Sciences and the Tower of Babel

I am not a scientist, but I respect science. I respect science so long as science does what science can do. I disrespect science when science pretends to do what it can’t. That is, I respect science until it builds its own Tower of Babel.

Science does what science can do. I love that. It can discover and it can find and it can see and it can observe and it can induce. It can tell me why a tomato, a juicy red one through and through can generate potent, pleasing reactions on my tongue and make a (turkey) bacon, chard and tomato sandwich pleasurable. It can take us to the moon and back, and it can see things and discern things on the moon that will perhaps change life here on Planet Earth.

But science goes Babel on us when it tells us that because pleasure is in the frontal cortex it is nothing but chemical reaction; science goes Babel on us when it denies the glorious mysteries of beauty, of the eye of faith, and the splendor of perceptions.

“Science,” Marilynne Robinson tells us in When I Was a Child I Read Books, “can give us knowledge, but it cannot give us wisdom” (18). Robinson, as you may know, is hardly against science; she’s all for it… as long as it does not build its own Tower of Babel.

Anthropologists tell us, in their own Babel-building, that religions are all alike, that they are myth-building edifices drawn up by humans who can’t otherwise explain something. So for them — I’m reading Robinson so I’ll quote her again — “religion is intrinsically a crude explanation strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science” (15).

Pshaw! When I look into the Scientific American I don’t lose faith; I praise God and find the glories and grandeurs of God ever more immense and unfathomable. The more we learn, we learn in college, the more we don’t know — and the more science we learn, the higher  Babel goes? That’s just hybris. The more we learn about this world the bigger and more minute and more intricate God becomes.

There is, she says, “a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell” (7). Indeed. There’s an attempt to contain the glories of nature in the wineskin but sure as we are sitting here that skin will burst when the next Scientific American is read. Where she’s got this in her grip is right here: “The assumption persists among us still, vigorous as ever, that if a thing can be ‘explained,’ associated with a physical process, it has been excluded from the category of the spiritual” (9-10). That, my friends, is to fall for the error of the Manichees — to pose the world as either spiritual or physical. The Christian Story, my friends, is that these go together — God and Us, God and Human, spirit and matter, body and soul.

Or, “Religious experience is said to be associated with activity in a particular part of the brain. For some reason this is supposed to imply that it is delusional” (10). This sort of Babel-building will not satisfy the urge and pleasure of beauty.

When science cannot tell me that my wife, Kris, is beautiful to me; when it cannot tell me why a chard leaf with red spines is beautiful; when it cannot tell me why a long iron with a slight draw onto a green banked just so takes the game to a new level; when science cannot tell me why my grandson’s twinkly eye when he sees something magical on the iPad or why my granddaughter brings to the surface in a smile a joy from deep within because of a gaudy pair of Cinderella shoes … when science cannot explain why some things are beautiful, then it needs to do what it does so well and not try to do what it cannot do. What it should not do is build the Tower of Babel all over again. Agamemnon’s pride, Constantine’s arrogance, and Nixon’s insolence are Babel-like, and so too science when it pretends it can do more than it can do.

Religion, too, Marilynne Robinson observes: “Nor can religion [give us wisdom], until it put aside nonsense and distraction and becomes itself again” (18). Should I ask if religion, too, is just as Babel-like when it thinks it can tell science where to go?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • John M

    Great post! It hits the sweet spot for me and resonates with a, “Yes!”

  • Rory Tyer

    very much yes.

  • AHH

    From this scientist, yes, definitely.
    The attitude described here gets referred to in science/faith circles as “nothing buttery”. The mistake of thinking that, for example, because science tells us we are part of the same evolutionary sequence as other mammals, this means we are “nothing but” mammals.

    But we also need to avoid painting with a broad brush as though this is the dominant attitude among scientists. A few aggressive atheists (think Richard Dawkins) push this sort of thinking hard and get a lot of publicity, and others have it as a background assumption. But most scientists just do their science without trying to make it into metaphysics.
    I mention this because it is common in the Evangelical church to hear people talk as though science and scientists in general are enemies of faith because of (among other things) this kind of overreach. Which can make the church a hostile environment for scientists, putting another unnecessary stumbling block between them and Jesus.
    I tell people that to stereotype scientists by Richard Dawkins is as unfair as stereotyping Christians by televangelists.

  • Clay Knick

    Wow, this was splendid. Wonderful writing, Scot.

  • Steve_Winnipeg_Canada

    Amen, and Amen, and (one more time) Amen.

  • RJS4DQ

    I agree as well and told Scot so when I first saw the post. And Tower of Babel is a good analogy.

    Although the attitude isn’t explicit with many, it is often in the background even if not well formed.

    Marilynn Robinson has a number of good books that reflect on these ideas. My cat in my comment picture is reading one of them – An absence of mind.

  • Scott M. Jones

    Scot- Thanks for the post. Have you read Chief Rabbis Sacks book The Great Partnership, on this topic? Thought he does a great job.. He also debated Dawkins last year I believe… Here is the link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roFdPHdhgKQ

  • Brian s

    I would add to that that there are limitations to what science can be definitive on regarding what they attempt to determine. One of them is determining what has happened in the past. Another is what is going to happen in the future. These are necessary areas of study for science, but science is the study of the laws of nature that we can observe now, not what happened in the past nor what will happen in the future. Models of the future are very uncertain requiring certain assumptions which cannot themselves be proved.
    With this in mind, it is interesting that many evangelicals question about current scientific theory are about macroevolution (the past) and global warming (predictions of the future).

  • Andrew Dowling

    The laws of nature which occur now have definitive properties which can propose a high likelihood of past or future events. If your doctor finds a cancerous tumor, and he says there is a high likelihood of it becoming more aggressive due to X,Y,Z, do you ignore him/her because it’s a prognostication of the future?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Somehow, this seems relevant: http://xkcd.com/877/

  • Brian s

    No, I would not ignore him. That is because we have observed many cancerous tumors before. We have not experienced climate in the same way. We can predict well the weather about 10 days in the future, but have you noticed that the NWS is almost always wrong when predicting the frequency and severity of hurricanes for the next hurricane season. How much harder is it, then, to predict the average mean temperature one hundred years from now. Short term and long term predictions are very different.

  • Adam

    I like this one too.

    http://abstrusegoose.com/275

  • Adam

    And thus we have true wisdom.

    “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
    “Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

    -Ecclesiastes 1:2

  • Tom F.

    “The assumption persists among us still, vigorous as ever, that if a
    thing can be ‘explained,’ associated with a physical process, it has
    been excluded from the category of the spiritual” (9-10). That, my
    friends, is to fall for the error of the Manichees — to pose the world
    as either spiritual or physical. The Christian Story, my friends, is
    that these go together — God and Us, God and Human, spirit and matter,
    body and soul.”

    Yes! The implication here is that when studying some (human) spiritual processes, science is NOT competing with the spiritual. I think the main problem is that we HAVE become Manichees, and so many of us solve the science/faith thing by putting some areas under “science” and some areas under “spiritual”. So if someone starts looking scientifically at an area, it must mean they want to slot it over to the “science” frame, where the spiritual will be excluded. To be fair, some scientists happen to want to move in that direction. But that isn’t all people who study science.

    So the fact that your brain lights up in a certain way because you are in worship or prayer or whatever spiritually is only a problem *if* you assumed that all of that subjective experience had nothing to do with your body, and needed to all happen “spiritually”, apart from the body, however that is understood.

  • Tom F.

    I once read an evangelical book that managed to question evolution on the one hand, yet was very happy to scientifically use geological and economical predictors to *predict* that we would likely not run out of oil. (Why the author felt like those were connected, I couldn’t tell you.)

    Do you think it is valid to use scientific prediction to make the oil argument? If so, why is not valid to make the global warming one?

    You might think the evidence doesn’t support global warming, but surely you aren’t saying that *in principle* you don’t trust scientific predictions about the future?

  • AHH

    The distinction between science studying the past and the present is overrated. All astronomers do is study the past, minutes or millennia ago when the light was emitted. If I run an experiment overnight and look at the results the next morning, I’m studying the past. Foresnic science (think OJ’s DNA) studies the past. All we really depend on is the assumption that the fundamental laws of nature were the same in the past — and that assumption has been tested and found to hold in a variety of ways (which some of us might see as a sign of God’s faithfulness).

    For the future, again the main assumption is that the laws of nature will not change. Then the degree of confidence in a scientific prediction is a matter of how well we understand the physics involved and how “sensitive” the problem is to imperfect knowledge. So for example the movement of planets is so well understood that we can be very definitive in saying where Jupiter will be in 2100. Only slightly less definitive is the basic science of global warming, so we can say how warm the planet will be (give or take a couple degrees) by 2100 at current rates of greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, we can’t predict hurricanes 2 weeks away.

    I’m not accusing Brian s of this, but it grieves me how often I see Christians try to play the “science can only study the present” card to deny science that is inconvenient to their theology and/or their politics.

  • Brian s

    I certainly acknowledge that astronomy is a bit of an exception in that the distances that light travels from stars means that we only can know where stars were and not where they are now. That has no bearing on biology and macroevolution, however.

    Regarding an experiment, I suppose it is technically correct that a science experiment done yesterday “studies the past”, but that is a bit pendantic. Yesterday’s experiment tells us something about today. Forensic science may tell us about the past but only by inference.

    Anyway, we do not know that the laws of nature have always been the same as they are. The fall of man has altered those laws. Remember the curse put on the earth by God. And Paul even says that the creation was subject to futility. Jesus will ultimately reconcile the creation to God.

  • Brian s

    Our predictions of how much oil is still available seems to be updated every week! When I was young, we only had 25 years left of oil. Now we have much, much more. I do think that evolution is on much more shaky ground than these predictions are. I rejected the theory (hypothesis) of evolution on scientific grounds decades ago. One thing that convinced me, besides the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) was the fact that in our college fellowship it was the science students who rejected evolution much quicker than the humanities and social science students. That was because the nonscience students had this awe of science the science students lacked, and for good reason. They knew that hypotheses of this kind are flimsy at best.

    Re: Scientific predictions about the future – it depends on what is being predicted and how long the time period is. I feel very confident about the sun coming up tomorrow, but much less about when some giant meteor might hit the earth. Scientists are (rightfully) less sure of predictions of when “the big one” (earthquake) will hit California, only that it will. But somehow, some (not all) climatologists are definite about what the temperature will be one hundred years from now.

    I believe that there has been global warming and global cooling as well. I think that we need a little more humility when it comes to these things and that we realize the limitations both of our knowledge of scientific laws and processes and the limitations of science itself.

  • Dianne P

    Thanks to RJS, my first thought is that my cats need to upgrade their reading material. They’ve been watching entirely too much tv lately. Mostly Breaking Bad. Obviously I digress – though on second thought, science/religious questions abound in that show.

    Is it only in the American evangelical church that science is somehow an enemy of faith? Since the RCs have moved beyond Galileo, have they also put this whole thing behind them as well?

  • Susan_G1

    I agree that science does not compete with spirituality. Robinson is setting up an unnecessary wall when she limits science to “what it can do.” What will she say when science can explain “why a chard leaf with red spines is beautiful;
    why a long iron with a slight draw onto a green banked just so takes the
    game to a new level; why some things are beautiful…”?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Well said

  • RJS4DQ

    How will science explain (not rationalize) how something is beautiful?

    So far every attempt I’ve seen essentially eliminates phenomena like beauty and love as intrinsically real.

  • AHH

    Anyway, we do not know that the laws of nature have always been the same as they are. The fall of man has altered those laws
    Actually, we can know with good confidence that the laws of nature (at least many of them) have been the same since long before man existed. To pick one example, if we look at those stars and galaxies, seeing them as they were millions or billions of years ago, the details of the light give a lot of information. Had any of multiple aspects of physics been different back when the light was emitted, it would show up in things like different frequencies. But all the things we can measure, like the spectrum of hydrogen, were exactly the same billions of years ago as they are today.

    And I think few if any Biblical scholars take seriously the idea (as far as I know only promoted in a few “creationist” circles) that the “curse” involved a change in the basic laws of physics. I think most see the curse as representing instead the brokenness of the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation.

  • Marshall

    I don’t believe Ms. Robinson understands science any better than she understands religion, judging from Absence of Mind. She seems to think the essential thing is a sort of platonic Goodness, exemplified by Literature, that has sadly fallen on tough times these decadent days. Apparently you found her annoying; I did.

    … I hope you will recall that Anthropologists are a mixed bag, like any category of human. Surely we can look at why the religious impulse is common to all, what religions have in common; good evidence for creation “in his image”, IMO; the road to God is long and winding.

  • Tom F.

    So, just to be clear, you would estimate that current predictions about the amount of oil based on scientific principles are good.

    Also, there is good reason why your creationist science friends in college are the ones most likely to be confident about rejecting evolution. It turns out that educated people are the ones most adept at fitting evidence to their pre-conceived beliefs. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney

    Now, being a very educated person myself, I found this sort of depressing. It also makes so, so much sense about why the most fruitless and pointless debates occur between experts who are firmly convinced of their own position.

    I think I am more and more convinced that the human mind is not specifically designed to find truth, but designed to find a version of reality which balances seeking truth with developing a worldview that allows us to prosper in whatever social group we find ourselves. This is a sad thought, and I think has some devastating implications for things like democracy. Democracy implies that people will be able to hear a reasoned argument and be convinced that its true. I am convinced now that this is basically untrue, especially when it comes to facts that are not immediately testable or provable.

  • Susan_G1

    I’m not sure I know what you mean by “intrinsically real.” If a response can be mapped electrochemically in the brain, and reproduced with electrical stimulation, does that make it intrinsically unreal? Is a rat’s pleasure or fear or hunger any less real to the rat if it arises naturally or the pathways are stimulated? It is possible that we will someday be able to explain and reproduce “concepts” such as beauty. Because it has a biochemical component/explanation makes it no less real in my mind. It’s as if we said that we could not possibly be made in the image of God if we are descended from a primate.

  • Tom F.

    Are there such things as non-reductionistic scientific explanations? If someone thinks not, than yes, science has little chance of not eliminating beauty as “real”. (I read some Daniel Dennett one time, he would be one example of someone certainly convinced that all scientific explanation is reduction.)

    I think there might be non-reductionistic explanations that are none the less scientific. So I would be against any idea that science = reductionism.

    What if beauty could be partially explained or reduced to lower levels, but that beauty on the whole only makes sense relationally at higher levels than chemistry, neuro-biology. “Beauty” is an attribution by a whole human person.

  • Susan_G1

    A God who would change the Laws governing matter and energy after the
    fall makes even less sense than a God who created an old earth. Pick a law, any law (let’s take Newton’s law of Gravitation). Change it, and the entire universe would blow apart, or implode, depending on how it was changed. We could not have a stable universe without stable laws.

  • Rob Bradford

    “But science goes Babel on us when it tells us that because pleasure is in the frontal cortex it is nothing but chemical reaction; science goes Babel on us when it denies the glorious mysteries of beauty, of the eye of faith, and the splendor of perceptions.”
    Science, though, doesn’t make any claims about beauty, faith, or perceptions. What science does do is confirm that as sense-making beings, we “interpret” our surrounding in order to understand. This interpretive capacity is why one person sees a beautiful scene where another sees something fearful. We cannot escape the fact that we all interpret our environments and because brains and experiences(the source of interpretation) vary, our interpretations of reality will vary. This is what science does.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ok, oil reserves aren’t calculated by some magical formula. They are based on current exploration for oil – and new fields are still being discovered, and new technologies are brought into play that make previous reserves that were discounted because extraction seemed impossible / too costly possibly to mine.

  • Thin-ice

    Wow, talk about building a science “straw-man” and then knocking it down. The realm of science only gives explanations of physical phenomena. And as far as I can tell from my reading, science is actually doing a pretty job of explaining what neurological and chemical interactions in our brains produce feelings of ecstasy and fear. What science won’t do is to try and define what “spiritual” and “soul” means, because they are such nebulous concepts (and usually associated with religion) which defy physical analysis.

  • GCBill

    I came here expecting the “Tower of Babel” to serve as an analogy for the lack of communication between scientific disciplines, and also between science and the humanities. It seems as if they all speak different languages, and important discoveries in one area take a long time to get integrated into others. At least, that’s what I was hoping for; what I got was…sadly not as interesting a metaphor.

    OP writes: “It can tell me why a tomato, a juicy red one through and through can generate potent, pleasing reactions on my tongue and make a (turkey) bacon, chard and tomato sandwich pleasurable. It can take us to the moon and back, and it can see things and discern things on the moon that will perhaps change life here on Planet Earth.

    But science goes Babel on us when it tells us that because pleasure is in the frontal cortex it is nothing but chemical reaction; science goes Babel on us when it denies the glorious mysteries of beauty, of the eye of faith, and the splendor of perceptions.”

    If the reactions on your tongue are sufficient to explain the existence of your pleasurable aesthetic experience, why is it so ridiculous to explain it in terms of a chemical reaction? And in any case, why should an explanation of these things constitute a denial of their emotional potency? To deny the beauty of mere “chemical reactions” on the grounds of some presupposed dualism is to wedge your theory into the minds of others without proper justification.

    OP writes: “That, my friends, is to fall for the error of the Manichees — to pose the world as either spiritual or physical. The Christian Story, my friends, is that these go together — God and Us, God and Human, spirit and matter, body and soul.”

    Funny you should say that. “Spirit and matter” go together *so* closely that the end result is almost indistinguishable from monism. It’s as if we’re merely having different kinds of experiences of the same “stuff,” rather than watching two kinds of stuff seamlessly come together. Or at least, I think that’s an equally- (if not more) viable explanation. Yet dualists will insist that the natural order contains two kinds of things that (quite strangely) never seem to come apart.

  • Pofarmer

    When we get into problems, is not when religion tells us something is beautiful, but when religion insists the 6 day creation and the story of Adam and Eve is true, or Noahs Ark, or Jonah and the whale, etc, etc, etc. Science and religion can coexist, but religion needs to stop insisting that things that are impossible, like virgin births in Humans, aren’t. It’s rather apt that you’re using the tower of babel myth as some sort of concrete example.

  • Phil Miller

    Hmm… I kind of see what you’re getting at, but I think you’re somewhat missing the point. I also don’t see that Scot is saying anything in regards to historicity of the Tower of Babel account.

    I do think there’s room for myth in reading the Biblical account, but I also think that a faith that’s totally devoid of the miraculous and supernatural is kind of worthless. It sound like what you’re saying is that as long as religion refrains from making actual claims on reality, it’s OK. If it goes beyond that, than it becomes problematic. I do see how some religious claims throughout the years have certainly caused problems, but I also don’t think we can make it so there are no “rough edges” so to speak.

    I would also say this… There have been plenty of instances throughout history where something that was believed to be impossible has happened. So perhaps we need to be a bit careful on throwing that word around.

  • Pofarmer

    “There have been plenty of instances throughout history where something that was believed to be impossible has happened.”

    Such as?

    “but I also think that a faith that’s totally devoid of the miraculous and supernatural is kind of worthless”

    Not really. What about the Jefferson Bible? Take away the supernatural and at least you have something defendable. The way it is, every time religion is criticized, it goes back to, “But, but, but, that’s what it says in the BIIIBBLLLLEEEE, straight from GAWD!” That’s not particularly helpful to having a conversation.

  • Guest

    But how do you know science can’t explain these things? Or that it never will be able to? I’m pretty sure some psychologists have done research on attraction, and they will do more in the future. To say these things are unexplainable seems like it’s own kind of arrogance. Unless you’ve tried every possible kind of experiment ever, you don’t know what science will explain one day.

  • Phil Miller

    Such as?

    “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” — Lee DeForest, inventor.

    “Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.”

    – William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.

    “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”

    – Albert Einstein, 1932.

    “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

    – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

    There are sorts of these statements. Sure, they’re involving scientific claims, but that’s the thing. Science has only begun to tap into the vast amount of knowledge that surrounds us. It just seems to me that saying something or another is absolutely impossible is a grand claim.

    Not really. What about the Jefferson Bible? Take away the supernatural and at least you have something defendable. The way it is, every time religion is criticized, it goes back to, “But, but, but, that’s what it says in the BIIIBBLLLLEEEE, straight from GAWD!” That’s not particularly helpful to having a conversation.

    What’s not particularly helpful in a conversation is creating a strawman that you can easily knock down. Is anyone here actually acting like that?

  • Pofarmer

    “There are sorts of these statements. Sure, they’re involving scientific
    claims, but that’s the thing. Science has only begun to tap into the
    vast amount of knowledge that surrounds us. It just seems to me that
    saying something or another is absolutely impossible is a grand claim.”

    So, you are taking technical statements made by scientists, inventors, and engineers, which in their day were correct, which, with advances in technology proved to be incorrect. how does this dovetail into theology? Are you saying that science is going to prove the supernatural?

  • Phil Miller

    I’m saying we don’t know what we don’t know. I’m not saying that science can prove the supernatural (I think that’s outside of the ability of science, really). All I’m saying is that to simply write off supernatural events as an impossibility because you haven’t experienced them seems a bit presumptuous.

  • Pofarmer

    If it can’t be proven, it’s not real. It’s really that simple. The presumptuous thing would seem to be thinking that other folks would take supernatural claims as proof of something. Yeah, yeah, I know, “The belief in things which can’t be seen.” yada, yada, yada. We got a pretty good lesson right here in my back yard on the Angel story a few weeks ago. Now, our ability to measure things is changing all the time, I’ll grant that, so, who knows. However, theology has been pretty much relegated to the realm of the unprovable at this point.

  • Phil Miller

    If it can’t be proven, it’s not real. It’s really that simple.

    I would put that the other way around… If something is true (or real), it can be proven. Certainly there are many things that are real that have yet to be proven, and we may never really prove them simply because of our limitations. But something doesn’t just become real once it’s been proven. It has always been real, it’s just that we hadn’t discovered the truth of it yet. To say that the only things that are true are the things that we can prove, though, is to oddly take a highly subjective view of the universe. It’s assuming that the real only exists because the human race has deemed it as real.

    As far as how this relates to the spiritual, I’d say it will probably never satisfy a person who is a pure materialist. But I do believe there are spiritual realities that go beyond what we can measure, observe, test, etc. It acknowledges that there is more to the universe than we can fully understand.

  • James

    We know you believe it – the question is can you and your fellow theists prove it. The answer, for many centuries and through many different forms and variations of theism has been a resounding “no.”

  • Jerry Lynch

    Wunnerful, wunnerful, wunnerful is all that I can say besides a heartfelt thank you.

  • Pofarmer

    So, if you can imagine it, it might be real, basically.

  • Phil Miller

    Not really… I’m saying that the premise that we have the ability to fully understand everything in the universe is at its heart something very much like a faith statement. Our experimental observations do certainly seem to lead us to view the universe in certain ways, but for all we know there could be things that are simply beyond our ability to perceive or comprehend. The NPR show Radiolab did a podcast that’s related to this a few months ago: http://www.radiolab.org/story/298146-trouble-everything/

    And they’re definitely not coming at it from a theist perspective.

  • Pofarmer

    No one is saying that we fully understand everything in the Universe. There are things we know, and things we don’t know, and things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know. Just because we don’t know something, doesn’t mean we automatically slip a deity in there, although that has been a pretty popular past method.

  • Phil Miller

    Just because we don’t know something, doesn’t mean we automatically
    slip a deity in there, although that has been a pretty popular past
    method.

    Sure… I actually think this is one thing that makes God as described in the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures somewhat unique, though. God isn’t generally there as a placeholder to describe naturalistic phenomena, per se. Yahweh isn’t described as a god related to fertility, weather, or agriculture as was common with gods of that era.

  • Pofarmer

    “God makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”
    “It is neither he who sows, or he who reaps that makes a crop, but only God”

    “Ask and you shall be healed” etc, etc.

    (loosely paraphrased, sorry.)
    The Jews were supposed to be following all those Mosaic laws to “Please God” which was supposed to lead to prosperity, which at the time would be largely agricultural.

    The Hebrew God is kind of a do everything God. The Roman Catholic Church kind of brought back the “house gods” praying to Saints and such.

  • Phil Miller

    The Jews were supposed to be following all those Mosaic laws to “Please God” which was supposed to lead to prosperity, which at the time would be largely agricultural.

    Not really… The Jews presented sacrifices to God not out a desire to appease Him, but rather out of obedience and gratitude. That was the unique thing. It was a step out of the pure cause and effect world of other gods. I won’t say that there aren’t some scriptures that could be taken in that way – old habits are hard to break. But as you read the OT, you see God being presented in less and less “karmic” terms.

    The Roman Catholic Church kind of brought back the “house gods” praying to Saints and such.

    This is an instance where the official teaching of the church and the practice of people in different areas diverge sometimes. The official teaching of the RCC isn’t that you’re actually praying to saints, but rather, you’re requesting prayer from a saint. Since Christians believe that those who have died are still alive in Christ, the act of asking prayer from a saint is seen as not much different than requesting prayer from a Christian friend.

  • Pofarmer

    “The official teaching of the RCC isn’t that you’re actually praying to
    saints, but rather, you’re requesting prayer from a saint.”

    I think that’s really a distinction without a difference to most people.

    “But as you read the OT, you see God being presented in less and less “karmic” terms.”

    I’m not quite sure that I follow here. At the beginning of Genesis you have God coming down into the Garden in the cool of the day. In Hosea you have God interacting with Moses giving directives on laws and stuff pretty constantly. By the end of the OT, beginning of the NT, you have God as the “The Word was God, and the Word was with God” If anything, I think that’s more Karmic and less concrete.

  • Phil Miller

    By “Karmic” I’m basically talking about the idea that God’s nature is retributive – people get what they deserve, and the world is purely mechanistic. I would say that idea of Karma is counter to the concept of grace or benevolence.

  • Pofarmer

    I dunno, the whole hellfire and brimstone thing from Revelations seems rather retributive. But yes, there is a definite change in theology throughout the bible.


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