Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Cherry-Picker's Bible

To be fair to Francis Collins, of whom I have been critical, though I think not unjustly here and here, it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge the following:

Thus, by any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time. By attacking the fundamentals of virtually every branch of science, it widens the chasm between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, just at a time where a pathway toward harmony is desperately needed. By sending a message to young people that science is dangerous, and that pursuing science may well mean rejecting religious faith, Young Earth Creationism may be depriving science of some of its most promising future talents.

But it is not science that suffers most here. Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on Creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the relatedness of all living things through the process of evolution and natural selection. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! To adhere to the faith of their childhood, they are required to reject a broad and rigorous body of scientific data, effectively committing intellectual suicide. Presented with no other alternative than Creationism, is it any wonder that many of these young people turn away from faith, concluding that they simply cannot believe in a God who would ask them to reject what science has so compellingly taught us about the natural world?

Francis Collins. The Language of God

I wish I'd said that.

But what is not clear, and Francis Collins' book does nothing to clarify it, is how exactly are these unfortunate victims of childhood indoctrination to know which parts of the Bible they should accept as literally true and which are merely allegorical and not to be taken literally? For example, if one rejects the account in Genesis of a six-day creation, and the account of the lives of the descendants of Adam and Eve to Noah and beyond, upon which the claimed young age of earth is based, why does one not also reject the account of original sin, the fall of Man and of the need for forgiveness and redemption upon which the entire Christian faith depends and upon which the entire rationale for Jesus's sacrifice is supposedly based? What in these stories distinguishes one from the other with sufficient reason to reject one and accept the other?

The only basis, and the one upon which Francis Collins appears to have relied, is his knowledge of reality acquired entirely by scientific methodology, which tells him the six-day creation and young earth theory must be wrong because the evidence is so heavily stacked against it. Given the choice here between faith and evidence, Collins goes with the evidence because he knows evidence trumps faith.

Where is the evidence upon which we can decide that the story of the Fall of Man and so the claimed need for Jesus to save us, is not also myth? Certainly, there is nothing in the Bible itself. This decision can only be made by reference to some external basis for judgements.

The question is, if you read any other book of myths which contained obvious errors, falsehoods, and demonstrably wrong accounts of history and science, why would you believe any of it in the absence of any supporting evidence? If you do, why not believe other creation myths or the holy books of other faiths?

More importantly, why not reject the Bible with the same confidence and using the same judgements you use to reject all the other mythologies?

At the beginning of the 19th century, very few people in the Christian world doubted the literal truth of Creation and a young earth. There was no doubt at all in most people's minds that the Bible was the literal, inerrant truth and a statement of historical fact. Even those few enlightened people like Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson could see no alternative but to believe in a creator. Since then, religion had been in retreat as one gap after another has been closed and God has been evicted from them.

Collins' rationalization of rejecting almost all of the biblical claims where science has closed these gaps, yet clinging to those few where the gaps have not yet been fully closed is nothing more than an attempt to cling to an outmoded, redundant and primitive attempt to explain the world by people who believed that magic was the best available explanation. Simple people whose understanding of the universe was so poor they believe earth was flat, that the sun orbited round it and that earth could be flooded to a depth sufficient to cover the highest mountains, and then the water would just disappear, presumably by running over the edge, and that a lifeless earth could be repopulated by a few survivors on a boat. A magical world where prophets and seers could foretell the future and where miracles, angels, and spirits were only to be expected.

And, if Francis Collins is to be believed, even though they got it hopelessly wrong in so many places, as shown by scientific evidence, they can be relied upon to have got it all correct in the places where Francis Collins agrees with them, and for which no scientific evidence is thus required. In this case, faith trumps evidence, obviously.

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  1. Hello, I am from Indonesia. I'm studying English and your article is very interesting.

  2. Exactly! I've been banging away at this particular point for ages. I can't understand why the more 'enlightened' Christians can accept Evolution as fact but still find the redemption of 'original sin' necessary.

    So many pages, so many cherries.

    1. Clearly, they are getting something out of religion which justifies the intellectual gymnastics required to retain it. For many, judging from their behaviour, religion provides an excuse for otherwise socially unacceptable attitudes, opinions and behaviour. I suspect for many, probably a majority, of western Christians, 'faith' is merely something to hide behind.

      For others, the fear that it might turn out to be true, is a good enough reason to maintain an outward display of piety in the hope that God will think they really believe in him. Pascal's Wager, which relies on fooling an omniscient god.

  3. When it comes to the creation of the world in six days, there are many justifiable reasons why one might not infer that meaning from Genesis. I understand, for example, that the original Hebrew means "period of time" rather than "24h day." It could also be argued that the narrative has an allegorical style and in any case it would be fair to say that the creation accounts (yes, plural) within Genesis are written not to provide a scientific basis for the mechanics of creation but to illustrate the relationship of God both with creation and humanity contained within.

    Of course, if you don't think that Adam & Eve existed then the idea of original sin cannot relate to them specifically as people. But the idea of original sin in the sense that humanity did not relate well to God from the beginning is a key part of the Genesis story whether or not it is literal or allegorical.

    As for the need for redemption, I do not think that Christ died for me purely because somewhere, someone along the line messed up their relationship with God. To imply that without original sin we have no need of redemption is frighteningly arrogant. I am not perfect, and though you may think otherwise, neither are you.

    1. And of course we can dismiss the story of Adam and Eve, the Fall of Man and the need for forgiveness and redemption which unpins the whole of Christianity on the same basis. Indeed, we can dismiss the very idea of a creator god using the same methodology.

    2. Can we? Do please explain your reasoning.

    3. I can't reply for Rosa, but as an atheist and rationalist, I find your comment

      o imply that without original sin we have no need of redemption is frighteningly arrogant.

      nonsensical. The simple fact is that we reject the idea of a life after death, the idea of any kind of divinity or higher power, and therefore any kind of "redemption" which does not involve setting right wrongs we've done during our time on this earth - while we're still alive, obviously.

      To imply, therefore, that we need redemption while not believing in the concept is, I submit, more arrogant than what you claim we imply.

      Thank you.

    4. >Can we? Do please explain your reasoning.<

      Because, as was abundantly clear, if you get to re-interpret the Bible as allegorical,to explain away the obvious errors and fallacies, we can do the same for the bits you like to cling on to so you can try to control others with fear and superstition whilst elevating yourself above others with smugly condescending sanctimony.

      Once you dismiss any of the Bible as allegorical you open it up to all being so dismissed because the authors never thought to indicate which bits are allegorical and which are literal. We are not obliged to use your convenient and self-serving classification, though no doubt you would wish us to bow to your 'authority' in these matters and to just believe what you tell us to.

  4. In reading the bible it's pretty clear which parts are poetic, which historical to me anyway. Any literate person should be able to do the same.

    The 6 'days' of creation and the 6000 years are just interpretations of scripture just like a more allegorical one. A long ages interpretation of Genesis doesn't destroy original sin as a doctrine because Adam and eve could still easily be historical. Even if they too are allegory their sinfulness clearly isn't. Men are clearly sinners as evidenced by their inability to live by their own standards let alone Gods.

    How do we know that most of the bible is not allegorical? The evidence.

    1. Geoff Howells

      You generally find that, if a Christian agrees with the Bible it's literal, if not, it's allegorical and means something they agree with by merely changing the meanings of a few words.

      I'm surprised they only do it with the Bible and don't confirm their prejudices by doing the same with other books as well.

  5. There are already Christian 'religions' that have waived the idea of original Sin, even though it may be by little more than 'not discussing it'

  6. Actually the science of evolution is grossly overrated but has simply been adopted as as an ideological faith. Theres no fossil proof. No identified common ancestor. The possibility of reducing the complexity of cells and gradually forming them has never been shown to be possible in fact it is impossible in terms of the natural laws. At best evolution is an unverified theory. At worst it is an ideologically driven attempt to disprove a creator. A creator still remains the only logical origin of the universe. When the scientific revolution began it liberated us from loads of ideologicallly driven 'religious' codswallop. As the phiolosophies of the enlightenment gained supremecy the dial went the other way and we ended up with new ideaologies driven by scientism - defended as faith! I appreciate your critique of the mixed position but I challenge your premise! Thanks for the post and the rigour of your argument! John

    1. >Theres no fossil proof. <

      If you keep chanting that mantra does it become true eventually?

      What did the scientific community say when you presented your peer-review refutation of both the fact and the explanatory theory of Evolution, or is this a personal communication prior to publication?

      "If Evolution is ever falsified, it will be done by a scientist, not an idiot." - Richard Dawkins.

    2. Either you've been deceived or are simply ignorantly. Without any reasonable basis you begin echoing the same old predictable bullshit in an unjustified attempt to discredit the ideology.

      You foolishly denounced/mislabeled science as "faith" (which is insulting to any intellectually honest human being). Immediately afterward you imply your specific faith to be rational and clearly factual. This is a poor attempt to level the playing field.

      Faith is in direct opposition of truth and understanding. Science is the method of obtaining truth and understanding.

    3. "At best evolution is an unverified theory."

      Evolution is a theory like gravity is a theory. Do you "believe in" gravity? Just because you choose to ignore the evidence, doesn't make it any less true.


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