More Infuriating than the Creationists

Jerry Coyne has an important post up responding to this awful essay by Peter Doumit, posted at the BioLogos website. Doumit’s essay has nuggets like this:

Divine revelation comes in two forms: the Word of God (including both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition) and the Work of God (including the natural, physical world and the laws that govern it). Both are equally valid forms of truth, as they stem from the same Source. And since truth can never contradict truth, a truth revealed in one cannot ever be in conflict with a truth revealed in the other. Once this is fundamentally understood, fear about science overthrowing religion becomes obsolete, and science has a moral compass guiding discovery and innovation. (Emphasis in original.)

Hence the title of the post.

Doumit’s statement is absurd on its face, but it becomes positively offensive when you realize that by “Sacred Scripture” he means the Bible, and by “Sacred Tradition” he means the teachings of the Catholic Church. How does a sensible person come to believe anything remotely like this?

There is something deeply lazy and insulting about Doumit’s assertion. Science has proven its validity by granting us enormous control over nature. What does revelation offer to compare? He tells us that science and scripture cannot ever conflict. In saying this he expects us to believe, absurdly, that the Biblical text is infinitely malleable. He seeks a place at the table for his own preferred religion not on the basis of proven success, but on … what basis exactly?

For centuries virtually everyone who read the Bible came away thinking that the Earth was young, that Adam and Eve were real people, that species were fixed, that Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel were real, and that the Sun orbited the Earth. Are we really to believe they all just misunderstood the meaning of the text? If Sacred Scripture is that confusing, then in what sense is it a valid form of truth?

Jerry has already said most of what needs saying regarding this essay. Mostly though I was reminded of something I read in MIchael Ruse’s book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? He quotes Daniel Dennett, from Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:

I know it passes in polite company to let people have it both ways, and under most circumstances I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign arrangement. But we’re seriously trying to get at the truth here, and if you think that this common but unspoken understanding about faith is anything better than socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face, you have either seen much more deeply into this issue than any philosopher ever has (for none has ever come up with a good defense of this) or you are kidding yourself.

It is hard to imagine anything more sensible than that, but Ruse believes Dennett needs a lecture about modesty.

Picking up on an argument made in the last chapter, notwithstanding the significance of reason, this century’s findings in science and mathematics must surely have infused people with a little modesty about their ability to peer into the nature of ultimate reality.

And later:

But precisely because you (as a Darwinian) are working within the world as you can know it, you ought to show a little modesty about your limitations.

It is simply extraordinary. Are we seriously to believe that it is people like Dennett, or atheists generally, who are the ones speaking with unwarranted certainty about the nature of ultimate reality? When atheists suggest that we should stick with what works (science and reason) and eschew what has consistently failed (faith), it is thought to be an occasion for scolding and condescension. But when people like Doumit arrogantly and baselessly declare the findings of their religion (and only their religion) to be a valid form of truth, they are not similarly lectured. In fact, it is considered poor form to criticize them, since they are at least on the right side of the evolution issue.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian Utterback
    September 22, 2010

    I understand your position, but really, this is a step forward. Which would you prefer:

    1. Science and the Bible conflict, so science must be wrong.

    2. Science and the Bible conflict, so our interpretation of the Bible must be wrong.

    I know what you would really like:

    3. Science and the Bible conflict, so the Bible is wrong. Let’s toss it out!

    But I think you will agree that it is going to be a long time before people who would choose #1 go for #3 instead.

  2. #2 smijer
    September 22, 2010

    Doumit’s logic is sound.
    P1 the universe is God’s handiwork
    P2 scriptural tradition is God’s word
    P3 God cannot lie
    P4 science reveals nature accurately
    Therefore
    Q scripture properly interpreted cannot contradict science properly done.

    Only if you ask Doumit to take up the burden of proving p1-3 are their problems. Doumit would doubtlessly hold that p1-3 are not logically impossible, and would point out that he and many other believers accept these premises, so it is not dishonest of him to use them in an argument to prove Q to the satisfaction of anyone who likewise holds them.

    In fact, I like his logic and use it myself to convince people of Q even though I do not personally hold p1-3. I have a niece in mind right now who could probably benefit from Doumit’s essay. I’ve spoken with her at length and she is not anywhere near giving up p1-3. But if I can use her acceptance of them to leverage accpetance of science… then that will be a major step forward for her, and I’ll be very proud.

  3. #3 Mandrellian
    September 22, 2010

    Brian @ # 1:

    “I understand your position, but really, this is a step forward. Which would you prefer:

    1. Science and the Bible conflict, so science must be wrong.

    2. Science and the Bible conflict, so our interpretation of the Bible must be wrong.

    I know what you would really like:

    3. Science and the Bible conflict, so the Bible is wrong. Let’s toss it out!

    But I think you will agree that it is going to be a long time before people who would choose #1 go for #3 instead.”

    Not quite.

    What Josh and other scientists (and science tragics like myself) are endlessly trying to point out is this:

    Science and the Bible do indeed conflict, but that’s not the fault of Science, and people who employ or understand Science should not be scolded for pointing out this obvious fact.

    Noone wants to “toss the Bible out”; they merely want people to stop depicting scripture as a source of objective fact equal to science. Why? Because it simply isn’t.

    If believers would remain content to leave their scriptures in their temples, science wouldn’t have anything to object to, no science/religion conflict would exist and the need for apologists and New Framers would vanish. But scripture is not left in temples or in the minds of believers; it is trotted out all over the place as a reference book, a historically accurate archive, a source of objective truth, a guide to morality & decency or a combination of all of them. Scripture is neither objectively true, factual, accurate or moral (in any applicable sense). As such it has no place informing scientific, historical or moral discussions except as an artefact of whichever ancient society invented it.

    As soon as believers quit attempting to inject their scriptures into scientific discussions, “Science” will stop telling them they’re wrong and their feelings will stop being hurt.

  4. #4 miller
    September 22, 2010

    That quote brings up memories of my Catholic apologetics classes in high school. The teacher emphasized the point that truths revealed by science and truths revealed through scripture and theology cannot contradict, because truth cannot contradict truth.

    It seems rather clear in retrospect that this is an explicit example of conclusion-first reasoning. That is, they have their conclusion (that religion and science are both true), and infer that all the necessary prerequisites are also true (ie that religion and science contradict). Only after making this conclusion do they actually inspect the details of religion and science. It’s unsurprising that they end up confirming what is for them a forgone conclusion.

  5. #5 miller
    September 22, 2010

    Typo correction: “(ie that religion and science *don’t* contradict)”

  6. #6 386sx
    September 23, 2010

    Doumit would doubtlessly hold that p1-3 are not logically impossible,

    He would, but he would look goofy because p3 states that god cannot lie, but in the p2 (scriptural tradition) god tells lies all the time. Therefore, the logically impossible is logically possible. QED, science and religion are compatible.

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    September 23, 2010

    Looking only at the quotation you offered, I think you’re being unfair to Doumit.

    I think the issue here is how one approaches the claim that “Work of God…includ[es] the natural, physical world and the laws that govern it.” This is usually offered not as a result of some empirical study, but as an axiomatic belief. Taken as such, the claim that (empirical, scientific) truth cannot contradict (religious, revelatory) truth because both “stem from the same Source” is just a logical consequence of the axiom.

    If the axiom’s true, then it is not claiming that “the Biblical text is infinitely malleable.” Because by presupposition, the Bible must be telling the same story as science.

    You could counter that this argument is its own reductio ad absurdum: the two are not telling the same story, and therefore the premise is false. But I don’t think you’ve made that case.

    Here’s a much-simplified analogy. It’s common knowledge that Apocalypse Now is a retelling of Heart of Darkness. If you took either story, and tried to use it to navigate a river in Africa or Vietnam, you’d be eaten by crocodiles or tigers before sunset. By the “literalist” approach, it’s hard to even credit the claim of a connection between the stories (beyond some characters with similar names, they are in different time periods, different centuries, different dialog, etc.). And yet, the two do tell the same story, and converge on certain essential truths, even though no particular event in either story ever really happened. Getting to that truth requires some work, as it does in any good book. (Cf. Umberto Eco: “I always assume that a good book is more intelligent than its author. It can say things that the writer is not aware of.” Or this.)

    Nor do I see how the “For centuries…” paragraph helps you. You and I rightly mock creationists who say virtually identical things about evolution and science in general. Aristotle had access to the same basic physical world as Newton and even Einstein, but his interpretation of that physical world got basic stuff badly wrong. Yet I have no problem mocking anyone who says: “If [science] is that confusing, then in what sense is it a valid form of truth?”

    In what field of human endeavor has knowledge not improved over the centuries? Assuming, for sake of argument, that Doumit’s axiom is correct, why should human understanding of the Word grow at a more rapid rate or be any less responsive to new discoveries than our understanding of the World?

    (NB: I don’t actually think Doumit’s axiom is correct.)

  8. #8 yogi-one
    September 23, 2010

    That solves everything! Dang that Doumit guy is a genius!

    The earth was created 5000bc spontaneously by God, and it is also over four billion years old, formed out of an accretion disc surrounding the sun!

    Dinosaurs lived with humans less than 7000 years ago, and they also became extinct 60 million years ago!

    Truth never contradicts truth! Therefore Creationism and Evolution are saying the same thing as each other!

    Brilliant!

    I’m glad we finished that up! What’s next?

  9. #9 Bruce Gorton
    September 23, 2010

    Brian Utterback

    Think about it from your average creationist’s point of view.

    So you aren’t a guy who has seen the evidence, but you were reasonably educated, you know your Bible (Or at least, your preacher does) and you have grown up with religion.

    Now here are a bunch of people who are telling you things that just don’t fit.

    These people then repeatedly say “Hey no conflict.”

    Meanwhile your creationist minister is telling “Yeah, they’re talking crap.” You have the Bible right there, you can read.

    Who are you going to believe?

  10. #10 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Apart from the last sentence about a moral compass, Doumit (whoever he is) is spot-on, and simply stating what a lot of conservative Christians have always said: that god is not a god of confusion and the bible (the word of god) and creation (the work of god) cannot be in conflict.

    Coyne rather fatuously claims that creationists would disagree. As is his wont when he steps outside of his field, he is dead wrong. (Of course the non-RCC’s will exclude “Sacred Tradition”–but that is not what Coyne meant.)

    I guarantee that Ken Ham would agree with the gist of Doumit’s statement, that special and general revelation cannot be in conflict.

    And Ham and people on the other end of the spectrum (like me) would also agree that while god is not a god of confusion, man is creature of confusion, and the human endeavors exploring these two types of revelation–things like theology, hermeneutics, exegesis, translations, and science–all these are fraught with error. But this does not imply contraction of the underlying revelation–just erroneous understanding thereof. Of course there would then ensue violent disagreement as to where the errors were occurring–but again all camps would remain steadfast that Doumit’s statement is accurate in the essentials.

  11. #11 MacTurk
    September 23, 2010

    Circular bullshit.

  12. #12 eric
    September 23, 2010

    Doumit’s mistake is similar to Gould’s NOMA: both make a claim about what religious revelation can’t or wouldn’t say. For Gould, religion ought not say things about the physical world. For Doumit, God ought not give contradictory messages. Oh yeah? Who says? I can claim the gods would never tell knock-knock jokes – i.e. if you get a knock-knock joke in your revelation, it must be a false revelation or you’re interpreting it wrong. If my claim sounds ridiculous, it is. But its the same sort of claim as Doumit’s, and Gould’s: a claim to know what revelation won’t reveal.

    Heddle: Apart from the last sentence about a moral compass, Doumit is spot-on, and simply stating what a lot of conservative Christians have always said: that god is not a god of confusion and the bible and creation cannot be in conflict. [note I deleted some parentheticals for simplicity]

    You’re right, he is stating what alot of other people think. But its also clearly circular: this line of reasoning is nothing more than (1) posit God wouldn’t send conflicting messages and then (2) arrive at the conclusion that the messages must not conflict.

  13. #13 Kevin
    September 23, 2010

    As usual, Heddle can be counted on to be present, write clear coherent sentences, and be 100% full of crap.

    Nice job, Heddle.

    Simple question: If theology is fraught with human error, but the bible is inerrant, and the inerrant bible was written by humans, who are fraught with error, and hermeneutics (which is the process of interpreting holy texts) is fraught with human error, what parts of the inerrant bible are in error?

    You’re one of those “metaphor when I want it to be, literally true when I wish it so” kind of guys, aren’t you?

    Let me guess:
    * Adam and Eve: Metaphor
    * Talking snake: Metaphor
    * Burning bush: Metaphor
    * Tower of Babel: Metaphor
    * Exodus: Metaphor
    * Jonah’s human-swallowing-but-not-digesting-then-vomiting-back-whole fish: Metaphor
    * Virgin birth: Real (just like Plato!)
    * Herod ordering all children killed: Metaphor (cuz it never happened)
    * Changing water into wine: Real
    * Loaves and fishes: Real
    * Raising yourself from the dead >48 hours after dying: Real.
    * Loads of dead saints rising from the dead and walking through Jerusalem: Metaphor
    * Bodily ascension into heaven: Metaphor

    You are literally so full of shit your eyes are brown.

  14. #14 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin,

    You’re one of those “metaphor when I want it to be, literally true when I wish it so” kind of guys, aren’t you?

    And you are one of those:

    the bible is precluded from employing figures of speech because it is so easy to refute the text when we demand that it be taken literally–so easy that even an idiot can do it–so no making it harder by allowing for anything other than strict liberality! And no allowing for genre or translation errors either, you must defend exactly what the KJV translators wrote–if they wrote unicorns, then dammit the bible teaches unicorns!!

    kind of chowderheads, aren’t you?

  15. #15 Kevin
    September 23, 2010

    Heddle:

    Not at all…I’m quite willing to be proven wrong in both fact and opinion…I was proven wrong about something just yesterday and was more than willing to concede the point.

    So, prove me wrong.

    Your statement is illogical on its face. It states that humans, who both wrote and interpret the bible, are fraught with error. But the bible itself is inerrant. That means you can only reconcile that opinion by determining that parts of the bible can only be viewed as metaphor (lessons), and parts can be viewed as literal.

    Without a literal Jesus, your religion kinda sucks. And a metaphorical Jesus would be at odds with all but an extremely minor sect (so would for about 1.5 billion of your co-religionists represent a No True Christian position). Without miracles, including the virgin birth, walking on water, loaves and fishes, and the bloody gore-filled extravaganza at the end, there is no way to distinguish Jesus from every other whackaloon Messianic preacher of the day (of which there were plenty). But bodily ascension into heaven is just so daffy that it defies both modern logic and evidence; as well as having dead “saints” walk about Jerusalem unnoticed by anyone but the writer of John.

    Therefore, one can assume that you’re a metaphor-ist about those parts of the bible that have been definitively disproven, and a literalist about those parts which you hold as core to your belief system.

    This is what allows you to oppose slavery, even though it is mandated in the OT and defended in the NT. This is also what allows you to interpret Matthew 5:17-18 to mean “as soon as the resurrection” instead of “after the second coming” with respect to following the law and the commandments. And it’s what allows you to ignore 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, and let women speak in church (heck, your pastor might even be a woman — reconcile THAT with the plain language of Paul).

    If this is wrong, then only two other states are possible.
    1. You’re a literal literalist. Every word is true, and each and every story in the bible literally happened. Talking snakes existed.
    2. You’re a total metaphorist. None of the stories are literally true, up to and including the gospels and Revelation, but offer “life lessons”. Kinda of Buddhism-heavy, as it were, but without the chanting.

    You’re one of those people who knows what he believes, but not why he believes it. Or how he goes about distinguishing “true” from “not true”. Or how to even define “true”.

  16. #16 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin,

    To start with, you were 4/13 in your original “insight” into what kind of guy I am.

    Your statement is illogical on its face. It states that humans, who both wrote and interpret the bible, are fraught with error. But the bible itself is inerrant. That means you can only reconcile that opinion by determining that parts of the bible can only be viewed as metaphor (lessons), and parts can be viewed as literal.

    Even using your kindergarten assumption that it all comes down to what is taken literally, the statement–far from illogical on its face–is inherently self-consistent and logical. If indeed the bible is inerrant (setting aside that nothing we hold in our hands today and call it the bible is inerrant) then it is perfectly reasonable to seek reconciliation by questioning which parts of the bible should be taken literally. And furthermore–consistent with Doumit’s argument–it is also logical that the study of the work of god (science) plays a role. Thus in ancient times if we believed in geoctricism we might take certain passages literally. But in light of heliocentricsim it is perfectly reasonable to ask: hey, were we wrong in interpreting that literally? Is it necessary? This is a feature, not a bug.

    This is what allows you to oppose slavery, even though it is mandated in the OT and defended in the NT.

    No it is not defended in the NT. It is acknowledged to exist in the NT. It is shown to be unimportant–as everything is–when compared to the gospel. Big difference. And slave traders, at least, are explicitly condemned in 1 Tim 1:10:

    for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:10)

    But bodily ascension into heaven is just so daffy that it defies both modern logic and evidence;

    That’s why it is called a miracle and not a parlor trick. If you say: miracles cannot happen because they cannot happen then pick up your certificate in “Begging the Question” and report directly to the Jesus Seminar, and don’t forget your colored beads.

    This is also what allows you to interpret Matthew 5:17-18 to mean “as soon as the resurrection” instead of “after the second coming” with respect to following the law and the commandments.

    Nope, I view that passage in a plain-text literal sense. It reads:

    17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matt 5:17-18)

    to mean exactly what it says. The Law and the Prophets was the name for the OT before we called it the OT. Jesus is saying: do not think that I am some new unforeseen god and you can ignore the OT (the Law and the Prophets)–quite the opposite–everything it ( The Law and the Prophets) prophesied will happen.

    (Man–you really guess poorly about what I believe, don’t you? Now you are something like 4 for 16.)

    And it’s what allows you to ignore 1 Corinthians 14:33-35,

    That’s the only point you have that is accurate/fair. I don’t have a satisfactory exegesis for that passage. I can only guess that there is a lesson there that I cannot see, couched in the culture of the first century. Fortunately I never claimed to get all the ducks lined up–nor, thankfully, is the gospel “salvation by having a perfect explanation for every passage in the bible.”

    If this is wrong, then only two other states are possible.
    1. You’re a literal literalist. Every word is true, and each and every story in the bible literally happened. Talking snakes existed.
    2. You’re a total metaphorist. None of the stories are literally true, up to and including the gospels and Revelation, but offer “life lessons”. Kinda of Buddhism-heavy, as it were, but without the chanting.

    Would you like to try False Dichotomies for $2000?

  17. #17 Gingerbaker
    September 23, 2010

    heddle:

    ” But bodily ascension into heaven is just so daffy that it defies both modern logic and evidence;

    That’s why it is called a miracle and not a parlor trick. If you say: miracles cannot happen because they cannot happen then pick up your certificate in “Begging the Question” and report directly to the Jesus Seminar, and don’t forget your colored beads. “

    Yes, Kevin, don’t you see? Miracles, according to heddle, are not impossible, because since they occur outside of the realm of reality, they don’t actually break nature’s laws. To think otherwise is to think like a “kindergarden”er! You idiot!

    And I’ll bet that smarts, that insult about the Jesus Seminar, coming from a Calvinist like heddle! You heretic, you! :D

    You’re endless fun, heddle, and thanks for bringing up those unicorns yet again.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 23, 2010

    heddle -

    Thus in ancient times if we believed in geoctricism we might take certain passages literally. But in light of heliocentricsim it is perfectly reasonable to ask: hey, were we wrong in interpreting that literally? Is it necessary? This is a feature, not a bug.

    Ask whatever you like, but the fact remains that the text is not infinitely malleable. If for centuries the finest minds in Christendom thought the text taught geocentrism, and revised that view only when they were forced to do so by science, then how can you possibly say the text is not confusing or poorly written? It is practically the definition of poor writing that most of your readers misunderstood your intent.

    It gets even worse when you consider the early chapters in Genesis. In the light of modern science we must conclude these chapters have almost no historical content at all. Yet virtually everyone who read them prior to the development of modern science thought they did have historical content. They read these chapters and came away with a view of the world that is almost the exact opposite of the truth. Not just on minor side issues but on questions that are central to the faith. These were sincere, intelligent people whose highest desire in life was to understand scripture, and yet they apparently got it totally wrong. But the text isn’t confusing?

    And we can certainly go back to the text in the light of modern science and see if we missed something, but there is a limit to what the text will support. The Bible is unambiguous that at one time Adam and Eve were the only two people on Earth. An interpretation that holds, say, that Adam and Eve were selected from some preexisting community is not consistent with scripture. The Bible is likewise unambiguous that Noah’s flood was global in extent. A local flood is contradicted by the text, and would make the story absurd even if it wasn’t. Nor does the text support the idea that the straightforward sequence of events enumerated in the first chapter was really just a poetic way of teaching vague theological truths.

    If your view is correct then God must constantly be facepalming as people read His inerrant communication and take it to mean things that are wildly at odds with reality. Human authors routinely manage to produce texts that faultlessly communicate their intentions to readers, but similar clarity was apparently beyond God’s abilities.

    There is a simpler explanation for why the Bible contains so much that seems scientifically naive. It is that it was written entirely by human beings who reflected the best understandings of their time. All those exegetes through the centuries were correct regarding the text’s meaning, but were wrong about the Bible being a communication from God. Please tell me, and I mean this seriously, why I should reject that common sense explanation?

    As for the creationists, you’re the one being fatuous. Yes, formally the creationists claim there is no conflict between the Bible and science, But they arrive at that conclusion only by rejecting most of modern science. They simply declare by fiat that any science that contradicts their view of scripture is wrong. The reason I find them less infuriating than people like Doumit (though in a nod to Brian in comment one I would add that the latter are nonetheless easier to live with) is that they don’t pretend that Genesis is some complex cipher that could support virtually any view. They don’t willy nilly turn the text into an allegory just because modern science says they should. I appreciate their clarity even while deploring their priorities.

    If the text led people so badly astray on matters of empirical fact, then why should I believe it is not doing likewise when it addresses non-empirical questions? Science has mechanisms built in that give us confidence that errors will eventually be exposed. Does theology have that? It sure looks like exegetical errors get exposed not by the relentless progress of theologians applying their own methods, but when people applying entirely different, more reliable methods force them to acknowledge their errors. Given that, and I really think that must be given, then how can I regard Biblical exegesis as a form of truth that is equally valid with science?

  19. #19 Blaine
    September 23, 2010

    Talk about logic, here’s something I would like explained. How meaningful is it to say that a god suffered and died for our sins? What kind of twisted logic is that? A god, by definition, cannot be said to meaningfully suffer. Imagine for a moment that you are a god and all that you have to do is die and bring yourself back to life in three days to provide an escape for humanity who will suffer an eternity of pain for the mere crime of existing. Now remember, you are the god who created the universe and all the humans in the first place. Would you do it? Of course you would. Only an evil sadistic being would refuse. According to the NT, the Roman guards were surprised that Jesus died so quickly – read…he really didn’t suffer all that much. How about Hypatia, who died hideously at the hands of Christians for the crime of teaching science. Now there’s a savior, or Bruno, or Vanini.
    Oh, I see, it was the human side that suffered. You mean, the Jewish terrorist side? Did he blank out and forget he was god and could heal and raise people from the dead? The internal logic of all this is so twisted, we don’t even have to get into the science vs delusion debates.

  20. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 23, 2010

    Josh –

    This is usually offered not as a result of some empirical study, but as an axiomatic belief. Taken as such, the claim that (empirical, scientific) truth cannot contradict (religious, revelatory) truth because both “stem from the same Source” is just a logical consequence of the axiom.

    Yes, that is precisely my understanding of Doumit’s point. My reply is simply that it is a very dumb axiom. It is not dumb a priori, but it is dumb in light of its very poor track record of success.

    My point about the Bible not being infinitely malleable is that there are limits to what we can reasonably take the text to mean. So many of the modern “reinterpretations” of Genesis, like the notion that Adam and Eve were representatives of a population of farmers, or that Noah’s flood was local, are not tenable in the light of the text.

    Nor do I see how the “For centuries…” paragraph helps you. You and I rightly mock creationists who say virtually identical things about evolution and science in general. Aristotle had access to the same basic physical world as Newton and even Einstein, but his interpretation of that physical world got basic stuff badly wrong. Yet I have no problem mocking anyone who says: “If [science] is that confusing, then in what sense is it a valid form of truth?”

    In what field of human endeavor has knowledge not improved over the centuries? Assuming, for sake of argument, that Doumit’s axiom is correct, why should human understanding of the Word grow at a more rapid rate or be any less responsive to new discoveries than our understanding of the World?

    This is specious for several reasons. In other branches of human inquiry, like science and history, we take it for granted that our current understanding of the world is imperfect and subject to change when new evidence comes to light. Moreover, when old scientific understandings give way to new ones, they do so by the earnest application of more science. (Likewise for history). But that is not the case with theology. The theologians steadfastly persisted in their errors until they were forced to change by people applying entirely different investigatory methods. They did not correct their errors through the earnest application of more theology.

    In science and history we can give very precise reasons for thinking that our modern understandings are superior to those of our ancestors. Theology cannot do likewise. You could try to argue that, say, modern allegorical interpretations of Genesis are superior to the literal ones of our ancestors precisely because they accept the findings of modern science, but that is an entirely arbitrary criterion. The creationists would say the modern interpretations are inferior for precisely the same reason, and we have no basis whatsoever for saying they are doing it wrong. We can only say we do not like the way they are doing it.

    Traditionally it is not part of theology that we need the scientists to come in to tell us what the Bible means. The Protestants tell us the Bible is perspicuous, which you would think would entail that centuries of Christian exegesis would not be wrong in its entirety. Catholic theology holds that their authorities are in a privileged position for understanding the text. These are not attitudes that suggest that massive reinterpretations of fundamental teachings become necessary as science advances.

    I don’t see how you can say that the views of modern theology are superior to more traditional understandings, as opposed to merely different, without making theology subservient to some other, more reputable, branch of human inquiry. If people want to say that their theological views provide a context for science that they find satisfying, then that is one thing. But to say that the Bible, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, are a form of truth that is equally valid with science is quite another. If they are equally valid forms of truth then they must be so for everyone. I get it that you like to be conciliatory with forms of religion that are friendly towards evolution, but do you really see nothing problematical in Doumit’s religious exclusivism (save for your own belief that he is mistaken, of course)?

  21. #21 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Jason,

    Ask whatever you like, but the fact remains that the text is not infinitely malleable. If for centuries the finest minds in Christendom thought the text taught geocentrism, and revised that view only when they were forced to do so by science, then how can you possibly say the text is not confusing or poorly written? It is practically the definition of poor writing that most of your readers misunderstood your intent.

    First of all you are quite right, it is not infinitely malleable—something I wish the people who argue against me would admit. Because they usually criticize me by saying: You can make it say whatever you want. But, as you say, you can’t. There is an elastic limit.

    The text would only be confusing in regards to geocentricism if was the intent of the bible to teach a cosmology. If instead people misread figures of speech thus sun rose, moved across the sky… as scientific text confirming their own misconceptions–well that is their fault, not the bible’s–which is neither a magic book nor an encyclopedia. (However tt is meant, in my opinion, for an intelligent reader.) It makes no promise to be easy or clear in all aspects. Nobody, for example, completely understands Revelation. Or Daniel. Or Ezekiel. I might also add that one’s cosmology is not important to his salvation, so there is no need for the bible to teach a cosmology.

    If your view is correct then God must constantly be facepalming as people read His inerrant communication and take it to mean things that are wildly at odds with reality. Human authors routinely manage to produce texts that faultlessly communicate their intentions to readers, but similar clarity was apparently beyond God’s abilities.

    Maybe he is—or maybe he is satisfied that the gospel message is unambiguous. Maybe the historic creed writers were insightful—in developing minimal sets of beliefs they stressed the who and what of creation In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and completely disregarded the when, how, and how long ago.

    As for the creationists, you’re the one being fatuous. Yes, formally the creationists claim there is no conflict between the Bible and science, But they arrive at that conclusion only by rejecting most of modern science.

    But that’s exactly my point–that like Doumit they claim there is no conflict. So exactly who is being fatuous on this? Coyne suggested that creationists would not agree with Doumit. I say they will (apart from the RCC stuff). Do you really think he is right and I am wrong? I’d take that bet.

    If the text led people so badly astray on matters of empirical fact, then why should I believe it is not doing likewise when it addresses non-empirical questions? Science has mechanisms built in that give us confidence that errors will eventually be exposed. Does theology have that?

    Even granting your premise for the sake of argument—that it is the bible that led people astray rather than their own anti-science biases or false preconceptions, then the answer to your question is: there is no reason why you should believe it when it addresses non-empirical questions. When in heaven’s name should anyone read the bible and expect that that, in and of itself, would lead him to believe, for example, that Jesus died for his redemption? You shouldn’t believe it simply by reading the bible—it would be irrational.

    As for self correction—theology has the same as any discipline given that it is not science, which we all agree has the best mechanisms for self-correction. That is scholarship improves, leading to better translations, understanding of first century Judaism, etc, and people revise and or propose theological revisions that are, in light of scripture, scrutinized, critiqued, and ultimately accepted or rejected. That is why, for example, classic “Left-Behind” Dispensationalism is waning—it could not withstand the onslaught of scholarly criticism and is no longer being taught in its classic form in seminaries. (It will take a couple generations to fade from the pews.)

  22. #22 Norwegian Shooter
    September 23, 2010

    Jason, bravo on the polite and cogent response to Josh. I literally couldn’t have said it better.

    Josh, what accommodationist argument is beyond the pale for you? That is, while of course you don’t agree with it, you couldn’t even manage a disinterested defense of it.

  23. #23 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    September 23, 2010

    Both are equally valid forms of truth, as they stem from the same Source. And since truth can never contradict truth, a truth revealed in one cannot ever be in conflict with a truth revealed in the other. Once this is fundamentally understood, fear about science overthrowing religion becomes obsolete…

    E pur si muove!

  24. #24 James Sweet
    September 23, 2010

    When I first read the Dennett quote you offer, I misread your intro and thought you were quoting Ruse… because I thought that was the most eloquent defense of “accomodationism” that I have ever heard!

    I mean, come on:

    I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign arrangement… this common but unspoken understanding… [this] socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face

    Those are pretty much the best arguments in favor of asserting faith/science compatibility, folks.

    Re: Josh — For most of your comment, you are basically making sense and I would only say that I disagree (As Jason said, your “axiom” argument is not wrong; I just happen to think it’s a very silly axiom). But analogizing Apocalypse Now vs. Heart of Darkness to the real history of the Earth vs. the Biblical account…? what’re you smoking, man! I’m seriously not getting it.

    Your last non-parenthetical paragraph is an interesting observation and eloquently put… but the problem with it is that the axiom(s) that give validity to “the understanding of the Word” go so much further and are so much more prima facie preposterous than those axiom(s) that give validity to “the [scientific] understanding of the World”. The latter makes just enough assumptions to escape the premature nihiliator trap, i.e. pretty much everyone except for first-year philosophy students are willing to grant those axioms. The former, though, requires axioms that are far less universally agreed upon.

    Let’s say I axiomatically assert that Hank Williams Sr. and III are awesome, while Hank Williams Jr. sucks (which I do axiomatically assert, BTW, but that’s my own hangup). And now let’s say that a close friend whose musical tastes I really respect tells me, “You gotta hear the new Hank Jr. album. He’s gone in a totally different direction, much more like his son. Seriously, you’ll like it a lot.” I listen to the album and end up liking it quite a bit indeed.(*)

    So what do I do? I pen an essay for BioLogos saying that I know for a fact that a) Hank Jr. is the smell of monkey ass, and b) that new album is kick ass — but since two truths can never be in conflict, I shouldn’t worry about this contradiction. By definition, they can never be in conflict. Maybe the album was really by somebody else, and Jr. just put his name on it. Or maybe it’s a Mystery, like the Mystery of the Trinity(**). But one thing I know for sure: My hatred of Hank Jr. and my enjoyment of the new Hank Jr. album cannot possibly be in conflict. By definition.

    Wouldn’t you say I was being rather obstinate and silly?

    (*) I recognize that since this hypothetical scenario requires there being a Hank Jr. album that doesn’t suck, you may view it as a completely impossible flight of fancy. I hope that this does not diminish my point.

    (**) By this, I am of course referring to the season finale of the most recent season of Dexter. Srsly, who kilt Rita if John Lithgow wuz ttly dedzorz alreddy?!? ZOMG!

  25. #25 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    James Sweet

    (**) By this, I am of course referring to the season finale of the most recent season of Dexter. Srsly, who kilt Rita if John Lithgow wuz ttly dedzorz alreddy?!? ZOMG!

    I hear you! And if John Lithgow did kill Rita earlier on that last day (before Dexter snagged him) why didn’t he taunt Dexter when Dexter had him all saran-wrapped? It is indeed a mystery on the level of the trinity.

  26. #26 Kevin
    September 23, 2010

    Heddle:

    I am most definitely not an a-miracle-ist. I am an a-stupid-miracle-ist.

    The amount of power inherent in the telling of the bible myths is incredible. Willful bending of all of the laws of physics in ways that even advanced civilizations would have difficulty accomplishing. They would truly be “godly”.

    Which is why I don’t believe in any of them. But not because of their “impossibility”. But because anyone with that amount of power deliberately choosing those miracles is proof they’re nothing more than a science-illiterate, non-omniscient, first Century goat-herder.

    The assumptions behind the miracles are evidence of an incredibly poor understanding of science, especially medicine. For example, what did Jesus do to “heal”? He cast out demons. Well, that’s all well and good if you don’t know anything about human biology, physiology, infectious disease, Koch’s postulates, genetics, anatomy, and all the rest that goes with modern clinical medicine. Just throw the demons into the pigs and everything is fine.

    Plus, every single miracle attributed to Jesus in the bible is what I call “the dog ate my homework” miracle.
    * Where’s the wine? We drank it.
    * Loaves and fishes? Eaten.
    * The healed sick? Dead.
    * Lazarus? Dead again.
    * The risen Jesus? Invisible in heaven (apparently still eating and crapping on a regular basis, at least according to you.)

    Not one single shred of tangible evidence left behind.

    Now, you’re claiming that there is a god, that this god wants to reveal itself so that we may worship it, and that if we don’t believe this god exists that we will suffer eternal torment. You also claim that god came to Earth to provide direct evidence of his existence, and the way he proved his existence was to perform miracles. So that forever and ever, everyone on Earth would believe in him. Otherwise, why come down? Why perform miracles?

    And yet, you cannot point to a single tangible shred of anything left behind by this person. Nothing but inconsistent, often incoherent fables.

    If *I* were a god, I could think of a thousand miracles that would substantiate my claim to godhood that would be perfect and permanent. Here’s one:

    Kevin saith: From now on and henceforth, no weapon shall be effective if the result of the use of that weapon would be to harm a human. Guns, which won’t be invented for 1500 years, will misfire if the bullet will either deliberately or accidentally strike human flesh, but not otherwise. Knives, swords, and all blades will not pierce human skin but will be otherwise effective. Bombs will not work if a single human is to be harmed. Nary a scratch will come of them.

    As to your inevitable apologist crap, here are my refutations:

    1. If there were evidence for the existence of Jesus and/or his godliness, then faith would be a sin. Faith is the skirts that theists hide behind when they acknowledge they’ve lost the argument.

    You don’t have “faith”. You have credulity. You’ve swallowed as true evidence that the rest of us find laughably childish silly superstitious nonsense.

    2. Free will is the last dodge of someone who has nothing left to say. According to your co-religionists, Satan knows for a fact that god exists, yet chose to disobey. So, it’s quite possible to know that Jesus was god and to still reject him. So, imposing the requirement of a hidden god merely because humans have something called “free will” (aka, the ability to change their minds or reject specious arguments) is nothing more than codswallop. Pure nonsense, inconsistent with your own theology.

  27. #27 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin,

    Willful bending of all of the laws of physics in ways that even advanced civilizations would have difficulty accomplishing. They would truly be “godly”.

    Exactly. Again that is why they are called miracles, not parlor tricks.

    But because anyone with that amount of power deliberately choosing those miracles is proof they’re nothing more than a science-illiterate, non-omniscient, first Century goat-herder.

    How is it proof? You can’t just say that it is proof–walk me through the proof that any god who performed the OT miracles is, by logical necessity, a science-illiterate, non-omniscient, first Century goat-herder. You do know there is no such thing as proof by assertion? So let’s see the logic, step by step.

    Now, you’re claiming that there is a god, that this god wants to reveal itself so that we may worship it

    We? Your argument is based on the assumption that he wants you to believe in him and to worship him. I make no such claim. Or rather my claim is: if he wants you to believe in him, then you will believe in him. God does not want what he can’t have–that would be coveting.

    If *I* were a god, I could think of a thousand miracles that would substantiate my claim to godhood that would be perfect and permanent.

    Who cares what you would do if you were god? If I were god I’d save everyone. But what good is that? Like you, I’m not god, so who cares what either of us would do?

    As to your inevitable apologist crap, here are my refutations:

    1. If there were evidence for the existence of Jesus and/or his godliness, then faith would be a sin. Faith is the skirts that theists hide behind when they acknowledge they’ve lost the argument.

    Well that is certainly a well-constructed bullet-proof refutation.

    So, it’s quite possible to know that Jesus was god and to still reject him.

    Of course.

    So, imposing the requirement of a hidden god merely because humans have something called “free will”

    I never made such a claim: god is hidden because people have free-will. Why don’t you take that up with someone who actually makes that argument?

  28. #28 rexthedog
    September 23, 2010

    Who says “no one wants to throw out the Bible”? Throw the goddam thing out! Have you ever read the Old Testament? God is a psycopath. The bible teaches genocide, cannibalism and human sacrifice. Is it any wonder Christians and Jews are crazy?

  29. #29 Notagod
    September 23, 2010

    So in all those years not a single christian asked their god what the words in Its book were suppose to mean.

    It would appear that the christian gods have a habit of revelation through atheists, heddle, perhaps you should listen up.

  30. #30 H.H.
    September 23, 2010

    Honestly, who cares what Heddle thinks? He admits up front that his axioms are irrational, so reasoning with him is pointless. He’s proud that his faith is immune to reason, even though that’s not much of an accomplishment. He’s also convinced that a magic man zapped Truth straight into his brain because he’s special and we aren’t. He belongs in a padded room. He’s loony toons. Point and laugh if you want, but you are never going break through his elaborate rationalizations. He’s spent a lifetime making sure his faith is impervious to reason. Nothing you can do with someone like that except pat his head and walk away.

  31. #31 Kevin
    September 23, 2010

    Really? You don’t claim that god wants everyone to worship it?

    What of the holy spirit (I deny the Holy Spirit) being infused into the apostles so they can preach the gospel throughout the whole world?

    I would like your biblical citation for the assertion that Christianity only aspires to having god reveal itself to a chosen few.

    How in the world do you reconcile THAT opinion with Matthew 28:19-20? That’s not Matthew speaking, it’s Jesus. Are you saying that Jesus was wrong? Where’s the counter-authority that says you should ignore some people?

    You just lied for Jesus, lied about Jesus, and lied about the fundamental call of Christianity, and you don’t even realize it.

    Again, if you were any fuller of shit, it would be seeping out of your ears.

    Seriously, if I as an atheist know your holy book better than you do, what in the world are you doing believing in it? Have you even read the thing?

  32. #32 Wowbagger
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin asked (of heddle):

    Really? You don’t claim that god wants everyone to worship it?

    No, he doesn’t; it’s his theological equivalent of a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Of course it means his god is a vile, unjust monster – and he bereft of character for continuing to revere such a being rather than telling it to go jump in the lake – but that’s pretty much the gist of it, yeah.

    I would like your biblical citation for the assertion that Christianity only aspires to having god reveal itself to a chosen few. How in the world do you reconcile THAT opinion with Matthew 28:19-20? That’s not Matthew speaking, it’s Jesus. Are you saying that Jesus was wrong? Where’s the counter-authority that says you should ignore some people?

    Haven’t you already seen how readily he’ll play the metaphor/genre/mistranslation card? You think he can’t a) handwave away any verse that contradicts his opinion and instead demand that it’s only the verse that supports it which is the ‘correct’ one?

    Arguing with heddle can provide interesting insight into the power of delusion to inspire sophistry, but ultimately he adheres to his faith because he believes God magically changed his brain so he’d have no choice but to believe. No matter how many flaws you find in the bible, he’ll say that salvation isn’t dependent on understanding the bible and therefore not understanding it isn’t really an issue.

    But there’s value in it, if for no other reason than giving those who haven’t experiened this kind of bluster some idea of what they might one day come up against when dealing with apologetics.

  33. #33 Josh Rosenau
    September 23, 2010

    Jason: “theologians steadfastly persisted in their errors until they were forced to change by people applying entirely different investigatory methods. They did not correct their errors through the earnest application of more theology.”

    I’m not sure that’s universally true. There’s certainly internal debate among theologians, and some of those debates are resolved on the basis of internal logic and consistency of the arguments, especially as tested against axiomatic beliefs about the nature (and existence) of some deity(s). Other debates are and have been resolved by historical research, or through scientific research.

    I don’t think that invalidates the enterprise. Debates in biology are sometimes resolved by historical research, or by new research in physics or chemistry. This doesn’t invalidate biology. Nor does the willingness of some theologians to look outside their own field invalidate that field in its entirety.

    I know you don’t think much of academic theologians, but I think you’re doing a disservice to theology as a field by looking only at what I’ll call “pop theology.” That’s like dismissing all of psychology because men aren’t really from Mars, and because John Gray is a kook.

    To note one fairly obvious source of such theological discourse, consider Talmud, Mishnah, and even Kabbalistic traditions in Judaism, in which a range of views are offered on ancient debates, and readers are encouraged to engage these questions and to update old traditions (as in the rise of Reform and now Renewal branches of Judaism). This sort of debate is not only accepted in Jewish theology, but is considered a mitzvah and an important part of being Jewish.

    “Traditionally it is not part of theology that we need the scientists to come in to tell us what the Bible means.”

    I’m troubled that you’re reading Maimonides and St. Augustine (among others) out of traditional theology. Both openly, freely, and actively asserted the importance of checking Biblical interpretation against empirical evidence. Both are considered foundational to theologies in Judaism and Christianity, respectively.

    “I don’t see how you can say that the views of modern theology are superior to more traditional understandings, as opposed to merely different, without making theology subservient to some other, more reputable, branch of human inquiry.”

    I wouldn’t say “subservient.” Philosophers like to talk about how certain categories of explanation “supervene” on others, and that seems apt here. So physics supervenes on chemistry, and chemistry and physics supervene on biology. Biology cannot be studied in utter ignorance of physics and chemistry, but one can study biology without studying chemistry and physics. I think a similar argument is possible for theology. Everything from philosophy writ large, to various sciences, can and do supervene on theology. But that need not mean it is subservient to those other fields (though it might).

    “If people want to say that their theological views provide a context for science that they find satisfying, then that is one thing. But to say that the Bible, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, are a form of truth that is equally valid with science is quite another. If they are equally valid forms of truth then they must be so for everyone.”

    I’m not sure this follows, but am prepared to be convinced. Subjective truths are still truths. It’s true to me and to James Sweet that Hank Williams is the greatest of the Hank Williamses and that F=ma. But someone, somewhere, probably thinks the first is false, even while accepting that the latter is incontrovertible. Are those truths “equally valid”? I don’t know, and am inclined not to care. Has truth got gradations? What would that mean? Truth cannot contradict truth.

    “I get it that you like to be conciliatory with forms of religion that are friendly towards evolution, but do you really see nothing problematical in Doumit’s religious exclusivism (save for your own belief that he is mistaken, of course)?”

    Religious exclusivism is problematic. I didn’t read the whole thing, and am hoping I don’t have to. Saying that one’s religion describes the empirical world, and thus must be consistent with science, is not inherently exclusivist. Nor is it exclusivist simply to assert the truth of religion X. I know many theists, including theologians and clergy, who are syncretic or otherwise willing to believe that all religions are paths to certain transcendent truths. I can accept that they believe this without myself accepting the claim, without accepting that theism is part of that truth, and without thinking that that truth would be empirically testable.

    Absent a means of empirical testability, the strongest thing I can say is that I personally disagree with him. I’m not Catholic, or indeed Christian, so I think that many of his religious beliefs are incorrect. If he makes a testable claim, I’ll compare it to evidence. Otherwise, I’ll say de gustibus non est disputandum.

  34. #34 Kevin
    September 23, 2010

    @ wowbagger…

    You mistake me for someone who is taking Heddle seriously.

    It’s sport debate, nothing more. Sharpens the wits, keeps me fresh, provides a break from what I’m writing about at present (I earn my living writing lectures about diseases you do not want to get).

    It is fascinating to see the twists and contortions he goes through in order to get his god to agree with his beliefs. But god always is in 100% agreement with each and every believer. No matter what your beliefs are, god agrees.

    It’s not for Heddle that I engage; it’s for myself and for everyone else. I don’t expect him to change his opinions; however, I hope that someone who might be influenced by him will reconsider based on something or other I might offer instead.

    There is no god, not even the one trapped inside Heddle’s brain.

    Peace.

  35. #35 386sx
    September 23, 2010

    Nice try Kevin but everybody has their own personal “tweety-birdie” Jesus. And all of the Jesuses believe the same things that each of their respective believers believe in. It’s like a Jesus extravaganza. It’s raining Jesuses like cats and dogs.

  36. #36 H.H.
    September 23, 2010

    Josh wrote:

    Subjective truths are still truths.

    No, “subjective truths” are opinions.

    It’s true to me and to James Sweet that Hank Williams is the greatest of the Hank Williamses and that F=ma. But someone, somewhere, probably thinks the first is false, even while accepting that the latter is incontrovertible. Are those truths “equally valid”? I don’t know, and am inclined not to care.

    You’re not inclined to make a distinction between objective truth and subjective opinion? Well, that would explain why you don’t see a problem when other people confuse the two either.

    Has truth got gradations? What would that mean? Truth cannot contradict truth.

    No, truth cannot contradict truth, pretty much proving that subjective opinions are not truths in any sense of the word.

  37. #37 heddle
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin,

    Really? You don’t claim that god wants everyone to worship it?

    Yes, that’s correct. As one example, the bible says that before they were born or had done good or bad God loved Jacob and hated his twin brother Esau. Then the story of Jacob’s life shows God drawing him in–even wrestling with him until he said “uncle.” That’s the one he loved. There is no corresponding accounting of God drawing in Esau. Good did not seek Esau’s worship.

    I would like your biblical citation for the assertion that Christianity only aspires to having god reveal itself to a chosen few.

    How many would you like that speak of God’s elect? It would be hard to pick just one. How about the “golden chain” from Romans:

    29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30)

    Or more or less all of Romans 9, where Paul anticipates an negative reaction to the doctrine of election and answers the question in a preemptive strike:

    10Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

    14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

    19One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

    22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—

    I could give you many, many more. Is that sufficient?

    And the passage you referenced, Matthew 28:19-20, describes making diciples of all nations. That’s certainly true. There are elect in all nations.

    Seriously, if I as an atheist know your holy book better than you do, what in the world are you doing believing in it? Have you even read the thing?

    I have read it and you don’t it better than I do–not by a longshot.

  38. #38 Edward T. Babinski
    September 23, 2010

    Jason!

    On Genesis 1 I suggest reading “The Cosmology of the Bible,” chapter five in The Christian Delusion. If your library nor bookstore has a copy, let me know, but you should be able to read some of it online via google’s look inside feature.

  39. #39 Wowbagger
    September 23, 2010

    Kevin,

    No problem – it’s just that I’ve seen some people argue with heddle (and tried it myself), genuinely believing they might have some impact on him; it sometimes takes them a while to understand he’s the embodiment of ‘you can’t reason a person out of a position they weren’t reasoned into’ – albeit one who takes trying to make that unreasonable position seem reasonable very, very seriously indeed, both to deflect criticism and diminish what can only be the mindbending levels of cognitive dissonance he experiences, given that he’s not (apart from the woo-damage) stupid.

  40. #40 Hamilton Jacobi
    September 24, 2010

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    — Yahweh

  41. #41 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 24, 2010

    Josh –

    I’m not sure that’s universally true. There’s certainly internal debate among theologians, and some of those debates are resolved on the basis of internal logic and consistency of the arguments, especially as tested against axiomatic beliefs about the nature (and existence) of some deity(s). Other debates are and have been resolved by historical research, or through scientific research.

    I don’t think that invalidates the enterprise. Debates in biology are sometimes resolved by historical research, or by new research in physics or chemistry. This doesn’t invalidate biology. Nor does the willingness of some theologians to look outside their own field invalidate that field in its entirety.

    It is not my job to invalidate theology. It is the job of those claiming it to be a way of knowing deserving equal status with science to validate it.

    In your first paragraph I don’t know what debates you are talking about. I was talking about all the places where traditional biblical exegesis has had to give way to science. It wasn’t anything the Church learned from reading the Bible that forced it to accept heliocentrism, or evolution, or the ancient age of the Earth, or that Adam and Eve were fictional, and on and on. In each case they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a modern understanding of these subjects.

    Your comparison in the second paragraph is, again, specious. Physics, chemistry and biology are all just forms of science. Of course they have things to say to each other; they all use the same investigatory methods. The relationship between science and theology is not at all comparable. For centuries the official view of the Church was that science was the handmaiden of religion. The teachings of the Church were a definitive source of truth to which science was forced to bow. The Church has a long history of being arrogantly, dogmatically wrong regarding empirical questions of the world. They have no compensating track record of being right on other empirical questions. Of course that invalidates the enterprise. At the very least it surely puts the burden of proof back on the people who claim that Scripture and Church teaching are a form of truth equally valid with science.

    I know you don’t think much of academic theologians, but I think you’re doing a disservice to theology as a field by looking only at what I’ll call “pop theology.” That’s like dismissing all of psychology because men aren’t really from Mars, and because John Gray is a kook.

    Nonsense. I have a low opinion of academic theology precisely because I have read so much of it. But if you disagree, tell me where I can go to find the really good stuff. Name an author or two who will convince me that these folks aren’t just making it up as they go along.

    I’m not sure what impresses you so much about the Talmud and the Mishnah, but at any rate they are not the sort of thing I am talking about here. For one thing, I am talking about Christian theology. Of course Jewish theology would be a bit more enlightened. :)

    I’m troubled that you’re reading Maimonides and St. Augustine (among others) out of traditional theology. Both openly, freely, and actively asserted the importance of checking Biblical interpretation against empirical evidence. Both are considered foundational to theologies in Judaism and Christianity, respectively.

    That is a caricature of Augustine’s view. He did not argue that we must check Biblical interpretation against science. That really would make theology subservient to science. He believed that where central truths of the faith were involved, as they are through much of Genesis (according to him), it is science that must yield. He was willing to use science as an interpretive aid for passages that were obscure and which did not involve central truths of the faith. Such passages, he argued, should not be interpreted in a way that would conflict with well-established science.

    But your point is irrelevant anyway. The teaching of the Church was (and remains, come to think of it) that they are the ultimate arbiters of truth. In all those instances of conflict I mentioned the authorities did not for one single solitary second consider that maybe science had something valuable to contribute. For heaven’s sake, no one has ever thought that geocentrism is central to the Bible’s story of salvation, but based on one verse in Joshua and a few in the Psalms they still felt justified in tormenting and arresting a seventy year old man. Somehow the fact that Augustine was willing to give a wink and a nod to science does not seem adequate to undo that fact.

    I wouldn’t say “subservient.” Philosophers like to talk about how certain categories of explanation “supervene” on others, and that seems apt here. So physics supervenes on chemistry, and chemistry and physics supervene on biology. Biology cannot be studied in utter ignorance of physics and chemistry, but one can study biology without studying chemistry and physics. I think a similar argument is possible for theology. Everything from philosophy writ large, to various sciences, can and do supervene on theology. But that need not mean it is subservient to those other fields (though it might).

    But this does not at all address my objection. Biology has proven over and over again, in the form of confirmed predictions and medical advances, that it is contributing something to our understanding of the world. I don’t see how theology can do likewise.

    You can simply declare arbitrarily that “is consistent with modern science” is part of the definition of good theology. The creationists would deny that that is a reasonable criterion, and I don’t see what basis you have for saying they are doing it wrong. Leaving that aside, the proposition that needs defending here is not that theology can be made consistent with science, it is that theology is contributing something to our understanding of the world.

    I’m not sure this follows, but am prepared to be convinced. Subjective truths are still truths. It’s true to me and to James Sweet that Hank Williams is the greatest of the Hank Williamses and that F=ma. But someone, somewhere, probably thinks the first is false, even while accepting that the latter is incontrovertible. Are those truths “equally valid”? I don’t know, and am inclined not to care. Has truth got gradations? What would that mean? Truth cannot contradict truth.

    This is a joke, right? You’re playing a little joke on me? You’re laughing right now at the thought that you have actually gotten me to take time out of my day to reply to this.

    Subjective truth? As H.H. pointed out, that’s usually called an opinion.

    Surely when we speak of science as a valid form of truth we mean in part that the findings of science are true for everyone regardless of what people think of them. You don’t have to believe in gravity for it to affect you. If such truths as Doumit thinks are fond in scripture and church teaching do not have that status, then they are not equally valid with science.

    I have no idea what it could mean to say that the truths of religion are merely subjective truths.

    Religious exclusivism is problematic. I didn’t read the whole thing, and am hoping I don’t have to. Saying that one’s religion describes the empirical world, and thus must be consistent with science, is not inherently exclusivist. Nor is it exclusivist simply to assert the truth of religion X. I know many theists, including theologians and clergy, who are syncretic or otherwise willing to believe that all religions are paths to certain transcendent truths. I can accept that they believe this without myself accepting the claim, without accepting that theism is part of that truth, and without thinking that that truth would be empirically testable.

    Absent a means of empirical testability, the strongest thing I can say is that I personally disagree with him. I’m not Catholic, or indeed Christian, so I think that many of his religious beliefs are incorrect. If he makes a testable claim, I’ll compare it to evidence. Otherwise, I’ll say de gustibus non est disputandum.

    But Doumit is writing from the perspective of Roman Catholicism. He specifically identified Church teaching (Sacred tradition) as a source of truth that is equally valid with science. And it is certainly part of Sacred tradition that the church provides the only route to salvation. (That’s plainly taught ub sacred scripture as well). Sounds pretty exclusivist to me. If I have misunderstood Doumit on this point then I’ll tone down my anger a bit. But somehow I don’t think he believes that Islamic theology is a form of truth equally valid with science.

  42. #42 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 24, 2010

    heddle -

    Even granting your premise for the sake of argument—that it is the bible that led people astray rather than their own anti-science biases or false preconceptions, then the answer to your question is: there is no reason why you should believe it when it addresses non-empirical questions. When in heaven’s name should anyone read the bible and expect that that, in and of itself, would lead him to believe, for example, that Jesus died for his redemption? You shouldn’t believe it simply by reading the bible—it would be irrational.

    Thanks for the clear answer. But I think it’s an awfully hard argument to make that all those Christian scholars through the centuries were so blinded by their preconceptions or anti-science biases that they thought the Bible meant X when really it meant not X. You’re awfully cavalier about dismissing these misunderstandings as “their fault.” You are talking in many cases about sincere scholars whose highest goal in life was to understand scripture, but apparently failed totally in doing so. Not one or two, but virtually everyone. For centuries. Am I really to believe, in the face of this contrary evidence, that actually scripture is crystal clear after all?

  43. #43 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 24, 2010

    Edward -

    Genesis 1 I suggest reading “The Cosmology of the Bible,” chapter five in The Christian Delusion. If your library nor bookstore has a copy, let me know, but you should be able to read some of it online via google’s look inside feature.

    The Christian Delusion has been sitting on my desk for a while, but I have not gotten around to reading it yet. I’ll have a look at the chapter you mention. Thanks for the recommendation!

  44. #44 Wowbagger
    September 24, 2010

    Jason Rosenhouse wrote:

    But I think it’s an awfully hard argument to make that all those Christian scholars through the centuries were so blinded by their preconceptions or anti-science biases that they thought the Bible meant X when really it meant not X.

    Since heddle’s a Calvinist I think that’s part-and-parcel of what he believes; if they’d gotten it right in the first place there’d have been nothing for him (and, presumably, the others, i.e. Luther) to reform, would there?

    But I – like you – am interested in knowing how it was the pre-reformation Christians (if we accept that heddle’s theology is the ‘correct’ one) got it so wrong.

  45. #45 H.H.
    September 24, 2010

    Jason said in reply to Josh:

    This is a joke, right? You’re playing a little joke on me? You’re laughing right now at the thought that you have actually gotten me to take time out of my day to reply to this.

    Subjective truth? As H.H. pointed out, that’s usually called an opinion.

    Ah, but see, if all religion is good for is opinion, then the apologists can’t call faith “another way of knowing.” And for whatever reason, they seem to need to maintain that lie. It’s like when you reviewed Marcus Borg and he kept insisting that even though Genesis wasn’t literally true, it was still “profoundly true.” Apologists always seem have to use that word: truth. I don’t know why. What they mean, of course, is that things which aren’t literally true can still have subjective value. They can still be meaningful. Fiction can be meaningful. Myth can be meaningful. Religion can be meaningful. But it isn’t truth, no matter how many times the faithful use that word.

    The New Atheists get a lot of flack for supposedly dismissing faith outright and refusing to recognize any value in religion whatsoever. Personally I don’t think we can even move the discussion that far until the accommodationists admit that religion isn’t true. Only once they concede that it’s all appealing fiction can we begin to discuss its relatives merits (and whether those merits depend on people thinking it’s true). But until then, so long as they keep up this bullshit of calling myths “truths” and faith “a valid way of knowing,” I don’t see much progress being made. It’s a crucial distinction, even if Josh isn’t inclined to care.

  46. #46 Jr
    September 24, 2010

    I am curious Jason, what sort of theology have you read? Have you read Aquinas for example or Barth?

    Has your reading focused on the question of religion and science or are you knowledgeable about Christian theology in general?

  47. #47 Notagod
    September 24, 2010

    Since Kevin is being criticized (I realize that isn’t necessarily the intent but that is the way it could be read by him and me and others), I would just like to thank him for taking the time to stand up to the malarkey of those such as heddle. It obviously isn’t something that we want to be doing but not doing it has been shown not be an option because if the christians aren’t debunked we are going to be in a world as described in the christian bibel except we will have the weapons to actually do some critical harm to the viability of life.

    The really hideous thing about the foundations of christianity is that it absolves the christians from taking responsibility for the destruction that they cause because they want that destruction to be their destiny.

    We are obliged to stop that if we can.

  48. #48 Michael
    September 24, 2010

    Jason sez:

    “That is a caricature of Augustine’s view. He did not argue that we must check Biblical interpretation against science. That really would make theology subservient to science. He believed that where central truths of the faith were involved, as they are through much of Genesis (according to him), it is science that must yield.”

    On what basis do you assert this? Evidence, please? (And not from someone else saying so, from Augustine’s own words.)

  49. #49 Michael Kremer
    September 24, 2010

    Jason also sez:

    “The teaching of the Church was (and remains, come to think of it) that they are the ultimate arbiters of truth. In all those instances of conflict I mentioned the authorities did not for one single solitary second consider that maybe science had something valuable to contribute. For heaven’s sake, no one has ever thought that geocentrism is central to the Bible’s story of salvation, but based on one verse in Joshua and a few in the Psalms they still felt justified in tormenting and arresting a seventy year old man. Somehow the fact that Augustine was willing to give a wink and a nod to science does not seem adequate to undo that fact.”

    So the evidence for what the teaching of the Church is *and remains* is based on what happened 400 years ago?

    Does this:

    http://www.its.caltech.edu/~nmcenter/sci-cp/sci-9211.html

    have nothing to do with what the Church teaches now? Does it conform to the claim that “they are the ultimate arbiters of truth” when the JPII writes “It is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflection or for introducing changes in their teaching,” or “the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning”? (etc.)

  50. #50 Alan
    September 24, 2010

    You need look no further than the bible, it’s chock full of self contradictions. I really wish more christians would read it, it’s absolutely hillarious.

  51. #51 heddle
    September 24, 2010

    Jason,

    Thanks for the clear answer. But I think it’s an awfully hard argument to make that all those Christian scholars through the centuries were so blinded by their preconceptions or anti-science biases that they thought the Bible meant X when really it meant not X. You’re awfully cavalier about dismissing these misunderstandings as “their fault.”

    Maybe. But don’t forget the gospel message has not been revised. Christianity today preaches the same gospel message that it preached in the first century. The bible seems to be clear enough on that. But I do think your statement is too strong. You can read christian theologians throughout the centuries and be hard pressed to find any comments whatsoever about the details of creation or any emphasis on the importance of one’s view of Genesis. You can make a very strong case that the elevation (in Christianity) of the creation account to an important plank is mostly a modern phenomenon–a direct response to the advent of modern science and especially evolution. So it is not the theologians of old whom I am criticizing — but rather many of the theologians of the last couple hundred years.

    Alan,

    You need look no further than the bible, it’s chock full of self contradictions. I really wish more christians would read it, it’s absolutely hillarious.

    Well I wish every fly-by-night atheist would stop making the false claim that they know the bible better than most Christians. So looks like neither of us will get our wish.

  52. #52 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 24, 2010

    heddle –

    Maybe. But don’t forget the gospel message has not been revised. Christianity today preaches the same gospel message that it preached in the first century. The bible seems to be clear enough on that.

    I’m not sure the distinction is quite as clean as you would like. The story of Adam and Eve and the fall, for example, are directly relevant to the story of salvation. That is clear from the New Testament. Within Catholic teaching the doctrine of original sin is considered a central truth of the faith, but our understanding of that notion must be far different in the light of modern science from the classical view (which was based on Adam and Eve as being real people. So I would argue that at least some of the material in the early chapters of Genesis is directly relevant to the story of salvation.

    With regard to Chapter One, I can grant your point that the minutiae of how God created are not directly relevant to the story of salvation. But I still think it is ominous for the Bible’s credibility that it opens with a chapter of complete fiction. If the story is not relevant to the story of salvation, the communication of which is said to be the Bible’s central purpose, then why include the story at all? It’s main function seems to have been to give people entirely the wrong idea about certain events in the past, to drive some people to fundamentalism, and to drive others into skepticism.

    But I do think your statement is too strong. You can read christian theologians throughout the centuries and be hard pressed to find any comments whatsoever about the details of creation or any emphasis on the importance of one’s view of Genesis. You can make a very strong case that the elevation (in Christianity) of the creation account to an important plank is mostly a modern phenomenon–a direct response to the advent of modern science and especially evolution. So it is not the theologians of old whom I am criticizing — but rather many of the theologians of the last couple hundred years.

    In the centuries prior to Copernicus and Galileo the Church did not talk all that much about geocentrism. They believed it was the clear teaching of scripture, but they also did not think it was terribly important to their spiritual concerns. It did not become an issue until they were attacked on that front.

    It is no different from the creationists today. They don’t think the age of the Earth has any direct relevance to salvation. They make such an issue of it only because they perceive an attack coming from that direction.

    But so what? It wasn’t that the theologians of old were wiser in some way than those of the last few centuries, it was that they had no need to fight battles over the correctness of Genesis. If Darwin had lived in the 1600′s or the 1400′s we would surely have seen those theologians of old behaving just as badly as the theologians of new. It was their attitude towards knowledge and authority that was fundamentally wrong, not their understanding of the Bible.

  53. #53 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 24, 2010

    Michael -

    On what basis do you assert this? Evidence, please? (And not from someone else saying so, from Augustine’s own words.)

    I don’t know if there is one short quote in which Augustine perfectly summarizes his views, but here is one that comes close (from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis):

    To which I reply that I have happily reached this very food: namely that I have learned that we should not hesitate to give the answers that have to be given, in line with the faith, to people who make every effort to discredit the books our salvation depends on. So we should show that whatever they have been able to demonstrate from reliable sources about the world of nature is not contrary to our literature, while whatever they may have produced from any of their volumes that is contrary to this literature of ours, that is, to the Catholic faith, we must either show with some ease, or else believe without any hesitation, to be entirely false. And we should so hold onto our mediator, in whom are stored up all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge (Col. 2:3), that we are neither seduced by the chatter of false philosophy, nor frightened out of our wits by the superstitions of false religion.

    Clearly he was not saying that science gets veto power over scripture. He drew a distinction between central truths of the faith and things that were ancillary, and permitted science as a guide to the things that were ancillary. Precisely as I said.

    And since I am not sure why I should be barred from quoting an expert, here’s Edmund Hill, from his introduction to the book. He is referring to Augustine’s interpretive method:

    If there are scientific position justified by sure arguments, the exegete has the task of showing that these positions do not in any way contradict the sacred scriptures. If, on the contrary, there are unambiguous truths of faith that contradict the these of science, the exegete must, as far as he can, show the falsity of these or at least be convinced of their falsity.

    Moving on:

    So the evidence for what the teaching of the Church is *and remains* is based on what happened 400 years ago?

    Um, no. The evidence that it remains the teaching of the Church comes both from their Catechism, and from numerous Papal statements over the years (in which it is taken for granted that the Pope has the authority to hold forth on what is and is not true.)

    I have no idea why you think JPII’s statement, that you quoted, has any relevance to what I said. Theologians are instructed to keep abreast of science, but it is ultimately for them to decide which aspects of science are and are not relevant to their understanding of scripture. If the Pope decides that some aspect of modern science is contrary to faith, then within the Church itself his word is to be considered definitive.

  54. #54 Gingerbaker
    September 24, 2010

    heddle:

    “Christianity today preaches the same gospel message that it preached in the first century. “

    Really? Which, of the dozens of sects and schools of Christianity which existed before and after Jesus Christ supposedly walked the Earth might you be referring to, heddle?

    Nobody knows anything definitive about the first century origins of Christianity, except that it was very diverse, that much was divergent from modern versions, and that much of the documentation of competing versions was deliberately destroyed by the fourth century.

    First century Christianity is a mystery… except to you?

  55. #55 heddle
    September 24, 2010

    Gingerbaker

    First century Christianity is a mystery… except to you?

    Well to me and anyone who read the book of Acts.

  56. #56 JimC
    September 24, 2010

    I have read it and you don’t it better than I do–not by a longshot & Well I wish every fly-by-night atheist would stop making the false claim that they know the bible better than most Christians.

    Certainly been true in my experience. The vast majority of Christians I have sat in the pews with are amazed when they actually do read it. Conversely the atheists I have know really do know the book pretty well.

    I also think heddle is wrong about the central theme of Christianity but only to a point. Is the central theme is how is one saved? Then there are competing opinions and it is not all all clear.

    Likewise if an innerrant book cannot be completely understood by everyone what seperates it from a non innerrant book? The end result is no reliable understanding. To state there are no contradictions in the book is to be willfully ignorant.

  57. #57 Jimc
    September 24, 2010

    Ah yes that settles in heddle. End of debate. Scholars can pack up and go home. Acts. End of story. Forget multiple competing, just Acts.

    That is really weak and really delusional.

  58. #58 Tulse
    September 24, 2010

    the bible says that before they were born or had done good or bad God loved Jacob and hated his twin brother Esau

    …therefore demonstrating that the Judeo-Christian god is a dick. Seriously, we wouldn’t tolerate such childish behaviour in any of our acquaintances: “I know I haven’t met your friend before, or heard anything about her, but I already hate her.” Why would one worship such an irrational entity? (I guess Heddle’s answer is “because he makes me”, which makes such a god all the more monstrous.)

  59. #59 heddle
    September 24, 2010

    JimC,

    Forget multiple competing, just Acts.

    Multiple Competing? Such as? What are these competing sources of information for 1st century Christianity? Come second century we start to get a lot of information–but what are these “multiple competing” sources?

    Gingerbaker claims it is total mystery, and you say there are multiple competing (accounts, I assume.) Stuck in the middle again.

  60. #60 386sx
    September 24, 2010

    “And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred.” –”Saint” Augustine

    Sounds like a pretty open minded guy. Very “scientifical” minded. Everybody has their own personal Augustine I guess. Mine can leap over buildings. I guess for other people Augustine is like the ancient equivalent of Richard Dawkins.

  61. #61 JimC
    September 24, 2010

    We know enough to state there where multiple competing sects and not allot past that point.

  62. #62 H.H.
    September 24, 2010

    Elsewhere, I got into a discussion with someone who brought up the Quakers as an example of a religion that embraces non-literal interpretations of their dogma. The example I was given was the use of the phrase “inner light” to denote either 1) the fact that god sacredly resides in human beings in the form of supernatural souls or 2) the poetic notion that humans are unique and special. This, like Mooney’s latest opinion piece on the commonality of “spirituality,” was supposed to indicated that religion needn’t be exclusively the domain of supernaturalists, and so presumably not entirely subject to the criticisms of scientific empiricism.

    But there’s a world of difference between those two interpretations. “Inner Light” can be used to mean a strictly symbolic concept (obviously not something most atheists would object to) or as a legitimate phenomenon–a description of a force beyond material detection but no less real because of it. These two concepts are so radically opposed–as fundamentally opposite as truth and fiction, history and myth, concrete and abstract, or real and unreal–that I cannot allow that they even represent different interpretations of the same thing. Two people, each holding views at the opposite end of the spectrum, might each call themselves Quakers and attend Quaker services, but it is beyond clear that their common terminology is the only similarity between otherwise mutually exclusive positions.

    And so it is with the accommodationists, who consistently defend religion as if it’s all merely a matter of semantics. You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to. You say literally true, I say spiritually true. When say God you mean a literal supernatural being, when I say God I mean a nebulous sense of awe. What’s the diff? It’s all “religion.”

    But blurring the distinction between poetic meaning and baseless assertions of fact is counterproductive to intellectually honest debate. For anyone interested in promoting a rational worldview, we must take special care not conflate claims and call out apologists who do so intentionally. If some people believe in a thing literally, and others believe in it only figuratively, then obscuring those two very different positions under the same label does a grievous disservice to truth.

  63. #63 Facebook
    September 24, 2010

    thank you my friend

  64. #64 James Sweet
    September 27, 2010

    @heddle, in re: #25…

    heddle, I’m starting to like you man :)

  65. #65 eric
    September 27, 2010

    [Jason] I think it’s an awfully hard argument to make that all those Christian scholars through the centuries were so blinded by their preconceptions or anti-science biases that they thought the Bible meant X when really it meant not X. You’re awfully cavalier about dismissing these misunderstandings as “their fault.”

    [Heddle] Maybe. But don’t forget the gospel message has not been revised.

    Says you…but you may be blinded by your preconceptions to think the message has not been revised when it has been. The mormons think it was. The muslims think it was. So, if billions of people for hundreds of years got it wrong and are still getting it wrong, why should I have any confidence that you have got it right? Forget about the book itself, tell me about the interpreters. How can we outsiders know which interpreter of divine will to believe?

    If we assume our current place in time is in no way privileged, then based on the previous 1900+ years of getting it wrong we should expect the correct interpretation of the bible to show up in, what, another 1900 years or so?

  66. #66 H.H.
    September 27, 2010

    The core gospel message is clear and unchanging. One is saved by doing good works. Er, I mean one is saved through faith alone. No, wait, one is saved only if one is predestined to receive god’s grace. See? Simple and unchanging and clear as mud.

  67. #67 Dan L.
    September 28, 2010

    But that’s exactly my point–that like Doumit they claim there is no conflict. So exactly who is being fatuous on this? Coyne suggested that creationists would not agree with Doumit. I say they will (apart from the RCC stuff). Do you really think he is right and I am wrong? I’d take that bet.

    Yes, Doumit and say, Mohler would make similar noises. Great. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually saying the same thing. Do Doumit and Mohler mean the same thing when they say “science”? Pretty clearly not. I’d assume Doumit accepts the bulk of evolutionary biology as well-established science unlikely to be overturned in broad outline by future empirical findings. When Doumit talks about “science,” he’s accepting science such as it is now.

    Mohler, on the other hand, probably doesn’t agree with very much of modern evolutionary biology, which is really enough to establish that Mohler and Doumit are discussing very different enterprises. If we want to interpret what each is saying beyond the uselessly ambiguous, “scripture and science are not in conflict,” we end up with something like this:

    Doumit: “We need to interpret the Bible such that it is not in conflict with well-established empirical results.”

    Mohler: “We need to re-interpret well-established empirical results such that they are not in conflict with the Bible.”

    There happens to be a phrase that is ambiguous enough to accommodate both meanings. To suggest that is enough to indicate that creationists agree with Doumit is truly fatuous.

  68. #68 Dan L.
    September 28, 2010

    I’m not sure this follows, but am prepared to be convinced. Subjective truths are still truths. It’s true to me and to James Sweet that Hank Williams is the greatest of the Hank Williamses and that F=ma. But someone, somewhere, probably thinks the first is false, even while accepting that the latter is incontrovertible. Are those truths “equally valid”? I don’t know, and am inclined not to care. Has truth got gradations? What would that mean? Truth cannot contradict truth.

    You’ve just lost your privileges to the “philosophically naive” criticism of new atheists.

    When you say that you think Hank I is the best, you’re asserting: “I think that Hank I is the best Hank Williams.” And that’s perfectly true — in fact, if you do indeed think so, it’s objectively true. But that does not imply that: “Hank I is the best Hank Williams.” Notice the lack of “I think” in the beginning there. In fact, it’s unclear what such a statement would mean beyond a statement of personal preference (with an implied “I think”).

    We need criteria for assessing the truth value of a proposition before we can say what the truth value is. When you talk about Hank I being the best, you have a set of criteria by which you measure the quality of his music (perhaps also taking into account his public persona more generally) against that of his son and grandson. It is by those criteria that you can establish that Hank I is the best. (There is an alternative in which you can define precisely what makes a great country music performer and base the truth of your assertion on that definition. Two problems: a) the definition is likely arbitrary leading some to disagree with it and b) it’s no longer a “subjective” truth because we have objective criteria.)

    But it isn’t how you decide that E=mc^2. The truth of that statement follows from the (assumed) truth of special relativity. We assume that special relativity is true because it fits the empirical data, among them that by adding energy to a system or releasing energy from a system we can adjust its mass in just the way suggested by the above equation.

    If you can’t see the difference between truths established by your own idiosyncratic aesthetic criteria and truths established through reference to hard empirical facts about the universe, you probably shouldn’t be science blogging.

  69. #69 Robert O'Brien
    September 30, 2010

    Coyne rather fatuously claims that creationists would disagree. As is his wont when he steps outside of his field, he is dead wrong.

    Amen to that. As I previously noted, Coyne may be an expert in fruit fly ejaculate but he is a loud mouth ignoramus on everything else about which he has chosen to opine. (Take a look at this nonsense from a third-rate physicist he enthusiastically endorsed.)

    Scripture is neither objectively true, factual, accurate or moral (in any applicable sense).

    Your facile assertion is noted and discarded. Incidentally, the word neither typically refers to two items and is followed by nor. (I am pretty sure Antipodean English is the same as American English in this regard.)

    Burning bush: Metaphor

    Some people have proposed a natural explanation for this.

    * Exodus: Metaphor

    If you think the Exodus (or something like it) is impossible then think again.

    * Herod ordering all children killed: Metaphor (cuz it never happened)

    The claim here is that because Josephus did not record the execution of children two and under in Bethlehem, then it must not have occurred but that is false.

    Bodily ascension into heaven: Metaphor

    Why?

    How about Hypatia, who died hideously at the hands of Christians for the crime of teaching science.

    I suggest getting your history of Late Antiquity from someone with relevant credentials and not Carl Sagan. She was not killed for “teaching science.”

    He’s also convinced that a magic man zapped Truth straight into his brain because he’s special and we aren’t. He belongs in a padded room. He’s loony toons. Point and laugh if you want, but you are never going break through his elaborate rationalizations.

    There is nothing more otiose than a vapid atheist.

    Seriously, if I as an atheist know your holy book better than you do…

    You don’t.

    There is no god…

    I could take your assertion and a dime and still walk away empty-handed from the gumball machine.

    On Genesis 1 I suggest reading “The Cosmology of the Bible,” chapter five in The Christian Delusion.

    In the case of The Christian Delusion, the delusion is on the part of the authors. I’d say that Avalos is continuing his slide into irrelevancy but for the fact that he slid into irrelevancy long ago.

    Really? Which, of the dozens of sects and schools of Christianity which existed before and after Jesus Christ supposedly walked the Earth might you be referring to, heddle?

    Before Jesus Christ? Only the Mormons believe that transoceanic, New World Jews were Christians before Christ. Might I suggest laying off the chronic?

    Ah yes that settles in heddle. End of debate. Scholars can pack up and go home. Acts. End of story. Forget multiple competing, just Acts.

    That is really weak and really delusional.

    Yet another pretentious moron who has read one of Bart Ehrman’s popular works and now thinks he knows it all.

  70. #70 H.H.
    September 30, 2010

    Robert O’Brien, your bombastic protestations, while humorous, will never make your belief in magic any more respectable nor your childish delusions any more real. Your infantile tantrums don’t obscure the fact that you’re futilely defending the solidity of phantasms and successfully convincing no one save the similarly deranged.

  71. #71 emil sugak
    December 14, 2010

    you are all wasting your time by trying to argue your points about creation and evoluion,its obvious no matter what is said,you cannot change what people believe. i suggest you try to solve issues like helping children who are starving or people whom cannot do certain things. there are more important things to do than trying to convert people into what you believe or do not believe.

  72. #72 Facebook
    October 2, 2011

    I’m looking for thank you thank all persons who contributed all the issues existing in a place

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