Answers in Genesis teaches how not to read a story

In Nature, Andrew Curry offers a fascinating overview of the recent developments in the study of when humans first came to live in the Americas. The article is titled, “Ancient migration: Coming to America“:

For most of the past 50 years, archaeologists thought they knew how humans arrived in the New World. The story starts around the end of the last ice age, when sea levels were lower and big-game hunters living in eastern Siberia followed their prey across the Bering land bridge and into Alaska. As the ice caps in Canada receded and opened up a path southward, the colonists swept across the vast unpopulated continent. Archaeologists called these presumed pioneers the Clovis culture, after distinctive stone tools that were found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s.

… But findings over the past few years … have shown conclusively that humans reached the Americas well before the Clovis people. That has sparked a surge of interest in the field, and opened it up to fresh ideas and approaches. Geneticists and archaeologists are collaborating to piece together who came first, when they arrived, whether they travelled by boat or by foot and how they fanned out across the New World.

The beginnings of the Clovis culture date back to around 13,500 years ago. The newer findings suggest people had arrived in North America even earlier — as early as 14,300 years ago.

Allow me to translate those figures for my young-earth creationist, illiteralist fundamentalist friends. The godless scientists used to believe that the first humans arrived in North America 7,484 years before you think the Bible says the universe was created, but now the godless scientists have found evidence that humans were here at least 8,284 years before the creation of the universe.

I know, I know, picking on the young-earth creationists is too easy. Fish in a barrel and all that.

But they invite it. They’re not just wrong, but audaciously wrong. The weirdness of their conclusions becomes all the more horrifying when you try to trace the arcane routes they traveled to arrive at them.

Take for example the illiteralist fundies who sat down and calculated the hourly rainfall in the story of Noah’s flood.

This is how these folks approach this story. This is how they hear a story and how they read a story. They don’t seem to notice that the story has a narrative, themes, characters, a beginning, a middle and an end. Or if they do notice those things, they don’t care about them, because that’s not what they see as important in a story.

What they see as important are measurements, logistics and the calculating of numbers that do not actually appear in the story itself. They contemplate the buoyancy of gopher wood. They calculate the cubic cubitage of Noah’s ark, the rate of rainfall and the capacity of the firmament canopy (don’t ask).

This is a dim, illiterate and aggressively obtuse response to a story. This is ridiculousness that demands to be ridiculed.

Seriously, people, it’s a story. If you don’t know how to read stories, then you don’t know how to read.

If you don’t know how to read stories, then you become the literacy equivalent of that person who never lets you finish a joke because they’re always interrupting with irrelevant questions and thinking they’re particularly clever for pointing out that a bar stool probably couldn’t support the weight of a gorilla.

But here’s the kicker: This rate-of-rainfall foolishness didn’t come from the illiterate fundamentalists of Answers in Genesis. It came from the Freethought Alliance Conference at UC Irvine.

Sigh.

I’m trying to follow the logic there. “Hey, those Answers in Genesis people are completely incompetent and ignorant when it comes to biology, geology and cosmology — so let’s assume they’re competent, knowledgeable and authoritative experts at biblical exegesis!”

Um, no. Their biblical interpretation is no better than their paleontology. Why would anyone imagine it could be?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Update: Here’s what the billboard says, “Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other biblical nonsense is there?”

That’s not mockery of fundamentalist literalism — it’s an uncritical validation of that literalism. It embraces that absurdist literalism and then criticizes the text for being absurdly literal. It’s a variation on Bill Maher’s “book with the talking snake” dismissal.

Try this version: “Rainbow crow / 2,583,333 miles per hour = nonsense / what other Lenape nonsense is there?”

Or this one: “Four Yorkshiremen / 29 hours in a day = nonsense / what other Python nonsense is there?”

That bit about “29 hours a day” is right there in the text of that Monty Python tragedy. Such obvious errors make it very hard to take the play seriously.

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  • NS

    Surely the point is to highlight the impossibilities resulting from their interpretation as a means of highlighting the implausibility of said interpretation?

    Or to put it another way: “You say it should be treated literally? Fine, we’ll treat it literally. That gives us this ridiculous hourly rainfall. Still saying it should be treated literally? Fine, we’ll laugh at you.”

  • nirrti

     Yep, I agree. The Free Thought people were just calling the YEC’s bluff. They hanged them with their own rope, so to speak.

  • Tonio

    That’s how I interpreted the billboard. Fred’s post is confusing, as if he assumes the Freethought folks are using the improbability of the Flood to dismiss the entire religion.

    And with due respect to Fred, when the majority culture insists until it’s blue in the face that the Bible is authoritative, that can very easily interfere with the ability to process the stories as stories. That doesn’t mean that it automatically leads to a literal or pseudo-literal reading instead. But it can lead to worry over interpreting it “correctly,” or to reading it specifically for the message instead of appreciating the storytelling.

  • P J Evans

    Maybe they insist the Bible is authoritative because they have trouble reading stories as stories.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I dunno. I saw Bill Maher arguing with a liberal christian a week or so ago, and it was very clear what his deal was: he agreed with the fundamentalist notion that if every word of the bible is not literal truth,m the bible is worthless, and then showed how there was at least one thing that could not be literally true, then smugly insisted that he had disproved ALL OF RELIGION EVERYWHERE. ANd he got smarmy and demeaning when the guest suggested otherwise, essentially saying “Well you’re just making shit up. At least the fundamentalists understand that you can’t pick and choose. you just randomly decide which parts of the bible to follow,” as if to suggest that all liberal christians were inherently dishonest because (actual quote) “All religion is inherently anti-intellectual.” (He went on to do the classic “And russian communism is really a religion, just a secular religion” thing)
    There *are* a lot of devoted anti-theists who *agree* with the fundamentalist conceit that the ONLY VALID wayto read the bible is as a textbook, and then go “Ha ha! Gotcha!” as they point to details inconsistent with such a reading. 

    And when you start throwing around things like “Ha! Your bible is full of nonsense!” I am disinclined to suppose that their position is so nuanced as to be “Youtr interpretation of the bible is invalid and this is why,” and not “You are correctly interpreting the bible, but the bible is nonsense!”

  • Matri

    *points to every single thing the Republicans have said and done for the past decade & a half*

    Can ya blame him  for coming to that conclusion? If you’ve never had the benefit of contact with the minority of actual Christians like Fred, and instead have only had contact with the pseudo-christians like.. well, the GOP, then your impression of Christianity would be exactly like what Maher says.

  • congyoglas

    Russian Communism is proof that being an atheist has nothing to do with being a secular rationalist. You can be secular and still believe in a lot of crazy, destructive woo. Just like Bill Maher, aka the Bill Donahue of atheism. 

    (i.e., I have difficulty with the assertion that this: 
    http://tinyurl.com/7qulxms is the product of a rationalist society) 

  • Tonio

    The fundamentalists who claim that 20th-century totalitarianism “proves” the evil of atheism and the anti-theists who claim that it “proves” the evil of religion are both wrong. Those murderous ideologies resemble the fundamentalist versions of religions because both are authoritarian first and theological or ideological second. They’re simply different flavors of authoritarianism.

  • Tonio

     I suspect that anti-theists like Maher are a vocal minority among atheists, just as fundamentalists who claim to read the Bible literally are a vocal minority among Christians. The latter are the same people who claim that Genesis 3:15 foreshadows Jesus, and that would fit any reasonable definition of a metaphorical reading. A few times I’ve encountered the argument that (paraphrase) “the Bible won’t make any sense to you unless you read it with faith.”

    I’m curious to know if anti-theists who insist on a literal reading tend to come from the same religious upbringings as fundamentalists, or if they had very little exposure to theology in childhood and are drawing conclusions based partly on the larger culture treating the book as authoritative. Perhaps the way that anyone reads the book is colored by the preconceptions that they pick up before opening it.

    Again, authoritative is not the same as literal. An authoritative non-literal reading of the Flood account would be the god being justified in wiping out almost the entire human race because of its wickedness, whether or not it actually happened. The meaning being “Everything God does is good, and if you’re wicked you deserve to die.” (And as a child, I was confused when the post-flood Noah got plastered and he didn’t get punished for no longer being virtuous.) I’m suggesting that reading these first and foremost as stories may only be possible if one presumes that the god is simply a powerful being with no particular moral authority, like in some of the polytheistic religions.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Soviet and Chinese Communism did take on quasi-religious characteristics, as discussed in a book I used to have that was from the 1970s.

  • Morilore

    I agree with you that the kind of conduct your first paragraph is discussing is deplorable and that Bill Maher is a jackass.  Atheists lecturing religious people about their own religion are always foolish and awful.  However, by the same token…

    And when you start throwing around things like “Ha! Your bible is full of nonsense!” I am disinclined to suppose that their position is so nuanced as to be “Youtr interpretation of the bible is invalid and this is why,” and not “You are correctly interpreting the bible, but the bible is nonsense!”

    Why should an atheist be asked to have a nuanced position on the valid interpretation of the Bible?  

  • Worthless Beast

    This always kind of annoys me because I find truth in fiction (*known* fictions) all the time.  It’s almost like saying I cannot draw a sense of courage and heroism from “Lord of the Rings” becuase there is no arechelogical evidence that Middle Earth ever existed.

    The Bible is trickier, though, as I do stake some spiritual truth in it beyond what I find in fantasy novels and it ties into history, philosophy and policy in ways that no other work, fact, fiction or in-between ever has.

    Still, I remain annoyed by the attitude that nothing is “of value” unless someone in a suit or a labcoat tells you it is.

    I don’t know much about Bill Maher other than his family was Catholic?  How strict were they about it?  In my experience (on the Internet, at least), people who are the most angry, literal-minded-playing-by-fundie-rules anti-thiests are people with strict religious upbringing. The above reminded me of an ex- Jehova’s Witness I met once. His literal thinking could be excused because that is what he was raised with, the only kind of Bible-thinking he knew.

  • Tonio

     

    Still, I remain annoyed by the attitude that nothing is “of value” unless someone in a suit or a labcoat tells you it is.

    I doubt that the folks behind the billboard were making that specific claim, and from my reading, no one here is making it.

    The Bible is trickier, though, as I do stake some spiritual truth in
    it beyond what I find in fantasy novels and it ties into history,
    philosophy and policy in ways that no other work, fact, fiction or
    in-between ever has.

    Part of my objection about the culture treating the Bible as authoritative is that it’s often regarded as having a monopoly on spiritual truth.

  • Worthless Beast

    I remember, growing up, my father was the Bible-expert in the family and the rest of us, for the most part, didn’t bother reading it. We weren’t a churchgoing family, but we all had a vague theism…

    When there was a family argument, however, on occasion, one of us would ask Dad “This is in the Bible, right?”   We saw this as winning the argument.

    We weren’t really interested in the Bible beyond using it to win arguments.  I think that’s how a lot of people in America are.

    I know when I had my conversion experience (I started out conservative, literealist, now I’m progressive, back to non-church and somewhat agnostic)… actually reading and studying the thing was a whole different experience than my “typical American upbringing” with a few of its stories scattered about my conciousness.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Still, I remain annoyed by the attitude that nothing is “of value” unless someone in a suit or a labcoat tells you it is.

    Who, pray tell, says that?  Is this some sort of position that you think all atheists, skeptics, or scientists hold?

    We all make our own value.  Setting up someone in a “suit” or “labcoat” as an external arbiter of value is foolish.  But so is looking to someone standing behind a pulpit.  Both are simply alternative forms of authoritarianism.

  • Worthless Beast

    Defensive much?

    Maybe I should have went with “preacher” instead of “guy in a suit”.  I was going to say “unless a preacher or scientist tells them” but I thought it sounded better the other way.

    I wasn’t talking “atheists and skeptics” as a broad brush, I was talking about people who take a very literal attitude to things, people on *both* sides.  “If it’s a myth, it’s wholly worthless,” and “The Bible says so, so there!/If it’s not in the Bible, it’s worthless!”

    Thanks for reminding me why I hardly ever bother to engage on disscussion here and remain a lurker most of the time.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Defensive much?

    Nope.  You’re the one who made a fairly blanket statement.  I was just trying to suss out whatever the hell you were trying to say.

    Maybe I should have went with “preacher” instead of “guy in a suit”.  I
    was going to say “unless a preacher or scientist tells them” but I
    thought it sounded better the other way.

    You probably should have done that, since “guy in a suit” is a completely meaningless phrase.  I assumed you meant “businessmen” and were talking about people only putting value in things that could get them money.

    Thanks for reminding me why I hardly ever bother to engage on disscussion here and remain a lurker most of the time.

    Or, y’know, you could take this as a learning experience and try to communicate more clearly the next time.  But what do I know?  I’m apparently being mindlessly defensive.

  • Worthless Beast

    You’re still being defensive, but you’re right in that I should have communicated that a little better. I kind of assumed that “preachers wear suits, everyone knows this.”   Businesspeople work, too, since we do tend to follow marketing and advertsing.  For some people, branding is religion.

    Though, I wonder, if I hadn’t mentioned earlier that I “believed in stuff” would your reaction have been different?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     You’re still being defensive

    You telling me that I’m being defensive doesn’t make me defensive.  You could also say that I’m eight feet tall and my skin is a pleasant shade of chartreuse.  That doesn’t mean I have to make sure to buy houses with vaulted ceilings.

    Also, judging by your snap responses, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe you should be looking in the mirror.

    Though, I wonder, if I hadn’t mentioned earlier that I “believed in stuff” would your reaction have been different?

    Nope.  Mostly because all I’d read was the comment where you made the claim I found objectionable.  It came across to me as you being dismissive of an extremely common strawman of atheists as mindless nihilists.  I asked for clarification, then I offered the most common response to that particular line of attack.

    That’s all there is to it.

  • Worthless Beast

    I know I’m defensive as Hell.  I don’t need to look in a mirror to know I have that trait. 

    And again, I wasn’t attacking.  I was making a metaphor about the attitudes of some people I’ve engaged with online, religious people included. (If anything, they’re worse about following only what some authority figure told them). 

    I’d like not to engage with you anymore, okay?

  • Keulan

    That’s how I saw it as well. They’re ridiculing the idea that the entire planet could have been covered in water in such a short period of time.

  • Tricksterson

    If there was any hope of convincing them that they’re ridiculous that approach would have merit.  But it doesn’t because their answer to any such argument is “God says.”  f God wants it to rain 8712 inches an hour then it will.  It’s like trying to put makup on a porcupine.  it accoplishes nothing but to irritate the porcupiine.

  • Wing

    There’s a difference between a fictional story and a fictional story that people are insisting is true.  Once they start trumpeting it as historical record then I think it’s fair game to start poking holes in it.

    Though really, given what you do with the Left Behind series, I’m not sure you’re one to complain about people trying to bring logic, measurements, and calculations to a story…

  • Tonio

    No, Fred’s critiques of LB are about the horrid value system of the characters and authors as well as the awful storytelling. Not so much finding logic holes in the plot as seeing how plot and characterization are subordinated to a theological agenda.

  • Tricksterson

    Wait, are you saying that Once Upon A Time isn’t real?  Blasphemer!

  • congyoglas

    Fred, maybe if you made a list of what parts of the Bible are just a story, and should be treated as such, and which we as readers should believe happened? 

  • Hypocee

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2296#comic

    IS CONTEXT-DEPENDENT!
    Nice false witness today, Fred.

  • Ben English

    Just a story:
    The fall of Jericho, Noah’s Ark, Genesis 1 and 2

    Actually Happened:
    Genesis 3+, killing thousands with the jawbone of an ass, Dives and Lazarus

  • John Small Berries

    I’ll add my voice of agreement to the other commenters.

    When someone is adamant that the tales in the Bible are inerrant, literal truth, it’s a perfectly valid response to point out what that truth would actually entail.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think the point of the billboard is to try and confront people with the absurdity of assuming the Bible is an authoritative guide to history or science.

    So when someone claims to believe that the events described in the Great Flood actually happened,  that has to include believing that 8000+ inches of rainfall blasted down out of the clouds per hour when nobody has ever seen torrential rainstorms that bad, ever, in recorded history.

    To assume it is true is to assume, well, a hell of a lot that physics would find untestable.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Addendum:

    8000 inches per hour is 200 meters or 600 feet per hour.

    Six. Hundred. Feet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gateway_Arch

    That’s how freakin’ tall the Gateway Arch is!!!!!

  • mud man

    Apparently they calculated based on 40 hours rather than 40 days. They also didn’t figure in “the fountains of the deep”. Besides not doing literary criticism, apparently they can’t even read for information. But then, many Evangelicals don’t actually read the Bible either.

  • TheBrett

     It’s also 2.2 inches per second. Considering how fast rain falls and how heavy water is, that much water hitting you would probably cause physical injuries.

  • Leum

    I’m going to agree with the other commenters. The point of the billboard was to show the logical consequences of taking the flood story literally.

  • Hypocee

    …Plus, of course, sigh: Courtier’s Reply.

  • Tom S

    Given that the other billboard being rolled out is a Hitchens quote, it doesn’t seem all that farfetched to assume the rainfall thing is based on a smug, kneejerk interpretation of other people’s belief systems

  • Wygrif

    Fred, I’m usually with you, but that billboard looks like a fair reductio ad absurdum to me.  

  • AnonymousSam

    They calculate the cubic cubitage of Noah’s ark, the rate of rainfall and the capacity of the firmament canopy (don’t ask).

    *Sighs* Unfortunately, I read the Left Behind series and learned of the concept from there: A blanket of water covering the Earth, shielding humanity from solar radiation (but not light, apparently), which is what was supposedly responsible for humans living several centuries in the Bible. Let’s try not to picture what a thick layer of water in the atmosphere would do to the climate.

    You know what bugs me the most about the “scientific” attempts to prove Young Earth Creationalism? Most (if not all) of them boil down to repeated attempts to discredit accepted science and nothing more, proving a negative by ad hominem. They don’t care that the points they make aren’t proving that the Earth is really 6000 years old as long as the points seem to prove that scientists are wrong in some other way — even if it means proving that the Earth is actually millions of years old and not billions as they say.

  • Matri

    They don’t care that the points they make aren’t proving that the Earth
    is really 6000 years old as long as the points seem to prove that
    scientists are wrong in some other way

    This! This so very, very hard. It’s not just me who noticed that the creationists’ entire “research strategy” is summed up in the following quote:

    By default! My favorite way to win!

  • AnonymousSam

    I linked this awhile ago, but recently found a rebuttle to it that I’d like to link as well. It might help ease some of the urge to throttle people.

    A Rebuttle to ‘101 Evidences for a Young Earth’

  • The_L1985

    I grew up being told that Answers in Genesis was right. By my teachers (private school), whom I should have been able to trust. My parents did not know this until after the fact.

    I know more than I want to about vapor canopies, instant apple-based mutations, and accelerated continental drift in the days of Peleg.

  • congyoglas

    I mean, as an atheist reader, I obviously expect that on this Christian blog, Fred will endorse and defend Christianity. (He generally does so from a perspective on human beings that I wish more atheists had!) 

    But ignoring the huge, huge problems caused by attempts to perpetrate “biblical literalism” and criticizing the sort of reasoned attempts to show the problems with that approach, the sort that have actually lifted a lot of people out of blinkered fundamentalism, is just not cool. 

  • Morilore

    That’s not mockery of fundamentalist literalism — it’s an uncritical
    validation of that literalism. It embraces that absurdist literalism and
    then criticizes the text for being absurdly literal. It’s a variation
    on Bill Maher’s “book with the talking snake” dismissal.

    “Book with the talking snake” dismissals kind of resonate with me as a way of asserting the atheist’s prerogative to separate herself from the whole argument about what’s the right Biblical exegesis, which is not something an atheist should be asked to participate in.  When fundamentalists promote stupid or evil ideas citing the Bible as their inspiration, broadly speaking the two common responses are 1) the Bible doesn’t actually support that, and 2) fuck your Bible.  The first time a former Christian realizes she doesn’t have to go with 1), that she doesn’t have to discuss things within parameters set by Christians – for me, it was a liberating feeling.

    That banner itself is not supposed to be a reasonable commentary on religion.  It’s supposed to be a signal to people who feel no affection for Christianity that this “Freethought Alliance Conference” is a space where people like them are going to gather.

  • The_L1985

    Yes, but it also has the unfortunate connotations that:

    1) They would be Christians if only this one part of the Bible weren’t factually wrong;

    2) Atheists are complete a-holes.

    Neither is a good message to send.

  • Rafar

    When there is a serious and occasionally successful political campaign to teach the Four Yorkshiremen Economic Model in schools, then you will have a meaningful analogy.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    You can’t say “The Bible is full of stories that aren’t meant to be taken literally” to most people, because they freak out and stop listening. Somehow, people have the idea that if something didn’t happen exactly as written, that invalidates any truth that the book might contain.  

    So you get people–quite a lot of people, sadly–insisting that YES , EVERY WORD OF THE BIBLE ACTUALLY HAPPENED AS WRITTEN. And you can’t argue against them by saying, “No, everything isn’t literal” because then, Fred, you get angry fundies saying, “ARE YOU CALLING GOD A LIAR?” And that isn’t the objective at all, but you can’t get them to pay attention to what you ARE saying.

    The only way that has any hope of showing them that everything isn’t meant to be taken literally–or that some of the stories feature a view of reality very different from our own own–is the reductio ad absurdum argument. Like Joshua stopping the sun during the battle of Jericho. That implies that in those days, the sun orbited the earth rather than the earth orbiting the sun. Which makes more sense–that the ancient Hebrews believed that they lived in a heliocentric universe or that one day, for no reason, the sun stopped orbiting and became the orbit-ee?

    Of course, even the reductio ad absurdum argument has problems, because you run into people who will say, “If God WANTS that impossible thing to happen, then it will happen, and you just lack faith!” And then they smile and look smug, despite the fact that they haven’t proven anything. They’ve just hypothesized the existence of a condition that may or may not exist.  Nor do they try to explain why God does not seem to want things that violate the laws of physics or mathematics to happen nowadays. They don’t even see this as something that has to be explained.

    I don’t know how this can satisfy them–or why they’re so happy to not think about the world. It’s all incredibly, infuriatingly frustrating.

  • Turcano

    It’s kind of weird seeing the Solutrean Hypothesis getting national attention again.  Last time I checked, corroborating evidence for it was sketchy at best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    There are a lot of people in the US who would not self-identify as evangelicals, fundamentalists, or as Young-Earth Creationists (indeed; if you said “YEC” to them, they would have no idea what you mean).  They don’t even consider themselves to be especially religious, though they do, vaguely, think of themselves as Christians.

    They uncritically accept anything that anyone they perceive as being more well-versed in the Bible than they are has to say about the contents therein.  If you say to them, “It’s in the Bible” with enough confidence, they will nod and create some vague false memory of someone saying something about that sometime back when they were kids in Sunday school.

    If you used words like “theodicy,” or “eschatology,” or “exegesis,” you
    would receive a confused – and suspicious (“Must be some kind of
    egghead!”) – look in response.

    They don’t necessarily believe that the Genesis story is 100% accurate, or that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, but they don’t fully accept what those egghead scientists say either (“What do they know?  They change their stories all the time.  And my grandfather wasn’t a monkey!”).  They think that the world is probably as much as a million years old (but no more than that), and they kinda-sorta believe that there had been a Garden of Eden and an Adam and Eve from whom we’re all descended, and that there really was a global flood.

    In short, they haven’t put a lot of thought into the stories they’ve been told, accepting them largely at face-value as being literally true, if perhaps just a bit off, and the idea that the “literal” view is anything but has never occurred to them.  Like Grandpa Simpson and his understanding of American history, they’ve mostly pieced together their understanding of Christianity and its relationship to the natural world  from the backs of sugar packets.

    So I don’t see the billboard as representing a belief that all Christians have a less-than nuanced view of the contents of the Bible, or even as accepting that the “illiteral” view is the correct understanding of Christian faith, but rather as an attempt at getting that segment of the population to critically examine their beliefs, which are beliefs that they hold simply because they’ve never really thought about it.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    I mean– I don’t want to get cut-throat here, but– if the “talking snake” dismissal is silly, & it is because you can read Genesis as a moral lesson & not a literal account– it begs a more serious question.  Namely, “zombie Jesus” & “invisible old dude.”  

    Because…I mean, “Christ is risen” is a pretty serious part of the notion of being a Christian, right?  But a guy literally coming back from the dead?  A little hard to swallow.  & the idea that a God exists is pretty central to Christianity, right?  But an invisible unprovable omnipotent deity is also sort of…questionable.  

    I’m not trying to be argumentative here, but rather pointing out that approaches to the Bible that don’t end with “& so Jesus is my favorite ethical philosopher” are going to end up with pieces of…I dunno, supernatural intervention that smug atheists might take issue with?

  • Dave Lartigue

    It is interesting to me that nerds, who often rage against organized religion in general and Christianity specifically often react the exact same way to their own stories. Which is why you get people “explaining” the “Kessel Run in 12 parsecs” line or stopping to “correct” you if you make a joke involving Daleks and stairs (never mind that someone telling a joke about Daleks is probably more than aware that they have been shown to navigate stairs, the nerd still needs to go, “Um, actually…” and point out that the joke is “factually” incorrect.)  

    Most people don’t see the “flaw” of the “Kessel Run” line because they don’t care. It’s not an important part of the story. The idea that Han Solo is boastful and that his spaceship is fast is established and we move on. But for the True Believers, it’s a problem and it needs to be fixed, and it’s important that the fix be confirmed and validated and you end up with ridiculousness like this. For the believers this solves the problem of someone not taking the story “seriously” but they don’t realize (since nerds, like Fundamentalists, are incapable of getting out of their own heads) that this just looks MORE goofy to non-believers. 

  • congyoglas

    And the Bible _is_ full of nonsense. Horrible, hateful, bigoted nonsense. Some folks use that as an excuse to act out their hatreds Some folks are able to say “OK, let’s look past that and look at the good stuff” Some people don’t want to play that game at all. Pointing out the irrationality at the core of things does help. 

    To use an example: There are comic book fans who take the genre’s pretty serious problems with objectification of women and white-washing as reinforcement of their own fanboy misogyny and racism. There are comic book fans who can look past that to see strong narratives about powerful women and minority characters, and see the positive moral messages contained in the better stories. And then there are people who don’t like comic books. No, they don’t really care about how Superman defeated the dragonfly invasion of Metropolis in Superman #275 and what it has to tell us about how we should act towards one another (they can be good people without reading Superman); and they sure as hell don’t want their kids being forced to pray to Rao in public schools. Biblical exegesis, from the outside, is two guys arguing in a comic book shop. It’s _nice_ that the one guy takes socially liberal positions based on the source material, but my only interest in the argument is that the _other_ guy has locked the door and is demanding I worship Rao before I can leave. Sometimes pointing out “You know people can’t fly, right?” does help make a point. 

  • GDwarf

    They seem to be using what is possibly my favourite debate tactic: Assume that all of your opponent’s premises are correct, does this lead to any ridiculous answers? If so, you’ve shown that at least one premise is almost certainly wrong (if you can get outright contradictions from those premises then you’ve proven that at least one is definitely wrong).

    It’s probably the best way I’ve found to convince people who believe things like Biblical literalism because you don’t start off saying “your ideas are nonsense”, you treat them with at least some respect and then show that, inevitably, this will lead to something impossible. Ergo their ideas can’t be right.

    Of course, it doesn’t always work (sometimes you can’t get to a ridiculous conclusion from the premises; sometimes even pointing out that premise A directly contradicts B won’t get them to change their mind, either) but when it does it works very well.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    They
    seem to be using what is possibly my favourite debate tactic: Assume
    that all of your opponent’s premises are correct, does this lead to any
    ridiculous answers? If so, you’ve shown that at least one premise is
    almost certainly wrong (if you can get outright contradictions from
    those premises then you’ve proven that at least one is definitely
    wrong).

    Except that they”re switching premises halfway through. They assume that *creationist* premises are true, work them out to ridiculous conclusions, then declare that this proves that *Christianity in general*’s premises are wrong.

  • GDwarf

    Except that they”re switching premises halfway through. They assume
    that *creationist* premises are true, work them out to ridiculous
    conclusions, then declare that this proves that *Christianity in
    general*’s premises are wrong.

    No they don’t. That’s you reading more into the ad then is actually there.

    At no point do they say “Ergo Christianity is wrong/stupid/whatever.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    No they don’t. That’s you reading more into the ad then is actually there.

    At no point do they say “Ergo Christianity is wrong/stupid/whatever.”

    In my experience? Yes, people have said this. Repeatedly, to my face. Even though I’m about as far from a literalist as a Christian can be, they assumed I was because of their strawman picture of monolithic “Christinaity/Religion,” and so knew what I really believed better than I did.

    I am fairly certain that none of this was because the people in question were atheists, but mostly because they were jerks. But still, I have had the exact experience that you are denying.

  • GDwarf

     See, now you’re adding extra stuff to the billboard. The ad does not state any of those things, you seem to be assuming that it must because other atheists have in the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    See, now you’re adding extra stuff to the billboard. The ad does not
    state any of those things, you seem to be assuming that it must because
    other atheists have in the past.

    My apologies. I mistook your post as referring to the general subject being discussed rather than the specific issue of the billboard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     

    Except that they”re switching premises halfway through. They assume
    that *creationist* premises are true, work them out to ridiculous
    conclusions, then declare that this proves that *Christianity in
    general*’s premises are wrong.

    Precisely. “If Jonah was not swallowed by a fish, then God isn’t real and Jesus doesn’t love you” is an unsound premise, but I have repeatedly seen people behave as if addressing this premise somehow addresses all forms of Christianity or even all religions.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I agree with a lot of previous commenters that this is an example of using one’s opponent’s techniques to defeat one’s opponent’s positions.

    I disagree with the implicit endorsement of that strategy in this context.

    If Sam uses an invalid technique to support a false claim, and Pat responds by using the same technique to support an absurd claim, maybe Sam will be made to reject the technique and maybe they won’t. If they don’t, maybe they will be so shamed by believing patently absurd things they eventually drop the entire enterprise, and maybe they won’t.

    I agree that, for some Sams, Pats, claims and techniques, the odds are pretty good that Sam ends up less attached to the false claim than they started.

    And for some Sams, Pats, claims and techniques, the odds are pretty good that Sam ends up more attached.

    So using this strategy in a one-on-one conversation with a Sam I think is vulnerable to it might well lower the amount of false-claim-believing in the world.

    But using it in public? Where I can’t predict the Sams who are exposed to it?

    That strikes me as self-defeating.

  • congyoglas

    That’s an argument against all advertising, Dave. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    That’s an argument against all advertising, Dave.

    If so, I don’t follow how.

    I mean, sure, if it turns out that all advertising techniques have unpredictable and potentially counterproductive results when applied to a general population, then I agree… and in that case, I would stand by the argument against all advertising techniques.

    But I find it unlikely that that’s the case in the real world.

    Can you expand on your reasoning here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Answers in Genesis is still getting millions in tax breaks from the state of Kentucky for its Ark Theme Park despite deep cuts to other programs in the state:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/21/ark-encounter-kentucky-budget-tax-breaks_n_1220806.html

    So even though the billboard is in California and not Kentucky, I think Fred has singled out the wrong people for not knowing how to read a story.

  • rrhersh

    Count me against the consensus of the commentariat.  I have had experience with many fundamentalist atheists.  That is, atheists who insist that the Bible must be read literally.  Many seem surprised to find a self-identified Christian reading the Bible any other way, and interpret this as ex post facto back peddling. 

    Discussions of the history of Biblical exegesis make little impression on this crowd, as is to be expected when dealing with any sort of fundamentalist.  My current approach is to try to demonstrate that even the fundamentalist doesn’t really read all of the Bible literally. 

    My standard example is the familiar opening to Psalm 23:  “The Lord is my shepherd…”  We all understand that this is a poetic metaphor, in which God takes the role of a shepherd and the psalmist that of a sheep.  But if we are insisting on reading this literally, then this reading is impossible since the psalmist is not a literal sheep.  God must be literally herding some literal sheep somewhere.  Furthermore, since the psalmist describes God as “my” shepherd, this implies that God is in the psalmist’s employ.  The rest of the Psalm of course becomes a complete non sequitur. 

    The idea is to lead to a rational discussion of genre, and how this ought to inform our interpretation of the various texts collected as the Bible.  This happens occasionally, but the frequent response is slack-jawed incomprehension, both from self-identified Christians and atheists.

    So bringing this around to the billboard in question, I absolutely do not assume that it is intended as a critique of one particular school of Biblical exegesis.  I think it far more likely that the people putting it up are unaware of any other possibility, or if they are aware of this reject it out of hand.

  • congyoglas

    “We don’t REALLY believe that Superman is the Last Son of Krypton, and of course we reject those stupid fundamentalists who think we should all have to wear Kryptonian undergarments, we just believe that we should live our lives according to the principles laid out in Superman #347 where he-” 

    “LET ME OUT OF THE COMIC BOOK STORE!!!”

    “You just don’t understand the principles of Action Comics exegesis. =(” 

  • Tonio

    I think you missed two critical points.

    One is that the history of Biblical exegesis is not well known outside of the religion, and I suspect that even many regular churchgoers aren’t familiar with the history. Obviously that doesn’t excuse the anti-theists who assume that all Christians read the book literally. Still, it’s unrealistic to treat the exegesis as though it’s general knowledge.

    The other is that the Psalms are poetry, and the use of metaphor in that format is very well known. Any casual reader who would read the Psalms literally would probably be unfamiliar with poetry in any form.

  • rrhersh

    “I think you missed two critical points.”

    “One is that the history of Biblical exegesis is not well known outside of the religion…”

    This is a fair point, of my hypothetical correspondent is open to education.  I occasionally find ones who are indeed interested to learn that modern American Evangelical Protestantism holds positions which are peculiar within the larger world of Christian thinking.  Others are not so interested, and indeed cleave to their ignorance.  This is fine if the individual is not terribly interested in the subject and makes no claims about it.  Among those prone to taking vocal public stands, ignorance of their topic is not a winsome trait.

    “The other is that the Psalms are poetry, and the use of metaphor in that format is very well known…”

    I didn’t miss that point.  That *is* the point.  My hypothetical correspondent asserts that the Bible must be read literally.  I point out that many parts are read literally by no one, and cite a familiar and obvious example which is not disputed.  This ideally leads to a discussion of the various genres found in the Bible and how intelligent persons of good will might seek to identify them.  Starting with a less obvious and more contentious example would defeat the purpose.

  • Tonio

     

    My hypothetical correspondent asserts that the Bible must be read
    literally.  I point out that many parts are read literally by no one,
    and cite a familiar and obvious example which is not disputed.

    But in real life, almost none of the anti-theists we’re talking about would explicitly include Psalms and Proverbs in their idea of literalism. If any do assert that believers adhere to a 100 percent literal reading cover to cover, most likely they’re using inappropriate hyperbole or they’re simply ignorant of the poetry sections.

  • Richard Hershberger

     “But in real life, almost none of the anti-theists we’re talking about
    would explicitly include Psalms and Proverbs in their idea of
    literalism.”

    Perhaps.  I have never personally observed anyone, Christian or atheist, assert “the Bible must be read literally, except for Psalms and Proverbs” but I don’t claim my experience is comprehensive.  But no matter.  Were one to make this qualified assertion I would merely begin the conversation one step advanced, with a discussion of why these books are not to be read literally and what other parts of the Bible might merit similar consideration.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And why shouldn’t they? When some Christians (particularly RTCs like LaHaye) tend to insist on literal reading and then get very mushy and wishy-washy about the nitty-gritty of what chapters and verse need a little less “literal” reading —

    As well as the insistence – vehement insistence – that every word!!!11oneone is the WORD OF GOD–

    Well, don’t be surprised if atheists who are a little fed up with the way Christianity dominates the secular political and social discourse decide that the counterstrategy is to point out the absurdity inherent in a literal reading and to legitimately question why certain verses can be disregarded as irrelevant to belief in God.

  • rrhersh

    “Well, don’t be surprised if atheists who are a little fed up with the
    way Christianity dominates the secular political and social discourse
    decide that the counterstrategy is to point out the absurdity inherent
    in a literal reading…”

    Sure, if the purpose is to score silly rhetorical points.  But if the claim is “I am smarter and better informed more rational than you!” then is behooves the claimant to make a smart and informed and rational argument.  As it is, I look at fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists and often see little to choose between the two groups.

    “…and to legitimately question why certain verses can
    be disregarded as irrelevant to belief in God.”

    This is a poor characterization of the actual argument.  Surely you can see a distinction between “this text ought not be read literally” and “this text can be disregarded as irrelevant to belief in God.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    So all the hand-waving I see when it’s all like “Oh, that’s the Old Testament! Jesus totally threw that one in the garbage which is why we totes don’t need to make animal sacrifices or circumcise anyone anymore, so just ignore it, mmkay?”

    and then ten seconds later it’s all like

    “A MAN SHALL NOT LIE WITH A MAN AS A MAN LIES WITH A WOMAN. It totes says that in Leviticus and such a sin is an affront to God, mmkay?”

    with nary a hint of the cognitive dissonance involved–

    Excuse me for thinking that perhaps some Christians, at least, are just giant hypocrites. And liars into the bargain about what their religion really entails as the necessary precondition for belief in its holy deity.

  • rrhersh

     “Excuse me for thinking that perhaps some Christians, at least, are just
    giant hypocrites. ”

    This is an unremarkable,  obviously true observation.  It is also nearly entirely unrelated to our previous discussion of the assertion that the Bible (or some specified portion of it) must be read literally. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh no? A literal reading usually implies also accepting the text as given, which, in the case of the Bible, is an Old and New Testament.

    So what happens when the material is internally contradictory?

    Well, one answer is definitely clear: elevating it to the status of inerrancy is probably the wrong way to go, given that it also implies being unable to reconcile the inconsistencies thereof.

  • John Small Berries

    “Furthermore, since the psalmist describes God as “my” shepherd, this
    implies that God is in the psalmist’s employ.  The rest of the Psalm of
    course becomes a complete non sequitur.”

    The rest of the psalm is not a non sequitur, however, if one’s insistence upon a literal reading of it results in the understanding that the psalmist was a particularly erudite sheep (perfectly in keeping with the precedent of talking serpents and donkeys).

    But that would be a silly interpretation.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    I’m trying to follow the logic there. “Hey, those Answers in Genesis
    people are completely incompetent and ignorant when it comes to biology,
    geology and cosmology — so let’s assume they’re competent,
    knowledgeable and authoritative experts at biblical exegesis!”

    I’m gonna go right ahead and add my disagreement to this assessment to the people who have already commented on it.  Ironically enough, I’m going to do it with a story.  An IRONIC story.

    My high school youth pastor once did a thing where he read a little thing that was going around about the impossibility of Santa.  I don’t remember the details, but it basically came out to, “There are so damn many houses in the world and so much ground to cover that the reindeer would have to fly at Mach 9 with their hair on fire and even then Santa would only have 0.000034 seconds at each house.”  He then said that it’s absurd to believe in Santa because the facts don’t line up.

    And that turned into a, “But believe in Jesus, because the facts do line up,” sermon.  Looking back on that now it’s pretty damn absurd, since he was a pretty dead-on, run of the mill Biblical inerrantist, but of the sort who kind of handwaved the first couple chapters of Genesis away.  Still, I’m pretty sure he honestly believed the Noah story.

    As such, I see the billboard referenced above as an attempt to fight Biblical inerrant thinking on its own turf.  It might be a bad idea to do that, but I don’t see that it’s giving YECs any sort of cover.  It’s saying, “Hey, look at these guys and the implications of their insane belief.  You might as well believe in SANTA as Noah’s Flood…”

    As a history major I do similar things.  I can poke holes in the Bible’s timelines all day long (and I often have).  My personal favorite is the various OT interpretations of Persian succession, which are all wrong and internally inconsistent.  They also invent at least one Persian emperor whole-cloth for the book of Esther.

    For someone who likes history but has never really looked at the Bible as a historical document, that sort of thing is a useful conversation point.  I can point to texts.  I could take the person to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and say, “Hey, look, here are some artifacts that contradict the Bible.  In taking the claims seriously, then, I point out the absurdity underlying any belief that the Bible is anything other than a fallible historical document written by humans and limited to human understanding.

  • Tonio

     

    And that turned into a, “But believe in Jesus, because the facts do line up,” sermon.

    That type of inconsistency is why I find the metaphorical approach confusing. Obviously it makes sense to read the stories in Genesis that way. I would think this would apply equally to the Resurrection or even to the existence of the Christian god.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     That type of inconsistency is why I find the metaphorical approach
    confusing. Obviously it makes sense to read the stories in Genesis that
    way. I would think this would apply equally to the Resurrection or even
    to the existence of the Christian god.

    Which is another one of those places where taking a look at the Bible as a serious historical document becomes tricky for the believer.  Two of the Gospels have mutually-exclusive time periods for Jesus’ birth that are separated by approximately 10 years.  So if we’ve accepted that Genesis is scientifically impossible and the OT is historically impossible, then we get to Jesus and realize that story, too, has massive problems.

    At that point if you’re intellectually honest you have to reject Biblical inerrancy.  The only options, then, are to go with a pick-and-choose metaphorical thing or to reject the entire idea.  I went with the latter.

    Of course, as has been noted many times right on this blog, the inerrantists pick and choose, too.  How else do you get a Jesus who was all about hatin’ gays and saying, “Screw the poor?”

  • Tonio

    About talking snakes, maybe Eve was really a Parselmouth…

    At that point if you’re intellectually honest you have to reject
    Biblical inerrancy.  The only options, then, are to go with a
    pick-and-choose metaphorical thing or to reject the entire idea.  I went
    with the latter.

    For clarification, what was the “entire idea” you were rejecting? Biblical inerrancy, or the Resurrection?

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     For clarification, what was the “entire idea” you were rejecting? Biblical inerrancy, or the Resurrection?

    Religion, actually.

    For me it was a progression from a more-or-less Biblically inerrant position to a status of non-religiousness/atheism.  But it’s not like I woke up one morning and said, “Y’know, I’m tired of this.”  I had a “crisis of faith” brought on by believing a few things I’d been told about god all along that I suddenly realized were both untrue and about to drive me insane.[1]  I didn’t leave the church then, I went to a liberal church that didn’t pull that kind of crap.  I’d also been studying the Bible as a historical document from a secular academic perspective, rather than the church-approved “Biblical history”-type stuff.

    One day I was sitting in that very nice mainline liberal church filled with wonderful people who seemed to take the whole thing about Jesus wanting them to make the world a better place and I realized that I didn’t care because the Bible itself was not a trustworthy document.  It was filled with some good stories and a few good morals, but so are a lot of other books.  That being the case we might as well have been listening to a sermon on how Zeus wanted us to behave or what to do to stay on Superman’s good side.

    So I walked away.

    [1]That’s the downside of the “god speaks to you if you just listen” meme in Evangelical Christianity.  We all got a good laugh at god telling Santorum, Bachmann, and Cain that he wanted each of them to run for President and assumed it was a cynical, self-serving thing.  But my church(es) taught me that god would speak.  Then one day “god spoke” and told me something that was logically impossible.  When you’re also told to have faith, though, rejecting the logical impossibility of god’s directions is an invitation to the abyss, too.

    So I nearly went nuts.  Then I realized that I had to make a choice between listening to god and listening to myself.  I chose me.  Then I gradually recovered, went back to the Evangelical church I grew up in, and about four months later I was sitting on a retreat as a youth leader with the junior high youth group when the guest pastor pulled a, “Ask god to speak to you,” routine.  I nearly had a complete nervous breakdown that night.

  • Tonio

     Thanks for sharing your experience. To be honest, I have no clue what “god speaks” means – I picture something out DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

    Is there such a thing as religion that doesn’t include belief or faith? I’ve been told that Confucianism doesn’t “qualify” as a religion.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Thanks for sharing your experience. To be honest, I have no clue what “god speaks” means – I picture something out DeMille’s The Ten Commandments

    In the Christian circles in which I ran it was a thing where you’d pray, then ask god to speak to you, then be quiet for a while.  Eventually (if you were doing it right or had the right level of faith or something, it’s hard to explain the thought process) you’d “hear the voice of god” telling you things.  In your head.  In a non-audible but also totally-not-crazy-go-nuts sort of way.

    Yeah…looking back on it now I’m astounded by how utterly insane it all sounds.

    Either way, the “voice of god” generally sounds a lot like the voice of the person hearing it.  It also generally says what the person hearing it wants to hear.  Funny how that works, I’d say.

    Is there such a thing as religion that doesn’t include belief or
    faith? I’ve been told that Confucianism doesn’t “qualify” as a religion.

    Buddhism qualifies, I think.  I think there’s at least one branch (school? sect?) of Taoism that would qualify, too. Both probably depend on who you’re talking to, though.  I suppose that a loos Unitarianism or Deism might qualify.

    Confucianism is more of a philosophy than a religion, so, yeah.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I agree with Fred on this one.

    Arguing with someone on their own terms makes a lot of sense, putting up a billboard that indicates that those terms are the only ones one can argue on just reinforces their position.

    Anyone reading that is being told that there’s only one way to read the bible.  It’s going to be much easier for a pastor to convince people that the literal way is the only way if they can honestly point out that even atheists are claiming that’s the right way.  It doesn’t actually logically follow, but “Both sides agree on this,” can be used as a strong argument in favor of, “This is true.”

    More than that, for anyone who knows that that isn’t the only way to read the bible, it’s going to be clearly identifiable bullshit and bring up the question of why one can’t make their argument without being misleading.  While it’s true that being disingenuous doesn’t mean the overall point is untrue, I instinctively have serious doubts about the veracity of any claim I see supported by obviously misleading arguments.

    It would be like if someone, I’m going to say a fictional reader called Erich von Lahaye, interpreted this blog to be saying that aliens were coming to stop Jesus (an argument could be made by taking things out of context and interpreting story as fact.)  And then someone else made a post which, by uncritically interpreting Erich von Lahaye’s interpretation as the correct interpretation, argued that Fred Clark’s writings were absurd.

    A nonsense interpretation doesn’t mean that the thing being interpreted is nonsense (doesn’t mean that it’s not either) but by pointing the thing at the “biblical” rather than the “literalist” it’s made that claim.

    The Freethought Alliance Conference is addressing the religious on the literalists terms.  Consider the reverse (which already happens often enough.)  That’s the literalist addressing the nonreligious on the FAC’s terms.  The FAC has come out saying that if you can find any interpretation of something that is nonsense, then the entire thing is suspect.  So, by the standards of the Freethought Alliance Conference, all we need to do to demonstrate that archaeology shouldn’t be trusted is to point to the ancient aliens people.

    That’s not the kind of ground I particularly want to be on.  I know that often enough we’re already there, but I don’t think we ought to be encouraging it.

  • Morilore

    The Freethought Alliance Conference is addressing the religious on the literalists terms.  Consider the reverse (which already happens often enough.)  That’s the literalist addressing the nonreligious on the FAC’s terms. 

    The Freethought Alliance Conference isn’t addressing the religious. It’s deliberately repelling Christians.  The banner isn’t an argument, it’s a signpost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I am going to side with Fred on this one. “What other Biblical nonsense is there?” reads to me pretty clearly as critiquing the Bible from a “literalist” standpoint, not critiquing “literalism” as a method of interpreting the Bible.

    And I agree with Morilore that the banner is not an argument, it’s a signpost.

    I have often wondered why some atheists hold to the same “either all of it is literally true, or none of it has any value” attitude towards the Bible that fundamentalist “literalists” hold.

    I am tempted to suspect that it is primarily a result of people being raised with that “literalist” belief system, and when they finally can’t deny the absurdity of a “literalist” reading any more they retain the underlying “all or nothing” belief.

    I have encountered more than a few atheists who regard all Christianity, or even all religion, as exactly like whatever they were raised with, period. These are usually the loudmouth jerks who dictate to other people what they really believe, because all X believe Y.

    But I don’t know what the actual numbers are, because in any group the loudmouth jerks like Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens get the most attention. And most of the atheists that I have met are people who simply seem to lack any religious impulse, for whom religion is just something other people do.

    Is it just an underlying mindset like authoritarianism? Is it people locked into the pattern of thinking they were raised with, unable to reject the premise even if they reject the conclusion? I don’t know.

  • GDwarf

    …So what should the FAC have put on their billboard? If they put a critique of a non-literalist stance then the exact same argument could be made, albeit by the literalists instead of others, and it’s not as if you can fit a long, nuanced, argument for all possible positions on a billboard.

    Instead, they targeted what is usually the most oppressive and politically-active branch of US Christianity, which makes perfect sense to me.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     In an ideal world, the FAC would have said to themselves, “Hey, this is extremely insulting both to fundamentalists and also to liberal christians, and hurting liberal christians is not actually our goal, and we’re better people than to go around hurting people indiscriminately.”

    Frankly, I don’t see “Atheists are often mistreated by fundamentalist christians, so it is okay  for them do say and do things that are indiscrimantely hurtful to all christians, not just the ones who have hurt them,” as being much different from “Some muslim terrorists attacked America, so it is okay for America to treat all muslims as Teh Enemy.”

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Here’s what the billboard says, “Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other biblical nonsense is there?”

    I could go either way on this, but I’m leaning toward what seems to be the majority opinion here because of the next line of the billboard:

    “Join us at the Freethough Alliance Conference / May 19-20 at UCI”

    This invitation makes the question less rhetorical and less overt mockery than it would have been had it not offered an opportunity to explore the issue further.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I have never met an atheist who held the “if some of the Bible is true, all must be” attitude. Ever. And I am an atheist, and I do run into a lot of atheists and people who are not Christian in my daily life. Plenty of atheists do poke holes in “Biblical inrerrancy” by pointing out how full of holes the Bible already is, and that is a legitimate debate tactic. 

    For instance, everyone’s heard this one: Leviticus says I’m supposed to hate gay men, but it also says mixed fabric is an abomination, so why do you pick one of those to believe and not the other? Why do you condemn lesbians when the Bible has nothing negative to say about them? Why do you choose this and not that? You say you’re a literalist, but you demonstrably are not. You pick and choose. That argument is not one that has as its basis the idea that the Bible is supposed to be read literally; it simply points out hypocrisy and the reality that certain people who claim to get their beliefs from the Bible do not actually get their beliefs from the Bible, but rather come to the Bible with certain assumptions.

    I also have never known a “nerd” who started going on and on about something like the Kessel Run as if it were deeply important who did not get shouted down by other “nerds.” Many so-called “nerds” (are we now 12?) enjoy intellectual challenges and figuring stuff like that out, but the vast majority of them — us — don’t think it really matters

    On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of men say that I should submit to all men because Eve was made from Adam’s rib. Tearing down that argument by demonstrating it’s impossible is a valuable thing to do. Maybe the men trying to make me into chattel won’t be persuaded, but maybe the women in their families will hear it and maybe some will know that there is somewhere to escape to. Maybe if we’re loud and insistent enough about tearing down that argument, those men will be marginalized. Persuading them is not the point; they are not the center of the universe.

    I don’t know about this billboard in particular. I’m inclined to be against anyone who thinks Christopher Hitchens is a laudable person who should be quoted. But I don’t think the billboard is meant to persuade right-wing Christians of anything. I know privileged people go into conniptions when something is not addressed to them (see also how many men on the internet react to Twilight), but giving privileged people conniptions is also fun and even valuable in and of itself.

  • Tonio

     

    Leviticus says I’m supposed to hate gay men, but it also says mixed
    fabric is an abomination, so why do you pick one of those to believe and
    not the other? Why do you condemn lesbians when the Bible has nothing
    negative to say about them? Why do you choose this and not that?

    The Gideons may have been onto something when they distributed New Testaments accompanied with just Psalms and Proverbs. Imagine someone who had never heard of Christianity or Judaism attempting to read the Bible casually – the person might not realize the importance that Christians place on the Gospels. Or that Christians and Jews disagree on whether Jesus is foreshadowed in the OT.

    (If some anti-theists are being rude in telling Christians they’re wrong in not reading the Bible literally, are some Christians wrong in telling Jews they’re wrong about their own culture’s book? To play Voldemort’s advocate, should the reading used by the culture that wrote the book be used as the default?)

    see also how many men on the internet react to Twilight

    OT: That’s odd, because most of the Twilight objections I read come from women, usually about the unhealthy nature of the Edward/Bella relationship.

  • Worthless Beast

     
    The billboards are better designed than some “atheist advertising” I have seen.  Readable fonts, good visual flow, good use of color…
     
    Whether or not they are “successful,” however, depends upon their goal.  If they are advertising for people who already agree with them in a “Hey, come to this conference and learn how to fight religion with us!”  Then, I’d say it works.  If they are trying to “convert” ( de-convert) anyone, I’d say it’s rather fail.  The literalist-AinG types are going to put their fingers in their ears (eyes? Hopefully not while driving…) and go “Lalala!” Most people (those with the vague “I once heard this in Sunday School” attitude) are probably not going to *care* enough to really think about it and Fred and those of us like him are going to shake our heads and wonder why a freethought society (supposed to be “smart people,” right?) are stooping to play the game by AinG’s rules.  Sometimes answering a fool according to his folly only makes one look petty to the peripheral targets.
     
    It’s kind of like the title of a book I’ve seen bloggers promoting on HuffingtonPost.  I have not read the book, but I’ve read articles by the author and someone promoting the author.  There’s a book written by a neuroscientist titled “The Republican Brain: Why They Deny Science – and Reality.”  With a title like that, I don’t even *care* how sound the science might be – my old advertising training tells me that the only people likely to read it are Democrats/Liberals seeking to *confirm* their own perceived natural brain-superiority and a few angry Republicans who will pick it up only to pick it apart.   
     
    There are messages so-delivered where you’ve got to know that you aren’t reaching anyone who’s not already on your side.
     

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Hmm. many Courtier’s Replies here.

    I was raised in a not-particularly-fundamentalist or literalist church.  But I can see why that type of thing exists.
    First Principles are where my atheism is based, and believers never quite seem to go back that far.
    For instance, if the Bible did not exist, would there be Christianity?  And if so, would it look like the church that exists now?
    This is important, because The Bible is all there is as a basis of Christianity.  Take away the Bible and the stories therein and what do you have left of the church? 
    Think for a moment what religious stances you have that are not based in some manner on that book.  Take them away and what have you got left?
    No Creation, No Flood.  No Leviticus or 10 Commandments or Moses or enslavement by Pharoah.  No exile, no prophets, no psalms.
    No Jesus–he left no writings of his own anyway, unlike Paul.  No virgin birth, no cross, no death no resurrection.  No martyrdoms, no turning the other cheek, no casting the first stone.
    (No Bible quotes to demonize your enemies safely.  No verses handy to suppport your political goals.)
    No Second Coming, no eternal life, no Lake of fire.  No Heaven or hell.
    All of that stuff depends on the Bible, because that’s where it is written down–there and nowhere else.
    Sure, you can have a personal relationship with Jesus, but how do you know that’s Jesus unless you got that name from the Bible?  Do people who have never heard of him–if there still are any–have such visitations, or do they have personal relationships with their own cultural figures?

    It’s important, because without the Bible–or the various collections of early christian documents that make it up or could have made up similar scriptures. you’ve got nothing left.

    It’s all a story.  And so, determining if it is in fact a true, or at least reliable story, is actually important.

    Now, let’s say, for instance, that Jesus never existed.  That the whole thing was made up by a 1st Century Jewish cult.  The story contains some great ideas and philosophies. Not saying it is or isn’t for this purpose.

    But if it wasn’t true, would you still worship Jesus?  If you knew Jesus never existed, would you still be a Christian? Could you be?

    If you knew Jesus definitely did exist, but never did any of the things attributed to him–miracles, Sermon on the Mount, Death and Resurrection, would you still be a Christian?

    Finally, would you want to know?

    When truth ceases to be important as a  factor in attributing authority, what does it leave? 

    So atheists like me, whoever that may be, have decided to apply truth as an authority and we don’t see it in the Bible.
    Without a true Bible, all that’s left is a long tradition of contradictory human opinions, and we all know the spectrum of value of those.
    “Because I said so” is not an argument, nor is “Because some other guy said so.” 

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    This is important, because The Bible is all there is as a basis of Christianity.

    You do realise people started becoming Christians before the New Testament was written, right?
    Not to mention all those Christians who never learnt to read, and wouldn’t have had access to a Bible even if they could.

    But if it wasn’t true, would you still worship Jesus?  If you knew Jesus never existed, would you still be a Christian? Could you be?

    Personally? Yes, I would.

  • hapax

     

    First Principles are where my atheism is based

    Really?  Cool.

    My answers to your questions are yes, and yes, and yes, and yes…
    Because I don’t believe what I believe because of “the Bible”, or tradition, or the authority of the Church.
    I believe what I believe because it makes sense of my experience of the world. 

    All the rest of it — Scripture, tradition, names and stories and poetry and laws — are a culturally-provided framework that expresses my beliefs in a deeply aesthetically satisfying way.  God remains “God”, whether I use the signifier “God”, “Dieu”, “Allah”, “Parvati”, “Brigid”, “Tou Agathou Idean” or whatever is culturally appropriate.  (Note: I speak only for myself, not for those theists for whom these Names signify distinct Beings)

    So, about your final question:

    When truth ceases to be important as a  factor in attributing authority, what does it leave?

    What are *your* “First Principles”?
    What, precisely, is “Truth”?  What is “Reality”?
    What (logic, reason, sense information) can we trust to provide reliable information about this reality? 
    Why should this means of information be considered  universally applicable?

    Remember, “Because I said so” is not an argument, nor is “Because some other guy said so.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    Ah, sophistry.  The last refuge of people who don’t want to answer questions.

    Look, you’ve already stated you don’t care if what you believe is true or not. 

    I thank you and Dierdre for finally just saying that.  It does tend to confirm my own experience that believers essentially make up whatever they want and assign those desires to their gods.

    We all have to live in our own heads.  I don’t have a god in mine.

  • Tricksterson

    Well I’ve got at least three, Loki, Coyote and Bast around in mine most of the time and they’re all pretty annoying, want one?

  • hapax

     Ah, name-calling.  The last refuge of people who are uncomfortable with asking themselves questions.

    Where did I state that I don’t care if what I believe is true? 

    My questions were aimed at arriving at a mutually agreeable definition of “truth.”

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     Taking a moment to point out, once again, that my name is not Deirdre…

  • P J Evans

     It isn’t ‘Dierdre’, either. Which makes me wonder if  ‘Stieve’ is paying attention to what he’s reading.

  • Pixie47

    I was raised as a conservative Christian and I adhered to it into my twenties. I was taught not to question the Bible. Then one day it hit me. why would God object my asking questions? Most every church has a different take on the Bible anyway.

    Once I made that decision I felt so free! Questioning the Bible is not the same as questioning God. And eventually I did reject the literal interpretation of the Bible. I don’t consider myself a Christian anymore, but I still believe in God. And I also came to the realization that if you don’t question your beliefs, then they were never yours to begin with.  Meaning that most of us inherit our religion from our parents, without ever actually finding out whether it is true or not.

    I do get tired of those who want to put me in the cage again. Here are some of the nonsensical comments I have gotten from “true believers”:

    “The only book you should be reading is the Bible!” 

     This came from someone who probably believes in book burning and took offense when I told her I was reading a book about how the New Testament has been altered from the oldest known manuscripts.

    This conversation is fun:

    “The Bible is God’s Word”

    “Okay, how do you know that?”

    “Because it says so in the Bible.”

    And then they look smug because they think they have won the argument?!

    As for pointing out the scientific problems in the Bible I have to say that I don’t usually talk about that because then the fundamentalists get rabid!  They don’t get it that you don’t have to give up your faith in God just because the Bible isn’t true in the scientific sense.  It was never meant to be a science book!  It was “inspired” by God not written by God  There is not anything in the Bible saying it was written by God!  It is a record of man’s evolutionary journey towards the understanding of God. 

      

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FRDTPMBW7IBKWIU3763AI6FYOM Steve

    “There is not anything in the Bible saying it was written by God! It is a record of man’s evolutionary journey towards the understanding of God. ”

    Well, no.  It’s not.  It’s a collection of stories that have been imbued with authority, and since they make little enough sense in view of the real world, they are deemed to be of deep and obscure meaning.
    There is no more evidence of your view than that the whole thing was dreamed up to make money. 

    What you’ve got here is called a ‘rationalization.”

  • SrGrvsaLot

    This was a silly post.

    It’s pretty obvious that the most natural reading of the flood story is as a historical account. It doesn’t really make sense as allegory or metaphor. What’s more, that’s how it has conventionally been read.

    It annoys me greatly when liberal theists assume atheists have no memory. The fundamentals of modern geology come from people who were trying to prove that the great flood happened. When I was a child, this particular story troubled me greatly, but no adult ever comforted me by telling me it wasn’t literally true.

    Yet, when it becomes an embarrassment, then it is dismissed as a “story.” The thing is, even if taken on those terms, the story of the great flood is still abysmally awful. God destroyed all life, from the worms on up to the people, to eliminate some vague “wickedness.” And he spared Noah and his family because Noah was “just and perfect” in some ill-defined way.

    This doesn’t make any sense at all. What possible sins could the infants have committed that would have justified a terrifying death by drowning. Hell, what sins could the adults have committed? Are we to assume that all humans were basically Jeffry Dahmer?

    All the Bible says is that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and
    that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” But PEOPLE DON’T WORK THAT WAY. People have cares and affections. They have daily routines of survival. They deal with stress and worry about the future. There is not room in the human experience for continual thoughts of evil. And besides, what could possibly be an evil thought to a mind capable of conceiving and executing genocide?

    The story, as a story, is utterly depraved. It is completely without value, unless you count demoralizing and degrading humanity as a whole to be a kind of value. At least, if it were read as a historical account, it would have the virtue of being a true depiction of events. A non-literal reading preserves the awfulness, but deprives it of its one use.

    Criticizing the flood for its physical absurdity is actually the approach most generous to Christianity.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    But PEOPLE DON’T WORK THAT WAY.

    Neither are princes always charming, witches always wicked, or long-lost princesses indisputably the fairest in the land.

    It’s a STORY. Realism is beside the point.

  • Tonio

     That’s too dismissive of SrGrvsaLot’s argument. While I disagree that a historical reading is the most natural one, a moral analysis of the story wouldn’t depend on the story being historically accurate. The god’s actions in the story are morally indefensible. I don’t think this necessarily speaks badly of either Judaism or Christianity, but it does speak badly of the people who think it’s cute to use Ark imagery in children’s bedrooms. A more realistic depiction would be the Ark surrounded by bloated, stinking corpses. At least Fantasia 2000 acknowledged in some way the loss that those on the Ark would have felt.

  • Tricksterson

    I do not, alas, remember the title or the authors (and will appreciate it if anyone can remind me of same) but I remember a few years ago a book that made a good case for the seed of the Flood story being an actual sudden inrush of water from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea causing it to grow by about a third in less than a generation about 15K ago.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Tonio, there’s a reason I responded with examples from fairytales: I believe Noah’s Ark should be read in a similar way. Not simply as a fictional tale, but as a fairytale.

    SrGrvsaLot said:

    All the Bible says is that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” But PEOPLE DON’T WORK THAT WAY. People have cares and affections. They have daily routines of survival. They deal with stress and worry about the future. There is not room in the human experience for continual thoughts of evil.

    My argument is that Noah’s Ark goes:

    “Once upon a time, the world was full of the EVILEST PEOPLE who ever evilled, and they were SO BAD that…

    Fairytales are notably short on nuance. It’s part of the genre.

  • Tonio

    While I appreciate your point about storytelling hyperbole, that doesn’t quite get at why I find the story objectionable, which is that death is a deserved punishment for wickedness.

    Plus, it reads somewhat differently in the context of Genesis, where it was preceded by the transgressions of Adam and Eve and Cain.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     Sure. But that’s a different bit of discussion than the bit I was addressing.

  • James Stabaum

    “But PEOPLE DON’T WORK THAT WAY. People have cares and affections.”
    they do now. cuz we killed off all the ones who didnt work that way.
    just kidding. i dont care. 

  • reneemjones

    ” Such obvious errors make it very hard to take the play seriously.”

    Oh how I love that line!  Thanks for a wonderful article!


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