Natural Reading

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Those of us involved in the debate about evolution are often amazed at how little impact the enormous evidence for evolution has on anti-evolutionists. Each piece of positive evidence is treated in isolation and belittled, while every open question is treated as proof of the demise of evolution. Positive scientific evidence for special creation is absent, yet every perceived weakness of the theory of evolution is regarded as positive evidence for special creation. There is a reason for this, which will not come as a surprise to most readers of The Panda’s Thumb, but I want to say it again as part of the foundation for what I am about to write. The issue from the creationist point of view is really religious and not scientific, and this is true whether one is advocating young earth or old earth creationism, or even intelligent design. If we did not have a story of creation in the sacred literature of the dominant religious tradition in America, and if that story was not being taken as some sort of scientific evidence, the debate would not be between special creation and evolution, but rather would be between the dominant understanding of evolution and various modifications that might be made to it.

Further, the status of the evidence provided by the Bible is elevated above that of scientific evidence.

We are told that the Bible must be true, and the Bible says that the earth was created about 6,000 years ago in six literal days. I recall an ad on the bulletin board at my graduate school, offering grants to anyone who would do scientific research to “demonstrate that the earth is about 6,000 years old.” Anyone can find plenty of similar statements or offers; this one was not unique. The conclusion has been reached, now the research must be done to establish that the conclusion is true. Framed in this way, the actions of anti-evolutionists constitute an attack on science and the scientific method.

Let me note for the record that while I do believe the Bible has value, even great value, that value is not as scientific evidence, and further that there is no need to discuss any other value in connection with the creationism controversy. If the Bible is not valid scientific evidence, then it should not be used to support (supposedly) scientific statements. I could make a similar statement about The Lord of the Rings, and nobody would suppose that I was denying that the books have literary value. With the Bible, however, people tend to think that I am denying all value because I am denying scientific value. Philosophical, literary, historical, spiritual and any other sorts of value are simply not of concern here.

But the question is whether the Bible can justifiably be used in this fashion. Very often those supporting the scientific approach simply assume that the Bible does, in fact, say all these things and does provide a basis for people to believe what they do, and that the only option is to prove that science is better than people’s sacred book. I’m going to suggest several things:

  • That the basis for the creationist position in all its forms is the Bible, and only the Bible
  • That the supposed plain text or “natural” reading of the Bible done by modern Christians is anything but natural
  • That the use of the Bible in this fashion constitutes a misuse of the literature involved (and I will define what I mean by misuse)
  • That there is no sense in which the Bible can be treated as a source of scientific information-none of its various authors attempt to address scientific issues, and this is clear from the way they write
  • That the Bible is set in its cultural world, and is written based on the common cosmology in the ancient near east in broad outlines, and nowhere challenges this

Now each of these items could constitute at least a full entry on its own, but I think I can survey these issues in an adequate way here and in my referenced essays.

I grew up in the young earth creationist movement and regularly read creationist literature. It never occurred to me that the young earth view had any other basis than the Biblical story. It also never occurred to me that I could understand Genesis in any way other than as a form of narrative history until I began studying ancient near eastern literature in a broader way. (By narrative history I refer to telling a story in which the author intends to convey a series of events in some sort of orderly way including some sense of chronology. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are generally taken as narrative history by young earth creationists. While old earth creationists tend to take various elements of the story non-literally, such as seeing the days as representative of longer periods of time, they also look for factual and chronological information, that not only gives a general idea that creation took place, but also specific events and even scientific ideas.)

I was used to this Biblical and scriptural basis being openly acknowledged. For example, from the cover flap of the book Genesis and Science by Harold W. Clark, one of the books from my youth that has managed to hang around my library:

Professor Clark regards the Old Testament Book of Genesis as hisotry; as history, Genesis is basic to a proper comprehension of both biology and geology.

Though I note this is from the cover flap, I believe it is not an unfair characterization of Dr. Clark’s position, and one amply justified by his writing within the book.

With the advent of “scientific creationism” we were presented with a different approach to the argument. This approach suggested that true science would prove creation, and that creationism could be taught as a scientific theory, even without reference to its religious base. Efforts thus far to do so have been dismal. See, for example, my review of What is Creation Science?. In all cases, it has been easy even for the non-expert to trace the religious origins of the system of belief, and to realize that there was no coherent theory being presented.

Recently, Kurt Wise, in his book Faith, Form, and Time (link is to my review) has acknowledged and even focused on this particular aspect. I find Dr. Wise’s book refreshing in the one sense, because he thoroughly acknowledges and even celebrates the religious basis of young age (his term) creationism. On the other hand, I find it somewhat depressing, because of the style of scriptural interpretation that he advocates, followed by his determination that scripture must be above physical evidence:

Dr. Kurt Wise Wrote:

The Bible is preserved, reliable, and true because of the nature of its Author. It should be believed over observation and evidence. Faith, Form, and Time, page 26

This by itself clearly begs the question of how one understands the Bible, and how one determines what it is evidence of. But Dr. Wise does not beg the question in his book. He enunciates a very clear and simple approach to understanding the Bible, and then uses this as the basis for his model for creation. In fact, much of his book Faith, Form, and Time is largely setting the stage for creating a model for creation that is built on the Bible. I welcome this openness in claiming the actual basis for creationism, but at the same time I think it provides an opportunity to examine these methods.

Briefly, referencing pages 17-19, the method includes:

  • Consistency, based on the assumption of a single author for scripture
  • Context, understanding each element both in its own context and in the context of the whole of scripture
  • Language study, based on the fact that though he regards the Bible as divinely inspired he acknowledges that is uses human language
  • Authorial intent, which to Dr. Wise constitutes God’s intent

    God had intent in authoring it, and He created man to understand this intent.

Dr. Wise contrasts this with post-modernism, but he would do better to contrast it with more the historical-critical method which also assumes that the text means something. The question is what it does mean. Let’s briefly look at these individual items and then focus in on the key assumption.

  • Whether or not one believes the Bible was inspired by God, it is evident that it was written by a number of authors, and that at a minimum there are differences in personality, style and emphasis amongst these authors. I would argue that the differences are more substantial, but that is not necessary here.
  • Placing something in a context other than that which the author intended can completely change the meaning of a text. If we assume that the Bible was written by one author we might well change the meaning of one text in order to make it consistent when the original intent was not. One must examine a text and let it speak if one accepts authorial intent.
  • Language study is, of course, important, but one must extend this to understanding the cosmology and symbolism of the cultures. Doing this will likely change one’s view of the meaning of a passage, especially when the source culture is substantially different than one’s own.
  • Authorial intent is critical however, and here is where the method outlined by Dr. Wise fails. Without understanding the background of an author and the assumptions of his audience, it will be very difficult to extract a natural meaning. In fact, one may consider a meaning to be “natural” that would be totally foreign to the author.

The key statement of Dr. Wise’s approach is this:

Kurt P. Wise Wrote:

The straightforward (or natural) understanding of Scripture is to be preferred over any other understanding (p. 18).

But what is the natural reading? Dr. Wise assumes that reading Genesis as essentially a historical is the most natural reading. He calls God the only eyewitness with the clear implication (developed further throughout the book) that the Bible constitutes or at least includes God’s eyewitness testimony about origins.

Kurt P. Wise Wrote:

… Since He is truth and is uncompromised by sin, God is not only the sole eyewitness of the past, but He is also the only fully reliable witness. (page 5)

He further emphasizes that the Bible (eyewitness testimony from God) is the basis of his creation model, and that this makes up for the holes in the available theory of young age creation. Because the Bible seems to suggest young age and special creation, according to Dr. Wise’s “natural” reading, and because there are still questions about some of the scientific theories, we can be certain that the young age model is true. We just have to fill in the details.

Kurt P. Wise Wrote:

Certainly, the young-age creation model needs to be developed a lot more in order to reinterpret adequately the age-dating methods that exist. Studies are neede in astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, atmosphrics, climatology, and even biology. Despite the incompleteness of the creation model, however, the inconsistencies with old-age indicators provide encouragement, while the claims of Scripture convince us of the truth. (page 68, emphasis mine)

Implicit in this view is that there is substantial evidence for evolution, and indeed Dr. Wise acknowledges some evidence for it, but that we should determine what we actually believe from the testimony of the Bible, understood according to a natural reading. Repeatedly in his book, Dr. Wise acknowledges large gaps in the necessary research for a scientific theory of creation, but because of his understanding of the Bible, he assumes that these gaps will eventually be filled. This kind of hopeful (or could I say wishful?) thinking is particularly obvious in chapter 12 (pp. 170-176, “The Antediluvian World”). Here Dr. Wise explains that since the dinosaurs are never buried with humans and other modern mammals, they must have lived somewhere else, and since there is a river that flows out of the Garden of Eden, it must be at high altitude (and one must assume that the human population stayed near that point, and that the dinosaurs then lived at a lower altitude, thus being buried first by the flood (pp 173-174). He also concludes that there must be a genetic change that occurred over time to reduce the lifespan of humans (pp 175-176). I note these details to illustrate the level of scientific detail that is expected of the Biblical account. Biologists will likely find chapter 8 (“After Their Kind”) similarly interesting with the discussion of baraminology. The efforts required to make scientific sense of the phrase “after its kind” is enlightening in its complexity. God (the author, according to Wise) was either incompetent–or he was not trying to make any sort of scientific statement.

From my personal experience I can confirm that many, many people take essentially this approach to scripture, or simply absorb their understanding from Biblical teachers and preachers who do. This is the difficulty involved in the debate about creation and evolution. If someone has decided that a deity who is both omnipotent and omniscient has expressed himself on scientific issues, it will truly be difficult for mere scientists to compete.

I have already suggested that there’s a clear problem with the idea that God is the author of the Bible in a direct sense. The answer to this is: Read the Bible. It is written in different styles and literary genres, by authors with different theologies, personalities and cultural backgrounds. I will likely write on this later.

But here let’s examine the idea of a natural reading. I would suggest as a standard approach that we should look first at the culture and understanding of the surrounding culture involved in producing a piece of literature in order to understand it. If everything involved in the literature can be explained clearly in terms of that understanding, no further explanation is necessary, nor should one be sought. The great variety of scientific understandings that have resulted from interpretations of Genesis 1 that assume it makes scientific statements suggest that there is some problem with them. This problem is simply that the text was written in the context of an ancient near eastern cosmology, and it can be easily understood in those terms. I have recently posted a translation of Genesis 1 and 2 on my Energion.com web site. The translation is annotated with some of the cosmological issues involved, and is coded with the structural elements and the sources involved in the text.

Let me comment here on one point: “After its/their kind.” Understood in the context of the time, this statement can (and should) be understood as a simple statement of observation. It is not the result of observing fossils, or of observing multiple generations of bacteria–there were no microscopes and thus no understanding of microscopic life. What was understood was that offspring resembled parents. To read anything else into this statement is to make it cover more ground that it actually covers in its statements.

The problem with the “natural reading” is that a reading by Dr. Kurt Wise (Harvard graduate in the 20th century) would simply not be anything like natural to those who first heard the story, nor to those who first told it, wrote it, and then edited the various sources in the book we now call Genesis in the collection we call the Bible.

(I know that many are waiting for me to comment on Intelligent Design, and I intend to do so, but I’m collecting some additional material.)

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Neufeld on the Theology of Creationism from Dispatches from the Culture Wars on January 7, 2005 6:33 PM

My friend Henry Neufeld, director of the Pacesetter's Bible School, has posted a new essay on the Panda's Thumb that examines the theological underpinnings of creationism and Intelligent Design. In particular, he discusses the question of the different... Read More

32 Comments

You could’ve saved a lot of time by just posting that cartoon that says

Evolution: Here are the facts, what conclusions can we draw from them? Creationism: Here is the conclusion, how can we make the facts conform to it?

Or words to that effect.

I have never read any of the Bible, so I am not certain about this, but surely the bible can be relied on in some circumstances to provide information about the Middle East during the time it was written? In that sense it could be said that the Bible is presenting true and scientific evidence for fields such as archeology? ;) Although I agree that its ability to provide any other scientific information is limited.

The Bible is a source of “revelation” rather than a source of “science.” Science studies dead spirit. Science is Spirit’s coroner and nothing more! … Which admittedly is not a small thing! … Science dissects concretizations of Spirit. But where science is thought to be capable of defining “Spirit,” by breaking it down into its component parts, there … what the scientist gains with the scalpel in hand, he looses with the other hand … which is busy as a bee polishing his manhood.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 6, column 12, byte 223 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

What? Bees masturbate?

One of the reasons that it is hard to make sense out of much of the Bible is that the literary context is mostly missing. Like the Greeks, the Jews were latecomers to civilization and inherited a wealth of myth and legend, some of it recovered by archaeologists but much of it lost. We don’t know, for example, whether in an earlier narrative Abraham did indeed sacrifice Isaac, who was later brought back to life—i gather that there was a minority Jewish tradition to that effect even in the time of the Rabbis. Similarly, the existing Book of Job appears to be an answer to an earlier version of the story, and in the older pantheon, Yahweh was apparently the son of El. The point is that any “natural” reading ignores the obvious fact that we came in on a dialogue well after it began. Far from reflecting primal wisdom, the existing text reflects the reworkings of older texts and many, many layers of editing as anybody can see who isn’t blinded by belief—faith may be good for the soul, but it’s deadly for philology!

No Ms. literal, bees don’t, birds do it for them…, hello, hello, is this microphone turned on?

A footnote to my last comment. An excellent discussion of the issues I brought up can be found in Bruce Zuckerman’s book The Silence of Job.

No Ms. literal, bees don’t, birds do it for them … , hello, hello, is this microphone turned on?

Oh bugger I hate when I do that!

No Henry, the real reason is not religious. Or at least no always religious. There’s plenty of agnostic like me that don’t have a dog in the religious hunt that question some bits of neo-Darwinism.

The reason is the presupposition that all things must have a so-called natural explanation. You call the religious view “God of the Gaps”. I call your view “Science of the Gaps” and laugh at both of you for your dogged determination to cling to things which are not proven and probably not provable.

When you see something in nature that so apparently designed as the DNA/ribosome machinery and encounter the chicken/egg problem with DNA needing proteins to replicate and proteins needing DNA to be constructed the most straightfoward, sane assumption to make in this case is that the silly thing was designed. You must make that assumption AT LEAST until a plausible path around design has been demonstrated. That path has not yet been demonstrated so the sane presupposition is still design.

A lot of people understand this intuitively. What they don’t understand is why you and others like you cling pedantically to a definition of “science” which must always and without exception assume, contrary to all common sense, that all things are of natural origin until proven otherwise. In this particular case that’s just not palateable to anyone who doesn’t accept such a pure and uncompromising definition.

None of the school boards are asking that evolution be thrown out the window. None of the school boards are asking that design be taught as the only possible answer to unexplained origins. All they’re asking is that the possibility of design not be discounted at least until a plausible alternative to is demonstrated.

If you can’t budge even that much from your inflexible position then you have a problem. You’re the one that is clinging to faith in things not seen. You’re the one with the religious beliefs. Agnosticism is the only intellectually honest view and as an agnostic you do not rule out ANYTHING by faith. Not by faith in religion and not by faith that all things have a so-called natural explanation (as if intelligence somehow isn’t natural).

Speaking of that - how can intelligence have arisen via natural causes in humans, as you believe it has, yet it is supernatural if it isn’t human. Why can’t intelligence have come about naturally in life we don’t know about? Surely you’re not going to hand me negative evidence as proof that no other intelligent life exists are you? I’m sure even you admit that negative evidence is not proof of anything.

“Natural reading” makes me think of original intent, original meaning, strict construction, etc, as applied to interpreting and construing the Constitution. With the Constitution, we go back only 200+ years, during which there has been the benefit of the printing press and the same language. But there are still difficulties in determining the meaning of the Constitution. With the Old Testament (and even the new), the same “benefits” were not available. Over thousands of years, there have been extensive interpretations and constructions of the Bible by clerical (and other) scholars, which are not necessarily consistent even within same faiths. So where does “natural reading” lead us, to the future or the past? Perhaps the hermeneutical approach is preferable. Or perhaps a “living” Bible similar to a “living” Constitution. Personally, when it comes to the Bible, I rely upon Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.”

Hi Nic,

“Oh bugger I hate when I do that!”

Yes, I believe that Ronald Reagan had the same problem…

(And yes, I know that wasn’t what you refered to, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.)

Nic George Wrote:

I have never read any of the Bible, so I am not certain about this, but surely the bible can be relied on in some circumstances to provide information about the Middle East during the time it was written? In that sense it could be said that the Bible is presenting true and scientific evidence for fields such as archeology? ;)

I want to restate my focus here. I’m discussing specifically the value of the Bible as a source of scientific information, and most particularly as it relates to evolution. I was probably not clear enough on this. A Biblical statement can be correct (such as “after its kind”) without being specific enough to provide any kind of usable scientific data.

That’s why I said:

Henry Neufeld Wrote:

Philosophical, literary, historical, spiritual and any other sorts of value are simply not of concern here.

In order to stick to the purpose of The Panda’s Thumb, I’m not going to spend time on those other areas. But let me just note that I spend about two hours every morning in personal devotional Bible study, and then a good portion of my work day is involved with more directed study and writing. I must regard the Bible as having some value. Anyone interested in further information can see my extended paper Inspiration and Sources of Authority for the Christian. I wrote it several years ago, and I’d like to revise it some for clarity, but it still expresses my essential position.

But I will add that the Bible does provide information about the history and culture of the ancient near east, though only rarely is it a primary source. An archeologist will use this information in conjunction with other literary sources and physical data from excavations to derive accurate (he hopes!) information about the ancient world. None of that information extends into a geological time frame, i.e. the Bible doesn’t provide any literary information which a geologist can use to illuminate his physical data.

I consider it possible that someone can see design in the world around them without any necessary religious orientation. After all, we see things that are intricate and complicated. Any natural mechanism that may have caused these things is a very long way from being obvious. On the other hand, a lot of this stuff looks in some ways quite similar to what people may have designed deliberately, if only they had the technology. The similarity to human design even includes kludges, errors, inefficiencies, the appearance of cost-cutting and other attributes of what people come up with. Finally, the notion of design is appealingly simple, something even a child can understand. So long as someone is quite entirely ignorant of anything else, design seems like simple common sense.

Of course, the problem with a design explanation is that it explains everything there is in the same way, it can’t be falsified in principle, it suggests no possible hypotheses that can be tested, it makes no predictions. Even those proponents of design who are best educated and most sophisticated can only speak wistfully about the unlikely prospect of someone someday thinking of some justification for a program to research design. Design, so far, has been supremely suitable for preaching, public relations, and politics. It has been inaccessible to science altogether.

What this means (as DaveScot tries to say, albeit somewhat incoherently) is that if we posit for the sake of illustration that a Designer existed or is currently active, and that what we suspect is designed *really IS* designed, we couldn’t know this either. If we start with the unshakeable assumption that everything results from natural processes, we will necessarily explain everything in terms of natural processes even if this isn’t the case. If no plausible natural processes can be found for some particular phenomenon, we place it into the “don’t know yet” category and carry on. The presumption against design is impervious in this way as well.

So for pragmatic rather than philosophical reasons, we adopt the naturalistic presumption because it has proven far more useful in making successful predictions. It allows for hypotheses which can be tested, and it allows the accretion of a robust theory by a sequence of replicable results. Design might still be the right answer, but while design is simple and straightforward and doesn’t require many years of detailed and strenuous study, it doesn’t lead to any further understanding. It’s a dead-end in this respect. It isn’t science. At most, a schoolteacher can say “Some people believe life was designed. They may be right; they may not. We have no way of knowing. And *because* we have no way of knowing, it’s not science and can never be science.”

It’s never clear to me whether those whose preference runs against natural mechanisms primarily do so because of Biblical training, or whether the Bible is more of a congenial resource for those who are more comfortable with simple answers, like a child satisfied with his parent saying “because I said so!”

Your article reminds me of similar observations I’ve made with regards to the “natural” reading of Scripture. In order to understand something (as opposed to merely memorizing some dictum without understanding it), you have to be able to relate it back to the understanding you already have. But the understanding you already have will have been heavily influenced by subjective factors: your own personality, your personal experience, education, culture, preferences, fears, ambitions, imagination, philosophy, and so on.

It is a cardinal principle of Biblical interpretation that you let the clear and obvious passages guide your understanding of the difficult and obscure passages. But how do you know which passages are clear and obvious? Since “understanding” means relating something back to the understanding you already have, the passages that seem clearest and most obvious are going to be the ones that are easiest to relate back to the understanding you already have–the understanding that is heavily influenced by subjective factors.

When dealing with real-world issues, there is a certain feedback loop involved: you take a basketball, you face the hoop, and based on your past experience with basketballs, you understand how hard you need to throw the ball, and at what angle, in order to sink a basket. You throw, the ball bounces off the rim, and you realize subconsciously that your initial understanding was inaccurate. The real world provides a kind of quality control over the accuracy of your understanding.

This feedback loop is, shall we say, far less direct when it comes to evaluating the accuracy of one’s understanding of Scripture. In many cases, if not most, the only perceptible feedback is “How well does this fit with my understanding of things in general?” So your purely subjective understanding becomes the basis for identifying what the clear and obvious passages of Scripture are and what they mean. Then you begin adding the more difficult passages by relating them back to the subjective understanding you already have, including your personal interpretation of the “easy” passages. Step by step, link by link, you forge a network of ideas that, in your view, appear to be the “natural” reading of Scripture. And every step of the way, your subjective understanding is defining, or at least influencing, what “natural” is. There’s no objective measure of whether your understanding is actually accurate or not.

The result ultimately is a cohesive understanding of the Scriptures as a whole that is “obvious,” “natural,” incontrovertible–and heavily biased by the subjective nature of developing one’s understanding in the absence of any objective standard of correctness. If anyone challenges your understanding of Scripture, you’ve got an endless supply of passages that back you up, and so does the guy who contradicts you, because you’ve each built up a network of understandings that encompasses the whole of Scripture while simultaneously reflecting your own unique and subjective understanding of how things fit together.

Once upon a time, it was clear and obvious that the firmament over our heads was a roof above which sat heaven, whose doors could be opened now and then to let water fall down as rain. But that’s not the “natural” reading to anyone who has grown up since the invention of machines that could actually see and visit the regions above the clouds. The real world gave us a bit of feedback and corrected our understanding on that point. That’s what science will do for you, if you let it.

Mark, would it be reasonable to summarize your position as “exegesis is definitionally subjective”?

If so, then it clarifies the issue from a fundamentalist point of view - indeed, from almost any religious point of view: many theists, particularly the more vocal, and intolerant ones, would disagree with the single word “subjective”; to them, any exegesis is purely “objective.”

But part of this is a danger inherent in religion itself, which at least purports to give absolute answered to significant and fundamental questions.

The term rational theist might almost be an oxymoron.

I don’t mean to disparage those rational theists who exist (such as the gentleman who began this thread), but they would appear to be a minority.

Salvador Wrote:

I had a discussion with Denis Lamoureux who seems to share your views

And asked for Lamoureux’s ex-communication…

f Lamoureux were in my denomination I would re-commend his ex-communication and barring from the communion table. If he wants to align himself with the Darwinists leadership rather than the evangelicals FINE, but he should label himself as such : an NCSE Darwinist who rejected a central claim of the evangelical faith. He can call himself a liberal compromiser, a die-hard Darwinist, but he has no right to say he’s an evangelical.

“Sane assumption”?

“Intuitive understanding”?

I was going to post something to the effect that, due to the different epistemological bases of science and religion, they are talking past each other.

I didn’t expect to have a Jane Goodall moment in the process. Thanks, Dave Scott, that was exhibit A.

DaveScot said:

The reason is the presupposition that all things must have a so-called natural explanation. You call the religious view “God of the Gaps”. I call your view “Science of the Gaps” and laugh at both of you for your dogged determination to cling to things which are not proven and probably not provable.

No such presupposition clouds biology. Do you have a source for such a claim?

Since that’s not what biology does, the burden then falls on those who wish to presuppose that living things were designed by an outside hand.

Have you any evidence at all, other than your misreading of the philosophy of science?

Folks need to be reminded that scientists formerly assumed that living things had been designed. A couple of hundred years of increasingly extensive and intensive research later, they assume they haven’t been designed. If methodological naturalism is a prejudice, it’s also a result.

That the supposed plain text or “natural” reading of the Bible done by modern Christians is anything but natural

The introduction to my bible has a section entitled “literary genres or forms”

that section discusses literary forms such as “fable” “parable” “problem story” and, directly relevant to creationism, “allegory.”

The introduction specifically refers to Genesis as an allegory–“a figurative story with a veiled meaning.” The point of the allegory in Genesis is not a scientific discussion but the role God plays in our lives. That official exegis of biblcal passages pretty much eliminates any conflcit between scripture and evolution.

In my studies, several scriptural experts make the point that it is impossible to read the bible without interpretation of some form, and anyone who claims to engage in a “natural reading” in a literalist sence is sure to make mistakes.

It appears that any form of creationism is based on an improper reading of the text.

PvM misrepresented:

And asked for Lamoureux’s ex-communication …

No. No. No. You have the order wrong. I recommended excommunication first and then we had our discussion. Get your facts straight.

Sal

Seems Salvador has a problem with reading comprehensions. I am glad though that his only accusation of misrepresentation is the timeline which I did not really address. Silly how Sal seems to cry wolf without much foundation. Makes one wonder about his other assertions of misrepresentations when it comes to for instance the work of Shallit and Elsberry.

Thanks Sal, you never fail to support my arguments :-)

In ‘Sola Experientia– Feyerabend’s refutation of classical empiricism’ (Philosophy of Science, Vol 64 385-395 1997), Bas van Fraassen does a beautiful job of laying out the problem of interpretation for ‘sola scriptura’ approaches to religion, drawing on the old Jesuit argument against this naive Protestant approach to the bible. The three key questions are, What is scripture? How do we interpret it? How do we reason from it to its consequences? (Formal logic alone just won’t cut it here.)

The upshot is, “we cannot apply the rule (sola scriptura) without identifying, intepreting and extrapolating from Scripture.” And all these endeavours will be fraught with controversy. So sola scriptura is an untenable epistemology. M

I don’t have much hope that this will change many minds, but it should at least challenge a few people to think more clearly about where their convictions come from, and whether they are justified…

An excellent discussion of the issues I brought up can be found in Bruce Zuckerman’s book The Silence of Job.

“Job the Silent: A Study in Historical Counterpoint,” Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0195121279.

the status of the evidence provided by the Bible is elevated above that of scientific evidence.

William Lane Craig, wrote on pages 36-37 of Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (1984, revised 1994):

“Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.”

“…as long as reason is a minister of the Christian faith, we should employ it…”

“The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. Only the ministerial use of reason can be allowed.”

“The Holy Spirit teaches us directly which teaching is really from God.”

“The fact is that we can know the truth whether we have rational arguments or not.”

Dave Scot, go to talkorigins.org

The reason is the presupposition that all things must have a so-called natural explanation. You call the religious view “God of the Gaps”. I call your view “Science of the Gaps” and laugh at both of you for your dogged determination to cling to things which are not proven and probably not provable.

“Probably not provable?” That’s an odd universal statement for an agnostic. Theists have been disappointed in the past when an “unsolvable gap” was eventually solved by science. So, IMO, putting God where science is currently ignorant is bad for religion in the long run.

If science doesn’t presuppose “that all things must have a so-called natural explanation,” what do you recommend that it presuppose as an alternative? Apply science in some places but not others? And, who determines what “mysteries” science should investigate and what “mysteries” it should stay away from?

I don’t think there is any other workable alternative then to assume that everything has a natural explanation and is therefore solvable. If that turns out not to be a safe assumption/presupposition, then “reality” will take care of itself – namely, science will remain unable to solve a particular puzzle. But, I don’t think science should pre-judge a “mystery” as “knowable” or “unknowable.”

If God meant for us to fly, he would have given us wings. So, tell the Wright Brothers to get a life.

“I don’t think there is any other workable alternative “

We have, in science, things such as the “Heisenberg Uncertain Principle”, and “Goedel’s Formal Undecidability theorem” and “Arrow’s General Possibility Theorem”. In short, a number of places where information is “unknowable” to human measurement.

It’s not science that can’t tolerate uncertainty, it is that science can tolerate quite a lot of uncertainty, and ID wants that uncertain filled in NOW, rather than when we have the ideas and observations to fill it in.

We should not rule out that there will be information that we cannot find, we still don’t know what waves in the wave function, nor will we ever know, in all probability, all of the details of selection that have produced the state of living populations on earth. Science teaches one to live with these tensions and gaps.

“If God meant for us to fly, he would have given us wings. So, tell the Wright Brothers to get a life.”

Good line

Great post Henry! Your first sentences encapsulate important points:

Those of us involved in the debate about evolution are often amazed at how little impact the enormous evidence for evolution has on anti-evolutionists. Each piece of positive evidence is treated in isolation and belittled, while every open question is treated as proof of the demise of evolution.

Shades of Morton’s Demon and The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism.

An all too common misconception has popped up in the comments:

A commentator Wrote:

…the presupposition that all things must have a so-called natural explanation.

There is no such presupposition in science, as is demonstrated by the science of archaeology. I might also mention the Martian canals among other examples from astronomy.

What science must avoid is the argument from ignorance, or Designer of the gaps. “The Designer did it” must not be exempted from the requirement of evidence.

Neufeld: If we did not have a story of creation in the sacred literature of the dominant religious tradition in America, and if that story was not being taken as some sort of scientific evidence, the debate would not be between special creation and evolution, but rather would be between the dominant understanding of evolution and various modifications that might be made to it.

Not only that, but the debate wouldn’t get nearly much public airtime as it does.

DaveScot: Agnosticism is the only intellectually honest view and as an agnostic you do not rule out ANYTHING by faith.

Yes, but as an agnostic, I can tell you that such a position is highly impractical. In my examinations of my personal beliefs, I have decided that I want to know what is, rather than what is most plausible, so that when I examine my personal beliefs, I reject Occam’s razor as having no relevance. However, if Occam’s razor is thrown out, then all sorts of propositions which are possible, but highly implausible, must be entertained. To get a feel for how impractical this approach can be, go watch a marathon of the Twilight Zone, asking for every episode, “What if this is true?”.

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This page contains a single entry by Henry Neufeld published on January 6, 2005 4:21 PM.

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