Sunday, January 19, 2020

Genesis, Evolution, and Entrenched Battle-Lines

This continues a conversation with long-time friend Joe H, responding to his blog entry "Genesis, Evolution, and the Flood". For this post I'm sticking with the first few chapters of Genesis. I know that the same conversation needs to happen about the flood, but I expect that will only work after the groundwork has been done on the earlier material.

Sorry to rudely awaken some (no not you Anne) but denying evolution is no longer an option for apologists. Moreover,this realization  is about 50 years behind the times. Many christians have a barrage, an array of anti-evolutionary arguments, they are wasting their time.No one listens, you can think it's so well  documented and rationalize about the scientific knowledge  of hydraulic  engineers and reflect upon how all non Christians and many Christians are just ignoring the truth, that wont make them listen. You are on;y ranking yourself among flat earthers. Such apologists are not making strong bold proclamations of God's word the are making God's word look silly.

Hey Joe. You can get frustrated with people who "are making God's word look silly" all day. But when it comes to what makes people listen, that's a two-way street. I'm hearing a lot of frustration and anger and I understand it; being stuck in that conversation interferes with your own progress in discussions with other people, having to always be about those same old battle-lines. I know you've done a lot of work on other areas in theology and apologetics and epistemology, some of it ground-breaking stuff, and it's got to be frustrating beyond words to have an atheist not take your work seriously because he just talked to an internet troll who thinks the world is 6000 years old. But if the message to YEC's is "you guys are behind the times" then "that won't make them listen". People don't generally change their views unless they see a better one, and better is defined by what matters to them.

Here's one thing that the pro-evolution religious discussion has been missing: a clear answer to where that leaves all the worldview that's built on the creation section of Genesis. Here are some parts of the worldview based on the creation section of Genesis, that people are concerned they'd lose:
  • creation is good and orderly
  • creation reflects God's goodness and ability to create beauty and order from chaos
  • creation is beloved by the one who made it
  • God gives people respect and kindness as birthrights (grounded in grace)
  • God's intentions for humanity are compassionate - from wanting us to have a companion in life to the gift of clothing for maintaining dignity in a fallen state
  • God's intentions for humanity are benevolent: the first word God speaks to people is a blessing
  • God gives Eden as the model for the world, & we were to fill the rest of the earth accordingly (world-wide paradise with humanity as benevolent rulers/stewards of it)
  • God's first command to us shows benevolence and is a blessing; it's the basis for understanding the intent of all commandments as blessing
  • God was present and in-relationship with people from the beginning
  • that relationship was broken by us, contrary to God's intent; now God intends reconciliation
  • the inherent problem with morality and moralizing is that humanity was first interested in it to gain status, and its next use was to pass blame. It's been tainted ever since. 
  • there is intentional evil in the world that includes manipulation, deception, creating division, and maneuvering for status at someone else's expense

I've seen some people say that you can still get all that from Genesis even if you think it's a myth. But that's not a convincing thing to say; claiming it's true doesn't make it plausible. There are unanswered questions about willingly embracing a myth, and those are part of the work that needs to be done to persuade people that it's a better view.
  • Once you classify something as "myth", what is the rationale for taking it seriously? 
  • Once you classify something as "myth", doesn't integrity demand an intellectual separation of sorts, an arm's-length dissociation from whether we let it inform our viewpoint?
  • What makes the Hebrew myth cycle a better basis for a worldview than the Greek or Norse ones? 
  • To what extent can we be convinced that those worldview-points (above) are true in the sense of "related to the real world" if the genre is myth? 
  • Do we believe that God was involved in the development of the myth? 
These are not arguing-questions or rhetorical questions; I see them as to-do-list questions of things that need to be articulated well, clearly, convincingly before Christianity can regain a more widespread consensus. Right now the consensus of the pro-evolution side hasn't taken those questions seriously because those questions haven't really mattered to the pro-evolution side. But they do matter to the other side.

There's a point that I want to ensure doesn't get lost: for many YEC's, the debate in their heads is often not between YEC and a retooled Christianity; it's between YEC and atheism. If you don't believe that, think hard about how many of the atheist online trolls are former fundamentalists, and I'll say it again: the debate in their heads is often not between YEC and retooled Christianity; it's between YEC and atheism. Retooled Christianity assumes it's the default winner in their heads if only they adopt evolution; often it's not. If we approach the conversation with the viewpoint that all they have to do is accept evolution and they'll retool their Christianity, I'll say that's not generally how I've seen it work. Part of the issue is the "entrenched battle line" problem where they're sure that hill is worth dying on. Part of the issue is that modern retoolings of Christianity generally don't make a positive case for themselves but assume themselves to be the default winner of persuading someone about evolution, though in the other person's head the default winner may be the nearest exit. Many don't see that revised Christianity has kept enough for them to buy into it; or in some cases there's doubt that revised Christianity has kept it honestly enough, with the questions answered and the intellectual groundwork laid. It hasn't earned consensus status but claims it by default; not everybody buys that default. That's why it's so important in my view to do the groundwork and answer the questions honestly and clearly.

Joe, in linked post:
Atheists are trying to use evolution as disprove God but it's not going to change their minds to try and debunk evolution. That will only result  in making   up their minds even more. We have to undermine their view by showing it  up; it can't disprove God for God to have used evolution.
I agree with that so thoroughly. And what if the same approach you take with atheists may be the approach that would be helpful with fundamentalists? Going about the argument by trying to debunk something they cherish will not change their minds but will only make them dig deeper trenches. The way to replace their view is by giving them a better one. Which begins with having a better one -- defining "better" in the ways that that matter to them.

So what's a mythologized Eve got that Pandora doesn't?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Words of fellowship

I've spent a lot of years using words. Here I consider some of the best things I've seen done with them. On the whole, a useful and beneficial human undertaking will gather people together; may my conversation be useful and beneficial. And the best words in my day may be ones that I hear, instead of ones that I speak.
  • Listening builds a bridge to another soul, and
  • Understanding turns a stranger into a friend
  • An open heart sets the table where we gather, and
  • Fellowship blesses the feast

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord. (Psalm 19:14)

Sunday, January 05, 2020

History, Myth, and Genesis' "Page One" Problem

This continues a conversation from last weekend with Joe aka Metacrock, including material in both the post and the follow-up in the comments section. I know that this topic can draw people who either advocate their position very intensely or word things very ambiguously. I'm hoping that this is both a "no-BS zone" and a "no flames zone".

Recap of where we left things last week
Anne K: The ultimate question in my mind is: What is the most honest and satisfying position on the "Page One of Genesis" problem, and is there a position that deserves / earns a consensus among Christians? For what I wrote in my original post and what I'm writing here in the comment thread, that is ultimately the purpose and context.

Joe H: Being honest and up front about what seems true. I have studied volition that seems true. What seems untrue is a literal interpretation of Genesis because it rules out scientific truth,ig taken literally.
Also from Joe, with the two different quotes being on the same topic from different points in the comment section: 
Joe: Let me ask you this,if these sophistical aspects proved to be unhistorical would that destroy all of Christianity?
If any major point could be proven facile,such as no six dray creation? no Adam and Eve no garden. This is theoretical.  

New Conversation 

In keeping with this being a no-BS conversation with an old friend: I have to admit to not being directly invested in the historicity of much outside the four gospels. (That's not my last word on it, but the points are made in a certain order.) To clarify: I don't assume everything else is false, I just find it less directly relevant to me. For example, I'm reasonably sure Abraham was a real person who had sons who had a significant place in the history of religion and, through that, in the history of the world. Still, even if we assume that the events of Abraham's life happened more or less as recorded in Genesis, I'm not sure how much the details matter to me outside of the fact that eventually Jesus came from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

So why would I advocate for the historicity of more things besides the four gospels? First of all because there are solid reasons to believe there is genuine history recorded there. To be clear, if I didn't think anything else was historical, I'd have gotten myself one of the Gideon's Bibles that basically whittles down the Old Testament to the book of Psalms. (And bonus points if I could find a version that skipped Psalm 137, seriously.)

Given that I think there's real history to be found there, there are parts that become relevant. Sticking with the example of the life of Abraham as mentioned before: it does show God's faithfulness, God's providence, and God's continuing relational presence with his people. It does show that God didn't metaphorically wake up one day and decide to send Jesus after neglecting the planet for all the ages of the world til then. God's continuing presence in the world and compassion for the world are important points, and we have historical reason enough for me to find it likely that it actually happened. Coming back to the prior point: Abraham may not be relevant to me apart from Jesus, but through Jesus it becomes part of the history of how God interacts with the world. So the life of Abraham has more importance than I'd otherwise give to the life of someone who lived not-quite-4000 years ago, rounding up to the next whole millennium.

I think that's enough for one installment. So Joe, if this is to be a conversation -- a two-way street -- I'd like to hear your thoughts on some things:
  • In the books of the Bible that are traditionally understood to have historical content, what are your thoughts about which parts of the Bible are historical or are not historical?
  • Let's assume for the discussion that the content of revelation is God's presence with us and for us -- really, literally, you and me and the rest of us, in the world where we live.  If "God's presence with us" is the content, then how well does the "event model" of revelation/inspiration mediate that specific message of God's presence with us in our world? (For anyone reading along, Joe has recapped several different views of inspiration, and the "event model" is one of several different-yet-compatible, complementary understandings of how God communicates with us. The "event model" is roughly how God communicates with us by events: by taking historical action in the real world.) 
  • When you say that the Bible contains mythical material that is not historical (e.g. you floated maybe Adam and Eve and the garden), it sounds like there would have to be an element of make-believe at some level in crafting a story and adopting a story, e.g. talking snakes and specific conversations that are part of that account of the fall. What are your thoughts on that, on the relationship of myth and make-believe and revelation?  

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best of the Blogroll 2019

As is the New Year's custom for this blog, I'd like to ring out the old year by celebrating the bloggers on the blogroll by highlighting a worthy post that may deserve a second read:
Thank you to all of you for blogging!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Interacting with other bloggers: Mythology and Genesis

In keeping with my current intentions to interact with other bloggers more often, I'd like to continue a conversation started by Joe "Metacrock" over at his personal blog on the topic of mythology in the Bible.

We live in a world in which many people who are new to the Bible simply cannot get past the first page. Someone who picks up their first Bible and reads about a seven-day creation is likely to put down the book and not look back. Against this background, Joe aka Metacrock writes about the mythological view of the earlier parts of the Bible. I believe he does a good job of introducing the view and showing how the problem is generally understood by people who share his view. However, it would not successfully persuade people who did not already share the view. (This is not a criticism; I don't believe his linked post is meant to persuade that audience.)

I'm writing this post to see if it's possible to move the conversation forward. With that in mind, I've pulled a few quotes from Meta's post and organized them under different headings according to the way they're likely to be heard by people who do not share his view. The table below shows contrasting quotes from Meta's piece, emphasis added (and column headers added).

Why "myth" doesn't mean what you thinkWhy "myth" means exactly what you think
This is a difficult concept for most Christians to grasp, because most of us are taught that "myth" means a lie, that it's a dirty word, an insult, and that it is really debunking the Bible or rejecting it as God's word.The point of the myth is the point the story is making--not the literal historical events of the story. So the point of mythologizing creation is not to transmit historical events but to make a point.
"Myth" does not mean lie; it does not mean something that is necessarily untrue. It is a literary genrea way of telling a story. The mythological elements are more common in the early books of the Bible. The material becomes more historical as we go along.

In the left column, there are some quotes in which Meta explains the problem as he sees it: to sum up, why "myth" doesn't mean what most people might think. In my experience, Meta's identification of the problem is mainstream for those who share his view: when it comes to Genesis' "page one" problem, any issue with the "myth" resolution is charged to faulty education about what "myth" means, which in turn causes many misinformed people to have difficulty in grasping the concept. We'll come back to that after a moment; we need a few more pieces on the table before that will be productive.

In the right column, there are some quotes in which Meta rolls out the solution from his point-of-view: as he explains why "myth" doesn't mean untrue, he consistently contrasts myth with "historical" as its rhetorical opposite. So the left column develops the theme "myth doesn't mean untrue", while the right column develops the theme "myth means non-historical". The word "myth" is not used simply to designate a literary genre or a way of telling a story, but to reclassify it as something that is designed "not to transmit historical events".

The most significant problem is unacknowledged: the other side of the discussion (argument, flame-war, call it what you will) sees "historical truth" as the category of truth that is in question. In that context, "non-historical" and "false" are functionally equivalent. So long as that point is left unaddressed, the discussion can go nowhere. As long as we stay there we're at an impasse, and what brought us to that point is likely to be seen as double-talk. Those in the historical-Genesis camp see whole "myth" line of argument as something of a bait-and-switch, where "truth" means something different at the end than it did at the start. In that context, calling it a difference in genre can come across as obfuscating the key point, and claiming that anyone who disagrees must not understand literary genres generally comes across as insulting and changing the subject, as well as a power play. At which point the flame war generally spirals, and the impasse remains. In the meantime, those underlying issues go unaddressed.

There is another unacknowledged problem that I mentioned before, and will return to now: in the "myth" resolution, the "myth" camp generally insists that the uneducated masses don't understand their point. The problem seems to me much the opposite: the other side of the debate understands exactly what the "myth" camp is saying, has said so repeatedly, and is tired of being insulted for it. The "myth" camp seems to think that the "historical" camp is holding out because they don't understand what's being said about "myth". In my experience they're holding out because they do understand. The "myth" resolution means ceding the historical reality of the parts in question. This is only half the perceived problem; the "myth" resolution also means the "myth" camp openly welcomes elements or narratives that they do not believe to be anchored in objective reality; it comes across as willingly adopting an element of make-believe into the faith of those who embrace "myth".

I typically see a certain red herring about this point in the conversation, so I'd like to mention it now. It's mistaken to assume that the "historical" camp consists entirely of the fundamentalist-literalist, ever-popular straw-man and scape-goat. The "historical" camp, like the "myth" camp, has people at different points along a spectrum, and includes people who believe some accounts may be historical in general outline, even with reservations about the accuracy on specific points. (For a case-in-point, see my previous post on the historicity of Abraham, re-posted here in 2006 and originally posted at Cadre Comments back in 2005.) Some people seem puzzled why there are those who follow Biblical archeology as if it's relevant; yet to many people it is relevant. I expect that most peoples' beliefs about history are informed by historical findings. So there are those who are interested in the question of whether Abraham's tomb actually contains the remains of a historical Abraham, or how goes the line of inquiry into whether the exodus was historical. The "myth" argument by definition has no loose ends and can never be proved or disproved, but that comes at a high price tag for whether there are human connections in the real world. I find myself wondering (speaking to Joe in particular here) whether Koester or others would make an argument that Abraham or the exodus were history-making, and what is the state of thinking on whether something non-historical can be history-making.

So within that spectrum of people who are interested in the history of it all, the "historical" camp sees a vast difference between believing a historical account in its general outline (allowing reservations on various details), and another thing to openly promote believing in a myth. The "historical" camp may see it more like this: to embrace believing in mythological material puts the whole premise of Christianity on questionable ground. It also risks Christianity's applicability to the non-mythical world. It's generally not the case that the "historical" camp doesn't understand what "myth" means or is somehow unaware of Genesis' "page one" problem; it's more of an awareness that the "myth" resolution is in some ways unsatisfying and problematic in its own right.

I believe it's important for Christians to keep moving the conversation forward rather than being stuck at an impasse. While for my own part I don't generally spend much time worrying about Genesis' "page one" problem, there are those who are deeply bothered by it. For my own part, I'm generally more bothered by the way we attack each other over it. But I'm hopeful for a quality conversation with Metacrock, and also would invite responses and thoughts from anyone who is mindful of the body of Christ.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Spiritual Friendship

I've been making an effort lately to participate more in the on-line Christian blogger community as community. So The Pocket Scroll's current piece on Spiritual Friendship drew my attention. (That's part 3 in a series; see also part 1 here and part 2 here.)

Friendship is closely related to fellowship, and a topic that is deserving of our attention.

Friendship is from the beginning a cease-fire zone for life's battles, a peaceful place where a meaningful connection can grow. In some ways, friendship is a mutual non-judgment pact: a friend does not seek to find fault in their friends, and is slow to believe the worst of them. A friend does not expect to control the other (e.g. how the other one eats or dresses or talks), and does not seek to change the other person into their own image. There is generally a spark of warmth as each person recognizes the value of the other.

Friends generally share an interest of some kind which can provide the content of their shared talk and actions. For a spiritual friendship, I would not see that as limited to the narrow sense of spirituality such as sharing an interest in theology or Biblical studies. I see spiritual friendships as covering any human ground in a spiritual way; it could revolve around gardening or woodworking, art or music which touch on beauty, which in turn communicate holiness.

As a case in point consider the Inklings, an author's club that included both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, which was a treasured spiritual friendship. The profoundness of that spiritual friendship -- two men, cultivating a deep and meaningful spiritual bond -- sent a wave of beauty and friendship throughout the world through the writings that they each produced. It is not clear to me whether either of those men could have become what they were alone, without their shared friendship. Together, they strengthened each other, deepened each others' thoughts, warmed each others' souls.

In many fields, the world's greats do not emerge alone. In chess, what would Bobby Fischer have been without his arch-rival Boris Spassky, spurring him on to greater heights? In tennis, is it likely that the Williams sisters would emerge without each other, or was their bond a genuine contributing cause of their excellence? No matter what our gift in life, we will not reach our own heights or fulfill our own purpose alone.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Unless the Father Draws Them" --

I've recently begun reading Theology Pathfinder, and what I've seen so far indicates an insightful and edifying writer. I wanted to add a comment on the recent(ish) post on election, "No One Can Come to Jesus Unless the Father Draws Them: Two Views on election in John 6". While I'd recommend reading the original post, I'll sum up for those who don't have the time right now: the two views presented are Calvinism's irresistible grace, or limiting the scope to Jesus' immediate contemporaries: drawing then-faithful Jews to the Messiah. As with any summary, that has of necessity lost all the supporting detail so again I'd recommend at least browsing the original.

I wanted to follow up by describing another view, beginning with a quote that Mr DeMars mentions in support of the second view:
It is written in the Prophets: "And they will all be taught by God." Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:45)
As he notes, this is Jesus' own continuation of the comment that no one can come to him unless the Father draws them, explaining what he means by that. Jesus informs us about the scope of who is drawn: all are taught by God. This is promise is not limited to Jews who were contemporaries of Jesus in the first century. It is a promise for all in the Messianic age. It is one of the crowning blessings of the Messianic age, and (original setting, Isaiah 54) is about a restored relationship with God that is cause for rejoicing, and will bring people together in peace.

Jesus also explains to us how God chooses to draw us: God draws us by teaching us. It is unfortunate that the modern experience of school -- of being taught -- is so often boring and (too often) irrelevant. But still some of us may relate to the experience of a teacher who understood us, recognized us, valued us, made sure we didn't fall behind. We may remember a teacher who valued the lessons, loved knowledge and wisdom, and whose enthusiasm passed along the value of what was loved. It is a joyful thing to be taught by God, something that adds depth to our days, wisdom to our lives. There are passages of Scripture where we can see delight in God's wisdom, or in our daily lives we can see how sticking tight to God's teachings is a shield against so many harms. God's wisdom crowns people with integrity and righteousness. In that vein, I read that everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to him.