Evolution and Liberal Christianity

As a Liberal Christian who has been a vocal opponent of young-earth creationists, cdesign proponentsists and other pseudoscientific movements both on my blog and in the classroom, I can only respond to Jason Rosenhouse’s recent post on the incompatibility of science and religion as follows: “Huh?!”

The point of emphasizing the compatibility of religious beliefs and science doesn’t have anything to do with Liberal Christians, except to the extent that Liberal Christians are usually people who already embrace the findings of the natural sciences. We are well aware that there is a lot of traditional Christian theology that has to be revised in light of our contemporary scientific understanding, and that there are things that must simply be discarded. That’s what being a Liberal Christian is about. We completely accept the point that modern science makes some religious views untenable, and if we do not consistently follow through in abandoning outmoded ways of thinking, it is because of our human shortcomings and not because we are not committed to doing so.

What concerns Christians like me when the rhetoric of incompatibility is used is the effect it has on those who are not (yet) committed to a form of faith that will allow them to embrace science and reject theological ideas incompatible with the current state of human knowledge. Such people frequently accept of reject things on the basis of an emotional reaction and core moral values rather than evidence (as do we all, at times, for better or worse). Those who use language that suggests “Evolution shows that our existence is meaningless and everything is random, humans are bundles of chemicals and all our apparent choices and artistic creation is determined by the laws of physics” (a caricature, to be sure, but a recognizable one) are giving the impression to Christians who are not Liberal that they must choose between valuing human beings and leading meaningful lives on the one hand, or the acceptance of modern scientific findings on the other. Who can be surprised that they choose the former? But they choose the former instead of science because they have been led to believe that they must choose between science and value, between science and love, between science and meaning, and a key emphasis of Liberal Christianity, as well as those scientists who aren’t religious believers but nonetheless agree with us on this point, is that this is a false antithesis: this isn’t a choice one has to make.

I don’t see how Ken Miller and others are doing what Rosenhouse accuses them of. Does Miller mention God in his articles in biology journals? Of course not. He is not imposing his religious views or forcing anyone in the realm of biology to accept them. His role is an apologist for science and an educator. And he’s learned (as have many educators) that learning is a process. Those who suggest that revising one’s theology has to happen from the outset, rather than after many years of first coming to grips with the relevant scientific (not to mention theological) arguments and evidence, are making a claim that seems to be not only false, but poor pedagogy.

Clearly their religious beliefs are not preventing Ken Miller, Francisco Ayala, Francis Collins and many others from doing top notch scientific work. And so why is there so much objection to their self-identification as Christians? I can only conclude that the reason for this opposition to those who emphasize the compatibility of religious beliefs (of a certain sort, it goes without saying) and the natural sciences is the following: there are atheist scientists who love the simplicity of the position that “science disproves God” every bit as much as their fundamentalist counterparts on the other end of the spectrum love to claim that “science proves God”. Neither of these extremes wants to have to muddle through the difficult and uncertain waters of theology, philosophy and metaphysics. And so both find the views in the middle threatening, because they provide evidence that such simplistic answers are inadequate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06135739290199272992 Eric Reitan

    To me, a big part of the problem lies in the often unconscious drift from an attitude of respect for science to the metaphysical conviction that what science can study constitutes the sum total of what is real. Science as a research program is methodologically naturalistic–that is, it looks for and posits only empirically testable explanations of observed phenomena. The result is that the picture of the world we get FROM science is thoroughgoingly naturalistic. But it is a faulty inference to say that science therefore supports a purely naturalistic worldview. To make this inference, one must smuggle in the premise that the picture of the world we get from science is a COMPLETE picture. And this is a question-begging metaphysical premise that is not and cannot be derived from scientific evidence. As I've said many times, science cannot discern whether there is more to reality than science can discern. But this faulty inference is common enough, and many people fail to recognize that it relies on a question-begging metaphysical premise. And so science is falsely seen as establishing that a naturalistic worldview is the most likely to be true.The result is a false polarization between those who would reject science in order to save their beliefs about the transcendent, and those who embrace naturalism because of their devotion to science.The results are unfortunate all the way around. Religious conservatives, having rejected science, are left with no sense of accountability to it, no sense that they ought to conform their religious worldview to be consistent with what we know about the world. Insofar as a worldview is an interpretation of the world of experience, the result is that many religious communities adopt a worldview that might be a nice interpretation of some fantasy world, but fails as an interpretation of the actual world.On the other side, we get die-hard naturalists who–goaded on by the religious fundamentalists who express such indifference to facts–see themselves as the protectors of truth and reason, and are thus thrust into an attitude of false certainty at precisely that juncture where certainty is illegitimate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07725829998119648772 Matt Kelley

    I think the problem lies in how we've lost sight of the fact that religion and science are speaking completely different languages, "why" and "what", if you will. Religious language inherently points to a greater Truth than can be expressed by the confines of any language, so we shouldn't be afraid to revise it in light of how langage and culture changes over time. The resistance to doing so is not rooted in faith in God, but in idolatry that worships the language and symbols themselves, instead of the ultimate reality to which they point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    I think you're being extremely unfair to Rosenhouse (and to Coyne before him), especially in your final paragraph where you accuse the anti-accommodationists of being motivated by intellectual laziness and dishonesty.The point of emphasizing the compatibility of religious beliefs and science doesn't have anything to do with Liberal Christians: It wasn't Rosenhouse but Mooney (with whom he is disagreeing) who brought "religious moderates" and "liberal Christians" into the discussion, and who framed the issue in terms of avoiding alienating those people; but you write as if *Rosenhouse* has dragged you into an irrelevant fight.I don't see how Ken Miller and others are doing what Rosenhouse accuses them of.: I can't work out what you think Rosenhouse is accusing them of, and unfortunately you haven't said. He certainly isn't accusing them of bringing God into their technical articles, or complaining about "their self-identification as Christians", although those are the only accusations against which you defend them.I think Rosenhouse's complaint against Miller et al is (1) that they are claiming that there is no tension between Christianity-rightly-understood and evolution-rightly-understood, and that that's wrong, and (2) that the arguments they are advancing in support of their claim are bad.He might of course be wrong about this, and presumably you think he is. But if you're going to make such accusations as you have, I think you ought to be offering some actual evidence that he's wrong. Merely saying "we liberal Christians embrace science and are happy to revise our doctrines if scientific discoveries require us to do so" doesn't seem to me to constitute evidence of that.And, actually, Rosenhouse is mostly not arguing against Miller and Ayala and Collins and Giberson at all. He's objecting to Mooney's complaints about someone else giving Miller's and Giberson's books a scathing review. Not that anyone would guess that from what you've written about his post.

  • benjdm

    Science as a research program is methodologically naturalistic–that is, it looks for and posits only empirically testable explanations of observed phenomena. The result is that the picture of the world we get FROM science is thoroughgoingly naturalistic. But it is a faulty inference to say that science therefore supports a purely naturalistic worldview. As soon as you show me a methodologically 'supernaturalistic' research program that converges on more and more accurate models, I'll add that method to my epistemology. Until then…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Gareth, I apologize if, coming in on the tail end of a conversation, I got the wrong end of the stick. But I read Rosenhouse's and Coyne's blogs regularly, and so have an overarching impression about their point of view, that may have influenced me.My impression is that both think that fundamentalist creationists are what Christianity "really is", that they are consistent literalists, while everyone else has watered down versions of that pure form. That is absolutely not the case.I'd invite you to take a look at my recent multi-post reviews of recent books by liberal Christian authors such as Keith Ward or Philip Clayton, addressing matters of philosophical theology. You may well disagree with them on any number of points, but I would be surprised if, after reading them, you would still doubt that there are serious Christian thinkers who embrace the conclusions of the natural sciences.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Whatever makes you think I "doubt that there are serious Christian thinkers who embrace the conclusions of the natural sciences"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03449188541044487588 Hugh

    ' My impression is that both think that fundamentalist creationists are what Christianity "really is" 'There is the common thread linking the new anti religionists and the conservative fundamentalists . They both have the same view of religion . What threatens them both is liberal religion . It doesn't fit into their confined view .Regards …

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10404666980227401390 Mike Beidler

    Well said, Hugh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Gareth, you wrote: "Merely saying "we liberal Christians embrace science and are happy to revise our doctrines if scientific discoveries require us to do so" doesn't seem to me to constitute evidence of that."Did I misunderstand your point? I was simply trying to provide some of the evidence I thought you had asked for. I wonder whether we aren't talking past one another – I for one certainly can't judge particularly well from your comment where you are coming from.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    James: Yes, you did misunderstand: "that" at the end of the sentence you quote was referring back to the *previous* sentence; what I think you haven't provided evidence for is that the complaints people like Coyne and Rosenhouse are making about the likes of Miller — the actual complaints, I mean — are wrong.Perhaps we are talking past one another more generally; so let me briefly summarize my contentions here.1. Despite your "Huh?!", Rosenhouse's post (a) was coherent, and (b) did not miss the point, nor misrepresent the content, of Mooney's piece to which it was a response.2. It is preposterous to complain about the introduction of "liberal Christians" to the discussion as if Rosenhouse had dragged them in irrelevantly, because Mooney's piece was all about the importance of not alienating "religious moderates".3. That complaint doesn't make any sense if directed at Coyne either; Coyne was not writing about whether one should avoid alienating liberal Christians, but about whether there is some kind of basic incompatibility between evolution and Christianity. What Coyne said about liberal Christians (whether it's true or not, which is a separate question) was not at all irrelevant to that question.4. You say "I don't see how Ken Miller and others are doing what Rosenhouse accuses them of." It is totally unclear what you think Rosenhouse is accusing them of. The particular attacks from which you defend them are ones Rosenhouse never made, and indeed I don't see any possible way to interpret him as saying anything close to them. So what *is* the accusation you say he's wrongly made against them?5. Your closing accusation against Rosenhouse and Coyne and others who share their opinions is a very, very serious one — it seems to me to involve cowardice, dimwittedness and dishonesty all at once — and nothing you've said here seems to come close to justifying it.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Obviously Jason´s article struck a raw nerve in James. I thought Jason (as often) made some excellent comments. And Gareth has followed it up with a great defense of Jason. I think Gareth is absolutely right when he says that one of Jason´s main complaints against Miller is that "there is no tension between Christianity rightly understood and evolution-rightly-understood". This was one of the things that struck me when I read Miller´s "Finding Darwins God". The problem is that Miller´s definition of what constitutes Christianity is so strange and often far off the mark that I would hardly call it Christianity. The first Christians would definitely not have recognized it as Christianity. The same goes for Miller´s definition of other religions. Knowledge in comparative religion is obviously not Millers´s strong suit. Miller comes up with even worse arguments when he tries to show that God (his redefined version of the Christian god)has willed the Evolutionary process as his tool to create things. Mostly god stays out of the process, but from time to time he wants to shortcurcuit the system and do miraculous things, like resurrecting a jewish rabbi 2000 years ago. This, accordíng to Miller, god can do by tinkering about with the powers in the subatomic world. Just as for countless new agers and eastern gurus quantum mechanics comes to the rescue for Miller. A highly distorted and amateurish reading of what quantum mechanics is all about. I have no quibbles with Miller as a biologist, but when it comes to religion and physics he appears to be a hopeless amateur (at least judging by what he writes in Finding Darwins God). I also think Jason Rosenhaus was also absolutely right when he argued in an earlier article that at the end of it Miller is not much better than the creationists he puts so much scorn on. The latter half of Finding Darwins God is just as much bad science as anything the creationists can come up with.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Personally, I do think Ken falls into a sort of "God of the gaps" approach with respect to quantum mechanics, having eschewed it in biology. But it is also worth noting that physicists and cosmologists are far less touchy about the use of God language by practitioners of their scientific disciplines, perhaps because their domains border on some potentially unanswerable questions, and thus leave ample room for certain kinds of mystery and metaphor in a way that evolutionary biology does not.But my main point was about precisely what Antonio has illustrated in his comment. He seems to be assuming (correct me if I'm wrong) that the "original Christianity" looked like modern fundamentalism, and liberals are transforming it into something else.That is absolutely false. First, the idea of an "original Christianity" is not unproblematic. The fundamentalists claim that they believe the whole Bible and take it all literally, but if you examine such claims with the same sort of critical spirit you apply to their actual doctrines, you'll find the claims bogus. They are every bit as selective as the liberals, the only difference being that liberals are honest about doing so.You will also find, in the history of the church over the first several centuries, individuals who sought to relate their religious beliefs to the best knowledge of the time; individuals who recognized that there are details that cannot be harmonized in the Bible and thus are not factually true; morally abhorrent details the literal sense of which simply cannot be accepted; and so on.I'm an amateur, strictly speaking, not only when it comes to the natural sciences, but also when it comes to the Hebrew Bible, philosophy, and theology. Yet there is value, even if also danger, in seeking to relate one's own area of expertise to others. I'm not sure what the alternative is, if we wish to investigate, discuss and ponder questions that overlap and intersect multiple scholarly disciplines and multiple aspects of life.Gareth, you've described me as guilty of "cowardice, dimwittedness and dishonesty". I'm not sure how a conversation is supposed to continue after that. I read the Mooney piece that was linked from Jason's blog, and it doesn't seem to me to be saying what you take it to. But as I already said, it may be that there was a much longer conversation that gave an impression one wouldn't gain simply from reading the most recent posts. But I certainly don't see how there can be cowardice involved, when I have expressed my views under my own name. And while I may have misunderstood, at no point was I dishonest. As for being dimwitted, that's always a possibility, but one of my points all along has been that it is easier to accuse opponents of being dimwitted for not seeing the obvious truth of one's views, than to entertain the possibility that one's views are not as self-evident as one would like to believe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    -"Evolution shows that our existence is meaningless and everything is random, humans are bundles of chemicals and all our apparent choices and artistic creation is determined by the laws of physics" (a caricature, to be sure, but a recognizable one)-You are 100% right that people throw that around too often.What they SHOULD be saying is "Naturalism, of which evolution is one of the most recognisable and central hypotheses, shows that our existence is meaningless and everything is random, humans are bundles of chemicals and all our apparent choices and artistic creation is determined by the laws of physics". That restatement would be far more accurate, and would serve to advance the discussion.It is also gratifying to see someone else call out the fundamentalist scientism-ists as just as rabidly fideistic as many fundamentalist Christians. I like to give credit where it's due. Well done.Peace,Rhology

  • Bryan

    Eric Reitan: "To make this inference, one must smuggle in the premise that the picture of the world we get from science is a COMPLETE picture. And this is a question-begging metaphysical premise that is not and cannot be derived from scientific evidence. As I've said many times, science cannot discern whether there is more to reality than science can discern."But the religious smuggle in the premise that there is a whole other realm of supernatural phenomena. Is that not also a question-begging metaphysical premise? At least the naturalists have evidence that the natural world exists, you don't (and can't) have that for your supernatural realm. Unless you believe that there can be evidence for the supernatural, in which case, can science study that evidence?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr Reitan said:-Religious conservatives, having rejected science, are left with no sense of accountability to it, no sense that they ought to conform their religious worldview to be consistent with what we know about the world.-By the way, this is completely untrue, but speaking of common strawmen! Rather, we demand science take its proper place – in submission to Jesus Christ, just like everything else. He's not just Lord of stuff you find in a church, you know.And how can one be held accountable to a METHODOLOGY of studying physical things? This statement unjustifiably inflates the role of science and, as a bonus, commits the naturalistic fallacy.And Bryan, I'm a conservative Calvinist and have my own answer to your question, but I too will be quite interested to see what the liberals around here have to say. Peace,Rhology

  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    James -You wrote:But it is also worth noting that physicists and cosmologists are far less touchy about the use of God language by practitioners of their scientific disciplines, perhaps because their domains border on some potentially unanswerable questions, and thus leave ample room for certain kinds of mystery and metaphor in a way that evolutionary biology does not.This is an interesting observation, and I tend to agree with you. Part of the reason, perhaps, is scale. At one level, physicists are looking at behaviors of things that are so small that they aren't directly observable, and at the other, cosmologists are dealing with times and distances so vast that we can't really conceptualize them. Maybe such extremes lend themselves to mystery and metaphor. Biology is more directly observable – we can see and handle organisms and fossils, we can look inside cells and identify individual genes and their effects – so there are fewer gaps to deal with. Biology also hits much closer to home, and perhaps that makes it a more polarizing topic, and that makes people hold on to their personal views that much more tightly.

  • Carlos

    One point that is frequently neglected in these sorts of discussion is that 'natural' and 'supernatural' have been, in the history of philosophy, science, and theology, interdependent terms. The supernatural is that which goes beyond the merely natural, and 'naturalism' is interchangeable with 'anti-supernaturalism' both historically (Spinoza, Nietzsche) and today (Dawkins). How the debate then unfolds depends on how terms are deployed. A naturalist, I would say, is someone who denies that there is any causation which is not in principle empirically detectable by beings like ourselves. (So I'm deliberately conflating the methodological and metaphysical aspects; the distinction between methodological and metaphysical naturalism is not one I'm especially fond of, though it has some uses.) Now, given that sense of naturalism, a supernaturalist is just someone who asserts that there instances of empirically undetectable causation. And it's not hard to make that view look silly. What is hard, however, is to construe religion (whether metaphysical or non-metaphysical) as engaged in something quite different from making assertions about types of causation — but rather see it as expressing one's sense of wonder and awe, gratitude and mystery, the need to cope with loss and pain, and the need to avoid the temptation of despair.A liberal religionist — whether Christian or not (I write as a liberal Jew) — is someone who sees the need for more than one language. We need a language for explanation and prediction, and a language for expressing gratitude, awe, and hope. The liberal religionist, as I envision the type, does not insist that religion is the only form in which the second language is adequately realized, but defends religion as one adequate realization of the need for such a language, among other such forms of realization.

  • Michael Fugate

    How does science submit to Jesus?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    James, I most certainly had no intention of describing you as guilty of cowardice, dimwittedness or dishonesty. What I thought I was saying was that *the final paragraph of your post* accuses people like Jason Rosenhouse of those faults. I quite agree that it's hard to see how a conversation can continue after such an accusation, which is why I was surprised to find you making it and thought it was worth pointing out the implications of what you'd written in case you didn't really mean to accuse them of that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Rhology, so far as I can see naturalism neither says nor implies that "our existence is meaningless"; nor that "everything is random". Not unless you take it as axiomatic that "meaningful" *means* something like "given meaning by something that is not natural", in which case it seems to me that axiom is in need of justification.Would you care to (1) explain what you mean by "meaningless" and (2) show how one derives "everything is random" from the premises of naturalism?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Michael,By recognising the limitations of human methodology, insight, instrumentation, observation, and thought, etc.By recognising that any human effort is not to be considered a superior way to truth and knowledge than revelation from God.Gareth,(1) Well, there is no goal, no purpose, no reason to live beyond what oneself might say inside oneself. And given that there's no goal, purpose, reason to live on the outside, just telling yourself that there is on the inside is willful self-deception. You are here for no reason, have nothing to do, will die and rot and will be forgotten far before the universe ends in heat death. You can make no significant difference. Any help or nice favor you render to anyone will likewise be forgotten and will make no difference when compared to the vast number and size of other occurrences and entities in the universe.(2) There is no reason to expect uniform natural processes in the universe, on naturalism. To expect it and certainly to be dogmatic about such is simply to beg the question. There is no overarching guide, no purpose, no goal, no schema. The laws of physics could change any moment, since they are nothing more than descriptive of how things have usually worked in the past, or at least throughout recorded history, which is 0.000004% or so of the history of the Earth. Contrast this with a robust biblical worldview – your purpose is to serve and glorify a loving God and enjoy Him in loving communion with Him and with other people, who have real minds and hearts. And God has promised that the world will remain intact until the Eschaton, and so we fully expect natural laws to remain in effect, b/c God has promised they will remain until that time He has set. Does that help?

  • Michael Fugate

    How do we know when a supernatural entity reveals something?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    On Christianity, by the witness of the Holy Spirit. He also is kind enough to leave a great deal of evidence as well, such as fulfilled prophecies and consistency and reality in what it records. Further, rival worldviews reduce to absurdity, so the only candidate for the seeker of truth who's concerned with consistency is the biblical worldview.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Rhology: How do you get from naturalism to "there is no goal … beyond what oneself might say inside oneself"? Naturalism doesn't entail solipsism.here for no reason, have nothing to do: Obviously false (unless, again, you take "reason" to mean "transcendent universal non-natural reason", begging the quetstion). I have plenty to do; on what grounds are you telling me that I shouldn't do it?will die and rot and will be forgotten far before the universe ends in heat death: So what? Why should I take the far future as determining what really matters, either to me or in general? You can make no significant difference: I can probably save hundreds of lives by the simple expedient of giving to charities. I can bring my child up badly or well. I can make my wife's life happy or miserable. Why should I believe you when you claim that these things are not "significant"? when compared to the vast number and size of other occurrences and entities: Whyever should I compare what I do to those things, and why should the "significance" of an action be diminished by the mere existence of other actions? (Imagine that another universe very like ours springs into existence. Is everything that happens in this one suddenly halved in importance?)There is no reason to expect uniform natural processes in the universe, on naturalism. Perhaps that's true, but (1) that is not remotely the same thing as saying that everything in fact is random, and (2) the best reasons I can see for thinking it apply equally on non-naturalistic assumptions.You seem to think that "a robust biblical worldview" solves the problem. It doesn't; or rather, it does so only in the same sense as (say) a "robust scientific worldview" (say, naturalism plus a firm belief in the coherence of nature and a commitment to Occam's razor as a methodological principle) does; and the latter involves fewer arbitrary-looking assumptions and fewer apparent conflicts with observed reality. To put it differently: getting from "God has promised X" to "X will happen" requires you to assume that God is reliable, just as getting from "X has always happened in the past" to "X is likely to continue happening in the future" requires you to assume that the universe is coherent. You can accumulate justification for the former inference if you find evidence that God keeps his promises; likewise, you can accumulate justification for the latter if you find evidence that the universe is coherent; and, in both cases, when you do either you're really appealing to some sort of belief in the coherence of things.

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,actually you are incorrect. You are misunderstanding me. I am not claiming that the beliefs and teachings of modern fundamentalist Christians adhere almost 100 % to the version(s) the earliest Christians had. But on many fundamental issues I would still claim that they adhere much more closely to the worldview of Jesus (and Paul, Matthew, Mark and the others) than so called liberal Christians. Things like belief in a real Devil, real angels, a real Adam and Eve, a real Eschaton and resurrection etc etc. And you are right that fundamentalists often pick and choose whatever they want from the bible. But that is a sin liberal Christians are also prone to commit. I realized the futility of picking and choosing anything from the Bible a long time ago. Which is why I quit Christianity. Regarding Jay´s comments:"Biology is more directly observable – we can see and handle organisms and fossils, we can look inside cells and identify individual genes and their effects – so there are fewer gaps to deal with. Yes, biology is a much more directly observable science than physics and astronomy. Which is one reason I suppose why atheists are more represented in biology than in any other science. Peeping at the animal world at such a close distance and in such detail is probably one of the reasons why so few biologists subscribe to Jesus´ words that "no sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father". Regarding our conservative Calvinist: Yes, it´s quite true that the world will remain intact until the Eschaton. The only problem is that according to Matthew and the others the Eschaton should have happened about 1900 years ago. So much for the "robust" biblical worldview…

  • Magnetic Lobster

    I had really hoped to contribute something to this, but I see that Gareth McCaughan has said just about everything I intended to say, and he's done a much better job of it than I would have done. Very well done.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Obviously not quite a good enough job to avoid being disastrously misunderstood by our host not once but twice. (For the avoidance of doubt, I think the fault there is mine: I should have been clearer.)

  • elbogz

    Accommodation can only occur when you have things that are not incompatible. In this debate either there is God, or there is not God. God created the world or He did not. A passage in the bible is true, or it is untrue. . Prayer can cure cancer or it can not. An amputee can pray for a new leg and get one, or not. There either is a heaven or there is not. Science theories are either true or they are not true.There is no middle ground. Either God did it, or God didn’t do it. Period. To say we have to spend all this time discussing the notion that, well, God did it, and it looks exactly the same way as if God didn’t do it, is not a position worth defending.The religious need to discuss what it is they need to believe. Galileo dared to tell us that the earth was not the center of the universe. The stars were not attached to the firmament. There were not windows to heaven from where the rain came from. The earth was not fixed. It did move! The church argued in vain for 200 years that it wasn’t so. Finally they conceded the point. Now we don’t argue geocentric creationism. That argument was lost. In this case, the bible was untrue.Egyptian mathematicians calculated with great accuracy the diameter of the earth. They accomplished this simply by looking at the horizon, and watching the ships disappear in the distance. However, they probably failed to convince the flat earth creationist at the time. It wasn’t some Egyptian mathematician that convinced the flat earth creationist their story was no longer true, nor was it Galileo that convinced the geocentric creationist that their story was no longer true. It was because that belief was the church no longer preached the flat earth sermon, nor the geocentric sermon. One day the church will realize they can no longer preach the sermon of creationism. That’s the day beliefs will change. It will not be because we tried to accomidate all sides.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I wonder how much of this "debate" involves miscommunication. I don't know that either the side the believes religion and science don't have to be in conflict or the side that believes such conflict to be inevitable really thinks that those who disagree with them ought to be silenced. I can understand why it gets a little tense when it comes to an organization that promotes science proclaiming that religion and science are compatible. But given that there are excellent scientists who don't find their own research to be incompatible with religious beliefs, unless they are wrong, that seems to be relevant evidence. And presumably it is not the job of groups like the NCSE to evaluate the coherence of its members' integration of science into their overall worldview. And so the point that religion and science don't have to conflict seems to be an appropriate one to emphasize if one's goal is strictly limited to winning as much support for good science education as possible? I can understand how uncomfortable those who find religious beliefs irrational or offensive will find this. If one stresses compatibility or incompatibility, someone's view seems to be given short shrift. But it seems like those organizations whose focus is on things like undermining anti-scientific and pseudoscientific activists in school boards, building the widest possible support basis, and in particular among those who are themselves religious and can thus most effectively combat the claims of YECs and cdesign proponentsists in their local community, makes sense. Much of this reflects things I've already said, but since our conversation got off to a rocky start, I thought I ought to cover some of this ground again and try to be clear about where I'm coming from!

  • Antonio Jerez

    James wrote:"But given that there are excellent scientists who don't find their own research to be incompatible with religious beliefs, unless they are wrong, that seems to be relevant evidence" When talking about the incompability of religion and science isn´t it necessary to clarify exactly which religion we are talking about and which version of that religion. Are we talking about the Christianity of Paul or are we talking about the version of Christianity that someone like Ken Miller has made up himself? I guess much of the reason why some excellent scientists BELIEVE that science isn´t incompatible with their religion is due to their ignorance about religion in general and the roots of their own religion specifically. Ken Miller is an excellent example of that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Antonio, I simply must object to your oversimplification. Galileo was as much as Christian as those who disagreed with him. There disagreement was as much about Aristotle as about the Bible. And the evidence in his time was not yet clear cut (indeed, what he believed to be his strongest argument, that the tides provided evidence of the earth's rotation, turned out to be wrong).In the same way, Paul assumes a number of things about the natural world – for instance, multiple heavens. Not only is this what most people in that time and place thought (the Ptolemaic worldview), it involved departing from the worldview found in the Jewish Scriptures.This is what makes fundamentalism fundamentally unbiblical. It ignores the diversity in the Bible, and it focuses only on what (some) Biblical authors wrote, without asking what they were doing when they wrote what they did in the context of their setting in time and space. It turns out that we find Biblical authors time and again reflecting what was thought to be the "best available knowledge" in their time, or at least what everyone assumed to be the case because they had no way of knowing better. There is nothing unchristian about updating one's beliefs in the light of progress in knowledge. Indeed, a good Biblical case can be made to justify doing so.

  • benjdm

    It seems to me that the whole thing started with a baseless attack and has (of course) escalated from there.http://rantsnraves.org/blog.php?b=185

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,I´ve explained it before, and I´ll explain it again. It is really irrelevant for judging the truth claims of Christianity if the original authors of Genesis may have believed in a oneheaven universe or a thousandheaven universe. What matters is the kind of heaven Jesus, Paul and the others THEMSELVES read into Genesis. That is the startingpoint for the religion we call Christianity. The same goes for the fact that the original authors of Genesis may well have taken figures like Adam and Eve or a sevenday creation in a metaphorical sense. What matters is how Jesus, Paul and the others took the stories about Adam and Eve and the sevenday creation. And I would bet that Jesus view on Adam and Eve was a lot closer to the reading modernday fundamentalists make than the reading a liberal Christian like you prefer to make. Another example that may clarify things. Strictly speaking a figure like the Devil doesn´t exist in the OT. But what matters is that in the 1st century the Devil as we know him had taken on a life of his own among most Jews. To Jesus, Paul and the others the Devil existed and they, like modernday fundamentalists, probably read him into all kinds of places in the OT. Again, to judge the truth claims of Christianity it doesn´t matter one iota if the authors of the OT didn´t believe in the Devil. The only thing that matters is what Jesus, Paul and the other believed and preached about the Devil. You also make it sound like we shouldn´t expect Jesus, Paul and the others to be more than the typical flatearthers of the 1st century. But since I am trying to judge the truth claims of Christianity I usually take the logical option and look at the claims made in the earliest Christian sources, like the gospels. There Jesus is portrayed as being clairvoyant to a divine level. The only thing he is ignorant about is the exact date of the Eschaton (only his father knows that). Which naturally makes many people wonder how a guy who supposedly knows just about everything is so ignorant about the workings of the Universe. It is no mystery to me of course, but from a logical and scientific wiewpoint it simply doesn´t make sense. And it makes even less sense when we know that some folks the 1st century (mostly greeks) knew that the earth was not flat. You didn´t necessarily have to be a flatearther like Jesus or preach flatearthism even 2000 years ago. Neither did you necessarily have to go around the countryside driving out "demons" from the ill and preaching that sickness could be tied to sinfullness. Many educated greeks would have laughed at that even 2000 years ago. To get back to the supposed contradiction between Christianity and science. Of course there is and will always be a contradiction between belief in a real Garden of Eden, a real First Couple, a real Devil roaming around the Universe, a God who is so involved in his creation that he doesn´t let even a sparrow fall to the ground without his will, a God who is unhappy about the present state of his creation and thinks he will have to recreate all once again in a better way etc etc. All those things are part and parcel of the earliest Christian teachings. Take away that and I don´t doubt saying that we are not talking about Christianity any more. It´s like saying that a form of Buddhism without a belief in reincarnation can still be called Buddhism. I don´t think modern buddhists have yet come to a point of desperation like that, but among modern, Christians it´s happening all the time. The reason is obvious: since science shows that so many things in the world of the NT can´t be literally true the only way out is to reinvent and reshape Christianity and comfort onself and others with the mantra that although the THING many not look like a circle or have the shape of a circle it is still a true circle.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    And as I've explained before, you are wrongly accepting the claim of fundamentalists to be the true and faithful spokesmen for Christianity. But the key difference between early Christianity and modern fundamentalism is that the former happened to believe things that most people in their time did (or, as in the case of Paul's belief that the heart rather than the brain is the seat of our reasoning, Aristotle seemed as trustworthy a source as any at that time). Modern fundamentalists wilfully accept some elements of the first century worldview and turn them into articles of faith – which they were not for the first Christians. That's a significant change! And since the beliefs and writings of the early Christians were diverse, and no person today can adopt a first-century worldview in its entirety, there is no way to 'believe what the earliest Christians did'. The corollary, on your logic, is that there are no Christians today.How far will you take that logic? Would you deny that there are Jews? If you deny the status of Christian to those who don't accept the early Christians' (alleged) beliefs about Genesis, whose beliefs about Genesis do you have to accept to qualify as Jewish, in your opinion?One could also say the same about science's beliefs. But you would rightly object that science's beliefs ought to change. Your only problem seems to be your acceptance of the fundamentalist claim that religion is, was, can be and ought to be static. But it never has been.

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,you are putting claims in my mouth that I am not making. I have never made nor will I ever make claims that modern fundamentalists are the real representatives of the true, original form of Christianity. But I won´t back from my claim that on many important issues they are a lot, lot closer to the form of "Christianity" that Jesus and the early church preached than liberal Christians like you. I say that not because I have any love for the fundamentalists but because a simple comparison of the NT teachings and the beliefs of the fundamentalists show that to be the case. And since for a discussion on the topic of the incompability of Christianity vs Science to be fruitful one really needs SOME kind of Christianity to compare with I prefer to use the Christianity of Paul or Matthew as a yardstick instead of your own homemade, nebulous variant. You can´t really argue with a Christianity that has no shape but changes according to circumstances (in your case obviously what the latest scientic findings show). It also is true that the beliefs of the early Christians were diverse. But (at least in the NT) not as diverse as you for obvious reasons want to make. On some of the key questions I mentioned in my earlier message the voices in the NT seem to be in agreement. So my question is this: are you going to get help from the gnostics or some other wayward variant of early Christianity in your battle against the fundamentalists? And since I am not a believer I don´t know how you can conclude that I am claiming that a religion ought to and must be static. It all depends on the idea the original founder himself and his earliest followers have about their religion. But if Jesus originally made a claim that the world was going to end within a generation and we would all turn into angels then I don´t see how anybody can really go on saying that Christianity hasn´t been falsified a long time ago. Of course it happenes anyway and it happenes all the time in religious circles. This normally leads to cognitive dissonance. And in the warped world of religion the fact that a quadrant neither looks like nor is a circle has never stopped believers from going on believing that their quadrant is a circle nor trying to make us sceptics believe that their quadrant is a circle despite us seeing something else.

  • Antonio Jerez

    A little further comment:James wrote:"How far will you take that logic? Would you deny that there are Jews? If you deny the status of Christian to those who don't accept the early Christians' (alleged) beliefs about Genesis, whose beliefs about Genesis do you have to accept to qualify as Jewish, in your opinion?" I actually think it is much more difficult to say what are core Jewish beliefs than Christian beliefs. Judaism has no "founder" like the historical Jesus, and so it is much more difficult to find a plattform for us who study religion to say what may or may not be deviations from the norm.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't think the distinction holds – or at least, not absolutely. While there isn't the same uncertainty about whether there was a historical Jesus and whether there was a historical Moses, in both cases conservative believers take the claims about a founder in certain texts as factual, and in both cases historical criticism of the texts in question makes such appeals to the founder more problematic and complex.

  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    James and Antonio -The discussion on the beliefs of early Christians in the context of a 1st Century worldview vice the beliefs of modern fundamentalists is a very interesting one, but it may be in danger of getting lost at the end of a long comment thread.James, would you consider a dedicated posting on this topic?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Gareth,Sorry, I was incommunicado over the wknd.Naturalism doesn't *necessarily* entail solipsism, but only if one engages in an act of faith. There is no way to prove solipsism is untrue via evidence. So one could just as easily and rightly say that naturalism does not necessarily entail not-solipsism. It is insufficient as a worldview even to make that step.What precisely do you have to do? How do you know you're obligated? Are you obligated? If not, why do it? On naturalism, there is no path from IS to OUGHT (read Hume), so to say "I should do this or that" is utterly meaningless on naturalism.-So what? Why should I take the far future as determining what really matters, either to me or in general? -Why shouldn't you?I don't know about you, but I've done things that are more fun than ask obvious questions. Why don't you make the postive argument for all these points and we'll see how it goes?-I can probably save hundreds of lives by the simple expedient of giving to charities.-So? Prove that's a good thing on naturalism. Maybe I find raping children far more fulfilling and enjoyable. Who's right between us, and how can we know? -I can bring my child up badly or well.-You do realise we're supposed to be discussing the nature of good and bad here, on naturalism, don't you? Why beg the question by using the words in the definition? -Perhaps that's true, but (1) that is not remotely the same thing as saying that everything in fact is random,-So, you agree that we can't expect uniformity but shrink back in horror from the conclusion. Don't you think your intellectual honesty could use some work?-getting from "God has promised X" to "X will happen" requires you to assume that God is reliable-Agreed, 100%. But God has promised it, and He doesn't lie. This is my fundamental presupposition, in fact. And it just so happens to line up with the experience you want to appeal to, as well.Thing is, the alternative leads to the absurdity we've just seen you concede.Antonio Jerez said:-the Eschaton should have happened about 1900 years ago.-So the dozens or even hundreds of prophecies we are waiting to be fulfilled, those are chopped liver?So you don't recognise the obvious differences between the meanings in context of the word "come" in the NT? You don't recognise "this generation will not pass away until these things have taken place" is quite easily explained by the partial preterist position (to which I'm partial though not fully convinced since I haven't studied it a ton), which allows for some fulfillments in 70 AD and waits for others at the final Eschaton?With all due respect, this is pretty ignorant and an unnecessary pigeonholing of one theory within Christianity. Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Jay, I did actually post on naive vs. conscious literalism in the past. It was a follow-up to a post about the ascension, which has also come up again recently. I'm certainly happy to create a new thread, if there is a desire for that. Rhology, I seem to recall that our discussion touched on Matthew 16:28 before. I still don't see any reason for understanding "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" as referring to something other than the "second coming", apart from your deep desire that it mean something else. And saying that the Parousia is literal while ignoring the time-frame in which NT authors expected it to happen is not 'taking the Bible literally'. You also seem to be ignoring evidence from the Bible itself, which would seem to imply that sometimes a true prophet predicts something and it doesn't happen, because people repent and God changes his mind. And so to treat all unfulfilled prophecy as yet to be fulfilled is seriously unbiblical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Ah yes, I remember that! I identified "coming in His kingdom" as very possibly fulfilled the very next chapter, at the Transfiguration. But "coming" could also very easily mean, say, the writing of the book of Revelation, in which case John would be the one who doesn't taste death until then.I don't "take the Bible literally". I take it according to the literal principle, aka the grammatico-historical method. Some things are literal, some are metaphorical, some are poetry, prophecy, etc.-And so to treat all unfulfilled prophecy as yet to be fulfilled is seriously unbiblical.-Sorry if I gave that impression. I simply meant that SOME of it is yet to be fulfilled. Far from all!Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I also posted previously on the subject of moral absolutism and relativism. The gist of that post is that I don't think even theism allows one to bridge the gap between "is" and "ought". The fact that what exists eternally is a divine person (or three divine persons of one substance, if you prefer) doesn't prove that God's views are moral. It may be, if certain kinds of theism are correct, that God will punish people who do not obey what God tells them to do. But even an evil deity or an imperfect deity could do the same, just as an evil parent could punish a child for not doing something they were told to, even though others might judge the child to have been morally praiseworthy for disobeying.And so theism may provide for the desire to avoid punishment. But how can it actually prove that what God wills is good? Must one not simply take that on faith? And given that some have believed that God willed genocide, or child sacrifice, or various other actions, isn't taking something like this on faith extremely dangerous?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    If there were an evil deity, we wouldn't know he is evil. How would we know? By his communication? From a god that likes to deceive? By some kind of natural revelation? So…how can we know what is good? This is why I say that the alternatives to Christianity reduce to absurdity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Well, then everything reduces to absurdity. If we cannot evaluate from our own human standpoint competing claims about goodness, then what options remain? Are we to just pick a particular depiction of the deity and the accompanying moral claims and hope those are right? That still doesn't give us certainty that the goodness of the God we worship is goodness in any sort of objective sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    No, not everything. Christianity provides us a God Who is Himself, in His character, the very definition of goodness, righteousness, right. Of course He can take us from is to ought. He defines what we ought to do. It's one thing to talk a big game about not knowing what is right, but it's quite another to live that out or to apply it consistently throughout the rest of your reasoning. It is a self-refuting notion – if there is no ought, then one neither ought nor ought not believe that there is no ought. Talk about absurdity.You can have that if you want. If you want to be like the New Atheists (which I don't know if you do or not) and accuse me of cowardice for not wanting to stare the absurdity in the face, I'll just remind them/you that it's not the case that I ought not be a coward, nor that I ought to believe the truth. Dr McGrath, I'd like to move a little away from the abstract here. You attend a Christian (in name) church and I think you claim to worship God. If you don't think He is the source of all good, whether the Bible is a decent revelation of Him or not, why worship Him at all?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I'm merely trying to point out a logical difficulty. If I had a solution to the problem, I would have already offered it. My point is simply defining God as good doesn't show that God is good by some objective standard (it's the classic Euthyphro dilemma). To say that God defines Godself as good simply creates a circular argument. To say that we humans create the definition assumes that we actually have some basis for determining what is good.I'm not claiming to offer a solution to this very old difficulty. But I don't think that anything is to be gained by pretending that the issue isn't real.

  • http://mortalquestions.wordpress.com/ mortalquestions

    James,It seems to me that there is a human expectation that our reason and morality be grounded in something. The classical idea of God serves that purpose rather well. The question of how we know God is good seems irrelevant to me. The Euthyphro dilemma states that either God is to be judged by some standard of morality apart from himself, in which case that would be superior to him, or God "creates" morality, which would seem to make morality arbitrary. However, there is a third option, as Rho has pointed out, God is the good.On this last account it would be absurd for you to ask if God is good. It is equivalent (ontologically speaking) to asking whether or not the laws of logic are reasonable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Well, you seem happy enough living inconsistently with your absurd dilemma laying unresolved before you. You have to live inconsistently with this problem, though, b/c you live as though you OUGHT to believe what is true, you OUGHT NOT to rape and mutilate small children, etc. Without a good reason to reject this presupposition of mine, I'll keep holding to it. This is not a human-created answer at all – it is received by revelation from God in His Word. This is further evidence that you are no Christian, Dr McGrath, but the door is always open and the porch light is on.Euthyphro, btw, is no dilemma. The answer is the 2nd prong – it is good b/c God says so, and God says so b/c He speaks according to His character and nature.

  • http://mortalquestions.wordpress.com/ mortalquestions

    Rho,I do not think you are grabbing the second horn of the dillemma, but you are actually refusing the dilemma by appealing to a third position. Things are moral that are in accordance with God's will, which is informed by his nature, which is the good.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Actually, it is the "God is be definition good, and thus what God commands is by definition good" position that allows for rape and other things our human judgment of today says are wrong. In Deuteronomy 20:10-14, does it not allow the Israelites to carry off the women as plunder? Can we really assume all these women had decided of their own free will that they wanted to become the wives/possession of Israelites?But of course, you seem to believe that all problems can be solved by definition. And so presumably there is a different definition of rape you would like to offer that will make this issue too go away? Or is rape only rape if God has not commanded it? But even Deuteronomy 22:28-29 seems to regard rape differently than most of us would today. In this law, rape seems to be merely frowned upon as a way of obtaining a wife. The father's right to arrange his daughter's marriage was infringed upon, and he must be compensated. Is there any sense in which the woman is respected as a victim, as a human person of inherent value, in this law? Or is this a revelation that women are intended to be property rather than treated as persons?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Groan. Dr McGrath, you disappoint me with this pitiful accusation that God commands rape. It's looking increasingly like you will back the skeptical and atheistic side of most any dispute on the authority of the Bible. For anyone interested in the truth on this, please see here or here. You can assume what you want, but I would caution you against making assumptions without proof that serve to demean the God of the universe. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God", you know.But you just finished telling us that you have no answer to the problem of getting ought from is. So, you in face have no objection – you don't know whether one ought not rape a woman.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I didn't find your links helpful. Perhaps you can explain what you think is going on in the passages that tell the Israelites to kill the men but keep the women?I object strongly to your assumption that there are only two options: your own brand of fundamentalist Christianity, and skepticism identified with atheism. I accept the Golden Rule, which seems like a reasonable principle to follow. And if I follow it, I cannot in good conscience take a woman whose male relatives I've slaughtered in war and make her my wife/property. If I were her, I would not want that done to me.You have still not answered my main objection, however. On your view, if you hear a voice that you presume to be God's telling you to sacrifice your child, you do it. Sure, if you've read the Abraham story you can hope he'll stop you before you go through with it. But you cannot object on principle.My own view is that there are principles in the Bible, such as the Golden Rule, to which the Biblical authors themselves, as fallible human beings, were not always consistently faithful. And it is thus an appropriate hermeneutic to allow the principles to guide my interpretation and my actions.If I failed to do that, then I'd fear falling into the hands of a living God. But since you have chosen to worship a dead text instead of a living God, you presumably don't feel the need for such a fear, either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    They are war-brides. Do you subscribe to the notion that God is guilty until proven innocent? I shouldn't have to remind you that your Golden Rule statement is highly anachronistic. Further, who cares what you want? I remind you that, again, you have stated you have no bridge to ought. As far as "hearing the voice of God", there are many reasons to reject that this is a real possibility. Otherwise, here's my answer. God, as Creator of the universe and the definition of good, has the right to command whatever He wants. Finally, no one's claiming the biblical authors were sinless, merely that their books are inspired by God and are therefore without error. But I don't see a good reason to accept a critique from someone who has no grounding for his ought statements.

  • Antonio Jerez

    If I were James I wouldn´t waste more time on our fundamentalist Calvinist. It´s dimwitted people like him who stand behind most of the atrocities that are made in some deities name through the centuries. Their motto is to never think for themselves but rather follow the great heavenly paschas commands. Whatever the heavenly pascha commands must be right since he is the pascha. Amen!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Rhology, briefly: Right, neither naturalism nor non-naturalism is sufficient to decide whether solipsism is right, but particular versions of both (e.g., naturalism based on present-day physics and theism) can do so. If you are unable to think of any reasons why I might do something other than being "obligated" to do so, then there is no reasoning with you. I am asking questions because you seem to think that particular answers to them are too obvious to need defending, and I think that's wrong. I am not going to "make the positive argument for all these points" because I'm not the one who's making outrageous claims about what others' positions entail. If you're unwilling to offer any defence for your own outrageous claims, I don't see why I should offer justification for doubting them. Saving lives (for instance) is something I happen to value, and even if there is no more to be said for it than that (which I think unlikely, and so do you, but no doubt you will continue demanding that I offer proof) that's plainly sufficient to provide me with a reason for doing it. I did not intend "badly" and "well", in connection with childrearing, as moral terms. I have no idea what gives you the idea that I am "shrinking back in horror" from anything. If you think I am being intellectually dishonest, then do me the courtesy of giving some actual evidence rather than pointing and sneering. (You won't, of course.) If you are willing to take "God has promised X and doesn't lie" as a fundamental presupposition then of course you can "justify" absolutely anything, just by putting it in place of X; what justifies everything justifies nothing, and I conclude that your epistemology is hopelessly broken. I have not conceded any absurdity.(Oh, and on your latest comment: Calling people "war-brides" rather than "rape victims" doesn't make any difference to whether they are, in fact, rape victims.)And with that, I shall take my leave of you, since you have demonstrated that you are not arguing in good faith. ("I don't see a good reason to accept a critique from someone who has no grounding for his ought statements", indeed! How very convenient.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Gareth,I'd say it's up to you to explain why my contentions are outrageous.You can protest all day about other reasons for acting besides obligation, but the point is that none of those reasons are anything beyond 100% subjective, based on whatever you happen to be feeling. They are not right, they are not wrong; they just ARE. That goes, unless you overturn my argument, for any and every action, thought, and statement anyone might make, if naturalism is true. Example: You value saving lives. Maybe I value terminating them post haste. Who is right, and how can we know?Another example: You think raping women is wrong. Maybe I think it's right. Maybe, further, I think taking women as war-brides is right. Who is right, and how can we know?Finally, my presupp does not justify everything, far from it! I'd suggest you pick up a standard volume on Christian ethics. Anyway, yeah, good talking to you too. I can't say it's anything but satisfying to watch a naturalist contort himself in order not to live consistently with the logical outcome of his worldview.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, I have to say that I honestly don't believe that your outlook solves the problem you have highlighted. I acknowledge that it is truly disconcerting finding that one has to wrestle, struggle, ponder, and sometimes be mistaken about what is wrong or right. If I thought your alternative solved the issue, I would have stuck with it!A case in point. In the Luke 9:51-56, the disciples propose an action that involved emulating the heroic prophet Elijah. They are rebuked for doing so. While obviously emulating figures in Scripture doesn't always lead in a good direction (David and Bathsheba being the most famous example, but by no means the only one), this incident suggests that one cannot even emulate the actions of individuals that are depicted positively. One must simply do what God wants – but emulating figures in Scripture doesn't allow one to know what God wants.The same applies to the covenant of circumcision. In Genesis, it is said that even the foreigners living in Abraham's household are to be circumcised. The early church discerned that that clear commandment connected with the Abrahamic covenant had been set aside.Conversely, apparently one doesn't need Scriptural revelation to figure out that killing is wrong and to make laws about it. Most societies have done that. Some form of the golden or silver rule keeps popping up, too.But claiming that the Bible and the Bible alone gives us moral absolutes is clearly wrong. You may tell me otherwise, but I don't honestly believe that you think it would be moral for someone to invade your land, kill you and make your wife his own. Nor do I think you've done justice to the Biblical evidence for Israel's legal code having developed, like all legal codes, over time. The requirement for one's firstborn to be offered to God seems to have been edited to allow one to pay money instead of offering child sacrifice, but Ezekiel 20:25-26 suggests not only that there had once been laws that required one to actually sacrifice one's firstborn, but that YHWH had given them.I suspect that what will happen next is that you will strive to deny that these texts mean what they seem to. Your desire for the Bible to be "right" is, I suspect, more important to you than what the Bible actually says. And so I fully expect you to allow your own moral sense to override the plain meaning of the text when necessary, and to motivate apologetic arguments that explain in a convoluted way why the text doesn't mean what it seems to.I don't have a problem with your allowing our more highly-developed moral sensibilities to trump ancient texts. There is a real sense in which it is "Biblical" – later authors and editors revised the requirement of sacrificing one's firstborn, and the later church changed what symbols of the covenant were required to be part of the people of God. My only plea is that you be honest about the fact that that is what you are doing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath,No, I definitely agree that struggle is necessary and inevitable! I've been struggling to know Christ better ever since He saved me 15 yrs ago. And for a long time I would say, when certain pet beliefs (such as the propriety of speaking in tongues) were challenged: "But I've prayed, earnestly, that God would not let me believe wrongly!" My reliance was misplaced there. What I am referring to in my challenges to you is the lack of anything to struggle towards. There is no standard, no corrective, no measuring stick. Nothing to tell you that struggle is indeed worthwhile, and nothing to direct your struggle. Lk 9 – agreed, the disciples were wrong. Yet this is a matter of record, and the correction is contained in the Scriptural account as well – Jesus tells them they were wrong, and why. Circumcision – agreed, the church came to the correct understanding of what circumcision meant in the OT and what the new covenant meant after Jesus' incarnation. Ie, they understood that circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, and the sign of Christian covenant is baptism.-apparently one doesn't need Scriptural revelation to figure out that killing is wrong and to make laws about it. Most societies have done that. Some form of the golden or silver rule keeps popping up, too.-Many societies have assumed that killing is wrong. But why agree with them, unless God has spoken on that topic? It's one thing to say "we don't accept murder" and quite another to say "This is why, and this is objectively true at all times for all people", which is the Scriptural assertion.-But claiming that the Bible and the Bible alone gives us moral absolutes is clearly wrong-Again, since you have no yardstick, no ultimate measure, you are but one man making naked assertions, lacking any compass beyond his own likes and dislikes. Whence comes your authority to tell anyone else what they ought to believe, since you have explicitly stated you lack a bridge from is to ought?And yes, progressive revelation is certainly the norm in biblical revelation. But not abrogation; unlike the Islamic idea, the Bible expects fulfillment of quite a lot of its laws (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and proper understanding of the context of quite a lot of others while still taking into acct the principles (such as the civil laws of OT Israel, which no longer exists).Anyway, if you think I'm allowing my personal feelings to trump biblical revelation, you have but to demonstrate how. Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thank you for your reply. What I would point out is that (1) there were people who had partial revelation, who had say just the Jewish Scriptures in the time of the early church. How did they know they were supposed to set aside earlier revelation, or consider it "fulfilled" in such a way that certain requirements were no longer considered binding? Then (2) how do we know that we aren't supposed to be open to God providing similarly progressive revelation, to allow us to relate his earlier revelation to our own new contexts and situations? As for what I do in the absence of certainty, I offer my testimony, my experience, and my point of view. That's also what I did in my more conservative days, to a large extent. What is different now is that I try to listen as well as to speak, and expect to learn as well as to teach, in the interaction and conversations that take place.I'm not sure there isn't an absolute right and wrong, I might add. I'm just less confident than you are about our ability to identify it fully, completely and objectively by the means you suggest. But, as always, I could be wrong! :) But I don't think that one's inability to prove by some objective measuring stick the intrinsic value of human beings necessarily needs to stand in the way of one actually valuing human beings, and perhaps even devoting one's life to stand for that. Indeed, such a stance seems to me much more in line with the religious terminology of "faith", "trust" and "committment" than does the quest for certainty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    (1) True, very true. One thing to remember is that their situation is not all that analogous to us today. We don't have limited revelation, but as Hebrews says, we have the fullness of God revealed in Jesus. He is the final revelation to the world. I'd guess they knew that b/c the incarnation of Christ was such a shatteringly huge event in world history, and they knew it b/c they walked with Him and listened to Him for 3 yrs solid, then saw Him rise from the dead and fulfill what He had predicted. And God inspired them to write the NT. That always helps too, haha.(2) I invite anyone to bring their proposed revelation fwd for examination. I've seen my share, given that I ran in charismatic circles for years. It never, ever measures up, and that's from people who pretend to get (and really believe they get) messages direct from the Holy Spirit. How much less stock should we put in "personal revelation" that blatantly contradicts what God has already said and that looks suspiciously like liberal, politically-correct, antinomian smut, just repackaged to look pretty? Or in "well, that's my feeling, and it might not be your feeling, but I think it's from God", as if God has ever operated that way?-I offer my testimony, my experience, and my point of view. -So do I, and so do serial killers. How can we know who's right between us? On Christianity, it's generally pretty easy, especially for such stark contrasts. What about on your view?-What is different now is that I try to listen as well as to speak-Within the bounds of what is obviously biblical, so do we. You're probably familiar with the perhaps-Augustinian maxim: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. But we dare not forget the first one! I don't think there's a lot to learn from serial killers, really, except for what not to do. But w/o a standard by which to judge, I can't know that, and that's where I see your position leading you, though your cultural conditioning won't let you go there; nevertheless you don't have any objective reason not to go there.And let me say that I appreciate this dialogue a great deal. You, sir, are a gentleman and very civil. I hope you will take my messages as 1) signals of the enjoyment I derive from engaging in these kinds of topics, and 2) born out of love and hope for your soul.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I'm glad that our dialogue seems to be taking a more positive turn! I suppose the question I'd ask at this point is whether it doesn't seem that the viewpoint of Paul and others, that Gentiles could be accepted into the people of God without circumcision and other legal requirements, would not have seemed to Jews in that time to be precisely the sort of liberal, antinomian deviation from the clear teaching of Scripture that you would refuse to accept if offered as revealed truth today. Weren't those who objected to the non-Torah observant Gentile mission precisely those who emphasized that God had clearly revealed certain things in the 'Bible'? And this issue is particularly instructive, since it doesn't seem that Jesus himself directly addressed the issue of circumcision.I also don't see how your approach to the Bible makes being a serial killer inherently wrong. Presumably if God wanted a person to kill Philistines who were ruling over the Israelites, let's say, then being a "serial killer" might be authorized, might it not? And if you say "God wouldn't authorize such actions", even though in Scripture killing people seems to be not only permitted by commanded at times, aren't you allowing your own moral sensibilities to trump what the Bible says?As I said recently in my Sunday school class, most Christians will agree that we should have unity in essentials and liberty in non-essentials. If only we could agree on what the essentials are, there would be little conflict among us! It seems that Paul might have agreed with the Augustinian maxim too, but his opponents might have objected that some areas in which he allowed for liberty were in fact essentials.I'm tempted at this point to ask which is essential for a Christian viewpoint: to believe that murder is wrong, or to believe that we can be philosophically certain that murder is wrong? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    I can see what you're saying, but I think it's really important, nay, essential to remember that the Jews of Jesus' time by and large had serious misunderstandings of the meaning of the OT, cirumcision, and the place of Gentiles in God's plan of salvation. The threads in the Torah, the histories, and the Prophets of God reaching out to bring Gentiles in are numerous, but somehow the Jews missed it most of that time. Or rather, that was the rule with a few exceptions. An example of this is God's saying, "Behold, I have appointed you a light to the goyim". A specific example is Naaman the Syrian, or Ruth the Moabitess, or Rahab, or the mob of Egyptians that followed the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus, thus deserting their homeland to follow the chosen people of the God Who had proved Himself much mightier than their so-called deities and their Pharaoh.And as Hebrews said, they were supposed to figure out that their sacrifices could never take away sin, since they have to offer them yearly. Jesus, however, brings completion to all of these things, fulfills the Law and the sacrifices. There is nothing left to fulfill except for His Parousia; the Gospel is complete. -Presumably if God wanted a person to kill Philistines who were ruling over the Israelites, let's say, then being a "serial killer" might be authorized, might it not?-The important thing to remember is that God-said-it defines what is good, righteous, and lawful, in terms of ultimate moral law. When God told the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites, to refuse would have been sinful, b/c that action was the right thing to do, b/c God told them to. So, yea, Samson, say, was a serial killer in terms of killing lots of people in succession/series, but he wasn't a murderer, b/c he was a judge appointed by God to deliver Israel that way. But that kind of thing doesn't happen today; it's a far different paradigm and God has defined the church's role and the way she is to submit to the gov't of the place in which she finds herself. God didn't say we couldn't work to change the law, of course, but whether we can or can't we are supposed to obey it. I have to say I care little for what Paul's opponents would say, but after all his main opponents were Judaisers and Gnostics, and I don't see a lot of NT evidence that they were all that lax in condemning him, the other way. It's not like Paul was a big meanie and his enemies were all love-fest all the time.The final question is a good one. I guess I'd have to say it depends on the level of knowledge one has. One can be a very simple, unsophisticated believer (a farmboy, to use the Reformation-era example) and believe that he has done bad things and that Jesus alone can save him from them, and God saves him. Or one can be a super-prof of theology and be responsible for much, much more. One can be a sorta-well-read layman who struggles against pride, like me, and be responsible for quite a bit as well – what to do with the knowledge I have, how to understand it, and what not to reject when I'm corrected. So I'd say for me, I couldn't in good conscience reject either proposition. But start removing education and intellectual prowess (not that I have a lot to begin with), and somewhere in there (God knows where) it's simply enough to believe murder is wrong, and perhaps even further, our simple farmboy might not have ever even thought about it. But we trust the Holy Spirit to make that good in the life of the believer, from the simplest to the most erudite, and thank God.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    One main reason I'm interested in what Paul's opponents said is that Paul seems to have believed that it was possible (indeed, imperative) that the Galatians (for instance) decide at that time which argument to follow. He could have told them to wait until the church had put together its canon, to see whose writings would be included. Even then, of course, they might have noticed Matthew's statement that anyone who ignores the least commandment will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, and still felt confused.Might I ask as well how you know that God doesn't appoint people to deliver a nation or people of his choosing today in the way Samson did in his time? Why would a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever make such drastic changes to his modus operandi?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    From the human perspective, certainly that's true about the Galatians. Indeed, we see the same in Revelation 1-3, where Christ Himself warns multiple churches to repent and correct their doctrine and praxis. And how many of those churches have persisted to this day? I think none – they did not continue walking in holiness and God judged the churches in His sometimes inscrutable way. I don't begrudge Him His prerogatives such as that. The answer to the other part of that question is that, of course, the NT was still being written at the time. But Christ had instituted the apostles as the mouthpieces, the shaluach of the Lord, as speaking in His place, with His full authority, and to have an apostle of the Lord around would be just as good as having the whole NT, better in some ways and worse in others, but quite good and sufficient, I should think.As to the other question, I believe God when He said that Jesus is the final and complete revelation for the saving of souls. And given the NT teaching on the church, I don't expect another society on Earth like OT Israel, so nor do I expect another Samson. :-) God is the same, true, but His acts enter into this linear-time universe. He is not always dying on the Cross; He did that once and not more than once. He is not always accepting animal sacrifices; He did for a time to foreshadow Christ's atoning death and now no longer accepts them.Peace,Rhology

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,weren´t those words of Matthew about some folks being the least in the kingdom very probably directed at the antinomian paulinists? And isn´t it strange that some of us humans (proudly aware of our descent from those ugly apemen that once in a time roamed the african savannah) appear to have more morals and decency than the heavenly pascha that our superorthodox Calvinist venerates with such fervour. Some of us, despite all our horrible godlessness, don´t condone rape under ANY cirmustances. Neither do we see the ultimate goodness in a heavenly pascha who comes up with an idea like eternal torture in a hot, hot hell. Origen may have been branded as a heretic for thinking that even the Devil would be saved, but to me Origen showed that what ultimately counts on this planet is being a good human being, not worshipping an image of God that could just as well be Satan himself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Antonio,What is your possible justification for making that kind of moral claim? What is your standard of comparison?And the Bible never condones rape, nor does God in the Bible ever command it. Facts are important, remember.

  • Antonio Jerez

    The heavenly pascha of the OT actually condones and commands worse things than rape – things like genocide. The wholesale slaughter of villages with men, women and children. Not even the animals are spared. Wonder what sin those poor animals had commited? I am sure our superorthodox Calvinist can come up with something. Personally I try to do good because that is the way I prefer to be treated. And because a society were people are nice to each other, not a society based on fear and subjogation, is the better one to live in in the long run. We don´t need a heavenly pascha to teach us that. Specially not a heavenly pascha with such bloodstained hands as the biblical one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07438517794787929090 James Simmons

    God speaks through His prophets.Of course the instructive impulse is of God but it is necessarily translated somewhat in passing through the mind of He or She who receives it. This is the reason we find truths clothed in the cultures of the times in which they are given. The format of the message given must be expressed through the human mind which is contacted. This means that even the vocabulary used must needs be limited to that which is known by the man. This is one reason that religion, any religion, is always colored by culture. No religion exists in a pure state because we do not.I believe there is no conflict whatever between Genesis and the science of today. God creates and then installs a mechanism that we call evolution as His means of our growth and change toward perfection in the Earth. This encompasses the spiritual as well as the physical aspects of man. In this we may see the eventual need for our salvation which is no more than the achieving of the means of return to the Father. Of course this must be done knowingly and consciously by each of us.If we set aside the language of Genesis, in particular the timeline given for the creation, and if we, for a moment, can accept that God's plan for us mandates that we must slowly grow in wisdom during our stay on Earth and that the Earth itself and the myriad creatures which live upon her grow and change as well, adapting all the while, then we perhaps will discover that what is referred to as evolution does not threaten our faith. Indeed that this great understanding broadens and expands our appreciation of the works of God's hand.God must present to His prophet that which the man will be able to comprehend. If this is not done then understanding will not be present. The message will be forgotten. God, in His wisdom, gives the story of creation then in terms which the man of the times can understand. Periods of time are in days. The Earth is told of as being central to the heavens. Woman is second to man in creation. Had the much more complicated truths been mentioned there could not have been understanding or acceptance in the mind of the man. The message would have been lost.Now, today, we are faced with attempts to reconcile the old with the new and the result is a religion divided. Shall we continue, as children, to insist that those old stories are correct implicitly? Can we remember that, in other places in scripture, God uses parables as an aid for our understanding and apply our judgements in a way which attempts to glorify God rather than the comforts of man?In religion we must look for that which unites not that which divides if progress is to made. It is essential that we train ourselves to live now as though and in preparation for that greater life which is to follow. Perhaps some will agree with this premise and consider it. Will this be accepted by Christianity? Will those who agree be called liberals? Hopefully not as the use of this term and it's counter indicate that we are still divided of ourselves.We can change the world only by changing ourselves first.James/Yaqub/Jacob


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