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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Science & Religion

I heard a radio program that disclosed the shocking fact that Darwin was religious. I read Harper's that 44% of Americans still believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. I'd like to make a few observations.

Cosmology & Evolution Don't Matter

I just feel the need to point out that cosmology & evolution are really very esoteric studies that don't effect our lives. Did you know that based on the background radiation (which is equivalent to 4 degrees Rankine) the universe is 4.2 billion years old, while geologists using carbon dating put our planet at 4.5 billion years? No? Well, that's because it is just silly nonsense and isn't true. But, note that it wouldn't change your life or conflict your personal observation one bit if it was true.

These studies are not like denying global warming, or claiming vaccines cause autism, or thinking it will improve your son's behavior if you apply a shock to his head. They are also relatively speculative studies, particularly big bang beginning of the universe, multiple dimensions expanding out from a singularity stuff. So, I wish we would remember that in shaking our heads about how stupid the 44% of Americans are that have failed to memorize a particular set of facts about which most of us know nothing either.

Literalists Can Be Evolutionists

Look, you can believe in an infallible God who wrote every word in the Bible and that the intended meaning of every word written there is absolutely infallibly true and still accept evolution as the best explanation of the origin of species. How? Well, you would believe that the intention of the creation stories was not to provide a scientific explanation of how the world was created, but why the world was created. You would believe that God intended what I believe the ancient story tellers intended. I think whether these words were written by God or ancient Hebrews it is plain on the face of the stories that they are not scientific or historic. For one thing, it would be peculiar for God to write a story and give it to people to answer a question they would not ask for almost two-thousand years.

The only thing you can't believe, and still accept evolution is that the story that God (or the ancient Hebrews for that matter) wrote in the Bible is intended to explain how the universe was constructed. Here's the thing with that, though, regardless of evolution, if that was the intention of the author, the author failed! Remember this part:
6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.
This reflected the cosmology at the time of the ancient Hebrews, but it is wrong. There is no water above the expanse. There is space above the expanse. Also, there is not water under the dry land, there is rock and molten rock, and an iron core and so on.

So, the only way to find a conflict between the relatively speculative and esoteric modern scientific pursuits of cosmology & evolution and the creation stories in the Bible is to interpret the stories in the Bible in such a way that the stories are indisputably false. Forget about denying evolution. You have to believe that the expanse is holding back water. 44% of Americans do not believe that.

6 comments:

Matt Dick said...

I think another way to get at what you're asking here is this way: people who pray for Terry Schiavo to wake up do not pray for a severed leg to grow back. Why?

The answer is that, while critical anatomy is missing in both cases, people don't always hold in their head, at all times, those things that they know. And this compartmentalization is critical for getting through our day.

So when you ask someone if the expanse is holding back water, they say no. The atmosphere, the Earth, the images of space and the moon and the solar system are just too immediate to be compartmentalized. But when you ask someone how old the Earth is... well 10,000 years and 4.2 billion years are both close enough to infinity (meaning out of site and out of immediate experience enough, like the brain inside the head), that it's easier to compartmentalize that knowledge, or deny it altogether and say the thing that sounds most devout to oneself.

So what do 44% of people believe? I don't know, but I suspect it's more related to not wanting to answer difficult questions than it related to a deep understanding of cosmology, or *even* a faith in the Bible as a reliable genealogical record.

JimII said...

That's a solid comparison.

With the addition, just as was the case with prayer, of my opinion that there is something there beyond the most outlandish, or supernatural, component.

I don't advocate abandoning the practice of prayer or the creation myths. I just think we need to recognize what they are good for rather than pretend they do or say something they don't.

Anonymous said...

But you have to remember that there was no rain before the flood so there was water up there. Remember He opened the window of heavens. OK, I can't back that up but have been taught it in Bible Study (Precepts with Kay Arthur). The earth was watered from below. The flood changed the whole earth.

James said...

Anon,

You write, "OK, I can't back that up but have been taught it in Bible Study (Precepts with Kay Arthur)."

I don't know if this means you recognize weakness in this argument, or if you just want to give credit to the claim's author. For purposes of my response I will assume the latter.

There are many smart people trying to hang on to a specific reading of the Bible, namely that the Bible is a historical & scientific document. The fact that they have to resort to such non-Biblical ideas to keep that idea going is should cause you to ask whether it is a legitimate reading.

Here is the question: Why do we think that the author of the Bible--even if that author is God Almighty--intended the stories in Genesis, the folktales in Judges, the story of Jonah, etc. to be read a histories or science?

Before we bend over backwards to add all sort of new details to the stories to make them match our current world, shouldn't we ponder whether we are misreading the stories.

As I wrote in the main post, I happen to believe the Bible is the product of God's people, and inspired and tremendously important book. I don't believe that God wrote the Bible in the same sense that many Christian fundamentalists do. But that does not change this particular discussion one bit. The question is what do those words on those pages mean. Is there anything, to suggest that they should be taken as history or science? My suggestion is there simply is not.

Jack Reylan said...

Carbon dating is far from accurate. It is more accurate in today's time because th eparts of it we use are almost linear, but the big assertions against religion are based on the most non-linear and hardest to judge parts. Scientists feel very nice telling you how the Atlantic was formed frm Gondwana or Pnagaeia, but they forget to tell you this is the same story as Noah, Deucalius, Utnapistus, and Atlantis, all of which are said to have occured six thousand years ago, when dragons, or dinosaurs, were recorded by men to exist. However, this mistaken carbon dating method lead them to put both events tens of millions of years ago. If they were so good, why don't they cure cancer or fix the economy or make cheap, non-polluting gasoline before they take on such big and sacred things?

JimII said...

"Carbon dating is far from accurate. It is more accurate in today's time because the parts of it we use are almost linear,"

Why are you talking about carbon dating? I mean, I think you're wrong about carbon dating, but why are you bothering with it? Do you believe there is water being held back by a firmament, and do you believe the dry land is floating on water? Because unless you do, than you have to recognize that the cosmology described in Genesis is wrong.

You are completely misreading the Sacred Scriptures. You are wasting your time trying to salvage a foolish and unproductive way to look at the Bible. For the first 2000 years after these words were written down, no one would have read them the way you are reading them. Open your eyes and read these stories for the truth within them. Find out how God's people are to relate to each other and God's creation. Stop bending heaven and earth to make the stories about something they are not.

Remember Nicodemus asking Jesus if he needed to crawl back into his mother's womb to be born again.

Seriously, stop it. Just stop it.