Christian Writer: I Don’t Know How Old the Earth Is… So Let’s Just Say God Did It

Here’s a question Bible-believe Christians have to wrestle with at some point in their lives: Should you take Genesis literally?

In other words, was life really created in a few days, a few thousand years ago, or was it created (as scientists will tell you) over billions of years?

Carolyn Arends has an article in Christianity Today where she talks about how she reconciles the two worlds. In the excerpts below, take note of just how hard she has to try to deny reality.

This is totally what happened.

First, she talks about her son, a Young Earth Creationist:

After we both exhaled some relieved laughter, I whispered, “I believe God created the world and holds it together. Just how he did that is up for debate, but whatever conclusions you come to about the earth’s origins, God did it. Okay?

Let’s paraphrase: The world might be much older than we think, but no matter what you end up believing — the scientific view supported by evidence or the Biblical view supported by the Bible — let’s pretend that God had something to do with it, okay?

There’s not even an option that allows for a natural world.

Then, Arends talks about how her own views have changed over time:

I’ve since been able to explain that it wasn’t science that changed my position on creation. I know there’s consensus in the scientific community regarding the age of the earth and the importance of genetic variation, but I also know there are many areas of contention. Besides, if I believed that the Bible truly asked me to reject the scientific consensus, it would be the end of the debate.

Let’s paraphrase: I know the experts in this field agree on the age of the earth, but they disagree on some of the minutiae… so I’m just going to discard all of their wisdom. Besides, if I really believed the Bible said the world was created in an instant, I would totally ignore everything the smart people said and accept whatever my holy book told me.

This is intellectual dishonesty in every sense of the term. What’s worse is that Arends knows perfectly well any interpretation of the Bible is a far cry from what we know is true. You have to contort the Bible into incredibly strange shapes to make it sound even remotely close to what the scientists say about the age of the earth.

Finally, Arends leaves us with her conclusion:

The world — and our understanding of God’s ways within it — has always been full of mystery and challenge. Our task is to raise up believers willing to affirm the authority of the Bible in all its fascinating and culturally situated complexity. We need kids who are unafraid to ask the sorts of tough and exciting theological, philosophical, and scientific questions you can only ask when you know that, however this world came to be, God did it.

Let’s paraphrase: Christians need to raise children who will believe whatever a book tells them, even when it’s demonstrably wrong. (We’ll call it “complex” to make ourselves feel better, though.) We need kids who will ask tough questions… and then throw aside whatever the legitimate answers are and just say, “GodDidIt.”

This passes as liberal Christianity, by the way. Arends is someone who doesn’t buy into the Ken-Ham-Bizarro-World notion of a literal Genesis. She understands evolution makes sense… but she still can’t bring herself to admit her holy book is wrong. It’s pathetic. She’s forced to cling to her warped view of the world because she knows that if she accepted what all the evidence pointed to, it would mean discarding the Bible completely.

That’s what the good scientists do — go where the evidence leads.

That’s not what Arends does — because the Bible doesn’t allow you to think for yourself. It demands that you accept it even when reality tells you the opposite is true.

This Marco Rubio virus is spreading fast.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Piet Puk

    People like Carolyn Arends make me so sad.. How proud they are of their willfull ignorance.

  • Drakk

    The sad thing is how people will actually find this to be oh so deeply philosophical of her.

  • NickDB

    If someone stood with their fingers in their ears going “LA LA LA LA Papa Smurf did it” Everyone would consider them a complete nutcase, but if they go “LA LA LA LA God did it” they’re praised as good individuals.

    Don’t think I’m ever going to understand humanity.

  • Rocky Morrison

    Of course the Bible is open to interpretation; from the first century Rabbis to Augustine this was accepted.

    Its the atheists who most often insist on a “literal interpretation”.

    Of course, they don’t apply than to other things, like, say, the Constitution…that they want to interpret.

    They have to.  Otherwise, if you take, say, the Constitution “literally” you don’t find the phrase “separation of church and state” or “right to abortion”.  Or a lot of other things they like.

  • Rocky Morrison

    Why is it again that this blog is called the “Friendly” atheist?

  • Piet Puk

    Dont ask me. Ask Hemant, it his his blog.

  • Mara

     Actually, it’s more that atheists can’t figure out why Christians are so willing to take the book literally when they want to (see: homosexuality and the place of women) and ignore it when they want to (see: eating shrimp and wearing clothes with wool and cotton).

  • Isilzha

    Xians seem to have such fragile feelings!  If they say something flat out wrong then somehow it’s “unfriendly” to point it out?  If they insist on their wrongness, then it’s “unfriendly” to express even slight disdain at their insistence on ignoring evidence?

    Rocky, are you proud of your willfull ignorance?

  • Fargofan

    I have mixed reactions to this. It’s great that she cares about using evidence and asking questions. But the statement “However it came to be, God did it” is a foregone conclusion. That’s pretty much the opposite of the scientific approach.

  • cipher

    It isn’t “liberal” Christianity, Hemant; it’s Christianity Today. They aren’t even “progressive” evangelicals like your friend Mike. They only appear liberal when you place them next to Ken Ham. Next to John Spong – not so much.

    Look at the comments beneath her blog post; they’re an excellent illustration of what I keep insisting upon – the need for mandatory intelligence testing as a prerequisite for voting privileges.

  • Dave Littler

    I think the issue a lot of us have is when christians interpret their fairy tales in ways that are obviously at odds with the source material and yet expect us to take it seriously… up to and including influencing law and education to conform to their arbitrary, whimsical and absurd notions.

    I could INTERPRET the bible to be a manual on the breeding and rearing of leopard slugs, and I could go ahead and tell people that this was what the book was always meant to be about, and I could attempt to take my tortured logic and obvious intellectual dishonesty and argue it with great passion and insistence… but if I wanted to push this on people, they would be right to treat me like a moron.

    There comes a point at which what you’re doing ceases to be interpretation and becomes fanfiction. That’s the point this writer and so many others like her have reached, and that’s what we find so hard to take seriously.

  • Dave Littler

    Now, now. Let’s not be unfriendly. They don’t call it “willfull ignorance.” They call it “FAITH.”

  • Holytape

     How about this, “It’s so cute the way that she rejoices in her willful ignorance.  She like a kitten trying to pounce on a laser dot, except she knows that she can never actually catch the dot, but she tries anyways.”   Is that friendly enough?

  • Fentwin

    So if someone insists that 2+2=5  its “unfriendly” to point out otherwise?

  • Holytape

    As to the separation of church and state, it’s the combination of the first and fourteenth in the first amendments.   The first states that congress can make laws that either promote or infringe on religion.  The fourteenth applies the first amendment to all governments levels.

    First: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
    prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
    speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
    assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Fourteenth Section 1:  All persons born or naturalized in the United States,
    and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United
    States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or
    enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of
    citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of
    life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any
    person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    The right to an abortion and the right to privacy is implied by the ninth.  It funny how conservatives always forget that one.

    Ninth: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be
    construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Also here are some phrases that you also don’t find word for word in the constitution:

    “You can worship Jesus.”
    “You can own a home or propriety.”
    “You have the right to travel between states.”
    “You have the right to marry a woman.”
    “You have the right to wear pants.”
    “A government official shall not follow you around all day insulting your mother and hitting you over the head with a frozen mackerel.”

  • jdm8

    A variation of the divine fallacy which this is an example: if I don’t understand it, then it must be that God did it.

  • Sindigo

    My favourite comment from the blog post (taken out of context solely for derisory purposes): ” If God had meant for us to think, God would have given us brains.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Stev84

    Are we also allowed to interpret the crucifixion and say it never really happened like that and that it’s just a metaphor? No, of course not. That’s dogma. That’s Absolute Truth that can’t be questioned.

    The point is that one you start a significant amount of interpretation, it’s all up for questioning. But you only like to interpret the inconvenient bits. Then when it’s time to pass laws it’s “God’s unalterable word” again

  • C Peterson

    Atheists aren’t particularly interested in interpreting the Bible, because they don’t believe that any interpretation has relevance. When you see atheists “interpreting” the Bible, what they are more likely doing is challenging the interpretations of those who seek to use the Bible to determine social policy.

  • Nox

     “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” logically implies separation of church and state.

    “God formed man of the dust of the ground” does not logically imply evolution.

    Obviously, some parts of the bible aren’t meant to be taken completely literally. But for the most part christians are not seeking the author’s intent. They are seeking belief.

    It is more important to christianity to maintain belief that scripture is true than to maintain belief in any one point of scripture. The church will discard every verse of the bible before they abandon biblical inerrancy. They will stick to what the bible says until it is impossible to keep believing what the bible says. And then they will insist it actually says something else.

    The standard liberal reading is still a fundamentalist reading. They just start out with slightly different fundamentals. The fundamentalist says everything in the bible must be true on its face. The liberal says everything in the bible must be true in some sense. Both begin their reading by ruling out that the bible could actually be wrong.

    Aside from desiring it to be true in some sense, there is no reason to suppose the author wasn’t actually wrong. If you interpret the author’s intent with the rule “anytime the bible is obviously wrong it must mean something else”, how would you ever detect if the authors of the bible were actually wrong about anything.

  • The Other Weirdo

     It’s that last one that I feel is the most critical of all. All the others? Pfft!

  • ortcutt

    I know there are a lot of atheists who give liberal Christianity a pass because it’s not as socially harmful as fundamentalist Christianity, but this article shows just what the danger of liberal Christianity is.  It deliberately corrodes people’s thinking about evidence and science in order to accommodate religious beliefs.  When you teach people that they can believe any old nonsense regardless of the evidence, there is no way to contain that.  Am I surprised that her son ended up as a Young Earth Creationist?  No.   A mind that is fed this “believe whatever you want” nonsense can go in any direction.  He could have ended up as a YEC, or he could have ended up believing in healing crystals, or anything.

  • ortcutt

     I fail to detect anything philosophical in anything she wrote.  Her knowledge of epistemology seems to be zero.

  • Jeff P

    If Christians can think of themselves as friendly with having a God concept that sends vast swaths of mankind to Hell for hot believing the right things, atheists can certainly think of themselves as friendly for not having such a draconian belief system and merely pointing out some faulty thinking.

  • ortcutt

     You’re so intolerant of my Smurfism. 

  • Smurfette

    Praise the Great Blue One!!

  • RobertoTheChi

    Are you a butthurt christian? Is it unfriendly to point out when someone is wrong?

  • Sven2547

    “Its the atheists who most often insist on a ‘literal interpretation’.”
    I WISH!
    Maybe I could take your comment seriously if literal-minded Christians weren’t so fervently trying to ban same-sex marriage, ban contraception, ban abortion, ban in-vitro fertilization, and teach young-earth creationism in the science classroom.

  • Michaelbrice

    ‘Friendly’ does not imply acceptance of bullshit

  • Piet Puk

    To be fair, atheist probably have the most honest interpretation of any scripture; that it is just that, scripture. No more, no less.

  • LesterBallard

    “or was it created (as scientists will tell you) over billions of years?”
    If a scientist says that it was created at all, I’d have to say that scientist is wrong.

  • LesterBallard

    But you do find that African Americans are only worth 3/5 as much as white/Real Americans.

  • Drakk

     Perhaps I meant to say “profound”, with as much sarcasm as can drip from text on a screen.

    Then again, I find a lot of philosophy to be nonsensical.

  • Drakk

    What issue do you have with the word “created”?

  • Achron Timeless

    It’s very friendly. See, nothing here is demanding that you nutballs be relegated to 2nd class citizens by stripping away various rights and basic human dignity unlike the xtian response to… well everyone that’s not them. 

    Your christian brethren in Uganda have been in the news lately for taking that a step further. Granted, that’s not unique to just christianity. Go check the Gaza weather report if you want an example of where that line of thinking goes: Sunny with a high chance of exploding suddenly due to weapons wielded by religious fanatics on both sides.

    So while we might not be offering milk and cookies, we’re much friendlier on average than theists seem to know how to be.

  • Tainda

    That’s my biggest problem with them.  

    La di daaa, let’s pick and choose which of “God’s rules” we want to follow/enforce/usetosubjugateanother today!

  • David Pearce

    I’ve got an issue with created if it is used in this context by a christian, because it is implicit that they mean ‘created by a creator’ – no christian would use the word otherwise.  Given, it could be used in a context such as ‘our current world and universe were created by the operation of naturalistic processes’, but this is certainly not what either the author or commenters meant in their use of the word created/creation.

  • David Pearce

    Reading the comment thread of the CT article is enough to show that the statement that it is atheists who insist on ‘literal interpretation’ is bullshit.  Many of the commenters call the author out as a heretic and for corrupting her son because she is not taking a literal approach, and one commenter is cancelling his subscription to CT because of the heresy of non-literalism in the article!!

  • Sfindley312

    Well said Rocky, they keep blocking me because I hit them with reality. “The Unfriendly Atheist” that is!!

  • Sfindley312

    Rocky , I like the way you think!!

  • Sfindley312

    You were always the biggest asshole on this site!!

  • kagekiri

    Yeah, no joke. I remember when I was Christian, we had a Bible study delve into questioning the justice of free will and predestination.

    As we neared uncomfortable conclusions about God being a pretty irresponsible jerk who created people he already knew were definitely going to hell, I cut it all off with a “well, we’ll never know for sure until we’re in heaven, so it’s irrelevant and we should just trust God anyway!”

    My fellow study group members all agreed and I was praised for my wise practicality. I was so proud of that moment of faith then, shutting down all those pesky doubts in myself and others.

    Now, as an atheist, I’m horrified at how we purposefully gave up free thinking for the purpose of staying comfortably ignorant. I remember similar instances of my doing the same thought-stopping dismissal with creationism vs evolution, or the Bible’s morality concerning rape, or its homophobic messages.

    You really can gain a sense of profound peace by being willfully ignorant, but you must abdicate your moral responsibility and rationality to do it; that’s a high cost. I understand it well, but I can’t even pretend to respect it.

  • Piet Puk

    Obvious troll is obvious..

  • Blacksheep

    You’re missing the “God” part of Christian faith. If God is an all powerful being, then he could have created the earth in 7 days, 7 years, or 7 billion years, it makes no difference. He could have also created the earth in 7 days in such a way that it looks like 7 billion. 
    If we believe that the entire universe was literally created by an all knowing, all powerful being, then all things are possible. Anything less, and it’s not the same God we’re talking about.
    I know you don’t agree with this in any way, but it helps in understanding how Christians look at the world. That’s why it’s not odd for her to say, “whatever conclusions you come to about the earth’s origins, God did it…”

    It’s not refuting science at all, it’s independant of science. And It’s an attitude that is free to accept whatever science proves is correct.

  • Marco Conti

    because “Friendly” doesn’t mean “pandering”. 
    But here is a nice parallel for you. You know how the christian religion always claim to be merciful, forgiving and so forth but then will claim that their god sends you to hell for eternity to be consumed in a lake of fire if you don’t believe and worship him?
    We are that friendly.

  • Anna

    This isn’t liberal Christianity, though. Maybe this is what passes for liberal in the evangelical world, but evangelicals are a breed apart. Actual liberal Christians might include UCC, Quakers, and some (not all) of the moderate Protestant denominations like Methodists and Episcopalians. The kinds of people who read Christianity Today are not part of the mix.

  • Baal

     Go read pharyngula’s comment section for a few weeks then come back.  You could also read the anti-atheist comments on some of the xian blogs here at Patheos (I’m not equating the two in degree but am in kind).  Hemant is decidedly friendly.  You’re lacking in perspective.

    Also, describing delusional behaviour is not un-friendly.

  • Baal

    Brad!…. Doctor Scot!… Janet!….

  • Anna

    After we both exhaled some relieved laughter, I whispered, “I believe God created the world and holds it together. Just how he did that is up for debate, but whatever conclusions you come to about the earth’s origins, God did it. Okay?”

    I love how these Christians outright tell their kids what they must believe and then pretend that their children have made some sort of free choice. And further, people like this have the gall to accuse atheists of indoctrination!

    We all know what Christians would say if the above sentence read: “Whatever conclusions you come to about religion, God is fake. Okay?”

  • Marco Conti

    While I despise conservative Christians for their obviously backwards beliefs and the way they want to try to impose them on everyone else, I find the more liberal Christian way more inconsistent with their own faith. 

    For instance, if you believe the bible and christian doctrine, you most definitely cannot believe in the scientific explanation for origins. The very basis of christian theology is Jesus sacrificing on the cross for us in order to clean us of the original sin of Adam and Eve.

    Quite simply, lacking Adam and Eve to commit the original sin, makes Jesus inconsequential, which in turn makes Christianity futile. 

    Of course, I have read countless rationalizations about this issue, but all of them grasp at straws. They are all inherently unsatisfactory and if they are unsatisfactory for me, an atheist, I can only imagine what they are like to a fundamentalist.

    of course, in my daily life and in politics I much rather deal with liberal Christians, but I can’t help finding the fundies more internally consistent.

  • Blacksheep

    The New Testament brought about a new set of rules. Christ’s ministry put the old rules aside, and as Christians we are taught not to put “new wine into old wine skins.”  So we are not under the laws that you mention, things like not eating shellfish, etc, which are still observed by some Jews but not Christians. 

    Christianity did a 180 degree shift away from the law and into faith and grace.

  • Blacksheep

    Are all men “created equal” as the Declaration of Independance says? Or is it just an artificial equality? “Created” is a powerful word, as you know.

  • matt

     A god who would purposefully create the universe to APPEAR as if it’s older than it really is, probably isn’t a god you should be worshiping.  Especially if this is the same guy/gal/it who supposedly inspired the other nonsense in the bible.

  • Bdole

    From the post: “That’s what the good scientists do — go where the evidence leads. ”

    She’s not making any scientific claims or counterclaims so what’s the point of applying this standard? If you’re not applying it to her, why bring it up?

    Some people don’t need empirical evidence to believe certain things. I don’t have a problem with that as long as it stays in their personal lives and doesn’t get applied in the operating room, space shuttle cockpit, etc.

  • matt

    So god had to come down a SECOND time?  Don’t you find it strange that the all knowing creator would have to come down more than once?  Why didn’t god just tell Moses the first time?

    And I’m pretty sure ol’ Jesus even says something like:

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfull.” Matt 5:17

  • Blacksheep

    Different point, which was really that in my opinion people forget that the very concept of God is often at the root of misunderstanding. But to your point:

    - Maybe he simply created it, (not to APPEAR older) and it’s simply our interpretation that’s off. But even if he did something like that on purpose, that has nothing to do with whether or not I would worship Him. This goes back to that same topic on the nature of God: If there is one true God who created the universe, I am not going to nitpick his actions. 

    - Christians follow the Gospel of Christ, which to me at least is far from nonsensical, it’s about forgiveness, salvation, and transformation.

  • amycas

     “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be
    construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
    –Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

    In other words, just because the constitution does not explicitly state a certain right, doesn’t mean the people can be denied that right. You need to go read more about American jurisprudence.

  • amycas

     So pointing out that the original constitution wasn’t perfect makes LesterBallard an asshole?

  • LesterBallard

    Because it implies that it was consciously created, by a creator, and the religious tend to insist that it was their creator and no other.

  • Blacksheep

    Correct! His main purpose was to “fulfill” the law by dying in place of humanity in order to satisfy the law. If by “abolishing” the law he had meant that the law was simply put aside and forgotten, his death and resurrection would not have been necessary.

    I don’t think it was a second, unplanned visit from God’s perspective. I believe that it’s they way that it was planned from the beginning by an all knowing God. Old Testament prophets spoke of a savior, it was not a new idea.

  • amycas

    Creating a world in which all the evidence leads us to conclude that it is 4.5 billion years old, when really it was created last Thursday, implies a trickster god. This god knew what kinds of minds we had (since it apparently created those minds), it knew what kind of evidence we would need to know the truth (that the earth was created last Thursday) and yet, it still created the earth to look exactly as if it were 4.5 billion years old. Sounds like this god is a liar. I don’t understand why you would worship it, or trust anything it has to say.

  • LesterBallard

    Uh, no, I don’t find that.

  • amycas

     She made claims about where the earth/universe come from. That is an empirically testable claim. If it’s not testable, then it’s unfalsifiable and useless.

  • Blacksheep

    Sorry, you misread my original post and my intent. My point is that an all powerful God COULD have created the earth in 7 days, 7 years, or 7 billion years. 

    My other point was that if science proves that the earth is billions of years old, it doesn’t change our viewpoint that God is still the one who created it. 

    The “trickster God” scenerio was introduced by matt, but even that is a moot point because it assumes (for me) that my logic and reasoning surpasses that of an all powerful God. The fact that God may or may not choose do do something in a particular way does not constitute lying.  

  • Anna

    It’s their foundational assumption. They always start off with the assumption that the supernatural exists and that their god (and only their god) is real. That’s why it’s so hard to get any of them to “think outside the culture box.”

  • Glasofruix

    Why would an all powerful creator even care about your ass when our entire solar system is smaller than a drop of water in an ocean when compared to the size of the universe?

    Also, still no evidence of skyfairy.

  • Stev84

    But remember that they are the ones who accuse atheists of being selfish. I can’t think of anything more narcissistic than what you are describing

  • Jeff P

    The God described in the Old Testament was a jerk.  The God described in the new Testament would have been OK if He simply put the old law aside and said “My bad”.  But to come up with this whole needing to die and become resurrected as some kind of partial compensation for the old law and then to have all people go to hell that don’t buy into believing this stuff is just plain psychopathic.  IMHO.

  • Baal

     I’m guessing you don’t see xtian leaders on tv much or watch the clips posted to this blog?  This ‘New Testament rules’ only gets trotted out when the Olde one is mentioned for its harsh rules, barbarism, misogyny, sex toys, genocide and slavery.  Otherwise, xtians are more than happy to cite to it willynilly. 

  • Dan

    The ‘creator’ term can be misleading in some contexts, but certainly not all. I can easily say that the Grand Canyon was created primarily by the river erosion without implying the river is conscious. I can say that a stock market crash created an atmosphere of chaos or that natural selection created antibiotic resistance without implying a master designer who intentionally crashed the market or made bacteria evade treatments.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Blacksheep,
    Apparently a great many Christians have not gotten the memo about the Old Testament being an old set of rules that can be disregarded for the new set, because even though Christians now ignore injunctions against shellfish, mixed fibers, shaving their beards, and killing their smart-ass kids with a rock, they’re still very, very fond of justifying their oppression of women and LGBT people with the rules from the old set. Some are still digging around in that molding tome for justifications for their racial bigotry as well.

    Relevant to this post, since Genesis is in the OT, which is “old rules,” why do so many Christians insist that they must continue to believe literally a primitive Bronze Age myth about the formation of the Earth and the development of life?

    Where are the footnotes in the OT that say things like “Prior to November 24, 1859 Genesis shall be taken literally, but after that date it shall be taken as metaphor.” or “Prior to June 28, 1969, thou shalt kill all men who lie with men as with a woman, but after that date thou shalt treat them will love and goodwill.”  Did those footnotes get taken out during the several editings and translations over the last two millennia?

  • Isilzha

     I am a follower of Gargamel. 

  • Isilzha

    And if it was so perfect to begin with then no footnotes would have been needed because an all-knowing god would have known things would change and wouldn’t have put them in there in the first place.

  • allein

    Infidels. Everyone knows the Snorks are the way and the light.

  • Robster

    Indoctrination is their most valuable weapon in spreading their nonsense. Without it the baby jesus and the associated nonsense would have long gone.

  • Carolyn Arends


    I’m the writer of the piece in question.  Thank you for engaging with it.  If I may, I’d like to respond to a few of your comments.

    You are correct that I start with a certain set of presuppositions – you call them “delusions” and I call them “faith.”  I’ve used my faculties of reason to process the data available to me and concluded that belief is more reasonable than unbelief; you’ve undergone the same process and reached the opposite conclusion.  How we’ve ended up in such different places is a larger discussion than we can hope to have here.

    However, I’d like to address a specific tenet of your article.  You claim, “Arends knows perfectly well any interpretation of the Bible is a far cry from what we know is true. You have to contort the Bible into incredibly strange shapes to make it sound even remotely close to what the scientists say about the age of the earth.”  Here, Friendly Atheist, you have much in common with the Friendly Fundamentalists I am trying to address.  My point in the column is that the Bible says nothing at all about the age of the earth; to suggest that Scripture and science are fundamentally at war is to completely misconstrue what is actually posited in the Bible.  I don’t have to morph Genesis into “incredibly strange shapes” to arrive at this conclusion … I have to “uncontort” it from the shape of Enlightenment empiricism and let it return to its original dimensions as an Ancient Near Eastern cosmology (albeit, in my view, a very special, inspired one).  Like all literature of that time and genre, the concern is much more for the source of creation than the process. 

    We all understand that different genres make different truth claims.  A parable tells me something true about metaphysics but not about history.  A poem may tell me about history in a figurative way.  I’m arguing that, in the Bible, the genre of Genesis 1 and 2 is very different than the genre of a biology textbook.  It’s even (especially) different than the genre of the resurrection accounts in the New Testament.

    So, disagree with my presuppositions, but don’t miss my point.  If you’re going to dismiss the Bible, you’ll have to do it on other grounds.  Genesis 1 and 2 does not (I would argue) ask you to believe in a young earth created in six literal days.  To say that it does is to contort its meaning.

    Your Friendly Conservative-Yet-Not-Literalist Christian,
    Carolyn Arends

  • Drakk

    So, is the set of possible interpretations of genesis finite or infinite?

    If finite, does that mean that if we disprove all of them, we can completely discount genesis as a source on anything?

    If infinite, then are there any interpretations that are not part of the set, and if we show one of them to be true, can we also discount genesis?

    And that god character – what’s he a metaphor for, do you think?

  • Troels Jakobsen

    One also has to wonder, even if the OT rules no longer apply, what their justification was at the time when they did apply.

    Unbelievers and homosexuals (among others) were to be killed. So until NT came along this was actually considered the height of moral behavior? How can anyone justify this as moral, and what does it say about the god who commanded it?

  • Blacksheep

    I’m not sure. I really think that life was so radically different in the beginning of recorded history – from what I have read life was quite literally about survival and the strength of the group – that it’s very possible that social anomolies of any kind could have actually endangered its very existence.

    Maybe the idea of morality has shifted (it has, actually) to suit what works best for humanity. We are undoubtedly a kinder, gentler world, (with really bad stuff mixed in sometimes).

  • Blacksheep

    Hi Richard,

    Great points, and if Paul hadn’t spoken about homosexuality in the NT it would have saved us all a lot of trouble. I will continue to play Christ’s “don’t judge others” card on that one.

    As far as Genesis goes, I think that the creation account as well as the rules were all meant to be taken seriously. The rules  all changed with Christ, but his coming didn’t change the creation story. But still, I have no problem (especially as someone who has always been extremely interested in science) in believing  in the scientific timeline. I certainly believe that God COULD (I don’t know how to do italics in this forum) have done it in 7 days – but it looks like He didn’t.

    Frankly a lot of misery could have been avoided if Christians tried to behave like Christ.

  • Blacksheep

    I don’t really see many Christian leaders citing OT rules like you mentioned above. More often, I observe them picking and choosing particular infractions from the NT as they suit their needs.

  • Bdole

    Her claim that there is a creator-god is untestable. That’s why I said she made no scientific claims – and, more importantly, she doesn’t justify her god-belief by using or abusing science.

    Hemant seems to take issue with the fact that she’s not dropping her faith in light of what she knows. Not everyone is going to be an atheist, deal with it. Calling people “intellectually dishonest” because they come to a different conclusion sounds more like dogma than freethought.

    This characterization:

    “I would totally ignore everything the smart people said and accept whatever my holy book told me.This is intellectual dishonesty in every sense of the term.”

    frankly makes him sound like a dick. Nowhere did she ignore the “smart people.” Nothing science has found so far has absolutely ruled out every kind of god – and probably never will since there are infinite variations and interpretations.

  • Carolyn Arends

     Drakk, I’m not sure how suggesting that metaphor has been used to describe a reality = the reality is only a metaphor.  If you tell me your wife “loves you like a hurricane” and I don’t find a hurricane in your house – does that mean your wife doesn’t exist?
    As far as possible interpretations – there are likely an infinite number of ways we can misunderstand anything.  That doesn’t discount the thing itself; nor does it invalidate the ongoing quest of seeking to understand the thing itself.  For example, the fact that we revise scientific understanding of the natural world as we go doesn’t invalidate science … or the world.

  • Troels Jakobsen

    So “Kill all gays” was a moral law necessitated by circumstances. Gays were such a threat they had to be killed – for the good of society. Any kind of anomaly might have shattered the fragile Jewish Bronze Age society.

    Sounds like a load of bollocks to me. Gays existed long before the Bible was invented and they lived as part of plenty of societies that prevailed for centuries. Please name just ONE historical example of a society that fell apart due to the destructive influence of gays (apart from the obviously hyperbolic Biblical tales of Sodoma and Gomorra).

    Also, if it were a problem that gays lived among straights (how exactly would this be a practical problem? Please enlighten me), God could simply have set down rules for what their place should be in society (inheritance law, privileges, worship rules, etc). Instead they were to be killed without mercy.

  • Drakk

    Quite so, seeing as there is no hurricane in my house, and I am not married.

    The point of using a metaphor to describe reality, apart from being really irritating because why can’t people just speak plainly, is that the object of the metaphor doesn’t exist. Whether or not my alleged wife loves me, there still isn’t actually a hurricane in my house.

    I’m taking the metaphor business and applying it to biblegod. Given that his character is a metaphor (and thus doesn’t actually exist), what is he a metaphor for?

    As far as possible interpretations – there are likely an infinite number of ways we can misunderstand anything.

    Okay. How many valid interpretations of genesis are there? You seem to think there are an infinite number of invalid ones. How do you distinguish between a valid and invalid one? Is it valid if I interpret it under the assumption it was written on LSD? Why (not)?

    For example, the fact that we revise scientific understanding of the
    natural world as we go doesn’t invalidate science … or the world.

    Scientific revision is due to discovery of new evidence that makes said revisions necessary in order to maintain accuracy. We invented quantum mechanics because atoms didn’t make sense without it, not because we were bored with classical physics. And you’ll find that revision generally does invalidate the older theories – Newtonian mechanics isn’t terribly useful in quantum scale calculations or at speeds a reasonable fraction of lightspeed.

    What real world problems necessitate the development of new interpretations of the bible? (Apart from “science says we’re wrong again”). Why aren’t the old ones thrown out when it’s made obvious that they’re inaccurate?

  • Blacksheep

    I specifically did not focus on or mention “gays”, and you are missing entirely the spirit of my post which begins with the sentence “I’m not sure.”

  • Carolyn Arends

    Drakk, I think there are 2 questions you are addressing at once:
    1. What are the actual truth claims in Genesis?
    2. What is the value of those truth claims?

    My original piece dealt with question #1: I argued that a group of Christians (in the last couple of centuries) have misconstrued the truth claims in Genesis due to a misapplication of an enlightenment empirical mindset to a text constructed within a completely different context.  That misunderstanding, for a Christian, indeed creates a “real world problem,” in that it unnecessarily puts religious belief and scientific inquiry at odds. 

    So, I believe that Genesis posits a finite number of things, but that my interpretation of them is provisional and subject to revision when new information comes to light.  That new information may include new data about the nature of Ancient Near Eastern texts (a resource that has grown incredibly in the last century), as well as shifts in the current worldview that expose previously undetected cultural filters.

    By the way, why can I not include empirical data in my hermeneutical spiral?  If I believe that the God of the Bible did in fact create the world (through whatever process), why would new information about the world not help me refine my understanding of his revelation? 

    This of course spills over into question 2 – you find belief in the God of the Bible unreasonable …  and so our minds are not going to meet on this.  But I think it’s helpful to keep Questions 1 and 2 separate, as each informs our position on the other.

    And sorry about your wife. :)

  • Troels Jakobsen

    Never the less, gays, or homosexuals if you prefer, were one of the groups God ordered to be killed.

    God, being infinitely wise and just, must have had a really good reason for wanting them all killed. It’s strange how the reason is such a mystery to us, and how it’s so difficult for Christians to justify the morality of it, except for some vague handwaving: “Oh, it was different back then” – the standard excuse for justifying any biblical atrocity, from killing gays to eradicating entire peoples, making it acceptable and “moral”.

    I’m regularly told by Christians that God’s law is the ultimate moral law. Forgive me if I find that a little hard to credit with commandments like that.

  • Superdove

    Oh, that’s far from what makes LB an ahole. It’s scores of ahole posts that make him an ahole!

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Blacksheep,
    I appreciate your gracious reply despite my slightly snarky tone. I wish you a happy set of holidays.

    You can make italics by placing all just before the word,  Then just after the word, place