Helping Christians Accept Evolution

Mike Clawson here again…

I must have evolution on the brain or something lately. Anyway, I know that many of you here come from conservative Christian backgrounds, and even if you consider yourself an atheist now, you still have Christian friends and family with whom you interact. Perhaps this past holiday season included heated discussions about religion and science for some of you. Some of you may also know by now that sometimes in these discussions you have to set aside ultimate goals for proximate ones. So, for instance, while you might like for your whole family to stop believing in God altogether, you’d settle for them to just stop being quite so antagonistic towards science and especially toward evolution. If that’s the case, I’d like to recommend a book or two that I have found helpful in persuading my Creationist friends to not reject evolution out of hand.

The first is Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology and Biblical Interpretation by Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith. It was written by two brothers-in-law, one of whom happens to be a Christian paleontologist (Dr. Godfrey) and the other a pastor and biblical scholar (Dr. Smith). Both describe their personal journey’s from literal six-day Creationism to an acceptance of evolutionary science and a more nuanced understanding of the Biblical texts. Godfrey does an excellent job of describing the science and showing why it doesn’t have to be seen as a direct challenge to Christian belief. Likewise, Smith talks about how his background in literary studies helped him come to a new way of reading and understanding the Bible in relation to the question of cosmology and natural origins – a way that makes room for things like an old earth and evolution, while still remaining faithful to the Bible as it was written.

One of the most insightful observations of the book for me, in fact, was when Dr. Smith pointed out that while the Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual, scientific description of the origin of the universe, nonetheless, the cosmology they describe actually is fairly “scientifically sound” for its day. In other words, given the kind of observations it would have been possible for ancient near eastern writers to have made about the world in 1000 BCE (or 1500 or 500 BCE, depending on when you think that section of Genesis was first composed), the biblical cosmology is not too bad. The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does? I mean, it’s not like the scientific descriptions we have today are complete either. They’re simply the best descriptions we have so far, given the instruments and set of knowledge we currently have. At any rate, Smith makes a convincing argument that the purpose of the Biblical accounts is not to convey scientific information anyway, and that six-day Creationist Christians misunderstand the point of the text when they try to make it answer those questions.

Once again, however, the point of a book like this is to convince fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians that they can believe in both the Bible and evolution. If you’re not interested in that goal; if you’ll accept nothing short of getting your Christian friends and family to stop believing in the Bible altogether, then this book will be of no use to you. But if you’re willing to settle for lesser objectives and intermediate steps, or if you simply want to help win more supporters to the cause of good science regardless of their religious views, this can be a very helpful book.

Another book in a similar vein by Daniel M. Harrell is Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. I’m currently reading it as a blog reviewer for my friends at Abingdon Press, so I’ll have a fuller review later, but, like the previous book, it also encourages Christians to see evolution as an ally, not an enemy. Harrell argues that if one believes that God exists, and is the Creator of all else that exists, then whatever that creation can tell us about itself (i.e. whatever we discover through science, evolution for instance) helps us understand more about God. Once again, however, he is writing for Christians who already believe in God’s existence, so you won’t find much in the way of apologetics aimed at convincing atheists  (indeed Harrell freely admits to his doubts about theism and acknowledges that faith is not certainty). The apologetics in this book, rather, are pro-evolution and aimed at conservative Christians. So once again, if you think you probably won’t be able to convince your religious friends to give up their faith, but might be able to convince them to give up their antipathy towards science, this is a good book to pass along.

Hope y’all find these resources helpful.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Evolution has two big ideas: Descent with modification and natural selection. Most people are able to accept the first with no problem at all, even many young Earth creationists accept microevolution as fact. Macroevolution is simply a matter of degree. Natural selection is well supported with the evidence in the fossil record, with evidence of different species in different geographical locations and environments and in observable phenomena like the elephants you mentioned earlier.

    Breaking down evolution to these two big ideas and showing each as independently non-threatening to a religious viewpoint is a worthwhile direction in my opinion.

    I think that it is also worth pointing out that there are more than two competing ideas at work. You don’t just have atheist materialist scientists verses young Earth creationists. There are degrees of belief and degrees of interpretation of scripture. A YEC might dismiss all ideas that compete with a literal interpretation of scripture but an old Earth creationist might well accept some ideas but reject others. The books you’ve listed might suit one group and shift opinions a little but might be ignored by another group.

  • Stephen M.

    The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does? I mean, it’s not like the scientific descriptions we have today are complete either. They’re simply the best descriptions we have so far, given the instruments and set of knowledge we currently have.

    This is all fine, if the Bible was a science book from 1,000 BCE. However, I am to understand that it was the revealed word of the Hebrew God Yahweh…so he did a pretty poor job of explaining how the Universe did come about. Or he lied. Or they just made it up. If you accept the description above then you confess that the Bible was written from the mind of men, not through men from the mind of a God.

  • Matthew

    Perhaps I’m jaded, but I don’t see much hope for converting large amounts of literalist YECs into people with an understanding of science, even forgetting evolution for now.

    The problem as I see it is the binary nature of the fundamentalist. You either believe in ALL of it, or NONE of it. To waver and say “ok, so maybe some parts of evolution are true” is to put a small crack in the windshield of fundamentalist belief. The fundamentalist knows that a small crack turns into a large crack and therefore will not accept it. If they *do* accept it, they’re weren’t a fundamentalist in the first place, IMO.

    I’m sure the books will help a few people here and there, but ultimately I think asking the fundamentalist to go out and *learn* something by *thinking* is probably asking a little too much of the majority of them.

  • Aj

    …was when Dr. Smith pointed out that while the Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual…

    It’s certainly not a reaction to problems arising from reason and science. None of these ancient people believed any of the various creation myths… or the world was flat… or the Sun orbited the Earth… or the Earth was supported by four giant elephants on the back of a giant turtle… or that the world was created by the fornicating of two deities…

    The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does?

    Yes, scientists don’t try to gather empirical evidence and write precise and detailed studies, they make up vague and poetic narratives that are meant to be interpeted allegorically. Your description of science is magnificent, in its own way.

    Once again, however, the point of a book like this is to convince fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians that they can believe in both the Bible and evolution.

    I don’t see any problem with hilarious and egregious dishonesty when the point is to get people to believe what’s best supported by evidence. Perhaps we could commit fraud and create fake ancient documents that support this, or claim to prophets in communication with God, and tell our Christian friends that God demands they believe in evolution, it’s his 11th commandment. We must remember that these people don’t deserve the truth, they’re too stupid, so it’s perfectly acceptable to manipulate them into accepting scientific theories.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    I have somewhat mixed feelings about this.

    On the one hand, I can easily accept that Christians, with enough ingenuity and handwaving, can and have evolved forms of Christianity that accommodate evolution, and I would much prefer that Christians adopt such forms of Christianity than not accept evolution at all. On the other hand, such forms of Christianity have their own internal tensions and problems.

  • JB

    I completely agree with Matthew. In fact, I never, ever talk with my family about this subject- they’re very literalist; there can be no reconciliation, no if’s and’s or but’s about it, and if someone professes both christianity and an acceptance of evolution, then they’re almost certainly not christians at all. As an old pastor of ours used to say, “there’s three types of people in the world- those who are [true christians], those who ain’t, and those who think they are, but ain’t.” (the implied meaning being evolutionists and other “liberals”). I’m no longer a believer myself, and even though they don’t go to that particular church anymore (different state) they’re still in the same denomination, with the same mindset.

  • Miko

    One of the most insightful observations of the book for me, in fact, was when Dr. Smith pointed out that while the Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual, scientific description of the origin of the universe, nonetheless, the cosmology they describe actually is fairly “scientifically sound” for its day. … The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does?

    I’m going to disagree categorically with this statement. Pretending to know when you don’t is never science. If you look at cutting-edge scientific research, it’s full of new hypotheses (i.e., guesses), ideas for further research, unsolved questions, etc., typically gathered together in a special section of a paper so as to be unmistakably clear that it’s less certain that everything else. Also, historically the most important event in the philosophy of science has been the triumph of physis (searching for natural explanations) over theologie (searching for supernatural explanations); there was no reason a priori why that should have ended up being the case, but the Bible nonetheless ended up on the wrong side of the most important scientific debate of its day. (This is not an argument for or against a deity: just that phenomena can be explained without reference to one.) Finally, it wasn’t even that great of a source for its day. If you accept the 500 BCE date, that’s about the time that Democritus was talking about atoms and void, which was light years ahead of any “science” in the Bible (although he also went off the deep end with unjustified talk about the shapes of atoms, etc.).

    But then, if you truly don’t think that the accounts were ever meant to be read as factual, none of that should matter.

  • SarahH

    Thanks for posting this :-)

    As a general rule, I don’t discuss sensitive issues with my family. It’s only been about two years since I came out as an atheist, and I can tell they’re still figuring out how they feel about it. However, I do hope that we’ll eventually settle into a more comfortable dynamic where these things could come up.

    I understand how some of the previous posters feel about dealing with YEC literalists – and I agree, these books have a very small chance of making a difference in their thinking (and perhaps a small chance of being read by them in the first place). Last I heard, however, my family seems uncomfortable with the idea of evolution sort of categorically. Their churches take a vague anti-evolution stance, and they listen to James Dobson, etc. So they’re sort of “casual creationists” if you will.

    Books like these could help show them that science isn’t the enemy of religion – in fact, when one believes in a creator God, accurate science can only further reveal the wonders of His works, etc.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Mike, do the books explain how a Christian can view Genesis 1 and 2 as non-literal, and still make sense of the Adam and Eve story, in a way that preserves the doctrine of original sin? Or the infallibility of Paul when he talks about Adam as if he was a historical figure? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you, and other liberal Christians, have interpretive and analytical tools to deal with these issues. But fundamentalist Christians don’t—in fact, it’s their unwillingness to use these tools that defines them as fundamentalists. What you ask them to do here seems to require them to fundamentally change how they read the Bible. I don’t doubt that you can be a Christian and believe in evolution, but I’m not sure you can be a fundamentalist Christian and believe in evolution.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Perhaps I’m jaded, but I don’t see much hope for converting large amounts of literalist YECs into people with an understanding of science, even forgetting evolution for now.

    Fortunately it does in fact happen all the time. I know many, many conservative Christians who were YEC’s but who were convinced to accept a theistic evolution viewpoint after reading a book, hearing a lecture, or studying the issue in depth themselves. That is what happened to me when I was in high school, and I’ve seen and even helped a number of my friends at my conservative evangelical college and in the conservative evangelical church where I pastored through the same process. I was even surprised to hear my parents tell me just last year that they accept evolution now after hearing Francis Collins lecture at the college where my mom works, and they’ve been YEC’s for most of their lives.

    Change is possible. I wouldn’t be quite so condescending towards fundmentalists. Many of them are on a journey too, just like the rest of us.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, do the books explain how a Christian can view Genesis 1 and 2 as non-literal, and still make sense of the Adam and Eve story, in a way that preserves the doctrine of original sin? Or the infallibility of Paul when he talks about Adam as if he was a historical figure?

    I know the first one does. I haven’t finished the second one yet.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you, and other liberal Christians, have interpretive and analytical tools to deal with these issues. But fundamentalist Christians don’t—in fact, it’s their unwillingness to use these tools that defines them as fundamentalists. What you ask them to do here seems to require them to fundamentally change how they read the Bible. I don’t doubt that you can be a Christian and believe in evolution, but I’m not sure you can be a fundamentalist Christian and believe in evolution.

    You’re quite right. You can’t. But that’s the point. These books might help some of the more open minded fundamentalists start to think about the Bible in a new way, and cross that line away from fundamentalism. Like I said in the previous comment, change is always possible.

    Not to mention that there are many, many evangelical Creationists out there who have significantly more interpretive flexibility when it comes to the Bible than fundamentalists do. (Just to clarify, fundamentalists and evangelicals are not the same, and there are a lot more evangelicals than fundies around these days.) Those are the type of Christians who will be most open to the arguments of these books, and the most liable to change their minds because of them. It’s worth a shot anyway, IMHO.

  • http://sanguinity.livejournal.com Sanguinity

    Thanks for posting these; I’m forwarding to a friend who accepts evolutionary science, but who has had theological questions about the particulars of integrating it with her faith.

    However, I do wish to point out to you that not all atheists wish to deconvert our Christian friends, and that in recommending these books we may not be “settling” for some pragmatic, lesser goal. It is possible, after all, to be an atheist and still sincerely respect someone else’s faith. Not all atheists do, I know, but not all atheists don’t, either.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “One of the most insightful observations of the book for me, in fact, was when Dr. Smith pointed out that while the Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual, scientific description of the origin of the universe, nonetheless, the cosmology they describe actually is fairly “scientifically sound” for its day. … The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does?”

    I’m going to disagree categorically with this statement. Pretending to know when you don’t is never science.

    In retrospect, I don’t think I should have used the term “scientifically sound”. That’s not quite what I meant (which is why I put it in quotes in the first place). I don’t mean that the ancient Hebrew writers were doing actual science. What I meant was that given that they didn’t have the tools of the scientific method at their disposal (since the invention of that method was still about two millenia off), they still made the best observations and descriptions of the world that they could with what they had.

    In other words, if you’re a desert nomad, or a priestly scribe, or a slave living in an ethnic enclave in ancient Babylon, and you’re looking around at the natural world with no other tools or information but your own two eyes and basic logic and intuition, you might very well come up with something like what the ancient Jews came up with. If those are the conditions you’re working under, then what they came up with makes a reasonable amount of sense.

    I wish I could say more about how exactly Smith develops this argument, and how exactly he describes the Jewish cosmology (I know he goes on at length about their concept of the firmament), but unfortunately I gave away my copy of the book to a Creationist friend of mine a while ago so I’m just going from memory.

    As for Democritus, he wasn’t doing science either. His theories were just a lucky guess. And he wasn’t even talking about the same sorts of things that Genesis addresses anyway, so it’s sort of like comparing apples to oranges to say he was “light years ahead”.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    However, I do wish to point out to you that not all atheists wish to deconvert our Christian friends, and that in recommending these books we may not be “settling” for some pragmatic, lesser goal. It is possible, after all, to be an atheist and still sincerely respect someone else’s faith. Not all atheists do, I know, but not all atheists don’t, either.

    I certainly hope you’re right. After all, that’s why I posted these recommendations in the first place. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    On the one hand, I can easily accept that Christians, with enough ingenuity and handwaving, can and have evolved forms of Christianity that accommodate evolution,

    Come on now, it’s really not that hard. :)

  • Justin jm

    the cosmology they describe actually is fairly “scientifically sound” for its day. In other words, given the kind of observations it would have been possible for ancient near eastern writers to have made about the world in 1000 BCE (or 1500 or 500 BCE, depending on when you think that section of Genesis was first composed), the biblical cosmology is not too bad.

    But science isn’t about just the hypothesis. The ancients had no means to test their ideas; the flat-earth center-of-the-universe thing went straight to dogma.

    In other words, if you’re a desert nomad, or a priestly scribe, or a slave living in an ethnic enclave in ancient Babylon, and you’re looking around at the natural world with no other tools or information but your own two eyes and basic logic and intuition, you might very well come up with something like what the ancient Jews came up with. If those are the conditions you’re working under, then what they came up with makes a reasonable amount of sense.

    But even the ancient Greeks knew that the world was round; they calculated the Earth’s circumference within approx. 3000 miles, yet the Catholic Bible that I have left over from my childhood has a diagram of the ancient Hebrew cosmology; a diagram which shows a flat Earth supported by stone pillars (themselves supported by nothing).

    So, really, Genesis wasn’t any cutting-edge stuff even back in its own time.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Thanks, Mike, that makes sense.

    One general question for everyone out there: Is what Mike proposes to argue an ethical/honest thing for an atheist to do? It’s definitely an honest thing for him to do, but something seems kind of insincere about me trying to convince a Christian that evolution is consistent with Christianity. I mean, I’m not a Christian, and while I’ve read a lot about it, I can’t really say I understand it. I know I like liberal Christianity better than fundamentalism (and I disagree with J.J Ramsey—fundamentalism seems to require more ingenuity and handwaving, not less), but I don’t know that I can really honestly argue whether one is or is not consistent with Christianity. It would seem a little presumptuous for me to try. On the other hand, like Sanguinity, I have no interest in converting people to atheism, and some interest in converting them to good science. I’d be curious to hear other people’s perspectives on the honesty of an atheist using Mike’s approach.

  • Dillon

    God can live in hyper-time or regular space-time/earth time or exit time completely if he wishes.

    Hyper-time can be moving at a faster rate of speed than earth time, about a 1000 to 1
    year ratio.

    The Apostle Peter says that, “one day … is as a thousand years”. and vice versa

    “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day…” (2Peter 3:8,10).

    Peter seems to be quoting Moses in the book of Psalms.

    “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations…You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:1,3,4)

    2) In Gen. 2:17, it says: “In the day you eat of the fruit of this tree you shall surely die.” It is no coincidence that those who lived before the Flood died just short of a 1000 years of age. Thus figuratively speaking, Adam, and all his offspring before the flood, died within a “day”—that is, within a thousand years.

    From Gods point of view it does not matter as he is a time travaler or steps in and out of our time domain at will.

    Also, Time may not be linear, but may be made like a book or movie, where the last scene can be shot or take place before the beginning scenes.

    Revelation 13: 8 states in part; that the Lamb/Jesus Christ was killed before the world was made.

    Rent the movie, clock stopper or read the book Flatland for a better understanding of this comcept. Apparently God thinks in hyper-time and hyper-dimensionally, Go Figure.

    We are talking about the Great I Am, the God of the Universe and the Almighty, Right?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I don’t know that I can really honestly argue whether one is or is not consistent with Christianity. It would seem a little presumptuous for me to try.

    Which is another reason why I recommended the books. If you know a Christian who is interested in the question of whether you can believe in both the Bible and evolution, you can simply pass along these books and let them do the arguing for you. :)

    But the honesty question is a good one, which is part of the reason I included the multiple disclaimers about these books being of no use to anyone who is only interested in deconverting Christians altogether. If one tends to think that “liberal” Christians are just as bad as any others, then I’m sure they wouldn’t be interested in my recommendation.

    (Though I do put “liberal” in quotes, since you don’t actually have to be a theological liberal – in the historical meaning of the term – to reconcile the Bible and evolution. Plenty of Catholics and evangelicals have also been doing it for decades.)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    But even the ancient Greeks knew that the world was round; they calculated the Earth’s circumference within approx. 3000 miles, yet the Catholic Bible that I have left over from my childhood has a diagram of the ancient Hebrew cosmology; a diagram which shows a flat Earth supported by stone pillars (themselves supported by nothing).

    So, really, Genesis wasn’t any cutting-edge stuff even back in its own time.

    I didn’t say it was cutting-edge, just that it made sense in its context. After all, to get a sense that the earth is round you generally need to live by the sea, as the Greeks did, where you can see ships slipping below the horizon (this was one of the proofs Aristotle gave for the curve of the earth). The Israelites, by contrast, were not a sea-faring culture; and, furthermore, the early chapters of Genesis were most likely compiled and edited by Jews living in Babylon or even Persia, hundreds of miles from any sea. For a land-locked culture, a round-earth is not the most self-evident hypothesis to make about the shape of the world. So once again to my point, that the biblical cosmologists were doing their best with what they could observe at the time. They were honestly describing the world as it appeared to them.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Well, like I said, I don’t want to “deconvert” anyone, and I like liberal/”liberal” Christianity better than fundamentalism (intellectually and morally), so it’s not that I think they’re equally “bad.” I just don’t know how I can judge which approach, if either, is consistent with “being Christian.” I’m not sure that question is even meaningful for me. That seems like a question for Christians to hash out.

    But yes, what you say makes sense. Next time I talk to a fundamentalist I’ll say “Hey, have you read this book? It was recommended to me by this Christian who you probably wouldn’t consider Christian, because he doesn’t understand about things like inerrancy, and about how clear Leviticus is about homosexuals.” I’m sure he/she will rush right out and read it. Er, or perhaps I won’t phrase it quite that way. :)

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Hey, Mike, as long as you’re in such a talkative mood: Your picture’s been driving me crazy. What are you holding? An umbrella? A pointer? A balloon?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Well, like I said, I like liberal/”liberal” Christianity better than fundamentalism (intellectually and morally), so it’s not that I think they’re equally “bad.”

    Sorry, when I said “you” in my comment above (“If you tend to think that “liberal” Christians are just as bad as any others, then I’m sure you wouldn’t be interested in my recommendation. “), I wasn’t referring to you specifically AH. I know you already said you like liberal Christians better. I was using “you” generically to refer to any others here who don’t feel the way you do. Sorry for the confusion. My bad. I’ll edit it to make it more clear who I’m talking about.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Is what Mike proposes to argue an ethical/honest thing for an atheist to do?

    Exposing people to ideas that are compatible with the evidence is always the ethical thing to do. Religion is a secondary consideration that either allows for or resists new ideas.

    Why would it be unethical to share ideas? Even ones ones? Sharing a bad theory (like creationism), at the very least, holds it up to public scrutiny. People exposed to the bad idea can point out the problems with it and explore it until it is rejected. If it is a good idea then more evidence can be found to support it and we can build upon it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Hey, Mike, as long as you’re in such a talkative mood: Your picture’s been driving me crazy. What are you holding? An umbrella? A pointer? A balloon?

    A climbing rope. It’s a cropped picture of me and my daughter rock climbing. :)

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com/ Cannonball Jones

    Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual, scientific description of the origin of the universe

    Hmm, I’ll have to check my copy of the Bible again cause I don’t remember seeing that disclaimer at the beginning. What were they then? Just fairy stories? Somehow I can’t see your average Joe of a couple of thousand years ago reading this stuff and discussing how it was an interesting allegory but obviously not scientifically accurate…

  • Erik

    Although I haven’t read the two books Mike suggested, I have to throw a plug in for my favorite pro-evolution pro-faith book, Finding Darwin’s God by Dr. Kenneth Miller. If you took BIO 101 in college, there’s a good chance he was the co-author for your textbook. He brilliantly deconstructs current “intelligent design theory” and provides an excellent framework for integrating an unguided evolutionary process with the God of the Bible.

    For me, it’s one of my top three books ever read.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    Hmm, I’ll have to check my copy of the Bible again cause I don’t remember seeing that disclaimer at the beginning. What were they then? Just fairy stories? Somehow I can’t see your average Joe of a couple of thousand years ago reading this stuff and discussing how it was an interesting allegory but obviously not scientifically accurate…

    But ancient people had a better understanding of the quality of knowledge than we do. We’re so enamored of the idea of absolute knowledge and that we can know things with certainty, but most of the ancients didn’t even pretend to understand how the world worked. They understood chariots and horses and so could easily imagine that the sun was pulled across the sky by them, but if you had asked them if it was in fact that that was how the sun moved across the sky they would probably think you were stupid. They knew that the story was something like a metaphor that was used to explain the movement of sun, but only the most ignorant would have accepted it as a factual explanation of events.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Somehow I can’t see your average Joe of a couple of thousand years ago reading this stuff and discussing how it was an interesting allegory but obviously not scientifically accurate…

    Well, that’s exactly the position Augustine took over 1500 years ago…

    “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation”…

    “With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation”. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, 2:9; St. Augustine of Hippo [A.D. 408])

    However, that’s sort of beside my point. Whether or not the ancient authors thought the early chapters of Genesis actually happened (many of them probably did), that’s doesn’t mean that’s the main point or purpose of the text. It’s a peculiarly modern mindset to reduce everything to either scientific or historical truth. Other times and cultures would have been just as interested in the question of “what does it mean?” as they would with “did it happen?” (That’s what I think Augustine is getting at, for instance.)

  • Aj

    There’s a difference between ancients creating stories that are fictional, and a Christian hundreds of years later saying that anything in them that is found not be true should be interpreted differently because the authors couldn’t possibly be wrong. Augustine and Dr. Smith make it clear that the problems between truth and the Bible are their motivation for interpreting the Bible different, they’re resolving errors.

    Why is it a problem, other than an irrational belief that the Bible is true, that these ancient people believed in absurdities? Through the generations from them to us people have believed in absurdities, today people believe absurdities. People in general, whether ancient or not, pretend to understand the world, I don’t see why we should reject this as one such attempt. It seems a fairly typical attempt considering the people involved.

    Is it ethical for an atheist to advocate the position that the Bible is true? As ethical as them creating new scripture and telling believers that it’s the word of God, they could create a new religion. It doesn’t matter that the scripture is more compatible with science, or that it advocates doing good works. I am not comfortable with the justification of manipulating people with lies, whether it’s for good or evil. If an atheist uses this book to influence theists in this way then they’re dishonestly manipulating them.

  • http://sanguinity.livejournal.com Sanguinity

    Autumnal Harvest:

    One general question for everyone out there: Is what Mike proposes to argue an ethical/honest thing for an atheist to do? It’s definitely an honest thing for him to do, but something seems kind of insincere about me trying to convince a Christian that evolution is consistent with Christianity.

    I don’t try to make an argument that something is or isn’t consistent with Christianity; it’s not my religion, and me trying to argue it from its own premises becomes an exercise in insincerity and ludicrousness. I’d rather show the person I’m talking to the respect of admitting that I don’t understand why they believe what they believe, and that I thus wouldn’t know what should follow from their beliefs.

    I am willing to ask, however, if their beliefs require the world to be different than the world we see around us. Because if their faith requires that our world be different world than what it is, then I have to admit that I don’t understand how they see their faith to be a sincere effort to honor what they understand to be the Truth. Which, you know, is what I had understood them to be doing.

    So you’re right, I don’t try to argue what is and isn’t consistent with the particulars of someone else’s faith; instead, I ask meta-level questions about how their faith handles this or that issue that we both experience, and whether one’s worldview should be able to handle that issue. More importantly, I ask from a position of assumed mutual respect as someone who is also trying to understand and honor the truth of our existences.

    …and, rightly or wrongly, sometimes that eventually leads to them asking how to integrate Christianity and evolutionary science.

    (At which point I say, “I wouldn’t know, but this seminary student on one of the blogs I read recommended some books…”)

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    …you don’t actually have to be a theological liberal – in the historical meaning of the term – to reconcile the Bible and evolution. Plenty of Catholics and evangelicals have also been doing it for decades.

    Thanks for the recommendations Mike
    (from an evangelical who’s fine with evolution)

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    Christian who thinks there’s a LOT more to evolution than most religious people would like to admit.

    Another GREAT book that brings together the evolution/faith issues: RANDOM DESIGNER by Richard Colling

  • Peter

    “journey’s”
    >:[

  • John Devon

    As a relevant subject to the discussion, I might suggest reading The Biblical Cosmos Versus Modern Cosmology: Why the Bible is Not the Word of God, by David Presutta. It provides a highly detailed and exhaustive analysis of the Bible passages that describe the biblical cosmos. Though this book won’t help anyone trying to accommodate belief in the Bible with modern science, it will help you show that the biblical view of cosmology is totally at odds with the modern view. It can be used if you want to show that the Bible is not reliable or worthy of believing that it is the word of God.


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