Young-Earth Creationists vs. the Parables of Jesus

A commenter pointed out something which I've also said in the past, but which bears repeating.

Young-earth creationists are adamant that there must be one creation story in Genesis, and it must be chronologically coherent and factually, historically, and scientifically true.

Ironically, Jesus, the one whom most of them claim to follow, taught primarily in parables – that is to say, through stories which were not factual, historical, or scientific, but which conveyed an important truth nevertheless.

The young-earth creationist emphasis on what they insist is the only legitimate sort of truth, and the only appropriate way it can be conveyed, puts them at odds with Jesus and his approach to teaching.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/thatjeffcarter Jeff Carter

    I have encountered people who have insisted that Jesus’ parables were, in fact, historically true and factual stories and not ‘mere’ fictions. It was all but impossible to have any sort of discussion with them about it..

  • http://twitter.com/RichardtheJet Richard Billingsley

    Culturally we in the West believe we live in a material world. There is no other world but this one. And if the only way to understand it is through science then the Bible which must contain truth, must be as true as science. Christians have bought into this to our detriment. We must stop being materialists. Materialists in the sense that we believe this is the world existence that is.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      the problem with being “supernaturalists” is that no one agrees about what they contact there. look at all the religions that claim people can be in contact with the transcendent. they can’t agree on what they “see” in this realm.

      how do you propose stop being materialists if there is no agreement as to what ‘exceeds’ it?

    • Ian

      We “believe” we live in a material world in much the same way we “believe” we live on a spherical earth. You can posit some non-material reality, but as long as that reality has no discernable effect on anything, then it is obviously superfluous. At the point you can show that this supernatural reality isn’t just made up fiction, then it might carry some weight. It isn’t a matter of “reality is bigger than you allow yourself to accept” – I’ve looked, hard, and as far as I can tell it is utterly indistinguishable from fiction.

      Which explains rmwilliamsjr’s observation. Nobody can agree what the supernatural realm is or is like, because there is no actual reality there to observe beyond vague mental states and inherited stories.

      Christian theology has retreated from ontologies of the supernatural for good reason.

    • arcseconds

      is it really true that we in the West are culturally materialists? It might be true of scientific culture that it’s materialistic (functionally, at least), and I’m sure lots of people, including those who say they’re Christian or believe in ghosts for the most part don’t act in ways that show any difference in attitude from materialism.

      But on the other hand, lots of people in the west self-identify as Christian, particularly in the USA, or in smaller numbers belonging to some other religion that’s normally taken to profess in supernatural elements. And while there are ‘liberal’ religionists like James here who don’t believe in the supernatural in any strong sense, I don’t think he’s all that typical.

      And even in countries where there are large numbers of ‘nones’, if you ask different questions there’s widespread belief in spirituality, and a lot of underground interest in occult phenomena.

      • Nick Gotts

        The process of “cultural materialisation” is far from complete, admittedly, but it shows no sign of stopping. Recent census figures in both the USA and UK show a continuing rapid decline in religious commitment. For the broader picture in Europe, showing decades of decline with perhaps a brief pause in northern and eastern Europe in the 1990s, see Voas, David and Stefanie Doebler. 2011. “Secularization in Europe: Religious Change between and within Birth Cohorts”. Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe 4 (1): 39-62. It’s maybe true that if you ask the right questions, you can elicit “spiritual” answers from most people, but how important are these questions and answers in their lives? Phil Zuckerman’s Society without God What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment is a fairly impressionistic look at Sweden and Denmark, but one of his main findings is that most people in those countries just didn’t have much to say about religious or spiritual or existential topics, because they very seldom thought about them. Those of us who are, in whatever way, very interested in religion, should bear in mind that we’re an eccentric minority!

        • arcseconds

          I suppose ‘cultural materialisation’ could be used as a synonym for ‘reduction in religious commitment’, but Richard fairly explicitly states he’s using it to mean a metaphysical commitment, and possibly also an epistemological commitment.

          I think it’s a big stretch to read metaphysical or epistemological commitments off a lack of religious commitments.

          Especially given phenomena such as the following:

          *) A slight majority (53%) of Canadians believe in God. What is of
          particular interest is that 28% of Protestants, 33% of Catholics, and 23% of those who attend weekly religious services do not believe in God.

          *) One quarter (23%) of those with no religious identity still believe in God.”
          .

          (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism)

          So about a quarter to third of canadian Christians don’t believe in God, even amongst those who attend Church regularly, and about a quarter of ‘nones’ believe in God.

          I would want a lot more information about what ‘nones’ believe before I’d conclude that they’re moving towards materialism.

          Belief in ghosts and astrology has apparently risen massively in the last 50 years in the UK, even as religious commitment has been declining, which is another phenomenon which should give us pause in thinking materialism is winning out.

          (it also suggests to me this is more than just ‘elicit[ing] “spirtual” answers’ by asking the right questions. 14% of them have had personal experiences of ghosts!)

          a final couple of factoids that don’t show too much, but do indicate (assuming they’re true) that it’s a risky business assuming much beyond what someone actually states:

          *) apparently 25% of athiests and agnostics consider themselves deeply spirtual,

          and

          *) “Even more surprising, according to Harris, is that some people who say they are not Christian believe in the resurrection of Christ, 26 percent, and the Virgin birth, 27 percent. ” (source)

          You point out that people in Sweden and Denmark don’t think much about religious topics, and you ask how important these questions will be to someone’s life. How much they think about these questions is pretty orthogonal to whether or not they’re materialists, of course. And you could ask the same question about Americans and/or Christians — just because you turn up every Sunday doesn’t mean it makes any difference to you the rest of the week.

  • Ma

    Jesus, the one whom most of them claim to follow, taught primarily in parables

    That hit me like a ton of bricks about a year ago. It really does change a lot of what I thought I knew.

  • http://nitecaravan.blogspot.com/ Br. Jay

    What a powerful point! Jesus loved and taught in parables, why should folks get up in arms if other parts of the Bible are not literally true.

  • Sherry Peyton

    the unfortunate truth is that they will not read anything that disputes their worldview. It is simply too dangerous–God will hate them for “doubting” and reading an alternative explanation is apparently doubt itself. I have given up trying to reason with people who remain willfully ignorant because of fear. After all, they worship a book, and if the book fails, their faith fails–they are caught so deeply in this delusion that you cannot extricate them, and frankly most fundamentalists do become atheists if the light ever does come on.

  • TheMysteryOfGod.org

    The parables Jesus spoke fulfills the REASON he spoke in parables. @themysteryofgod #TMOG

  • plectrophenax

    It’s always struck me that nobody goes up to Jesus and asks, ‘did that man really send his two sons into the vineyard? Why did he do that?’ But the literalists don’t seem to notice this, or rather, as someone has said, they willfully close one eye to it, or both.

  • Randy Ruggles

    I’m sorry but this really has to be one of the worst arguments I’ve ever heard. Of course most Christians know that Jesus spoke in parables. And of course other parts of the Bible can be taken metaphorically – Psalms for instance. And Jesus said he was “the door” but I’m pretty sure he was not trying to tell us he was made of wood and had hinges. But when Jesus says, “Have you not read …” and then quotes the Old Testament, he is intending it to be taken literally. Jesus’ own genealogy goes back to a literal Adam. And he likened his return to the Flood of Noah. If the Flood is metaphorical, is his return metaphorical too? You can’t just pick and choose which parts of the Bible to take literally. Context and the original intent of the author must determine that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      It seems worth pointing out first that not only can one choose what one think is lital, but readers do that, and must do it, since not every text is flagged as toits genre – indeed, most are not. Sometimes we may choose not to take something literally simoly because it is too hard – otherwise it is hard to explain how there can be people who claim to be followers of Jesus and yet who have not given away everything they own, as per Luke’s Gospel. But in other cases, there are clues in the text which suggest the point is not literal. We might think that there really are three groups of 14 in Matthew’s genealogy, until we count them. And then when we realize that even in the second group which does have 14, he has left names out that are found in Chronicles in order to get the number he wants. And so what might have seemed to be literal to a modern reader turns out to have other concerns entirely. And all that without even looking at Luke’s very diffent genealogy. We bring different assumptions to the genealogies than ancient readers did. And that is the whole point.

      • Gerald Donnelly

        “Jesus’ own genealogy goes back to a literal Adam.”
        If we’re to read the Bible literally, then you must believe that Jesus had no earthly father since he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. So, how could he have a human genealogy? That is, IF you take his conception literally, it would be illogical/impossible to trace that genealogy.

      • Gerald Donnelly

        James, Marcus Borg in his book Speaking Christian on page 25 states: “The factual inerrancy of the Bible was first
        explicitly affirmed just over three
        centuries ago in the second half of the 1600s in a book of Protestant theology. ” Unfortunately, he doesn’t document who/where/when this took place. In your view, is this an accurate statement? And who were the people who first affirmed the Bible’s inerrancy?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I’m not sure what book Borg was referring to. I’ve heard others connect the term’s modern theological use with Charles Hodge towards the end of the 19th century.

  • Herro

    “The young-earth creationist emphasis on what they insist is the only legitimate sort of truth, and the only appropriate way it can be conveyed,…”

    Surely, this is a strawman! Where has any prominent YEC said anything of this sort?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Have you encountered their treatment of Genesis, and the inerrantist view of the Bible that almost always goes along with it? I may be engaging in hyperbole, perhaps, but if it is a caricature it is one that most can appreciate as highlighting features of the stance as many of have known it from the inside as well as from without.

      • Herro

        James, yes, I’ve encountered their treatment of Genesis, but it in no way justifies the absurd strawman you erected. It’s really tiring to have to see these ‘hyperboles’ in every single post you write about

        And since your post is about the YECs not being true followers of Jesus. Do you think that Jesus was a YEC? Do you think that he believed in an actual Noah’s flood? If you say ‘yes’ to either of those, then I think the YECs are pretty close to Jesus’ views on this subject.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I do not think that Jesus was a young-earth creationist, someone who had enough knowledge and information at his disposal to be able to know that the Earth was very old, and yet chose to reject the evidence in favor of something he was predisposed to believe.

          • Herro

            That’s a rather strange definition of YEC-ism and would exclude all those pre-modern Christians who thought that the Earth was created in the recent past because of they thought that the Bible told them so.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Young-earth creationism, which makes rejection of scientific evidence a dogmatic position, does indeed need to be distinguished from those who held views incompatible with modern science in earlier times not because they rejected science, but because they did not have other information.

              I would not lump Aristotle with modern geocentrists either. It is not that one cannot put them under the same label in any respect. But there is a need to distinguish those who did the best in earlier times with what they had available to them, and those who do their worst despite the greater amount of information and evidence available to them today.

              • Herro

                Sure, being a YEC is harder now when we have all the scientific evience pointing to another conclusion. But modern YECs aren’t YECs “because they reject science”, they are YECs because they think that the bible teaches YEC-ism, just like their ancient and medieval counterparts did.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  No, there are clear statements by the mainstream ancient Christian authors about the appropriateness of adapting one’s thinking about the natural world in light of new evidence and philosophical arguments. The approach is diametrically opposed to that of young-earth creationists today.

                  • Herro

                    I’m not sure what part of my last comment you are saying “no” to.

                    Modern YECs and medieval and ancient YECs both are YECs because they think that the Bible teaches YEC-ism. On top of that you can say that modern YECs have to reject modern science.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      But who do you have in mind when you refer to “medieval and ancient YECs”? The ancient, medieval, and other pre-modern Christian authors that we have consistently say that if the evidence from nature contradicts Scripture, then Scripture must be understood metaphorically. They never, to my recollection, treat the age of the Earth as an article of faith they expect believers to embrace. Nor did anyone before bishop Ussher think that the Bible taught the age of the Earth, except in the sense that some of them began with the days of creation and extrapolated from that, together with the “a day is like a thousand years” verse, to a view of six thousand years of human history. But they did that in the absence of modern dating methods and even so were not dogmatic about what was clearly above all else a point of symbolism.

                      And so why take those Christians, who share with most modern Christians the principle that you do not deny the natural world’s evidence based on a literal reading of Scripture, and lump them together with YECs because they did not have modern scientific information?

                      Can you tell me which Christians from the pre-modern era you think of as having held to a YEC position? Perhaps you have heard them quote-mined by today’s YECs and received a wrong impression of their stance?

                    • Herro

                      Well, Augustine was a YEC for example. He clearly says that the Bible teaches that humanity was created ~6000 years ago (~8000 now). From re-reading the relevant section, I don’t see if he comments on the age of the Earth per se, but thinking that humanity is ~6000 years old is still totally contrary to science.

                      “The ancient, medieval, and other pre-modern Christian authors that we have consistently say that if the evidence from nature contradicts Scripture, then Scripture must be understood metaphorically.”

                      Well, I don’t think it’s whether these Christians would follow the scientific evidence or dismiss it as science gone wrong (since it contradicts the Bible). And I’m not sure how prominent this view was.

                      “They never, to my recollection, treat the age of the Earth as an article of faith they expect believers to embrace.”

                      If some Christian author says that the Bible teaches X, then I assume that they expect believers to accept X.

                      I lump the modern and ancient guys together because they reach the same conclusion based on the same source. They both think that the Bible teaches YEC, so they accept it.

                      Regarding Ussher, it seems to me, after a quick search, that Eusebios and Bede did something like that. And I recall Josephus doing something similar.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Augustine himself clearly articulates the principle I am talking about, lamenting how shameful it is when some Christians bring shame to Christianity by disputing points of natural philosophy because of what they think the Bible says!

                      What science available in those times did these authors contradict? Or is your point merely that everyone in ancient times was wrong about such things, which I do not dispute? It seemed as though you were singling out Christians in the pre-modern era as having been wrong about scientific matters in a way that others were not.

                    • Herro

                      I don’t know if an ancient author would be contradicting any known facts if he were to believe in a ~6000 year old world.

                      “Or is your point merely that everyone in ancient times was wrong about such things, which I do not dispute?”

                      Well, you should dispute that, since not everyone believed that the world was ~6000 year old. Christians believed it because they thought that Genesis presents these events as recent.

                      And my original point here was: ‘That your post contained an absurd strawman’, and later my point was that any claim that YECs aren’t beint true to Jesus is rather strange since Jesus probably was a YEC.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      This is precisely the issue I m trying to get at. You seem not to be aware that no one in that time had any idea how old the Earth was. You assume that most Jews and Christians thought the Earth was a particular age, and that they attributed this view to the Bible, but seem unable to cite any evidence that they approached this topic in the manner of modern proponents of young-earth creationism. I am trying to get you to actually look into the subject and discover that these authors do not match up with some of your assumptions about them, particularly when understood in context.

                    • Herro

                      James, OK, I think Augustine believed in a young earth, but let’s assume that he and all the rest thought that the earth was of some unknown age, but that humanity was ~6000 years old. What difference does that make? In that case they still think that humanity is ~6000 year old, and attribute this view to the Bible.

                      “…but seem unable to cite any evidence that they approached this topic in the manner of modern proponents of young-earth creationism.”

                      What do you mean by “approached the topic in the manner” of modern YECs?

                      ” I am trying to get you to actually look into the subject and discover that these authors do not match up with some of your assumptions about them, particularly when understood in context.”

                      What assumptions are you thinking of?

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      OK, you are still assuming that those who held that view derived it from the Bible. But let’s try a different tack. Would you consider it fair if today’s atheists were considered anti-science in the future because they embraced a view that was compatible with our best available scientific thinking? Would it not be unfair to accuse people of being anti-science merely because they did not know things in their time that no one knew in their time?

                    • Herro

                      “OK, you are still assuming that those who held that view derived it from the Bible. ”

                      I’m not assuming it. Augustine for example explicitly says he got it from the Bible.

                      For the rest of your comment: Of course it would be unfair.

                      Like I said earlier, modern YECs have to deny science, earlier ones didn’t have to.

                    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                      Augustine is siding with the Bible when adjudicating among a variety of chronologies of human history by Greeks, Egyptians, and others. That’s the impression I get from the passage in City of God, at any rate.

                • rmwilliamsjr

                  re:the bible teaches YEC-ism, just like their ancient and medieval counterparts did.

                  -=-=-=-

                  this is the heart of the matter, whether the Bibles teaches as binding on all Christians, at all times or whether God is using these ideas to teach something else. whether a flat young earth with a 3 part universe(heaven above, hell beneath) is an accurate description or is a common sense then thought that is no longer valid.

                  is Jesus teaching that demons cause disease or using the common sense idea to teach that He can heal? must i believe demons can be cast out into a herd of pigs in order to love God? isn’t this Ken Ham’s great idea that a young earth is an authority issue not a salvation issue? that young earth is so much a part of the ancient’s worldview and working definition of the physical world that we must believe it as well in order to honor God?

                  it boils down to whether these items are an accurate description or reality or not. YECism is not, we know that, the writers of the Bible did not. they were wrong, the universe is not small, it is not young, since God gave us the ability to understand these truths, i believe you need to hold to them for the sake a a rational universe built by a loving God who would not deceive us by planting false evidence in the real world and asking us to be irrational to ignore it.

                  • Herro

                    “is Jesus teaching that demons cause disease or using the common sense idea to teach that He can heal?”

                    I think that the idea that Jesus didn’t actually believe in demons but was merely using it as a foil to teach that he could heal to be absurd. Why do you think that a 1st century Jew didn’t believe in demons?


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