I will conclude my series on the World Open in the next day or two, but I would not want readers to think that I have converted this into a chess blog. So let's go back to our more traditional fare by pondering this pamphlet, by philosopher Mary Midgley. It is called, “Intelligent Design Theory and Other Ideological Problems,” and was published in 2007.
I will not attempt a full review of the pamphlet (which at forty-three, large print, pages can be read pretty quickly). It is a strange mixture of good points and bad points. Midgley is quite good when she is addressing the substance of the arguments made by people like Michael Behe and William Dembski, but she is far less convincing when she is discussing the history of religion. She is also pretty unfair to the intelligent design folks in several respects, but I will not address that here.
Here is a claim about the history of religion for which she really ought to have provided some evidence:
At this same time, during the late eighteenth century, historians studying the Bible itself began to put it into its historical context and thus to get a much better grasp of its meaning. It became easier to see its various books--which of course were written at different times and for very different purposes--as expressing insights that are often indeed of timeless importance, but phrasing them in language appropriate to their own day. It became clear that the modern distinction between factual history and myth or legend simply did not exist for the Biblical writers--nor indeed did it for most other people until a few centuries ago. The men who wrote the biblical books wanted to convey serious, timeless truths about God's relation to humanity, and they did so in the way that came naturally to them, often by telling stories. But the meaning of these stories lies far deeper than their mere factual details. They were never intended as literal records of fact. Forcing them into the mould of factual records often distorts their meaning, obscuring their central imaginative message.
This is all very implausible on its face. The distinction between fact and myth is not complicated, and I doubt there was ever a time when people could not distinguish between what really happened and what someone just made up. Midgley provides neither evidence nor reference in support of this claim.
Moreover, her blunt statements about the intent of the Biblical writers seem very unlikely. Such timeless truths as the stories in Genesis convey are not like the lessons taught by Aesop's fables. We are not talking about useful, abstract principles that a fictional story can help dramatize. The nature of God's relation to humanity is a matter of fact, not of abstract principle, and these are facts you had better get right lest you incur God's wrath.
So, for example, it seems reasonable to suppose that a primary purpose of Genesis 1, with its emphasis on God personally creating everything Himself, was to rebut the commonly held pantheistic views of the time, according to which natural objects like the Sun or Moon could be objects of veneration. For the story to serve that purpose, however, it had better be true that God really did create everything. A fictional story is not useful for establishing the facts of God's relation to humanity.
The Biblical stories in Genesis began as an oral tradition. Preserving this tradition was central to the Jews of the time, who were constantly being expelled from one land after another. Over time these stories were written down and anthologized, and through sheer repetition became sacred and unquestioned. It is clear that a major purpose of these stories was etiological, which is to say they served to explain the origins of many of the tribal traditions. Fictional stories, again, cannot serve this purpose. (The book The Seven Pillars of Creation, by Old Testament scholar William Brown, is a good reference for these points.)
Midgley is building up to a more general argument that the YEC of modern Christian fundamentalists is just a recent aberration from a much richer tradition. This is a notion that is very common among academic commentators on creationism, but it is entirely mistaken. The attitude seems to be that YEC's are so foolish on so many subjects, and their literature is so cringe-inducing on anything related to science, that anything they say must be wrong simply because they say it.
Now, there is certainly much to be said against YEC hermeneutics. In one regard, though, I regard their approach as far more respectful of Christian tradition than anything Midgley is offering. The creation stories in Genesis read like straightforward history, and were understood as such by virtually everyone who read them right up to modern times. That they were also understood to have many layers of meaning and to have a significance beyond their factual claims does not change or diminish those facts. Today, in possession of better information than what they had at the time, we recognize that the ancients were wrong about almost everything.
Confronted with this, we can either respect the literature of the ancients as an honorable but mistaken attempt to make sense of their times, or we can pretend that they chose to convey their intent through elaborate ciphers that fooled most of their readers throughout history. Is it really the creationists who are being disrespectful of tradition? Or is it the revisionists, who would have us believe the Biblical writers had deep, timeless insights into the relationship between God and man, but could not distinguish fact from myth, and were incapable of expressing themselves through anything other than wholly invented stories.
Well, we are over a thousand words and I still have not arrived at the main purpose of this post. That is why I just ran back to the top and added “Part One” to the title. You see, the reason I am calling attention to Midgley's pamphlet is that it was the subject of a recent, largely critical, review by philosopher Nicholas Everitt. He is the author of the book The Non-Existence of God. Everitt challenged Midgley on precisely the points I have been highlighting here. Glenn Branch, in turn, has challenged Everitt. But I think Glenn is being a bit unfair to Everitt, and that Everitt actually has the better end of the argument.
That's all rather vague, I know, so just take it as a teaser for Part Two!
This is all very implausible on its face. The distinction between fact and myth is not complicated, and I doubt there was ever a time when people could not distinguish between what really happened and what someone just made up.
The problem is that the difference between a historical factual account and a historical legendary/mythical account is NOT the difference between "what really happened" and "what someone just made up". Legendary/mythical accounts are often/usually attempts to convey at least some facts as well, and tie into real historical figures and real historical events. I think the best way to describe the difference here is that legends and myths -- at least ones that have some tie to historical or believed historical events -- can be seen as embellished or poetical accounts; style matters as much as if not more than strict accuracy, while in a historical account strict accuracy is what counts. Sure, legends want to convey facts and historical accounts want to be interesting, but the latter cares more about expressing it accurately and fairly, without undue commentary or moralizing, while the former cares more about making it stylistic and in conveying a relevant point, to the point of making the moral point more important than the strict facts. In that sense, she's right to say that treating these works like strict histories goes against what the ancients were trying to do.
Such timeless truths as the stories in Genesis convey are not like the lessons taught by Aesop’s fables. We are not talking about useful, abstract principles that a fictional story can help dramatize. The nature of God’s relation to humanity is a matter of fact, not of abstract principle, and these are facts you had better get right lest you incur God’s wrath.
This is true, but the accounts still have more in common with Aesop's fables than they do with a history textbook, not the least of which being that for the most part the only reason the story gets told is BECAUSE it's trying to convey a specific message, and a message that has to be passed down through the generations. So, it has to be interesting AND it has to highlight the point that's being made to make it abundantly clear. So, taking your example, the idea that there was a God, a being not like us but a being/person nonetheless, who created those natural things that people often worship is what they needed to convey, and so, yes, there has to be a God that was the Creator. But if that God created the heavens and the earth not through direct action but through the means posited by the Ground of All Being ... well, that's not important. And it would be harder to convey that point clearly and interestingly with a Ground of All Being God. So you can't point to "Genesis talks about literal direct creation in 7 days, so it's incompatible with science and a Ground of All Being God, so God can't isn't" as a strong criticism; it was never meant to convey that literal a message.
A good comparison might be to thought experiments. No one thinks that, say, Searle wanted someone to create an actual room with a person inside and run a literal experiment, but he was trying to convey a philosophical point there. The same thing with Shrodinger's Cat; no one is meant to put a cat in a box with the poison and see what happens. The primary goal is to make the message clear, not relate an actual specific experience, even though both ARE meant to convey facts.
Ultimately, there's a bit of everything in any ancient history: attempts to understand, attempts to relate historical facts, attempts to give messages, and atttempts to tell an engaging and enduring story. When history was told by storytellers rather than by dedicated historians, all of these sorts of things were essentially in the same category: meaningful stories. And it was hard to tell the difference between them. One thing I can say for Genesis, though, is that it seems clear that it wasn't meant to be an eyewitness account, but an overall origin story. Even eyewitness accounts tended to be embellished by storytellers, but ones that aren't even that are clearly going to be aimed more at a message than at a presentation of dry fact ... and in that case, the literal details won't matter much. Yes, people took the facts in them as being the facts, to the extent that it made sense to do so and when they didn't have any other account to turn to, but Christianity, at least, has a long history of turning to other accounts when they make more sense and dropping the literal facts when it made sense not to, so that does have a long tradition. The problem with modern Creationists is not taking some of the facts as literal facts, but on INSISTING that they must be meant and have meaning only as expressions of literal facts, which is almost certainly not what the aim of the stories were nor is what made them important enough to be passed down in the first place.
Verbose @ 1: Excellent point about thought experiments as teaching stories.
Trouble is already occurring when someone says "Schrödinger was _German_ so of course he would have used poison gas!" implying that German = Nazi. That combines bigotry against Germans with ignorance of history: Schrödinger served in WW1 and knew well the horrors of poison gas warfare, and came up with his thought experiment in the years before WW2. From that small bit of context it becomes clear that his intent was not one of gratuitous callousness & cruelty, but was most likely to add some shock value to highlight the sense of absurdity with which he regarded the idea of superposition of states.
In any case the issue can be resolved by altering the thought-experiment to use a vial of harmless anaesthetic, whereby you have a superposed half-awake/half-asleep cat. This is even better, as most people have actually seen half-awake/half-asleep cats!;-)
The root source of fundamentalism, I'm quite sure, is an excess of concrete thinking and/or impaired capacity for abstract thinking. These variables can be operationalized and measured fairly reliably through simple psychological testing, to compare performance between fundamentalists and a normal sample.
Re. the pamphlet: These things might best be seen in the context of the author's intent toward the expected audience. I get the impression that this pamphlet was intended to begin to erode some of the Biblical literalism among Christians. OK, fine & fair, and something less than a scientist's way of speaking is acceptable in that context. It's rhetoric, and would have been intended to convey a point of view.
All other factors equal, anything we can do to get people to unhook from scriptural literalisms (any tradition), is good.
I'd like to see some evidence that the original hearers of these stories really were as casual about their factuality as you suggest. Neither you nor Midgley has provided any, and the claim is implausible on its face. The stories do not at all read like embellished legends, but are presented as straightforward historical accounts. The comparison is all the more stark when you compare the style of the Genesis accounts with other creation myths of the time. Moreover, as I suggested in the post, it is very hard to separate the historical accuracy of the accounts from the lessons they seem intended to impart. And since the stories plainly had an etiological function, it is hard to see how their factuality could have been regarded as beside the point.
You're being rather generous towards Christianity in suggesting that it has historically been open to other accounts. Starting with Augustine, the traditional approach has been to distinguish essentials of the faith from side details, and to allow compromises on the latter but not the former. In practice, though, this has often led to repression of different viewpoints, and to hostility to new ideas.
Incidentally, we're not even taking into consideration the fact that traditionally, God is taken to have been in some way inspiring the words in the text. If you take this idea seriously, then you have the further problem of explaining why God would communicate his eternal, timeless truths in a manner that has proved confusing to virtually everyone who has ever read them. It's nice that Christianity has sometimes been willing to alter its scriptural interpretations in the light of new science, but it's strange, if the text is divinely inspired, that they have had to do this so frequently.
"This is all very implausible on its face."
That only shows you're not familiar at all with History of Antiquity. I'm not sure if MM is right that it began to dawn in the 18th Century, but it is scholarly consensus now. Examples (in Dutch):
"Het probleem met al deze hypothesen is dat ze de Bijbel veel te letterlijk nemen."
"The problem with all these hypotheses (to which astronomical event the Bethlehem Star refers) is that they interpret the Bible way too literally."
"De Bergrede die Jezus volgens het Matteüsevangelie uitsprak, is een verwijzing naar Mozes’ optreden als wetgever en geen historische toespraak. En dat weten we al sinds de negentiende eeuw."
"The Sermon on the Mount .... is not a historical speach. And we know that since the 19th Century."
Along the same lines it is certain that the infanticide as described by Matthew is a myth. It has the same function as the stories about little Moses floating the Nile in his little basket, little Paris of Troje send to the woods and little Oedipus left behind: the miraculous rescue in all cases must make clear to the reader (and that was well understood in Antiquity) that the story will be about such an important character that Fate Herself has intervened. There is no doubt that the readers of those stories understood this - and didn't care whether these stories were fact or fiction. That's a modern obsession.
"The distinction between fact and myth is not complicated, and I doubt there was ever a time when people could not distinguish between what really happened and what someone just made up."
Reread her quote. She doesn't make such a claim. She writes
"It became clear that the modern distinction between factual history and myth or legend simply did not exist for the Biblical writers."
The educated people back then simply had a different understanding of "what really happened", of what "reality" holds than we do. The supernatural played a far bigger and more important role in their lives. Factual history and myth or legend were inextricably intertwined. It's simply bad thinking of you that you don't recognize this.
"Is it really the creationists who are being disrespectful of tradition? Or is it the revisionists?"
That's a false dilemma. Both are to some extent. Claiming that the stories from Antiquity should be understood literally misses the point of those stories as much as claiming that for the educated people back then only the meaning of the stories was relevant.
What modern liberal christians do - and what way too many atheists neglect, including Dawkins, Coyne, PZ and you - is focusing on the meaning of the stories alone. That is as much a modern development as literalism indeed. Maintaining that liberal christians simply are wrong because the stories were written down as factual history results in nothing but a strawman.
Sorry, JR. You're just out of your league here, like a Historian of Antiquity making claims about Mathematics without properly studying it.
Fortunately your title is still correct; modern creationism is not an aberration indeed. It focuses only on one aspect and does so since and because of Darwin's (in)famous book. Btw there is no sharp line between the literal and the metaphorical approach. Even loony Ken Ham from AIG interprets part of the Bible metaphorically, even if he denies it. And liberal christians - those who dwell on meaning, metaphor, myth and legend - take some parts literally, especially the Resurrection.
I’d like to see some evidence that the original hearers of these stories really were as casual about their factuality as you suggest.
Could you quote what part of my comment is leading you to this conclusion? Because most of my comment is about the AUTHORS, not the HEARERS, and when I start talking about the hearers I start with this:
Yes, people took the facts in them as being the facts, to the extent that it made sense to do so and when they didn’t have any other account to turn to ...
So, sure, given no other account than that of the storytellers, people treated it like history until something else came along to contradict at least part of it. But that doesn't imply that the main purpose of the story was a literal history or a straightforward historical account.
Neither you nor Midgley has provided any, and the claim is implausible on its face. The stories do not at all read like embellished legends, but are presented as straightforward historical accounts.
Read like straightforward historical accounts? To whom? Recall that in the Bible -- if I'm remembering my atheist arguments correctly -- has two contradictory creation stories in Genesis. Assuming that the people who assembled the Biblical accounts just didn't notice this thing that would be rather obvious, that implies that they thought the message of each story highlighted something important, more so than strict literal interpretation.
Also note that there was no such thing as a straightforward historical account when history was passed by oral tradition by storytellers. So, if you want my evidence, it is in fact in your own framing of the subject: these were oral traditions, spread by storytellers, primarily to get a specific point across. In your post, you say this:
So, for example, it seems reasonable to suppose that a primary purpose of Genesis 1, with its emphasis on God personally creating everything Himself, was to rebut the commonly held pantheistic views of the time, according to which natural objects like the Sun or Moon could be objects of veneration. For the story to serve that purpose, however, it had better be true that God really did create everything.
Leaving off the "fictional story" part as you seem to be positing a false dichotomy that either it is a strict history that is to be taken literally true in all facets or else it must be completely made up, I'll repeat my question here: would it matter to that purpose whether God literally created the universe by direct action in 7 days, or through the "sharing in" sort of mechanism of the Scholastics and the Ground of All Being? I say it wouldn't; are you goign to argue that it would?
Starting with Augustine, the traditional approach has been to distinguish essentials of the faith from side details, and to allow compromises on the latter but not the former.
Which is rather my point. To put it more precisely, modern creationists, the argument goes, aren't just arguing over what is an essential as opposed to a side detail, but are arguing that any possible side detail must ALSO be taken as literally true with no room for any compromise. By your own stand here, that is indeed a relatively new position in theology.
As I said in my comment, the problem is not them taking some things as having to be literal, but them insisting that EVERYTHING has to be literally true ... and your objections in the post and in yoru reply comment seem to be taking that dichotomy as true: either it is all true or it is all fiction. That's certainly not how we should take ancient historical stories.
Incidentally, we’re not even taking into consideration the fact that traditionally, God is taken to have been in some way inspiring the words in the text.
This is indeed incidental, as it isn't really the argument under discussion or relevant to it. The debate, as I see it, is over whether we have to take everything in the creation stories, at least, as being literal fact or not, and my counter is that insisting that everything must be literal fact is like insisting that the Shrodinger's Cat thought experiment would be meaningless if you replaced the cat with a dog. There are reasons why God would choose to use or inspire an approach that makes for a better story and focuses more on the message to be conveyed than the factual details, which are the same reasons that storytellers and crafters of thought experiments do it (it makes them more memorable and better at conveying the important message that they are trying to convey), but that's a huge kettle of fish that I don't want to delve into at the moment.
What on Earth are you talking about?
First of all, we're talking about Genesis, not anything in the New Testament.
I have no idea what point you think you're making with those two quotes you provided. The first says that the Bethlehem Star should not be taken literally, while the second says that we know somehow that the Sermon on the Mount was not a historical speech. (I think that will come as news to a lot of Christians). What does that have to do with the attitudes of the original hearers towards the stories in Genesis?
I don't see how I distorted Midgley's quote in any way, nor do I see why believing in the supernatural somehow makes you unable to distinguish fact from myth. As for fact and legend being inextricably intertwined, yes, of course. The same is true today, when there are all manner of things that are commonly believed to be true that are nonetheless false. Would you say of people today that we make no distinction between fact and myth?
In your paragraph about the false dilemma, I'm not even sure what I'm being accused of. I don't recognize anything I wrote in what you said.
Ken Ham, by the way, does not deny interpreting parts of the Bible metaphorically. He claims simply that if you are going to interpret something in the Bible nonliterally, then there should be strong textual evidence to suggest that it was intended nonliterally. In his view, the text of Genesis provides no such evidence.
In short, your comment, for all its snideness, barely even addresses, much less refutes, anything that I said. I see a lot of big bold claims being made about how ancient people thought about their sacred texts. These claims are implausible given the nature of the stories and the purposes they were likely meant to serve, and I have not seen a shred of evidence to support them.
Verbose Stoic --
Your comment and my reply to MNb crossed in the ether. I'll just reply briefly to a few of your points.
I wasn't really making a distinction between the hearers and the authors of the stories. It's a bit cavalier even to talk about “the authors” of the stories, since presumably the stories evolved somewhat in their retelling before being written down. No point I was making is riding on the distinction between authors and hearers.
So, sure, given no other account than that of the storytellers, people treated it like history until something else came along to contradict at least part of it. But that doesn’t imply that the main purpose of the story was a literal history or a straightforward historical account.
Evidence, please! How do you know that was their attitude toward the factuality of the stories? I don't think it's very plausible, since it seems clear that the stories were specifically intended to present certain facts about the relationship between God and man, and to explain the origins of various Jewish customs, and the stories would have to be largely true to serve those purposes.
Read like straightforward historical accounts? To whom?
How about to virtually everyone who read them through most of Christian history? Why was it so shocking to early geologists that they found evidence of the Earth's great antiquity and no evidence of a global flood? Why was Bishop Ussher just one of literally hundreds of people working out the age of the Earth from a tabulation of the genealogies in Genesis? Have you read Basil and Augustine's commentaries on Genesis? They certainly didn't think the factuality of the stories was just an unimportant side issue! Or look at all the ways in which the historical reality of Adam and Eve underlies important notions in Christian theology. We're talking about the sharpest scholars in Christendom, here, and none of them came away from these stories thinking they were just fables in which fact and myth were hopelessly intertwined.
Leaving off the “fictional story” part as you seem to be positing a false dichotomy that either it is a strict history that is to be taken literally true in all facets or else it must be completely made up, I’ll repeat my question here: would it matter to that purpose whether God literally created the universe by direct action in 7 days, or through the “sharing in” sort of mechanism of the Scholastics and the Ground of All Being? I say it wouldn’t; are you going to argue that it would?
If the only point is to establish that God created everything, then it would not matter whether he did it in seven days or in some other way. But if you then, in Exodus, say, use God's creation in seven days as the explicit justification for the Sabbath, the keeping of which was one of the major distinctions between Jews and the other tribes of the times, then suddenly it does become relevant. If you tell people they must keep the Sabbath because God created in six days and rested on the seventh, and then people find out that God did no such thing, they might just feel that they had been duped.
That's the point. In so many cases, like that one, the historical accuracy of the stories is central to the points the stories were meant to convey. As for the possibility that the stories could be partly true and partly false, yes of course. Any modern history textbook inevitably contains plenty of errors, but when one of the errors comes to light we don't discard the whole book. That, also, is not a difficult concept. My point wasn't that the stories must be wholly true or wholly false. My point, rather, is that Midgley's assertion that the distinction between fact and myth did not exist for the ancients is very unlikely to be correct, and that she is being far too cavalier in her discussions of people's attitudes towards their sacred texts.
Which is rather my point. To put it more precisely, modern creationists, the argument goes, aren’t just arguing over what is an essential as opposed to a side detail, but are arguing that any possible side detail must ALSO be taken as literally true with no room for any compromise. By your own stand here, that is indeed a relatively new position in theology.
As I said in my comment, the problem is not them taking some things as having to be literal, but them insisting that EVERYTHING has to be literally true … and your objections in the post and in yoru reply comment seem to be taking that dichotomy as true: either it is all true or it is all fiction. That’s certainly not how we should take ancient historical stories
That's a bad distortion of what YEC's are saying, as I just explained to MNb. They don't insist that EVERYTHING has to be literally true. They have no problem with interpreting certain things nonliterally. Their view is that if you are going to interpret things nonliterally, then the text must clearly support that interpretation. They also believe that God would not communicate central truths to us in a manner that is so confusing that you need a PhD in something to understand it. There is nothing novel in their approach to hermeneutics, unless you consider Protestantism itself as novel. Their conclusions are certainly more extreme than many of their predecessors, but the principles they use to get there are entirely commonplace in Protestant thought.
I think this post raises an interesting issue that is worth sorting out. I don't know a lot about the historical record, but I believe that the history is pretty complicated in this area, and I'll give an example. Jason writes:
"The creation stories in Genesis read like straightforward history, and were understood as such by virtually everyone who read them right up to modern times."
This seems a little strong to me, given what has been said by people on the subject. Here is a passage written by Origen of Alexandria, who lived from 184-253AD notice (there are other examples):
"For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally." De Principiis IV, 16
People like Origen are the reason I said “virtually.” everyone. Augustine is sometimes quoted in this context too, since he rejected the idea that the days in Genesis referred to 24 hour periods of time. But Origen was widely considered heretical by the authorities of his time, and Augustine was quite adamant that the Bible taught a young Earth. I do think I'm on solid ground in saying that the dominant view through most of Christian history was that the Bible was authoritative on the aspects of natural history it addressed, and more specifically that the Earth was young, that Adam and Eve were real people, that Noah's flood was a real event, and that the genealogies could be used to draw inferences about the age of the Earth. As it happens though, this is precisely what I intend to discuss in Part Two, so I won't belabor it here.
Evolution a leap of faith
I was watching a documentary by david ate bought where he was going up a lake in a boat with geese flying along side him. It was amazing he could almost touch them. He was saying how amazing the evolutionary process was to a have produced such wonderful creatures.
In the same week I read an article about the evolution of flying. It was saying that mans echievement in aviation is put to shame when we look at the wing of birds and yet we still believe this all happen accidentally over millions of years.
It we just stop for a second and look up at the moon at night, that gentally pull the ocean from one direction and then another enabling life it's self are we really an acciendent?
Why do we feel the need to constantly denie a creator?
Sunday, December 2, 2012
The Marvelous Flight Capabilities of Birds: Why Evolutionists Never Bluff
“Avian flight,” a new study explains, “is one of the remarkable achievements of vertebrate evolution.” Indeed, there is the “complex biotechnical architecture of avian wings,” the “magic structural wing asymmetries” so important for aeroelastic flight control, and the “extremely precise coordination of the complex wing beat motions, together with a perfect flight guidance and control performance.”
Then there are the flight muscles, sense organs and “extremely developed cerebellum” functioning as a guidance and control computer center. These “biological elements communicate with lightning speed like an autopilot as a biotechnical marvel with unimaginable precision.” As the paper concludes, “With their spectacular flight capabilities, birds are really the inimitable flight artists of nature.”
Unimaginable precision. Spectacular flight capabilities. Extremely precise coordination. How did random mutations create such marvels? Natural selection killed off the mutations that didn’t work, but otherwise was powerless to coax the miracle mutations. Evolution requires that the mutations leading to avian flight, and everything else for that matter, knew nothing of the need at hand. They were random with respect to function.
And yet, they created such wonders as avian flight. A remarkable design that our best engineers still cannot figure out. We know that it evolved, however, because evolution is a fact. And evolutionists never bluff.
I wasn’t really making a distinction between the hearers and the authors of the stories. It’s a bit cavalier even to talk about “the authors” of the stories, since presumably the stories evolved somewhat in their retelling before being written down. No point I was making is riding on the distinction between authors and hearers.
But the point that I am making and that I think Midgley and Mnb are making DOES ride on that. Specifically, I don't think that you can talk about the story reading like a straightforward historical account without making an implication that it was INTENDED to be one, and think that Midgley and know that _I_ are talking about what it was intended to be, and therefore how we should interpret it. If it was "written" to be a strictly factual account, then it should be treated like one, but if it wasn't then it shouldn't. I have argued repeatedly that they were never intended to be straightforward historical accounts, but let me clarify what I mean by that and then perhaps you can clarify what YOU mean by that: I take "straightforward historical account" to mean a work that was produced for the PRIMARY purpose of recording an event that happened in the past. NOT to be entertaining -- although that can be a secondary purpose -- or to promote a specific moral message -- although, again, that can be a secondary purpose -- but to record an account of an event that happened in the past. And I argue that in the age of oral traditions told by storytellers, that was never the case, because storytellers were storytellers first and historians second. Entertainment value and message were always at least as and generally more important than strict historical accuracy.
Which is why I'm puzzled over your "Evidence please!" comment, because that was about the part that I thought we explicitly agreed on -- that people did take these stories as reflecting what happened -- or that I think you implicitly conceded -- that they did that right up until they had very good reason to think that the story wasn't completely accurate. All of the examples you cite demonstrate that even people who took it mostly as fact were willing to consider parts of it embellished or allegorical when other accounts or facts that were more important to them clashed with them.
In short, my claim is that the only access people had to history in those days were through stories, and so they never, ever had access to straightforward historical accounts, and so treating these ancient, oral traditions as straightforward historical accounts is, in fact, always wrong. By, at least, my definition of straightforward historical account.
How about to virtually everyone who read them through most of Christian history? Why was it so shocking to early geologists that they found evidence of the Earth’s great antiquity and no evidence of a global flood? Why was Bishop Ussher just one of literally hundreds of people working out the age of the Earth from a tabulation of the genealogies in Genesis? Have you read Basil and Augustine’s commentaries on Genesis? They certainly didn’t think the factuality of the stories was just an unimportant side issue!
As I commented from the beginning, that they took these stories as conveying facts doesn't make it a straightforward historical account, and is something I've conceded. I'm talking about how WE should interpret them, not about how OTHERS HAVE interpreted them ... and even THEN I'm not saying that we should treat them all as complete allegories (I concede that NO ONE does that for most of the stories). So citing things that people thought were facts in the story doesn't impact my argument one bit; I concede that, but doing that isn't any meaningful notion of "literally", at least to me.
If the only point is to establish that God created everything, then it would not matter whether he did it in seven days or in some other way. But if you then, in Exodus, say, use God’s creation in seven days as the explicit justification for the Sabbath, the keeping of which was one of the major distinctions between Jews and the other tribes of the times, then suddenly it does become relevant. If you tell people they must keep the Sabbath because God created in six days and rested on the seventh, and then people find out that God did no such thing, they might just feel that they had been duped.
Sure but a) changing "meanings" of the text is a little shifty (remember, I went with YOUR statement of the meaning, and don't want to get into a cycle of talking about meanings upon meanings) and b) this is in fact relating the truth of certain aspects of it to certain key things in the theology, which I already conceded as arguments over what is essential and what is a side issue. After all, most Christians won't care too much about the Sabbath issue, but as you note the Jews will. And it can be taken allegorically and still preserve the Sabbath. And so on and so forth. This isn't the same sort of case as what I think is happening with the YEC's ...
They don’t insist that EVERYTHING has to be literally true. They have no problem with interpreting certain things nonliterally. Their view is that if you are going to interpret things nonliterally, then the text must clearly support that interpretation.
Which means that they DO, in fact, insist that everything in the book has to be taken literally. If the text says it's an allegory or parable, it is, otherwise it isn't. That's still literal in most senses of the word. Now, I'm not as familiar with creationist content as you are, but it seems to me that the clash, then, can be boiled down to this distinction: YEC's do not let anything external to the Bible influence their interpretation of it (okay, they actually do because no one's perfect, but that's their ideal) while others in the vein of Origen, Augustine, Aquinas and most Christian theologians, at least, will adjust their interpretations in light of knowledge gained externally to the Bible. To use an analogy here, it's like people who would take Kant's statement that Newtonian physics completely defined the "world of appearances" or the physical world, and was the complete science literally, and either then insist that Kant's ideas of the world of appearances was wrong and meaningless (some atheists) or that relativistic physics must be wrong because Kant was clearly right about the world of appearances. Most philosophers don't do that, and instead point out that Kant's view was about how science is the tool for determining what the world of appearances was, not about any specific scientific view.
I argue that YECs are taking the Bible literally and trying to argue that the external science is wrong because the Bible's truth or interpretations cannot be impacted by any external knowledge. I also argue that most Christian theology, at least, DOESN'T do that, evidenced by your own examples. Yes, they took some things as being fact and yes, they often were resistant to new information, but they all conceded the possibility that external information might impact their interpretations of the Bible. In short, most Christian theology assumed that they might indeed find out how the world worked in a way that trumped what was outlined in the Bible, and argued not that that knowledge would have to be wrong because it impacted what the Bible said, but rather that since the Bible cannot contradict what the world is like the Bible could not have actually meant that, except for critical claims without which their religious beliefs would no longer be viable. I argue that the latter was the strategy that most Christians adopted, and that any delays in accepting that came only from doubts about how certain the external facts actually were.
OK I will be interested to see the second part of your post, then. I will merely add one point to the discussion for completeness. The reason I said there were other examples is that Origen is not the only one. My understanding is that there were other figures who held related sorts of views, including theists like Philo of Alexandra (1st cent.), Augustine (4th cent.), Saadia Gaon (9th cent.), (Maimonides 11th cent.), etc. So one might wonder how isolated this tradition is. I'm not familiar with all of these individuals myself and so I'm only putting this out there.
my claim is that the only access people had to history in those days were through stories, and so they never, ever had access to straightforward historical accounts,
Herodotus wrote an actual "history text," (including nonmythical, nonpoetical, non "story-like" discussions of geography and geopolitics) around 440 BC. Thucydidies also wrote his history of the Pelopennesian war about that time. It's notable that he analyzes Homer and concludes that the "thousand ships" was a literary exaggeration. IOW, he's doing exactly the sort of comparison of stories to factual history we would expect of people who wrote both and knew the difference.
So, its incorrect to say they only got their history through stories. By at least the 4th century BC, people very clearly knew the difference because they wrote both types of documents (along with tragic plays, comedic plays, poetry, etc....). The earliest versions of the Torah also date to the 4th century BC, though some individual bits and pieces of the OT are thought to be older.
but the accounts still have more in common with Aesop’s fables than they do with a history textbook, not the least of which being that for the most part the only reason the story gets told is BECAUSE it’s trying to convey a specific message, and a message that has to be passed down through the generations.
Aesop's Fables read nothing like the bible, and by the 4th or 5th century BC "fables" were their own genre, with literary analysis and people discussing how to write a good one. Very often, people wrote the moral of the story at the end of each fable to highlight their point. Moreover, Herodotus (writing about 120-150 years later) refers to Aesop as a fable writer. It was clear, then, what a fable was and what type of information it was trying to convey. Aesop and his contemporaries made it clear, and their audiences understood it clearly. In contrast, nobody refers to Moses as "the fable-writer," Genesis 1 does not come with a moral plainly written out at the end of it, and instead of being short stories with animals and gods being the main characters in each paragraph, there are, what, a whole whopping two talking animals in the entire OT. They are very clearly different genres, and people as early as 400 or 500 or so BC were already sophisticated enough not only to implicitly recognize that, but to write explicit commentary on things like the rules of literary genres.
I am somewhat supportive of the notion that many of these earlier works should not be seen though modern lenses, where we write fiction and nonfiction and try to make a clear distinction. The bible does resemble Homer's epic poems in some ways. But by 500 BC people were already commenting on which bits of an epic were likely fictive vs not fictive, and yet AFAIK there is no Hebrew commentary from that period arguing any of the Torah is fictive.
So, its incorrect to say they only got their history through stories. By at least the 4th century BC, people very clearly knew the difference because they wrote both types of documents (along with tragic plays, comedic plays, poetry, etc….). The earliest versions of the Torah also date to the 4th century BC, though some individual bits and pieces of the OT are thought to be older.
Except it's the oral traditions that I'm talking about, not when they were assembled into various books. For Moses, the traditions were explicitly traced back to 10th century BC, which was four centuries after his time. Oral traditions didn't have flags or indicators as to what parts were stories and which weren't ... which is precisely the reason why later interpreters were indeed able to jump to questioning which were true and which weren't. If they thought that those sorts of traditions were simple, unadorned histories, they wouldn't have done that.
Note that any reasons for thinking the Bible different in this regard are theological, not historical ... and a theological tradition that, in general, was considered suspect for a long, long time.
Aesop’s Fables read nothing like the bible ...
It also reads nothing like a historical textbook either. By your own admission, it reads like Homer, which was not a straightforward historical account. At any rate, you missed what I said it had in common with Aesop's Fables and not with straightforward historical accounts: a strong concern for style and a strong concern for getting a message across, both of which trumped accuracy. Again, why does the Bible include contradictory accounts at all when it could easily avoid them, if it was so concerned about accuracy? The message is more important than strict accuracy, even to those who "wrote" (ie assembled) the Bible.
But by 500 BC people were already commenting on which bits of an epic were likely fictive vs not fictive, and yet AFAIK there is no Hebrew commentary from that period arguing any of the Torah is fictive.
I think you and Jason make the same mistake here, conflating "Thought true" with "Thought had to be taken literally true in all aspects or else is meaningless". Those people not arguing about any of the Torah being exaggerated or mythical likely had no reason to do so at the time, and no interest in taking that as an intellectual exercise. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't do so given the right challenge, which is all modern liberal theology really requires (some may go further to "It's all only metaphor" but there is indeed a range there of which that's the extreme end).
Oral traditions didn’t have flags or indicators as to what parts were stories and which weren’t … which is precisely the reason why later interpreters were indeed able to jump to questioning which were true and which weren’t. If they thought that those sorts of traditions were simple, unadorned histories, they wouldn’t have done that.
The question is not whether the Jews think the bible is simple, unadorned history. I'm not saying that. I don't think Jason is, but I could be wrong. Its whether they took the creation account - that part of a multi-use text - literally or figuratively. And the fact that you agree that people of the time could 'jump into' the mode of analyzing which bits are true and which bits are false - and yet there is no evidence, no theological writings from the time that supports a nonliteral interpretation- supports the notion that they took those parts literally. To make a comparison: Herodotus questions the number of boats in the Iliad. But he doesn't question that the war happened. I think we are very reasonably warranted in believing Herodotus accepted that there was a Trojan war by his absence of comment about it. So too with early Jewish theologians.