Biblical Literalism and IQ

Razib at Gene Expression used data from the General Social Survey for certain religious denominations and compared them to the proportion of followers in that faith who believe the Bible should be interpreted literally.

He put IQ levels on the vertical axis and the percent of Bible-is-literal believers on the horizontal axis.

Here’s what he found:

literalismiq.jpg

As Razib writes, it’s not strictly causation/correlation (emphasis his).

… The correlation here is probably not one of simple causality in either direction. It seems the most plausible model is one which notes that various denominations tend to have particular socioeconomic profiles which shape a general cultural outlook…

… Mainline Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism has relatively high educational standards for its clergy and theological professionals. At the other end of the spectrum many evangelical Protestant sects have no such requirement. The Assemblies of God is a good example of this phenomenon, in this sect higher educational experience can even be perceived as corrupting. There is a reason for this perception: education, wealth and acceptance does corrupt and assimilate.

He offers another graph in his defense, comparing the percentage of followers of have a postgraduate education (vertical axis) to the percentage of Biblical literalism (horizontal axis):

postgrade.jpg

Are there any other explanations for the data results?

Is the IQ a fair way of testing intelligence in this case? Or should another system be used?

I wonder where atheists would be on the charts… and why that would be the case. According to the Washington Post, “28 percent of atheists have post-graduate degrees or professional training.” And I’m guessing little regard for Biblical literalism. Which would put us just to the left of Unitarian-Universalists in the image above.

I can’t find a good source that shows an estimate for the IQ of atheists.

(via The Daily Dish)


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Mriana

    I’m not really surprised by his results. The sad thing is, it’s more often than not true of these groups. The better educated and seemingly more intellegent are in the U.U. and the Episcopal Churches. While, because they do believe an education is corrupting, my mother and aunt are prime example of this, and won’t advance very far in education or if they do, they stick with a college that teaches their beliefs.

  • Kate

    Gooooooooo UUs!!!!!!!

    “Is the IQ a fair way of testing intelligence in this case? Or should another system be used?”

    Oh sheesh, Hemant. Don’t even get me started. ;)

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com jtradke

    In my opinion, “intelligence” as a concept is overrated. It’s too broad to be useful. There are innumerable types of cognitive abilities which a person can possess, and one’s skill level in one ability may or may not have any correlation to their skill in another ability.

    For example, I’m a pretty good at speling a word that I hear out lowd. I won the school spelling bee in 7th grade (I’m single, ladies…). But, I’m pretty damn slow at the reverse – i.e., when someone spells a word out loud, I swear it can take me up to 10 seconds to visualize the individual letters, observe the word they form, and then retrieve the word’s sound and meaning.

    So, does that make me good or bad at spelling? Speaking? Writing? Phonetics? Reading? Am I well-read? I’m also pretty good at algebra. What does that tell you about my spatial reasoning abilities? Geometry? Calculus? Multi-variable calculus? Matrix algebra? Not to mention athletics, or emotions, or charisma, or…

    All of these are separate domains of knowledge with very separate applications in real life. Why, for fuck’s sake, would we even attempt to conjure up one single number to represent each person’s vast array of thinking abilities? It cheapens society’s value of the human mind. It marginalizes. It makes high-IQ folks feel good at the expense of others. It reinforces socioeconomic barriers.

    Thinking that IQ matters is just as counterproductive and narrowing as thinking that race matters.

  • Pseudonym

    Off the top of my head:
    There’s not much difference at all between someone of an IQ of 90 and one with an IQ of 110. Moreover, I’d wager that very, very few members of all of these denominations have ever had their IQ professionally tested by a psychologist.
    It does not take into account denomination size. (It’s no surprise that the three largest denominations on the list are the three that have the average IQ closest to 100.)
    It does not take into account denomination diversity. Some religious groups encourage a wider diversity of beliefs than others, and a strict mean can be quite misleading.
    Not everyone agrees that the GSS’s question on biblical literalism is accurate. Whatever “Biblical literalism” is, it isn’t an either/or proposition.
    There are some denominations missing from the top chart that are in the bottom chart, including some particularly glaring ones like Roman Catholics.
    As noted in TFA, only those of certain ethnicity were included in some of the statistics.
    In summary, if this were a scientific paper up for peer review, I’d reject it. Selection bias and (non-existent) error bars swamp any signal that may or may not be present.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    GAaah!

    These variables should NOT be having straight lines fitted to their relationships, unless someone really thinks percentages can go outside 0-100!

    Look at the fitted “percentage with postgrad education” for the “Church of God In Christ”. It’s NEGATIVE! That makes no sense at all.

    At the very least, a functional relationship that at least obeys the a priori facts about the situation (those fractions being bounded to [0,1], for example) should be used. In the first graph, the IQs also have a lower bound of 0, but we’re so many s.d.s from zero it doesn’t matter quite so much for that variable (there’s still the issue that there’s no a priori reason to expect linearity, though).

    It really does matter for the percentages, because they approach their limits in this data. Notice the actual relationship from the points is curved in the second graph? That’s because the boundaries force it to be curved. Why is a straight line being fitted to a relationship that is plainly not (and worse, pretty obviously won’t be before we even see data)?

    The linear equation, the R-squared and so on are all nonsense – worse than useless! (Indeed, since neither variable is necessarily thought to be causative, why use a technique – regression, whether linear or not – that treats one variable as the predictor and the other as the response?)

    I’d suggest either just graphing the data, or if some “fit” is required, graphing a smoothed curve that respects the nature of the variables.

    Pseudonym: 90 vs 110 mightn’t be a huge difference in individual IQs. However, when dealing with differences in averages (as we have here), it may be a much bigger deal (assuming IQ means anything at all, of course). Two populations with average difference in IQ of 20 points?! That would potentially be a big deal indeed.

    (Oh, and this individual sure as heck wouldn’t knock back an extra 20 points of IQ. Just sayin’)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “28 percent of atheists have post-graduate degrees or professional training.” And I’m guessing little regard for Biblical literalism.

    I’m not so sure about that. I seem to encounter a lot of atheists who do seem to think that literalism actually is the best way to read the Bible, and tend to get very annoyed with me when I disagree. After all, you can be a biblical literalist without actually believing that the Bible is true.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I’m not so sure about that. I seem to encounter a lot of atheists who do seem to think that literalism actually is the best way to read the Bible, and tend to get very annoyed with me when I disagree. After all, you can be a biblical literalist without actually believing that the Bible is true.

    Amen to that, Mike!

    Actually, I think Biblical literalism is necessary to the atheists to give the enemy a face. Otherwise, where’s the conflict or disagreement?

    As far as the subject of this post, the more legalistic the church is, the greater number of non-thinkers they will have in their church. That may be where the intelligence factor comes in.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I seem to encounter a lot of atheists who do seem to think that literalism actually is the best way to read the Bible.

    I’ve been noticing that a lot lately too and I find it quite disturbing.

  • http://jcape.ignore-your.tv/ James Cape

    Just once it would be nice for people to stop confusing cultural knowledge with intelligence, even when it suits their political opinions.

    There isn’t an “IQ test,” there are several major published “IQ tests,” and they all have extremely high linguistic, cultural, and psychological barriers to entry. Essentially they will tell you how well you will fit in as an academic in the time period the test was written in: multiple-choice exams, lots of sitting still, large command of vocabulary, etc. To the extent that other spheres of life intersect with the academic environment, an IQ test is a predictor of success in those areas. But nothing so crass as “intelligence,” or even the more modest “reasoning ability.” I don’t think anyone has even thought of trying to measure the ability to context-swap intellectual work on such a test, for example.

    BTW, how does “you are all fucking retarded” work on the whole faith/non-faith dialogue thing? ;-)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    how does “you are all fucking retarded” work on the whole faith/non-faith dialogue thing?

    C’mon, James, it’s not nice to call the atheists names. ;-)

  • rusussan

    All this data is represented by single points — averages I suppose. I would also suppose there would be very large error bars if those were plotted. Taking the statistical error bars into account, how much of a statistical confidence do we have that the data are different (to not accept the null hypothesis?)
    jtradke: Your phenomenon with spelling is very common in Morse code. Most people who know Morse code can send it (translate letters, number, punctuation into the code equivalent) very much faster than they can receive Morse code (translating the dits and dahs into letter, number, or punctuation.) For me, I can send code at 25 words per minute, but receive only at around 5.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com jtradke

    Actually, I think Biblical literalism is necessary to the atheists to give the enemy a face. Otherwise, where’s the conflict or disagreement?

    Linda – the disagreement is with any supernatural beliefs. Literalism isn’t the only version of superstition.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    On the IQ question:
    Isn’t it always telling that the individuals who rant against IQ testing (and SAT scores and college rankings and other quantitative measures) are usually those not at the top end of the spectrum? For example, it’s always the people with 1100′s that wax philosophical about the cultural biases or some other garbage relating to the SATs.

    On Biblical literalism:
    The appraisal of biblical literalism exists in an odd dichotomy. From my perspective, literalism is the most sensical means by which to read the bible. The argument is blatantly simple: If the omni God wrote the Bible, then there shouldn’t be any mistakes or need for widely divergent interpretations like the story of Genesis is allegory. Yet, I consider any religious person who accepts the Bible literally to be an ignorant moron. I much prefer, and relatively respect, the moderate who engages in a cautionary reading.

  • Pseudonym

    The Unbrainwashed:

    If the omni God wrote the Bible, then there shouldn’t be any mistakes or need for widely divergent interpretations like the story of Genesis is allegory.

    I think that the reason why you have a dichotomy is that you’ve got some circular reasoning going on. Yes, biblical literalism depends on the “omni God”, but in turn, the “omni God” depends on biblical literalism. Generally speaking, liberals (and, at least if you ask theologians, moderates) reject both.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    There’s not much difference at all between someone of an IQ of 90 and one with an IQ of 110.

    yes there is. that’s more than 1 standard deviation (15 points). 90 is the 25th percentile, 110 is the 75th. you think 50 percentiles is “not much difference”? (yeah, you didn’t know they were 50 percentiles did you??? ;-)

    It does not take into account denomination size. (It’s no surprise that the three largest denominations on the list are the three that have the average IQ closest to 100.)

    that makes no sense. sample variance isn’t an issue when the “small” denominations have hundreds of thousands of members (actually, i think all the listed are on the order of millions).


    Not everyone agrees that the GSS’s question on biblical literalism is accurate.

    you didn’t read the original post. the IQ is from the GSS, the biblical literalism is from another source.

    i’m not going to take a guess as to your IQ….

    efrique, you’re not stupid. all good points, but i wasn’t doing social science there. i whipped that up in 10 minutes and it yielded 15,000 hits in a 24 hour period. not bad i’d say ;0)

  • mikespeir

    I always look askance at these studies. I was a Christian until I was 48. Considering I’m 52 now, the likelihood is that my IQ has actually dropped since then.

    Still, belief doesn’t require a lot of intellectual horsepower. That’s not to say there aren’t many believers with it, just that people without it are likely to flock to religion in inordinate numbers. That’s sure to skew the results.

  • http://merelyadequate.net MonolithTMA

    If someone wants to take the Bible literally, I have no problem with that. It’s when they want to force their beliefs on others, that’s when I have a problem.

    I can think of three people I know who are evangelical Christians who take the Bible literally and are positively brilliant; I’d bet at least two of them could get into Mensa if they applied.

    I also know some complete morons who are biblical literalists, then again being an atheists or agnostic is no guarantee of genius.

  • mikespeir

    I seem to encounter a lot of atheists who do seem to think that literalism actually is the best way to read the Bible, and tend to get very annoyed with me when I disagree.

    Whenever I encounter a new text of any kind, one of the few presuppositions I bring into my first reading is that the author said precisely what he intended to say, and that he meant it to be understood the way he said it. Now, that may prove untrue in the end, but it’s a reasonable starting point.

    Clearly, there are parts of the Bible that are intended metaphorically. But too often I see defenders of Scripture flee into the fortress of allegory to escape arrows of the obvious.

    I once got into a discussion with a rather articulate proponent of the so-called Framework Hypothesis. We went round and round for a while, but finally I had to ask: “Those portions of Genesis you call ‘true but not factual’ look for all the world to me like the fabulous contrivances of ignorant, primitive minds, just like you would find in the the etiological myths of other religions. What is it that makes you see allegory in them?” He returned a one-word answer: “Faith.” I congratulated him on his honesty, but the discussion was effectively over. He had just admitted that all his highfalutin argumentation was really founded upon the assumption that somehow, some way, the Bible simply must be true.

  • Gary

    I seem to encounter a lot of atheists who do seem to think that literalism actually is the best way to read the Bible, and tend to get very annoyed with me when I disagree

    Would it be fair to say, Mike, that some middle course needs to be steered between thinking that “every word in the Bible is literally true” and thinking that “every word in the Bible is literally false”?

  • Christophe Thill

    IQ is trash, because it rests on an extremely shaky foundation (the belief in something called intelligence, pictured as a single entity that can be measured by a single number). The fact that the whole thing is peppered with statistics doesn’t change a thing. IQ is actually nothing more than the score obtained to a specific test (quoth Alfred Binet: “What is intelligence? Well, it’s whatever my test measures…”). It correlates highly to social origin and scholastic achievement. Your parents have a higher education level and some money, you have a university degree too : expect a good score. Your parents were factory workers, you didn’t like school too much : don’t count on a MENSA card. Of course it’s a statistical conclusion, not a deterministic one. But if your IQ is low, you shouldn’t let anyone call you dumb. When it comes to real problem solving tasks (opposed to purely academic ones), your capacities might be well above theirs.

  • Spurs Fan

    Clearly, there are parts of the Bible that are intended metaphorically. But too often I see defenders of Scripture flee into the fortress of allegory to escape arrows of the obvious.

    mikespeir,

    I agree.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    It’s the new chicken or the egg: does religious literalism lower your IQ or does lower IQ make you a religious literalist?

  • RobL

    I think IQ testing is pretty inaccurate, for me the chart correlating higher education with religious affiliation is more meaningful. My wife’s family is Episcopalian – we were married in the church and even though I am not a believer I had good feelings about the members and found many of them to be well educated and thoughtful people. I had a sense that the general level of curiosity about the world was pretty high. When we moved my wife became very involved in a large Methodist church. I have always felt very uncomfortable and very out of place in the group – I don’t think there are more than a couple of science degrees in the entire congregation. I get no sense of curiosity about the world around them – going to church and living day to day is good enough. It is a sample of only 2 churches (maybe 300 members in each) so not statistically relevant, but it does confirm my own observation that as you move from the Episcopalians down towards the fundamentalists you start losing the members who are naturally curious and well educated in the sciences.

  • mikespeir

    Hey, I used to be in Mensa! If that’s not evidence against the validity of IQ testing, I don’t know what is. Every year they sent us a little flimsy membership card which, for some reason, we were supposed to sign. It wasn’t even properly card stock, so I always laminated mine. I could trot it out as needed and say, “See, that proves I’m smart, all other evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.” Wouldn’t you know it? One year I neglected to sign it before laminating it. I thought that was fairly telling.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Whenever I encounter a new text of any kind, one of the few presuppositions I bring into my first reading is that the author said precisely what he intended to say, and that he meant it to be understood the way he said it. Now, that may prove untrue in the end, but it’s a reasonable starting point.

    I’m sorry, but that’s an incredibly poor way to read and interpret pretty much any kind of literature other than some kind of technical instruction manual. What kind of allowances do you make for things like literary genre & technique, historical and cultural context, etc? And why in the world would you think that you, as a 21st century Westerner would be able to approach an ancient near eastern text written by dozens of authors from multiple cultures over hundreds of years and automatically understand exactly what the author meant without taking into account any of those other factors. I don’t mean this as a personal insult (more as a technical description), but that approach seems incredibly naive.

    Clearly, there are parts of the Bible that are intended metaphorically. But too often I see defenders of Scripture flee into the fortress of allegory to escape arrows of the obvious.

    Even the whole “literal vs. metaphorical” dichotomy is far too simplistic. Literature (any kind of literature, not just the Bible) needs to be interpreted according to the kind of literature it is and the context in which it was written. There are dozens more factors to consider than merely “literally” or “metaphorically”.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Would it be fair to say, Mike, that some middle course needs to be steered between thinking that “every word in the Bible is literally true” and thinking that “every word in the Bible is literally false”?

    Yes and no Gary. Yes, those aren’t the only two options, but the problem is your question isn’t framed very well in the first place. “True/False” is a different discussion from “literal/non-literal”. As I said in my last comment, there are a far more options for interpreting literature than merely whether it is “literal” or not. So yes, I agree, we need a totally new way of thinking about the issue that avoids these simplistic false dichotomies.

  • Gary

    Yes and no Gary. Yes, those aren’t the only two options, but the problem is your question isn’t framed very well in the first place. “True/False” is a different discussion from “literal/non-literal”. As I said in my last comment, there are a far more options for interpreting literature than merely whether it is “literal” or not. So yes, I agree, we need a totally new way of thinking about the issue that avoids these simplistic false dichotomies.

    Well, there are surely more options than two, though there may also be some dichotomies that are not false.

    For any statement in the Bible, “X,” what are the possibilities? It seems to me that we have, at minimum, the following:

    Statement X is (literally) true.
    Statement X is metaphorical (and/but neither literally true nor literally false).
    Statement X is (literally) false.

    To this list we could probably add others (e.g., “Statement X is poetic”), but let’s start with what we have above. Do you think that the Bible contains all three kinds of “X” statements?

  • mikespeir

    And why in the world would you think that you, as a 21st century Westerner would be able to approach an ancient near eastern text written by dozens of authors from multiple cultures over hundreds of years and automatically understand exactly what the author meant without taking into account any of those other factors.

    Consider again what I actually wrote, Mike. I said it was the author’s intent to write what he meant. The author intended it to be taken the way he wrote it. I never said I don’t have interpretive responsibility. That includes taking such things as culture into consideration. But yes, going into the examination, I start off with the assumption that he meant his work to be taken literally. I think we all do that. (Unless we have prior knowledge that it is a work of fiction or some such thing.) Perhaps he didn’t; but if not, there needs to be some evident attribute of the text to make us reroute our thinking. That what the text says obviously doesn’t square with reality does not provide the needed impetus. That’s because the simplest accounting for it is that the author was in fact out of touch with reality.

    This question pertains: What about Genesis itself, for instance, arouses suspicions of allegory? When the Framework Hypothesist looks at it, what is it that causes the notion of allegory even to intrude into his consciousness in the first place? Is it that there’s something unique in this particular creation myth that screams to be read as allegory? I think not. I think he begins his deliberation with the a priori assumption that Genesis is true, albeit self-evidently not defensible as factual. He then has to find a way to reconcile his beliefs with the facts. Allegory is just the means he uses to that end.

    In the end, there’s really no better reason to believe the author meant it allegorically than literally. Indeed, I know of no reason to enter consideration of Genesis with the suspicion that he might have.

  • Mriana

    I don’t know about a new way of thinking about this subject, but I was not exactly raised in the evangelical church, even though we attended when we visited my mother relatives. My mother has an average IQ and since her last being “saved” episode has continued to attend an Evangelical church. For about four years after this last one, she took me to a Lutheran Church, until I moved out of her home.

    My sons, who I took to the Episcopal Church until they decided they did not want to attend church, are not Christians. The older on is a professed Buddhist and the other professes to make his own thoughts on the matter of religion. The older one tests in the gifted range of the IQ test (145), I test at 125 (above average), and my younger son, even with his mild PDD (high functioning autism), scores in the average range.

    Mind you, these are JUST scores on a test, nothing more, but it does bring in the question, “What affects does religion have on one’s IQ score?”

    I appreciate what Razib said about IQ scores and s/he is indeed correct on what s/he says. However, there are cultural and other aspects to the test. It is also shown that the majority of Black children score lower than the majority of White children. Foreigners, test lower on the test too, but if they took it in their country, in their language, with questions geared to their culture, they score higher.

    There is a vast difference between the “culture”, for want of a better word, between the Episcopalians/Unitarians and Evangelicals. Episcopalians and Unitarians strive to learn and seek knowledge even within secular society. Most have more knowledge of the origins of religion than Evangelicals do. Most Evangelicals shun secular education and stick to religious based education, such as Bible Colleges. They reject modern science in favour of the Bible and literalism/inerrancy of the Bible. Episcopalians and Unitarians do not view the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God. They seek answers about the world outside of the Bible.

    There is a discripancy here, one in which may hinder the Evangelicals on an IQ test. They have the ability to learn and acheive knowledge outside their “subculture”, but they chose not to do so. So their actual score may not be what it seems to be on these tests, just as other subcultures and immigrants don’t score their true level of intelligence. None of these groups are truly more or less intelligent than the more educated groups of people, but rather, these tests are not geared to that population of society. They aren’t stupid or less intelligent, but rather a bit hindered.

    My grandfather was an exceptionally brilliant man, who educated himself to the point he could have gotten an honourary college degree and believed there were other planets with lifeforms much like us, “Why would God only have one planet in the universe with people on it?” Yet, he was an Evangelical Fundamentalist who believed in the “inerrant and literal word of God”, but at the same time knew a bat was not a bird, but rather a mammal. He attributed such statements as being the current knowledge of the people. He had many contradictions in what he said, but he was highly intelligent. I do not know what score he might have made on an IQ test, but suspect, even with his vast knowledge mixed with his religious beliefs, he would not have scored as high as he would without such radical religious beliefs.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    [Evangelicals] have the ability to learn and acheive knowledge outside their “subculture”, but they chose not to do so… They aren’t stupid or less intelligent, but rather a bit hindered.

    And I’d say the choice not to do so is largely predicated on being evangelical, which in that case makes it what’s hindering them. Unlike issues of access to education which are factors for the poor or immigrants, for the evangelicals it’s a choice to be hindered.

    The arguments against the IQ test are that it relies too much on knowledge, and being poor or foreign born, you wouldn’t have had access to the knowledge you’re being tested on. Fine, but I’m willing to bet that if given the choice, the poor and the foreign born would want to have that knowledge if for no other reason than to increase their opportunities. The evangelicals? No. That’s a problem. Furthermore, although a test of knowledge may not be an accurate test of intelligence, it is in a way a test of functional intelligence. Despite how smart you are, if you have little or no knowledge, your functionality is limited.

    But let’s take it a step further. A literalist mindset is one that questions less, no? One that’s less skeptical, less capable of handling adversity and being able to adapt. Once again, although one may in fact be highly intelligent, this mindset is a severe handicap.

    So although one can be intelligent, the choice to avoid acquiring knowledge coupled with adopting a literalist mindset has the effect of making one functionally the same IQ as someone who lacks the ability to retain knowledge or think critically; therefore, I find the IQ test as being a suitable test.

  • Mriana

    A literalist mindset is one that questions less, no? One that’s less skeptical, less capable of handling adversity and being able to adapt. Once again, although one may in fact be highly intelligent, this mindset is a severe handicap.

    Actually, it is a form of stunted mental growth. Such a mindset is a stage in a child’s developmental growth. The problem seems to be that Evangelicals get stuck in that developmental stage, thus their growth has been a bit stunted. It is said, that children of a certain age and even those who have substance abuse issues are delayed in their developmental growth and stop developing from the age the abuse happens or substance abuse began. ie, if a child is sexually abuse at 14, that’s where they end up getting stuck developmentally or at best progress little beyond that stage. The same with those who have substance abuse.

    In otherwords, those who are within religious extremist groups end up being developmentally stunted and/or delayed, and yes, they could chose to move beyond that and acquire knowledge, but there is also an emotional component that hinders that too. To get beyond this developmental stage, they also have to get beyond the emotional issues preventing them from making such choice and then there is the social environment that hinders them too. Some might also have to get out of that environment in order to make the choice. So many times, the social environment keeps them from venturing out due to the mental “abuse” the members impose on each other. It is rather cultish in behaviours and therefore makes it difficult for the individual to break free and make that choice.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    In the end, there’s really no better reason to believe the author meant it allegorically than literally. Indeed, I know of no reason to enter consideration of Genesis with the suspicion that he might have.

    I’ve always found the fact that there are two creation stories in the OT interesting. They don’t jive exceptionally well with each other so why include both? If the authors meant them literally then perhaps the editors (who are as important as the authors in the discussion) didn’t interpret them as such and felt their value lied in something other then a factual, literal account.

    I’ve been accused of retreating to allegory when talking with some atheists. Generally those have been rather rigid thinkers from a conservative Christian background who seem to carry a lot of that baggage with them. I think they tend to assume my suggestions about allegory are given with the same unwavering belief they used to give to literal translations. I’m left scratching my head.

  • mikespeir

    I’ve always found the fact that there are two creation stories in the OT interesting. They don’t jive exceptionally well with each other so why include both? If the authors meant them literally then perhaps the editors (who are as important as the authors in the discussion) didn’t interpret them as such and felt their value lied in something other then a factual, literal account.

    Dawn,

    Remember that the Genesis creation accounts were almost certainly written by two different authors. (Documentary Hypothesis) A common opinion is that it was Ezra in the sixth century BC who compiled them the way we see them now.

    I see it as likely that Ezra, supposing it was him, really didn’t notice the contradictions. Much as Fundamentalists do today, he would naturally have sought out ways to reconcile the one with the other. He would have convinced himself he had succeeded.

  • Karen

    I’ve always found the fact that there are two creation stories in the OT interesting. They don’t jive exceptionally well with each other so why include both? If the authors meant them literally then perhaps the editors (who are as important as the authors in the discussion) didn’t interpret them as such and felt their value lied in something other then a factual, literal account.

    The OT is a compilation of various ancient texts that were mashed up over the years. Read, “Who Wrote the Bible?” by Richard Freidman and you’ll get a good understanding of the political and social motivations of the authors. It’s really interesting.

    Actually, it is a form of stunted mental growth. Such a mindset is a stage in a child’s developmental growth. The problem seems to be that Evangelicals get stuck in that developmental stage, thus their growth has been a bit stunted.

    Yup, I think you’re right, Mriana. I certainly went through this.

    I have to say that the more literally the church takes the scripture, the more anti-intellectual they are likely to be. I started out in a mainstream Presbyterian church that valued education and wound up in fundamentalist churches that were very, very suspicious of higher education, intellectuals and “secular humanism.”

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    I have a post up at my blog about some of the issues with graphing percentages and fitting lines, with a plot of my own that I think makes the relationship in the Postgrad Education vs Biblical Literalism case much clearer.

    http://ecstathy.blogspot.com/2008/05/relationships-between-percentages-are.html

  • Pseudonym

    mikespeir:

    I said it was the author’s intent to write what he meant. The author intended it to be taken the way he wrote it. I never said I don’t have interpretive responsibility. That includes taking such things as culture into consideration. But yes, going into the examination, I start off with the assumption that he meant his work to be taken literally. I think we all do that. (Unless we have prior knowledge that it is a work of fiction or some such thing.)

    I don’t think we do that at all. We implicitly examine the external evidence first, even if we only skim it. If there’s no external evidence, we read it to try to work out what literary form it has.

    Taking Genesis 1 as your example: It’s in a collection of mythology, so it’s mythological. We know roughly how old it is, so we should find out something about literary forms of the time. We look at its structure. It has verses and even a refrain (there was evening, there was morning, the first day), so it’s probably a semi-poetic. Putting those three pieces of data together, it’s obviously a piece of mythological saga. Then we re-read it with that in mind.

    It would surely be obtuse to assume that the author was trying to write anything about science in a time and place where there was no science as we know it, wouldn’t it?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’m with Pseudonym on the Genesis thing. good answer

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Consider again what I actually wrote, Mike. I said it was the author’s intent to write what he meant. The author intended it to be taken the way he wrote it. I never said I don’t have interpretive responsibility. That includes taking such things as culture into consideration.

    Yes you’re right. You did say that. I’m sorry, I misread you.

    (Interesting that even here authorial intent isn’t always as clear as day. ;) )

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    For any statement in the Bible, “X,” what are the possibilities? It seems to me that we have, at minimum, the following:

    Statement X is (literally) true.
    Statement X is metaphorical (and/but neither literally true nor literally false).
    Statement X is (literally) false.

    To this list we could probably add others (e.g., “Statement X is poetic”), but let’s start with what we have above. Do you think that the Bible contains all three kinds of “X” statements?

    Gary, this kind of “true/false” schema can really only be properly applied to propositional statements. Given that something like 80% of the Bible is something other than propositional (okay, I just made that percentage up, but it’s up there), in what sense does your schema even apply in those cases? In what sense is a poem true or false? Is a narrative only “true” if every detail in it historically happened, or can a fictional or a semi-fictionalized story still contain truths of a different sort? What do we even mean by “true” or “false” when there are obviously many different kinds of truth (historical truth, scientific truth, emotional truth, moral truth, personal truth, etc.)? And what about the inherently metaphorical nature of language in the first place? Even “literal” truths still generally have to be expressed by way of metaphor.

    This is all way too complex to be reduced two or three black and white options IMHO. It feels like trying to understand a work of art the way you’d read an engineering manual.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    Remember that the Genesis creation accounts were almost certainly written by two different authors. (Documentary Hypothesis) A common opinion is that it was Ezra in the sixth century BC who compiled them the way we see them now.

    The P source and the…J source? Or E.

    see it as likely that Ezra, supposing it was him, really didn’t notice the contradictions. Much as Fundamentalists do today, he would naturally have sought out ways to reconcile the one with the other. He would have convinced himself he had succeeded.

    See, I find that hard to believe and a more complicated scheme then that they simply left the contradictions there because they weren’t concerned with (a very modern) idea of literalism. Read further and other contradictions are apparent. Two animals or seven pairs on the ark for instance. Were those simply not noticed as well?

  • mikespeir

    I don’t think we do that at all. We implicitly examine the external evidence first, even if we only skim it. If there’s no external evidence, we read it to try to work out what literary form it has.

    Pseudonym:

    What is this external evidence? I’m asking for specifics that would pertain to our interpretation of Genesis. Do we have documents by sixth-century BC Jewish priests with footnotes saying, “By the way, this isn’t to be taken literally. Furthermore, if any other recent document by any other Jewish priest is not to be taken literally, either”? Really, it would take something just about that explicit; and even then we would have to somehow judge how much credence to give this footnote.

    Simply pointing to similar texts of the same era that have the same fabulous feel to them won’t do. Their authors’ grip on reality is also to be questioned.

    Pointing to commentaries of centuries later won’t do. Sure, Josephus, when he gave us his embellished version of the Jewish creation myth called it “philosophical.” But Josephus lived many centuries after the fact. Unlike when Genesis was compiled, his was a time and place thoroughly pervaded by Greek thought. Then, his apparent object was to make his people look not quite so barbaric to the Romans.

    I ask again: What is it about Genesis that makes its fabulous accounts deserve the presumption of truth while similar tales of other religions don’t?

  • mikespeir

    See, I find that hard to believe and a more complicated scheme then that they simply left the contradictions there because they weren’t concerned with (a very modern) idea of literalism.

    Dawn:

    Then it wouldn’t simply be literalism that would be in question. It would also be truth. However they are to be interpreted, the contradiction would be there. That leads me to suspect that the contradiction was either not noticed or it was rationalized away.

    BTW, what’s so modern about literalism? How would literalism have been different two millennial ago? Perhaps “literalism” itself is misleading us. My assertion is that the writer of the time would have expected his readers to believe events had unfolded as written.

    What’s the alternative to this? If his work was not to be taken “literally,” what did the author expect the reader to take away from it? Did he write with an extraordinary prescience as to what science would someday reveal? That could only come through some kind of supernatural agency. (Okay, time travel. I don’t buy that either.) But that would require that we, the interpreters, assume that there was a supernatural agent. Must we assume what the believer is trying to prove?

    (As to J, P, and E, I don’t think the boundaries between them are that definitely agreed upon.)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mikespeir said,

    I ask again: What is it about Genesis that makes its fabulous accounts deserve the presumption of truth while similar tales of other religions don’t?

    There are bits of truths in every religion, IMO. Genesis makes more sense to me, because, among other things, it explains humanity. Adam was in search of more than he had, even though he had everything. Eve wanted validation, even if by the wrong source (serpent), and manipulated Adam. Adam played the blame game. Fear, shame, and guilt forced humanity to begin covering ourselves up. Cain worked his ass off but did not get recognition. Abel was just being Abel but got killed because of Cain’s jealous rage. And on and on throughout the OT, there are stories to tell us about us. Envy, jealousy, manipulation, control, hunger for power, greed, feelings of entitlement, judgments, racism… hatred, war, death… It’s all in there.

    That’s the truth I see. Words are just words. Words are not the truth in themselves. The right words can, however, point to the truth. Then you have to see the truth for yourself. It’s silly to worship the pointer when all it is doing is pointing in the general direction. How can truth be contained in a book? Or even many books? If you search for truth in a box, all you can see is a square. With all due respect, literalists are fools.

  • Aj

    It’s not that there aren’t possible non-literal answers to questions about the Bible but that the traditional and most frequent answers are lame.

    The Earth was created in six days? Commonly we are told that the days refered to are not 24 hour days. Yet days refer to the periods of light we have, that we now realize are determined by the turning of the Earth. Why should we suspect that the authors meant something else, is there reason to believe they thought differently?

    My problem with those who apologise for the Bible is not that they take it as metaphor but that they selectively take it as metaphor without giving reason for it. Although it’s quite obviously that they’re selecting the parts that are problematic given our recent scientific knowledge.

    They’re being dishonest about their interpretations, they don’t give genuine reasons for why they interpret certain parts differently but it’s quite clear it’s because they’ve been found to be false. What authority does the Bible have then? To them it has none, but they’re perfectly willing to use the authority given by others.

    Yes, given that the Bible is a horrible book getting people to interpret it differently would be better than for them to read it literally. Yet what’s the real problem with the Bible opposed to any other literature? It’s the cultural authority given to the book, that it is good and right to believe what’s in it. There is another way, we can read the Bible as equal to any other piece of literature. The solution is to give the Bible less authority, not to ignore parts or give it new meaning.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    The solution is to give the Bible less authority, not to ignore parts or give it new meaning.

    Or all three. We can gain a lot of insight by reading Greek myths, for example, but we don’t think they are literally true. They have no authority in society, however, which probably is key. I think we ignore many parts (that is, don’t obey them or copy the actions of the characters), and we give them new meaning all the time.

  • Darryl

    Given that something like 80% of the Bible is something other than propositional (okay, I just made that percentage up, but it’s up there), in what sense does your schema even apply in those cases?

    I don’t know either what the percentages are, but I do know that there’s a lot of historical narrative in the Bible. All of that can, potentially, be interpreted literally. In fact, isn’t the putative historical material the cause of all the problems:

    THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
    “In the beginning, God . . .” Why don’t Jews, Muslims, and Christians interpret this metaphorically–there is no literal God?

    A SPECIAL CREATION
    “Then God said, ‘Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life–the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.’ So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them.” Why do people think a god created everything including people?

    THE PROMISED LAND
    “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land ‘ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.” Why isn’t this figurative language, never meant to be taken literally?

    THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF JESUS
    “The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.’” History or not? If history, why? If this account is history, then why not the Genesis narrative? Because this account of a virgin visited by an angel and given a prophecy about a miraculous birth more plausible than the creation narrative? Why aren’t Mary, Gabriel, and Jesus metaphors?

    THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
    “A large crowd gathered around Jesus at a deserted place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was late and the people had no food. Jesus told His disciples to give them something to eat. They replied there is nothing here but five barely loaves and two fish that was carried by a boy. Jesus had the food brought to Him, and ordered the crowds to sit on the grass. Then He took the five loaves and two fish, and looked up into Heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people, and He divided the two fish among them all. The food was multiplied, and all 5000 men and their families ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.” What does this mean? Was this meant to be taken as literally true? If not, why not? Is this story more plausible than anything else so far?

    THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
    “Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” This narrative resists a non-literal interpretation just because of the insistence by one of the disciples that he have physical evidence of an asserted miracle. If this is a miracle, then how can any other miraculous account in the Bible be explained away–they’re all implausible and all given as historical accounts?

    Isn’t all of this utter nonsense? Come on, all I expect is honesty, simple candor. Isn’t this such silliness–I mean, really? I derive a humorous satisfaction from observing believers doing the most fantastic of mental gymnastics in attempts to defend the indefensible. There is no final refuge from reality but the unreality of the mind. If this is what it takes for some people to get through life more or less in one piece, well, I don’t have to like it, but I can live with them, as long as they behave themselves. Retreat if you will into the paradise of your mind, but don’t project beyond that domain; don’t expect me to entertain your fantasies, when they mean little to me. Certainly don’t do what the fundamentalists do with their fantasies. Let’s all get back to where we were, when religion was a private affair, for indeed it ever has been such. No water was ever turned to wine in Galilee except in the dreams of dreamers. Let’s leave it at that.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl, if I may, allow me to think out loud here…

    Why don’t Jews, Muslims, and Christians interpret this metaphorically–there is no literal God?

    I agree. There is no literal God the way he is portrayed by the religious.

    Why do people think a god created everything including people?

    Because life begets life. Life cannot be born from nothing, can it? Even Richard Dawkins contemplates a “middle world” concept. There could be a bigger world in which our middle world brains cannot fathom. I don’t know. I don’t think we can understand God the creator until we can let go of the (image of) God that we have created.

    What does this mean?

    Why does it have to mean the same thing to everyone? I get new meaning out of the passages that I’ve read many times before. What does it mean to you? That’s the issue.

    Why aren’t Mary, Gabriel, and Jesus metaphors?

    What if they are? Does it really matter?

    What does this mean? Was this meant to be taken as literally true? If not, why not? Is this story more plausible than anything else so far?

    Again, whether it is taken as literally true or not is not the issue. No physical miracle can transform someone’s mind. If that were the case, we would all train to become illusionists. In everything that Jesus did, there’s a much deeper purpose than what meets the eye. It wasn’t just about the fish.

    This narrative resists a non-literal interpretation just because of the insistence by one of the disciples that he have physical evidence of an asserted miracle. If this is a miracle, then how can any other miraculous account in the Bible be explained away–they’re all implausible and all given as historical accounts?

    I don’t understand your logic here. I’m a little slow. Can you elaborate?

    Isn’t all of this utter nonsense? Come on, all I expect is honesty, simple candor. Isn’t this such silliness–I mean, really?

    Yes it is. Looking at it from your perspective, it certainly is. I agree 100%.

    attempts to defend the indefensible

    That’s it. That’s the problem with most Christians. Truth holds and stands on its own. No need to defend. The only thing we attempt to defend is our own version of the truth, which can be slightly ‘off the mark’.

  • David D.G.

    “I can’t find a good source that shows an estimate for the IQ of atheists.”

    That’s just because we’re off the scale compared with theists!

    ;^D

    Seriously, IQ tests are largely worthless as measures of pure mental ability. For anyone interested in a really thorough and fairly readable exploration of IQ tests and their history, I highly recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man.

    ~David D.G.

  • Darryl

    Darryl, if I may, allow me to think out loud here…

    My head hurts.

  • Pingback: Dangerous Learning « A Thinking Man

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    My head hurts.

    Wow. That’s a dismissal if I ever heard one. This is exactly what I mean by you’d rather argue with the fundamental literlists and get nowhere than try to find a common ground.

    Too bad, cause I was just beginning to like you. ;)

    No, actually, I already liked you. You had me at “Merry fucking Christmas.” (I can’t remember the thread.)

  • Darryl

    Wow. That’s a dismissal if I ever heard one. This is exactly what I mean by you’d rather argue with the fundamental literlists and get nowhere than try to find a common ground.

    Linda, I wouldn’t (and don’t) argue with the fundamentalist literalists–that’s a complete waste of time to me. I’m all for common ground. But you act like you expect me to check my brain at the door. If junk-food religion (empty calories, no nutritional value, tastes real good) is your preference, that’s fine with me, but don’t use it to answer a serious set of questions. Your content-free approach is “a dismissal if I ever heard one.”

    You’re a nice person, from what I gather, and I know I am, so maybe you’re right about me. I may enjoy a good spar, but I like and respect all the regulars to this blog, no matter what their views.

  • Gary

    Mike Clawson said (May 29, 2008 at 12:13 am): Gary, this kind of “true/false” schema can really only be properly applied to propositional statements. Given that something like 80% of the Bible is something other than propositional (okay, I just made that percentage up, but it’s up there), in what sense does your schema even apply in those cases? In what sense is a poem true or false? Is a narrative only “true” if every detail in it historically happened, or can a fictional or a semi-fictionalized story still contain truths of a different sort? What do we even mean by “true” or “false” when there are obviously many different kinds of truth (historical truth, scientific truth, emotional truth, moral truth, personal truth, etc.)? And what about the inherently metaphorical nature of language in the first place? Even “literal” truths still generally have to be expressed by way of metaphor.

    This is all way too complex to be reduced two or three black and white options IMHO.

    I’m tempted to respond to that last sentence by asking what kind of truth you intended it to express.

    Darryl took you to task by accusing you more or less of dodging the question:

    Come on, all I expect is honesty, simple candor. Isn’t this such silliness–I mean, really? I derive a humorous satisfaction from observing believers doing the most fantastic of mental gymnastics in attempts to defend the indefensible.

    I think that’s a fair accusation. Darryl trotted out a number of statements from the Bible involving miracles and asked why they should not be interpreted as asserting a claim to literal truth (as opposed to “emotion truth, or “personal truth”, or whatever). Indeed, why not?

    I don’t claim to know any more than you do what percentage of the Bible is made up of propositional statements. I suspect that it’s somewhat higher than 20%, but I would like to focus for just a moment specifically on the Gospels. It seems to me that the percentage of straightforward propositional statements in those texts is very high. To make up a number again, perhaps it’s 80-90%. Many if not most of them take the form, “Jesus did ‘X,’” “Jesus said ‘Y,’” or “‘Z’ happened to Jesus.” Even the parables, which are obviously not to be taken in themselves as descriptions of actual events, may be considered as extended propositional statements of the “Jesus said ‘Y’” type. Such statements can readily be evaluated in fairly straightforward truth-value terms: Either it is true that Jesus said “Y”, or it is false that Jesus said “Y”. For the sake of advancing the discussion, I will stipulate that this last statement needs to be rephrased slightly, as follows: Either it is true that Jesus said or taught something like “Y”, or it is false that Jesus every said or taught anything like “Y” (because he never said anything of the kind).

    As you know, the work of the Jesus Seminar has been based on the notion that it is entirely permissible to subject the Gospels to a critical inquiry concerning the literal truthfulness of statements about what Jesus was supposed to have said, and to arrive at the conclusion that some such statements are simply false, because it is unlikely that Jesus ever made such utterances. What is your opinion? Do you think that every “Jesus said ‘Y’” statement in the Gospels is literally true? Is it possible that some are only “true” a sense that might be perfectly compatible with the statement, “Jesus never said anything like that”? Is it possible that some are simply false?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    Thank you, at least, for not ignoring me (even if you think I talk nonsense). And by the way, I’m not very nice. It’s a common misconception. ;)

    If junk-food religion (empty calories, no nutritional value, tastes real good) is your preference, that’s fine with me, but don’t use it to answer a serious set of questions.

    Then what exactly is a healthy, nutritionally sound religion? You want A+B=C kind of answers? If that were possible, why are people still going around in circles saying the same things over and over?

    I was just trying to open up the box and get the imagination rolling. We are talking about God, aren’t we? You want that in a nice gift-wrapped package filled with logical equations? That’s just laziness, in my opinion.

    I’m not asking you to check your brain at the door; I’m asking you to engage your brain to think outside the box. What I ask you to check at the door is the age-old image of the “vending-machine God” as Mark once illustrated on some other thread.

    (empty calories, no nutritional value, tastes real good)

    Sounds a lot like the air we breathe…
    And I was being serious when I commented. Just because I have an upside-down approach to religion doesn’t mean that I’m not serious. It’s just another perspective. But it’s real (to me). Don’t be an intellectual snob. I get enough of that from Mike.

    And one last question. What the hell is the difference between a fundamental literlist and an atheist literalist, as far as the biblical text is concerned? Both are looking at it with the same tunnel-vision mindset, no?

  • Darryl

    Linda, you have misunderstood my posts, and I think responding would not do much.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Linda, you have misunderstood my posts, and I think responding would not do much.

    What, was I being too “literal” in interpreting your words, perhaps? Was I picking on the words themselves instead of what you meant?

    Sounds vauguely familiar…. hmmm… where did I hear that before? ;)

    Honestly, Darryl, stop being so serious. What is it with you guys? Geesh! Okay, okay. I’ll leave you alone. (for now.) :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    By the way, I wasn’t addressing just you in my comments. I was speaking to the whole thread. Sorry if I got you annoyed.

  • Spurs Fan

    Why does it have to mean the same thing to everyone? I get new meaning out of the passages that I’ve read many times before. What does it mean to you?

    It doesn’t have to mean the same things. But it complicates things (and dare I say contradicts)?. I keep hearing this type of comment, but it’s so open-ended, is it not? If someone chooses to call themselves a “Christian”, shouldn’t that term have some meaning? If you’re going to label yourself (as I will with atheism), then shouldn’t there be come standard the label comes with? For example:

    Why aren’t Mary, Gabriel, and Jesus metaphors?

    What if they are? Does it really matter?

    Yes. It does matter. Let’s say John says that he believes the Jesus was “God in the flesh”, really existed, died, and came back to life and by accepting that, humans “reconnect” with god and are “saved”. Then, Paul says “No, Jesus is just a metaphor for……” and George says “both” and Ringo says “well, I have an opinion, but it doesn’t matter, it can mean many things to many people”. It seems to me these four people share some drastically different views on faith (even while saring similar musical tastes :)). I would never use the same label for all of them. One thinks I’m lost and damned to hell, one thinks I’m just not improving my life by understanding the correct meaning, another thinks both (possibly), and the last thinks “it’s all good”.

    More on topic, I think Darryl’s earlier post with biblical details and accounts (if we may call them that) made some great points and has not truly been addressed, except a little bit by Linda. Still, I personally think Darryl, that if you truly want to be understood, continuing to post would be best…not posting would cause you to remain misunderstood.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Darryl took you to task by accusing you more or less of dodging the question:

    Really? I guess I misread him. I basically just saw him asking a bunch of rhetorical questions that he already had his own answers to, and then pretty much insulting anyone who didn’t see it like him. What’s the point of conversation if you’re not actually interested in the other person’s responses?

    Darryl trotted out a number of statements from the Bible involving miracles and asked why they should not be interpreted as asserting a claim to literal truth (as opposed to “emotion truth, or “personal truth”, or whatever). Indeed, why not?

    One word, genre. Listen, learning how to identify the different types of literature in the Bible and reading each according to its own rules is really not as difficult as you guys are making it out to be. There really are ways to tell when you’re dealing with what is intended to be a historical account and what is intended to be symbolic, poetic, theological, etc. Read each passage as the type of literature it is, interpret what you think it means, and then figure out for yourself whether you think it is “true” or not depending on whatever the word “true” means for that particular genre.

    To make up a number again, perhaps it’s 80-90%. Many if not most of them take the form, “Jesus did ‘X,’” “Jesus said ‘Y,’” or “‘Z’ happened to Jesus.” Even the parables, which are obviously not to be taken in themselves as descriptions of actual events, may be considered as extended propositional statements of the “Jesus said ‘Y’” type. Such statements can readily be evaluated in fairly straightforward truth-value terms: Either it is true that Jesus said “Y”, or it is false that Jesus said “Y”.

    Yes, you can evaluate these statements that way, but whether or not Jesus said something is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interpreting the Bible. You also have to ask “what is meant by what he said (or is reported to have said)?” and then “do you agree with it?” In other words saying “It is true that Jesus said Y” is not the same as saying “Y is true”, nor does it necessarily help you understand what “Y” actually means.

    As you know, the work of the Jesus Seminar has been based on the notion that it is entirely permissible to subject the Gospels to a critical inquiry concerning the literal truthfulness of statements about what Jesus was supposed to have said, and to arrive at the conclusion that some such statements are simply false, because it is unlikely that Jesus ever made such utterances. What is your opinion? Do you think that every “Jesus said ‘Y’” statement in the Gospels is literally true? Is it possible that some are only “true” a sense that might be perfectly compatible with the statement, “Jesus never said anything like that”? Is it possible that some are simply false?

    I’m very familiar with the work of the Jesus Seminar, and in my opinion many of their core methodological assumptions are deeply flawed (the principle of dissimilarity for instance, or the assumption of primarily textual forms of transmission and the consequent disregard for the initial oral phase of the gospel record). For a good work on the short-comings of the Seminar and what is IMHO a better approach see James Dunn’s A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed.

    As for my own opinion, I’ve so far seen little reason to doubt that Jesus actually said or did something like most of what is recorded in the gospels, though I’m open to the possibility that some of it may not be based on fact. But again, there’s more to the question “is it true” than the historical/textual question of “did he actually say it”.

  • Gary

    Mike Clawson said (May 30, 2008 at 4:16 pm):

    Really? I guess I misread him. I basically just saw him asking a bunch of rhetorical questions that he already had his own answers to, and then pretty much insulting anyone who didn’t see it like him. What’s the point of conversation if you’re not actually interested in the other person’s responses?

    I assume that you are asking a merely rhetorical question here and that you’re not actually interested in any response I might have. I will give you one neverthless: Regardless of how Darryl himself might respond to your answer, it seems to me that his basic question was perfectly legitimate, and that others, like myself, were genuinely interested in what you had to say.

    One word, genre. Listen, learning how to identify the different types of literature in the Bible and reading each according to its own rules is really not as difficult as you guys are making it out to be. There really are ways to tell when you’re dealing with what is intended to be a historical account and what is intended to be symbolic, poetic, theological, etc. Read each passage as the type of literature it is, interpret what you think it means, and then figure out for yourself whether you think it is “true” or not depending on whatever the word “true” means for that particular genre.

    Is it actually as easy to figure out the genre as you let on? For example, how does one determine whether the account(s) of the Creation in Genesis is or is not within some genre that might, perhaps, be called “history,” and thus to be read literally? How does one tell whether Adam is to be understood as an actual historical figure, or as a metaphorical character representing no particular individual?

    I’m very familiar with the work of the Jesus Seminar, and in my opinion many of their core methodological assumptions are deeply flawed (the principle of dissimilarity for instance, or the assumption of primarily textual forms of transmission and the consequent disregard for the initial oral phase of the gospel record). For a good work on the short-comings of the Seminar and what is IMHO a better approach see James Dunn’s A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed.

    I’m afraid I don’t understand your statement about “the assumption of primarily textual forms of transmission and the consequent disregard for the initial oral phase of the gospel record.” It seems to me that the Jesus Seminar folks and others of their ilk are quite aware of the fact that the Jesus story was initially and for many years transmitted orally and not in writing. This is one of the facts at the core of the “quest for the historical Jesus.” I have not read Dunn’s book, but I can get some idea what it’s about based on the reviews in Amazon. It appears to me that a major disagreement between Dunn and someone like John Dominic Crossan is over the matter of whether oral transmission is reliable. Dunn, I gather, says it is. Crossan says it isn’t.

    As for my own opinion, I’ve so far seen little reason to doubt that Jesus actually said or did something like most of what is recorded in the gospels, though I’m open to the possibility that some of it may not be based on fact. But again, there’s more to the question “is it true” than the historical/textual question of “did he actually say it”.

    The two questions are inextricably linked, I’m afraid. Any attempted answer to the question, “What did Jesus mean when he said ‘Y’”? is inherently the less reliable if Jesus did not actually say “Y,” but (at best) “something like Y.” Our understanding of what Jesus meant is clearly at the mercy of a perhaps not particularly trustworthy oral tradition of what he said, as well as at the mercy of the authors who then converted some version or versions of the oral tradition to written form, using who knows what canons of “truth” and literal accuracy. To that one must add possible accidental or deliberate distortions that crept into the written record later as a result of the scribal process (leading, for example, to some Christians following the practices of “speaking in tongues,” snake-handling, and attempts at healing by the “laying on of hands” on the basis of the dubious authority of Mark 16:17-18).

    Did Jesus actually say, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well”? Or are you open to the possiblity that the claim that he did is not based on fact?

  • Darryl

    Darryl took you to task by accusing you more or less of dodging the question:

    Really? I guess I misread him. I basically just saw him asking a bunch of rhetorical questions that he already had his own answers to, and then pretty much insulting anyone who didn’t see it like him. What’s the point of conversation if you’re not actually interested in the other person’s responses?

    None of my questions were intended to be rhetorical. Yes, I do have my own answers, and I was soliciting yours. It seems to me that you’re obfuscating. You’re final rejoinder is always predictable: interpretation. I’ll assume that you really believe that genre makes the difference. Nevertheless I happen to know from many years of first-hand experience how most religious people justify their beliefs, and that is precisely what they do–they believe some things and fit their interpretations around the beliefs.

    It only makes sense doesn’t it? How do people come by their religious beliefs? Very few just start out reading and investigating everything until they discover something so compelling that they simply must believe it. Most are born into it. If it were a matter of reason, then they would not duck the kind of questions I asked, would not look for rhetorical back doors, but would put the difficult questions to themselves and demand of themselves honest and reasonable answers. Few do this. Of those that do, some of them admit that religion is a fiction that they wanted to believe, but can believe no longer.

    I’ll summarize my previous questions by asking this–and this is not rhetorical: how is it that believers literally believe ideas like God, Satan, Jesus, Angels, Heaven, Hell, miracles, etc. that originate in and are defined by passages of holy writings some or all of which are interpreted non-literally because for one reason or another they either cannot be believed, or contradict good sense, experience, or fact?

    For example, some believers don’t take Genesis literally for whatever reasons. Well, why then do they think that the “God” mentioned in the first verse is real? If the God mentioned there is real, then what about everything else that follows in the account of this God’s actions? Another example, some believers don’t believe in literal miracles like the virgin birth. Why then do they believe that Jesus the Christ is real when his personage comes to us by means of a miraculous narrative about a virgin birth?

    By what rule do believers pick and choose what is literal and was is not? Isn’t it obvious? Having accepted the idea that God is real, they wrestle with lesser problems posed by doctrine or scripture by explaining it away. I’ve been around; I know how this works; people have an amazing capacity to explain anything away if they want to badly enough.

    The fundamental obstacle to a brutally-honest appraisal of scripture and tradition by the believer is this: to do so would undermine any reason for further belief. Some beliefs that are primary support the whole belief system, and to think that they are not literally real would make further belief pointless. One may deny the reality of this or that narrative or story, or this or that doctrine (special creation vs. evolution), or this or that interpretation, and retain the outlines of their faith. But some things, like God, or the divinity of Jesus are beyond question. To give them up topples the whole edifice.

    Isn’t this the modern believer’s central dilemma: to be modern is to be educated and rational, but religion requires a sense of ultimate centrality that is difficult to maintain when religion itself raises doubts about its validity? All accommodations to the modern mind have only weakened traditional religion (as well they should have), made it less relevant, less believable, and less valuable. To hold on to it in spite of its absurdity requires a fantastic quantity of sophistry. But, as we have seen, sophistry is in ample supply for the willing.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Spurs Fan,

    I know I have been pretty much written off by all on this thread, but thank you for at least trying to be fair. I appreciate that. Open-mindedness is a terrible thing to waste. :)

    If someone chooses to call themselves a “Christian”, shouldn’t that term have some meaning?

    The only meaning that it should have is to the Christian himself/herself. How others view them has no bearing on their Christianity, no matter how much people want to believe that.

    If you’re going to label yourself (as I will with atheism), then shouldn’t there be some standard the label comes with?

    Why must I? Why must we label ourselves as anything? I used to have an idea of atheism before I started conversing with atheists. That idea went right out the window as soon as I realized they are humans just like me, and no two are alike.

    And besides, Christianity is about transformation. Being transformed into who we are. Who each of us are. Understanding that there’s nothing wrong with us. And we change. Everything changes.

    I would never use the same label for all of them. One thinks I’m lost and damned to hell, one thinks I’m just not improving my life by understanding the correct meaning, another thinks both (possibly), and the last thinks “it’s all good”.

    Exactly. You cannot take the word of someone else, no matter how intelligent or qualified they sound. Religion tries to herd us into a group, but faith is something that is personal. The junk-food religion? If what you taste is good and you are growing and thriving, how can someone else tell you that it’s junk? If I’m alive and flying and they are trapped in a hole, who is the fool?

    Bible was not written for us to beat each other over the head with. Jesus is not someone to be probed, dissected, and trampled on. But we have been doing it anyway for the last two thousand years. Jesus freed us from our own twisted idea of God and religion. He freed us from that suffocating box, and yet very few can see that. Instead, you want to drag him inside the box with you. Of course he doesn’t fit.

    People sitting around with their air of arrogance and nitpicking the validity of the scripture and the existence of Jesus is quite laughable to me. It does not accomplish anything other than comparing credentials and how elevated their tone can be.

    But you know what they say… anything higher than 6 inches is a waste. ;)

    And Darryl, I see that you’ve been miraculously cured of your headache that you had earlier? Was it Jesus? Relax. I’m just trying to make you smile! ;)

  • Aj

    There’s a difference between not wanting to be labelled with stereotypes, pushed into conformity, “into boxes” if you must, and the need that if we are to communicate we need meaning, we can’t have one party saying statements that are contentless or being deliberately obscure, completely evasive.

    Open-minded to me means willingness to accept good argument, to accept reason and evidence, but to others it seems to mean the willingness to accept any nonsense spoken by anyone without discretion. I like to call it gullible.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Is it actually as easy to figure out the genre as you let on?

    yes

    For example, how does one determine whether the account(s) of the Creation in Genesis is or is not within some genre that might, perhaps, be called “history,” and thus to be read literally? How does one tell whether Adam is to be understood as an actual historical figure, or as a metaphorical character representing no particular individual?

    What’s so hard about that? Read, analyze, study, compare and see what other scholars have said about it as well. We have over two thousand years of study and commentary on these texts. Make use of it if you’re really so interested in understanding what the passage means and not just interested in using it as an arguing point.

    It seems to me that the Jesus Seminar folks and others of their ilk are quite aware of the fact that the Jesus story was initially and for many years transmitted orally and not in writing. This is one of the facts at the core of the “quest for the historical Jesus.” I have not read Dunn’s book, but I can get some idea what it’s about based on the reviews in Amazon. It appears to me that a major disagreement between Dunn and someone like John Dominic Crossan is over the matter of whether oral transmission is reliable. Dunn, I gather, says it is. Crossan says it isn’t.

    The Seminar folks give a nod to oral transmission, but then pretty much ignore it in the formulation of their theories. Dunn’s point is that we shouldn’t make such a decisive break between the “historical Jesus” and the “Jesus of faith” (i.e. what the early church said about him) since the church’s beliefs didn’t just come out of nowhere. A “historical” Jesus is not a stripped down one that has no similarity to anything any Jewish person said before him or anything any Christian person said after him (which is essentially the principle the Seminar operates on). Rather, a historical Jesus, IMHO, is one who is situated in the historical context of his time, with connections reaching both backwards and forwards. I’ve written more about this here.

    Our understanding of what Jesus meant is clearly at the mercy of a perhaps not particularly trustworthy oral tradition of what he said, as well as at the mercy of the authors who then converted some version or versions of the oral tradition to written form, using who knows what canons of “truth” and literal accuracy.

    Indeed, which is why most historical churches (as opposed to conservative Protestants and fundamentalists) base their beliefs not just on the factual reliability of the original manuscripts, but also on the testimony of the apostles and the early church. In other words, what is important is not just what Jesus actually said and did, but how his earliest followers understood and followed what he said and did. For example, our church has been working our way through Luke-Acts for the past two and a half years, and when we study it we consider not just what Jesus (or Peter or Paul) said and did, but what Luke was trying to communicate through the way he organized his account and what he chose to include or leave out.

    Did Jesus actually say, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well”? Or are you open to the possiblity that the claim that he did is not based on fact?

    Of course I’m open to that possibility if there’s reason to think that he didn’t. (Didn’t I just say as much above?) Though even if we’re not sure whether he did, I’m just as interested in why the early writers and editors thought it was important to include it anyway. What does that tell us about the faith and practice of the early church? I see myself as part of an ongoing tradition and unfolding history of my faith, not just trying to adhere to some irrecoverable “original manuscripts” or static, unchanging version of Christianity.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    You’re final rejoinder is always predictable: interpretation. I’ll assume that you really believe that genre makes the difference. Nevertheless I happen to know from many years of first-hand experience how most religious people justify their beliefs, and that is precisely what they do–they believe some things and fit their interpretations around the beliefs.

    And your response is predictable as well: as usual you’re projecting your own personal history on everyone else. I’m not denying that this was your own experience, but the fact is that some of us really did change our beliefs when we started to learn more about how to properly interpret the texts. For instance, I was a committed conservative evangelical until I started to realize the flaws in my own interpretive methods and how they did violence to the texts themselves.

    What pisses me off the most is that I’ve repeatedly told you this, and yet you continue to disbelieve and minimize my own personal history – essentially accusing me of lying (either to you or to myself).

    If it were a matter of reason, then they would not duck the kind of questions I asked, would not look for rhetorical back doors, but would put the difficult questions to themselves and demand of themselves honest and reasonable answers.

    I didn’t duck your questions. I gave you my answer: genre and interpretation – that pretty much sums up my response to each of your questions. You just don’t like my answer, so you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty, which tends to make me very disinclined to want to discuss anything any further with you.

    For example, some believers don’t take Genesis literally for whatever reasons. Well, why then do they think that the “God” mentioned in the first verse is real? If the God mentioned there is real, then what about everything else that follows in the account of this God’s actions? Another example, some believers don’t believe in literal miracles like the virgin birth. Why then do they believe that Jesus the Christ is real when his personage comes to us by means of a miraculous narrative about a virgin birth?

    By what rule do believers pick and choose what is literal and was is not? Isn’t it obvious? Having accepted the idea that God is real, they wrestle with lesser problems posed by doctrine or scripture by explaining it away. I’ve been around; I know how this works; people have an amazing capacity to explain anything away if they want to badly enough.

    Yes, of course we have a prior belief in God. Do you really think that most people believe in God simply because the Bible tells them to? You act as if the Bible is the one and only source for our beliefs, but most Christians would say that we come to understand God in many different ways. For instance John Wesley talked about the quadrilateral of “scripture, reason, tradition and experience”. All of these can be brought to bear in interpreting any particular bit of scripture IMHO, or in any other aspect of life for that matter.

    The fundamental obstacle to a brutally-honest appraisal of scripture and tradition by the believer is this: to do so would undermine any reason for further belief. Some beliefs that are primary support the whole belief system, and to think that they are not literally real would make further belief pointless. One may deny the reality of this or that narrative or story, or this or that doctrine (special creation vs. evolution), or this or that interpretation, and retain the outlines of their faith. But some things, like God, or the divinity of Jesus are beyond question. To give them up topples the whole edifice.

    Your talk of “toppling edifices” is a typical foundationalist assumption. But as a coherentist, I simply don’t think knowledge functions like that. Our beliefs (not just religious beliefs, but anything we claim to know or believe) are more like an interconnected web. If one of the connection points moves or is removed entirely, yes, the web will need to adapt and reconfigure, but it doesn’t mean that the whole thing necessarily comes unraveled.

    All accommodations to the modern mind have only weakened traditional religion (as well they should have), made it less relevant, less believable, and less valuable.

    It has certainly changed religion, just as it has always been changing (and appropriately so IMHO). But whether it has “weakened” religion is a matter of opinion. For instance, my own faith is far more “relevant”, “believable” and “valuable” to me than it was when I held to a more static and foundationalist view of faith (what Rob Bell refers to as “Brickianity”, in direct reference to your “toppling edifices”.)

  • Darryl

    Christianity is about transformation. Being transformed into who we are. Who each of us are. Understanding that there’s nothing wrong with us. And we change. Everything changes.

    Hell, isn’t everything about “transformation?” You could say that about anything. Change without specifying the content of change; just being “transformed into who we are.” How pleasant. Reminds me of the ’60s: Pop Psychology meets Khalil Gibran.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for peace, love and understanding; just leave Jesus out of it, since as we can see from your sentiments, one can be a Christian without worrying over the Bible and its many interpretations. I get along quite well with the innocuous, aery-faery types, so long as they don’t expect me to adopt their fantasies. I mean, really, why should anyone entertain your flimsy platitudes? Your comments only reinforce the perception that religion is self-serving, narcissistic, arbitrary, and irrelevant.

    Religion tries to herd us into a group, but faith is something that is personal. The junk-food religion? If what you taste is good and you are growing and thriving, how can someone else tell you that it’s junk?

    If you have no dog in this fight–if faith is personal, and no one can criticize it, then why are you arguing with others here? Is it because you think you are defending some proper understanding of what Christianity is and is not? If you are, then on what do you base your understanding? In other words, what is your AUTHORITY. Atheists want to know what the authority is for your claims. Is it you yourself? Should we just take your word for it? Can you blame us for needing more than your personal take on Jesus? Please excuse us if “transformation,” or “understanding that there’s nothing wrong with us” doesn’t quite get the job done.

    The old song that institutional religion is the problem and Jesus is the solution only magnifies your problem with authority. When I read your comments I hear this: “Religion, you know, that institutional thing, man, it’s like totally suffocating, you dig? You know, like Jesus is where it’s at, you know? He’s not all into the corporate thing, man, he’s like–’peace, bro,’ and ‘live and let live,’ and ‘just get high on life,’ can you dig it, man?”

  • Darryl

    You’re final rejoinder is always predictable: interpretation. I’ll assume that you really believe that genre makes the difference. Nevertheless I happen to know from many years of first-hand experience how most religious people justify their beliefs, and that is precisely what they do–they believe some things and fit their interpretations around the beliefs.

    Mike, you ought to read my words before you write. I’ve taken you at your word when you say that interpretation made the difference for you.

    Yes, of course we have a prior belief in God. Do you really think that most people believe in God simply because the Bible tells them to? You act as if the Bible is the one and only source for our beliefs, but most Christians would say that we come to understand God in many different ways. For instance John Wesley talked about the quadrilateral of “scripture, reason, tradition and experience”.

    Tell me how reason and experience without scripture and church tradition would cause one to arrive at the notion of Jesus and his divinity?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, you ought to read my words before you write. I’ve taken you at your word when you say that interpretation made the difference for you.

    And yet you continue to argue that the opposite is true for pretty much everyone else?

    Besides which, your ad hominem arguments are sort of irrelevant. Even if every Christian uses interpretation merely to justify what they already believe, that doesn’t mean we don’t still need to interpret scripture in order to understand it properly. Understanding genre and historical context is still legitimate and important regardless of the motivations of those who employ such strategies.

  • Darryl

    Mike, you ought to read my words before you write. I’ve taken you at your word when you say that interpretation made the difference for you.

    And yet you continue to argue that the opposite is true for pretty much everyone else?

    Well, which is it, have you stopped defending yourself, and now are defending people you don’t know? Again, you change the subject and don’t answer my question.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    Wow. I do appreciate your honesty. It’s truly refreshing. Now I know exactly how you feel about my comments. No guessing games. And I’m not offended one bit. I can see why you say what you say.

    Your comments only reinforce the perception that religion is self-serving, narcissistic, arbitrary, and irrelevant.

    Haha. Touche! You may have a point there. But my faith obviously is irrelevant to someone else. That’s what I’ve been trying to say. I’m not trying to convince you. I just wanted to show you how things look from where I stand. That’s all.

    then why are you arguing with others here?

    Firstly, because it’s fun. I like you. You are all thinkers and very honest and up front most of the time. You make me think. I grow as a result.

    Secondly, I want to show you that not all Christians have the same perspective on their religion/faith. We are all individuals. You seem to get angry because you have no clear direction in which to aim your firey arrows. You oppose the view that says the Bible is literal and God’s law. You also oppose the view that says the Bible is metaphorical and God’s love in unconditional. I honestly think that some of the atheists hate religion just for the sake of hating it without knowing why. I am also guilty of this.

    We’re gonna have to accept the fact that Christianity, as well as any other religion, is not going away. It is practically a part of our DNA. And the way people live their faith is as different and unique as our personalities. None of us will stand still grouped in one place for you to destroy in one fell swoop. I’m not here to argue with you or prove you wrong. I’m here to try to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Those of us who are here trying to have a dialogue with you are here (I hope) for a better understanding of the differing perspectives.

    We are not the enemy, Darryl. Your own anger is.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Aj,

    Open-minded to me means willingness to accept good argument, to accept reason and evidence, but to others it seems to mean the willingness to accept any nonsense spoken by anyone without discretion. I like to call it gullible.

    I agree with you that you must accept reason and evidence, if there is any to be had. But you also need to open yourself up for new information, a different direction, more possibilities. Nothing can advance into the next phase without that.

    I never asked you to accept my nonsense. I asked you to challenge me. I asked you to think with me. I asked you to explore with me. I can’t see the wrong in that.

    What I lack in education and credentials, I make up in my ability to see connections and move toward a bigger picture.

    And I absolutely abhor being dismissed without being given proper investigation. But I suppose that is, after all, your prerogative.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    I agree with you that you must accept reason and evidence, if there is any to be had. But you also need to open yourself up for new information, a different direction, more possibilities. Nothing can advance into the next phase without that.

    I seriously don’t need to open myself up to non-evidence and non-reason. It just means believing in absolutely anything, it has nothing to do with the truth. “The next phase” sounds ominous, but damned if I know what you mean.

    This is a fine example of what we’re talking about. You are very keen to tell us what you’re not talking about, but other than that it’s meaningless to me.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    This is a fine example of what we’re talking about. You are very keen to tell us what you’re not talking about, but other than that it’s meaningless to me.

    How do you call yourselves lovers of science when you have that kind of an attitude?

    Of course we haven’t talked about anything of substance, because all you’re interested in discrediting me and stating reasons why you think it will prove to be a waste of time. You are not interested in progress as much as trying to be right. I am only a teeny tiny piece of the puzzle, very insignificant in and of itself but important in the completion of a picture. As you are. How can we know what we’re working toward until we start piecing it together?

    If you say, “prove that you’re worthy before I’ll take a step in your direction,” well… I can’t comply. You’ll just have to let the process (whatever thought project ensues) speak for itself. (or not.) That’s what faith is. Faith is having an open mind and letting the truth speak for itself as it is slowly revealed to each of us.

    One thing I do know is that respect is not a two-way street around here.

  • Gary

    Mike Clawson said (May 31, 2008 at 12:20 pm)

    GARY: For example, how does one determine whether the account(s) of the Creation in Genesis is or is not within some genre that might, perhaps, be called “history,” and thus to be read literally? How does one tell whether Adam is to be understood as an actual historical figure, or as a metaphorical character representing no particular individual?

    MIKE: What’s so hard about that? Read, analyze, study, compare and see what other scholars have said about it as well. We have over two thousand years of study and commentary on these texts. Make use of it if you’re really so interested in understanding what the passage means and not just interested in using it as an arguing point.

    For most of those two thousand years, the vast majority of Christian commentators appear to have read the Creation story as the opening of a literal historical narrative, relating the true history of the Jewish people. In other words, it was understood to fall within the genre “history.” In the context of this reading, Adam and Eve were understood to be actual, historical persons, not mythological characters. Moreover, they were thought to be individuals created directly by God a few thousand years ago, at the time when the world itself was created. This is how the text certainly reads. I agree with the traditional Judeo-Christian reading of Genesis as being of the genre “history.” Do you concur?

    The Seminar folks give a nod to oral transmission, but then pretty much ignore it in the formulation of their theories. Dunn’s point is that we shouldn’t make such a decisive break between the “historical Jesus” and the “Jesus of faith” (i.e. what the early church said about him) since the church’s beliefs didn’t just come out of nowhere. A “historical” Jesus is not a stripped down one that has no similarity to anything any Jewish person said before him or anything any Christian person said after him (which is essentially the principle the Seminar operates on). Rather, a historical Jesus, IMHO, is one who is situated in the historical context of his time, with connections reaching both backwards and forwards.

    I am aware that the Seminar has been criticized by others on precisely those grounds. However, my sense is that the scholars who participate in the Seminar are particularly intent on situating Jesus within the context of his time, precisely as you say they should. I can’t help but wonder whether the root of this criticism is that the “historical Jesus” that the Seminar folks have been groping toward is not the theological Jesus of later Christianity, resulting in a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of their work by Christians who find their conclusions disturbing.

    I’m in no position to say whether the Jesus Seminar people have actually “found” the historical Jesus. I will only go so far as to say that it seems entirely reasonable to reject the idea that the Gospels give us a view of the man that is completely true and completely accurate. As a sceptic, I reject the supernatural bits on methodological grounds (the methodology being that any claims regarding miracles require an extaordinary degree of evidence in order to be accepted, and that evidence is obviously lacking here). But I also think that it would be wise to be somewhat sceptical of any claim that the “teachings of Jesus” encompassed in the Gospels must be considered completely true and accurate renderings of Jesus’ actual teachings.

    Lest I be misunderstood, let me make it clear that I think that there is probably a good deal in the Gospels that is true. The difficulty is that, even after one tosses out all the miracles and supernatural flimflam, at lot of work remains to sort out that which is true from that which is not.

    GARY: Did Jesus actually say, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well”? Or are you open to the possiblity that the claim that he did is not based on fact?

    MIKE: Of course I’m open to that possibility if there’s reason to think that he didn’t. (Didn’t I just say as much above?) Though even if we’re not sure whether he did, I’m just as interested in why the early writers and editors thought it was important to include it anyway. What does that tell us about the faith and practice of the early church? I see myself as part of an ongoing tradition and unfolding history of my faith, not just trying to adhere to some irrecoverable “original manuscripts” or static, unchanging version of Christianity.

    Biblical scholars have advanced a number of reasons for believing that Mark 16:9-20 were later additions to the Gospel. Those verses are not present in the earliest know manuscripts (see http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mark%2016:9-16:20&version=31) They are are stylistically very different from the rest of the Gospel. And I must say, on my own somewhat uneducated reading, that the statements in verses 17-18 sound like something out of Revelations and not at all like the Jesus of the rest of the Gospels.

    To repeat your question: What does this tell us about the faith and practice of the early church? I don’t know for sure, but I might tell us that was entirely acceptable to put words into Jesus’ mouth that he never spoke, or at least possible to do so and get away with it. That speaks directly to my point about how much we can be sure that all of the Gospel “teachings of Jesus” are actually the teaching of Jesus. Some of them may not be. And of course one must acknowledge the possibility that some authentic teachings of Jesus failed to survive, and that, if we knew of them, our view of “what Jesus taught” might be somewhat different than it is.

  • Darryl

    I am only a teeny tiny piece of the puzzle, very insignificant in and of itself but important in the completion of a picture. As you are. How can we know what we’re working toward until we start piecing it together?

    You’ll just have to let the process (whatever thought project ensues) speak for itself. (or not.) That’s what faith is. Faith is having an open mind and letting the truth speak for itself as it is slowly revealed to each of us.

    Huh? “Puzzle,” “picture,” “process”–what were we talking about? Baffling.

  • Gary

    Faith is having an open mind and letting the truth speak for itself as it is slowly revealed to each of us.

    If that is what “faith” is, then many an atheist has much more faith than many a believer. However, your use of the term seems to bear little resemblance to “English as she is spoke.” “Having an open mind” is no part of any definition of the word “faith” that I am aware.

  • MTran

    Gee, I don’t even know if I should jump in here at this point but…

    No doubt there is someone here who can correct me if I am wrong, but ISTR from ed psych and verbal comprehension studies that our understanding of tales, stories, or verbal accounts of any sort *must* begin at a “literal” level and proceed from there. Even intentionally metaphorical or allegorical accounts need to make *sense* on a literal level first, otherwise any attempt to intuit additional layers of meaning is stymied at the outset.

    The issues regarding “literal” understandings as applied to religious texts would, I think, have to begin with a reason to apply non-literal meanings to any particular word, phrase or line of text. If the reason to look for non-literal meanings isn’t evident in the plain language of the text, it may be that historical or traditional contexts would supply one.

    But that is where problems arise, because no two groups who call themselves Christian agree on what parts are purely literal accounts and which are not. Since atheists don’t accept the notion that ancient (or any) tales have been dictated or inspired by any god, we can’t seem to get past the first barrier standing at the very core: was and is the god of the Bible to be understood as a metaphor?

    It doesn’t much matter to an atheist if the Bible is full of nice little metaphors. When people use ancient texts to defend their belief in a supernatural entity, those texts –and the interpretations promoted by believers– will be subject to all forms of criticism.

    It is not so much that atheists say, “Why should we take these texts as literal or metaphorical truth,” as much as “Why should we *take* these texts at all.”

    (Sorry if I’m rambling, I’m writing this while stuck on hold for a rather irritating conference call.)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Huh? “Puzzle,” “picture,” “process”–what were we talking about? Baffling.

    Why the hell are you here? Did I misunderstand the whole purpose of this blog? Are you not here to find a common ground, to get beyond the differences and look for answers? If not answers, a better understanding of people of differing views? Stop judging and pointing fingers? Help others out there understand what atheism is about? That you can be “reasonable” and “friendly”? You don’t accomplish that by being a jerk, by the way.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    What are you talking about?

    a) There hasn’t been anything to discredit, not that I’m interested in discrediting you.

    b) My reason for not wasting my time is that I did so patiently before without any reward.

    c) I am not interested in “trying to be right”, I’m interested in what is right.

    What’s “the puzzle” you’re talking about? I have absolutely no idea what you mean by “letting the truth speak for itself as it is slowly revealed to each of us” could you give me an example? Are these not reasonable questions that you should be able to answer?

  • Darryl

    No doubt there is someone here who can correct me if I am wrong, but ISTR from ed psych and verbal comprehension studies that our understanding of tales, stories, or verbal accounts of any sort *must* begin at a “literal” level and proceed from there. Even intentionally metaphorical or allegorical accounts need to make *sense* on a literal level first, otherwise any attempt to intuit additional layers of meaning is stymied at the outset.

    You are correct in my understanding.

  • Darryl

    Why the hell are you here? Did I misunderstand the whole purpose of this blog? Are you not here to find a common ground, to get beyond the differences and look for answers? If not answers, a better understanding of people of differing views? Stop judging and pointing fingers? Help others out there understand what atheism is about? That you can be “reasonable” and “friendly”? You don’t accomplish that by being a jerk, by the way.

    We did, I thought, have a thread going, the topic of which was not “the whole purpose of this blog,” or finding “common ground,” or getting “beyond the differences,” or to “look for answers.” The general topic was Biblical Literalism. I’m still trying to understand what you’re talking about. You want us to forget all the details of the topic and just get together for getting’s sake. Do you expect me to close my mind, join hands and sing? I have no idea what “atheism is about.” It may be about nothing. But, I know I’m one, so wrap your brain around that, and perhaps you’ll begin to understand something about atheism.

    And, by the way, no one here, including me, is judging you or pointing fingers, but we do, and I do, judge what you say or what you think. You are not on trial here, but your ideas are, as are mine. Otherwise, why would we be having this conversation?

  • Mriana

    And besides, Christianity is about transformation. Being transformed into who we are. Who each of us are. Understanding that there’s nothing wrong with us. And we change. Everything changes.

    Linda, I hate to say this, but Christianity doesn’t have a corner on “transformation”, many other beliefs have the same thing, not only that, it would be naive for people to think they do not grow and change as they get older. We all change, “transform” irregardless of religion.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Mriana,

    You are right. I said Christiantiy, because that is what transformed me. That’s what I know. I was referring to Christiantiy as a part of the whole, rather than the whole.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    I wish you would stop talking to me in that condescending tone.

    If I remember correctly, this whole sparring started because you blatently dismissed me by saying your head hurts. I was addressing the topic the best way I know how at that point. Then it gradually went downhill. I don’t have to expect you to close your mind. It is already closed. When I read your words, what it says to me is: “Me cave man. Me strong. Me always right and I have the big d…, I mean, ego to prove it!!!” “Grunt, Grunt!”

    Right back at ya!

  • Pseudonym

    Sorry to butt in here, but I’d like to expand on Linda’s response to Spurs Fan:

    If someone chooses to call themselves a “Christian”, shouldn’t that term have some meaning? If you’re going to label yourself (as I will with atheism), then shouldn’t there be come standard the label comes with?

    English, last time I checked, doesn’t have a standards body.

    What follows is a re-edit of a response that I once made on another site. Sorry about that, but I think it’s relevant.

    People who work in the more formal sciency-type, such as mathematics, engineering or physics, want the definition of a word to be precise. If possible, precise enough that there’s no way to misinterpret it. If you’re dealing in a formal area, this is a good thing.

    You can almost hear the physics community screaming every time some woo-meister uses terms like “energy” or “vibration”. And you can witness theoretical computer scientists choke on their caffeinated beverages of choice (well, I did, anyway) when the Discovery Institute uses terms like “information” and “irreducibly complex”.

    (Incidentally, and similarly, I personally witnessed a prominent psychiatrist whom I will not name mutter under his breath over the book title, The God Delusion. But that’s another topic for another time.)

    The thing is, natural language simply doesn’t work like that. I got quite a rude shock over this when I first studied some linguistics formally, so I really do understand the reluctance.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein (who is considered by many linguists to be the father of modern semantics) wrote at length on this topic. I forget the name of the essay where he discussed this (though the ideas mentioned in the Philosophical Investigations), but he went to some length in trying to pin down what we mean by the word “game”. If you think about all the ways you use the word (board games, card games, mind games, war games, the Olympic games etc), there is really no single feature or set of features that games have, and that non-games do not have.

    Moreover, target shooting has far more in common with military sharpshooting than with contract Bridge. Yet, for some reason, we almost always can distinguish a game from a non-game when we see one.

    Yes, words and names have meanings. But they don’t fit into the kinds of neat holes that a scientist or engineer might hope. That’s why scientists and engineers have to invent their own jargon: When a physicist says “energy”, you know what they mean by it. When an woo-meister says it, who knows.

    This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why the JREF has discontinued its challenge. Generally speaking, woo-meisters (or at least the proper subset of them who aren’t outright charlatans) simply cannot, for the most part, pin down precisely what they claim to be able to do. This is sometimes seen as a lack of intelligence on the part of the woo-meister. I disagree. The woo-meisters are just being human. If anything, it’s science that uses language in the nonstandard way, and so has to do more than half the work if it’s going to confront woo head-on in this kind of way. (So in retrospect, I don’t blame the JREF one bit for dumping the challenge. The Johns, Uris and Sylvias were never going to bite.

    Anyway, moving on, “schools of thought” (for lack of a better term) are even trickier to pin down. I don’t claim to have a good answer here, but generally, I think self-ascription is the fairest way to go. Neo-Conservatives aren’t Conservative by pretty much any standard, but that’s not my argument to make. People who call themselves Conservative can sort themselves out.

    The key point is this: There is no scientific or engineering-esque meaning for terms like “Christian”, any more than there is such a meaning for terms like “game”. But that doesn’t mean you can redefine it to mean what you like, any more than you can redefine “game” to mean what you like.

    One school of thought in modern linguistics, and it’s based on Wittgenstein, is the “prototype category”. Essentially, you think of the denotation of a word in terms of prototypes. These things are games, and things like them are also games.

    (This is not the same, by the way, as a fuzzy set. The denotation of the word “bird” it not fuzzy, unless you go back looking for transitional forms. In fuzzy logic, a penguin is a 100% valid member of the set of bird. But in prototype semantics, it’s not considered a very good example of a bird.)

    John Shelby Spong isn’t even a theist, and yet most of us have no problem calling him a “Christian”. Why? Because he’s very close to most modern Anglican/Episcopalian prototypes. That is, he’s closer to modern liberal/mainline Christianity than many other things that we correctly identify as “Christian” (e.g. the “early church”).

    I think that Linda is absolutely correct to point out the “everything changes” nature of Christianity. In fact, it’s arguably more true of Christianity than… well, at least than any other religion that came before it. Most world religions started off their existence tied to a specific location and ethnic group. Buddhism took a few hundred years before it started adapting to other cultures. Christianity, on the other hand, did it from the outset: you can see it happening before the Bible was finished being written.

    A mosque somewhere looks like a mosque anywhere, but a Chinese Christian church looks more like a joss house than a cathedral. That’s the beauty of it.

    (And as another side, I get extremely annoyed when some fundies talk about “traditional Christian values”; these people clearly know nothing about Christian traditions.)

  • Mriana

    People who work in the more formal sciency-type, such as mathematics, engineering or physics, want the definition of a word to be precise. If possible, precise enough that there’s no way to misinterpret it. If you’re dealing in a formal area, this is a good thing.

    If I may cut in here, there are some who deal with studying human behaviour who are so precise. You can’t be when dealing with humans. However, one cannot make general statements about people, which I called Linda on earlier and she agreed with me. Of course, Sociology and Psychology are not precise as physics and mathematics, but we can make general statements about people- such as growth. We can study the effects of religion on people though and some of it is good and some of it is bad.

    John Shelby Spong isn’t even a theist, and yet most of us have no problem calling him a “Christian”. Why? Because he’s very close to most modern Anglican/Episcopalian prototypes. That is, he’s closer to modern liberal/mainline Christianity than many other things that we correctly identify as “Christian” (e.g. the “early church”).

    I won’t argue this and it maybe the reason we don’t have a problem with him is because he strives for what is good without leaning on the supernatural. I would like to point out that true Buddhism, not this modern Western version of Buddhism, has had a changing affect on some people, just as Christianity has.

  • Gary

    Pseudonym said (May 31, 2008 at 9:27 pm):

    Ludwig Wittgenstein (who is considered by many linguists to be the father of modern semantics) wrote at length on this topic. I forget the name of the essay where he discussed this (though the ideas mentioned in the Philosophical Investigations), but he went to some length in trying to pin down what we mean by the word “game”. If you think about all the ways you use the word (board games, card games, mind games, war games, the Olympic games etc), there is really no single feature or set of features that games have, and that non-games do not have.

    Your point is well taken, Pseudonym. In common discourse, many words have a variety of meanings, and shades of meaning. This actually varies somewhat from language to language to language, actually. English has a lot of words. It tends to assign many meanings to individual words and often has many words that all have the same meaning. French (or so I’m told) is different in this regard. It has a smaller vocabulary than English, with fewer synonymous words, and the words have fewer multiple meanings. As a result, English is the better language for poetry, French the better language for clarity of thought and expression.

    Your point cannot be pushed too far, however. I majored in philosophy in college, back in the day. We probably studied Wittgenstein more than any other philosopher. In conjunction, we studied chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

    “Game” may be a word whose semantic boundaries are somewhat vague, but not more than “glory” does “game” mean “a nice-knock-down argument.” I think that the problem some of us have with Linda is that her use of language is a lot less Wittgenstein, and a lot more Humpty Dumpty. Look up the phrase Humpty Dumptyism here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Humpty_Dumptyism

    Some of us aren’t as patient with Linda as Alice was with Humpty, but in the end even little Alice had lost all patience:

    Alice waited a minute to see if he would speak again, but, as he never opened his eyes or took any further notice of her, she said `Good-bye!’ once more, and, getting no answer to this, she quietly walked away: but she couldn’t help saying to herself, as she went, `of all the unsatisfactory –’ (she repeated this aloud, as it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say) `of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met –’

    To me, Linda seems a little — unsatisfactory.

  • Pseudonym

    Mriana:

    If I may cut in here, there are some who deal with studying human behaviour who are so precise.

    Yes, I agree with you. Sorry for being so imprecise. :-)

    In academia, precise definitions are useful. But when describing how people see themselves, it’s sometimes not so easy.

    I would like to point out that true Buddhism, not this modern Western version of Buddhism, has had a changing affect on some people, just as Christianity has.

    Absolutely. Though I disagree that there is a “true” form of Buddhism any more than there is a “true” form of any other religion, nonetheless, Buddhism is a perfect example of how religion need not be superstitious, or even theistic.

    And, of course, all the best religions transform you into a better person. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Gary:

    Your point cannot be pushed too far, however. I majored in philosophy in college, back in the day. We probably studied Wittgenstein more than any other philosopher.

    Cool. Yeah, I didn’t study philosophy, but I did do some linguistics, which is where I came across him.

    The fuzziness is, by nature, in the boundaries. There are some things that everyone agrees is “Christianity”. There are some things that everyone agrees isn’t. It’s the stuff in between where the problem arises.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Aj,

    What’s “the puzzle” you’re talking about? I have absolutely no idea what you mean by “letting the truth speak for itself as it is slowly revealed to each of us” could you give me an example? Are these not reasonable questions that you should be able to answer?

    Gosh, I never thought that you would actually sound “nice” compared to someone else.

    Anyway, the “puzzle” that I’m talking about is the direction we are going as the whole of human race. The “puzzle” of why religion is such a big issue and a source of much of our conflict, and yet we cannot get away from it.

    By “letting the truth speak for itself,” I mean there’s no way that we can prove or disprove God’s existence or non-existence. Are we not trying to determine whether Christ is real or we’re all crazy? It cannot be both. Just the mere act of living our lives and going through those transformations and the “aha” moments reveal bits of truth to us. I don’t mean just in religion. I mean life in general. The way my life expresses itself as I live it fully is the revelation of the truth (my truth), in my opinion. So far, everything I believe about Christ has held solid for me. So, I don’t consider myself crazy (yet).

    By “big picture,” I mean the way the universe works. Why we are the way we are. Where did we come from and where are we going? Why do we keep wanting to destroy each other? Is conflict a bad thing, or is it necessary in order for us to advance? What is the goal that we should all be looking at? Is it even possible to find a common ground? Why do we have these minds that seem to be too big for our bodies? What is that vague on-the-tip-of-the-mind feeling/thought that an answer is just around the corner, yet it is frustratingly ungraspable?

    The mere act of tearing a book to pieces and examining the words therein will not reveal anything.

    I just wanted to think beyond the literalism/metaphor of the Bible. Why even argue the point if we are not interested in finding out more about what really is the truth?

  • Mriana

    Absolutely. Though I disagree that there is a “true” form of Buddhism any more than there is a “true” form of any other religion, nonetheless, Buddhism is a perfect example of how religion need not be superstitious, or even theistic.

    I was trying to be a little more specific, because the Westernized version of Buddhism isn’t the same as the age old Eastern Buddhism. It is an adaptation of it and geared towards those in the Western part of the world. You understood my point anyway.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    To me, Linda seems a little — unsatisfactory.

    hmm… I don’t know what to think of that. Does that mean that I leave you wanting more of me? ;-)

    What I’m trying to do here… actually not even trying, but it is the way I am and who I am… is not to “satisfy” you with nice neatly packaged answers. I don’t want to give you any ideas that you can simply accept or reject. I want to open up possiblities of thoughts that are still in motion and evolving.

    But I see it’s a futile effort. :-( That’s okay. You can only contemplate what you can see in front of you. I get that.

  • Gary

    The fuzziness is, by nature, in the boundaries. There are some things that everyone agrees is “Christianity”. There are some things that everyone agrees isn’t. It’s the stuff in between where the problem arises.

    Quite right. When people use a word incorrectly, I often find that it is sufficient (at least for me) to pull down my dictionary from the bookshelf, point, and say “Here, this is what that word means. It doesn’t means what you think it means.” This doesn’t work at all for the word “Christianity,” which my dictionary defines thus:

    1. The Christian religion, including the Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox churches. 2. Christian beliefs or practices; Christian quality or character. 3. The state of being a Christian.”

    None of these definitions really help us understand what is meant by “Christianity,” now, do they?

    Certainly many of those who affix the label “Christian” to themselves would deny to some others who want to wear the same label any right to do so. I just entered the phrase “are mormons christians” into my Google search box. The following were the first two hits that popped up:

    http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/response/general/christians/
    http://www.cnview.com/on_line_resources/are_mormons_christian.htm

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Pseudonym,

    Wow! Thank you for all that mind-boggling philosophical explanation! I got the gist. :)

    I’m afraid I bit off more than I can chew properly on this thread. Can I just swallow without chewing? Yeah… I was afraid of that.

  • Gary

    I don’t want to give you any ideas that you can simply accept or reject. I want to open up possiblities of thoughts that are still in motion and evolving.

    I’d like to see you concentrate on opening up possibilities of thoughts that aren’t murky and unclear. If you insist on using “glory” to mean “a nice knock-down argument,” or “faith” to mean “having an open mind,” don’t be surprised to be misunderstood.

  • MTran

    “People who work in the more formal sciency-type, such as mathematics, engineering or physics, want the definition of a word to be precise. If possible, precise enough that there’s no way to misinterpret it. If you’re dealing in a formal area, this is a good thing.”

    It’s also pretty important if you are proposing or defending a position in an argument, and that is the context in which most of the discussions about the definitions of “faith,” “belief,” “religion,” “god,” and “Christianity” arise on threads and sites such as this one.

    It may not matter how carelessly (or ambiguously or broadly) someone defines their beliefs for themselves, but if they expect to be understood, let alone hope to be persuasive, they are well advised to make their meanings clear. Clarity has not been a virtue among most of the theists I have had the opportunity to read.

    And I don’t think it’s because of a definitional bias or tendency among science oriented atheists. Theists are quite capable of providing highly specific or complex definitions for any number of terms.

    But when it comes time to describe, define, or defend their own religious beliefs, all too often they give a sorry song and dance routine that essentially says “You atheists just don’t get it!” Or they may say, “But what you are criticizing isn’t what I believe,” even though the criticism is precisely applicable to the assertion as originally presented.

    Did you ever get a chance to see the “60 Minutes” interview with the Razorfish founders? When Mike Wallace asks them to describe what they do, they give their glib little ad-speak routine. When he presses them as to what they actually mean by what they say, they fall completely flat, and they know it. Religious apologists tend to come across that way when pressed. Then they complain that they are simply misunderstood by unenlightened atheists.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    I didn’t think someone would continue to insult me for not understanding that “the puzzle” means “the direction we are going as the whole of human race” when we were talking about “open mindedness”. Who were you addressing your comments if not me? Did you honestly expect me to know what you were saying?

    I recieve: transformations, “life expresses itself”, “aha” moments, whatever you believe about Christ is “solid”. Not an example of a truth, or how it was revealed. I cannot see any description, only vague expression of something I haven’t been told about. What kind of transformations, from what into what? What has your life expressed so far and in what way was it expressed?

    I know of “aha” moments of transformations from a state of not understanding to a state of understanding. You can understand something without it being the truth. I conclude that while we may make the same noise, an exclamation, we are expressing different things.

    The mere act of tearing a book to pieces and examining the words therein will not reveal anything.

    Word choice can be important to understanding text? Yes/No

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Gary,

    I’d like to see you concentrate on opening up possibilities of thoughts that aren’t murky and unclear. If you insist on using “glory” to mean “a nice knock-down argument,” or “faith” to mean “having an open mind,” don’t be surprised to be misunderstood.

    Let me just quote Alan Watts here, since he says it so much better:

    …the seeing requires a correction of the mind, just as clear vision sometimes requires a correction of the eyes. The discovery of this reality is hindered rather than helped by belief, whether one believes in God or believes in atheism. We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state a mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.

    And to explain further that I am not just someone blindly believing something because I’m gullible, I absolutely agree with the following excerpt, also by Alan Watts:

    …it is the essence of scientific honesty that you do not pretend to know what you do not know, and of the essence of scientific method that you do not employ hypothesis which cannot be tested.

    The immediate results of this honesty have been deeply unsettling and depressing. For man seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future. At once new myths come into being – political and economic myths with extravagant promises of the best of futures in the present world. These myths give the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them – for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark.

    Once there is the suspicion that a religion is a myth, its power has gone. It may be necessary for man to have a myth, but he cannot self-consciously prescribe one as he can mix a pill for a headache. A myth can only “work” when it is thought to be truth, and man cannot for long knowingly and intentionally “kid” himself.

    Even the best modern apologists for religion seem to overlook this fact. For their most forceful arguments for some sort of return to orthodoxy are those which show the social and moral advantages of belief in God. But this does not prove that God is a reality. It proves, at most, that believing in God is useful. “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Perhaps. But if the public has any suspicion that he does not exist, the invention is in vain.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Aj,

    Did you honestly expect me to know what you were saying?

    No, I honestly expected people to ask me, “Linda, what are you saying?” with a genuine interest, which you seemed to have.

    What kind of transformations, from what into what? What has your life expressed so far and in what way was it expressed?

    You want specifics? Does it matter to you? If I were to tell you, I had no leg but it grew back, would you believe me? Nothing would be “satisfactory” to you, so why even go there? Actually, I cannot even explain it. There was darkness, and then there was light. Everything was illuminated. I understood grace. I can’t explain it or describe it accurately. I’m sorry. But like I said, the specifics of what happened to me is irrelevant to anyone else. You just have to see it for yourself.

    Word choice can be important to understanding text? Yes/No

    Yes. But that’s not the end. You have to continually test it and look for deeper meanings… if you desire to know more. I don’t know about you, but I’m never quite satisfied with the initial definition. I always want to know more. Always.

  • MTran

    “The discovery of this reality is hindered rather than helped by belief, whether one believes in God or believes in atheism.”

    A “belief” in atheism? Puhleeze!

    And the guy seems to conflate “myth” with “religion” with “politics”, and they may all be hanging out together in all the wrong places but they are not synonymous by any stretch of the imagination. And where does the reference to “violence” come from?

    I’m sorry, but the quotes provided here only cause me to have a negative impression of Alan Watts. Whether he was a great philosopher or simple popularizer of Eastern religious practices, he seems to be a rather sloppy thinker. Or perhaps a sloppy writer. And not because of the vocabulary or definitions he uses, but because of the assumptions he appears to be making.

    These are admittedly brief excerpts from a much larger corpus, but I still find no enlightening thoughts in these quotes and see no point in looking for any more ideas from Watts.

  • Darryl

    We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state a mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.

    Now I understand. You’re following the thought of a man that tried to make knowledge and truth a matter of faith. Yes, I can see how a Christian would appreciate that. I guess I was right about your thinking after all. To quote myself “Reminds me of the ’60s: Pop Psychology meets Khalil Gibran.” Replace Khalil Gibran with Alan Watts.

    P.S. your mocking of me and name-calling is shabby.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    MTran and Darryl,

    You’re following the thought of a man that tried to make knowledge and truth a matter of faith.

    I’m not “following” anything or anyone other than what makes sense to me. All I ever tried to do here was share my views in an honest way. Alan Watts happens to be a philosopher who I agree with. I also often agree with atheist philosophers, such as Daniel Dennett. Tolstoy was an atheist before he drove himself to the verge of suicide. Was Proust an atheist? I think he was. C. S. Lewis was an atheist in his younger years, although some disagree. But no doubt that he is one of the greatest thinkers. Was Emerson an atheist? No. He must have been an agnostic. Edwin Arlington Robinson definitely was an atheist. I think Anais Nin was also. And Dawkins is brilliant, and Sam Harris is as well, although I feel they have a misconception of Christianity, as do you.

    I think all of them make a lot of sense, although not all at the same time.

    P.S. your mocking of me and name-calling is shabby.

    I agree. But you started it. But still, I should have been more mature. I apologize. I’m not beyond immaturity or foolishness, such as trying to make you smell the flowers when all you see is dirt. (oh no. there I go again with the meaningless words). I did learn my lesson, which is not to underestimate the ability of the tigers to go for my throat at any moment. They are not to be trusted.

    By the way, I vehemently defended you at church last week…

    And I must say, my views have changed slightly since then. Thanks!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    MTran,

    And the guy seems to conflate “myth” with “religion” with “politics”, and they may all be hanging out together in all the wrong places but they are not synonymous by any stretch of the imagination.

    Then you have not stretched your imagination far enough. He’s not saying they are synonymous; he’s only saying that they can be categorized the same way if you look at how people behave toward them.

    I don’t know if you should be so quick to judge him (especially if it’s because of me). He has a lot to say that makes sense. This particular book is called Wisdom of Insecurity. A freind (who’s not a Christian) gave it to me.

  • Darryl

    I’m not beyond immaturity or foolishness, such as trying to make you smell the flowers when all you see is dirt.

    Of what I see you have no idea. But, if that’s what it takes for you to feel better, feel free. I freed my mind years ago, and I’m at peace. And to think, I did it without Jesus.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Of what I see you have no idea

    Which part, the immaturity or foolishness? :)

    And in all fairness, you did try to ignore me and move on, but I egged you on to tell me what you thought. And you did. And you win. Because I guess I realized that sometimes, I can’t handle the truth.

    You have no obligation to be nice to me. I know that. But gosh, couldn’t you have been a little gentler?

    I have bruises, for crying out loud! ;) I’m not as tough as I wanted to believe. But no permanent harm done. Truce?

  • MTran

    Okay Linda,

    Your grossly mistaken assumptions about people, ideas and facts is one thing.

    Your flagrant and constant insults and tones of belittlement toward anyone who does not share your own attitudes, prejudices, and assumptions is another altogether. I call troll.

    And here I had given your problematic commentary the benefit of doubt, attributing your odd (non)responses to inexperience and lack of communication skills. My bad.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Your flagrant and constant insults and tones of belittlement toward anyone who does not share your own attitudes, prejudices, and assumptions is another altogether.

    MTran, that’s not fair. Now that IS NOT FAIR! The only person that I purposely insulted was Darryl, to whom I apologized. And that was only because I felt insulted first.

    Since you love facts so much, tell me where I did those things that you accuse me of, other than to Darryl.

  • Darryl

    Linda, I can tell you are a good person, and this is the first time that you have insulted anyone to my knowledge. I didn’t mean to provoke your anger. Perhaps I have that effect on women–that would explain a lot. I don’t think any less of you, and of course I accept your apology. I realize that I at times come on like a pit bull. No one is as well acquainted with my faults as I am. I must try to be more like Richard.

  • MTran

    Ya know, Linda, it may be that I have been cranky and needlessly snarky here, and maybe even unfair. I don’t post comments just to insult people or make them unhappy, although it may sometimes look that way. It’s a common problem on the intarwebs and I am not immune.

    So I will retract the “troll” accusation. That being said, I don’t think you’re going to like my response. (Though you did, literally, ask for it.) ;-) I also hope that what I say here does NOT drive you away or make you feel that you are being ganged up on.

    So here goes: You’ve been making a lot of remarks about atheists, how they think, what they think about, how they should improve themselves by changing in ways that you approve of.

    Many of those sorts of comments appear to be based on some misperceptions and unfounded assumptions.

    Your insights have read something like this:

    Linda: Why the hell are you here?
    Who are you to be criticizing anyone’s presence on another person’s blog? Who the hell are you and why the hell should anyone care?

    Linda: I’m asking you to engage your brain to think outside the box.
    Because you don’t get the response you want, someone else needs to get out of a *box* that exists entirely in our own fantasy world? How about engaging your own brain and get out of the rut of your preferred modes of thought. If you can’t make yourself understood, don’t get angry when people ask for clarification.

    Linda: How do you call yourselves lovers of science when you have that kind of an attitude?
    You’ve pulled this one on other threads, if I’m not mistaken. I didn’t like it then and find it offensive here.

    First of all, there are plenty of atheists who are not affiliated with or intereseted in the sciences. I became an atheist for reasons unrelated to science, as did most of the atheists I know IRL.

    Second, you don’t seem to be very well qualified to recognize what constitutes a “proper” attitude for science or anything else.

    Linda: you also need to open yourself up for new information, a different direction, more possibilities.

    More advice that assumes people here have never heard the stuff you think they should hear. Most people who become atheists do so precisely because they *are* open to new information and have spent a lot of time and effort in thinking outside of the box you insist they are in.

    Linda: Nothing would be “satisfactory” to you, so why even go there?

    Again, you make assumptions or read minds then use those assumptions to avoid responding in any helpful way while adding an insult for good measure.

    Linda: You can only contemplate what you can see in front of you. I get that.

    What an arrogant insult. You seem to *get* nothing at all. But that’s okay, I *get* that you are pretty full of yourself.

    Linda: I feel they have a misconception of Christianity, as do you.
    Right, the world is full of people who have misconceptions, I mean different perspectives, from yours.

    Linda: you have not stretched your imagination far enough.

    You know nothing of my or any other poster’s imaginative capabilities and have shown very little yourself.

    I can’t help but think that your attempts here have been unpersuasive precisely because you can’t get your preconceptions out of your head.

    Unfortunately, it seems your preconceptions are being reinforced by the process of being challenged.

    However, I think you are intelligent, diligent, and resilient enough to take this as an opportunity to recraft some of your points so that they can be better understood and thus more fairly addressed.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Darryl,

    Thank you. That’s all. And yes, we should all be more like Richard. But then there would be too many of him and he will no longer be special. And someone’s gotta keep up the drama, right?

    I think I like this Darryl, just fine. :) Group hug?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    MTran,

    Wow. Yes, I can see how it could look that way. I have no excuses, other than that it was not my intention. I just have a habit of opening mouth and thinking second. Not to mention that I do talk in metaphors much of the time.

    Perception seems to be more of the reality than the intention, doesn’t it?

    I did get a little bit full of myself and let my pride get in the way of thinking clearly. Gosh, that pride keeps poking its ugly head through everytime I think I got a handle on something. What’s up with that? Once I was out of the gate, I kept accelerating and could not figure out how to stop.

    Okay, I’ll stop before I start going off on my metaphorical rampage again. ;) Thank you for taking the time to bring this to light for me. I’m becoming a master at falling on my face in front of everyone. But I learned a lot, and I’m not running away. :) (Okay… Stop that booing! I’m not so bad when I can control myself.)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Well, which is it, have you stopped defending yourself, and now are defending people you don’t know?

    Darryl, your original set of questions directly quoted me and then concluded by saying:

    Isn’t all of this utter nonsense? Come on, all I expect is honesty, simple candor. Isn’t this such silliness–I mean, really? I derive a humorous satisfaction from observing believers doing the most fantastic of mental gymnastics in attempts to defend the indefensible. There is no final refuge from reality but the unreality of the mind. If this is what it takes for some people to get through life more or less in one piece, well, I don’t have to like it, but I can live with them, as long as they behave themselves. Retreat if you will into the paradise of your mind, but don’t project beyond that domain; don’t expect me to entertain your fantasies, when they mean little to me.

    So you’ll have to forgive me for assuming these accusations and insults were in fact directed at me.

    But yes, while I’m at it I will defend others, because in fact I do know many others whose journeys have been very similar to my own and who are not simply being intellectually dishonest or twisting their interpretations to fit what they already believe. I have no doubt that you know some people who have done that, perhaps you were one of them at one time, but that has not been my own experience, nor that of most of my friends in college, at our church, or in the emerging circles I hang out in.

    Again, you change the subject and don’t answer my question.

    Your question wasn’t there yet when I responded to your comment (you must have edited it and added it after you posted your original statement) and I haven’t been back to this thread since then. What was it that you wanted to know? Was it:

    “Yes, of course we have a prior belief in God. Do you really think that most people believe in God simply because the Bible tells them to? You act as if the Bible is the one and only source for our beliefs, but most Christians would say that we come to understand God in many different ways. For instance John Wesley talked about the quadrilateral of “scripture, reason, tradition and experience”.”

    Tell me how reason and experience without scripture and church tradition would cause one to arrive at the notion of Jesus and his divinity?

    Again, you’re thinking like a foundationalist. It’s not about isolating one of these as the basis for all of our other beliefs. All four of these are interconnected. For instance, just speaking personally, my religious beliefs are based on an interconnection between my philosophical reasonings, my personal experiences, my familiarity with the experiences of others both past and present (which is essentially what tradition is), and my examination of scripture. To me they all support and mutually interpret each other.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    For most of those two thousand years, the vast majority of Christian commentators appear to have read the Creation story as the opening of a literal historical narrative, relating the true history of the Jewish people. In other words, it was understood to fall within the genre “history.” In the context of this reading, Adam and Eve were understood to be actual, historical persons, not mythological characters. Moreover, they were thought to be individuals created directly by God a few thousand years ago, at the time when the world itself was created. This is how the text certainly reads. I agree with the traditional Judeo-Christian reading of Genesis as being of the genre “history.” Do you concur?

    Not at all. How familiar are you with the history of interpretation on Genesis Gary? It simply is not true that “the vast majority of Christian commentators appear to have read the Creation story as the opening of a literal historical narrative”. Since the early days of the church theologians have often read this as symbolic. I don’t have time to provide a lot of proof-texts for you about this, but you can check out this wikipedia article for examples of early church fathers who clearly saw the Genesis account as symbolic rather than scientific, among them Saint Augustine, the single most influential theologian of the Western church.

    I am aware that the Seminar has been criticized by others on precisely those grounds. However, my sense is that the scholars who participate in the Seminar are particularly intent on situating Jesus within the context of his time, precisely as you say they should.

    They may be intent on it, but their methods undermine it. Though Crossan in particular has done a better job of this lately.

    I can’t help but wonder whether the root of this criticism is that the “historical Jesus” that the Seminar folks have been groping toward is not the theological Jesus of later Christianity, resulting in a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of their work by Christians who find their conclusions disturbing.

    That’s hardly the case with Dunn. He’s not exactly a traditionalist.

    But I also think that it would be wise to be somewhat sceptical of any claim that the “teachings of Jesus” encompassed in the Gospels must be considered completely true and accurate renderings of Jesus’ actual teachings.

    I don’t either. What we have in the Gospels is selections based on oral traditions about Jesus that have been shaped and arranged by the authors and later editors to communicate a theological message. But so what? Why should we expect the gospels to function as modern style word-for-word accounts? My faith is not simply in some decontextualized “historical” Jesus that we might be able to reconstruct through dubious historical methods, but in Jesus as he was understood and followed by the apostles and the early church.

  • Gary

    How familiar are you with the history of interpretation on Genesis Gary? It simply is not true that “the vast majority of Christian commentators appear to have read the Creation story as the opening of a literal historical narrative”. Since the early days of the church theologians have often read this as symbolic. I don’t have time to provide a lot of proof-texts for you about this, but you can check out this wikipedia article for examples of early church fathers who clearly saw the Genesis account as symbolic rather than scientific, among them Saint Augustine, the single most influential theologian of the Western church.

    Thanks for the correction. As the article makes clear, Augustine was as much what we would now call a “young earth creationist” as any complete literalist, but he did reject the notion that it took God six whole days do get the job done — he thought it was accomplished all at once. In what other way did he differ with the Genesis account? While he may have thought of the Creation story as (somewhat) allegorical, it seems to me that he took the Fall of Man literally, accepting the idea that Adam and Eve were actual persons and believing that Adam’s “original sin” was not a matter of allegory, but something that actually happened: “the deliberate sin of the first man [Adam] is the cause of original sin.”

    What we have in the Gospels is selections based on oral traditions about Jesus that have been shaped and arranged by the authors and later editors to communicate a theological message. But so what? Why should we expect the gospels to function as modern style word-for-word accounts?

    A modern word-for-word style account is of course precisely what one not only would not expect, but one would reject, on a “godless” reading, one that holds that Jesus was not God and that no God exists. On the contrary reading, that Jesus was and is God, it would seem somewhat surprising that the Deity did not see fit to intervene to make sure that we had more reliable and complete records of Jesus’ words and deeds. The fact that less is reliably known about Jesus’ life than is known about the life of the latest troubled starlet or singer-let is one of those things that I would think would tend to give one pause. If God actually exists, how can that be?

    An interesting question to me is what the various New Testament authors thought about Genesis. As far as I can tell, they believed in a literal Adam — cf. the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3, and Paul’s anticipation of the doctrine of original sin through Adam’s disobedience. What would be very interesting indeed is to know what Jesus himself thought. Since our knowledge of what Jesus thought about a good many many things is rather sparse, we don’t know for sure. However, I see no reason to suppose that Jesus was not a “young earth creationist” like Augustine. Again,why would one expect anything else if he was not God?

    My faith is not simply in some decontextualized “historical” Jesus that we might be able to reconstruct through dubious historical methods, but in Jesus as he was understood and followed by the apostles and the early church.

    If the “Jesus as he was understood and followed by the apostles and the early church” is understood to be the “Jesus that actually was,” that would certainly make sense. There is reason to doubt how much we can reliably know about the actual Jesus or the Jesus as understood by the apostles, given that neither Jesus nor the apostles left written accounts of their teachings and doings. If, as we might suppose, Jesus and most of the apostles were completely or functionally illiterate, that is again not surprising, but, again, I would think it would tend to cast bit of doubt on the Jesus-is-God model. Certainly it does for me.

  • Pseudonym

    Gary:

    Augustine was as much what we would now call a “young earth creationist” [...]

    I have a bit of a problem with that.

    The term “young earth creationist” only makes sense as a reaction to science. Augustine respected intellectual inquiry, and I think would likely have respected scientific inquiry had it existed at the time. As such, he had very little in common with YECers as we know them today.

    Similarly, it would be unfair to put the likes of Newton, Kepler, Galileo and Gassendi in the same category as modern-day astrologers, even though they did study astrology.

  • Gary

    The term “young earth creationist” only makes sense as a reaction to science. Augustine respected intellectual inquiry, and I think would likely have respected scientific inquiry had it existed at the time. As such, he had very little in common with YECers as we know them today.

    I won’t push too hard on the terminology. I will simply note that Augustine appears to have been an adherent of “young earth creationism” according to the first part of the definition of the term is defined in Wikipedia: “Young Earth creationism is the religious belief that Heaven, Earth, and life on Earth were created by a direct act of God dating between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.” He doesn’t quite conform to the second part: “Its adherents are those Christians and Jews who believe that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days, taking the Hebrew text of Genesis as a literal account.” He thought that the part about six 24-hour days was not to be taken literally.

    According to Augustine, “reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed” since the creation of the world.

  • Aj

    Linda,

    All your comments about the “attitude” of others and the stuff about understanding one another is completely contradicted by your actions. I suspected that this was the case, and called you on it, so did others, and now you admit it. I am here to communicate, discuss, and understand, you clearly are not. I do not like being played games with and accused of not being an honest party for no reason, by someone who later admits to playing games with people.

    This is to say I am unhappy with your comments that insult others, detailed by MTran well. That despite pissing on others for their failings to be open to your comments you readily admit to responding in ways you know people will not understand. It gets worse because when questioned further at the end of it we get a response that seems to express “you don’t believe in miracles, and I am unable to explain it regardless”.

    Firstly, I wouldn’t believe you if you said your leg grew back, and I would hope you wouldn’t believe me if I said I flew without the aid of technology today. Yet, if that’s what you had to say, you should say it, not refer to it in response to me, and be dishonest with your responses when asked about it. I will accept “I don’t want to discuss this with you” as long as you stick to that and don’t refer to it. Secondly, what’s the point of talking about something if you can’t express it? You might as well use a random word generator, because that’s going to produce just as much sense. That explains why so many of your posts are contentless or vague.

    Gary,

    As the article makes clear, Augustine was as much what we would now call a “young earth creationist” as any complete literalist, but he did reject the notion that it took God six whole days do get the job done — he thought it was accomplished all at once.

    His interpretation illustrates my problem with this. He is not basing his differing view on the authors intent, through analysis of the text, contextual or historical information, but on the faith that the authors were writing the truth. He is solving the problem of the Bible being true vs the facts by interpreting it differently. The source doesn’t include any support he may have presented for his new interpretion, only that it has been successful in his goal of interpreting the Bible in the way that makes it compatible with beliefs from other sources.

    This method seems obviously backwards, and is an example of what I was talking about in my original comment. The factor in “selecting the genre”, or interpreting a passage differently, is the need to conform to modern science today, and to some other method in Augustine’s day. Suggesting that despite claims of the opposite, the passages were interpreted to suggest things about the natural world.

    When the words “theological” or “spiritual” are used, it is likely that there has been this type of dishonesty. Putting aside genuine methods that try to honestly interpret the authors intent. Overlooking the simpler explanations, creating highly complex interpretations, to try to resolve conflicts between what we know and what they wish to be true or have been indoctrinated to believe.

  • Gary

    His interpretation illustrates my problem with this. He is not basing his differing view on the authors intent, through analysis of the text, contextual or historical information, but on the faith that the authors were writing the truth. He is solving the problem of the Bible being true vs the facts by interpreting it differently. The source doesn’t include any support he may have presented for his new interpretion, only that it has been successful in his goal of interpreting the Bible in the way that makes it compatible with beliefs from other sources.

    Indeed, that is the fundamental objection to this whole line of argument: confronted with a passage that the believer is unable to conclude is literally true, he succumbs to the temptation to resolve the problem by assigning it to some genre where literal truth is not necessarily presumed. See the article on “Framework interpretation (Genesis)” in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framework_interpretation_(Genesis) . It states, “Many theologians prefer the non-literal interpretation of the seventh day because it explains the apparent contradiction between the literal interpretation of the events of the seventh day and God’s nature. Exodus 31:17 states God “rested, and was refreshed” on the seventh day. This seems to contradict Isaiah 40:28 which says God “does not become weary or tired.” A non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is adopted in order to make the contradiction between a God who gets tired and a God who does not into a contradiction that is merely “apparent” rather than real.

    A bit further down in the Wikipedia article, it speaks specifically about genre: “Many theologians concur that Genesis 1 represents a unique literary genre which differs significantly from the later, straightforward narrative sections of Genesis. The text has been described as being ‘full of repetitive formulae and quasi-poetic language’. Suggested designations for the genre include ‘mytho-historical’, ‘proto-historical’ and ‘theological history’. The semi-poetic nature of the text is a further argument against taking it literally and in favour of the framework view.” In other words,the first chapter of Genesis is of a different genre than the rest, so that the story of the Cration can be considered “mytho-historical” — while the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden might be straightforward history, as Augustine thought.

    One commentator on Augustine’s work on Genesis writes as follows:

    “In interpreting Genesis, therefore, Augustine is seeking the literal meaning, that is, the meaning intended by the author: “One may expect me to defend the literal meaning of the narrative as intended by the author.” But, as Augustine notes, that is sometimes hard to discover. Hence, when faced with a variety of possible interpretations, the reader should search first for the meaning intended by the author, but if that cannot be discovered, he should attempt to discern what the context of Sacred Scripture requires; failing that, he must see what the faith demands. If the word of God or of a prophet cannot be taken literally without absurdity, then the exegete must resort to a figurative interpretation.”

    The possibility that it might simply be absurd was, of course, entirely out of the question.

  • Mriana

    First of all, there are plenty of atheists who are not affiliated with or intereseted in the sciences. I became an atheist for reasons unrelated to science, as did most of the atheists I know IRL.

    I came by mine by studying, psychology, other religions, and myths, not science.

    Linda: you also need to open yourself up for new information, a different direction, more possibilities.

    More advice that assumes people here have never heard the stuff you think they should hear. Most people who become atheists do so precisely because they *are* open to new information and have spent a lot of time and effort in thinking outside of the box you insist they are in.

    He does have a point there. It takes a lot of thinking outside the box to study other subjects not related to Xianity.

    You do make a few good points, MTran, but I also think we all have a certian mindset and for some of us, it’s hard to break. Maybe she has studied a little or a lot of other religions, but maybe she has not studied Humanism, atheism, and other non-theistic beliefs or even associated with non-theists in RL settings. Thus, she doesn’t quite have a grasp as to where we are coming from or even where we came from and arrived to where we are today. Maybe she doesn’t know where we have been and the various journeys we took to get where we are. In order to do that, she may have to read books on Humanism and atheism, as well as associate with a few non-theists on a regular basis, not just here on Hemant’s blog.

    I’ll give you that she is stuck in a religious mindset and has not explored the tougher questions as we have. However, I must give Linda some credit too, in that there is some truth in religious texts, but it’s not exactly what she believes it is. Some of it is part of the human condition, like loving one’s neighbour, and it also shows us where our ancestors came from concerning superstition, but it is not the gospel truth.

    Directed more towards Linda now, than MTran:

    In reality, all the gods of various religions are human concepts. Humans created these gods to explain what they could not explain and many still do that today. Old gods died when they lost their usefullness and in the same pattern/template, with newer theology and sometimes a twist on the old to fulfil the needs of the next generation, until governments realized they could control people via religion, and then it took yet another turn and twist. At the same time, it’s always been the case, that the religious believed there was something wrong with those who don’t believe in some form of god. It’s difficult to handle when the tables are turned though and the evidence to the opposite is right there before them.

    In essence, the religious mind is set to believe in a god and to think others who don’t have this mindset haven’t thought about the things they have thought about. Part of it is training and part of it is their own thinking. Many people can’t let go of the idea that there is a god and to think about such a thing troubles them greatly, which was, at least for most people, instilled into them with fear and guilt.

    Directed at whoever wants to read further:

    I’m not saying this is Linda’s problem or that she has one at all, but I am saying she hasn’t viewed it from our angle and she may never view it from our angle. The thing is, she is going to have to want to view it from our angle. She can’t be forced anymore than we can be forced to view it from her angle, but to do that, she will have to take off the glasses (no insult intended Linda) and view it from other angles. She will also have to want to look inside herself too, because it is not as empty as much as she may think. In fact, I think if more people looked within and actually got to know themselves, it might help a lot, esp since many have been told what to think, read, say, do, etc most of their lives. (Don’t take offense, Linda, email me if you like, and I’ll explain more, hopefully in a way you’ll understand.) What is that philosophical saying about knowing yourself?

    If she wants to understand our POV, she will read more, not just on the blogs, but various books, and maybe even make friends with an atheist or two off the blogs, if she doesn’t have any relatives who are non-theists. If she has an atheist relative, she needs to sit down or spend a day with him/her, or even a phone call, and learn how interesting they can be. Blogs are no where near the same as up-close and personal.

    The thing is, she is looking at things from a different perspective, while we are looking above it all. It’s not what some of us once thought it was, but we cut our loses and moved on, while she is still searching, but she isn’t as muddled as some who are stuck and not searching. If she were, she would not be here talking to any of us for as long as she has.

    Give her some time MTran. A few times a day on a blog is not the same as knowing a non-theist in person and spending a little time with them, even a little each week. I don’t think she is as deep in the box as it may seem or she wouldn’t be here as much as she is.

  • Mriana

    Aj said,

    June 1, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Linda,

    All your comments about the “attitude” of others and the stuff about understanding one another is completely contradicted by your actions. I suspected that this was the case, and called you on it, so did others, and now you admit it.

    You are right, AJ. She was big enough to admit it though. I think a little more time and patience maybe in order though. Now that these things have been pointed out to her, give her some time to think about them. Let’s not chase her away though.

  • Pseudonym

    Gary:

    I won’t push too hard on the terminology. I will simply note that Augustine appears to have been an adherent of “young earth creationism” according to the first part of the definition of the term is defined in Wikipedia: “Young Earth creationism is the religious belief that Heaven, Earth, and life on Earth were created by a direct act of God dating between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.”

    I have a real problem with pigeonholing historical figures into modern pigeonholes. A position on some topic can only be defined by contrast to some other position. It’s fair to say that nobody of Augustine’s time had a contrary position (and if they did, it was just some other mythology).

    If you don’t like the example of Augustine, how about Calvin? John Calvin was writing at a time when the new science of astronomy was in full swing. Clearly, some of Genesis 1, if taken literally, would contradict this. Here’s what Calvin said in his Commentary on Genesis:

    Moses [believed at the time to be the author of Genesis] describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters” from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.

    I think that’s a pretty clear indication of what Calvin was thinking.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Pseudonym, I just want to say that you’re doing a fantastic job and I wholeheartedly agree with your responses so far. Rather than repeat your arguments to Gary, I’ll just second what you’ve been saying.

    Let me add just one more thing: whether or not Augustine believed in a young earth is irrelevant to my point. My point was simply that, contrary to Gary’s assertion, it is simply not the case that the dominant strain in theology over the past 20 centuries has been to read Genesis as literal history. If commentators as significant and as far back as Origen, Augustine, and Calvin have understood that the text is not intending to present literal history or science, then it can’t be claimed that this interpretation is merely a modern reaction to new scientific understandings.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    If the “Jesus as he was understood and followed by the apostles and the early church” is understood to be the “Jesus that actually was,” that would certainly make sense.

    the “Jesus that actually was” is inaccessible to us, and necessarily so unless you have a time machine. All we have and have ever had is Jesus as he was understood by the early Christian community.

    There is reason to doubt how much we can reliably know about the actual Jesus or the Jesus as understood by the apostles, given that neither Jesus nor the apostles left written accounts of their teachings and doings.

    So you take the view that none of the New Testament was written by any of those to whom the books are traditionally attributed? I find that highly unlikely.

  • Mriana

    Linda, I sent you a private email- the one on your blog. Let me know if you get it or not. Take your time reading it though. It’s long and detailed, but hopefully it helps some.

  • Darryl

    Again, you’re thinking like a foundationalist. It’s not about isolating one of these as the basis for all of our other beliefs. All four of these are interconnected. For instance, just speaking personally, my religious beliefs are based on an interconnection between my philosophical reasonings, my personal experiences, my familiarity with the experiences of others both past and present (which is essentially what tradition is), and my examination of scripture. To me they all support and mutually interpret each other.

    Throwing out terms like ‘foundationalist’ are not explanatory.
    You choose the metaphor that pleases you, it makes little difference. If, for instance, you remove the divinity of Jesus from your web, what is the result? Can you simply make an adjustment, or does your network fall apart?

  • Darryl

    Mike,

    This was the question:

    I’ll summarize my previous questions by asking this–and this is not rhetorical: how is it that believers literally believe ideas like God, Satan, Jesus, Angels, Heaven, Hell, miracles, etc. that originate in and are defined by passages of holy writings some or all of which are interpreted non-literally because for one reason or another they either cannot be believed, or contradict good sense, experience, or fact?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Throwing out terms like ‘foundationalist’ are not explanatory.
    You choose the metaphor that pleases you, it makes little difference.

    I’m sorry, I assumed you were familiar with basic epistemological theory. If not, feel free to check out the Wikipedia articles on “foundationalism” and “coherentism”. As one who has a degree in these subjects I’m going to have to disagree with you that these are “mere metaphors” that make little difference. Cartesian foundationalism has been a driving force behind Western society for 400 years now. Ideas matter, and how we understand the nature of our knowledge has implications that ripple out into many different areas of life.

    If, for instance, you remove the divinity of Jesus from your web, what is the result? Can you simply make an adjustment, or does your network fall apart?

    Yes it would be a major adjustment, but no the entire network wouldn’t fall apart. We’re not just talking about an isolated network of religious beliefs. We’re talking about the interconnected nature of everything I know and believe whether about religion, science, history, personal experiences, relationships, etc. If my beliefs in one part of the web change that doesn’t mean I suddenly believe in nothing at all.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’ll summarize my previous questions by asking this–and this is not rhetorical: how is it that believers literally believe ideas like God, Satan, Jesus, Angels, Heaven, Hell, miracles, etc. that originate in and are defined by passages of holy writings some or all of which are interpreted non-literally because for one reason or another they either cannot be believed, or contradict good sense, experience, or fact?

    I’m pretty sure I did already answer your question. Let me repeat it again: genre and interpretation. Some passages are literal history (by ancient standards, not our own) and some serve other purposes (though that doesn’t mean they aren’t conveying different kinds of truths). I determine for myself which is which and what I think it all means by studying things like genre and history. I’m sorry if you don’t like that as an answer, but there it is, that’s how it works for me. I don’t have anything else I can tell you.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Aj,

    Ouch! I choose to believe you are not as cold as you sound.

    Just to set the record straight, you misunderstood my words. My intention was never to purposely insult anyone (other than, of course, my comments to Darryl). My admittance was not that I played games, but only that I agree (looking back) that my words could have been easily misunderstood.

    It was wrong of me to assume that others would be able to understand how my mind works.

    And I did get a little irrational when some sensitive buttons were pushed. I do apologize for that to all who had to witness it.

  • Darryl

    me:

    Throwing out terms like ‘foundationalist’ are not explanatory.
    You choose the metaphor that pleases you, it makes little difference.

    you:

    I’m sorry, I assumed you were familiar with basic epistemological theory. If not, feel free to check out the Wikipedia articles on “foundationalism” and “coherentism”. As one who has a degree in these subjects I’m going to have to disagree with you that these are “mere metaphors” that make little difference. Cartesian foundationalism has been a driving force behind Western society for 400 years now. Ideas matter, and how we understand the nature of our knowledge has implications that ripple out into many different areas of life.

    me:

    If, for instance, you remove the divinity of Jesus from your web, what is the result? Can you simply make an adjustment, or does your network fall apart?

    you:

    Yes it would be a major adjustment, but no the entire network wouldn’t fall apart. We’re not just talking about an isolated network of religious beliefs. We’re talking about the interconnected nature of everything I know and believe whether about religion, science, history, personal experiences, relationships, etc. If my beliefs in one part of the web change that doesn’t mean I suddenly believe in nothing at all.

    To me your answer sounds like more multiplying of words and terms without really answering the question. But, I fault myself because I think you misunderstood what I meant. I should have appended the words “in this case” to the end of each sentence in the first quote. Ideas, of course, matter. What I was getting at was not “the entire network” of your thought (which includes much that we agree about), but that section of it where Jesus lives. I would think that a “major adjustment” is an understatement. If your network is interconnected, then removing Jesus from it would impact everything else, though not making it fall apart according to you. The question for you is what would be the impact of this removal on your Christian faith? Everything involved with that must occupy some area on your network.

    By the way, I’m not a foundationalist.

  • Darryl

    Mike, back aways in this thread you made this statment:

    . . . just speaking personally, my religious beliefs are based on an interconnection between my philosophical reasonings, my personal experiences, my familiarity with the experiences of others both past and present (which is essentially what tradition is), and my examination of scripture. To me they all support and mutually interpret each other.

    Do you speak of these elements as if they are coming together to support a belief, and the coming together is itself significant as to their validity? In my experience these things are all parts of a whole that is pieced together in one’s experience. They are not consistent of themselves, but are made to fit together, and it is precisely this fitting process, and the product of it, that occupies the mind of the theologically-inclined.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    What I was getting at was not “the entire network” of your thought (which includes much that we agree about), but that section of it where Jesus lives. I would think that a “major adjustment” is an understatement. If your network is interconnected, then removing Jesus from it would impact everything else, though not making it fall apart according to you. The question for you is what would be the impact of this removal on your Christian faith?

    I don’t know what the impact would be. I suppose I could go the Arian route and say that Jesus as a prophet inspired by God, or I suppose rejecting the divinity of Christ could lead to a domino effect and lead me to reject God’s existence altogether, though I’m not sure why it would necessarily do that since my belief in God is not contingent on my belief in Jesus.

    At any rate why don’t you just cut to the chase and explain what your point is with this line of questioning anyway? We’ve gotten so far off track that I really don’t even know where you’re going with this at all. Yes, if I didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ it would affect my Christian faith. That’s so obvious and banal I’m not even sure why you brought it up.

    Do you speak of these elements as if they are coming together to support a belief, and the coming together is itself significant as to their validity? In my experience these things are all parts of a whole that is pieced together in one’s experience. They are not consistent of themselves, but are made to fit together, and it is precisely this fitting process, and the product of it, that occupies the mind of the theologically-inclined.

    I think we’ve already pretty well established that your experiences have been nothing like my own experiences.

  • Darryl

    es, if I didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ it would affect my Christian faith. That’s so obvious and banal I’m not even sure why you brought it up.

    I brought it up in relation to the previous set of questions about why a divine Jesus is literal, or God, or miracles, etc. in contexts that are not, to which you thought me a foundationalist and you a networkist, or whatever, and that your network would simply adjust to changes and not be destroyed, etc. I was just following the direction of your argument. But, I’ll let it go.

    I think we’ve already pretty well established that your experiences have been nothing like my own experiences.

    May I take this response to be an affirmative to the question “Do you speak of these elements as if they are coming together to support a belief, and the coming together is itself significant as to their validity?”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I brought it up in relation to the previous set of questions about why a divine Jesus is literal, or God, or miracles, etc. in contexts that are not,

    Well, I don’t agree with you that all passages about the divinity of Christ, or God, or miracles are strictly “non-literal”, so it’s a non-issue for me. Just because parts of the Bible are not “literal” doesn’t mean none of it is.

    May I take this response to be an affirmative to the question “Do you speak of these elements as if they are coming together to support a belief, and the coming together is itself significant as to their validity?”

    Sure, if you like.

  • casey

    Mike:

    Literary interpretation of the Bible is one thing, but to believe its supernatural claims is something else. That’s the point, put simply. Do you give similar credence to other books, by the way? It seems to me that someone who was honestly searching for the real god would not settle upon the prominent holy text of his culture, and fail to examine in similar detail the god-claims of other cultures’ texts. Any less of an effort seems a little too convenient to be considered honest in my opinion.


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