Sunday, January 26, 2020

What's Eve got? (Conversation continued)

Thank you for all the comments and insightful thoughts on the previous post. I'm trying to figure out the best way to move the conversation forward. So I'll take a few things that I think are great starting points, in the order in which the comments came in:

Joe: You are sort of approaching it like a public relations issue. I am not concerned with convincing YEC's. I guess feel like they are hopelessly committed to not thinking ... Apologists are opinion leads.
You see apologists as thought leaders or opinion leaders ... that's a good place to start. In my experience, apologists are an interesting mix but some of them are thinkers and even a few may be thought-leaders or opinion leaders. The difference between being a thinker and being a thought-leader is the "leader" part. "Leader" means doing the work of leading other people, call it "public relations" if you will. For my own part, I see much of it as an "intellectual integrity" issue: for a view to claim to be the best it needs to have honest, straightforward answers for honest, straightforward questions. A view won't gain ground by belittling the questioner especially if the question deserves an answer on its own merits. Some apologists will learn to present their views in ways that are more readily understood; that rarely happens on the first try. Those who actually do the work there will emerge as the leaders. Btw in my experience YEC's are also an interesting mix, and many of them have not earned such a low opinion. Side note: in that context, my view of communication is building a bridge between where someone else is and where I am; if I don't start where they are then I can't possibly reach them.
Joe: YECs are still going by the antiquated notion of myth. myth = lie. 
Joe again: ... the theological issues apart from the false history
I'm really hoping that, when those two things are next to each other, it becomes apparent why someone might think there's not a clear consistent view being articulated there. How that's likely to be heard on the other side is, "Not a lie, just false history."
Joe (on why the Hebrew myth cycle is preferable to the Norse ones for developing a worldview, despite the lack of a hammer or lightning or Cate Blanchett in spandex for those whose interest goes that direction): It's based upon theological views about the true God.
Now there's a kernel that could be developed and articulated into an answer that matters in the ways that are important to those who are ... potential late adopters. I'd love to see that view more developed, and see someone on the front lines of apologetics doing the work there.
Kevin: What does Eve have that Pandora doesn't? I'll play!
Game on. Thank you! 
Kevin: Pandora is false; she never lived and her jar never spilled evil into the world. Her story teaches us to treat each other in a destructive way, and more so the more fully it's believed. That makes sense, because it's a lie. On the other hand, if we know what truly happened to bring evil into the world, it will guide us to doing things in a constructive way. Truth does that. But it can't be merely supposed truth. Us believing falsehood with all our hearts won't help us. Eve brings truth..
Devil's advocate here: looks like the working theory is "destructive things are lies and constructive things are true," or something to that effect. But what if that's not the case? How much of that is betting that truth can be gauged by whether it's constructive? Which dovetails with your next point:
Kevin: The question before the house is whether God told a true story that gives accurate history or true literature that gives accurate lessons. That is a new question that only came before the house a couple hundred years ago.
There are some different flavors of that question. Here's one: "What if God wasn't the one telling the story?"; that is, "What if people told a story about how they see God?" And some of the doors further down that road are "pretty stories but no real view of God", or "God was involved through how people experience God." There are probably other options too. Or another starting point might see "Archetypal stories -- profound ones that touch the bedrock of the human conscience and experience" (which the best stories will do, and archetypes do tend to populate myths). I'm still puzzling out the "archetypal" view's relationship to objectivity.
Kevin: The higher criticism movement grabbed these new facts and with them tried to destroy faith. In the Fundamentalists' fight-back, we threw out the facts with the lies. 
Go, Kevin! Yes. We'll get back to the fundamentalists' fight-back in a moment. Before that: to me, the place where the "reconstructed Christianity" movement lost the most street-cred is this: they didn't really join the fight back. For a time, it looked like they swallowed the premise that every claim against Christianity was true; or at least that any argument against Christianity did not need to meet a burden of proof. It looked as though mentioning Genesis could substitute for building an argument about any other topic where someone wished to claim that the Bible was in the wrong. I've seen implausible arguments against Christianity simply asserted as fact, and reconstruction-minded Christians giving that a pass. This capitulation (as it looked from the streets) gained so many more converts to the fundie camp than the "reconstructed" camp has imagined. The perceived firesale by the "reconstructed Christianity" camp has certain other Christians wondering, "Why should we take you seriously on Genesis when so many of you caved on the resurrection, and the virgin birth, and the reality of miracles?" I'm not saying that line of argument is right; I'm saying the trust is gone. That hasn't helped that conversation.
Kevin: We needed to fight back, but we needed to keep the facts. If the Fundamentalists can convince me they accept facts, and don't just go all-in on just so stories, I'll show an interest again. For now, I see them saying faith means believing any fact that doesn't align with their faith is not a fact. That doesn't work for me.
Definitely. Integrity first, or the whole thing is pointless. 
Kevin: The creation account makes the most sense as a carefully crafted rebuttal of all known, local creation myths. They believed chaos gave birth to the gods. God said he calmed the chaos and tickled the worst monsters. They believed the gods themselves were limited and limited each other. God said he was God alone. They believed the gods were abusive masters of unwilling slaves. God said he created humans for love and wished to enrich people for their own sake. There's no question, the account does counter-balance all the existing myths. We know this. It's not a blank history. It's a slanted history absorbing all the local beliefs and overturning them with prejudice.
I'll give you this: that's one heck of an ante for the conversation. And Genesis does make an interesting contrast to the other worldviews. Before I ante up myself, I'd like to throw out one question: where does that view leave you with respect to history or truth or objectivity and all that? And I know I haven't interacted with all of the interesting things you've said; pardon the selectiveness here, and let me know if you wanted interaction on anything particular.
Ok, my own ante into the conversation. I come to Christianity as a convert, and am fairly ambivalent about the Old Testament. On the one hand, there's a part of me that wishes I could just walk away from the account of Adam and Eve; it would save me a certain amount of headache. I'd have no problem with a Christianity that invested mainly in Jesus and viewed the Old Testament as a legacy. On the other hand, the reasons I don't just walk -- it's not about fundamentalism or some prior commitment to inerrancy, but about the depth and value of the worldview that it puts forward. For something that's classified in the same genre as Pandora and Hercules, it sure seems a lot more related to this world. Adam doesn't have superpowers. God has oddly benevolent aims and humble demands for a Deity from that genre; "Hey guys -- see the garden? Go make more of the world like this." Then there are the layers of meaning that are latent in the story -- insights that have been brought out without inserting things to the text -- that are not small or trivial things. So I'm left with a thought that here's something worth keeping, and something that is not actually wholly like the myth of Pandora. I have this nagging sense that we don't do justice to the material to say there's nothing but myth there.

I'm still pondering for more clarity, working to gain more insight on the clearest answer to my own questions. And I see that when different views interact with each other respectfully, it generally causes the wisdom to accumulate; that's my hope here.

Take care & God bless

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?