The ‘biblical science’ of creationism is neither biblical nor science

Young-earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says that his expertise in science is every bit as legitimate as his expertise in biblical interpretation.

I agree. You should too.

So-called “scientific creationists” like Ham claim that they are doing “biblical science,” but what they are doing has just as little to do with the actual Bible as it has to do with actual science.

Unlike Ham, I do not claim to be a scientist. He would argue that I therefore ought to defer to him on scientific matters because he is a scientist — a “creation scientist” — and a layperson such as myself therefore ought to acknowledge his expertise on the subject.

Hogwash. I may not be a scientist myself, but it’s not difficult for me, even as a layperson outside of the sciences, to see that Ham’s claim of expertise is absurd. First, I can look to see what credible scientists think about Ham’s “science.” The actual experts in the sciences find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And second, even as a non-scientist, non-expert layperson who studied literature and theology, I can understand enough to appreciate that Ham’s scientific claims are pure bunkum. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize that, despite his claims otherwise, there’s nothing scientific about Ham’s “creation science.”

The same can be said for Ham’s other unwarranted claim — the assertion that his “creation science” is “biblical.” One can, again, turn to see what credible scholars in the field have to say about Ham’s alleged expertise. Are his ideas and interpretations taught and studied in seminaries? No. His biblical interpretation is regarded by those who study the Bible in precisely the same way that his science is regarded by those who study science. The actual experts in the field again find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And one doesn’t need any particular expertise or training to see that, either.

Ham’s lucrative career as a (very successful) con artist depends on both of these claims. His ability to gull the gullible depends on his ability to present himself as an authority on science and as an authority on the Bible. That’s how he makes his money, even though, again, he is neither an authority on science nor an authority on the Bible.

Those of us who want to expose, refute or debunk Ham and to limit his pernicious influence — who want to prevent him from defrauding his marks and from spreading ignorance through the schools — shouldn’t concede either of Ham’s false claims of expertise. Conceding either claim only validates his purported expertise and strengthens his hand.

I studied theology, not science, so in my case it makes sense to focus most on denying Ham’s legitimacy as an expert on the Bible. But that does not mean that I should therefore allow him to continue unchallenged in his claim to be an expert on science. The same is true for those approaching Ham’s nonsense from the side of science. They should focus most on criticizing the aspects of his claims that they are best equipped to respond to, but at the same time they shouldn’t accept or affirm his claims of “biblical” expertise.

Put another way, it would make no sense for me to use my own knowledge of the Bible to expose and confront Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism when it comes to understanding the Bible without also at least suspecting that he might be employing the very same dishonest tactics when it comes to science. Nor would it make sense for a scientist to encounter Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism in their field without at least suspecting that Ham might be employing those same dishonest tactics in what he says about the Bible. If I know that his claims to be “biblical” cannot be trusted, then I should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “scientific.” And if you know that his claims to be “scientific” cannot be trusted, then you should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “biblical.”

This was my complaint with the Freethought Alliance billboard rightly mocking the creationist, Hamian (Hamesque? Hamster?) view of the story of Noah. Charlatans like Ham insist that their “scientific creationism” view of that story is the most obvious and only proper understanding of the Bible. That is not true, but the billboard seems to accept and to validate the charlatans’ claim.

It does so through what I think is a non sequitur — an unmerited substitution of terms, suggesting that the two things are interchangeable and identical — that switches targets halfway through its argument. Without that substitution, the billboard would read:

“Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other creationist nonsense is there?”

That’s good stuff — incisive, witty and thought-provoking just as a billboard slogan should be.

But that cutting joke gets turned around and slices the wrong way when the word “biblical” is substituted for the word “creationist.” It thus winds up reaffirming Ham’s assertion that his “scientific creationism” is the best and the only way to read the Bible. It suggests, as Ham does, that “biblical = creationist.” It suggests that Hamsterian “scientific creationism” provides a valid interpretation of the story of Noah rather than being a weirdly illiterate exercise in missing the point.

I don’t think this was the intention of those who created this billboard. I don’t think they set out to validate Ken Ham, or to reaffirm his chronologically confused claim that no one managed to find the most obvious interpretation of the Bible until he and others invented it in the 20th century. But in its present form, that’s what this billboard does.

And I’m not saying, “Take that billboard down!” What I’m suggesting, rather, is that they change that bit about “biblical nonsense” to “creationist nonsense” — and thus change the billboard from one that delights Ken Ham to one that would upset him.

I’ll admit that I may be over-reacting or reading too much into all this. I may be prone to do that sometimes whenever we approach near this business of all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism. That’s a nasty, toxic brew in response to which I tend to get more angry than articulate.

Over the past almost nine years of this blog, I’ve encountered many, many good people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith. They were taught from earliest childhood that the absurdities of young-earth creationism were inextricably bound up in this all-or-nothing package deal. It was pounded into them, sometimes literally, and they learned what they were taught. If the universe is more than 6,000-10,000 years old, they were taught, then there is no God. If the story of Noah is not a journalistic account of an actual historical flood that killed the dinosaurs, they were taught, then Jesus is a fraud, life has no meaning, and justice, virtue and compassion are all empty illusions.

Few things make me angrier than this abusive all-or-nothing doctrine. It makes me angry because it chains together truth and lies. It makes me angry because it sets a trap, binding children into a twisted machinery that guarantees either a painful crisis of faith or a feckless, drifting life of dissonance and denial. It makes me angry because when those children get old enough to encounter the obvious and inescapable realities forbidden by that package deal, it may take them many painful years to sort out all the other lies bundled up with it — all those bogus “therefores” lashing meaning, goodness, faith, hope, and love to the unsustainable lies of a rigidly fragile foundation of “creation science.”

And it makes me angry because bundled in with all those other lies is the vicious slur that such all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism provides the only legitimate basis for a meaningful life, for goodness or worth. This is the slur that says not only that we cannot be “good without God,” but that no one is any good without this particular tiny, vindictive, brittle God. It says that if there is no God — or if God is not exactly like their idea of God — then you are unloved, unworthy of being loved, and incapable of loving others.

That slur is a lie. It is illogical, indefensible, blasphemous and cruel. But for many of those who had it pounded into them for years and years, it can take a long time and a lot of pain before they learn to stop believing it.

And but so, my point being, I do not much care for the all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism of the “scientific creationists” and the “creation scientists.”

I can see why it might be tempting to latch on to such all-or-nothing claims as a rhetorical tactic for a recreational debater of a certain temperament (again I’m thinking of someone like Bill Maher). It’s premise is absurd and dishonest, since the many things it bundles together are not really, logically linked. But if we were to stipulate that the illogic of this all-or-nothing premise is correct and that all of the things lumped together in this package-deal fundamentalism are inseverable, then our path to victory is simple. We can sweep away the whole edifice simply by proving the absurdity of its weakest link.

Unfortunately, embracing the logic of illogic isn’t so simple or so safe, even when it’s just a rhetorical tactic. If we stipulate that we’re accepting the premise of this all-or-nothing package deal, then we’re not just accepting the part of its bogus premise that says “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, you win.” We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.

 

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  • aunursa

    “Creation scientist” is a self-contradictory term, an oxymoron.  There is not scientific about “creation science.”  It’s simply a backdoor attempt to masquerade the first chapters of Genesis as if it were actual science.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9700052 Joseph Parmalee

    I think Fred’s point here is that even calling what Ham et al do “a backdoor attempt to masquerade the first chapters of Genesis as science” is giving them too much credit: it is, rather, a backdoor attempt to masquerade one (human, fallible, whatever they may say to the contrary) interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis as science. This makes their efforts not solely bad science, but bad science and bad religion.

  • flat

    countdown to some serious merchandising to land rover in a rapture novel:

    9 days.

  • noyatin

    I live near AIG’s “Creation Museum” and made a visit when it opened.  The opening exhibit shows two “scientists”; one looks only at at evidence, while the other uses a bible to tell him what the evidence means.  That AIG considers both to be scientists really says it all.

    That said, I do recommend a trip to the museum to see and hear what RTC’s say to each other.  It is also worth visiting to see the Garden of Eden exhibit, which one commentator noted looks remarkably like Hugh Hefner’s “woo grotto.”  

  • Hawker40

    For those in Southern California, the Institute of Creation Research (ICR) is in Santee (east of San Diego), and features much of the same ‘evidence’.  It’s also free.

  • Kirala

    The opening exhibit shows two “scientists”; one looks only at at
    evidence, while the other uses a bible to tell him what the evidence
    means.  That AIG considers both to be scientists really says it all.

    *headdesk* Really? Really?! The entire point of science, as per Francis Bacon (Christian theologian and proto-scientist), is to examine secondary causes. Bacon was pretty confident that “God did it” would always be the answer, but he preferred the scientific method precluding God because you learn so much more  by examining things from that angle.

    I’m not a scientist, and I prefer looking at the universe from a spiritual angle. But I’m appalled that anyone would poison the well of the scientific approach by using the Bible to inform “science” as well as their own personal worldview. That’s like paying for personal expenses with a business account.

  • LouisDoench

     I live in Cincinnati, I’m constantly correcting people who think the Creation Museum is here. It’s not, its in Kentucky, where we keep our airport ;). I’m personally forbidden from visiting the Creation Museum because my wife feels it would be bad for my family for me to be arrested when I refuse to stop laughing at the top of my lungs.

  • Matri

    You’re talking about the same “museum” with the exhibit that displays Albert Einstein as a Christian and Adolf Hitler as an atheist.

    A landfill would have been a far more valuable use of the space. Say what you will about waste, but landfills serve a more useful purpose than this museum. Landfills collect garbage so it doesn’t pollute the area around it.

    This “museum” makes garbage to pollute the area around it.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I suspect that if I visited the Creation Museum, I would be asked to leave because my side-splitting laughter would be disturbing the other guests.  

  • Jessica_R

     “We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.”

    I don’t know. Richard Dawkins is an insufferable smug prick in a lot of ways, but I don’t think we need to treat with kid gloves harmful bullshit like Creationism. I guess I come at it from the tack of I don’t think it’s fair to ask or expect Athiests and skeptics to try to meet hardcore religious folk halfway on this.

    I certainly don’t think it’s fair for Fundies to try to ban science from being taught in science class. I guess I’m coming from it from the place of a former Fundie (JW) myself. You are never going to convince either side, just further entrench them into their camps. So my suggestion would be that Atheists and sketptics would be putting their money to better use by opening up soup kitchens and setting up social justice organizations. *That’s* striking a real blow to the nonsense that you can’t be good without God.

  • aunursa

    I think the point is not that atheists and skeptics should meet hardcore religious Fundies halfway … but that atheists and skeptics shouldn’t lump all theists in with the hardcore Fundies.

    Just as theists shouldn’t lump all atheists in with insuferable smug pricks.

  • Morilore

    I agree.  I’m not a big fan of these atheismist conferences myself.  They tend to consist of a bunch of people who all agree with each other patting each other on the back over how right they think they all are.  (This is why I’m a fan of Rebecca Watson, who uses atheist space to talk about feminism, and catches endless shit for it.) 

  • LouisDoench

     I like David Silverman’s take on atheist conferences and meetings. He talks about the first one he attended and how blown away he was by the awesome feeling of being in a room full of people who are atheists just like himself. That’s a powerful feeling.  For every person at TAM who’s a little jaded by all the sam old same old, there’s someone who’s having that experience for the first time. I remember feeling that way at my first atheist meetup…It was just great to have people to talk about this stuff with who you didn’t have to look sideways at to see if they were going to pray for you.

    Also love me some rebecca!

  • Guest

     “I’m not a big fan of these atheismist conferences myself.  They tend to
    consist of a bunch of people who all agree with each other patting each
    other on the back over how right they think they all are.”

    When religious people do that, it’s known as “church.” Happens every week. But let’s definitely turn up our noses at atheists for supporting each other that way every year or so.

  • P J Evans

    AFAIK, that isn’t what most people here think ‘church’ should be.
    (If a church is doing that, it’s either not practicing its own beliefs, or it’s a ‘prosperity gospel’ church.)

  • Keromaru5

    Thank you.  We say “Lord, have mercy” far too often for it to be all about “patting each other on the back.”  At least, that’s how it is in Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox rites–and between those three, that’s a pretty big chunk of Christianity.

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

    So my suggestion would be that Atheists and sketptics would be putting
    their money to better use by opening up soup kitchens and setting up
    social justice organizations. *That’s* striking a real blow to the
    nonsense that you can’t be good without God.

    Yes, but you’re totally missing the point.  The New Atheists, especially as exemplified by the American Atheists, exist only to be an equal and opposite counter to the fundamentalist Christians.  Therefore, they CAN’T open soup kitchens and demonstrate the goodness they keep talking about possessing.  They must, instead, stand up and talk about how great they are but how awful it is that they are persecuted.[1]

    Actually, I think that’s one of the big things that large chunks of the current popular atheist movement totally misses: being shrill for the sake of being shrill is a losing proposition.  They aren’t making themselves any friends by mocking people and they’re losing allies/potential allies by playing the No True Scotsman game with folks like Ken Miller (Catholic, scientist, kicked creationist ass at the Dover trial) and Phil Plait (atheist, astronomer, had the temerity to suggest that, hey, maybe we should all play nice with each other).

    Of course, the irony is that any time you say, “Y’know, y’all are starting to look a lot like the fundamentalists over there,” they respond with, “What?  No, that’s impossible!” and then move the goalposts around a bit.

    [1]With, of course, the usual caveat that, yes, it’s much harder to live as an open atheist in America than it is live as a Christian.  All we have to do is look at the way those wonderful, god fearing folks responded to Jessica Ahlquist or the various nutjobs who ran for President because “god told them to.”  There’s also the bit where it’s automatically assumed that “he goes to church” is synonymous with “he’s a good person,” which then implies the inverse.  Anti-atheist bigotry is definitely a thing.

  • congyoglas

    People in the minority are allowed to say mean things about people in the majority. It’s not the same. “You’re too angry” is a nice, easy, safe way for people in the majority to silence those weaker than they are. And it’s wrong. 

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

     People in the minority are allowed to say mean things about people in
    the majority. It’s not the same. “You’re too angry” is a nice, easy,
    safe way for people in the majority to silence those weaker than they
    are. And it’s wrong.

    You’re making two completely different arguments here, one of which is wrong.  Neither argument addresses my point.

    First: “People in the minority are allowed to say mean things about people in
    the majority.”

    Why?  What does “saying mean things” to anyone get, other than petty name calling?  I’m not being a tone troll here, for the record.  I absolutely agree in the old saw about “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”  As such, I have no problems calling a bigot a bigot and telling, say, a right-wing talking head complaining about “reverse racism” to shove it straight up where the sun don’t shine.

    But “saying mean things” sounds like shouting, “You’re a big, stupid poopyhead!” that’s pretty much not productive.

    Second, “‘You’re too angry’ is a nice, easy,
    safe way for people in the majority to silence those weaker than they
    are. And it’s wrong.” is a non-sequitur that doesn’t address my point.

    The American Atheists/New Atheists/whomever aren’t being “too mean.”  They’re being “strategically fucking stupid.”  I wrote about a specific instance of this problem recently, so I’ll risk blogwhoring rather than re-hashing a rather long point.

    Basically, what it goes to is, Phil Plait gave a talk, known now as the “don’t be a dick” speech.  In it he said, basically, that you catch more flies with honey.  He then offered specific examples wherein he was able to effectively reach people through reasonable discussion.  After that, PZ Myers basically disowned Phil Plait and said that Plait was tone-trolling the entire atheist movement.

    This was not a case of PZ Myers fighting the good fight against, say, religious extremists in the government trying to ban gay marriage.  This was a case of a man going completely off against someone with whom he probably agrees about better than 95% of positions both men hold opinions on, up to and including the whole thing about how the world would be a better place if there were fewer religious wackaloons in power.  But rather than, y’know, being reasonable, PZ No True Scotsmaned Plait.

    About four years ago I would have been on Team PZ, since I was still in my angry, recently de-converted former fundamentalist phase and I pretty much wanted to burn all the churches down.  Now, having pondered that whole thing for a while, I’ve realized that approaching someone who disagrees with you and saying, “Holy shit, are you stupid,” is not a way to make friends.  It’s just a way to allow yourself to be the superior one.

    The American Atheists are doing the exact same smug tribal marker bullshit that they decry when they see the Baptists doing it.  The Noah billboard is less obvious about it, but their terrible Christmas billboards that just say, “You KNOW It’s a myth/This season celebrate reason instead” (paraphrased) aren’t an attempt to open a dialog.  They’re an attempt to say, “We’re smarter than you, neener neener neener.”

    They’re using the exact same playbook the fundamentalist Christians use.  Then they’re saying, “We get to do it this way because we’re the poor widdle oppressed atheists.  And while the underlying point is correct, they’re making it really hard to make it in the presence of the genuinely good work done by Mickey Weinstein, Jessica Ahlquist, and people like that who then end up getting death threats from those kind, peace loving Christians who are feeling oh-so-oppressed.

    So, no.  I have no sympathy for the American Atheists.  I wish they’d STFU and get out of the way of people who are being genuinely oppressed for their atheism and could use the public sympathy.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I am not crazy about using the “More flies with honey” argument because (a) you get more files with manure, and (2) it is open to the idea that “Actually PZ and his ilk are RealTrueRight, and Plait’s sort are just compromising out of pragmatism.”  Far as I’m concerned, it is not simply more expedient to avoid being a dick, being a dick is wrong, and would remain wrong even if it were expedient. Even if marginalizing those who don’t believe what you believe was a winning strategy, if you could insult and demonize and belittle your way to absolute domination, it would still be wrong.  It would be only slightly less wrong than if it worked for the dominionists.

  • P J Evans

    using the “More flies with honey” argument because (a) you get more files with manure

    But they stick to the honey and don’t fly around any more….

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    But they stick to the honey and don’t fly around any more….

    In that case, shouldn’t we start calling them “sticks” instead of “flies”?

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

     Far as I’m concerned, it is not simply more expedient to avoid being a dick, being a dick is wrong,
    and would remain wrong even if it were expedient. Even if marginalizing
    those who don’t believe what you believe was a winning strategy, if you
    could insult and demonize and belittle your way to absolute domination,
    it would still be wrong.  It would be only slightly less wrong than if it worked for the dominionists.

    That right there is a damn good point.

    One of the issues is this: to whom do you choose to be a dick?  As far as I’m concerned, the Hamster is fair game.  He has a platform and makes disingenuous attacks against real science and actual scientists all the time.  He has an entire operation that seems designed to separate the gullible from their money, up to and including the entire freaking state of Kentucky.[1]

    Having personally known someone who received abysmal education in science through intentional neglect on the part of her right-wing Christian private school education, I know that not everyone who is involved with Ham’s creation “science” is a willing participant.  She didn’t learn real science and the “science” she did learn was entirely based on AiG and AiG-esque propaganda.  Do I respond to that person with, “Holy shit, how stupid can you be?” or do I respond with kindness?

    Even if belittling someone in that situation was effective, it would be a total dick move.  It doesn’t help them to learn and it doesn’t help make the reality-based side look like anything other than the pack of jackasses Ken Ham tells them we all are.  As such, it is both a bad move from a moral perspective and a strategic perspective.

    Doing things the long way is hard work, but I’d think it’s ultimately far more satisfying to help someone learn about their world than to say, “You’re a big stupid, poopyhead and I’m so much better than you, neener neener!”

    [1]The problem with Hamster and his ilk, though, is that they have a fairly large, somewhat captive audience with an a priori tendency to believe the load of hogwash they’re selling.  The absolute best thing to do with Hamster is to just ignore him, as he’s an idiot in everything but playing the persecution card and the strawman card and making boatloads of money with both.  The absolute worst thing to do with Hamster is to just ignore him, since he has a lot of money and influence and is lying to children.

    As such, we have to respond to Ham in some way.  The problem is that it really requires a two-tier approach: he must be discredited both as a scientist and as a theologian.  This is why having someone like, say, Ken Miller on your side is a good move.  This is why atheists really should be working together with Christians like Fred rather than making blanket statements about how all religion is corrupt and it’s the fault of every religious person that a subset of religious people are extremist nutjobs.  That attitude is both demonstrably wrong and a really good way to shoot the movement in the foot.

    So, again, the American Atheists are helping themselves at the expense of the larger cause.

  • Jenora Feuer

     

    Do I respond to that person with, “Holy shit, how stupid can you be?” or do I respond with kindness?

    As usual, there’s an xkcd for that.  https://www.xkcd.com/1053/

    Indeed, ‘If I make fun of people, I train them not to tell me when they have those moments…’

  • Morilore

    When an atheist accepts for the sake of argument the claim that “biblical = creationist”, she’s not necessarily accepting the rest of the syllogism.  She’s cutting it apart at a different point, grouping “the true meaning of the Bible” with the garbage instead of the life-has-meaning part.  That’s part of what the word “atheist” implies.

  • Tonio

    Over the past almost nine years of this blog, I’ve encountered many,
    many good people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith.
    They were taught from earliest childhood that the absurdities of
    young-earth creationism were inextricably bound up in this
    all-or-nothing package deal.

    Although I’ve never been religious, I first encountered this type of creationism in doctors’ offices growing up. The waiting rooms had the first volume of the children’s series The Bible Story. This didn’t try to explain dinosaurs, but it did treat Genesis as somewhat literal history.

    This is where I encountered the idea that “it shall bruise thy head, thy shall bruise his heel” was allegedly a metaphor for Jesus defeating Satan. It occurred to me much later that it may have been intended to simply explain the human fear of snakes.

    A very strange book. Eve was labeled “Fairest Creature of Creation” and resembled a 1940s starlet. One of the strangest ideas in the book was that the human race had to determine what God-provided foods to eat by trial and sometimes fatal error. “Well, we can cross nightshade berries off the list!”

  • Morilore

    They aren’t making themselves any friends by mocking people and they’re losing allies/potential allies by playing the No True Scotsman game with folks like Ken Miller (Catholic, scientist, kicked creationist ass at the Dover trial) and Phil Plait (atheist, astronomer, had the temerity to suggest that, hey, maybe we should all play nice with each other).

    Yeah.  There’s a certain group of movement atheists who will angrily denounce as “accommodationist” anyone who evinces any kind of neighborly attitude about religious people.

  • muteKi

    There’ve been a few commentators of the sort that have shown up from time to time on the WordPress blog. Perhaps not too surprisingly they tend to act rather scummily toward everyone else. Frankly, I’ve found that such discussions tend to get unnecessarily vicious in general and try to avoid them when I can.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “Hamster”. Definitely “hamster”.

  • Tricksterson

    What have you got against hamsters? 

  • congyoglas

    Open atheists donate to charity, run soup kitchens, and organize on behalf of the community all the time. There are a lot less of them than there are Christians and they are among the most openly despised minorities in America. Yes, a tiny, largely powerless minority has less of an impact on American culture than a large plurality that generally controls the social discourse. What of it? 

  • congyoglas

    And in the real world, of course, believing in the historical truth of Noah’s flood was not invented in the 20th century. If anything, the reverse is true. (Though even that’s an oversimplification) 

  • Tonio

    In my experience, the “scientific creationist” approach isn’t really about proving Genesis right but about explaining the existence of “sin.” I almost bought Duane Gish’s “Dinosaurs by Design” for my kids, before discovering the drawing of a T.Rex and an elephant both enjoying a vegetarian lunch from the same tree. As the story went, meat-eating came into existence only after the Fall. But the displays I’ve seen from the Creation Museum make this stuff look like children’s drawings, suggesting a desperate attempt to explain why suffering exists, and a longing for a paradise that probably never really existed. “We can’t have nice things because Adam and Eve didn’t do what they were told!”

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    So here’s the problem with biblical interpretation:

    Go back in time a bit, and while people might have been a bit hinky about Genesis 1, they still believed in a literal Adam and Eve, a worldwide flood, the patriarchs, exodus, invasion of Canaan, Solomon’s kingdom, and so on.

    Then people started looking at geology, and it became obvious that the idea of a real flood was untenable, so that became “just a story”.

    Then the principles of evolution by natural selection were discovered, and the relationship between humans and other great apes, and now a literal Adam and Eve is untenable, so that becomes just another story.

    Then people started digging up Egypt and the Middle East, and no patriarchs or exodus or invasion of Canaan or unified kingdom for Solomon to rule over…

    Going the other way for a moment, sometimes evidence shows up that indicates that parts of the bible are real history or close to it; some incidents show up in Babylonian or Egyptian records or in ancient inscriptions.

    Thus the question: why is it never clear which parts of the bible are to be interpreted as “just stories” until after the fact, when scientists or archaeologists or historians find out which bits are wrong?

    (By odd coincidence, I’ve just finished reading Jason Rosenhouse’s Among the Creationists; Rosenhouse is a culturally-Jewish atheist who attends creationist (and ID) conferences as a sort of hobby, and the book is his account of his experiences and reactions.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Not exactly. They believed Genesis was “True”, but the idea of there being a dichotomy between “literal truth” and “just a story” is itself a modern invention.  The ancients didn’t have a notion of “This one isjust a story, but this one is a literally true documentary recording of exactly what happened” because they didn’t have things that were literally true docmentary recordings of exactly what happened.

    The idea that there are different ways for a thing to be “true” is an ancient idea. The idea that “literally” is “The real way for a thing to be true” is not.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    I’m not talking about ancients (except in pointing out the Genesis 1 thing, which was not taken literally from quite early Christian times).

    I’m talking about the entire span of Christian history up to the past three centuries or so.

    Early archaeologists (even within the past century) went into the Middle East fully expecting to find that everything happened just as the OT said it did, or at least close to it. They expected to be able to dig up the Sinai and find evidence of thousands of Israelites tramping across it. They expected to be able to find the destruction caused by the Israelite invasion of Canaan. No biblical critics warned them in advance that the stories weren’t likely to match the reality.

    What this all shows is that biblical interpretation has no way to tell whether a biblical passage is an account of something that happened, a corrupted or mythologized account of something that happened, or a pure fiction. These judgements are all made after scientists, archaeologists or historians have sorted out what the facts are.

  • Joshua

    What this all shows is that biblical interpretation has no way to tell whether a biblical passage is an account of something that happened, a corrupted or mythologized account of something that happened, or a pure fiction. These judgements are all made after scientists, archaeologists or historians have sorted out what the facts are. 

    Well, sorting out the facts of what happened is the job of scientists and archaeologists. Not the biblical interpreters. Who are, you know, your goto people when what you want is an interpretation of the Bible.

    That said, biblical studies absolutely does tend to involve archaeology and history, which is one reason why I find it so much fun. I’m not so much into the formal study of literature myself.

    These divisions of fields of study are real, but not completely clear-cut, I guess is my point.

  • Joshua

    Thus the question: why is it never clear which parts of the bible are to be interpreted as “just stories” until after the fact, when scientists or archaeologists or historians find out which bits are wrong? 

    All of it is valued for its metaphorical or spiritual significance.* Which bits of it are also valued as literally true obviously has to be informed by our knowledge of the workings of the world, which has grown over time.

    However, the idea that 100% is literally true, along with the overriding and supreme value that is placed in literal truth, only really caught on a couple of centuries ago, after the Enlightenment. Your average biblical scholar from any time prior to the modern period would have openly laughed** at the latter idea, even if their ignorance of the natural world gave them no quarrel with the former. They devoted way more space in their writings to the different types and flavours of allegorical meaning, and to specific allegorical meanings of specific passages, than they ever did to literal truth.

    * Even if the significance is mainly, “Well, here is something to avoid.”
    ** Or burned you at the stake or something. Some people have no sense of humour.

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

    But that cutting joke gets turned around and slices the wrong way when
    the word “biblical” is substituted for the word “creationist.” It thus
    winds up reaffirming Ham’s assertion that his “scientific creationism”
    is the best and the only way to read the Bible. It suggests, as Ham
    does, that “biblical = creationist.” It suggests that Hamsterian
    “scientific creationism” provides a valid interpretation of the story of
    Noah rather than being a weirdly illiterate exercise in missing the
    point.

    This is a very different argument than the one you seemed to be making in the first post, Fred.  It also makes quite a bit more sense.

    I still disagree with the larger implications at the conclusion, though.  Speaking as someone not too far removed from being one of those “people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith,” I do see where the acceptance of Biblical literalism for the purposes of smacking it around can come in handy.  I say this specifically because I went through it and I consider myself a better person living a (some days only potentially) better life for having done it.

    But there’s also the simple question that must be asked: what is the purpose of the American Atheists?  This is where the big problem comes in and where I would strongly prefer a Fred-ian take on these billboards.

    What the AAs are doing with the Flood billboard is proselytizing.  They’re not trying to push back against the Hamsters, they’re trying to win converts to their side.  As such, while “creationist nonsense” might be the more accurate term to use, “biblical nonsense” is, most likely, the more effective term to use.

    I, personally, rejected all religion after going through my own crisis of faith.  Does that mean I think everyone needs to follow my path?  No.  I do think that we need to get rid of fundamentalism in all its forms, so I’d like it if more people took the first steps I took.  Beyond that, though, well, I’m not trying to get people to join my organization and give me billboard money.  As such, I have no reason to proselytize.

    The American Atheists do.  As with anything else, it’s important to follow the money.

    Also, too, there’s this distinction: I give money to homeless people.  On Sunday I did a 5K walkathon to support a local animal shelter.  I am a non-believer.  Do I engage in acts of charity in the name of atheism, skepticism, or anything like that?  No.  I do it because it’s the right thing to do.  Period.  I’m not going to use it to trumpet any sort of belief or lack-of-belief system.

  • J_

    I have an opinion about this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Icis-Bokonon/100002578907868 Icis Bokonon

    Ham’s claims are similar to those made in a column by a resident Minneapolis wingnut columnist, Katherine Kersten. On Sunday she published a column that argued that conservatives were better informed than liberals. As  you might expect, this required some flexibility with the concept of “well informed.”

    Kersten’s main point was a question from a Pew Research Center survey. The question asked respondents “which political party is generally more supportive of reducing federal government.” The answer: Republicans. On the surface, this makes sense–Republicans clearly consider reducing government to be a signature plank in their platform. 76% of Republicans surveyed said that Republicans were the party “most generally supportive of reducing federal government.”

    What’s odd is that only 40% of Democrats got this question right. The columnist Kersten jumped on this fact gleefully, and built her piece around it.

    When it comes to  reducing government, Republicans may be generally supportive–but they suck at doing it. As any  well-informed person can tell you, the only president since Ford to actually reduce government was Bill Clinton. The Republican presidents in that period all grew government, whether you measure by Executive Branch jobs created or by percentage of GDP spent (Carter reduced government by jobs but increased it by spending; GHW Bush increased it by spending but reduced it by jobs.)

    If you grant Ham the gateway condition–he’s a scientist–his scientist status is established no matter how unscientific his ideas are. If you grant Kersten her gateway condition–this question measures well-informedness–the premiss  is established no matter what. We readers can’t go back and challenge the condition–but Ham and Kersten can go back and build their entire argument around the logical error without taking any responsibility for the decision.

    Ham therefore uses his credentials as a scientist to defend his attacks upon science. Kersten uses the fact of widespread acceptance by Republicans of a false claim to argue that Republicans are well informed.

    By this logic–which underlies all of the major Republican issues of the day–those who know something to be true are better informed than those who would check it regardless of whether the thing is true or not. This is why Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim who raised your taxes to pay for his recession. This is why Global Warming is a hoax occurring simultaneously with a conspiracy to distract us from the hazards of an unprecedented rise in global temperatures. This is why the death of Osama bin Laden proves that Obama is weak on terrorism.

    I wrote a crisp, carefully reasoned rebuttal to Kersten’s piece.  It’s a knockout, mainly because Kesten’s a hack and her piece is fallacy-soaked crapola but also because I used careful logic, research, and rhetoric.  But I can’t send it to the Star-Tribune because every time I publish one of those the Superintendent of Schools e-mails me to knock it off because conservatives keep complaining. He forwards the complaints to me. They usually say that  public participation in political arguments is inappropriate for a journalism and rhetoric teacher in a public high school and that publishing such arguments poisons my relationship with my students.

    I just thought you might like to be informed.

    ice9

  • Mary Kaye

     Is there any possibility of using a pen name?  If you have written an excellent piece it would be a shame not to reach the readership.

  • muteKi

    Unfortunately, embracing the logic of illogic isn’t so simple or so safe, even when it’s just a rhetorical tactic. If we stipulate that we’re accepting the premise of this all-or-nothing package deal, then we’re not just accepting the part of its bogus premise that says “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, you win.” We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.

    Reminds me a bit of the discussion a few threads back — specifically the question of to what degree it is OK to argue against someone’s abusive behavior by informing them it’s not in their best interest to do so, inasmuch as it justifies the viewpoint of acting in such self-interest, may lead to more abusive situations still motivated by it. That is, in both cases there’s a premise in the argument that’s probably not something that we should be willing to accept, but it’s hard to make a convincing argument without appealing in that way.

    In general I tend to prefer making arguments that involve demonstrating a contradiction or falsehood due to inconsistencies in a set of statements or beliefs as I feel it tends to be a stronger argument — it’s much harder to fall on a rebuttal that my presumptions are incorrect, whether or not they actually are. But perhaps I should rethink that strategy more often.

  • Tardigradepat

    I love this blog, but I think this post suffers from what a fundie would call a “Cafeteria Christian” attitude. If I’m reading a story (fiction or nonfiction) and it says that something happens, the natural assumption is that that thing happened. Biblical Literalism is absurd, don’t get me wrong, but the “It’s a Metaphor” argument is equally silly.

    If the bible says that there was a massive worldwide flood, after which a handful of people and a few hundred animals re-populated the earth, I see no reason to assume that isn’t intended as a factual statement. The bible is full of this kind of stuff, things which any modern 1st grader can point out are ludicrously incorrect. 

    I understand people want to look to the bible for moral lessons, but the fact is that it includes quite a bit of nonsense. Atheists, not being obligated to revere the text, are in a perfect position to point that out, and ought to.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    If the bible says that there was a massive worldwide flood, after which a handful of people and a few hundred animals re-populated the earth, I see no reason to assume that isn’t intended as a factual statement.

    Australian Aborigines say that there was a massive rainbow serpent who slithered around the land and created gullies and hills by the weight of its body.
    …I see no reason to assume that is intended as a factual statement.

    Nor do I see any reason to assume that the story of Noah’s Ark is any different.

    Mythology is not intended to be a bland factual statement. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless.

  • Tardigradepat

    The problem with the idea that this stuff is obviously supposed to be read as a metaphor is that that isn’t how the believers see it. 

    More than 50% of Americans believe in honest-to-goodness Angels. A literal army of holy spirits who carry out God’s will on earth, who can and do intervene in human affairs. This is not metaphor to them, and in mainstream Christianity this kind of thing has historically been the majority opinion for at least a thousand years.

    A good chunk of American Protestants believe in witches, actual magical human beings, and again this is a belief which has been common and endorsed by the church since there was a church to endorse things. People have, and are still being, killed or persecuted in many parts of the world over this very Myth.

    The idea of a Fire and Brimstone Hell, as divorced as it may be from your interpretation of the bible, is a widespread and ancient belief. This is a concept which has been used to terrorize and coerce hundreds of millions of people into doing everything from paying tithes to committing mass murder, for centuries.

    What you believe is at the foundation of your ability to make decisions. If you believe a falsehood about how the world works, you are a less capable participant in our democracy, our markets, and our society at large.

    I hope your religion makes you a better and more moral person. But no-one should sit back and watch as the mythology which accompanies those moral lessons continues to promote ignorance in American society. 

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    *sighs*

    Allow me to take a minute to point out that I am NOT saying I disbelieve in the supernatural, nor was that my point.

    More than 50% of Americans believe in honest-to-goodness Angels.

    As do I.

    A good chunk of American Protestants believe in witches,

    Several commenters on this blog self-identify as witches.

    The idea of a Fire and Brimstone Hell, as divorced as it may be from your interpretation of the bible, is a widespread and ancient belief.

    Nah, really? Well, colour me shocked. I was completely ignorant of that. [/sarcasm]

    What you believe is at the foundation of your ability to make decisions.

    I agree.

    If you believe a falsehood about how the world works, you are a less capable participant in our democracy, our markets, and our society at large.

    I disagree, sorry.

  • Tardigradepat

    As much as I appreciate being taken out of context, you seem to have missed the crux of my (admittedly long-winded) post. 

    These myths are, as commonly interpreted, promoting false ideas about the world*. People reliably act on these false ideas in ways which harm society**. Thus it is in society’s best interests to educate people that these myths are untenable in the face of modern scientific knowledge.

    If people take their moral guidance from Jesus or Moses, fine. But they ought to learn some science, take a good hard look at the world around them, and make their decisions with an informed mindset.

    *I.E. If we don’t stop people from sinning, they will be tortured for all eternity.
    **I.E. So therefore we desperately need to convert these pagans, no matter the cost.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    These myths are, as commonly interpreted, promoting false ideas about the world*. People reliably act on these false ideas in ways which harm society**. Thus it is in society’s best interests to educate people that these myths are untenable in the face of modern scientific knowledge.

    How about educating people about the fact that they’ve been interpreting the myths incorrectly? (Because, for one thing, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to scientifically prove the non-existence of hell.)

    So therefore we desperately need to convert these pagans, no matter the cost.

    Any chance you could stop saying “pagans” as a substitute for “non-Christians”?

  • P J Evans

     You’re new here, and you obviously havn’t bothered to look ant more than one day’s posts.
    Therefore, I will allow you to be a beckwit this time.

  • Kirala

    People reliably act on these false ideas in ways which harm society.

    In my experience, if one permits “people” to refer to a given portion of any large group, people reliably act on any ideas in ways which harm society. Any idea becomes harmful when oversimplified and applied to a large number of people. As an educator, I get to see this applied to educational theory; as the child of a public defender, I get to see it applied to criminal law.

    As a Christian who believes in a secular society, I wouldn’t want to approach a jihad-crying misogynist Islamacist by saying, “Your views on religion are false; here is the truth you’ve been avoiding.” (Heck, I’m not arrogant enough to think in those terms anyway.) I would be thrilled if a Muslim approached that person and pointed the ways in which Islam itself refutes the hateful approach. I suspect it might also be more effective in the end. Thus, it is in society’s best interests to educate people that no ends justify immoral means.

  • Joshua

    But no-one should sit back and watch as the mythology which accompanies those moral lessons continues to promote ignorance in American society.  

    The mythology does not promote ignorance, particular duplicitous religious leaders do. And we are not sitting back and watching. Our host is writing a blog read by thousands, and as I understand it, also writing a book. You have no idea what Deird or any of us may be doing when we are not posting on the internet, unless you know us personally.

  • P J Evans

    Sorry, you’ve missed Fred’s posts on Hell as a belief: it’s actually pretty modern. As for the rest: do you actually have evidence for those statements, or are you just saying what you personally think?

  • Pixie47

    According to Carl Jung, mythologies come from the same symbolic source as dreams do, and thus can be interpreted. Also Joseph Cambell wrote quite a bit about interpreting ancient mythologies.

    I do agree, though,  that these stories were probably not intended to be taken as metaphors, but the stories have that component inherently anyway. We take the ancient Greek stories of gods and heros  as symbolic, but the Greeks themselves most likely took them seriously.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     We take the ancient Greek stories of gods and heros  as symbolic, but the Greeks themselves most likely took them seriously.

    …um.

    Are you implying that taking something “as symbolic” and taking it “seriously” are mutually exclusive concepts?

  • Pixie47

    Actually, that was not what I meant.  What I meant was that the Greeks probably saw their stories as being literally true,  not symbolic.

    I definately do believe in the value of symbolism.. That is why I mentioned the two foremost authorities on symbolism and mythologies, Carl Jung and Joseph Cambell.

    It seems like a lot of people here are too quick to jump to conclusions about what other people are trying to say. If you had read my statement in the proper context of the rest of my posting then you would not have gotten the impression that I was belittling symbolism.

  • hapax

     

    What I meant was that the Greeks probably saw their stories as being literally true,  not symbolic.

    Umm, *which* Greeks?

    Because we have all sorts of written accounts from various Greek philosophers, poets, and playwrights mocking those simpletons who believed that stories of the Gods were literally factually true.

  • Pixie47

    You know, when I made my statement I was not throwing down a gauntlet. I was adding a bit of information that I thought might be interesting to others.  I was not putting anybody down. I never said that Greek philosophers were mocking anybody!

    What I said was that mytholgies develope  from the collective unconscious and the operative word is unconscious. I don’t believe that these stories were made up to mock anyone. Mythologies bubble up from the unconscious mind, which takes the form of stories.

    It seems like everyone here is itching for a fight. You can disagree with my opinions, but don’t put words in my mouth!

  • hapax

     I’m sorry, but where did I put words in your mouth?  I literally cut and pasted from your post.

    I’m not “itching for a fight”.  I’m disagreeing with you.  I do not agree that the mythologies of any religion — Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Greek, Aztec — were generally accepted as “literally true” at the time they were first written down, because the very concept of “literally true” is a pretty recent one (in historical terms.)

    My point about the Greek philosophers is that as far as they could grasp the notion of “literally true” myths (which doesn’t quite coincide with the modern Biblical literalists, but will pass on that), they thought that such a notion was fit only for fools and simpletons.  I could provide similar comments from the earliest Christian apologists, classical Jewish theologians, early commenters on the Koran, etc.  I don’t know if such opinions were common in Hindu and Buddhist circles, etc., but I’d be surprised if they weren’t.

  • Pixie47

    Well, we can agree to disagree on that, but you don’t seem to get what I was trying to say. My point was that I believe that mythologies, while not literally true, have symbolic value.

    That is all I was trying to say. I was not intending to open up a debate on the finer points of Greek philosophy.

  • Joshua

    You know, when I made my statement I was not throwing down a gauntlet. I was adding a bit of information that I thought might be interesting to others.

    Do you really think so? You were actually spouting off on a topic you clearly don’t know about. Hapax, like many others here, has actually studied the Greeks and knows a bit about how they treated their own myths, and corrected your ignorance.


     I never said that Greek philosophers were mocking anybody!

    No, Hapax said that. On the basis of actual knowledge, from reading their writings, in which they sometimes mocked people.


    You can disagree with my opinions, but don’t put words in my mouth!

    It’s not your opinions that are being disagreed with, it’s your facts. We are not putting words in your mouth, we are quoting you word-for-word and putting it in blockquotes.

    Grow up and stop being a whiner.

  • Pixie47

    Hapax,
     
    I guess I didn’t read your post accurately. I guess you were saying that the Greek philosophers didn’t believe in the stories either.

    However, I was making general statement that I don’t think deserves to be nitpicked. I didn’t say that all Greeks believed in the stories. What I was trying to get across is that in most cultures they take their stories as literally true.

    I fail to understand why you and others feel the need to nitpick everything I say.

  • Joshua


    Actually, that was not what I meant. … 

    Dude, she quoted your exact words. If you can’t write a sentence that reflects what you mean, that’s on you, not her.

  • LL

    “Creation scientist” is a useful term, though. The first word cancels out the second, and it lets me know not to listen to anything that person says or anything anybody else says while referencing the “creation scientist.”  Kinda like “birthers” or the anti-vaccination nutjobs. I like it when people are upfront about their stupidity. It makes it easier to avoid them. The ones I dislike are the stealth ones, the ones you meet at a gathering of some kind who seem reasonable enough, until they start going on about how Obama is not the legitimate president because he’s not a U.S. citizen, then I have to decide whether to somewhat cordially exit the conversation by excusing myself to go to the restroom, or just turn around and walk away without another word. 

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m a sociopath who believes that federal law does more harm than good and who has rejected religion with the declaration that it does more harm than good, and I believe love is both real and vital to a functional society.

    I wonder why they get so very loud about such things, as if my ilk were actively threatening them? The fundamentalist doth protest too much, methinks.

  • Matri

    Ken Ham is a qualified scientist with the exact same credentials as my qualified neurosurgeon basilisk.

    Heck, my basilisk is more qualified!

  • Keromaru5

    “If the bible says that there was a massive worldwide flood, after which a handful of people and a few hundred animals re-populated the earth, I see no reason to assume that isn’t intended as a factual statement ”
    But whether you do or not, the option for alternate interpretations doesn’t go away.  The Bible is a spiritual text before it’s a historical one.  And theologians have gone through the Bible for deeper meanings, including metaphorical, moral, and eschatological ones, for most of history, long before the Enlightment ruled out a literal flood.  Judaism has used Midrash to pick out creative and insightful meanings from everything from the story to the etymology.  The Early Church had the competing schools of Alexandria and Antioch: the former preferred allegorical and mystical meanings, and the latter preferred literal and moralistic meanings.  These two views got synthesized over the course of the Conciliar period.  The important thing isn’t whether or how the Flood happened, but what it meant.

    There are two important things to consider: first, that the Early Church did not have a concept of “Scripture Alone.”  Doctrine was defined not just by the Scriptures, but by the ongoing tradition of the Church and the writings of the early theologians and monks.    They technically didn’t even have a Bible.  It wasn’t a single book collecting all the most necessary info.  It was a set of separate books approved for regular use during worship.  

    Second, they did not typically think of divine inspiration as “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Inspiration meant that they saw the authors as touched by God, trying to articulate their experience.  For that matter, it’s not even limited to the canonical Scriptures: in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the writings of several saints are also considered inspired and authoritative in their own way.  But only the foundational texts (the ones collected in the Bible) are read during worship.

    At that time, it wasn’t science they had to reconcile with the Old Testament.  Theologians developed allegorical meanings because, read at face value, the Bible could have the opposite effect.  But the Bible is not a simple book and should absolutely, positively, not be read at face value.  And as I said, it’s not read alone, but in light of the experience of saints, mystics, and councils, and taking into account its context in history, culture, language, and literary genre.

    And then, of course, there’s the use of the Bible as a spiritual text.  It’s not there just to teach us history or pseudohistory or anything like that.  It’s to be studied, parsed, and debated.  It’s to be read devotionally as an aid to prayer, like with the monastic practice of Lectio Divina.  You have to meditate on Scripture in order to pray through it, and that involves analyzing it from every angle.  If you only allow the literal interpretation, and the relaying of facts, then the Bible is a dead text.

    Often, the question to ask about the Bible isn’t “What does/n’t it say?” but “Does it mean what I think it means?”  The Cafeteria approach, as I see it, would be to deny it outright.  If you’re willing to consider allegory, you’re willing to grapple with the text as it is.  If not, then you’ve fallen into the fundamentalist trap of looking at it only as a zero-sum game.  If anything, the broader view is actually the more traditional.

    At least, that’s the way I see it.

  • swbarnes2

    “But whether you do or not, the option for alternate interpretations doesn’t go away.”
    To many religious believers, it’s not a valid option.  In their eyes, what’s the point of God making himself known to mankind through a text that requires PhD’s in foreign languages and culture to understand?  Their faith tells them that God would not do that to them.  What evidence do you have that they are wrong?  Their way, ordinary people can understand God’s word easily.  Your way, it’s like a 24nd Century Egyptian trying to get the jokes on Community, and if you don’t understand everything right, you burn in hell forever.
    Or, to put it another way, it is the religious faith of millions and millions of Christians that the crucifixion was not a metaphor.  That the redemption was not a metaphor, that humans beings really, actually, literally need saving from the fires of hell.  That the fires of hell are not a metaphor, but are real, and we humans are normally destined to go to them because of a non-metaphorical Fall.  And that believing in a real, non-metaphorical Jesus, they will go to a real, non-metaphorical kingdom of heaven.  So to say “interpret all that as metaphor”, that to them is like saying “What you believe is simply wrong.  How can you get so worked up over a story about a guy who dies to redeem you from an Original Sin you never had, to save you from eternal torment that’s not real either?  The Kingdom of Heaven?  Sorry, another metaphor.”

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

    See, the thing is, if these writings made sense taken as a whole, none of this complex theology would be necessary.
    You talk about the early church using the ongoing traditions of the church, but where did the early church get them?  These, after all, are the people who wrote The Bible. (Or the books that became it)
    Isn’t that important?  Lots of human traditions are, in fact, very bad, despite traditionality, like slavery and ritual cannibalism.   So by what criteria did these people establish these traditions?  How did they determine those ideas inspired by God? (Other than the common method in pre-Bible Byzantium of beating opposing heretic monks over the skull, of course.)
    Again, theology came about because gods explain nothing and because religious narratives never seem to be complete and obvious explanations.
    First Principles are the problem here, it’s not the color.
    If God wrote the book, or intended it to be meaningful, then He failed in making it understandable, unless his goal was division.
    So who decided God was involved at all and why does anyone think that person was right?

  • Otrame

    There has been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere of how mean atheists are and how if we were just nicer people would listen to us more*.

    Nonsense.

    As Daniel Dennett says, there is no “polite” way  tell people that they have wasted an enormous amount of their lives and their emotions on a lie.  That the lie in question is incredibly harmful, all claims to the contrary notwithstanding, doesn’t help.  No matter what we say, when we open our mouths we are called “strident” and “hateful”. Our very existence is considered a horrible insult. 

    Think about that.  There are large numbers of people who consider the fact that I exist an insult.  I don’t have to actually say anything at all to be considered bad, evil, incapable of being a decent human.  And this is not a few people.  Look at the statistics on the American attitude to atheists.

    Tell me.  Why is is bad when atheists call names but not when Christians do?

    Seriously, what would be acceptable to those of you who think we are “smug” and “mean”? Did you know a recent bus ad campaign had a single word, “Atheist” and a small website address on it and the bus company refused to place it because it was too “controversial”.

    And it matters because a) the truth matters; and b) the religious right is doing its very best to kill my country and entirely too many “moderate” Christians refuse to stand up and call them on it, while being perfectly willing to call atheists names.  I don’t need you to deny God to help stop the theocracy, so why do I have to pretend I believe something I think is nonsense before you’ll help stop the theocracy.  Are you under the impression you’ll fare any better than we will if they win?

    I think any one of you who has even a shred of intellectual honesty needs to read Greta Christina’s “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”.  Then we’ll talk.  

    *The mention of PZ Myers’ response to the “don’t be a dick” speech wasn’t entirely honest.  PZ  acknowledges that each atheist needs to approach these discussions in what ever way works for her/him. What he objected to was that Plait was insisting that everyone had to do it Plait’s way.  Plait was wrong. 

  • hapax

    I have spent plenty of time and treasure fighting theocracy, thank you.

    I don’t feel any particular need to stand alongside someone who calls me a liar while I do it.

  • Joshua

     there is no “polite” way  tell people that they have wasted an enormous amount of their lives and their emotions on a lie. 

    Well, I’ve had a number of conversations about reincarnation with both Hindus and Buddhists, and I appreciate the central role the belief has in their religions. I also think the idea is just plain incorrect. And yet, those conversations were good-natured and polite.

    Maybe the problem is not your faith or your lack of it, maybe the problem is that you’re a jerk.

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

     *The mention of PZ Myers’ response to the “don’t be a dick” speech
    wasn’t entirely honest.  PZ  acknowledges that each atheist needs to
    approach these discussions in what ever way works for her/him. What he
    objected to was that Plait was insisting that everyone had to do it
    Plait’s way.  Plait was wrong.

    Funny.  I watched Plait’s speech.  In fact, I watched it about a month after the whole thing blew up and I’d only been reading the, “Phil Plait is a big, giant poopyhead,” blog posts.

    It surprised me to no end to realize that, wow, Plait’s entire speech was dead on.  Not only did he not say, “We must be nice all the time,” he said (paraphrased), “Sometimes you might actually have to be a dick, but it’s important to choose your targets carefully.”  Then he offered examples.

    Seriously, what would be acceptable to those of you who think we are
    “smug” and “mean”? Did you know a recent bus ad campaign had a single
    word, “Atheist” and a small website address on it and the bus company
    refused to place it because it was too “controversial”.

    Yup.  And the absolute best way to win people over who think that atheists are all smug, mean, and shrill is to be smug, mean and shrill.  That’ll learn ’em.

    Seriously, though, here’s the problem: there are certain people who gain power and money when they stand up and scream and moan about the evil atheists.  They’re going to do that no matter what atheists say.  They are, to put it in another context, the people who will never, ever vote for Barack Obama no matter what he does and claim that he’s a commiesocialist who’s raising taxes and taking away their guns to boot even thought he’s a tax-lowering corporate friendly centrist who is to the right of Richard Nixon on everything except gay rights.

    We, as atheists, are not going to win those people over.  It simply will not happen in this lifetime.  We, as atheists, do have the chance to win over the people who are currently listening to those loud yelling folks.

    The fascinating thing is that I always see Richard Dawkins labeled as shrill or angry or with various negative adjectives.  Whenever I hear Richard Dawkins talk he comes across as a perfectly pleasant, model English gentleman.[1]

    So ask yourself this: would it actually help anyone if Richard Dawkins woke up tomorrow morning and said, “Y’know what?  I think I’m just going to be a complete and total asshole from here on out,” and then proceeded to call everyone with whom he disagreed a poorly educated, right-wing loon no matter what the disagreement or level thereof happens to be?

    I’d argue that, no, that would be a stupid thing to do.  As long as Dawkins continues to be civil he introduces the possibility that someone actually listens to him speak.

    I think any one of you who has even a shred of intellectual honesty
    needs to read Greta Christina’s “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”.  Then
    we’ll talk.

    Um, that, by the way, is the place where I’m assuming hapax assumed you were calling her a liar, what with your whole thing about questioning our collective intellectual honesty.

    I’ve got news for you: I am an atheist.  I grew up fundamentalist Christian.  Having stood on both sides of the divide I can’t see a functional difference between the American Atheists belittling anyone who doesn’t agree with science and the creationists belittling anyone who doesn’t believe that god magicked the world into existence 6,000 years ago.  All it’s doing is setting up tribal markers.

    The thing about it is, atheism is a minority belief in this country that’s currently at war with the death throes (I hope) of a particularly pernicious form of religiosity.  We can’t expect atheists to simple be accepted overnight.  It will be an evolutionary process and it will be the same sort of progression as we saw with the Civil Rights Movement and we’re seeing with gay rights right now.

    You know who ultimately wins in that sort of scenario?  The side that plays the long game and wins the battle for public empathy.  And there’s a reason we have a national holiday for MLK but we don’t have one for Malcolm X or the Weather Underground.

    Chew on that thought for a bit.

    [1]Unfortunately one in possession of the knee-jerk sexism of someone of his station.  But other than that I have no problems with the man.

  • Tonio

    Do the Myerses and Plaits even have the same goal? The first group seems to want a world without religious belief, and the second seem to simply want public acceptance of atheism.

    From my own view, even the latter goal is too small. I want a world where no particular stance on religion is the norm or default, and any stance is a private individual matter under the “don’t be a dick” principle. I’ve long said that claims about supernatural entities seem indistinguishable from speculation, but that’s only because I don’t want to take the chance of being mistaken about a question of fact. I have no desire to convince anyone else to change his or her position on whether such entities exist.

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

     Do the Myerses and Plaits even have the same goal? The first group seems
    to want a world without religious belief, and the second seem to simply
    want public acceptance of atheism.

    I think there’s a spectrum.  I also don’t think PZ and Plait are too far apart on said spectrum.  I think they both primarily want to see atheism accepted as valid and religiosity pushed out of the public sphere in a First Amendment sort of way.  PZ has actually publically stated that he reads Slacktivist, so he apparently doesn’t see every religious person as the same level of threat.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t atheists who want to completely do away with religion.  I’d say that Hitchens was in that category.  There are also plenty of people I’ve seen wandering about the blogosphere who will say as much.

    So, as with everything else, it’s complicated…

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

    I would point out, in the never ending debate over accomodation which this is an extention of, that different tactics suit different foes.  Ghandi and MLK could win against their foes, but had they attempted nonviolence in 1938 Germany or the USSR, they’d have been…less successful.
    So the question is if our current opponents, who deny our right to exist, can be fought with politeness–and they label anything but silence as impolite–or if there is anything to be gained by defiance.
    The loudest and most vociferous of our opponents, who come out of the woodwork at the first hint of church-state separation fights, are effective at gaining an audience by being dicks, even when we are at our most polite.
    I doubt we’re getting many to change sides either way.
    The question is whether we’re getting any closeted atheists to step out into the light and will they do that if we give them an example of deference, since that’s what they’re already doing?

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

     I would point out, in the never ending debate over accomodation which
    this is an extention of, that different tactics suit different foes. 
    Ghandi and MLK could win against their foes, but had they attempted
    nonviolence in 1938 Germany or the USSR, they’d have been…less
    successful.

    You might want to look in to Godwin’s Law there, Steve.  The Christian right in America isn’t actually Hitler.

    The question is whether we’re getting any closeted atheists to step out
    into the light and will they do that if we give them an example of
    deference, since that’s what they’re already doing?

    Why isn’t the question, “Are we keeping any closeted atheists from stepping in to the light by making ‘atheist’ synonymous with ‘jackass’ in the public sphere?”

    There’s a simple issue that atheists don’t seem willing to address: the majority of people don’t actually care.  The people who do care are people who are invested on one side or the other of the issue and they probably won’t change their minds to readily, anyway.  What atheists need to do is get those people who are currently apathetic to realize that atheist /= bad person and secular society = good for everyone.

    That requires PR.  Being dicks for the sake of being dicks and then pointing and saying, “Well, they started it!” is not a good move.

    Again, we need to go with Dover, we need to go with the Jessica Ahlquist case.  Religious people overstepped the bounds of the Constitution.  They lost.  A subset of religious people then looked really ridiculous.  Part of the thing fueling the ridiculousness was that Ken Miller was against creationists in Dover and Jessica Ahlquist is a teenager who received countless death and rape threats from the supposedly loving Christians, yet managed to handle the whole thing with maturity and grace well beyond her years.

    That’s how you win, long term.  You don’t change a culture overnight and the best way to lose is to forget that.  Calling your enemies Hitler and then saying that anyone who agrees with them in even the most tenuous way is a Nazi is not a viable, long-term solution.  The most important allies atheists can have in America are Christians who don’t think that we live or should live in “a Christian nation.”

    Also, too, this gets back to the original argument Fred was making, but from a different direction: Pat Robertson (to use an example) wants you to believe that he holds the default view of what it means to be “Christian.”  That allows him to say that his interpretation of the Bible is correct.  It also allows him to kick out anyone who disagrees with him.  But, more insidiously, it also allows him to say that he’s the defender of the majority view on things by going back to the idea that evangelicals, mainline liberals, and Catholics are all “Christians,” so that if he, as a “Christian” holds a certain view then that means that 80% of the country, which is also “Christian” holds that same view so neener neener shut up.[1]

    So to say, “Pat Robertson is a bad person and, therefore, all Christians are bad people,” is to play in to Pat Robertson’s game.  It also means that you’re inviting your most valuable potential allies to join the enemy camp.  Your average Methodist pew sitter might not like Pat Robertson much, either, but she probably also doesn’t like it when some jackass on the internet calls her Hitler.

    [1]Scare quotes because it’s a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey definition of the word Christian, not because, y’know, there aren’t any Christians out there.

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

    You might want to look in to Godwin’s Law there, Steve. The Christian right in America isn’t actually Hitler.

    Didn’t say they were.  Perhaps you were too intent on scoring Godwin points to actually note the point of the statement:  That different tactics are requirted for different opposition.
    And, by the way, the Christian Right may not be Hitler.  At the Moment.  But how much of that is that they aren’t in total control?

    The opposition–not capital C Christians, but the ones who show up at things like the Cranston School Board Meetings or tear down signs or purposely antagonize those who do not follow their religion–is always going to consider us as dicks, simply for existing.

    Thus, I really don’t think it matters much if we defer to them or not.   And sparing their feelings is just that: deference.

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

     

    Unfortunately one in possession of the knee-jerk sexism of someone of
    his station.  But other than that I have no problems with the man.

    My main problem with Dawkins is his repulsive lack of empathy when it comes to, for example, survivors of sexual abuse from the Irish Catholic Church. He was quick to dismiss the suffering they experienced because it didn’t map to his own views and experience. Trivializing rape and the subsequent trauma experienced by its survivors is pretty vile.

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

     My main problem with Dawkins is his repulsive lack of empathy when it
    comes to, for example, survivors of sexual abuse from the Irish Catholic
    Church. He was quick to dismiss the suffering they experienced because
    it didn’t map to his own views and experience. Trivializing rape and the
    subsequent trauma experienced by its survivors is pretty vile.

    Ugh, really?

    What’s the story on that one?  I haven’t heard it.  I also don’t pay that much attention to Dawkins, so it wouldn’t surprise me that he holds abhorrent views I’ve never heard articulated.

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

     

    What’s the story on that one?  I haven’t heard it.  I also don’t pay
    that much attention to Dawkins, so it wouldn’t surprise me that he holds
    abhorrent views I’ve never heard articulated.

    Here.

    The standouts that really enraged me were (paraphrasing)

    a)  “It couldn’t have been that bad, a priest once grabbed my ass and you don’t hear me whining about it, ” and

    b) “I have never experienced a loss of faith, and think faith is a bad thing anyway, so anyone saying his life was ‘marred’ by a loss of faith must be trying to get jury sympathy,” and of course

    c) “No, let me dictate to you what the REAL abuse you suffered was, because your experiences are less valid than my brilliance”

    Prior to this article, I just generally disliked Dawkins. After reading the disgusting lack of empathy in that article, I have little hope for him as a human being.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I don’t recall the exact words, but it’s something where his defenders could with justification claim that it was just a Poor Choice of Words. As I recall it, whatever it was he actually *meant*, it came out sounding like “Yeah. sexual assault by a priest is pretty bad, but t’s only a little bit worse than being indoctrinated into religion _without_ the sexual assault.”

    The thing i don’t like about Dawkins is that whenever someone suggests that some of his arguments assume all religions work the same way that evangelical fundamentalist christianity works, his response seems to be some variation on “All religions are so worthless that it is not worth my time to actually do any research to  find out whether or not my preconceptions about them are valid.”

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

    My main problem with Dawkins is his repulsive lack of empathy when it
    comes to, for example, survivors of sexual abuse from the Irish Catholic
    Church.

    I’m just shaking my head at the way he actually managed to fuck up the big giant billybat the Catholic Church handed him with which to beat the entire Catholic hierarchy over the head.

    I mean, who wouldn’t empathize with what these people have suffered through? Here in Canada, generations of Aboriginal (First Nations) people got thrown into residential schools run by the Roman Catholic Church of Canada whose priests promptly declared open season on everything those kids had to call their own and inviolable.

    Were I Richard Dawkins I’d be bashing the Catholic Church from pillar to post over the way their entire hierarchy used the cover of religious doctrine to validate and justify the horrendous behavior of their priesthood.

    Not pooh-poohing the experiences of the victims.

  • http://opaqueplanet.livejournal.com/ Cassandra

    I find the name f this “creation scientist” to be hilarious.  Are his research partners Dr. Shem and Prof. Japheth?

  • Joshua

    Although I’m neither a working scientist nor a working priest, I trained as both at university. I can see both sides.

    And it’s true: the Answers in Genesis crowd really are just as bad at biblical exegesis and theology as they are at biology or astronomy.

    As far as I can tell, they really do seem to not realise that the Bible might have a point or moral. Finding out how every propositional statement can be justified as literally true really does seem to be the be-all and end-all of reading scripture. Or at least, of their public speaking or writing about reading scripture.

    All of Christian history and thought between the writing of the New Testament and the writing of the Origin of Species is likewise a closed book. I heard one guy quote St Augustine in order to trash him once. That’s the limit of it in my experience.

  • Tricksterson

    I think if I were to visit the Creation museum I would be arrested as a terrorist because I would bring snark bombs and would not be afraid to use them.

  • Keromaru5

    swbarnes2:”In their eyes, what’s the point of God making himself known to mankind through a text that requires PhD’s in foreign languages and culture to understand?”I don’t know what else to say, except I think they’re wrong.  There is an entirely more sensible and ancient way of doing Christianity that doesn’t demand they turn off their brains, doesn’t have to scare the crap out of them, but also doesn’t deny the essentials, mainly those outlined in the Creeds.  To suggest different interpretations isn’t to deny these things, but to broaden understanding of them, and to encourage serious engagement with the text, without as much cognitive dissonance.   If your only options are Fact or Fiction, of course you’re going to struggle with your faith.  It’s a false dilemma.For example, I believe in a true resurrection; but if I only understood it literally, I would diminish its true significance.  It’s not just a guy coming back to life.  It’s a cosmic event, the overthrowing of death, the culmination of God’s union with mankind, which can never be dissolved.  It’s a moral example to his disciples (facing death in order to achieve victory over it).  It’s God’s “yes” to Jesus and “No” to Empire and oppression.  It’s also seen whenever life comes out of death, when people do incredible good in spite of the evil around them.If I just took it literally, it’s just Jesus coming back to life with teleportation powers.Steve:Why assume that God can be understood?  How can something big and powerful enough to create the universe be properly comprehended by something as small and finite as the human brain, or contained in a book, in any language?I think most of it comes from mystical experiences, and I do believe they’re real and that they do reveal deep spiritual truths.  And I believe, as I said before, that scriptures are an attempt to articulate such experiences in a particular framework.  The decisive one, of course, is the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  And that is articulated through the Church’s tradition, one part of which is the scriptures.But the main proclamation, the kerygma, exists independently of scripture.  There’s a striking statement in a biography of St. Silouan of Athos, that if somehow all the Scriptures were to cease to exist, the Church could rewrite them.*  The words and probably the stories would be different, and may include new stories, but it would be the scriptures, because they would be a true expression of the Church’s faith and teaching, and its encounters with the divine.  That is the important thing.To go back to my point about comprehensibility, the great mystics of the churches–German mystics, Teresa of Avila, the authors of the Philokalia, etc–as I read them, tend to be pretty consistent with each other, and what they have to say tends to be pretty consistent with the best parts of the Gospels.  And they all agree that what they experienced goes far beyond what words can describe.  So I can see how the Bible could have been written under similar experiences and still be difficult.  The authors did their best with the tools they had, in their own cultural and literary context.  That shouldn’t require a PhD, just simple critical thinking and humility toward the text.  I can’t read it without remembering that the authors of Genesis, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes were not a 21st century American Protestant.All this is another area where I think fundamentalism fails: it has no room for mystery or paradox.  It demands certainty, not faith.* bearing in mind that he is referring to the Orthodox Church, of which I am not part.

  • swbarnes2

    “I don’t know what else to say, except I think they’re wrong.”

    And they think you are wrong.  So, between your bald assertions, and their bald assertion, and they sincerely believe that their assertions are backed up by the ever-accurate method of “praying and listening if God tells you that you are wrong” method, how is one supposed to decide which way is right?  How do you know that your way is right?  I imagine you like the outcomes of your way better, but you must recognize that that’s not at all what I’m talking about.

    “There is an entirely more sensible and ancient way of doing Christianity”

    There are many beliefs both sensible and ancient which, when checked against reality, turn out to be wrong.  To many believers it’s not at all “sensible” for a man to have a sexual relationship with another man, and the Bible rather “sensibly” forbids that arrangement too.  Why is your definition of “sensible” supreme over everyone else’s?

    “ To suggest different interpretations isn’t to deny these things,”
    But it is.  You can’t believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and believe that the virgin birth didn’t happen, and the description of it is only a metaphor. 

    “but to broaden understanding of them, and to encourage serious engagement with the text, without as much cognitive dissonance.” I think many people would regard “serious engagement with the text” as meaning “When the text says something you do not like, do not dismiss it as an undivine insertion, or explain it away as a foible of ancient literary practice or bias.  The text is what it is because God made it that way, you must deal with it as it is, not with what you wish it were.  So when the text says men should not have sexual relations with other men, you can’t ignore that just because you have gay friends”.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I think many people would regard “serious engagement with the text” as meaning “When the text says something you do not like, do not dismiss it as an undivine insertion, or explain it away as a foible of ancient literary practice or bias.  The text is what it is because God made it that way, you must deal with it as it is, not with what you wish it were.  So when the text says men should not have sexual relations with other men, you can’t ignore that just because you have gay friends”.

    See, this I have a problem with. You’re setting it up as a dichotomy, where your options are:
    a) read the Clear And Simple Meaning of the text
    b) handwave it as an undivine insertion or foible, because you don’t like it

    I don’t believe that I am doing either of these.

  • Keromaru5

    Well, crap.  That had paragraph breaks when I wrote it.

  • P J Evans

     Welcome to disqus-land.

  • ako

    So, after ages of hearing the “Why don’t atheists start charities to prove that they’re not horrible?” question, I finally did a google search on specifically atheist charities. 

    And I’ve only been reading about it for a little bit, but the Atheist Centre of India seems really good. 

    I’m an atheist, and like many atheists, I tend to volunteer and give money to secular groups without specifically looking for ways to go “I’m an atheist and I help”.  Considering how often this gets used against atheists, I started wondering about the possibility of approaches that would make it easier to be counted.  So any further recommendations would be welcome.

  • Hypocee

    This post (“shan’t dignify it with a response”) is a good evasion, and the earlier post fair, as long as we are  restricted to a purely academic formal bull session in the placidly liberal Zen seminary. As long as creationism is in fact a fringe view in American Christianity.

    What? Oh.
    http://www.christianpost.com/news/poll-4-in-10-americans-believe-in-creationism-48124/
    60% of “weekly church attenders” claim to be creationist.

    That’s what one might call a majority. Not just a large plurality, but an actual majority. In the practical, descriptivist, everyday, Wittgensteinian sense, “Christian” and especially “biblical” do, as a matter of demographic fact, mean “creationist” in America. Your ever-so-ecumenical Universalist faith-as-philosophy is the deep fringe movement. I have *faith* that someday on your roughly quarterly run up to the topic you’ll actually acknowledge that, and refrain from  accusing those fighting to deconvert people from this worldview you claim to hate so much of strawman tactics.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    60% of “weekly church attenders” claim to be creationist.

    Option A:
    “Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?”
    “Yes”
    “Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?”
    “Yes”
    “Do you think there is a lack of discipline in our Comprehensive schools?”
    “Yes”
    “Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?”
    “Yes”
    “Do you think they respond to a challenge?”
    “Yes”
    “Would you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?”
    “Oh…well, I suppose I might be.”
    “Yes or no?”
    “Yes”
    “Of course you would, Bernard. After all you told you can’t say no to that.”

    Option B:
    “Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?”
    “Yes”
    “Are you worried about the growth of armaments?”
    “Yes”
    “Do you think there is a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?”
    “Yes”
    “Do you think it is wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?”
    “Yes”
    “Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?”
    “Yes”
    “There you are, you see Bernard. The perfect balanced sample.”

    I’d really like to know how these polls are defining “creationist”.

  • mastaofdisasta

    According to the article, it’s defined as believing that “humans were created in their present form less than 10,000 years ago”

    As I see it, the key term there is “humans.”  Now, for a time I thought that humans had been around for only 30,000 years, which isn’t far off from that poll question.  It turns out that 30,000 years was when Neanderthals are expected to have gone extinct.  The point is, for someone who didn’t pay that much attention in science class or ancient history class, 10,000 years might sound like a reasonable number.

    A more clear-cutting question would be how old do you believe the Earth is?  Or, do you believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted?

    From what I’ve seen, young earth creationists are a small bunch but very strong in their conviction that the Earth is only a few thousand years old.  In fact, you could say that they have made Creationism into a religion in itself.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    According to the article, it’s defined as believing that “humans were created in their present form less than 10,000 years ago”

    Yeah, I saw. Sorry, I wasn’t being clear: as shown in the YPM example, the pollster is asking a lot of different questions that then force a specific answer to the question they’re interested in.
    What questions are they asking the people being polled? Apart from the question they’ve mentioned?

  • mastaofdisasta

    Unfortunately, that’s the only question I’ve seen, and I haven’t seen the original poll, just that question quoted over and over in various articles for years.  It’s often used to support the idea that “half the country are YEC’s”

    So, I don’t know if there were other questions on that poll that would have made such a conclusion more clear.  And until I see the rest of the poll, I’m going to assume that a question like “do you believe the entire world is less than 10,000 years old?” would yield far fewer ‘yes’ answers.

  • Tonio

     That’s a big reason I was skeptical of the polls that Sam Harris quoted in Letter to a Christian Nation. One problem is the common straw man of “evolution” as non-theistic origins for the universe and life, and that idea owes its existence in large part to fundamentalist disinformation.

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

     Sir Humphrey Appleby is one of the greatest characters in the history of ever.

  • Keromaru5

    No one’s arguing they had any reason to doubt the historical aspects of the Bible.  At least as far as I can tell.  But Christians did not start coming up with metaphorical, allegorical, or symbolical, or mystical meanings to Scripture just to reconcile with modern science.  It goes all the way through the span of Christian history.  When the historical interpretation didn’t pan out, we still had other interpretations to fall back on.

    And even today, I can still interpret the Bible literally as a story.  I can look at the themes and conflicts and try to figure out a relevant meaning, and then move on to the metaphors and mysticism.  I’m personally skeptical that any of it can ever be proven historically; what matters is what it says about God, about Jesus, and about humanity.

    Look up the Midrash Rabbah sometime.  It was composed by a bunch of Rabbis in the middle ages, and it spends several chapters offering different meanings–literal, metaphorical, mystical–of just the first sentence of Genesis.  For them, calling the Torah the Word of God meant there was that much more meaning to it.  If you rule out everything but the 100% literal, you reduce its meaning.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    “Fall back on” gives the wrong sense of it, as if for most of history, Christians were thinking that the bible was first and foremost accurate history, and when that didn’t pan out, they switched to plan B.

    Yes, once the notion of “accurate history” was invented, a few hundred years ago, christians defaulted to the assumption that the bible included it. And that Herotidus was accurate, and that all three radically contradictory versions of Froissart were accurate. By default.

    But not because “It is central to our belief system that this is historically accurate.” Because “All the things we ave always taken to be true we will by default assume to adhere to this new sense of “true” as well.”

    But “It is a literal representation of actual physical reality” was never the primary “meaning” of the bible — That it adhered to the physical evidence of physical, historical reality was never the  “important” interpretation of the bible, because actual physical reality was never the important kind of reality

  • Otrame

    I don’t believe you are a liar. I think you are wrong. Not the same thing at all. And I honestly don’t care that you are wrong about the existence of a god, so long as you don’t deny civil rights to me or anyone else and help me keep religion out of government.

    You see? I never said you were a liar. I said that what you believed was a lie.

    You can think what I (don’t) believe is a lie, too. No worries.

    Now ask yourself why you read what I said and thought I was calling you a liar?

  • hapax

    You see? I never said you were a liar. I said that what you believed was a lie.

    A “lie” involves a great deal more than being “wrong”.  A lie is a false statement promulgated despite knowing that it is false. 

    Since I not only believe certain things about the universe — conclusions that are shaped by my cultural frameword but originate, or so I claim, in direct personal experience — but also repeat them and teach them, if they are a “lie”, then I am a “liar.” 

    You can think what I (don’t) believe is a lie, too. No worries.

    But I don’t think what you (do or do not) believe is a lie.  I don’t even think that you are necessarily wrong (except in your claim that I am a liar or a dupe.) 

    From the very little you have said, I might — at most — characterize what you believe as not conforming to my personal experience, and not helpful to me personally  in determining my own choices and values.

    All of which would be irrelevant to any coordinated efforts to affect public policy.

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

    @f4a628d4719cbf7b71c1a93d16e93d5a:disqus “Steve:Why assume that God can be understood? How can something big and powerful enough to create the universe be properly comprehended by something as small and finite as the human brain, or contained in a book, in any language?I think most of it comes from mystical experiences, and I do believe they’re real and that they do reveal deep spiritual truths.

    If God may not be understandable, how is it you think you know anything at all about his will?  The whole of Christianity is based on the idea that god IS understandable, and that doing what he is understood to want leads to reward, while not doing so leads to punishment.

    And deep spiritual truths, is it?  Like people of other religions experience, but just not attributed to the same gods?

    It is clear that I have never studied fashion, have not contemplated the intricacies of the sublime patterns nor experienced the profound richness of the colors of the Emperor’s new Clothes, and that this is clearly a personal failing on my part.

    As pointed out by others, these theological excuses are simply not what Christians believe in practice, unless, of course, theologians have gained the power to decide who is or is not a Christian.  Although with thousands of sects, it is possible they have.

  • Keeomaru5

    I don’t claim to know anything about his will. What I do have is the teaching of the church and its ongoing experience, especially from its mystics. Supposedly they got it from the source. And I am in fact sure they’re similar to the experiences in other faiths; I just find the Christian explanation the most convincing.

    And I would dispute that that describes the whole of Christianity. At the very least, it’s an awfully superficial understanding. These may not be what fundamentalists and evangelicals are taught. But theology is how doctrine is explained, and how worship and prayer are developed. It’s not some esoteric discipline. If you want to understand Catholicism, you don’t just look at what the Bible says, but what Augustine and Aquinas and various popes and councils have said. For Orthodoxy, you pay attention to the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers and the monks on Mt. Athos. In Anglicanism, you’re dealing with the work of Cranmer and Laud and Hooker whether you know their names or not. Theology is what preachers do every single Sunday. Everyone who prays is a theologian.

    And what I’m saying mostly, in fact, comes from Orthodox theology, even though I’m not Orthodox. They are much more comfortable with mystery and paradox. And they actually start their teaching by emphasizing God’s incomprehensibility. That goes all the way back to Pseudo-Dionysius and various Church Fathers, including the people who wrote the Creeds, and is key to their views on prayer and mystical experience. The only way we can say anything positive about God is through what God himself is willing to reveal. And the foundation of Christianity is that he reveals himself through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    I honestly think a lot of Christianity’s problems are because of a deep-seated discomfort with mystery, and a craving for certainty. But that is not faith.

  • Tonio

     Strange for me to hear “mystical experience” described in a Christian context, because some fundamentalists use that term to bash anything associated with New Age or Eastern spirituality as devil worship, or as a gateway to Satanism. I’ve never had a mystical or religious experience.

  • Keeomaru5

    Which is, I think, one of the biggest problems with fundamentalism, its resistance to inner silence and mysticism. But it’s all over the place in ancient Christianity, modern Orthodoxy, and occasionally in Catholicism. It’s the basis for monasticism. And a lot of mainline Protestants have been trying to recover it in their own traditions.

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

     

    Which is, I think, one of the biggest problems with fundamentalism, its
    resistance to inner silence and mysticism. But it’s all over the place
    in ancient Christianity, modern Orthodoxy, and occasionally in
    Catholicism. It’s the basis for monasticism. And a lot of mainline
    Protestants have been trying to recover it in their own traditions.

    It’s also a significant part of faith and practice for most Quakers.

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

    “The only way we can say anything positive about God is through what God himself is willing to reveal. And the foundation of Christianity is that he reveals himself through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

    In other words, you believe what some people once said about the matter, despite it being an article of faith that there is no way they could reliably know for sure*.
    That because people believed them and carried this tradition forward from a time in which magical thinking was the norm, that they carry some authority as true?

    All of your explanation amout to the result of lots of people arguing about what it all meant, because they were confused and in disagreement about what was supposed to be true.

    And other than ‘God told them’ you still have no basis for their authority in those matters.  And since it is self-evident that God is not easily understandable, you are accepting the opinions of people who are no more likely to be right than any one else.

    *Naturally, it’s ‘sure’ when it agrees with what the listener already thinks God would say, but it is never true when other religions have the identical experiences.  Paul had a visitation, John had a Revelation, Moses saw a burning bush, but Muhammad was a charlatan and Joseph Smith a fraud.

  • Tonio

     

    it is self-evident that God is not easily understandable

    I’m having trouble understanding that statement. To me, it implies that the existence of something that monotheists label “God” is self-evident but that the thing is not easily understandable. By comparison, coming into the middle of a conversation would be far easier for me to follow.

  • AnonymousSam

    “It’s obvious that God exists because good things happen to us, but we can’t understand God because bad things happen to us.”

  • Tonio

    Are you quoting someone? I don’t understand what good things or bad things happening would have to do with the existence of “God.”

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s a nutshell of how I have come to understand this thinking. It comes in a two-pronged form:

    1) God is self-evident: The universe exists, so it must have come from a creator. This creator has our best wishes in mind, and thus causes good things to happen to us, saves us from certain destruction, and blesses us with countless small benign occurrances throughout the day. If you find a penny on your way to work, God put it there. If rocks fall and miss you by an inch, God diverted them. God’s existence is obvious because every day, someone defies probability in some way.

    2) God is inscrutable: He sometimes causes (or perhaps merely allows) bad things to happen to us, perhaps to teach us a lesson in humility, in life, or perhaps something that we are incapable of understanding. Hence, God causes people to be born blind, causes horrifying accidents to leave someone with grievous scarring and takes the lives of infants in their cribs. Why? It must be for a reason, and that reason must be benevolent, even if it is beyond a human mind to grasp. So God is also incomprehensible.

    It entails some mental gymnastics that I’m not willing to perform to fully believe both tenets of this idea, but it’s something I’ve heard in a thousand variations for many, many years. I have arguments for both prongs, but at some point I just throw up my hands and hope the person saying such things eventually comes to realize that there’s an element of egocentricism and blindsidedness required to make these work.

  • Tonio

    For a moment I assumed you were defending the thinking. “The universe exists, so it must have come from a creator” is merely an assumption, and so are “this creator has our best wishes in mind” and “it must be for a reason.” I suspect that you agree.

    hope the person saying such things eventually comes to realize that
    there’s an element of egocentricism and blindsidedness required to make
    these work.

    Valid point. The way you codified the thinking, the underlying theme is “The universe is all about us/me.” Antonin Scalia once referenced “believers in unconcerned deities” as though he was talking about something he scraped off his shoe, and perhaps people such as him feel deeply threatened by the idea of a god who is indifferent to them.

  • AnonymousSam

    I wonder if any part of that has led into the concept of a personal relationship with the divine. Certainly, the Old Testament God(s) had little to no interest in a personal relationship with anyone not wearing magic underwear.

  • Tricksterson

    ” God is self evident:  The universe exiists and so it must have come from a creator”

    This is the only part of statement 1 I agree with

    “God is inscrutable”

    Agree with this too but also beluieve that it invalidates the rest of statements 1 and 2:  If It is incomprehensible there’s no reason to assume It’s benevolent.  Or malevolent.  Or that It’s even aware of our existance any more than say, Michaelangelo was aware of the existance of a handful of molecules somewhere in his David’s left heel.

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

    Sorry, let’s say it another way.
    Since the concept of God commonly used by monotheists is of an ultimate, intelligent power which always seems to want to guide humanity in various ways, it seems that this thing, if it it existed, must be very difficult to understand, since few people understand him exactly the same way, and additionally developed those ideas by hearing them from other humans.
    One having come to a belief in this concept, one must also logically conclude that it is a poor communicator.  At best.

  • Keromaru5

    If you don’t accept the central premise, that’s fine. I’m not here to convince you that St Paul roolz & Joseph Smith droolz. In fact, didn’t I say I thought the experiences of mystics in other religions are probably authentic?

    I’m trying to show that the modern US fundamentalist view of scripture and tradition is not the default of Christianity. Christianity is not founded solely on the Bible, especially not the fundamentalist interpretation, but on centuries of councils, apologetics, commentaries, schisms, and work by monks, nuns, bishops, mystics, liturgists, poets, and reformers.

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

    ah, right, sorry.  Other religions’ mystic visions are correct and the gods that sent them exist.  Got it.
    But I still don’t quite follow where all of these councils. apologetics, etc, got started, unless they didn’t understand the subject from the very beginning. But someone had to have had some idea originally what the point was, didn’t they?
    So that point was lost at some early stage because it wasn’t written down?
    Or do you mean that Christianity in the forms in which it now exists has accreted through millenia of people making stuff up to suit the moment?
    I’d buy that as a likely scenario.  Very human.  Assumes that actual truth isn’t really a concern.
    That must be that central premise you mention:  That it matters if it is true.
    Yeah, I just think it does.  You don’t seem to care if you can tell the difference.

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

     

    The whole of Christianity is based on the idea that god IS
    understandable, and that doing what he is understood to want leads to
    reward, while not doing so leads to punishment.

    Thank you so much for correcting me about what my religious beliefs are. I never get tired of that. /sarcasm

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

    Oh, dear, I must have got that wrong.  You are a Christian who does not believe that your god is understandable, nor that there is any point in determining and doing his will.
    It  is hard to keep track of every new denomination, you see.  There are so many.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Oh, honestly…

    I believe (though I may be wrong) that the part of your comment that Patrick was disagreeing with was this:

    The whole of Christianity is based on the idea that god IS understandable, and that doing what he is understood to want leads to reward, while not doing so leads to punishment.

    This is something that is NOT believed by the whole of Christianity. Not even close.

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

    Presumably Patrick’s finger must have slipped when he was pasting my quote in.

    But do tell, why is God’s will relevant, given that it is understandable?
    And what percentage of the billion Christians do you suppose have given up the ideas of Heaven and Hell? Pretty sure that takes in the bulk of the major denominations.

    Or do you need to further cut down the offending sentence to eliminate only punishment?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Presumably Patrick’s finger must have slipped when he was pasting my quote in.

    Actually, I took your quote straight from his comment. He included the whole bit that I did.

    As for the rest of your comment – I am currently unconvinced that your questions are anything but a rhetorical attempt to trip me up. Your recent comments have been laden with sarcasm and dripping with unfair assumptions. I am, therefore, disinclined to waste my time on telling you something you’re not interested in hearing.

    If you really want to hear what I think, please phrase your questions differently.

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

    Sorry about that.  You see, the only response forthcoming was the suggestion that I don’t know what Christians believe.
    Now, since you seem to know, I was hoping you might tell me where I got it wrong.
    I understood you to say that a very significant percentage of the Christian world does not believe in judgement in the afterlife.  I wondered where those people might be and how many are there, as well as their motivations.
    They sound like nice folks.

    I suppose the sarcasm must be the part where I accept the premises and ask for clarification.
    I don’t know why I bother.  My experience with such conversations is that the believer will never outline their beliefs positively, but rather simply deny what they seem to be saying.
    Not so much moving the goalposts as refusing to plant any.

    But in fact, I’d really like to know.  What do you actually believe and why believe it?

    Do the reasons and details amount to more than ‘someone’s opinion I was told about’?

    Please correct me, as I cannot learn if I am not corrected.  My own Christian experience is certainly no guide, surely, and I have no god to whisper things to me.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Summary of Some of What I Believe:
    – There is a God. (ie – a supernatural being who created the universe)
    – This God is, in all ways, good.
    – There is an afterlife. (ie – we do not die and then cease to exist)
    – We change our characters in different ways as a result of our actions.
    – We can end up changing for the better, or for the worse.
    – If you have an unpleasant character – as shaped by your unpleasant actions – you are unlikely to enjoy coming to grips with the truth of who you are, or to like spending time in your own company.
    – The afterlife will be experienced differently by different people, based largely on who they are and how they see the world.

    Going By That List, Things I Notably Do NOT Believe:
    – “Punishment” in the afterlife.
    – “Judgement” in the afterlife.

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

    Thank you.  I appreciate it.  It seems a bit counterintuitive, of course, and not much to hang onto, but I hope it works for you and it doesn’t sound dangerous to me.
    Doesn’t actually sound much like ‘Christian’, but then that word is so flexible that it’s meaningless, anyway.

    You’ve noted of course, that you’d believe even if you knew it wasn’t true, but that’s your own lookout, since this list is notably free of harm.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Doesn’t actually sound much like ‘Christian’, but then that word is so flexible that it’s meaningless, anyway.

    Well, I did say it was some of what I believe. I also believe in other stuff (eg – the Incarnation).

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

    I’m always interested to hear more, but my point was that Jesus didn’t appear in your core list.
    I mean, you could have that list and the next item might be “All heretics must die” at which point sweetness and light tend to fade.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    My experience with such conversations is that the believer will never outline their beliefs positively, but rather simply deny what they seem to be saying.
    Not so much moving the goalposts as refusing to plant any.

    True. I certainly do this, especially when it comes to the afterlife.

    Reason being, I don’t actually think the specifics of the afterlife are any of my business. And I think it would be highly unwise for me to try to figure them out. I much prefer being vague about this stuff – for the sake of my own moral character, if nothing else.

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

    And yet, the question remains for me:  Do you self-identify as a Christian?  What part in your belief does Christ play?
    And, are your beliefs wholly ideosyncratic and personal or do you purport that they are a shared truth, and that, therefore, those who do not hold your beliefs are wrong?
    And if so, are there any consequences to being wrong in the matter?

    Sorry, I got away from the gist of your response.
    You have ideas about the afterlife that you believe is a feature of existence but don’t speculate on what this state of being entails, and that to do so would be wrong?
    I admit I would have difficulty functioning with that as a feature of my thinking.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    You have ideas about the afterlife that you believe is a feature of existence but don’t speculate on what this state of being entails, and that to do so would be wrong?

    Pretty much, yeah.
    I believe that our experience of the afterlife will be largely shaped by what we are (character-wise) and that, for the most part, focusing on the afterlife is not actually a good idea.

    As for the rest of your questions…

    Do you self-identify as a Christian?

    Yes.

    What part in your belief does Christ play?

    I believe that God became human and lived among us, and wishes to make us more the kind of people we should be. To put it another way: I believe in Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, and that he is still able to be interacted with these days despite not currently being human and on Earth.

    And, are your beliefs wholly ideosyncratic and personal or do you purport that they are a shared truth, and that, therefore, those who do not hold your beliefs are wrong?

    I have no idea. I do my best to listen to the beliefs of those around me, and to respect them. And if they want to hear more about Jesus from me, then I’m happy to talk about him.

    And if so, are there any consequences to being wrong in the matter?

    Hmm.

    This requires a slightly more extensive answer. I’m going to start a new comment.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Re: consequences for being wrong.

    There are two parts to this.

    1) the “getting into heaven” part

    As my horribly-vague ramblings may have made clear, I am an “inclusivist”.

    Broadly speaking, general Christian thought on the afterlife is split into three groups, as follows:

    Exclusivist: “You cannot get into heaven without praying the prayer and asking Jesus into your life and being saved and washed in the blood! Otherwise you will be judged! Burn, infidels, burn!”

    (I should probably mention that I am being rather over the top in my characterisation here.)

    This is contrasted with the opposite point of view, the Universalist: “Hurrah for God and awesome love, peace, and wonderfullness! We’ll all end up together being awesome forever! Yay!”

    Meanwhile, the middle position is the Inclusivist: “Jesus rocks! He can decide how this will go. Will we get into heaven? No idea! That’s pretty much up to him… We don’t really know how it works…”

    (Again – generalising wildly, here.)

    I believe that Jesus is the “way, truth, and life” – that he is the catalyst by which we are reconciled to God, to each other, and to our own selves. I also believe that that’s his call, not ours.

    As far as this sort of thing goes, I do not think that “believing something different to me” is something that comes with “not getting into heaven” consequences. We all believe wacky stuff, and all of us get it wrong somewhere. God is way more interested in who we are than in what we think.

    2) the “who we are” part

    Along with the whole being-God-incarnate thing, I also believe that Jesus spoke truth. Real, honest-to-goodness truth.

    And truth tends to be rather useful.

    Jesus had a lot to say about how we treat each other, and how we should behave. And, as previously stated, I believe that our actions shape our character, and that ending up as a horrible person generally means you’ll have a horrible afterlife – because it’s impossible to truly enjoy yourself if you don’t have a very nice “self”.

    That being the case, being “wrong” about how you should be treating people will have… well, pretty bad consequences for who you become, yes.

    In summary?
    Being “wrong” because you believe in the divinity of cheese and that we all reincarnated from giant bugs: not a big deal, and unlikely to have drastic consequences.
    Being “wrong” because you stand around holding huge signs and screaming hate for all gay people: a very big deal, and likely to have major consequences.

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

    OK, fair enough.  It’s pretty good as philosophies goes, at least in general outlines.
    It still is missing lots of explanatory power, of course, and it’s my nature to ask ‘how do you know any of this?”

    But didn’t you note on another thread that you’d still believe this even if it were known that Jesus never existed?

    If so, then presumably, belief is more important than truth.  That, I think is potentially dangerous in its malleability of reality.

    It’s a bit like petting a tame lion.  Sure, it’s tame now, but do I want to share a room with it if it gets hungry?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    But didn’t you note on another thread that you’d still believe this even if it were known that Jesus never existed?

    Yep. Because following Jesus tends to have an extremely positive effect on my character – in how I treat people, and in how I see the world. I prefer to go with it, even if I’m wrong.

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

     

    As for the rest of your comment – I am currently unconvinced that your
    questions are anything but a rhetorical attempt to trip me up. Your
    recent comments have been laden with sarcasm and dripping with unfair
    assumptions. I am, therefore, disinclined to waste my time on telling
    you something you’re not interested in hearing.

    I am inclined to agree with you. No point feeding the troll when he deliberately presents disagreeing with one position (“doing what he is understood to want leads to
    reward, while not doing so leads to punishment.”) as agreeing with another (“does not believe… that there is any point in determining and doing his will”).

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

    Hey, you stuck the whole thing in there, not me.  How was I to know you only disagreed with one part?
    I only have what you give me.  Maybe you could have been more clear.  When it was explained to me, I focused on the part you apparently meant.
    Call me a troll all you want, but I’m under no obligation to accept as true what you tell me if it seems logically flawed to me based on my experiences.

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

     

    Hey, you stuck the whole thing in there, not me.  How was I to know you only disagreed with one part?

    I do in fact disagree with both parts.

    I only have what you give me.

    And yet that hasn’t stopped you from declaring that because I do not believe that “doing what he is understood to want leads to reward, while not doing so leads to punishment,” that must mean that I do not believe “that there is any point in determining and doing his will.”

    Or snidely saying that “Presumably Patrick’s finger must have slipped when he was pasting my quote in” when I didn’t spend the time to explain exactly how I disagreed with the positions you attributed to all Christians.

    Your tone has repeatedly been snide and condescending, putting words in others’ mouths and dismissing complex ideas because someone can’t summarize them to you in a short post.

    I’m quite willing to explain my beliefs to someone who is genuinely interested in hearing them, just and I am interested in hearing what others believe. But what I have seen in your posts causes me to think you are far less interested in that than in feeling superior to others.

    So I am not going to waste any more time or effort explaining my beliefs to you. I’ll save that for people who are interested in a respectful exchange of ideas.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     “In affirmative
    differentias one limits the extension of another, and brings us nearer
    to a complete designation of the thing under enquiry, inasmuch as it
    makes that thing differ from more and more things. And the same holds
    good also of negative differentias. For example, we may say that God
    is not an accident, in that He is distinguished from all accidents;
    then if we add that He is not a body, we shall further distinguish Him
    from some substances; and so in order by such negations He will be
    further distinguished from everything besides Himself; and then there
    will be a proper notion of His substance, when He shall be known as
    distinct from all. Still it will not be a perfect knowledge, because He
    will not be known for what He is in Himself”

    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1.14

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

    This is presumably to show the kind of word salad used to try and prove the existence of God?

  • hapax

     

    This is presumably to show the kind of word salad used to try and prove the existence of God?

    No, this is the kind of precise technical language that theologians use when they are trying to decribe how it is important to try to understand that which is essentially unencompassable by human intellect.

    The fact that you do not understand the topic, nor the language used to discuss it, does not mean that it is “meaningless”;  it means that there is a subject on which you lack knowledge.

    There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.  If I encountered the kind of mathematical equations physicists use to describe, oh I don’t know, how light can function as both a wave and a particle, it would certainly look like a “number jumble” to me.

    That doesn’t mean that those physicists are just wasting their time on a silly meaningless goof, however.

    P.S.  As she’s described them so far, Deird’s beliefs don’t conflict in any significant measure with my own.  And since we live pretty much literally on opposite sides of the world, and are decades removed in age, and yet both identify as “Christian”, they can’t be THAT much of an idiosyncratic fringe belief.

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

    That paragraph appeared to be defining God by ruling out what God isn’t.  If you have forever and ignore that God is usually believed to be fairly universal, this might work–assuming you know everything.  It sounds, however, a rather efficient way of keeping theologians employed.

    It is always helpful to describe something as unencompassable to human intellect.  That also keeps theologians employed, as they seem to be the only ones who spend their careers explaining something they claim is not possible to understand.

    As for physicists, they normally demonstrate the existence of the phenomena they’re theorizing about.  String theory excepted, of course.  Not doing that gets them laughed at, instead of used as a reference.

    PS: 
    Both your and Dierdres beliefs as she has noted them are a very bare bones list.  I accept them as they are given, but they cover very little of the contingient beliefs they require to be logically sound.

    I know neither of you care about that.  I just want you to understand that not worrying about such details is really the concerning part about faith.  It’s always in the details that the danger lies.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

      That
    paragraph appeared to be defining God by ruling out what God isn’t.  If
    you have forever and ignore that God is usually believed to be fairly
    universal, this might work–assuming you know everything.  It sounds,
    however, a rather efficient way of keeping theologians employed.

    That would probably be why it appears in a chapter titled “That in order to a Knowledge of God we must use the Method of
    Negative Differentiation”.A bit more research turned up what I had been looking for in the first place, which is from Aquinas’s other opus, Summa Theologica:First Part, Question 12, Article 4:

    I answer that, It is impossible for any created intellect to see the essence of God by its own natural power. For knowledge is regulated according as the thing known is in the knower. But the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. Hence the knowledge of every knower is ruled according to its own nature. If therefore the mode of anything’s being exceeds the mode of the knower, it must result that the knowledge of the object is above the nature of the knower….Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it

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

    Complicated sophistry.
    This is an explanation for a lack of proof.  And not much of one.
    I can only assume that Aquinas is revered for his density rather than his clarity.
    No doubt he continues explaining why he has no results at massive length, ultimately concluding that whatever he believed to begin with is the only possible answer.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Awesome leap to conclusionsof the content of something you haven’t read, and complete misunderstanding of what the word “sophistry” means.

    Anyway, if you had been bothered to read Aquinas, you’d know that his style of argument is, ironically enough, the same one the atheist apologists were defending two posts ago when we started this: Assume your opponent’s premises to be correct and work forward logically from his position until you hit a contradiction.

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

    Too bad you didn’t explain it, then.  I’d like to know what the opposing premises he was arguing against without wading through all of that obfuscation.
    Perhaps if he’dc been more plain, the matter wouldn’t be still up for dispute all these centuries later.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Are… Are you asking me to summarize four thousand pages of medieval theology for you? Seriously, it’s like 800 years old. Even with the Sunny Bono Copyright Extension, it’s still public domain. Look it up and read it. Or, you could maybe try _not_ making the bizzaro-logic leap of “This is too complex for me to understand it, therefore it is stupid.”

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

    No, see, I understand things pretty well.  If YOU understood it, I suspect you could summarize it.  If Aquinas understood it, it wouldn’t have taken 800 pages of Latin.

    Unless you’re telling me it’s all staged mathematical formulae?

    Sure, I know–I just haven’t appreciated the subtlety of design of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    If YOU understood it, I suspect you could summarize it.

    O.O

    I understand the rules of English punctuation very well – but I couldn’t possibly summarise them.

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

    Sure you can, in a general way.
    Periods end thoughts, commas separate them, exclamation points add emphasis. Semicolons join related thoughts, dashes stand in for other types of punctuation, and colons provide a punctuation arrow from a thought to a conclusion.
    Does it get all the subtleties and irrationalities?  No, it’s a summary.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

     Sure you can, in a general way.

    Acutally, no, Steve – that’d be YOU summarising it. Some people are way better at summarising than others. 5000 word essays I can handle; I’ve never managed to master summaries at all. Ever.

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

    Oh, no harm meant.  I should have said ‘one’.  I love you even if you can only write ponderous tomes…

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

    Oh, no harm meant.  I should have said ‘one’.  I love you even if you can only write ponderous tomes…

    Ok, this last part? I was inclined to give you a little credit for honest discussion of some kind until this.

    Really, did you have to come off with that kind of flip personal attack?

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

     

    Ok, this last part? I was inclined to give you a little credit for honest discussion of some kind until this.

    You are a much more patient and generous person than me.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     You know, it seems to be a common theme that people obsessed with proving how much smarter they are than everyone else are always going around claiming that thigns they don’t understand are “the emperor’s new clothes”.

    Look, every time you don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean the emperor is nude. Sometimes, you’re just an idiot.

    For example, when you’re arrogantly dismissive of something you brag about not understanding, which is still studied and considered one of the most signifigant texts of catholic theology 800 years after it was written.

    It makes you sound downright anti-intellectual. I’m sorry I can’t summarize the life’s work of one of the greatest thinkers of the thirteenth century into somethign short and pithy like “9-9-9”.  Frankly, if I could, I’d want my money back from college because they spent a whole *semester* in a special topics course to just scratch the surface.

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

    The argument can be made that sometimes, when asked, you have to condense and distill in a way that makes sense to people who know very little about the details of what it is you do.

    Someone asks me, “Why should I care about nuclear physics? Give me the executive summary!”

    Especially if that someone’s from a funding agency, I better be able to answer, “Because it helps answer questions about where we came from and what happened along the way,” and then be able to expand as needed*.

    So maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to pooh-pooh the people who feel they have legitimate greivances about the way other people seem to act as though questioning or requesting some condensation is an immense offence.

    I have said it before once and can’t remember where the exact post is – my statement went something like this:

    People who are often disposed to an anti-intellectual ivory-tower (as they conceive it) bent are usually, in general, being suspicious of the way smart people and big words can be used to deceive and trick them (subprime mortgage crisis, anyone?) by means of incredibly dense verbiage that seems to almost make sense when you squint at it the right way and the Moon’s in the right phase and you had pink pajamas that morning.

    So every liberal who insists that “it’s complicated”, “it’s too hard to explain in a simple sentence”, or when they do try, use big words and long sentences?

    As much as they may be telling the truth, it just reinforces the suspicion such folks have that liberals are a bunch of flim-flam artists.

    —-

    * For example, studies of nuclear reactions in the lab tell us something about what happens in stars many many light-years away; studies of decaying nuclei helps us understand things about, among other things, their shapes**.

    ** Yes, the nucleus is not just a featureless ball. It actually can look like a sphere, a doorknob, even a pear or a blimp.

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

    I just look at it as a matter of quality of thinking rather than density of thinking. As a matter of course, it IS complicated, but every nuance need not be explained in the summary.  There is a central point to every thesis or field than can, in fact, be summarized, just as your summary of physics above.
    Somethimes, said summaries are so broad that they are, in every detail wrong, but at the same time present the central point in an understandable way.  After that, questions can be answered on the basis of the details.

    So I can’t really see any reason theology cannot be so summarized, other than that it sounds silly when it is.

  • Keromaru5

    So are you actually interested in what we have to say, or are you just looking for ways to mock us? Calling it ’emperor’s new clothes’ on and on doesn’t exactly suggest a good faith effort to learn–you’ve apparently already decided that we’re kooks. We’re not exactly professionals (as far as I know), and we’re trying to explain some complicated metaphysical stuff, so cut us a little slack, okay?

    I mean, when I get into conversations with Hindus and Muslims and RL atheists, we manage to avoid confrontation because we’re not worried about who is ‘right.’ We just delight in learning more about one another and comparing notes about our beliefs.

    What’s so bad about saying, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand, do you mind clarifying?’

  • Tonio

    While I don’t know as many people in RL who belong to different religions, it wouldn’t be my place to try to change their beliefs them even if I wanted to do so. Now, if someone insisted that their beliefs should be mine also, that’s when I would want some sort of proof, because they’re trying to change my beliefs. Or if they’re pushing a political agenda that hurts people, such as quoting Leviticus to justify keeping same-sex marriage illegal. In the second case, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to want them to prove that the words in that book are indeed what their god wants. That wouldn’t exclude me offering secular arguments showing how the agenda is harmful and unjust.

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

    I don’t say I don’t understand because I do understand.
    When I refer to the Emperor’s new clothes, the reference is that you are trying to explain something without having demonstrated any reason to think it exists, and attribute my inability to detect it as a failing of understanding on my part, apparently because it is complicated.

    See, the thing is, I dont think the existence of a god or gods should be complicated metaphysical stuff–if it was true. I think it’s comlicated metaphysical stuff because it isn’t true.
    An undetectable God that everyone seems to know about but no one quite agrees upon?
    That sounds very much like all kinds of things humans are known to make up and not at all like something that, perhaps not all, but a great number of people think permeates the universe.
    On the other hand, the professionals aren’t any better at it than you are.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    No, no one has ever taken you to task for what you do or don’t believe. We’ve taken you to task for your casual and insulting dismissal of arguments you don’t understand and your pride in your own failure to understand them, ALso the fact that you seem to think that its our responsibility to explain things to you, and if we don’t, your mocking them from a position of ignorance is some kind of virtue. If I wanted you to believe in God, the onus would be on me to give you a reason, but I don’t care if you believe in God or not, and it’s not my responsibility to give you a reason to *not insult me, my religion, and ALL OF THEOLOGY.*

    ALso, “See, the thing is, I dont think the existence of a god or gods should be complicated metaphysical stuff–if it was true. I think it’s comlicated metaphysical stuff because it isn’t true.”?  You could apply that argument WORD FOR WORD to Quantum Mechanics. Or phenomenology for that matter. Or molecular biology. Or…

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

     You could apply that argument WORD FOR WORD to Quantum Mechanics. Or phenomenology for that matter. Or molecular biology. Or…

    So try that, then, Ross. I believe those disciplines can be summarized, though, on the basic level.  They are disciplines. They also operate on things shown to exist.  they do that first, in fact.
    I’m not asking for a summary of theology, but of a specific, and apparently well-considered theory within it.
    You don’t want to do this because…? It’s not your job to do it.  OK, fine.  Don’t bring it up, then.
    And for the record, I reserve the right to insult all of theology. It after all, insults me.

  • Tonio

     My exposure to theology is somewhat limited, and although I can follow some of the logic involved, I don’t get the premises. The theologies seem to regard the existence of “God” as blindingly obvious. I’ve often said that if I had never encountered religions throughout my life, the idea of “God” might never have occurred to me. It remains an idea that people talk and write about.

    That doesn’t mean that I believe there are no gods. I feel that I would be intellectually dishonest if I ruled out the possibility of things existing beyond my perception. But I also say that logical argument is inadequate to demonstrate the existence or properties of “God,” something that theologians like Aquinas seem to be attempting. It’s not a matter of the logic being flawed, since they are probably far more skilled than me in crafting logic. It’s that any such argument amounts to an untested hypothesis, or perhaps an untestable one. To me, it seems like a trying to become an expert on public opinion while marooned alone on a desert island.

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

     

    I’ve often said that if I had never encountered religions throughout my life, the idea of “God” might never have occurred to me.

    It is, of course, difficult to say anything with certainty about a counterfactual so far from my actual experience. But I suspect that the basic idea that there’s something big and powerful and kind of like my parents… that’s always out there, hiding behind the trees or the clouds or otherwise just out of sight but still within reach… that’s capable of making me suffer or of satisfying all of my desires or anything in between, and is indispensible to my achieving any goals worth achieving… that cares about my actions but is somewhat capricious, that can be propitiated and even sometimes manipulated but cannot be successfully predicted or challenged… I suspect that idea would come to me pretty naturally.

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

    Is it not possible to consider that if one has never encountered the concept or idea of an extraneous-to-this-universe immanent being that organizes and controls it in some fashion, then the very idea of “God” would be far-fetched?

    Incidentally, I always find it a little hubristic to assume that some immanent being cares that much about exactly one planet (a very ordinary planet in a very ordinary solar system in a very ordinary position in a rather ordinary galaxy) and the intelligent beings on that planet that our fortunes might rise or fall depending on the caprices and whims of said being.

  • Keromaru5

    See, that’s the very thing I find so beautiful, the idea that the creator of such a vast, complex universe could find one dot worthy of his attention. For me, it’s humbling. It is for the Psalmist, too: ‘What are human beings that you should be mindful of us?’

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

    It is, of course, possible to consider that.
    Indeed, I have considered it.

    And on consideration, I conclude the concept I described would come to me pretty naturally, as I said.

    You can think I’m wrong; that’s OK.
    If you have reasons for thinking I’m wrong, I’m interested in them.

    I should perhaps add that I also suspect that I would, in that hypothetical world, conclude that the concept I described is sufficiently unlikely to describe any actual entity that I do best to act as though it didn’t. (The same conclusion I came to about that concept in the real world, after it was proposed to me.)

    I agree that it’s hubristic to assume that the referent for the concept I described cares about me, or my species, or my planet, more than it cares about other people, other species, and other planets.

    It has not been my experience that the hubris associated with an idea anticorrelates reliably with that idea’s likelihood of occurring to me.

  • aunursa

    I always find it a little hubristic to assume that some immanent being cares that much about exactly one planet

    That’s news to me.  I’ve never read or heard it declared explicitly that God cares only about earth.  My experience is that ‘Does God care about other planets?’ is a question that rarely confronts religious leaders.  (The question of whether God might have a salvation plan for intelligent beings on other planets does arise occasionally in online Christian discussions.)

  • hapax

     

    The argument can be made that sometimes, when asked, you have to condense and distill in a way that makes sense to people who know very little about the details of what it is you do.

    The problem is, the passage that Ross quote IS a condensation and distillation, using very very dense and precise language, of a complicated thought. 

    To make it make sense to people who know very little about the meaning of the words would require pages and pages of footnotes and explanation.

    If you want it put “in layman’s terms”, Keromaru5’s version below is about as good as I’ve seen.  It loses a lot of the subtleties, though, which will inevitably bring up accusations of hand-waving and question-begging.

  • malpollyon

    hapax, do you happen to know if your definition of “true” has a standard philosophical label? For example would you endorse any of these accounts of truth?

  • hapax

    malpollyon, that’s a really cool article, and I thank you for it — since my understanding of “true” mainly comes out of theology (and semiotics secondly), it provides me with a brand new vocabulary for thinking about it.

    To answer your question, I’m certainly not a realist (and yeah, I know that puts me already in a certain fringe position) although not an idealist either — call it a moderate anti-realist position.  I also reject bivalence absolutely as almost nonsensical.

    While the coherence theory has some appeal, it is also too tidy and sweeping to apply to how people really think and speak, in my opinion. 

    If I were required to plump for any of those positions described in the article, I’d look at some kind of coherence position, modified by theory of meaning (especially) and also assertion (insofar as it places primacy on intent)  as described in the sections 6.5 and 6.6 of the article.  But PLEASE keep in mind that my understanding of these theories — indeed, the very LANGUAGE of these theories — is extremely superficial, and there very well may be nuances, implications, and ramifications I am missing in my ignorance.

    I would very much like to hear your thoughts. 

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

    The way I see it, as long as one acknowledges up front that an explanation is hand-wavey the person being told the analocy or explanation usually accepts the necessarily somewhat imprecise nature of the argument.

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

    Yes, I believe the idea is implied in the concept of a summary.
    Is someone trying to tell me that the Great Aquinas’ work is that nonsense about self evidence and inscrutablity?
    If that is the case, it’s managing the hat trick of begging the question, moving the goalposts, and self contradiction at the same time.
    That certainly does require professional training in theology.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    If that is the case, it’s managing the hat trick of begging the question, moving the goalposts, and self contradiction at the same time.
    That certainly does require professional training in theology.

    Steve, some of your responses are coming across as more hostile than you seem to intend. In the last couple of days, you have dismissed various comments as “complicated sophistry”, “word salad”, “the Emperor’s New Clothes”, and “games with semantics”. It would help a lot if you could try to assume good faith on our part, here.

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

    Sorry about that, Dierd.
    The thing is, when I get answers, I treat them as answers.  When I get what appear to be obfuscations, I point them out.
    You were very kind to actually answer my questions, and I appreciate it.  I get, therefore, where you are coming from.
    What seems to offend people is, I suppose, the tone of my responses to things that appear to be nonsense to me.
    Please keep in mind that this is precisely the kind of thing thrown at atheists every day.
    I do assume that you all know what you believe and have good reasons to believe it, which is why I have trouble with some of the strange answers I’m getting.
    I can accept that we operate with different paradigms, of course, and I’m trying to communicate across that gulf.
    It isn’t easy.
    But what can I say when I’m offered things like ‘self-evident and inscrutable’?

    You folks actually seem to think about your beliefs, so I’m asking.  My experience is that most people don’t, so I can hardly ask them.

    If it’s all far too complicated to explain, I will accept that statement.  It’s just that no one has made it yet. 

  • Kirala

    What seems to offend people is, I suppose, the tone of my responses to things that appear to be nonsense to me.
    Please keep in mind that this is precisely the kind of thing thrown at atheists every day.

    Atheists have to sit and listen to this kind of dismissive tone from people they’re talking to every single day? Wow. I thought it was bad when my ex boyfriend called me a stupid, illogical believer in fairy tales every other day while my poetry professor talked snidely about the pernicious influence of religion on art at least once a week and a multitude of smug Rational Atheists dropped by my Christian online community daily for a few weeks to inform us how we were the Stupidest People Ever. There were a couple black days when I wondered whether virtue and decencyare possible without religion.

    I know and appreciate the privilege my faith grants me in my society, but I don’t think I should have to take an equal amount of crap before I’m allowed to request courtesy and consideration without it being called a tone argument.

    Sorry, Steve; I don’t think your behavior specifically merits a rant, but that statement treads awfully close to a serious pet peeve of mine and I thought it best to let you know the potential impact of that statement before any flame war. I doubt I’m the only Christian who’s experienced persecution in some geek communities.

  • AnonymousSam

    There were a couple black days when I wondered whether virtue and decencyare possible without religion.

    The problem is that for many on the outside, the opposite is considered a powerful tendency — that is, that religion makes people less likely to be moral. That’s why you’ll occasionally see studies like this. The problem is, for many people, that’s exactly the case. For far too many people, religion is a convenient excuse to be an evil person.

    That’s why I had a big hullabaloo a couple of weeks ago that I believe that if Christians want to be associated with something other than scum, the good ones need to become a more vocal party and differentiate themselves from the wayward herd. It took… hapax, I think? I don’t recall now — to make me realize that this would be violating tenets of the religion itself, making oneself exclusionary, publicizing faith, and so forth.

    I’m still not sure if there’s an answer to that dilemma that would satisfy anyone, let alone everyone.

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

    Still considered by whom, exactly?  People who already believe what it says?  People who think that pure logic can magic something into existence?
    You’re telling me the Emperor’s clothes are beautiful.  I’m telling you to point out these supposed clothes.  You say I’m too dumb to see them.  Who’s arrogant in this equation exactly?
    If you studied this book for a semester, but can’t tell anyone what it says.  I don’t think you got your money’s worth.
    Something you can’t explain doesn’t consitute much of an argument.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I know neither of you care about that.  I just want you to understand
    that not worrying about such details is really the concerning part about
    faith.  It’s always in the details that the danger lies.

    You are, of course, correct.

    In my daily life I do a great deal of thinking about the “details”, and figuring out what following Jesus should involve in the specific situations I find myself in. And on just about any of those subjects, I would be happy to go into vast realms of babbling detail about my every thought – and will, on occasion, do just that right here.

    However, when it comes down to it, the “details” are not something I find central to my faith, and my opinions on all of them are constantly changing and will certainly change again. Hence, in more general discussions of “what I believe”, I will put them to one side and not really pay them much mind.

    Fundamentally, I wish to follow Jesus. The rest is detail.

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

    Again, it seems a benign framework in this context, albeit an unsupported one.

    Of course, and this is the part that is painful to point out, read, or have pointed out–you don’t actually know anything about Jesus but what you have read or came out of your own head.  And what you read just came out of someone elses’s head long ago.

    I’d much rather it be your particular type of person generating the myths than the people who actually did, or a lot of the people making noise about their own heads’ version of a Jesus.
    Unfortunately for me, it’s not too safe for me to conclude that you’re in charge.

    And while this may not be true for you personally, My view is that when two persons have a dispute or difference about a fact, one of them is essentially wrong.  When ten thousand people have disputant views of a fact, almost all of them are wrong.  Maybe all of them are.

    Science was formulated as a way of finding out which was right, and it works. But theology has no such means.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Of course, and this is the part that is painful to point out, read, or have pointed out–you don’t actually know anything about Jesus but what you have read or came out of your own head.

    Um, Steve, I haven’t said anything here about how I came to believe what I do or where I get those beliefs from. You might be of the opinion (a perfectly reasonable opinion, if you’re an atheist) that my knowledge of Jesus comes solely from books or my imagination, but I must respectfully disagree with you.

    (I realise you have actually asked me, not so long ago, where my beliefs came from. I don’t wish to go into that at the moment. Can we just keep that off the table for now?)

    My view is that when two persons have a dispute or difference about a fact, one of them is essentially wrong.

    As long as their wrong-ness doesn’t lead to them doing horrible things, I have no problem with someone being wrong. Including myself.

    Science was formulated as a way of finding out which was right, and it works. But theology has no such means.

    “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ie – if bad things are resulting from your beliefs, then they’re bad beliefs.

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

    Yes, I get that truth isn’t an issue for you.  Yes, I understand that some people, possibly including yourself, believe they talk to their gods.  I just have yet to hear of any case when it wasn’t already a god they had heard of.

    “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ie – if bad things are resulting from your beliefs, then they’re bad beliefs.

    Axioms are fun!  It’s a shame that beliefs don’t tend to fall into that spectrum of good and bad so easily.  Some might well be good in one situation and bad in another.

    Still, we all do the best we can do with what we’ve got.  I mean that sincerely.  I don’t think what you’ve got is bad.

    I just think it isn’t true.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Some might well be good in one situation and bad in another.

    Indeed.

    Still, we all do the best we can do with what we’ve got.  I mean that sincerely.  I don’t think what you’ve got is bad.

    I just think it isn’t true.

    Well… ditto. *grins*

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

    Thank you, and thank you for helping to keep the more dangerous sort of lunatic under control so the world is a safer place.

    Oh, and thank you for not making me bring up blood sacrifice.

  • hapax

     

    I accept them as they are given, but they cover very little of the contingient beliefs they require to be logically sound.

    I know neither of you care about that.  I just want you to understand
    that not worrying about such details is really the concerning part
    about faith.  It’s always in the details that the danger lies.

    I disagree.  I think it is in the actions that danger lies.  

    What you or anyone else believes neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, as Jefferson said.  It’s what people DO with those beliefs.

    There may have been no Fox News in the Ancient World, but was there a proto-Fox geezer?

    Undeniably.  I give you the good people of Athens, who condemned Socrates to death for, among other things, “not believing in the gods of the state.”  However, “belief in gods” had nothing to do with accepting their literal, factual existence — say, that if you dropped Zeus over the side of a cliff, his velocity would increase at the rate of thirty two feet per second per second — but exactly what it does to the types of Christians that Fred Clark is describing:  “belief in God” as a tribal marker, as proof that you are People Like Us, not One of Them.

    And that is one of the main truths of religious stories, for good or for ill.  They do not function to precisely outline the genealogy of Love from the copulation of Sex with Technology (or should it be War?)  They exist to make sense of our relationships:  with ourselves, with each other, with the world around us, with the world (if any) we do not know.  Who is Us?  Who is Them?  How should We approach Them?  What do They offer to Us?  How much should We put into our world?  How much may We take out of it?  Should We fear or welcome the unknown?  Etc.

    Fred Clark’s argument, as I understand it, is that using religious stories as physics lessons, is not only trying to force one kind of truth to answer the wrong kind of questions.  He is saying that it is something worse:  to insist that this kind of misuse of stories is the defining factor of “Us”, is a denial of the actual, functional truth of those stories (e.g. “Who are We?” and “How should We see Them?”) and turns it into a lie.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    What you or anyone else believes neither breaks my leg nor picks my
    pocket, as Jefferson said.  It’s what people DO with those beliefs.

    Word.

  • Tonio

    The question of whether gods exist is not necessarily orthogonal to the truths about relationships contained in the stories. If such gods do exist, that would likely change the nature of the shoulds. Not following the lessons of the stories would mean not just natural consequences, such as less happiness, or harm to the self or to others. There might also be deliberately imposed consequences.

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

    I disagree. I think it is in the actions that danger lies.
    What you or anyone else believes neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket, as Jefferson said. It’s what people DO with those beliefs.

    Yes, that’s mostly true.  It is a sad fact, however, that beliefs do inform actions and actions follow from beliefs. The details I refer to are often beliefs that lead to actions, so it’s really a good idea to consider them before they do so.

    I will allow that there is explanatory power and example in religious stories.  It’s just that they aren’t necessarily the best explanations or examples, and people do use them to come to conclusions that are sometimes unfortunate.  And since these stories are not overridden by reality for many people, they can be unpredictable in effect.

    The stories are factual or they are not.  The conclusions about them are valid or not.

    If these stories lead to wrong conclusions, and they demonstrably do, since there is so much difference in those conclusions, then they do not do the job they are supposed to be doing and should be rejected.  But they never seem to be obsolete.

    Fred is right that using religious stories as physics lessons is A Bad Thing.
    Trouble is, from an atheist point of view, the only difference between that and any religious statement about reality is degree and agressiveness.

  • hapax

     Okay, Steve, let’s try something.

    If I should say “Factual is not necessarily the same thing as True is not necessarily the same thing as Real”, would that be intelligible to you?

    Or would you classify it as meaningless sophistry and ducking the question?

    I’d be happy to try and hammer out some mutually agreeable parameters, if you are willing to entertain the premise.

    But if your axiom (that is, a first principle that you accept as self-evident without need of proof) is that the three words above are equivalent and interchangable…

    … well, there is simply no conversation that we can have about this topic that will not end in frustration and (inadvertent, I hope) insults.

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

    Yeah, pretty much.  I don’t believe that truth is different from reality or that reality can fail to comport with facts.

    I’m certainly interested in why you think they are, however.  I’m past the stage of intentional insults (at least beyond the fact that I am stuck with the position above, which far too many people seem to view as insulting) because we are having a conversation about the subject rather than an argument.

    Understanding is what I seek, actually.  I already know why I think the way I do.  Why do you think the way you do, and why is that, for lack of a better term, better?

    Of course, I understand if you prefer to leave it here.

  • hapax

     

    Yeah, pretty much.  I don’t believe that truth is different from reality or that reality can fail to comport with facts.

    I’m certainly interested in why you think they are, however.

    Okay, first of all I purposely used the adjectival forms — factual, true, real — rather than the nouns — fact, truth, reality — because those latter get mixed up with other meanings.

    I believe that the words “factual”, “true”, and “real” mean different things because, umm, they are different words?  They have different roots, they are used in different contexts, they have different connotations.

    There are lots of subtle shades of between the words depending on where they are being used, but as a first level of distinction I’d point to something like this:

    “Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.
    “True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.
    “Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.

    I’m open to revisions, however.

    Why do you think the way you do, and why is that, for lack of a better term, better?

    Hmm.  Because I care about words.  Because I care about using them with precision and accuracy.  Because context is important to me.  Because I understand things in terms of relationships, instead of in isolation. 

    I’m not saying it’s “better”, by any means.  I’m saying that’s the way I *think*.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    “Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.
    “True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.
    “Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.

    The word geek in me is suddenly wide-eyed and flailing.

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

    Ah, well, given that you used the more nebulous adjectival forms, and I the concrete noun forms, then of course, we’re talking past one another and we should restart this when we’re both awake again.

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

    OKay, even my odd schedule requires me to occassionally go to work, and I need to do that now, but allow me to ask in relation to this:

    “”Factual” carries connotations of objectivity.”True” carries connotations of authenticity, integrity.”Real” carries connotations of referring to essence, fundamentals.”

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?
    What can be true that does not contain truth?
    What can be real which does not reflect reality?

  • hapax

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?What can be true that does not contain truth?What can be real which does not reflect reality?

    Wow, that’s a surprisingly complicated question. 

    My answers might sound flippant, but they are meant to be sincere.  To “unpack” them might take a longer reply than you are patient with, so let me know if you want me to dig further:

    What can be factual that does not comport with fact?  An unproven or disproven hypothesis.

    What can be true that does not contain truth?  That which is contained by truth.

    What can be real which does not reflect reality?
    That which reality reflects.

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

    Hmm.  You’ll probably have some unpacking to do, since all I see is games with semantics here.
    An unproven hypothesis cannot be factual if it doesn;t comport with facts, though I’d be interested in an example.
    What does it mean to be contained by truth?  Something packaged in truth?  If it isn’t truth, what do you think is true about it?
    The reflection that distorts is a lie. Reality is not a mirror, but the thing mirrored.

    Examples, as I say, would help me get past my initial dismay at such answers.

  • hapax

     

    since all I see is games with semantics here.

    The  politest possible answer I can give is that “semantics” means nothing more nor less than “the study of meaning”;  and you asked me some fairly complicated questions about abstract concepts that are difficult to capture in simple words — in other words, under extreme (near paradoxical) conditions, what those words mean.

    If you wanted me to just throw up my hands in amazement at your cleverness, you should have indicated that from the start.

  • hf

     I’d certainly advise using other words. Could we just as well substitute “valuable” or at least “insightful” for “True”? Why or why not?

    The word “Real” seems like a hopeless bog at present, though I think eventually humans will have to either use the term or dissolve it somehow.

  • hapax

     

    Could we just as well substitute “valuable” or at least “insightful” for “True”? Why or why not?

    Once again, this is my understanding of the connotations, and I certainly am willing to  discuss it:

    But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Whereas a story or belief that is “True” carries the implication of “Do I live up to IT?”

  • hapax

     P.S.  This is an enthralling conversation and I’d love to keep up with it, but I am falling over with exhaustion and must to bed.

    Please do not interpret my lack of response to offense or lack of interest.

  • hf

     But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Deliberately so, since we may have different goals and I can’t tell if you actively want to obscure this possibility or not.

    You remember that I mostly don’t think people should ask if they live up to the story of Jesus, right? Sometimes it seems better than the alternative, practically speaking, but if we substituted “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” I think that would produce an even better world by my lights.

  • hapax

     

    But “valuable” or “insightful” with reference to a story or belief carries the implication of “What’s in it for ME?”

    Deliberately so, since we may have different goals and I can’t tell if you actively want to obscure this possibility or not.

    Excellent point.  But I don’t proselytise.  I do not consider ANY story either true or real for anyone who does not self-select it.  That’s why it’s a wonderful thing that we have such a wide variety of stories to choose among!

    For example, if I were to try to live up to “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”, I suspect that it would turn me, personally, into a bit of a jackass.  But I am happy (really, no sarcasm) that it provides value and insight to you. 

  • Joshua


    If I encountered the kind of mathematical equations physicists use to describe, oh I don’t know, how light can function as both a wave and a particle, it would certainly look like a “number jumble” to me. 

    My experience of higher maths, and the maths used to describe quantum mechanics,* is that when written down it actually doesn’t have many numbers in it. Maybe a pi in there here and there.

    Like theologians, mathematicians and theoretical physicists prefer weird Greek symbols splattered all over the place in strange arrangements.

    * Which is just in passing, as I didn’t study enough physics to cover quantum mechanics, so all I know is as a layperson.

  • hf

     That doesn’t mean that those physicists are just wasting their time on a silly meaningless goof, however.

    Modern physics does in fact seem like a mess. If it hasn’t improved in a thousand years’ time, we may have to call the whole field a mistake and start over. (Likewise, it would seem like a bad sign if by two thousand years after Newton science had no tentative explanation for existence, or any attempt to deal with consciousness.)

    But I strongly doubt that any academic field other than theology would stay a mess for that long. Even philosophy seems to have make some small progress.

  • GDwarf

    I will say the “You know it’s a myth” billboard was stupid, but I don’t see that with this new one. Pointing out that someone’s argument is flawed by using their own premises against them is an old and valid debate tactic. It’s not mean, or shrill, or whatever. It doesn’t even mean you’re accepting those premises outside the argument.

    What it does is stop stupid squabbling about premises. By their very nature premises are a pain to agree on, and the literalist crowd love focusing the fight on premises because they’re often so hard to definitively debunk by themselves. So, instead, you say “Fine, let’s accept these premises, that gives us these impossible answers, so the premises must be flawed.” It’s simple, elegant, and shows that you don’t, in fact, accept the premises you were using because you’ve just shown them not to work.

    The fact that doing that is seen as being stupid confounds me, really.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Is it just me, or does this comment thread contain a pretty fair amount of commenters who are atheists telling commenters who are religious what christians “really believe”?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    You’re not wrong, sadly…

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

    I, for one, am willing to be corrected on what Christians believe.  However, as they have not managed to figure this out collectively in a couple of millenia, I will have to draw my own conclusions if I actually want an answer.

  • Hypocee

    Is it just me, or does this comment thread contain a pretty fair amount
    of commenters who are atheists telling commenters who are religious what
    the majority of American Christians have themselves consistently reported for decades that they “really believe” in response to a post that claims they’re dishonestly faking the influence of that belief?

    FTFY. Yes, as a matter of fact.

  • Hypocee

    And shorter Hapax: “It was ‘not intended to be a factual statement’. You see, people were so incomprehensibly goofy before Science that they didn’t make a distinction between stories and factual statements about causality. They’re like children, really.”

    I think your hypothesis may surprise all those folks documented worshipping and sacrificing at the altars of Ur or Egypt or Rome, or crossing the known world to touch the statue of a saint and be healed of disease.

  • hapax

    And shorter Hapax: “It was ‘not intended to be a factual statement’. You
    see, people were just as intellectually sophisticated as we are before Science, so that they understood the distinction between stories that were meant to express a fundamental truth about the human condition and factual statements about
    causality. They’re like children, really — since my children managed to grasp that concept before kindergarten.”

    Fixed that for you.  But you could have just asked.

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

    I’m not sure I disagree with you, Hapax, about the sophistication of ancient peoples, but I’m wondering what we know about the beliefs of people who were not priests, philosophers and the like.
    Did the common Greek fisherman or shepherd believe that the stories were meant to depict actual events or were they understood as fables?

    I don’t know, so I’m asking.

    I hear a lot of complex and sophisticated theology when I argue about God, but it seems that the common run of churchgoer never seems to be aware of this sort of thing. Perhaps literacy can make things worse…

  • hapax

     

    Did the common Greek fisherman or shepherd believe that the stories were
    meant to depict actual events or were they understood as fables?

    We don’t know.  Nobody knows.  Only the well educated were literate enough to write things down, and they were not interested in describing what “the common Greek fisherman or shepherd” actually believed;  when they described such people at all, it was to fit them into some overarching object lesson.

    What we do know:  modern anthropologists, who went and did more sophisticated  research on the beliefs of “primitive peoples”  (e.g. those who followed up Malinowski’s pioneering work among the Trobriand Islanders and Evans-Pritchard among the Azande) found that while the people they were studying insisted that their beliefs were “true”, these stories actually functioned more as frameworks for organizing and categorizing their perceptions of the natural world and human interactions than as “scientific” or “historical” documentaries of causality and fact.

    What I, personally, know — my children, by the age of four, were able to distinguish between “stories that told about fact things” and “stories that talked about things that were true.” 

    I see no reason to believe that the “common people” four thousand years ago were stupider than modern preschoolers.

    ETA:  One of those children, looking over my shoulder, reminded me that in the Popol Vuh  (possibly the most direct evidence we have of actual Mayan religious beliefs), the language used for the cosmic myths and heroic epic tales was very different than the language used for regnal lists and matters of (more-or-less) verifiable documentary history.

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

    “I see no reason to believe that the “common people” four thousand years ago were stupider than modern preschoolers.”

    Agreed.  The problem, of course, is that while modern preschoolers are pretty hard to fool, there are modern adults who believe some strange things indeed.

    There may have been no Fox News in the Ancient World, but was there a proto-Fox geezer?

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

    Oh, additional thoughts:

    I wonder if perhaps ‘framework for organizing perceptions of the world’ might not be just as true for many followers of major religions, who also insist on the truth of their beliefs, but not necessarily on what that exact truth is.
    I also wonder what the effect of missionaries (of variosu religions) who insisted that their beliefs were actual truth had on those frameworks.
    I suspect it relates to things like witch hunting in Nigeria.

    On the Mayan language differences, it sounds a bit like a relative of the faux King James’ English commonly used to impart the dignity of religious authority in American culture.

  • hf

    Fred seems to think that by ignoring his views (whatever those may be) the American Atheists have committed the straw-man fallacy.

    But the billboard-makers may not share this view, because we atheists don’t agree with you. We don’t necessarily see your views as intellectually respectable. In fact, we don’t necessarily see Fred’s views as more intellectually respectable than Ken Ham’s, if only because Fred has never said in detail what he believes and why he believes it. Nor should he — unless he wants us to treat said beliefs as reasonable and worthy of note.

    Fred has at least said that he believes Jesus actually rose from the dead. (Unless I misunderstood that entirely.) Someone here also talked about interpreting the resurrection in a way that seems to make sense if and only if it literally happened, in addition to having symbolic meaning. And if you cite Fred’s actions as a respectable reason to believe that Jesus really rose from the dead, I will publicly mock you, because you fail epistemology forever.

    Now some people here who call themselves Christians may treat the gospel narratives purely as stories with important lessons to teach us, like Star Trek or “The tragedy of Prince Hamlet and the Philosopher’s Stone.” If so, you don’t want to know what I think of you. But this seems irrelevant to Fred’s original post(s).

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out what your point is…

  • hf

    That Fred’s response here seems entirely wrong. If the billboard attacked a straw-man, then who should it have criticized instead? Terry Eagleton, who says the God he thinks about is not a possible object of cognition? Thomas Aquinas, who claimed to have proofs of his God’s existence, and who appears to have thought any intelligent person would agree with Catholic sexual ethics?

    What theology, as opposed to works that allow a secular translation, should atheists consider intellectually respectable?

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Ah. I see what you mean now. Thanks.

  • aunursa

    If the billboard attacked a straw-man, then who should it have criticized instead?

    Why do they need to criticize or mock anyone’s theology?  They could instead, for example, just tell us what’s so great about atheism.

  • hf

     Um, nothing “is so great” about atheism in an absolute sense. It just avoids one mistake, which religious people have (annoyingly) made significant.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Silly timezones getting in the way of conversation… *grumbles*

  • Keromaru5

    AnonymousSam: That’s… not really the logic I’d use to say God is self-evident or inscrutable.  I personally say he’s self-evident only as a subjective judgment call, and a lot of thought about the kind of God I find plausible, beyond what any religion teaches; and I don’t expect anyone else to be convinced by it.  I say he’s inscrutable because I agree with the reasoning of the Church Fathers and various other theologians, that God’s essence could never be contained in this universe, nor could any concept, even the most pious, ever do him justice.  God isn’t one object or one concept among many, but the source of all of them, including existence itself.  Any language I use about God can only serve as a finger pointing at the moon; it can’t bring me a true experience of God.

    Or, to put it another way, God is inscrutable in the same way every other human mind is inscrutable.  I’m not Professor X, so I just don’t have the access.

    It’s a clunky and imprecise summary of 2000 years of theology that doesn’t get much attention in the West, and there’s a metric crapload I’m leaving out about prayer and praxis and so on, but there you go.  For a better explanation, I recommend books like the Cloud of Unknowing, The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides, and the many, many, many, many works of Thomas Merton; and much of the foundation for it is in the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.  This isn’t the kind of thing that can be easily settled on a blog comment thread.  Especially one on Disqus.

  • AnonymousSam

    What works for you, works for you. However, I’d rather anthropomorphize existence than ignorance. For me, God (or more accurately, divinity) is the sum of all that is, not the sum of all that I don’t understand (it helps avoid the God of the Gaps fallacy, for one thing, because I can be educated to fill those gaps of my awareness). If it should be that God’s immensity is incalculable, it’s only because no mind can grasp the scope of the universe and the countless chemical and physiological and psychological ramifications which have gone into making this moment the here and now.

    After I read Exodus, I stopped being willing to let priests and theologians tell me that I couldn’t possibly hope to understand God.

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

    It seems clear that my presence here, and certainly my verbal style is turning a safe place into a contentious one.
    I apologize for that, if not the feelings I expressed, which stem from a certain frustration at the reticence of some believers, not neccessarily those who have particpated, in regards to what they believe and why they believe it.
    Since I lack this, it is difficult for me to understand.  It seems like it should be a simple matter.
    Nevertheless, since it clearly is not, and my persistence is creating a negative atmosphere, I will withdraw to lurking again, unless directly addressed.
    Thank you, one and all, for your time.

  • Keromaru5

    You know, when I honestly want to know something about a subject I don’t understand, I don’t usually mock the people I’m asking.  Doesn’t usually help anybody.

    Why is it my business to inform somebody who’s already decided I’m an idiot?

  • Keromaru5

    “It seems like it should be a simple matter.”
    And it isn’t.  You’ve had plenty of professed Christians telling you it’s more complicated than that.  I’m glad you’re cooling off, so maybe it’s time to go back and check some of your assumptions.

    If you really want to know more about the history of theology, Apostolic Tradition, or the Ecumenical Councils, or the English Reformation, I’d love to answer questions about it.  I’ve done plenty of reading on it, and find it all very fascinating.  But if you do want to know, please please please try to assume good faith.

  • Mary Kaye

    Parts of this discussion put me in mind of a bad moment from graduate school.  I am a computational biologist, so my committee had to contain both biologists and computer scientists.  My chosen computer scientist asked me to explain my thesis work to him, and I launched into a discussion of how to model genetic recombination computationally.

    About halfway through he said, “I don’t believe it.”

    “You don’t believe what?  Which part of my model is wrong?”

    “No, I mean I don’t believe your basic idea here–this genetic recombination thing.  It’s too complicated.  I don’t know why you’d suppose something like that.”

    I was floored.  I stammered out some question or other hoping I’d misunderstood him, but no–he was really saying I should not try to model recombination because I hadn’t convinced him that it existed.  Too complicated and messy!  Never mind the fact that it’s a widely observed real biological phenomenon and the basis of all gene mapping….

    To his credit, my computer scientist learned more about biology as he went along, and is now a well-respected computational biologist himself.  But that particular afternoon I was not at all happy with him.  I came close to saying “Eppur si muove” except I have no idea how to pronounce that.

  • Keromaru5

    Another problem is the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  There are plenty of moderate Catholics out there, so why do networks keep bringing in Bill Donohue?  Why do they buy LaHaye’s schtick?  I think part of it is that they’re much more flamboyant and their views much more sensational, which makes “better” TV.  And like you said, they are the more vocal–and why not?  If they’ve made anything clear (to me, at least) by their public statements, it’s that they are not very nice people; they legitimately do not care who they hurt with their statements.  So they’ll be as loud and outspoken as they want.  For someone seriously trying to live up to the Golden Rule, that’s just out of the question.

    If there’s anything Christians need to be aware of, it’s humility.  That’s why, in the parable, it’s the Pharisee who prays “Lord, thanks for not making me like that tax collector,” that goes away condemned.  Lately I’ve become increasingly aware that liberal churches can be infected by their own kind of tribalism, which says “Thank God we’re not intolerant like those people.”  It’s easy to forget when decrying sin that it can be lurking in you, too.

  • Gerryrossouw

    Ken Ham is living proof that Australians hump sheep!


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