November 23, 2017

Mike the Geologist: Science and the Bible (Lesson 3)

Devil's Postpile National Monument, Photo by David Seibold

Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Photo by David Seibold

Science and the Bible Lesson 3
By Mike McCann

In my previous essay, I talked about how I am a methodological naturalist when it comes to doing science, and you should be too.  It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles, I do; it’s that miracles, by definition are the one-off exceptions to the rules.  If we don’t know the rules, there is really no way we would know a miracle has occurred.  The Westminster Confession, Chapter 5, says: … “God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” It’s His Ordinary Providence that provides the background so that His Special Providence can shine like precious gems displayed on a common background.

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So when we do science we look to explain the natural effects we observe by their natural causes.

Let’s take a mundane example (borrowed from Gordon Glover again).

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We observe a kettle on the stove.  Why is the water boiling?  Well, water is boiling because heat from the burner is transferred to the water raising the energy level of the individual water molecules until they overcome the latent heat of vaporization and undergo a phase change from liquid to gas.

Or…

Why is the water boiling?

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Because I want a cup of tea.

Now you will notice that neither cause is less true than the other.  One simply deals with the proximate cause; mechanical, secondary, physical, measureable.  The other deals with the ultimate, or teleological cause; meaning, purpose, reasons for existing.  The proximate cause answers the question; How?  The ultimate cause answers the question; Why?

I am going to make two assertions about the Bible here:

1. The Bible really doesn’t offer much in the way of detailed proximate causes, but

2.  It is full of statements about ultimate or teleological causes (and often collapses or subsumes the proximate into the ultimate, i.e. the biblical authors didn’t care all that much to draw a firm distinction between something they saw as a unity anyway).

Now, dear evangelical reader, if you are on board with me here you will find the rest of my arguments/essays, if not persuasive, at least worthy of consideration.  If not, then I’m just a liberal compromiser who just doesn’t take the plain meaning of scripture as the literal Word of God.

Some examples.

Why does it rain?

Rain occurs when two basic processes occur: Saturation and Coalescence. The first process happens when “invisible” moisture in the air (water vapor) is forced to condense on microscopic particles (i.e. pollen and dust) to form tiny “visible” droplets. The amount of moisture in air is also commonly reported as relative humidity; which is the percentage of the total water vapor air can hold at a particular air temperature.  Condensation then occurs when the air is cooled down to its dew point temperature, the point at which it becomes saturated. Coalescence occurs when water droplets fuse to create larger water droplets (or when water droplets freeze onto an ice crystal) which is usually the result of air turbulence which forces collisions to occur. As these larger water droplets descend, coalescence continues, so that drops become heavy enough to overcome air resistance and fall as rain.

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How are babies made?

[Insert appropriate paragraph from textbook on embryology]

How are babies made?

Psalm 139:13 (ESV) for you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

Are we created by God, or are we the result of a natural biological process?  The answer is, of course, BOTH.  One speaks to the proximate cause, the other to our ultimate cause in the purpose of God.

Also consider how you would answer the question; “How are babies made” to a small child…

Versus how that question would be answered in a medical school classroom.

One answer is “true” to a scientifically un-sophisticated audience, but that doesn’t make it less “true”, just age appropriate.  You would “accommodate” your answer to your intended audience…

Why wouldn’t God accommodate the ancient author’s technological and scientific un-sophistication and deal with them at the level they were at?  Why would anyone expect to find 21st Century level proximate causes in an ancient near-east document?  Because God is the author of scripture and He knows modern science?  Fine.  Let’s just skip the next hundred years of difficult research and look for the 31st Century science that must be in the Bible.  The secret to WARP drive must in there somewhere.  I’ll bet it’s in Leviticus 13.

One final point about Ultimate Purpose, Divine Design, and Providential Decree.  Any question about a natural phenomenon can be answered with: “Because God wills it” or “Because it is part of God’s Design”, or “Because it is included in God’s Divine Decree”.

image5OR:

Because you picked up virus…

There are many natural phenomena that science has yet to explain in terms of proximate causes, but Christians should refrain from using a “God of the Gaps” argument.  In other words, just because scientists can’t explain it doesn’t mean that God supernaturally causes it…  God-of-the-Gaps unnecessarily pits scientific discovery against God’s ultimate purposes.  It’s not only bad science… It is bad theology.

Science can’t explain away God, if God works through proximate causes to carry out His ultimate purposes.  It’s still ALL GOD !!!  The problem is that evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with truth being tentative.  We want all truth to be ultimate – absolute.  But for science, absolutism is the end of science, because it has to adapt and change to the continual discovery of new data.  In science an idea doesn’t have to be absolutely true to be useful… But in evangelical theology, tentativeness is associated with moral relativity, or post-modernism, or New Age…

Take Classical or Newtonian Physics; works well if you are not in large gravitational fields, or near the speed of light, or at sub-atomic levels.  But at cosmic scales or approaching the speed of light, time and space are relative and so we need Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  But Einstein’s theory doesn’t work at the sub-atomic level… for that we need Quantum Mechanics.  So even though physicists have to maintain contradictory theories of reality that all can’t be ABSOLUTELY TRUE… We still have some very practical technologies based on these incomplete theories of reality.

In my opinion, the Intelligent Design Movement was an attempt to move the metaphysical appreciation of God’s design in nature to an empirical one… and has ended up being a “God of the Gaps” argument.  For the Christian, God is the Ultimate Cause of everything;

Colossians 1:16  For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  17  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 

But we understand that by faith:

Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

I personally find the Anthropic Principle persuasive.  The observation that life would not be possible anywhere in the universe if the values of various physical constants differed by small amounts.

Example: If the universe expanded faster, stars could not have formed. If slower, the universe would have recollapsed. No stars means no life.  Another example: Gravity.

  • If stronger, stars would be hotter, burn up too quickly and unevenly
  • If weaker, nuclear furnace would not ignite, so no heavy elements
  • If gravity/EM was changed by 1 part in 1040, then no life-sustaining stars like our sun (a star of the right mass, color, and life cycle that, allows a planet to get close enough for liquid water; not so close that the planet phase locks; has a very stable luminosity period; etc.)

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It seems to me there are really only three choices:

  1. We are the lucky beneficiaries of amazingly fortuitous coincidences. So no big deal.
  2. There are many parallel universes, mutually inaccessible—and most are sterile. We obviously live in one of the lucky ones, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.
  3. God designed the universe for the purpose of supporting life.

I pick Number 3, but I can’t prove it scientifically.  It’s like proving your wife loves you scientifically.  Wrong category of knowledge.

• • •

Photo by David Seibold at Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    Good post Mike, especially on the inherent silliness of Intelligent Design – but I do think you call in a bit dissimilar trap right at the end: If we prove the multiverse hypothesis, it destroys your belief.

    Hanging any (ultimate teleological) belief in any natural phenomena, including the uni-/multiverse is always going to be a problematic step.

    To a dress these questions, it helps to “turn the microscope around”, ie to examine ourselves, and the origin and nature of our beliefs. What is this thing called belief? How does it relate to being? How does it relate to us both as individuals as well as societies, large and small, primitive, ancient or modern, even just anthropoid?

    • Robert F says:

      From what I understand, the mutliverse hypothesis precludes the possibility of any empirical evidence for its truth, since no information can be shared between one universe and another, and there is no causal connection between the multiple universes either; the hypothesis relies solely on speculation, and cannot be supported by observation. If I’m correct about that, how is the multiverse hypothesis not metaphysical? And isn’t the use of metaphysics in science illegitimate?

      • Eeyore says:

        isn’t the use of metaphysics in science illegitimate?

        Not if you are a reductionist materialist. Or a theist.

        MY metaphysics is OK, *yours* is trash. 🙂

    • Robert F says:

      Am I correct in thinking that if there is any causal connection between the various universes, then the multiverse speculation goes out the window, since causal relationship would mean that there is really only a single universe?

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Proof doesn’t have to utilise present causality. It might be something else (of course, speculating here, but the point is just that – what we might yet learn).

        • Robert F says:

          Since by definition the other universes can have no causal interface or overlap with our own, how could we learn anything about them? If we could learn something about them, there would be causal overlap or interface, either in the past, present or future, which would mean that they aren’t really other universes, but heretofore undiscovered regions of our own; that would not provide any evidence for the existence of multiverses.

  2. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    The rate earth/universe paradox is of course covered by a variation of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy. Because things turned out this way they had to turn out this way.

    Or as Douglas Adams brilliantly tells it –

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!'”

    • Robert F says:

      I don’t find the Anthropic Principle compelling; that it is highly unlikely that the narrow physical constants necessary for life to develop would have occurred by chance in our universe does not make it impossible that they did develop by chance. Unlikely does not equal impossible. By the same token, since the Anthropic Principle has no teeth, there is no need to conjecture a multiverse to explain it away.

  3. I don’t know what version of Intelligent Design Theory you are writing about. it definitely is NOT a “God of the gaps” argument.

    And of your three propositions, number two, the “Parallel Universe” idea, has no evidence whatsoever, just theory, wishful thinking, and speculation. Sort of like a “God of the gaps” argument, only it is “science of the gaps” instead.

    Otherwise, a well written and reasoned presentation. Good job.

    • Eeyore says:

      Sort of like a “God of the gaps” argument, only it is “science of the gaps” instead.

      I prefer the term “no-god of the gaps” myself, but you hit it spot on otherwise. 🙂

    • Robert F says:

      Not only does it have no empirical, observable evidence for its support, the multiverse hypothesis stipulates that there can be no such evidence. How can such a hypothesis be scientific? It’s really a science fiction hypothesis; or science fideism: the fact that there can be no evidence is evidence that it is true!

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Intelligent design has a god of the “causal” and “irreducible” gaps. It is pure metaphysics. Essentially, it is saying in pious terms, we cannot explain this, therefore “MAGIC!”.

      • StuartB says:

        God said it, I believe it, that’s final.

        Abracadrabra, hocus pocus, presto.

        Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Many years ago, when a post-game recreational thinking session got onto the subject of quantum physics, my Dungeonmaster made this observation:

        “Subatomic Physics crossed over into Metaphysics around 20 years ago, but nobody will admit to it.”

    • StuartB says:

      just theory, wishful thinking, and speculation

      The more I study the history of God, and especially the formulation of Israel’s deities into one deity…

      This is what the idea of God sounds like as well.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Stuart, in that vein, here is a book recommendation for you: The Role of Religion in Human Evolution, from the Paleolithic to the Axial Age; by Robert N Bellah

  4. An issue with the anthropic principle is the paucity of places where it matters – one — here. Looking at a map of the Milky Way galaxy and locating the Solar System’s general whereabouts on one of the spiral arms, and not even a major spiral at that, was extremely sobering.

    I know that from a God’s-eye view one place is as significant as another, but still, to incarnate Himself here? In this little backwater? I found an interactive map of the Milky Way that allowed me to create a colored sphere with a radius of 2000 light-years, supposing that that sphere represented the possible range of the effects of the Incarnation. After all, at the limits of that sphere, Jesus is still dying on the Cross. Then I watched that sphere disappear as I backed up into the whole galaxy. It was completely gone by the time the Magellanic Clouds were visible.

    I also have issues, albeit lesser ones, with the radio silence of the Universe. There is a major epistemological argument to made from the fact that we should be able to distinguish between the product of Intentional Mind and the random noise generated by supposedly mindless processes, and I have been waiting all my life to make it.

    It isn’t easy when mythologies clash.

    • PS – interesting that you point out that science, the investigation of natural revelation, is as apophatic in its own way as Byzantine theology. I remember puzzling out Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and getting the same uncomfortable falling feeling as when I read St Dionysius the Areopagite.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Problem with the Anthropic Principle is it’s ambiguous due to a phenomenon Carl Sagan called “fill-in-the-blank Chauvinism”.

      If the physical constants were different so that life couldn’t arise, nobody would be around to wonder about it. Therefore, our universe’s physical constants HAVE to be capable of the rise & existence of life. Or we wouldn’t be around to argue about it.

  5. Good comments so far, gentlemen. Good pushback on the multiverse, Klasie, I should probably not hang my ultimate belief on any natural phenomena. I think the puddle analogy is covered under number 1, we are here, so no big deal.
    Mule: my friend, David Heddle, a physicist at Christoper Newport University, points out some observability coincidences. Is the universe also fine-tuned for doing science? Because of accelerated expansion, we’re in an era of maximal observability. Distant galaxies will begin to “blink off”; their light will no longer be able to reach our telescopes. “This is the first time in cosmic history that light from the most distant galaxies has reached the Milky Way—G. Veneziamo, Sci. Am., May 2004”. Observability coincidence #2: Location (safe between spiral arms—away from where the density of stars would disrupt the sun’s orbit. There is also too much radiation in these areas.)
    gives us a window to the heavens. In a spiral arm, ambient interstellar dust would make it impossible to see outside the galaxy. In the bulge, there’d be no night. Observability Coincidence #3: Our moon (at this moment in history) provides for almost perfect solar eclipses. Solar eclipses provided the first test of General Relativity. Study of the chromosphere, made possible by solar eclipses, has benefited our knowledge of astrophysics. Observability Coincidence #4: The sun’s spectrum peaks near yellow. For whatever reason (design or evolution or both) our eyes are most sensitive to (near) yellow. This does not explain, however, the lucky coincidence that our atmosphere is also (narrowly) transparent—which permitted the development of science. I get what you are saying though, the sheer size of what we can observe is almost beyond comprehension. It is, and should be, humbling.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But if these Koinkydinks weren’t there, we either wouldn’t exist to write about it or wouldn’t notice that we couldn’t.

  6. >>So even though physicists have to maintain contradictory theories of reality that all can’t be ABSOLUTELY TRUE… We still have some very practical technologies based on these incomplete theories of reality.

    That’s more or less how I look at theology. The part I don’t get is how do you make a stack of dimes reaching to the moon without it tipping over?

  7. Lexiann S. says:

    Wow. Excellent piece (thanks for keeping my brain active). Such an intelligent article deserves correct grammar. Within that spirit an editorial correction suggestion… you wrote: “and deal with them at the level they were at?” should read, “and deal with them where they were.” ?? Just hate to see all that knowledge being missed because of the misuse of a preposition at the end of a sentence! Lol. Thanks for listening to someone who only know grammar & writing skills but is like a baby when it comes to cosmology & astrophysics. ??

  8. StuartB says:

    I like this line of thinking in the article, but I also kind of don’t, maybe because I’ve seen it abused. It falls sometimes into the “But God.” answer. Why is something the way it is? But God.

    IDK. Having that easy excuse of a card that things can be both something it is and something else entirely isn’t helpful. There’s obviously different ways of describing things, but I’m weary of any secret knowledge.

    Reminds me of my dispensationalist high school Bible teacher trying to explain prophesy out of Isaiah and other books. “It’s a series of mountains. You see the first mountain. But really there’s another mountain hidden that the author never saw but now of course we see…so really it’s really all about that second or third mountain. Thus Billy Graham is the False Prophet.”

    • Remember, Stuart, I said that answering any question about a natural phenomenon with: “Because God wills it” or “Because it is part of God’s Design”, or “Because it is included in God’s Divine Decree” is really no answer at all. It’s psuedo-sophisticated and psuedo-pious. I’m very comfortable with “I don’t know” for an answer. Also bear in mind my target audience; evangelicals who are trying to work through the science-faith question. I’m trying to help them stop thinking magically.

      • Pseudo-sophisticated is being a bit generous, at least. I’m not gonna say that I never say things like that (though I really lean away from sovereignty/predestination/decree terminology of the Reformed), but when I do, I must always remember to be clear that it isn’t a scientific answer. These are very important distinctions to make, and I feel like I can see them more clearly now. Thanks!

        And while we obviously don’t want to preach a “science of the gaps” theory, it is legitimate to always follow “we don’t know” with the word “yet.”

      • StuartB says:

        Fair point, Mike, thanks!

    • I always feel like my upbringing had strong fundamentalist undercurrents to it until I learn more about your story. That’s some crazy stuff you’ve endured over the years. It’s a wonder you’re hanging onto the faith at all.

      Try not to sacrifice Jesus on the altar of religious culture. Remember, for every insanity you’ve endured, there’s a legitimate form of Christianity out that that is its antithesis, and several in between on the spectrum.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Well said.

        • StuartB says:

          there’s a legitimate form of Christianity out that that is its antithesis

          I agree, and that’s part of the problem. Because when I pursue those, they are called emergent, liberal, ‘why do you even still believe’, etc.

          I mean, can you get any more legitimate or authentic than some of the mainlines?

          • I think one takes one’s faith where one can get it. Even it if looks funny or incomplete.

            Then of course, it is good to ask for more.

          • You get called those things usually by the representatives of the toxic fundamentalism you’re leaving behind, so consider the source and don’t take it to heart.

            I imagine the mainlines are wonderful places to detox from the kind of religion of your past. I nearly went with the Episcopal church. Too bad they weren’t hiring.

            Have you checked out the United Church of Christ? They’re about as progressive as it gets. You can pray to “Our Father-Mother in heaven,” etc… Not that I would ever seriously consider their church for myself, but they’re kind of a hybrid of liberal Lutheranism and Presbyterianism, so it’s kind of a broad tent under which it might be easy to get comfortable.

          • Danielle says:

            “Why do you even still believe”

            Ugh … This is my least favorite manipulation. It simultaneously questions the faith and love a person has, turns them into a weapon to be deployed against him, and tosses whatever insecurities or weaknesses he perceives in himself up in his face.

            Regarding the mainline, it can be a good space to go if you want to be able to participate and practice without anyone bearing down on you. In my first years out of evangelicalism I benefited greatly from the hospitality of Episcopal church and the United Methodists. I’m still in the mainline.

            “I lean heavily on the faith of others, Bono in particular.”

            I think this is a good thing. Shouldn’t people be able to lean on each other? And if someone can say something that is gracious for you, why not accept it for the gift it is.

      • StuartB says:

        I don’t know honestly if I am hanging on to faith as much as well-worn habits and patterns of thought and practice. I lean heavily on the faith of others, Bono in particular.

        It perplexes me. The more I cut God, Christianity, faith, church, whatever out of my life, the happier healthier and better I am. Why did I have to lose my faith to drop 50 lbs? Why did I have to quit church to believe I’m actually knowledgeable in my profession? Why do I have to hang around atheists and agnostics to have any sense of self-worth and the faith I can improve myself?

        I think a lot of it goes back to fundamentalism/traditionalism. Plus the lack of any type of self-care in Christianity. The goal is to tear you down as low as you can go and build you back up in another person’s image, not to improve your own life. Maybe the moralistic therapeutic deism crowd just wants to be healthy and happy; I need that.

        I was talking to my mom the other day about how religion kills the light in people’s eyes. You see it over and over in newer converts. Where before they could be happy, or even depressed, but still be themselves…they convert, and everything becomes false and artificial. Their true self is killed, replaced by something else. Perhaps all possession is ‘demonic’.

        • Yeah…I think there are other kinds of faith that have the more desirable effect. I have certainly experienced a renewal of life through a renewal of faith.

          toxic religiosity does not equal faith.

        • Stuart
          For about 8 years I threw faith out.
          I had come out of a fundamentalist background, strong young earth crowd. Then I did a science degree. That caused me to throw most of my faith out. Not the science, mind you, but the fact that my faith had been so tied to what was then called Scientific Creationism. My logic was if the church lied about science what else did they lie about?

          It was if I threw all my furniture out on the lawn and lived in a stripped down apartment. Every once in a while I would find something on the lawn and say ‘I think I know where that should go’.I guess at that time I also learned in some sense I have to own my faith. There are lots of groups around that just don’t have either healthy theology or anthropology. So I had to do a lot of work processing and figuring out what my faith was to look like.

          For me it meant I could not do the fundamentalist thing (Olson has a helpful article here on what fundamentalism is: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/02/what-is-fundamentalism-and-who-is-a-fundamentalist/)

          I finally landed among the mainlines where I have found a more thoughtful expression. Looking back I guess I would say don’t let the stuff that is toxic to you finish you off.

          A life lived in Christ is worth pursuing, in fact I am more authentically myself because of it.

          blessings on you

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That’s some crazy stuff you’ve endured over the years. It’s a wonder you’re hanging onto the faith at all.

        There’s a lot of Crazy Stuff out there in general.

        “Insanity is part of these times — You Must Learn to EMBRACE THE MADNESS!”
        — Ambassador Londo Mollari, Babylon-5

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Reminds me of my dispensationalist high school Bible teacher trying to explain prophesy out of Isaiah and other books. “It’s a series of mountains. You see the first mountain. But really there’s another mountain hidden that the author never saw but now of course we see…so really it’s really all about that second or third mountain. Thus Billy Graham is the False Prophet.”

      That reminds me of a preacher I heard one Sunday in my college days. Guy had shaggy dark hair, dark beard, and a REAL LOUD VOICE. Always had a Bible in his hand for references.

      The sermon was on the Book of Revelation (itself a warning sign in that heyday of Hal Lindsay), specifically the early chapters about the “Nicolaitans”. And he fixated on the Nicolaitans, going off into a long chain of logic and SCRIPTURE that started with Greek having two words for “Priest” (“presbyteros” and “ecclesiastica”) and ending half an hour later with PROOF that Catholics Worship Satan. Made sense as long as you were listening to him, but after the service you realized it made as much sense as the Underpants Gnomes’ business plan. (At least it did to me; I’m really worried about those for whom it made sense from then on.)

      The real kicker is at the time I knew a completely-secular intellectual snob in D&D fandom who could have been this guy’s twin — same hair, same beard, similar voice, and “I Am Right” overbearing attitude. Only difference was the secular one always had a pocket calculator in his hand to PROVE it Mathematically (guy had a Masters in math from Berkeley) instead of a Bible to PROVE from SCRIPTURE. Weird synchronicity.

  9. Christiane says:

    ” . . . the plain meaning of scripture as the literal Word of God.”

    how this misses so much of the beauty of the poetry of sacred Scripture . . . that word ‘literal’ together with the phrase ‘the plain meaning’ is how folks end up with sentences like ‘The Bible clearly says . . . ‘

    well, if people READ the story of how Our Lord, after His Resurrection, encountered two followers on a road, and walked with them for a while . . . in that account, Our Lord ‘opened their minds’ to the meaning of Scripture . . .
    and IF He needed to do that for them, then maybe sacred Scripture must be read through the mind and heart of Christ for us to be opened to it at all

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      I love Fr. Stephen Freeman’s take on this: Nothing is literal, not even the shape of the letters used to form the words and sentences, all of which echo back to pictures of birds, oxen, or fish. Everything points beyond itself to something deeper and more transformative.

      And the transformation is not particularly a moral transformation. Morally, I’m kind of an atavistic brute compared to most of you on this board, yet this transformation is underway in me as well as it is discernible in many who are my polar opposites.

      • StuartB says:

        I agree with Fr Stephen Freeman. But good luck getting a lot of people there.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        That is some thorough Platonism there.

        • You say that like its a bad thing.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            I am a respectful opponent. If we are going to use Greek philosphers, count me with Democritus, Epicurus and Zeno of Elea. I do admire the Stoics somewhat (the other Zeno), although they have far too much mystical nonsense stirred in…

    • “how this misses so much of the beauty of the poetry of sacred Scripture . . . that word ‘literal’ together with the phrase ‘the plain meaning’ is how folks end up with sentences like ‘The Bible clearly says . . . ‘”

      Christiane, this is quite true, but much of what we might consider poetic, the original audience probably understood as ‘literal’ and the ‘plain meaning’ of the text (e.g. ‘storehouses’ of snow and hail in Job, ‘pillars’ on which the land sits in Ps. 75). Scripture spoke originally to people with a different worldview (an unscientific one) in their ‘language’. Failing to recognize ancient worldviews, customs, culture, and values is at the heart of the problem with YEC and other pseudo-scientific approaches to the Bible (as well as a lot of confusion over moral and even theological issues).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      ” . . . the plain meaning of scripture as the literal Word of God.”

      Being immersed in The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay gives “the plain meaning of Scripture as the literal Word of God” a whole new dimension…

      Like all the plagues of Revelation “plainly” being John trying to describe the Effects of Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War. Of the Plague of Demon Locusts “plainly” being helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapons (the stings) and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies. (And Chairman Mao’s brag of the time that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army numbered 200 million didn’t help.)

      Result: a lot of skepticism about any “plain meaning of Scripture”.

  10. Why would anyone expect to find 21st Century level proximate causes in an ancient near-east document?

    Indeed, why should you?

    Sincerely,
    Movement Atheist

    • Most of global Christianity doesn’t.

      • StuartB says:

        Keyword is global. There are degrees, unfortunately. One example would be the widespread acceptance of Left Behind type theology, and it’s influence on national foreign policy.

    • StuartB says:

      Because faith is weird, J. People want to believe something deeply. They don’t like change. Look at the rabid fights amongst Dawkins supporters and opponents when their hero changes before their eyes for one example.

  11. That Other Jean says:

    Ummmm, Mike? A fair amount of the science in your excellent article is beyond my history-major self, but I am sure that the difference between the 21st Century and the 31st is a thousand years, not a hundred. Fix that? Or did I miss something?

  12. Mike, just a quick note to say how much I am enjoying this series. Your thoughts are well reasoned and compelling. My internal terminal contrarian is getting very antsy over the lack of anything for me to take issue with so far.

    Your conclusion to this post is especially spot on, IMO.

    • Aha, I figured out what I’m missing here: I’m still waiting for you to discuss how we navigate tensions and seemingly contrary claims between different fields of knowledge, especially science and theology. I’m guessing we’ll be getting to that not too far down the series?

    • Rick Ro. says:

      +1

  13. That Other Jean says:

    If I understand your alternate explanations for “Why is the water boiling?” correctly, you agree with the late (and much lamented) Stephen Jay Gould’s proposal of “non-overlapping magisteria,” which suggests that both explanations are true, one having to do with the “how” explained by science, and the other, “why” in terms of value and purpose–in other words, theology. These explanations don’t necessarily overlap, although you, Mike, accept some overlap in the idea that God may perform miracles. Do I have this right? It’s an idea that has made sense to me since I first read whichever of Gould’s books that explained it.

    • Yes, I think you have it right. Bear in mind I’m trying to simplify for the sake of my target audience. I do mostly agree with SJG’s NOMA. However, he was an atheist and so for him miracles were impossible, they just didn’t happen, and any explanation was preferable. C.S Lewis said: “It is therefore inaccurate to define a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t…If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter He has created a new situation at that point. Immediately all Nature domiciles this new situation, makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it.” (CS Lewis in Miracles, p. 94). I agree with Lewis.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When Gould died in 2002, he sure wasn’t “lamented” among a lot of Christians. I remember some getting real gloating and triumphally nasty in their reactions. Similar to some of their reactions to the death of Gary Gygax.

      • That Other Jean says:

        And in neither case did the gloating or triumphalism make any sense at all. One was a scientist, the other a game designer; neither was an actual threat to Christianity.

  14. StuartB says:

    Off Topic – has anyone in history given much thought to Jesus’ appearance to Saul/Paul as a return to this earth? Like, have people thought he bodily appeared, as opposed to just some vision?

    Related…so interesting that Paul had arguably the only visitation/manifestation of Jesus post-Ascension. Arguably the only, some would say probably.

    • Robert F says:

      Happy Ascension Day to you, Stuart.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Off Topic – has anyone in history given much thought to Jesus’ appearance to Saul/Paul as a return to this earth? Like, have people thought he bodily appeared, as opposed to just some vision?

      Maybe THAT was The Rapture(TM)…