fleshed out I can recommend those interested on the subject to see a discussion I had some months ago on this web page:

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=14388695&postID=1345280023245666215

    and this discussion:

    http://www.christilling.de/blog/2008/04/was-jesus-wrong.html

  47. #47 Pseudonym
    September 17, 2008

    386sx:

    Look at all the other divinely inspired writings in the world. What’s the difference! It’s a mythology for crying out loud.

    No argument from me. I think mythology is a good thing.

    Iapetus:

    Unfortunately, this rosy picture of the theological reality is not quite accurate.

    I’d agree with that, at least up to a point. Although perhaps rather than “modern”, I should have said “modernist”.

    Like the scientific method, higher criticism is more like a checklist than a recipe. I think that the scientific method produces reliable results, especially over the medium-to-long term, but science doesn’t always work like the rosy picture that we sometimes paint either.

    I also agree that, like most non-scientific disciplines, errors in method are more likely to persist. I’m not saying that all is rosy, but I am saying that it’s not as simple as just making stuff up.

    Historical-critical method is a good development, and it should be encouraged. And, yes, theologians should be encouraged to stick more closely to it.

    Having said that, it’s not hard to find theologians who stick (or have stuck) to it. The “Jesus Seminar” people are the most obvious examples, but there’s also Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Dibelius and Bart Ehrman. And, of course, you mentioned Albert Schweitzer, a man whom I very much admire.

    There are, no doubt, quite a few others; that’s just off the top of my head.

  48. #48 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 19, 2008

    Wouldja believe it, the Rev. Brown DID respond to my questions in email. I’ll be posting my query and his replies on my blog sometime this weekend. Hopefully, Jason, you’ll take the time to link to it and give me and the Reverend an earful.

    Expectantly….Scott Hatfield

  49. #49 Ian H Spedding FCD
    September 20, 2008

    heddle wrote:

    No, that is not the Augustinian concept at all. Original sin means that we are born with the moral inability to do anything that pleases God.

    Sounds like a serious design flaw to me.

  50. #50 Modusoperandi
    September 21, 2008

    Ian H Spedding FCD “Sounds like a serious design flaw to me.”
    Yes, but it’s not His fault, you see. Nothing “bad” is. That “flaw” is the “free will” that He gave Adam and his identical twin sister, which lead them to disobey Him and eat the thing that gave them the knowledge of Good and Evil. This knowledge would’ve served them well before they disobeyed. In fact, the lack of that knowledge, and with it the inability to predict the consequences of one’s actions, proved critical in their failure to be good kids, making nonsense of the entire endeavour and making Him out to be kind of incompetent in His divine perfection. Luckily, in addition to being really bad with people, He’s mysterious and loving and just and merciful. This is why He kicked them out of the garden, made Adam dig in thistles and weeds and gave Eve birthin’ pains when she, inevitably, got knocked up.
    But that’s not the best part! He also eventually sent down His son, who was also Him, to “cure” the disease of Original Sin. Well, more of a treatment, really. You’ll still be bad and fail and make baby Jesus cry since you’re a wicked person who really deserves to burn in hell for all eternity because God both loves you and hates sin that much but, provided you believed the right thing before you died, you get the good ending. Hurrah!

  51. #51 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 22, 2008

    Jason, as promised, here’s the link to my blog where I share Brown’s reply to my letter and discuss my understanding, or lack thereof, of his point of view:

    http://monkeytrials.blogspot.com/2008/09/good-science-good-religion.html

  52. #52 jcarter
    September 23, 2008

    With Palin,religion and religious views so in the news these days, I�m wondering what you and you all think about this. I came across this interesting site, opposingviews.com the other day while doing some research on religion and its place in politics.

    It�s a site where there are numerous interesting debates on all sorts of subjects that are on everyone�s mind. The debate that specifically captured my attention is the one asking whether Intelligent Design has merit. I do like the idea that their debaters are not simply average people giving their opinions, but all are experts in their chosen fields.

    The point of view that really got to me though, is the one from the Ayn Rand Institute in which they call ID a supposedly non-religious theory, and a crusade to peddle religion by giving it the veneer of science. They use words like it is metaphysical marijuana intended to draw students away from scientific explanations and get them hooked on the supernatural. I�d like to place my comment there, but I�d really like to get some input from you before doing so. Here�s the specific debate I�d like to comment on. http://www.opposingviews.com/arguments/it-s-bait-and-switch Thanks so much.

  53. #53 heddle
    September 23, 2008

    jcarter,

    Well I for one agree with the basic premise that it’s a bait and switch. ID being nonreligious is nonsense.

    Having said that, I’ll add that I find the very concept of the “Ayn Rand Institute” totally absurd. What Rand should tell the scholars at the ARI, if she were alive and true to her principles, is “go out and get a real job and create some wealth you worthless Wesley-Mouchian parasites.” I don’t think she would, however. She seems to have been a randy old cougar, more interested in a cult following–even though such a thing belies her alleged devotion to individualism.

  54. #54 JimCH
    September 23, 2008

    “[Ayn Rand] seems to have been a randy old cougar.”
    Oh sweet Jesus, I’ll still be laughing about that one tomorrow. Thanks for that heddle.

  55. #55 bud
    September 30, 2008

    modusoperandi

    that’s a pretty good story, but I have a better one;

    It seems there was an old man that lived on the other side of a great big lake. He felt the same way about the story you just told as you. So he made up one for himself:

    Once upon a time there was this country… no, wait, what if someone asks me where it came from? hmmm I know Once upon a time there was this planet… no, i have to go back further… Once upon a time there was this universe…well, no, I got it! Once upon a time there was this gigantic explosion that came from… hmmm, mass and energy, yeah, that’s it. But how can I explain, oh I know, if I give this start a fancy enough name, that ought to throw them off…(this is where it is starting to get good!) how about “Quantum Fluctuation”. That’s it! That is the name of this magic act. From nothing to something by Quantum Fluctuation. Great! (I told you this is good.) Now we will blow up what really doesn’t exist (isn’t that a kicker) and make EVERYTHING! This is good but I need a separate start for living…. I got it! I will call it what I had for lunch…p.green soup!
    (funny, eh?) And just to throw them off, I will tell them that the formation of living cells can not be accomplished with oxygen or live without it. (oh, I gotta stop here, my sides are hurting…)

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