Why I'm peeved

I should probably mention why this topic is an important one for me. Young-earth creationism is a particular pet peeve of mine for two main reasons.

The first is that it is not just false, but demonstrably false, and is thus often the place where the collapse begins for soon-to-be-former Christians raised to believe in the fundamentalist house of cards.

This house-of-cards faith is a particularly brittle and fragile belief system that insists, emphatically, that all of it must be true or else none of it is true. Faith is, for these people, a pass-fail course. Get a 100 percent and you pass. Anything less than that, and you fail.

I grew up around some people who believed faith worked like this and yet I still can't figure out the theology behind it. Their soteriology seems to work like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" — except with no prizes awarded for any but the final question. It's salvation by neither grace nor works, but rather by the knowledge of and mental assent to a very long list of arcane biblical interpretations.

A very, very long list. And that very long chain is only as strong as its weakest link (to mix both my metaphor and my quiz show reference). If every item isn't true — or isn't blindly accepted as true — then they insist that it all must be false. Thus if it is not true that the world was created in six, 24-hour days about 6,800 years ago, then it is not true that Jesus loves you. Or that you should love others as Jesus has loved you. Or that your sins are forgiven. Or that you are anything but alone and godforsaken when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

House-of-cards fundamentalism allows for no distinctions between babies and bathwater, between the central tenets of the faith and the adiaphora and error. So once one part of this belief system begins to collapse — as it inevitably will since young-earth creationism is disprovable — then it all has to go.

As I said, I grew up around kids who were taught this their whole lives. They didn't have a choice about where they were going to college after graduating — it was either Bob Jones University or Bible college. As the rest of us planned to head off to Wheaton or Messiah or Azusa Pacific, those kids' parents would shake their heads sadly and pray for our protection in such worldly Babylons.

But it's really hard, even in the hermetic and hermetically sealed world of BJU, to avoid encountering some incontrovertible piece of evidence that the earth and the universe is far, far older than young-earth creationism allows. When they encounter this evidence, they may be able to cling to some desperate form of last-Thursday-ism (the world is 6,000 years old, but was made to seem older) which may provide them with a temporary patch until they get better at living with very high levels of cognitive dissonance and barely veiled self-deception. But just as often, the whole edifice collapses. Hard. They wind up rejecting everything they ever believed.

Everything, that is, except for that pernicious notion that "all of it must be true or none of it is." These kids shoot way past what their parents feared would happen to the rest of us at Wheaton or wherever (with our dangerous book learnin' and dancing and movie-going and such) and they become the mirror-opposite of their old fundamentalist selves. They become as strident and binary in their unbelief as their failed mentors at Bob Jones were in their belief. Yet even their rebellion tends to remain shaped by that world and its narrowly imagined options.

And that's a tragedy. I think it was Maya Angelou who said there's nothing sadder than a young cynic, because they've gone directly from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

This scenario is not hypothetical and it is not rare. And it's not something I forgive easily. The proponents of young-earth creationism are responsible for this very scene playing out a thousand times over. Jesus spoke to exactly such people. Something about how it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their necks and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Jesus was fond of hyperbole, but I'm not sure he's using it there.)

The second reason that creationism or "creation science" is a pet-peeve of mine is that I spent many years working on behalf of the Evangelical Environmental Network to try to persuade evangelicals that "creation care" was not just permissible, but a responsibility. This is made much more difficult when the audience you are addressing — as was sometimes, but not always, the case — regards the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis as a "literal" journalistic account and only as a literal journalistic account.

That experience was what really drove home for me the way that creationism wasn't just an additional layer of interpretation added to how these folks read their Bibles, but that it had wholly replaced any and every other meaning from the stories or the text. The word "creation" itself has no theological meaning for them beyond "as opposed to evolution." For them, the creation accounts* and the story of Noah in the early chapters of Genesis have nothing to say about the inherent goodness of creation or about the obligation of stewardship. For them these chapters exist solely as some kind of divine amicus brief in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District — as polemic arguments, that is, in a 20th-century American political dispute that has little to do with either science or theology.

I found it almost impossible to communicate with those people. We had a common vocabulary, but the words all seemed to mean different things. The accounts of creation seemed, for them, to have nothing to say about divine intent or divine affection, but only about divine technique. The story of Noah seemed to be nothing more than a complicated word problem involving the measuring of livestock capacity in cubits. The story of Adam giving names to all the animals seemed, to them, to be a reason not to learn about biodiversity. And I probably don't need to tell you how they seemed to regard that bit about the Tree of Knowledge.

"You will know the truth," Jesus said. "And the truth will set you free."

What he didn't mention was that free can be a whole lot more complicated that not-free is, and that it's not always easy to convince people to choose complicated over simple. Not easy, but still worth trying.

I just wish I had a better idea of how to reach them.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Plural. Genesis 1 – 2:3 offers the more famous six-day account, while in Genesis 2:4-25 we get the one-day version in a different sequence. There was some good discussion in the previous two comments threads of the differences here and the traditional ways of accounting for this. It's a difficult dilemma for those who insist they read these accounts "literally." They're forced to resort to all sorts of semantic gymnastics to harmonize two different stories that were quite deliberately set down as two different stories. Their dilemma is what leads some to refer to these two different stories as a "contradiction" or a "discrepancy."

For the rest of us, though, that's overblown. It'd be like saying:

Aha, Mr. Burns, I caught you! First you claimed your Luve was like a 'red, red rose that's newly sprung in June,' but now all of a sudden you're contradicting yourself and trying to tell us that your Luve is, instead, 'like the melodie that's sweetly play'd in tune.' Well which one is it, Bobby? Huh? C'mon, make up y
our mind!

  • http://msm.grumpybumpers.com/ mcc

    “All impossible-to-prove statements are false” is itself impossible to prove* and therefore (under our definition) false!
    See this is why Bertrand Russell invented the hierarchy of types.
    “All impossible-to-prove statements are false” is a 2-statement and, as such, does not apply to itself?

  • Tonio

    Where Christians have screwed up big time is confusing faith of “believing in God” with “believing that God exists.”
    Do you see the former as like believing in peace and love and good happiness stuff? Like believing in Jesus in terms of his ideas, instead of believing that he rose from the dead?

  • Tonio

    I am an atheist also, and I’m pretty darned certain there is no god– that would include the gods Zeus, Thor, Shiva, Buddha, et al. I’m just as certain with that as I am with Leprechauns, fairies, and the Easter Bunny.
    Would you make a distinction between “pretty darn certain” and “absolutely certain”? Is the distinction relevant, in your view?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p01116889b9f2970c/ earthling

    Tonio: “Do you see the former as like believing in peace and love and good happiness stuff? Like believing in Jesus in terms of his ideas, instead of believing that he rose from the dead?”
    Somewhere (in the book of James I think it was) it says “Even the demons believe and shudder.” Believing that something is true IN AND OF ITSELF is not faith. This is where Christians often muck up things like atheism is a kind of faith or this nonsense that one “believes” in evolution.
    Faith, at least from how I’ve understood it, implies a relationship between the individual and their god. I may know my wife EXISTS, but that by itself is meaningless. Big deal. But that I engage myself personally with her in a variety of ways implies a relationship (particularly of trust).
    The problem with religion though is the relationship is ultimately one way– the believer communicates to their god through prayer & singing. There is no explicit communication returned– one must resort to interpreting certain things a “signs” from their god at best. This was a big problem for Christians especially after the Reformation: How do I know I am REALLY saved? The bottom line is there’s really know way of knowing.
    A living faith, at least as exemplified by Jesus, empahsised walking a particular walk, not talking a particular talk. Yet, most Christians get more hung up on assenting to the right doctrines than they do about actually living anything remotely like how Jesus lived. And its not a coincidence that these same Christians ultimately place more emphasis on Paul talking ABOUT Jesus rather than anything straight from the horse’s mouth. And this shift occurred almost immediately after the death of Jesus. Ultimately, for Christianity (or the version that won out over all the other competing versions in the first 300 years of its existence), ideology was what ultimately defined Christianity and that ideology was, of course, absolute– and once that happens, putting people to death for assenting to the wrong ideology was only one step away, as is common with all absolute ideologies.
    “Would you make a distinction between “pretty darn certain” and “absolutely certain”? Is the distinction relevant, in your view?”
    I would say I am *reasonably* certain– that’s all anyone really needs.

  • Evan

    God used to destroy cities. Now he has a hard time appearing clearly on tortillas.
    He did a pretty good job on New Orleans, if you believe certain people’s interpretation of events.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/ Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    And why would any God worth His followers want to appear on a tortilla? Who would expect Him to?

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com/ MikhailBorg

    He did a pretty good job on New Orleans, if you believe certain people’s interpretation of events
    Actually, he didn’t, He caused a lot of destruction, but few of the dead represented the sinners “certain people” wanted to see punished. (Unless being poor is a sin. Actually, I’m not going there.)
    Atop everything else, The Creator Of The Universe seems to have fairly bad aim.

  • Ursula L

    Do you see the former as like believing in peace and love and good happiness stuff? Like believing in Jesus in terms of his ideas, instead of believing that he rose from the dead?
    I’d say that it is the difference between knowing something exists, and worshiping that something.
    I know that the table my laptop is sitting on exists – but I don’t worship it.
    Likewise, even if one could prove that L&J’s version of God existed, I’m pretty sure that most of us (including Fred) would choose not to worship an omnipotent being that used that power to rip children from their families, cause massive destruction and suffering, and then condemn people to eternal torment just because those people never heard a convincing reason why this being was worthy of respect. Not worshiping L&J’s god might lead to eternal torment, but at least it would be eternal torment with a clear conscience, rather than eternal paradise spent knowing you’d sided with a cruel torturing murderer for the sake of your own well-being.
    There is an evangelical tendency to focus on trying to prove that (their version of) God exists, and/or that it is one’s self-interest to follow their form of worship. But neither of those things are “believing in” something in the sense of giving it your trust, your respect, or your love.

  • Leum

    “Likewise, even if one could prove that L&J’s version of God existed, I’m pretty sure that most of us (including Fred) would choose not to worship an omnipotent being that used that power to rip children from their families, cause massive destruction and suffering, and then condemn people to eternal torment just because those people never heard a convincing reason why this being was worthy of respect. Not worshiping L&J’s god might lead to eternal torment, but at least it would be eternal torment with a clear conscience, rather than eternal paradise spent knowing you’d sided with a cruel torturing murderer for the sake of your own well-being.”
    Statements like this tend to either (if I’m in a good mood towards humanity) impress me or (if I’m in a cynical mood towards same) strike me as dishonest boasting. If I knew L&J’s God existed I’d fall down and worship It. I’d do so in the same mindless terror that I’d worship Cthulhu (or convince myself that I was just too ignorant/sinful to understand Its ways), but I’ve never doubted that I would do absolutely anything to save myself from Its wrath.
    Most of this is probably related to my vestigial fear of Hell, implanted in me by my two best friends in early elementary school. Heck, I still have to remind myself when hearing Fred, hapax, Amaryllis, etc praise (or discuss) non-Christians that they don’t think that person is going to be tortured forever by the Entity that defines goodness. Otherwise I get really confused.

  • Ursula L

    Leum,
    Given that L&J’s god might exist, yet everyone here chooses to live their lives as if L&J’s god doesn’t exist, I’m willing to give everyone here the benefit of the doubt that, when Pascal’s wager applies to an L&J type god, they place their bet on non-malevolent cosmos, even at the risk of the consequences should they be betting wrong on L&J’s theology.
    Fred’s God would probably forgive someone who worshiped L&J’s God out of fear and self-preservation, particularly if that person did their best to act humanely within the limits allowed by L&J’s God. L&J’s God won’t forgive someone worshiping Fred’s God. (A point Fred has made repeatedly.) Pure self-preservation would lead one to err on the side of L&J’s God. Yet Fred worships his God, not L&J’s monster. Each person participating here for any amount of time implicitly rejects L&J’s God, because L&J’s God is not inclined to be tolerant of the mockery we subject it to.

  • Mark Z.

    Pure self-preservation would lead one to err on the side of L&J’s God.
    Except that while “Fred’s God” might be inclined to forgive someone who worships L&J’s God out of ignorance or coercion, now you’re choosing to join the Psychotic Bastard Religion because that God is a psychotic bastard, and you know it, and you want to be BFF with him in case he exists. That might be harder to forgive.
    Of course Pascal’s Wager in any form assumes that God doesn’t care that you’re trying to game the system. I don’t think either Fred’s or L&J’s God looks kindly on hypocrisy.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mscibing/ Andrew Wade

    Pure self-preservation would lead one to err on the side of L&J’s God.

    Human beings don’t act to maximize the expected value of utility functions. Imminent wrath is likely to be a more powerful motivator than infinite wrath, and a certainty of (after)life in hell is a different proposition than a mere possibility, infinities notwithstanding. I don’t know how I’d react if I knew L&J’s God existed. I’m also not clear on the nature of worship L&J’s God requires – would loathing such a God necessarily disqualify me from heaven if I observe the proper forms?

  • interleaper

    I’m also not clear on the nature of worship L&J’s God requires – would loathing such a God necessarily disqualify me from heaven if I observe the proper forms?
    As I understand it, no it wouldn’t. As long as you admitted that you were, by L&J-God’s lights, a totally depraved sinner and accepted L&J-Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Saviour, and did your level best to abide by their commands and earnestly begged their forgiveness when you fell short– then yes, you could probably get into Heaven regardless of how you *felt* about it with your sinful human heart. Which you would probably be highly praised for disregarding because, y’know, sinful and human. It’d be replaced in Heaven anyway, along with your mind, such that you’d never ever have another unkind thought about your almighty masters ever again, and would cheerfully spend the rest of forever doing nothing but singing about their wonderfulness. And the thing with the steaming vegetables drenched in butter.
    Personally, in that setup, I’d take my chances with the darkness and flames of Gehenna. I may not be especially brave when I’ve got a threat staring me right in the face– I can definitely see myself over on L&J-Jesus’ left (my right) down on my knees yelling “L&J-Jesus is Lord!” before the mind mojo even kicked in– but I don’t think I’d be able to sustain that level of knowing hypocrisy, in the service of a cause I hated, for seven whole years.

  • Leum

    “…would loathing such a God necessarily disqualify me from heaven if I observe the proper forms?”
    Probably, Andrew, but continuous observation of the forms is a form of self-brainwashing, so you’d probably start to love It, have a stunted moral compass, and all the other things that follow from truly worshiping It.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    One of the things (and it’s just come to me) about the LeHaye/Jennings God is the followers of same often reccomend him on the pure basis of Pascal’s Wager… “Worship becaus if you don’t, you will go to hell”.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    @Mark Z. — Of course Pascal’s Wager in any form assumes that God doesn’t care that you’re trying to game the system. I don’t think either Fred’s or L&J’s God looks kindly on hypocrisy.
    Once again, Terry Pratchett nailed it with the Discworld’s version of pascal. “Upon his death, he found himself surrounded by a group of angry gods with large sticks. The last thing he heard was “We’re going to show you how we handle Mr. Clever Dick around here…””

  • Leum

    It occurs to me that if God’s system were a really good one, He wouldn’t care that you were only following it because He wanted you to, because following it would lead to being a good person, even if you were a good person who hated being good*. I believe some Jews take a view along this line (paraphrasing–I think–Jeremiah: I would have spared the city had they forgotten Me but kept the commandments).
    *Is this possible?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/mscibing/ Andrew Wade

    It occurs to me that if God’s system were a really good one, He wouldn’t care that you were only following it because He wanted you to, because following it would lead to being a good person, even if you were a good person who hated being good*. …
    *Is this possible?

    Hmm, personally I see more to being a good person than just doing good. But to me it would be the existence of hell that makes the state of a person’s soul pressing – take that away and it makes sense to me to concentrate more on results than some binary good/evil system. (But just what would God do with someone like, say, Fred Phelps? Bit of a puzzler.) Just idle speculation on my part – I’m unlikely to ever convert. Though my impression is that a belief in hell is far from universal in Christianity.

  • Lurker

    pecuna,
    I agree completely that a hunter-gatherer society is anything but free of conflict, but its standard of living is higher than that of a neolithic farming society. If you survive childhood, you eat protein-rich food, have few transmittable diseases (small population density doesn’t allow for endemic diseases) and have a quite lot of free time. Finally, an accident or a conflict will kill you. It’s something of a “live fast-die young” society. In a farming society, your sweating on the fields day in and day out, eating carbohydrates. Then you die of an infectious disease.
    Thus, transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming entails transition from a relatively easy life to a life of toil. And there’s no way back, because although farming society produces worse food, it produces a lot of it. This allows for larger population density, which means that going back to hunting and gathering is not possible. There is no return to the “paradise” of hunter-gatherers.

  • http://www.vagabondscholar.blogspot.com Batocchio

    Good overview. The all-or-nothing mindset is definitely accurate, as is the Biblical literalism, and those do go far beyond religion. When people picking those creationist fights, it never makes much sense to me, because I’ve known far too many scientists and engineers who were somewhat religious, and could reconcile their scientific knowledge with scripture. The other bit that’s annoying is the stance of Ann Coulter and others that humankind was granted “dominion” over the Earth and thus one can despoil it with impunity. A better translation would be “stewardship,” as you’ve used, but even without that correction, how does the context of Genesis and the Bible as a whole possibly support selfishness and irresponsibility? Coulter is a hack, but there are people who actually believe that sort of thing (and that recycling is unmanly somehow). One of the best comments I’ve ever read on Biblical literalism was a suggestion that more literature courses might really help. A good Bible course might as well, but an understanding of metaphor, allegory and a tolerance for ambiguity definitely would.

  • http://ksej.livejournal.com Nick Kiddle

    It’s the mindset of a people who find it easier to force everything into black and white than to deal with the challenges of gray.
    It’s funny, because I’ve detected black-and-whiting tendencies in just about everyone I’ve had an in-depth discussion with, most notably the relative who turned from telling me I see too many things in black-and-white terms to informing me that if my friends couldn’t accept me, they weren’t real friends and therefore I shouldn’t miss them. I think we all find it easier to approximate to black-and-white than to keep the nuances of grey in mind, unless we’re constantly on guard.
    I’m pretty sure that’s true. Of all theories about the universe I’m familiar with, “designed for slapstick comedy” is the one that holds up best under the evidence.
    I’m inclined to the “soap opera” theory, given that there’s a fair amount of unnecessary drama, and soap operas are not averse to including a spot of slapstick in between bouts of angst.
    Religion is a construct made by man, and particular beliefs are shaped by the circumstances of history and chance.
    I think we had that flame war a couple of weeks back. Yeah, religion is a construct, but so are most other things you devote your time and attention to, so what can you do?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    Lurker: I wasn’t saying that was impposible as a means of memory (easy life in the past). The Australian aborigines have some stories which are verifiably recalling events of some 10,000 years back.
    I don’t know (for myself) the sharpness of the memories. Agriculture wasn’t something a group just took too. Generations to move from one to the other. I suspect rather, it was a strain between the pastoral lifestyle, and the settled. Cain and Able, Esau and Jacob, the farmer gets the preference, and the advatange, over the hunter and the herdsman.
    Batacchio: When I took, “The Bible as Literature” there was a lot of theology (no way around it, and some swell walks to the car of one of my fellow students, as we pursued the subjects we’d been wrangling over in class). There were also three students who were obviously devout, and came to the class for something they hadn’t really thought out. One of them asked if it was acceptable to use the KJV instead of the Cambridge Bible in the syllabus (allowed, but the lack of Apocrypha would require them find a copy of the text.
    I think the prof let them work with the KJV because he knew they weren’t likely to last the course. Two of them made it about two weeks (three days a week), but the questions we were addressing touched at the core issues of their faith. One of the three was visibly upset at the two different creation passages. She’d never thought about it before.
    So I don’t know how well that will help. Coming to the text that way, later in life, is hard; for all the reasons Fred gave.

  • Tonio

    There is no explicit communication returned– one must resort to interpreting certain things a “signs” from their god at best.
    I would think the lack of response would be discouraging.
    I would say I am *reasonably* certain– that’s all anyone really needs.
    Valid point, and that goes back to absolutism being dangerous because it doesn’t reflect the almost total lack of absolutes in human life.
    I’d say that it is the difference between knowing something exists, and worshiping that something.
    Are you suggesting that it has to be either one or the other, that the worship isn’t out of knowledge? Deists say that a god exists but they do not worship that god.
    I’ve never doubted that I would do absolutely anything to save myself from Its wrath.
    While that would apply to any one of us, that wouldn’t count as worship because it’s driven by fear and not love. At best, it would be a sycophancy masquerading as worship.
    I think we all find it easier to approximate to black-and-white than to keep the nuances of grey in mind, unless we’re constantly on guard.
    I find it actually easier to think about the grey. That’s because the absolutism involved in black-and-white seems to me to involve outrageous levels of ego, where one cannot admit to being wrong about anything. And it actually gets easier as I grow older, because I keep realizing how much I don’t know.
    I’m inclined to the “soap opera” theory, given that there’s a fair amount of unnecessary drama, and soap operas are not averse to including a spot of slapstick in between bouts of angst.
    That would suggest Yahweh and Jesus are stereotypical sitcom housewives glued to the TV set each afternoon, watching “All My Humans.”

  • Arctic Dude

    As a geologist I would always lose my debates with any YEC’rs. I would point out features of geology showing a great age of the earth and they would say “Well thats the way God made it”.
    Then one debate I answered back with “Who’s God then?” and “Show me why its your God”. They would then have to leave.

  • Kemist

    As a geologist I would always lose my debates with any YEC’rs. I would point out features of geology showing a great age of the earth and they would say “Well thats the way God made it”.
    Then one debate I answered back with “Who’s God then?” and “Show me why its your God”. They would then have to leave.

    There’s already an objection to this, which appeared not long after the first time the argument was made.
    All you have to do is ask them : “Ah, is that so ? Well, gentlemen, where is your evidence then that the world wasn’t made last thursday, and that last wednesday’s paper isn’t the work of the devil ?”

  • Turcano

    And why would any God worth His followers want to appear on a tortilla? Who would expect Him to?

    “I know I’m not supposed to eat thee, but… (chomp) Mmmmm, sacrilicious.”

  • Leum

    Since when are people forbidden from eating God in bread form? That’s a sacrament, not a sin.

  • Kemist

    Two of them made it about two weeks (three days a week), but the questions we were addressing touched at the core issues of their faith. One of the three was visibly upset at the two different creation passages. She’d never thought about it before.
    So I don’t know how well that will help. Coming to the text that way, later in life, is hard; for all the reasons Fred gave.

    A lot of atheists, me included, became atheists after reading the bible. And I wasn’t a fundy, but a pretty lose, liberal catholic.
    But the funny thing is that you don’t even need to come to the text themselves to become quite upset in your creationist/fundy beliefs : you just need an inquisitive nature coupled with a contact with reality.
    Long ago, much before the time I knew anything of creationism, I met two creationists at school (we were about 18; those are two years we spend in preparation to university). They were quite upset when we studied evolution in a lot of detail (biology here is part of the curriculum for all people heading for a scientific education, be it in physics or medicine), and they started a conversation with me (I guess because I loved biology enough to study it on my own and discuss it with others beyond classes). Not about the theory (those two guys were very, very smart, much smarter than I am), but the implications of the theory. What bothered them the most was the lack of purpose they perceived in our evolving from lesser creatures, the randomness of it all, our insignificance in face of the size and age of the universe. And most of all, my complete serenity in relation to that. They had simply never met somebody who had thought it out seriously, and was all right with it.
    I met them again later, when I was a PhD student, and they had pretty much let go of that nonsense. Being inquisitive, they explored the issue, and had no choice but to see that one side had evidence, the other side had wishful thinking. Yes there was a little anguish, but now they’re well ajusted people.
    Creationists and bible literalists rightly fear a detailed, correct study of evolution. Or geology. Or linguistics. Actually, of any area of reality. They can only remain faithful through willful ignorance. And, for me, that’s a very sad way of spending one’s existence (I love learning, actually you could say I’m addicted to it; can’t imagine how anyone can actually enjoy life without it). The anguish and the crisis of faith are well worth getting over this blindness.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    Kemist: Whereas I had a decently balanced education, some time spent in Catholic schools (where we learned biology). Didn’t hurt my faith any. Might have made it stronger. But that’s me. What amused me (for values of amused which don’t perhaps reflect well on my character) was they expected the class to be something which was designed to support their personal religious beliefs.
    They asked things about how, “doesn’t this passage mean,” and then went into whatever specific bit of doctrinal thing they were used to attaching to it.
    And we didn’t treat the texts as sacred. I think one of them was still around when we got to Job. None of them made it to the New Testament.

  • Dunc

    If I believe that your Christ dealy didn’t change anything, and was instead a demonstration of a pre-existing universal trait, do I count as Christian?
    If I believe your religion is predicated on a lie, am I an antichrist? For I believe it’s been established that it’s more a state of mind than a particular prophesied person.

  • Tonio

    Creationists and bible literalists rightly fear a detailed, correct study of evolution. Or geology. Or linguistics. Actually, of any area of reality.
    Now I’m wondering if the lack of purpose they perceive is really a theological issue for them. Or if they’re the type of people who draw personal meaning from subscribing to any organization or ideology and find anything that questions either as personally threatening. Or if it’s some of both.

  • Kemist

    pecunium: It’s very bizarre that they expected that (classes designed for religious purposes) from catholic school, given the educational traditions of catholics, particularly jesuits (which actually built most of my country’s public education system, including the university I attended). Actually, in my place, at that time, you either went to catholic school if you spoke french as your mother tongue, or prostestant school if you were an anglophone. Religion was strictly confined to religion class, and you could opt out of those if you wanted to (I didn’t; my parents are religious and insisted on us getting the sacraments).
    If your faith doesn’t depend on biblical “literalism”, you have nothing to fear from the study of biology or other sciences. Actually, most of my schoolmates who pursued science are still believers. It wasn’t evolution which drew me away, but the study of the religious texts themselves (which I did on my own; I still find religious texts fascinating, but I consider them mythology).
    The funny thing is that I actually didn’t know I had become an atheist until somebody questioned me on it, and I could honestly only answer that person, no, I don’t believe in God. I had no crisis of faith to speak of, none of the anguish. It was like when I realized there was no Santa, just my uncle wearing a false beard and red suit. It was a part of growing up, and I was too eager and curious to do that and have new experiences to be scared.
    That’s why these guys’ reaction to the teaching of evolution weirded me out. For me it was like hearing a ten-year-old say : “What am I gonna do if there’s no Santa ? My life is meaningless now.” I don’t mean by that that I found them immature, but just very alien and weird. We had a lot of very interesting conversations on all sorts of topics, because, I guess, our very different points of view were so exotic for each other. The creationists I’ve met till now on the net, in contrast, are pretty dull and repetitive, have very poor knowledge of science, and have an extraordinary will to remain ignorant.
    One of those two guys is now a dentist, the other pursued a physics masters degree and is now teaching physics in high school.

  • Kemist

    @tonio: For me, it’s some of both. The popularity of the creationist theology depends (like that of many cults) on the “specialness” of its subscribers. Those who are attracted to it have a certain need to feel special, a certain need to have their purpose delineated, chosen for them. They feel quite insecure without it. Talk for a good amount of time with a creationist, refute their overused arguments over and over again, and it will ultimately boil down to this : “My father’s no monkey !”
    And that’s where the weirdness of it all becomes most apparent for me. I’ve always wanted, as far as I can remember, to choose my own purpose. Having it chosen for me is akin to slavery. It’s a narrowing down of possibilities, a closed space, however grand and prestigious your particular imposed purpose might be. A golden cage is still a cage. I guess when you’ve been in it long enough, the outside world can seem very frightening.

  • AnonyMouse

    Hey there!
    Although I’m no longer a Christian (for entirely different reasons), I too went through a phase in which I was forced to break down the house-of-cards mentality. There is absolutely no point in continuing to believe a story that (a) is thousands of years old, (b) has been disproved by science and (c) is really not necessary to your faith. After all, I figured, every other religion had its legends, why not mine?
    What I came to realize during that time was that if I believed in a God who was all-powerful, it wasn’t a stretch to believe that He could induce evolution if He so desired. If His plan was infinitely more complex than we could comprehend, why couldn’t He have had a reason for destroying the dinosaurs before He added Man to the mix? If you really look into the Bible, it provides plenty of ways for God to be valid in the face of scientific discoveries. He just might have to be valid in a different way than the stories we’ve handed down for generations.
    In my experience, there are good reasons and there are bad reasons to stop believing in Christ. “I discovered that Creation was bunk” falls under the header of bad reasons; it is the worst example I’ve ever seen of chucking the baby with the bathwater.
    As for Adam and Eve, I look at the story as a case of the snake calling God’s bluff. God told Adam that if he ate the fruit he would die. The snake told Eve that they wouldn’t. They ate the fruit, and WHAMMO! They didn’t die. God got peeved that the Masquerade had been broken and – according to the Bible – threw Adam and Eve out of the garden so that they couldn’t eat from the Tree of Immortality and become gods themselves.
    I thought that the coming-of-age metaphor was very interesting, though. It’s definitely a less OMGDISOBEDIENCE!!!! interpretation than what’s usually handed down.
    Interestingly, Genesis does not say that the snake got into the garden while Adam wasn’t looking. It also doesn’t say that the snake was the Devil, or any other nonsense like that. It just says that the snake was very sneaky and that God cursed it horribly.

  • http://ksej.livejournal.com Nick Kiddle

    I find it actually easier to think about the grey. That’s because the absolutism involved in black-and-white seems to me to involve outrageous levels of ego, where one cannot admit to being wrong about anything.
    Hmmm, I don’t see that at all. Maybe we mean different things by “black-and-white”, because for me it just means logic like “well, if it’s not daytime, it must be night-time”. No refusal to admit error, just an almost unconscious sorting of experiences into two and only two categories.
    Spotting potential grey areas is something of a hobby of mine (“ok, what about twilight?”), but I have my own black-and-whites, and my own ways of justifying why it makes perfect sense to break the world down that way.

  • http://buckfush530.livejournal.com/ VandanaShiva

    “And the Lord God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
    It seems to me blatantly obvious that this bit — where G-d talks to “us” — is leftover from a polytheistic tradition, with wording that the redactor who stitched together the J and E stories didn’t feel free to change. Furthermore, it directly states that the Expulsion from Eden is to keep humans from living forever and gettin’ uppity.

    Actually, the word used for Lord God in the original Hebrew is “elohim” where “eloh” (related to “Allah”, eh?) means spirit or god, and “-him” makes it not just plural, but feminine plural (so, apparently, it’s female spirits that were the original creators!). Of course, this dates back to when Jews were essentially explicitly polytheistic (as opposed to after their exile in Babylon, when they moved closer to henotheism).

  • Ryan Ferneau

    As for Adam and Eve, I look at the story as a case of the snake calling God’s bluff. God told Adam that if he ate the fruit he would die. The snake told Eve that they wouldn’t. They ate the fruit, and WHAMMO! They didn’t die. God got peeved that the Masquerade had been broken and – according to the Bible – threw Adam and Eve out of the garden so that they couldn’t eat from the Tree of Immortality and become gods themselves.
    Hmm. The explanation I used to believe is that Adam and Eve were already immortal, and eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil made them mortal–so they didn’t die immediately, but they BEGAN to die, see. I think I may have viewed the story as the beginning of the need for human reproduction.
    But now I like the explanation that after being banished from the Garden, they couldn’t eat from the Tree of Life anymore, and that tree’s fruit only offers eternal life when eaten on a regular basis. That’s also how I explain why Indiana Jones and his father didn’t live forever after using the Holy Grail once.

  • Ryan Ferneau

    Now with that first explanation I believed, I guess you’d have to wonder why it was called “the knowledge of good and evil” and not just “The Tree of Death” or something…

  • Technomad

    FWIW, Marcion himself was not a Gnostic, and there were plenty of Gnostic influences in the early Church. Marcion believed that the Jewish YHWH was a God of Justice—think Judge Dredd, times about a million or so.

  • burgundy

    and “-him” makes it not just plural, but feminine plural
    The ‘im ending is masculine plural; ‘ot is feminine plural.

  • http://ksej.livejournal.com Nick Kiddle

    Now with that first explanation I believed, I guess you’d have to wonder why it was called “the knowledge of good and evil” and not just “The Tree of Death” or something…
    The knowledge was considered its purpose and mortality just a side effect?

  • Ryan Ferneau

    Ah yeah I guess so. Well at least we’re sure there’s an element of “I know something you don’t know” SOMEWHERE in the story.

  • Not Really Here

    Ryan F-Hmm. The explanation I used to believe is that Adam and Eve were already immortal, and eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil made them mortal–so they didn’t die immediately, but they BEGAN to die, see. I think I may have viewed the story as the beginning of the need for human reproduction.
    There’s a Native American myth (can’t remember which tribe/nation) that has it that humans were originally immortal. But then they decided they wanted to have children (I guess they thought all those baby animals were so cute…)
    So, they went to their deity and said, “We want to have children.”
    Deity said, “You know you guys are immortal, right? If I allow you to have children, eventually the world will become so overpopulated that there won’t be enough food and stuff to go around, and everyone will live wretchedly miserable lives. So, tell you what. I’ll allow you to have children, but in exchange, you’ll become mortal, and subject to death.”
    The humans said, “Sounds like a fair trade.”
    I think it’s a sweet story.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/T_Karney/ pecunium

    Kemist: Perhaps I was less than clear. I spent some time in Catholic schools. This was not a catholic school (if it were, the odds of 20 percent of the class wanting to use KJV would be sorta slim). This was a public university. I see you are Canadian (which may, or may not, make a differece). This was in the states, ca. 1990. The rise of the religious retiring to private enclaves wasn’t as strong, and there was a significant group trying to preach the good word everywhere they went.
    I am not an atheist. I am still catholic in that I’ve not had a conversation of theology with a bishop, and so am not excommunicate for heresies (not least is my refusal to accept the authority of Ex cathedra). Some of my heresies are no longer heresies, but (in the strange ways of the RC, they weren’t the sort of heresies we cared about, so lots of Catholics shared them).
    Such need for ritual observance as I still have is very high church (bells and smell) anglican, or a less modern Roman Catholic Mass, though there is something to be said for orthodox services.
    I think (and it’s not new to me) the real problem for the Creationists is they lose a sense of place. If God just set it all in motion, then they aren’t special. If they aren’t special then bad things might happen, “just because”, and that’s worse than the other things they can thinks of.
    All of a sudden the possibility of oblivion is real. They need the universe to have a purpose, and the idea of the universe just being is horrible. Me, I find the idea of the random universe amazing. I can even cope with the idea of God setting things in motion, just to see how it plays out. The crossing of these two ideas is the closest I can come to a teleological comfort to the creationist mind, which is to say God set it up, and stood back, because He knew what would come.
    And He didn’t need to such things, because to him a thousand years is an hour, and He is, was, and ever shall be. He, therefore, is somewhat out of time, and sees it all as a painting.
    It’s not how I see things but it’s also not how I don’t see things.
    God is a funny/difficult concept.

  • angulimala

    Your poetry analogy is spot on.
    What do you think of the Chiasms in Genesis, like those involving Abraham? To me, the existence of these literary structures destroys the idea that it was even meant by it’s authors to be taken literally. It was meant to teach moral lessons and facts were secondary to this consideration.

  • Kemist

    The knowledge was considered its purpose and mortality just a side effect?

    What if the knowledge included knowing about your own mortality ? If “becoming mortal” is just metaphore for being conscious that you’ll die someday ?
    If you see the Garden of Eden as a coming-of-age (either personal or species-wide, or both intermingled), coming of age includes learning your morals (good and evil) as well as knowing that:
    a) You’re alive and conscious, like this other “person” over there (you recognize yourself as different from the other)
    b) You and that other person are different from those other living things, which are not conscious at the same level as you
    c) Someday you’ll die, and be no more.
    In that way, the fruit of Knowledge of Good & Evil becomes consciousness, and is considered both a boon (we’ve become like gods with our knowledge) and a curse (we’ve become smart enough to understand we’re doomed to die, and be frightened by it).

  • Maggie

    I agree with oboy that “once one thing which has come from a previously-trusted source becomes invalidated, it places the rest of the story on shaky ground” is a fairly reasonable conclusion: most of us have spent our whole lives building up a personal morality based on experience as well as outside wisdom from many sources. Imagine having gotten more or less ALL of it from ONE source, which you were taught is infallible, so you never bothered with anything else! Having discovered it’s not infallible you’d have no external basis for picking and choosing among the detritus! You’d have to start that ALL over again, which is why leaving a religion like that must be terrifying.
    Plus! You just helped me be a little less baffled as to the motivations of the ID/banana/crocoduck folks. It’s a simple logic fallacy of the A -> B therefore B -> A variety! They believe that if one of their beliefs is untrue then all of them are untrue – THEREFORE if one of them IS true then all of them are! That’s why they try so hard to “scientifically” “prove” that the earth is 6000 years old – for them, that would also confirm the existence of God, Heaven, Hell and all those other intangible, essentially unprovable things. And of course since they’re coming at the science/religion mishmash from the religious side rather than the scientific side, for them proving something is basically the same thing as getting large numbers of people to believe it. Wow.

  • Tonio

    In that way, the fruit of Knowledge of Good & Evil becomes consciousness, and is considered both a boon (we’ve become like gods with our knowledge) and a curse (we’ve become smart enough to understand we’re doomed to die, and be frightened by it).
    That was part of my suggestion that the Eden story was a metaphor for the development of human sentience.

  • Philip J. Rayment

    Well, it looks like my post has been deleted, I’ve been called a troll, I’ve been made guilty by association, and I’ve been accused of calling Fred Clark a liar (which I’m certain I didn’t, but then my post is not there to check). So much for trying to “reach” creationists.
    pecunium claims that I made blanket claims about all creationists, whereas Fred didn’t. Sorry, but some of his claims were about creationists and creationism in general, even if some other claims weren’t. Sure, his post may accurately relate his personal experiences with creationists, but nowhere in his post was there any sort of caution that his comments applied only to those creationists that he had encountered, as distinct from creationists generally. Much of it read as criticising creationists generally.
    And I see that none of my specific rebuttals were addressed. Just criticisms thrown my way. So much for any hope of reasoned debate.
    Geds’ comment about my final comment has gone over my head, I’m afraid. He seemingly quotes me saying “A bunch of atheists/agnostics/muslims”, which is not something that I would have written. Perhaps he’s taken his misquote of my last line (“some anti-Christians like you”) to be saying that I’m claiming Fred is an anti-Christian also. That is not what I said and not what I meant. But again, as my post has disappeared, it’s hard to point out exactly what I did say.

  • Ryan

    At this point I can’t remember whether you were in the wrong, but boy do I get a kick out of “So much for you being as compassionate and open-minded as you said you were” type statements!


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