Sunday, September 11, 2011

A letter from the past: snips

Another perhaps interesting post from my drafts folder. This one is a little rougher, looks like it contains the beginnings of a few different posts.

Let's move out for a broader view; I believe this is a specific instance of a trend across a section of Christianity: Calvinists classify other Christians as Arminians and say they miss the "clear" teaching of the bible; Premillineal dispensationalists find their version of the end-times to be "clear" in the bible; some Protestants vilify Catholics as rejecting the "clear" teaching of the bible, and some catholics return the favor; the "social gospel" is, among more conservative Christians, pretty universally derided as missing the point of the gospel; (Edit: it appears I never completed this thought.)

At this point I had a dilemma, which may be hard for some not raised with many Christian influences to grasp, so allow me to digress.

The creationists, like me at the very beginning of this, believed what they believe for a number of reasons.
1. I believed that the bible must be taken literally-- no liberal reinterpretations allowed. Otherwise, you weren't taking it seriously.
2. Non-Christians were not to be expected to see the "truth" of creationism; after all, God had not opened their eyes.
3. No group was worse than the vilified "Theistic Evolutionists": They did terrible things like interpreting the days of Genesis as very long periods of time to make it match with evolutionary timeframes, or saying the Flood was local when the bible clearly described it in global terms

They believe simple reason: they believe the Bible literally teaches it, and that be (Edit: What point was I about to make? We'll never know... The rest of this post seems to be more cohesive...)

What I'm trying to illustrate is the precarious position one is forced into when trying to hold creationist viewpoints. Which creationist viewpoints? I think there are a few levels of creationist views. I will list them here.

1. The universe is young (6,000-10,000 years old).
2. The earth is young (6,000-10,000 years old) [but maybe the universe existed a long time beforehand].
3. The entirety of life as we see it was created by God (6,000-10,000 years ago) [and there has been no genetic drift or speciation].
4. Genera (or higher orders of the animal kingdom) were created by God (6,000-10,000 years ago) [those not agreeing with the preceding might add: and there may have been some speciation].
5. Man was created by God (6,000-10,000 years old) [those not agreeing with the preceding might add: the rest of the animal kingdom may have evolved].
6. The first cell was created by God [those not agreeing with the preceding might add: and everything else evolved].

Each level implies belief in everything below it; for example someone who believes #1 (young universe) necessarily believes everything else. Someone who believes #4 thinks the earth may indeed be very old, but life is recent, and so on. I should note that many creationists would not consider someone who does not agree with #'s 4, 5, and 6 to be a real creationist. Sorry if the list is confusing.

In my opinion, the primary reason these views are held is because creationists believe the bible teaches them, and moreover, believe that without holding these views they cannot remain Christians and/or continue to take the bible seriously. (Non-Christians and Christians from the main-line denominations might find this rather incredulous, but I assure you it is the case.)

The logic runs something like this: If the bible is wrong anywhere, the entire thing can no longer be trusted anywhere. The bible teaches (take your pick from #'s 1 through 4 above). Therefore, if that is disproved, the bible cannot be trusted for anything. Therefore I must believe (take your pick from #'s 1 through 4 above) to retain a belief in the bible and remain a Christian.

[As a side note, I dispute everything in the above paragraph. The premise ("If the bible is wrong anywhere, the entire thing can no longer be trusted anywhere") is terrible logic; and the statement "The bible teaches ..." ignores the role of the interpreter (and the translator, but that's a different topic).]

OK, so with all that introduction, now I can talk about what I wanted to talk about.

Let's say I started out believing #1 (and all the subsequent levels) in my list. Let's also say that I'm a technically minded person, and I was encouraged from a very young age to think for myself (for which I'm quite grateful to my parents).

I like astronomy, and it doesn't take too much reading of the literature to become convinced that light really does come to us from sources 100's, 100,000's, millions, and billions of light-years away from us. The only way to insist on a young universe is to assert that the speed of light is variable. This is a position that is very difficult to hold.

(But, you may say, God Could Have Made It That Way To Begin With, with the light already in route to us. This is an unsatisfactory answer for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it would follow that God made a universe that *appears* to certainly be very old-- and then requires us to believe otherwise! This objection can apply to everything, so I'm only going to mention it this once. If God tells us one thing in the bible, and then designs the universe in such a way that it looks exactly like something else happened, then God is sadistic, to say the least.)


Tony Carlson said...

"The premise ("If the bible is wrong anywhere, the entire thing can no longer be trusted anywhere") is terrible logic;"

Curious as to how you feel about this statement now? I won't say any more about why I'm asking until I hear what you have to say.

daniel the smith said...

Yeah, I still agree with that. If you find a mistake in a history book do you throw out the rest of it?

OTOH, if you believe the bible is infallible, and you believe that non-infallible books are not trustworthy, and you find a mistake in the bible... Then you will be in trouble.

But infallibility is a pretty modern concept; the bible doesn't call itself infallible. There's no reason for Christians to demand it of the book.

There's two groups of people that do agree with that logic, christians who aren't thinking clearly and atheists who aren't thinking clearly... :)

That said, if we're talking about origins, there's no need for christians to even admit fault in the book, they just need to read the text a bit differently.

Tony Carlson said...

I see what you're saying, but I don't think the comparison with a history book is fair. Your average history textbook doesn't claim divine inspiration. Infallibility is one thing, but a book that claims divine inspiration and also displays clearly contradictory messages is another. If it was divinely inspired would a god that is looking out for our best interests allow such a thing? Thoughts?

daniel the smith said...

"Inspired" is a pretty vague term. Does the bible reach the level of "so masterful it must have been done by a deity"? No way, and it's not clear that such a thing is even logically possible.

If you believe in that kind inspiration, where a deity is making people write exactly what the deity wants to say-- then you have a host of logical issues, like said deity would have to keep the text exactly correct throughout the course of history, and when translated into other languages, etc., or why bother to get it perfect in the first place? That path is the way of KJV-onlyism, a position that is clearly out of sync with reality.

But it could be argued that it reaches the level of "written by people that encountered a deity, then stuff got tacked on to make it sound more authoritative". I don't think it passes that threshold any more, but someone who did (like my former self) would have no problem with a mistake here and there.

Of course, at that point, when you're the one deciding what is actually accurate and what isn't, the bible isn't much of a holy book any more. But I think that's still superior to what fundamentalists do-- which is essentially the same thing (pick which parts are important to you), just without the honesty.

Tony Carlson said...

Yeah, I get what you're saying. I guess I just feel like a history book claims to be a history book and if a book claims to be something more then it deserves to be held to higher standards.

For instance, you have things like 2 Timothy 3:16. I have always wondered just what "scripture" constitutes exactly, but still if it makes a claim like that then I think it's subject to even more criticism. If it fails the test even more dramatically under that scrutiny then it's even more reason to file it under "Ancient Mythical Writings".

daniel the smith said...

I think many books in the bible don't themselves claim to be more than history. E.g., Acts, Kings-Chronicles, Genesis-Judges. It's not their fault that they got lumped in with 2 Timothy by a council hundreds to thousands of years after they were written. The 66 book collection is fairly arbitrary; it's not rationally fair for me to hold the book of Joshua to the standard set forth in Timothy, even if many Christians themselves claim it applies.

(This is the "Least Convenient World" principle: it's not enough to defeat an argument, you must slay the scariest beast that could possibly be raised from its corpse. I will probably be getting to that in my "rationality" series at some point.)

Tony Carlson said...

Ok, that I definitely do agree with. It gets kind of bizarre and difficult to figure out when you're dealing with everyone's varied ideas of what the bible is though.