Let’s Not Surrender Science to the Secular World! Part 6

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February 12, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now

Today's entry was written by Mark H. Mann. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Let’s Not Surrender Science to the Secular World! Part 6

This blog is the sixth in a multipart series arguing that science should not be considered a secular enterprise that needs to be integrated with Christian faith, but instead—if understood and utilized correctly—should be used by Christians as a tool for ‘reading’ the Book of Creation. This is because, as I argued in a previous blog, both scripture and Christian tradition clearly call for us to consider both scripture and creation as complementary ways (historically referred to as ‘books’) through which God speaks to us. The key is that we read them both correctly, and in previous blogs I have outlined considerations we must make as we approach our reading of both scripture and creation.

Most importantly, I have argued that scripture is complex and revealed within a variety of social and historical contexts and using a variety of literary styles. Therefore, in order to understand what God is saying in scripture we must take account of both the context and genre in which a particular passage was revealed. When it comes to science, the key is to distinguish the different meanings used when we use the term science, especially the distinction between absolute naturalism (or scientism) and methodological naturalism. The former contradicts Christian faith, but the latter is not only commensurate with Christian faith, but naturally flows from the orthodox Christian belief that God created a good, ordered, and knowable universe. It remains for us now to show how the Books of Scripture and Creation might be read together in helping us to understand the creation of the universe and human origins. Although there are many passages in scripture we may look to, for the sake of brevity, I will generally confine discussion to Genesis 1.

At first look, it would seem that the books of scripture and creation cannot be read in a complementary fashion. The standard theory embraced by most scientists seems to affirm that the universe came into being as the result of a random explosion (Big Bang) some thirteen billion years ago, the fundamental physical laws that govern the universe becoming randomly established in the first microseconds after the initial explosion. Out of this naturally flowed the emergence of galaxies, stars, solar systems, and at least one planet capable of sustaining life. On that planet, the scientific evidence would seem to indicate, life randomly appeared about three-and-a-half billion years ago, and through the natural processes of evolution (which include random genetic mutations, natural selection, etc.) things evolved to the current state of life on earth.

Scripture, on the other hand, seems to indicate that everything came to exist because God spoke it into being, perhaps like a magician who waves his wand and magically makes the world appear. Rather than billions of years, God took only six days. God starts by separating light from darkness and creates day and night on day one; then he works on day two with the apparently pre-existing waters that cover the deep, splitting them in half, using the ground to hold back water below and a solid dome in the air to hold back the water above. Then, on the third day, God gathers the terrestrial waters into seas, and fills the earth with vegetation. Day four, God finally creates the sun and moon and places them in the sky, indicating that the light of day does not come from the sun, since light has been around already three days. Day five God creates all of the creatures that live in the sea and fly in the air. Lastly, he creates humans and creatures of the land on the sixth day.

These two accounts would seem, again, to be in stark contrast in many ways, as Genesis seems to affirm many things that the contemporary scientific consensus would disagree with, including but not limited to the following: the cause and source of creation (God versus Big Bang and random and/or natural processes), the length of time for creation (billions of years versus six days), the place of earth in reference to other celestial entities (earth is at the center according to a plain reading of Gen 1:14-17, which places the sun, moon, and starts ‘in’ the firmament, which is a solid dome, while scientists universally affirm that the earth goes around the sun.), the order of creation (day and night and vegetation come before the sun was created, according to Gen. 1:4-5, while current scientific theories would state that without light from the sun, there would be no day and no vegetation on earth), and whether or not there is or was a solid dome somewhere above the earth which is holding back the primal waters.

This is the kind of contradictory situation we find ourselves locked into when we embrace a problematic understanding of science (viz., that methodological naturalism necessitates absolute naturalism, which it clearly does not!) and a problematic reading of scripture (viz., it can only be read in a simple, literal, plain reading fashion, which it clearly should not). Indeed, in affirming the truth of scripture in this way, not only are we left rejecting all of the geological and genetic evidence that substantiate evolutionary theory and suggest that the earth is billions of years old, but we also are left affirming that the sun circles the earth and the reality of a solid dome in the sky that holds (or at some point in the past held) back enough water to cover the earth. All this despite a massive stockpile of evidence to the contrary!

But, what if we read this passage of scripture differently? That is, what if think of Genesis 1 as something similar to a parable or an allegory, for instance? I do not mean to suggest that Genesis 1 is exactly a parable or allegory, but that there might be similarities between them, and that considering these similarities can help us move forward to reconsider how this passage might be read together with contemporary scientific consensus.

Parables and allegories, as we know, are stories told to convey deep and powerful truths. It is not the literal correspondence between each detail in a parable and actual reality that matters, but the central message and meaning of the parable. This is why Jesus often finished his parables by challenging his listeners to have ‘ears to hear’ what he was saying. It was not that there was necessarily an actual farmer who sowed seed on various types of soil (Mark 4:3-9) or an actual king who gave his servants various amounts of talents (Matt 25:14-30). Such details only mattered inasmuch as they communicated a central message about the gospel to Jesus' audience. And this central message was what Jesus was calling them to have the ears to hear!

And there are good reasons to take such an allegoric and contextual reading to Genesis 1. Indeed, we find many Ancient Near Eastern cultures to have held similar creation stories. For instance, in the Babylonian Enuma Elish we find the god Marduk having created the cosmos by cutting the dragon Tiamat (symbolizing the primal chaos similar to the way that the waters and the deep [tehom, sharing the same linguistic root as the word tiamat] represent primal chaos in Gen. 1) in half, and using one half for the (solid) sky and the other half for the earth. Ancient Greeks told a similar story with Zeus ordering the world by conquering the Titans and their chaotic beast, the Tryphon, while the Egyptians told of Atum defeating Nehebkuah and the Canaanites told of Ba’al defeating Yam to bring order to the world.

Similarly, in the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest known written text, also popular among Mesopotamians, Akkadians, and Assyrians) depicts a world with a dome-like sky holding back water against which the gods huddle while destroying the world with a great flood. This is to say that the peoples of the ancient world who were neighbors of the ancient Hebrews all believed that the world was created by divine beings who had separated and pushed back primal chaotic forces to create an orderly cosmos. Many also believed that the sky was a solid dome which held back water, which would have explained, for instance, the source of rain.

Now, just as it makes sense for God to have revealed himself in ways that first century Jews, Greeks, and Romans could understand, it also makes sense that God would have revealed himself in the time of ancient Israel in the ways that they and their neighbors could understand—that is, through the basic cosmological worldview that they would already understand. Looked at in this way, we may then begin to ask the question of what we can find that is different between the scripture and these heathen cosmogonies, and we begin, I think, to get a sense of what is truly at the heart of the biblical story of creation.

First, it tells of a God who creates. Not a bunch gods, each responsible for one aspect of the world. Not the king of a divine pantheon. One God. THE God. Variously known in the Bible as Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai. This God is the only true God and the source of all that exists.

Second, this is a good, moral, and just God, completely unlike the petty and capricious gods worshipped by unfaithful Israelites and their pagan neighbors. We need to expand a little beyond Genesis 1 to see this fully unpacked, but we already see the roots of these ideas in this chapter as God affirms that creation in good, stating this a total of seven times in the first chapter alone (six before humans have even been created, indicating that all of it matters to God!).

God also creates human beings with the divine image and likeness. This is in stark contrast to similar claims being made in other ancient creation stories. In the Enuma Elish, humans are formed when a treacherous god is destroyed by the other gods and his blood drips onto and enlivens the dust of the ground. Humans then become the slaves of the gods, tasked with feeding them through ritual sacrifices.

Likewise, in Gilgamesh, the gods decide to destroy humanity simply because humans have become so numerous that their noise is now bothersome to the gods! How different from the story of Noah in which God brings the flood in judgment against human violence and wickedness (Gen 6:5, 11). In The Epic of Gilgamesh, one man (named Utnapishtim the Faraway) survives with his family and some animals by building a raft only because one god, Ea, rebels against the others and secretly warns him in a dream of the impending disaster. Again, how different from the God of scripture who chooses to save Noah because Noah alone has proven righteousness. There is a moral purpose—the preservation of justice and righteousness in creation—behind the biblical God’s actions that is completely lacking among the gods of the other ancient Near Eastern peoples.

Moreover, the God revealed in the Bible is a God of love and care for all creation. He desires the well being of all of his creatures (Gen. 1:22; see also Gen. 9:8-12), and especially the humans, whom he provides care for even when they have responded with acts of disobedience and disrespect. So, God clothes Adam and Even after their well-deserved departure from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:21); God provides protection for a penitent Cain after he has murdered his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:15); God forges covenants again and again with his people, despite their continual rebelliousness, clearly pointing the way forward to God’s ultimate act of love and covenant formation: the death of Jesus Christ on the cross!

If we allow ourselves the room to see Genesis 1 as something similar to a parable or allegory, rich in symbolism and metaphor, spoken in a language and assuming a worldview that ancient Near Eastern people could understand, we are freed from having to defend the Bible against what otherwise appear to be disagreements with current scientific consensus…about the current structure of our solar system, about how the universe came into being, and even about how human beings came into the world. Nor do we have to speculate wildly about the past existence of ice domes in the sky, primal light in the sky before the formation of the sun and moon, or dinosaurs roaming the earth with humans, all for which there is absolutely no credible evidence and which ultimately only serves the purpose of aligning our current understanding of the world with that held by people thousands of years ago who simply could not understand the world as we do because they did not yet have the tools to observe and study it that we now have. To fail to use these God-given tools is ultimately to surrender science to the secular world!

Nor do Christians, using scientific tools, need to buy into Satan’s lie that a universe that appears to function in an orderly, natural way came into being and functions as it does all by itself. We Christians know better. We believe and scripture affirms that God created this good world, that God created its laws, principles, and elements. We need not, therefore, fear science. It is a gift from God given to the church to understand God’s handiwork in the world, to worship God for God’s majesty and wonder as its creator, and to serve God’s purposes as caretakers for the people and the creation that God loves. THIS is what it means to refuse to surrender science to the secular world. So let’s claim it as our own and start reading BOTH of God’s Books as God intended: together!


Mark H. Mann is the director of the Wesleyan Center, Point Loma Press, and Honors Program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Mark received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College and went on to earn both an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies (2004) from Boston University. Mann previously served at Colgate University where he was both chaplain and professor. Mann has previous experience in editing, student development and staff ministry at the local church level.

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Ronnie - #67886

February 13th 2012

If I may correct…at the end of the third paragraph, creatures that roam on the land were created on the sixth day, along with Adam, instead of the fifth day.

As far as the idea of the firmament being a solid dome or the sun and moon rotating around the earth; I think these ideas are read into Genesis from a preconceived notion instead of being derived from reading Genesis…just my 2¢

Mark H. Mann - #67888

February 13th 2012

Ronnie,

Thanks for pointing out the error about which day creatures that roam the earth were formed. I had meant to correct that, but forgot. Would you be willing to be my editor for future blogs?

As for the two points, I disagree. Read literally, the dome is clearly created to separate the waters, and therefore is solid. This was a common belief among Ancient Near Eastern people: that the sky was something solid that held back water. The same is clearly indicated also in Gen. 7:11, when the Great Flood begins and ‘the windows of heaven are opened.’ And, again, Gen. 1:14 clearly states that ‘the lights’ (sun and moon) are ‘in the dome of the sky’. God has ‘fixed’ them to the sky. Again, this is simply the common conception of ancient people—that is, until the emergence of the Ptolemaic cosmology, which by the time of Christ had generally replaced the Dome Cosmology and which posited the earth at the center of a series of concentric spheres, each of which had a planet fixed in it and rotated around the earth.


Mark H. Mann - #67890

February 13th 2012

One more thing, Ronnie. If you look at the book of Job, you find the same thing, and it is made clear there that we are talking about something solid. Job 37:18 reads “Can you, like [God], spread out the skies, hard as a molten mirror?” There is some indication that the ancients believed this dome to be held up on pillars. See, for instance, Job 26:11. The key is that the dome (raqiya) is there to hold back the waters. So, the most simple and straightfoward reading of this is that it is solid. That is, if we are applying a literal reading, which I am arguing against.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67887

February 13th 2012

I agree with Dr. Mann, but there is a huge hole in this argument and that is philosophy.  Othrwise you have a standoff with Scientism on one side and Fundamentalism on the other, which benefits the extermists on both sides, and hurtsthose in the middle.  

Philosophy is the only way to bridge the gap, to show why both Scientism and Creationism are wrong.  The problem is that Scientism has a philosophical world view to back up its position.  It is simple and clear- Monism.  It is a mistaken position, but it is real. 

The traditional position of theology is Western dualism.  It is not simple and clear.  It is hard to defend and theology basically does not defend it, so Scientism wins by default.

You can’t criticize Scientism without using philosophy.  Right now theology has no effective philosophy position as far as I can tell. Ttherefore even though it is right if it takes Dr. Mann’s position as it must, it is on the losing side, because its philosophical base is lacking.      

Will someone please address this pressing issue?


Mark H. Mann - #67889

February 13th 2012

Roger,

First, thanks for following my blogs. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughtful responses, and my own thinking as been informed by yours a couple of time.

Second, while I think you are on to something with this philosophical problem, I do not completely agree with you. I am not a philosopher, but I am fairly certain that neither dualism nor monism are the only two possibilities here, or that they are the singular metaphysical ‘systems’ that you have posited them to be. That is, there are a number of different ways of being dualistic and monistic, and some metaphysical systems that even tend to break down the difference (such as Neo-Platonism, which does not perfectly fit into either ‘camp’ and has exerted significant influence on the development of Christian thought).  So, I would be hesitant simply to call scientism monistic and Christianity dualistic. That is, to my mind, an oversimplification of the issue. Which is not to say that there is no issue there.

However, I do think that you are on to something, Roger, that is worth treating more at length, though I am not the one to take it on. If I were, my reflections would probably focus on addressing the issue of reductionism. That is, I consider scientists not merely monist, but instead naively reductive monists. I say naively because I am not so sure reductive monism provides an adequate account of human experience, much less reality as a whole.

But, I’d really have to put more thought to this, Roger, before saying much more. Anyway, thanks for your wonderfully engaging commentary over all six blogs. Exciting to see such engaged and engaging folks out there reading my posts. I am profoundly honored that you, and others, have put such great effort into reading my little essays and providing such thoughtful responses!

Mark


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67933

February 15th 2012

ssumes

What happened to my comment?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67954

February 16th 2012

Mark,

I am going to try again.

Fisrt of all I am not asking you personally to try to fix the problems of philosophy.  What I am saying is that the old models of philosophy, which let’s fact is are human constructs, no longer meet human intellectual needs.  Simplified these are the monistic model and the dualistic model. 

Maybe you do not agree with that analysis, but for the sake of argument lets take this a fact.  The question then would be “Is there another alternative model for understanding reality?”  My answer is yes, because Christianity is not based on a dualistic model, but a triune model. 

If this is so, then how does a triune model of reality work? and is it an improvement on dualism and monism?  I have started to work on these ideas in my books.  I do not claim that I have the final word on the topic, but I think that maybe there is the basis for a good beginning.  With the stakes as high as they are we cannot afford to lose any time or ignore any posititve effort for a solution.

Jesus said that a house divided against inself cannot stand.  The Church is now a house divided against itself.  The United States is a nation divided against itself.  Western civilization is a house divided against itself.  The world is a house divided against itself.   

I am trying to be prophetic in the best sense here.  It is not my philosophy or ideas that can heal the world, it is the LOGOS, Jesus Christ found in the center of the Gospel Who can heal.

This is the real point of your posting, which is to focus on the Meaning of Genesis, which is the Logos, instead of the science of Genesis.  Sadly many people, believers and unbelievers still don’t get it because they see life in monistic terms. 

The beauty of John’s use of the Logos is that it is a philosophical term used theologically.  It forms a bridge between theology and philosophy, which can be used to point out the differences between Science and Theology.  Without that we still have the confusion in the minds of many between the Bible and science.             


Steven Curry - #67901

February 14th 2012

Indeed, dualism is untenable in the face of current scientific knowledge. For example a person with a severed corpus callosum (split-brain) has two spheres consciousness, each with distinct views and preferences. In one case study, the left half of the brain believed in God while the right half did not. What is the fate of this (double-)person’s soul?

If an embryo has a soul, what happens to that soul when the embryo splits into monozygotic twins?

I’m not saying that a philosophical reconciliation is impossible, only that the status quo is untenable.


Jon Garvey - #68146

February 21st 2012

Stephen, I have to ask you for specific study details on the question of corpus callosum severance, because your claims bear little resemblance to what I have read on the matter in a whole career in medicine. The usual situation is more that cited in the Wikipedia article:

In general, split-brained patients behave in a coordinated, purposeful
and consistent manner, despite the independent, parallel, usually
different and occasionally conflicting processing of the same
information from the environment by the two disconnected hemispheres.
When two hemispheres receive competing stimuli at the same time, the
response mode tends to determine which hemisphere controls behavior.Often, split-brained patients are indistinguishable from normal adults.

In that case, if anything you have to show how the unity is maintained without a dualistic model.

Secondly, when you talk about the “status quo”, what exactly do you mean? Both in philosophy and theology there are a number of different models for human consciousness, such as Cartesian dualism, the sophisticated hylemorphic dualism of someone like Edward Feser, the Hebrew concept of “soul” as “life” (which instantly disposes of your supposed twin problem) etc.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67891

February 13th 2012

I was wondering about this today.

Biologos’ stated goal is to integrate science and Christian faith. As is obvious though, the wide, wonderful world of science is not the subject of any blogs here. Rather, only the “science of evolution” receives focus. Thus, BioLogos seeks a happy marriage of evolution and Christian faith.

So, the ostensible issue is the marriage between the two things, evolution and Christian faith. However, this seems to make the assumption that these two things are settled matters, and that all that remains is integrating them.

The fact is, though, that the two prospective marriage partners aren’t really settled. Are they really ready to go to the altar?

Partner #1, evolution, doesn’t appear to have won anything close to a universal consensus. This is so for both a) the general public (see Gallup poll data toward bottom of page 2 of “Behold the Man”), and b) the scientific community itself (e.g. this list of over 700 signatories: http://www.discovery.org/a/2732)

Partner #2, Christian faith, doesn’t appear to be of one voice either. And I mean wide-spread disagreement on matters of the faith alone (i.e. excluding any issues involving science). You can find disagreements right here in various blogs.

So, it seems to me that BioLogos is seeking a stable marriage between two unstable parties. How long do those usually last?

Perhaps BioLogos could develop a secondary website for this topic. Maybe name it BioLogos’ Ball of Confusion. (I always did like that song. Rock on!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miZWYmxr8XE )

 


pastorscott - #68433

March 9th 2012

I have two responses here.  First of all, public opinion polls examine what the general public believe is true, and they may or may not have value in dealing with matters of deep spiritual and scientific import.  Second, what percentage of the scientific community do the 700 signers mentioned above represent?  This issue is too important to simply “Ask the Audience” as you would in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”! 


HornSpiel - #67892

February 13th 2012

Thanks for these great posts. I find your way of explaining how to understand Genesis, and why, quite well done. Just a couple of typos.

In the Enuma Elish, humans are formed when a treacherous god is
destroyed by the other gods and his drips onto and enlivens the dust of
the ground.

I am guessing the word “blood” is supposed to go after “his” above. Also earth is spelled “erth” in the fourth paragraph


Mark H. Mann - #67895

February 13th 2012

Thanks, HornSpiel! It appears that I need more than one editor. I PROMISE, if I ever do any more blogs for BioLogos that I will find a better editor…that is, someone other than me!

Mark


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67897

February 13th 2012

Mark Mann,

I’m not an astrophysicist or astronomer or scientist of any kind. I’m just a spacey dilettante, as it were. My dabbling has led me to look beyond mainstream media (MSM) news about the universe and actually read the some of the reporting, including original source documents/papers, from the science community itself. And I’m very often surprised at how very much the MSM omits from its headlines and articles. The casual observer/reader seldom hears about, for example, the significant assumptions that are necessary for the feasibility of theories such as the Big Bang, the substantial uncertainty surrounding commonly-heard terms such as dark matter and dark energy, and how more and more space discoveries represent profound contradictions to current theories. The average lay person assumes the rocket scientists have a firm handle on how all the stars and planets and galaxies came to be. I think the average lay person could be in for a shock.

That’s why I was surprised when you wrote: If we allow ourselves the room to see Genesis 1 as something similar to a parable or allegory… we are freed from having to defend the Bible against what otherwise appear to be disagreements with current scientific CONSENSUS … about the current structure of our solar system, about how the universe came into being…

The more I read from the scientists themselves the less consensus I see, and the more uncertainty I find. I can’t even tell you how often I’ve found this to be the case. Here are just a couple examples from the last year:

The findings are likely to change our ideas of how galaxies form and see astronomy text-books rewritten.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714101631.htm

it’s important to investigate alternatives to the standard model of cosmology, given its limitations…“Apparently, our best physics [Einstein’s General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics] is insufficient to explain a series of observed phenomena in astrophysics and cosmology,” he said. “In addition to the well-established physics, the standard model of cosmology assumes (a) the existence of mysterious dark matter and dark energy which represent more than 95% of the content of the Universe, and (b) the existence of two mechanisms (of unknown nature) to assure inflation and matter-antimatter asymmetry in the primordial universe. Hence, the Standard Cosmology is based more on hypotheses than established physics. It is a very unsatisfactory situation.” http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-07-big-quick-conversion-antimatter.html

“…the study, which used observations made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The find goes against prevailing theory …” http://www.space.com/12140-galaxies-slow-eaters-gas-guzzling-theory.html

 

I think the scientists are wishing that the science, that Scripture’s supposed to reconcile to, was a lot more stable and sure.

 


David Evans - #67903

February 14th 2012

Your links only show that cosmology is a still-developing science. None of the proposed alternatives are any more compatible with a literal reading of Genesis than the standard model. Nor could they be, given the massive evidence (from geophysics and stellar astronomy, as well as cosmology) for an old universe.


beaglelady - #67916

February 14th 2012

“Your links only show that cosmology is a still-developing science.

So very true. Indeed, all of science is a work in progress.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67922

February 14th 2012

Mark Mann talked of “current scientific CONSENSUS … about the current structure of our solar system, about how the universe came into being…

A science researcher, not me, says that the current theory/model fails to explain not just one but a series of observed phenomena (i.e. empirical data).

Mark Mann: Did you mean the science community is in consensus that they have a bad model?

 


Mark H. Mann - #67966

February 16th 2012

You can just call me Mark. What is your name, by the way?


When I use the term ‘consensus’ I mean it rather loosely. That is, I do not mean to say that every scientist holds that view. There will always be scientists calling into question certain scientific models—sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. That is the beauty of the scientific method—it allows for self-correction.

What I do mean, then, by consensus is ‘the prevailing model within the scientific community’. Big Bang and Evolution both hold such a place. That said, we are absolutely at a kind of crossroads with our cosmological models, especially when it comes to the first few micro-seconds of the universe’s life. But that doesn’t mean that Big Bang is being tossed by the scientific community, any more than Newton’s theories have been consigned to the flames by quantom physics.  So, despite the many questions that still remain, I think that we can still think of there being a kind of scientific consensus when it comes to cosmology, even if we maybe on the cusp of understanding the cosmos in a new and better way than we have before.

As Christians we must always be open to reading the Book of Creation in new and better ways, even as we must be open, I believe, to reading the Book of Scripture in new and better ways as, for instance, we gain a better understanding of the ancient cultures in which scripture was inspired.

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67985

February 16th 2012

Mark,

Thanks for getting back to me and for allowing me to call you by your first name.

You may call me “Don’t”.  As in “Don’t pis…” Wait. I just remembered one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies. Consider this a brief movie intermission: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfdpcrOgUp4

 

You say Big Bang theory continues to hold some place called the “prevailing” model.

But that’s ONLY because they haven’t found anything better. And the very best they have fails more and more often. New discoveries are changing, contradicting and leaving in a “very unsatisfactory” condition the “prevailing” model.

Now, one would think (at least I would), that with such a sorry state of affairs, the scientific community would

1) Greatly “modify” the Big Bang theory by excising the failing pieces, and at least RENAME those parts, if any, that remain. (This latter action might help to distance themselves from the prior failures.) Or

2) Trash the whole thing and come up with a nice new name for one of the least unattractive second-stringers, Or

3) Humbly admit they don’t know what to do next (but keep the federal funding coming!).

Isn’t that the way researchers are supposed to behave, ideally, in any field of study? Yet, it doesn’t seem to work that way with cosmology (nor with evolution) for some reason.

You say that despite being at a “crossroads”, “that doesn’t mean that Big Bang is being tossed by the scientific community, any more than Newton’s theories have been consigned to the flames by quantom physics.”

Now, I don’t know much of anything about Newton’s theories. Other than the fact that one of his theories addressed something, gravity, which every educated/uneducated human being throughout history has observed and experienced every moment of their lives. (Can’t say as much for evolution.)

I did a quick Google search and got this result from a source which no doubt isn’t the last word on the matter, but nevertheless… Question: “because of the rise of quantum physics in the 20th - 21st centuries does that mean most principles in classical physics [Newtonian] are officially invalid?” Answer: “Not in the slightest… when Newton formulated gravity, his theory EXACTLY MATCHED OBSERVATION - physics hasn’t changed, so this is STILL THE CASE… we STILL USE Newton’s principlesNeither [Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics] is wrong”. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090521150220AAIf661

So, to my mind, attempting to put into the same category of validity both the Big Bang and Newtonian physics is wrong and misleading. The Big Bang theory a) does NOT exactly match observation (apparently it’s getting more and more “Not exactly”), b) is NOT still used, at least not to the extent it was in the more ignorant past; it’s being used less and less, and c) is not still used as before because it is essentially WRONG.

Apparently, the Big Bang couldn’t be more different from Newton’s theories in these respects.

I think that we can still think of there being a kind of scientific consensus when it comes to cosmology.”

What?

I think you better re-read, and allow to sink in, what the scientists are saying.


Mark H. Mann - #68053

February 17th 2012

Dear Don’t Pis,


No, in fact, the connection to Newton is quite valid. When Einstein came along, he proved that, while Newton was right in certain respects, in others, he was not. We still use Newtonian physics for some things, but there are certain proporties that quatam phsysics better accounts for that Newtonian cannot. And, now, there are things that scientists are discovering that quantom mechanics cannot account for. We are not talking about one physics replacing another; rather, it’s a matter of one supplementing another.

That’s what I mean when speaking of a crossroad with Biig Bang theory. As another commentor pointed out, cosmologists are not questioning whether the universe is billions of years old or how galaxies and solar systems came into being, etcs. What they are debating about is what happened at the very beginning, so to speak. Much as Newtonian physics became pushed to its limits, so the Big Bang cosmology has been pushed to its limits. Some new theory may indeed even supplant the Big Bang theory in the next decade or so, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still some consensus regarding what the Big Bang theory affirms, even as Newtonian phsyics still works.

Mark

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68074

February 18th 2012

Mark,

I said you may call me “Don’t”.  Not “Don’t Pis”.

You wrote: “That’s what I mean when speaking of a crossroad with Biig [similar to Big?] Bang theory. As another commentor pointed out, cosmologists are not questioning whether the universe is billions of years old or how galaxies and solar systems came into being, etcs [similar to etc?].”

Really?

I found the following in about five minutes:

Research on dwarf galaxies suggests they cannot form in the way they do if dark matter exists in the form that the most common model requires it to.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14948730

Do you ever actually read about science stuff? Or do you just listen to certain other commentators here?

 


Mark H. Mann - #68079

February 18th 2012

Dear Don’t,


Ouch! You certainly like to throw those darts! 

But, in fact, for every site one can find that talks about the problems with Big Bang, ten others will identify it as the prevailing theory with plenty of evidence yet to substantiate it. Take the NASA site, for instance. But, then, if we are just going to line up my websites versus yours, what we end up with is what amounts to a pis..er…shooting contest. The key is that, either way, this is the beauty of the scientific method—it is self corrective. And it matters little to the general point I have made in this series of blogs: for Christians, science is a tool we can use to read the Book of Creation. Should the Big Bang prove to be an inaqequte theory, so be it.

With that, I am going to move on. I’ve been asked to write another blog series, and I hope to get to it by mid-March. It will be based part on issues raised by folks who have commented in response to my blogs. I am grateful for all that have, including those who have not agreed with me. I have learned a great deal.

Meanwhile, for any looking for opportunities for more dart throwing, I was just made awarre of something you will enjoy. Apparently an atheist website has had a guest blogger write about my series, and their comments section is chock full of zingers. Some of them absolutely hilarious. Here’s the link: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/guest-post-could-it-be-satan/

Otherwise, thanks for engaging with me on this series. I look forward diving back in with you all in a few weeks!

God bless,
Mark



dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67927

February 15th 2012

David Evans,

I’ll play devil’s advocate (some here may think I’m the real thing!).

First, Mark Mann says that the ages-old interpretation and understanding of Sacred Scripture should be significantly modified for one reason: “current scientific consensus.” (And we’ve been focusing of late on the scientific consensus relative to the spacey matters that Mark noted.)

Second, I post just a couple recent examples from science publications (i.e. not mainstream media) that show a “current scientific consensus” doesn’t exist; that new discoveries are changing, contradicting and leaving in a very unsatisfactory” condition the existing ideas/theories/models.

Third, you admit that no consensus exists, because you say that a) “cosmology is a still-developing science”, like a work-in-progress, and b) “proposed alternatives” are floating around. [Thus, the earlier theories were unacceptable. And none of the new ones has won consensus either because otherwise the scientists wouldn’t be considering alternatives (plural).].

Now, I’ll play the devil taking dictation (from Mark Mann): “Take a letter, devil don’t. Bloggers, you really should reconsider how you look at the book of Genesis, because we now have scientific proof that… wait. Scratch that last part. Because we now have the scientific Standard Model of Cosmology which perfectly explains… hold it. Scratch that, too. Because we have a scientific model which fairly convincingly explains virtually all… #!&*%! All right. Let’s try this. Because scientists have a still-developing-work-in-progress which may…” Then I close my notepad and say “We’ll have to stop for now. Time for lunch. Union rules, you know.”

That’s really kind of how my dark, jaded eyes are seeing this.

Lastly, here’s something different, that’s not related to any of this. It’s more of an allowing you a peek into my personhood, and just how strange things can get in my head or subconscious. Your last paragraph mentioned “massive evidence”. The word “massive” triggered a kind of Pavlovian response in me. It made me recall a weird dream I once had, or at least I think I had. In the dream I find myself on a farm somewhere. And the farmer appears from behind a massive (there it is!) manure pile. He approaches me with something in his hand. As he draws near, he extends his hand toward me, revealing a big piece of cow dung. Then he says, “Here, take this. You’ll like it.” I say, “Thank you. But no. No offense, but I’d really rather not. I’m OK I think.” The farmer seems unfazed by my response. He says “No? That’s OK. Here, I’ll get you a different one. I got plenty.” Then, the farmer turns and heads back to that massive manure pile, to get me another piece of dung. I start to feel very uneasy. While the farmer’s back is turned, I begin running away, to escape the farm. And that’s when I woke up.

Pretty weird, don’t you think?

 


David Evans - #67931

February 15th 2012

Surely all science is a work in progress? Each discovery raises new questions. In cosmology I would say there is consensus that:


1 The universe is expanding.

2 The rate of expansion points to an initial hot, dense state some 14 billion years ago.

3 The details of the expansion point to the existence of “dark matter” and “dark energy” in significant amounts.

There is argument, and space for alternative views, on the nature of dark matter and dark energy. However, I cannot imagine any resolution of these arguments which would allow Genesis to be literally true.

I’m sorry you are allergic to the word “massive”. Perhaps I should say that several different lines of evidence lead to the view that the Earth and the universe are much, much more than 6,000 years old. For instance:
1 Radiometric dating.
2 The Hubble pictures of colliding galaxies, which show that their gravitational fields have distorted each other in ways that must have taken millions of years.
3  The cratering record of the Earth (though blurred by erosion), the Moon, Mercury and other bodies. This shows that the Earth must have experienced hundreds of asteroid/comet impacts any one of which would have been a global disaster. If Genesis is true, all these impacts happened during Man’s tenure on Earth, yet they are not recorded in history or the Bible. And the craters should be fresh. 
4 The geological record includes, in places, successive layers of sedimentary rock which have clearly been laid down, raised above sea level, eroded, tilted and covered by more rock. There is no time in the Genesis story for all this to have happened.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These are not issues where the science is seriously uncertain.  

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67950

February 16th 2012

David Evans,

In cosmology I would say there is consensus that …”

Maybe consensus, but certainly not unanimous consensus. And again, even if you had unanimous consensus, which you don’t, the truth could be something else. Got proof? Answer: Unanimous NO.

“These are not issues where the science is seriously uncertain.”

That’s quite a resounding endorsement. [“Folks, you gotta see this latest fairy tale movie! It’s NOT a SERIOUSLY AWFUL flick!!!” – Roger Ebert]

So, science is “seriously uncertain” on some issues. But on these particular issues, the science is only pretty uncertain, or, in some fortunate cases, only plain vanilla uncertain?

“I could go on and on… “

As Mr. Rogers used to say, “Sure, I knew you could.”

Yes, you could go back to the massive… evidence, and show me another… specimen.

David, do you have one, particular favorite from the above? The one that is most convincing for you? You likely have a special fondness for one.

Would you tell me which it is? Please? (And please be as specific as possible.)

 


beaglelady - #67962

February 16th 2012

“Got proof?”

Science doesn’t concern itself with proofs. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #68017

February 17th 2012

Dont,

My problem is why you are spending so much time and energy and prestige on an isue which has nothing to do with salvation. 

If you want us to remain at the same scientific level as people were at the time of Jesus that is fine, but the important thing is that science does not make people better or worse, slavation does.

Personally I do not think that whether the universe was created in 6 days or 6 billion says makes any difference to God’s power and goodness.  The same as to whether God created humanity by evolution, or manually from organic soil. 

You don’t know that God made dung good for fertilizer.  God recycles in nature, just as God recycles humans by saving us from the trash heap.   


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68036

February 17th 2012

Roger,

Your new word, “slavation”. Does it have anything to do with Logos?


beaglelady - #67989

February 16th 2012

Amazing.


beaglelady - #67914

February 14th 2012

“I’m not an astrophysicist
or astronomer or scientist of any kind. I’m just a spacey dilettante, as it
were. My dabbling has led me to look beyond mainstream media (MSM) news about the
universe and actually read the some of the reporting, including original source
documents/papers, from the science community itself.


Do you mean that you actually read the primary literature? Or do you simply visit creationist web sites?


Steven Curry - #67899

February 14th 2012

A more parsimonious view is to simply accept that ancient writers had mistaken conceptions about the sky, and that’s why those views were recorded. It seems a stretch to suggest that God, working through inspiration, fed people misinformation.

Does the firmament really play some crucial theological role as a metaphor? What is this role? It must be important enough to supersede the plain truth that there is no dome—important enough that God thought it was better to lie to us.

God could have provided simple explanations that would be understandable by ancient peoples while being devoid of outright falsehoods like the firmament. Surely some simplifications would be necessary, but nothing close to firmament-level misinformation.


HornSpiel - #67908

February 14th 2012

Steven,

The parsimonious explication for the inclusion of the firmament in the Genesis creation story, as outlined by Mann above, is that it is a response to and/or reflection of, the current cosmology of the day. In other words, God was using the mistaken cosmology of the Ancient Near East (ANE) to convey theological information. God was not affirming ANE understanding of nature.

We do the same thing today when we use the Big Bang to say that there really was a Beginning thus some eternal Cause must be behind it. Let’s suppose the Multiverse theory is confirmed. Does that mean we lied? Does that mean God does not exist? No, we are using a common  understanding of nature to make a theological point about God that is true. Even if the Multiverse becomes the commonly accepted theory, we will still be able to make true theological statements about God using our culture’s best insights into the nature of the universe.

To put it another way, a true historical-cultural exegesis of Genesis must conclude that the firmament really refers to a solid dome with an ocean of water above it. However a good hermetical lesson is that God communicates about Himself to His people, and all people for that matter, in the language and concepts they understand. This gives us freedom to do the same.



Mark H. Mann - #67911

February 14th 2012

Two quick thoughts I’d like to the cogent ones that Hornspiel makes:

My preference for NOT saying that the writer of Genesis ‘simply got it wrong’ is a rhetorical one, for I think it is to do a kind of violence to Genesis that I think we should avoid. The key here, as I see it, is NOT that Genesis is ‘claiming’ that there is a dome in the sky, but instead ‘assuming’ that there is a dome. That is, it is essentially a part of the back drop for the central message that it was the Lord God who created the world.

This point becomes especially important as we attempt to understand the deep meaning of this narrative. And looking beyond assumed world view of the writer, we find some pretty striking truths, which stipping out the dome in some sense distorts. Indeed, the dome plays a pivotal theological point in the creation of the cosmos. It is pretty clear that the sea or ocean, for the ancient Hebrews and ancient Christians, represents the primal chaos (the waters over the face of the deep) out of which God brings order (shalom). So, the dome is symbolic of God’s power over the chaos and God’s ability to protect the goodness of creation from the destructive threat of the waters. This is born out with the story of Noah, in which the protective dome is essentially withdrawn, marking a near return to the primal chaos—an opportunity for God to create the world anew. This is also, I believe, the point of the little phrase in Rev. 21:1 that states that, with the coming of the new heaven and earth, that ‘the seas as no more’. It’s not the Mediterranian that is gone, but the destructive threat of chaos, which is another way of saying the ultimate fulfillment of God’s intent for creation—the final coming of Shalom (God’s peace) into creation through Christ.

The point in all of this is to say that a literal, plain reading of scripture leads us to focus on arguing over whether there was an actual dome or not as the key feature of these passages, rather than looking deeper into the symbolic meanings and discerning the profound theological truth therein.


Steven Curry - #67921

February 14th 2012

Neither of these responses really addresses my question of why God, when speaking through ancient writers, didn’t use the occasion to correct even the most egregious misconceptions about the natural world such as the firmament.

The firmament does not factor into any Christian doctrine of which I am aware. I haven’t heard a single prayer thanking God for the firmament. The firmament does not exist. It’s just too much of a stretch is to say that the firmament is an essential part of the story, an essential feature of Judaism or Christianity.

In Exodus 14:21 Moses stretches out his hand and God parts the sea. Suppose we found some earlier biblical writings in which Exodus 14:21 does not mention the “strong east wind” which did the parting. Would anyone really care? It doesn’t change that God parted the sea. Nobody is going to object saying, “No! No! We must have the strong east wind! It is symbolic of…” Most people just think of God parting the sea. The strong east wind is not an essential element, and neither is the firmament in Genesis.


Mark H. Mann - #67923

February 14th 2012

Steven,

So, I take your point. There is some sense in which the writer was not quite right about the actuality of the dome.

But in another sense, I would want to argue that the writer was correct. Inspired by God, the author understood and sought to communicate that God had indeed fashioned a good and orderly world out of the primal chaos or nothingness (whether understood in a relative or absolute sense) that the waters represented. The writer was speaking truthfully to his audience that it was God who had done this.

However, as for why God did not inspire the author to understand and write that there is oxygen, ozone and virtually endless space up there rather than water and a dome, I cannot say except to guess perhaps that God knew that folks weren’t ready for that knowledge yet. And, what I think the doctrine of the incarnation points us to is that God always speaks in ways that account for the context of such revelation. If we heard God audiibly, we can assume that God has spoken in such a way that sound waves reverberate in our ears, and so on. God speaks most decisively in the form of a finite human being who, if he was truly human as scripture affirms, was subject to all of the contextual aspects of life that we all are.

Does this do a better job of addresssing your question?

Mark


Steven Curry - #67928

February 15th 2012

I had anticipated the “not ready for that knowledge” tact when I said that “God could have provided simple explanations that would be understandable by ancient peoples while being devoid of outright falsehoods like the firmament.”

This is not about oxygen or ozone. I’ve been talking about the firmament. Why is it in Genesis? The lack of Quantum Mechanics in Genesis is understandable, but the presence of the firmament raises questions. It’s an unforced error.

I pointed out that the firmament is not some essential element of doctrine or theology. This leaves us with the “not ready” tact. But how could that apply to the firmament? It’s very difficult to argue that God’s chosen people needed to believe this falsehood.


Steven Curry - #67937

February 15th 2012

(Of course I meant “tack”, not “tact”.)


beaglelady - #67938

February 15th 2012

I think it’s not the task of the Bible to give us scientific knowledge.  We have the tools of science for that.   It’s understandable that the Bible features an ancient understanding of the natural world.


Steven Curry - #67943

February 15th 2012

Like Mann, you seem to think I’m talking about positive scientific knowledge like oxygen and ozone, whereas my only focus has been gratuitous falsehoods like the firmament. By introducing oxygen and ozone, he answered a different point than the one I made.

My point is: God could have provided simple explanations that would be understandable by ancient peoples while being devoid of outright falsehoods like the firmament. I have not seen this addressed.


beaglelady - #67955

February 16th 2012

God provides the message of faith. The ancient writers are then free to set this message in the context of their own understanding of the natural world. 


Steven Curry - #68033

February 17th 2012

Well you can just assert that God didn’t bother to correct basic errors, but that still leaves the question of why. He didn’t even communicate that he didn’t intend to correct them, nor did he communicate that the stories are metaphor. Why not even do that?

Given that the stories in Genesis bear strong similarities to earlier Babylonian stories, and given that they carry the same basic mistakes in cosmology, the parsimonious conclusion is that these stories are in the same category as earlier ones. God could have uniquely distinguished them by providing less-egregiously-false elements, but for some reason he didn’t bother.


beaglelady - #68065

February 18th 2012

You can’t just peel away the firmament. What are you going to set the sun, moon, and start in? What is going to hold back the heavenly sea (above the firmament).  See, it’s a package. 


Steven Curry - #68083

February 19th 2012

I’m not sure if you are making a serious objection. As I have said, God could have provided simple explanations that would be understandable by ancient peoples while being devoid of outright falsehoods like the firmament. A sea in the sky obviously counts as such a falsehood as well.


Ashe - #67909

February 14th 2012

Interesting, do you have a reference for those case studies?


Steven Curry - #67929

February 15th 2012

Assuming you meant to reply to my other comment—split-brain studies are all over the ‘net. This is the first google hit for “split-brain god”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFJPtVRlI64


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67900

February 14th 2012


David Evans - #67904

February 14th 2012

Those 700 signatories against evolution are less impressive than they appear. Of 42 names on page 3 (picked at random) I find only 10 whose discipline bears any close relation to evolution. The others include those qualified in:

Physics, Space Physics, Kinesiology (!), Philosophy, Electrical Engineering, Nuclear Chemistry…

You see the point. To get even 700 names (compared to over 400,000 biological scientists in the US) they had to include people with no relevant qualifications at all. 

 


David Evans - #67905

February 14th 2012

Sorry, this was intended as a reply to dont_blame_me_blame_evolution #67891 but somehow got misplaced.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67925

February 14th 2012

David Evans,

I’ll address your comments in two parts over two (I hope) posts.

Part 1 is not essential; it’s more a matter of some housekeeping and of noting some facts which should give dogmatic Darwin disciples pause.

Part 2 presents what I believe is the main point.

Part 1:

The page 3 you “analyzed” actually has 45 names not 42. Don’t worry. I’m used to evolutionary scientists and supporters not paying attention to detail. (Actually, that’s not wholly true. I have found they can show attention to detail, but only detail that supports them or detail they think works against those questioning them.) Maybe they just think no one will bother taking the time to verify what they say.

 And 26 names, not 10, have specialties providing scientific expertise on living things and the components and remnants thereof. These specialties (including kinesiology, absolutely) comprise

 

Agronomy

biochemical   engineering

bio-engineering

Biology

Chemistry

Entomology

Kinesiology

Microbiology

molecular & cell   biology

natural sciences

Neurosurgery

organic chemistry

Paleontology

Physiology

Zoology

Continued below…

 


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67926

February 14th 2012

Part 1 continued:

These 26 names hail from M.I.T., Princeton, Oxford, and other recognized and presumably accredited institutions. [Just for fun, I scanned over pages 1 and 2 and found Harvard (chemistry), Duke (environmental science), Dartmouth (medicine), U of Pennsylvania (biochemistry)].

These PhDs, MDs, etc have a significant skepticism regarding the fundamental mechanisms, the very guts, that supposedly enable evolution.

I think this is worthy of serious consideration.

But the number of names and fancy degrees and prestigious schools are not really essential to the main point. Which brings me to Part 2.  

Part 2

Science is just one of the tools used to determine certain truths about the world. (History and Economics are examples of other tools for other truths.) The primary mission of science SHOULD be the seeking of truth, not consensus. The truth is not determined by consensus. Nor is it subject to any poll. The truth is the truth whether everyone (including prestigious PhDs) believes it or no one believes it.

Back to numbers for a second. In all the years leading up to the year 1943, was DNA true, a reality? Yes. How many believed in it or even knew about it? Zero. At some point in 1944, how many believed in it? About three. Is DNA any more or less true today now that billions believe in it? No. In the year 30 A.D., how many people in total and ThDs/PhDs in particular believed that the God of the universe had taken on human flesh? About a dozen and zero, respectively.

Maybe you get the point.

Now, I’m going to wing it a little bit. See if this makes any sense:

Truth is not subject to material things, but material things are subject to the truth. And material things can enable us to confirm some truths. For example, the physical and observable resurrection of Jesus confirmed the truth of all the outrageous claims He had been making.

If someone believes some unobserved or unobservable thing is true, he’s free to do so, and he might even be correct in his belief. However, if someone wants to claim as true some unobserved thing (e.g. evolution) that’s driven by material processes resulting in material things, well then, he should provide material that confirms the truth of that claim.

I don’t see that material confirmation. [It’s also of some interest that neither do a billion or two other reasonable people (including a bare minimum of 700 PhDs/MDs from M.I.T., Harvard, Princeton, etc).]

 


David Evans - #67934

February 15th 2012

Part 1: Yes, I miscounted. My bad. And I should not have been dismissive of kinesiology. My feeling is that while many of the specialities that you list, while they show expertise relating to living things, do not necessarily qualify one to understand the long, slow and complex processes of evolution.


Part 2:

I agree, of course, that truth is not discovered by consensus. But aren’t you moving the goalposts here? When you said
Partner #1, evolution, doesn’t appear to have won anything close to a universal consensus.”
were you not implying that a sufficiently large consensus <i>would</i> have impressed you? Incidentally, I don’t think 700 dissidents, out of the millions of people with such qualifications, really implies that we are not “close to” a consensus.

You say, and I agree, that evolutionists should provide material evidence for their claims. I think they have amply done so:

In the fossil record, which keeps turning up new transitional forms (Tiktaalik between fish and amphibians, and Ambulocetus, Pakicetus, Dorudon etc between land mammals and modern whales).

In vestigial structures. For instance some whales have tiny pelvic girdles and rear fins inside the body, of no use at present but clearly inherited from land animals.

In the details of DNA. For instance humans and apes share stretches of DNA which have clearly been damaged in identical ways, hard to understand unless they have a common ancestor. In general the similarities and differences in the DNA of different species match very well their position on the evolutionary tree which had already been drawn up based on anatomy and physiology.

There are books full of this evidence. I can recommend Jerry Coyne and Neil Shubin.

 

beaglelady - #67935

February 15th 2012

“The primary mission of science SHOULD be the seeking of truth, not consensus.

Scientists arrive at consensus by seeking truth about the natural world.  But so what? You’re having fun derailing this thread.


Jon Garvey - #67910

February 14th 2012

Though it doesn’t affect the overall point he’s making too much, regarding the business of ancient cosmology it’s a pity Mark didn’t interact in any way with those who question the rather stereotyped and generic “ANE cosmology” idea. Such are G K Beale and J H Walton amongst many others.

Beale questions the assumed solidity of the firmament on good lingusitic, Biblical and ANE literature grounds, but the main thrust of their criticism is that we keep insisting on reading back our materialist approach even into the epics and creation stories of the ANE, let alone the Bible.

It makes a lot of sense to see both Biblical and extrabiblical accounts as describing the Universe in theological, rather than primarily physical, terms. The cosmos was seen as a large scale representation of the small scale three-part earthly sanctuaries in which God dwells. Much of what we take as primitive cosmology may well be architectural detail scaled up. If that sounds unlikely, it’s very much the same approach that mediaeval people took to the Universe - it’s not so much that their science was wrong, but that science itself wasn’t what bothered them so much as God’s spiritual relationship to our world.

The net result - that we shouldn’t read science into the Bible - remains. But we don’t need to look down their noses at “primitive” conceptions of the Universe when if we understand the Bible correctly (and even Enuma Elish, etc, come to that) they make perfect sense today.

It’s interesting that Paul, for example, uses Biblical “cosmology” unmodified even though all educated people in the Greek world had known it was round for centuries (even its diameter had been calculated by 200BC). Clearly he didn’t see anything that needed overhauling to be compatible with new knowledge.


Mark H. Mann - #67913

February 14th 2012

Jon,

I could not agree with you more. I am not suggesting that we look down on the ancient cosmologies, only trying to point out the problems with a literalistic reading of Gen. 1, which gives us two options: 1) try to fit the ANE cosmology with ours or 2) reject the passage. What I want to do is take the passage on its own terms, and try to hear what God is saying to us through it. In that sense, I think we are in complete agreement.

An anology: my current Western scientific worldview makes it very hard for me to think of the demonic in terms of personal entities roaming the earth and ‘possessing’ people. My tendency is to want to say that what the Bible was talking about was what we would now call mental illness or psychosis. But I also want to be careful not to impose my worldview on that of the New Testament, or, for that matter, on people in other parts of the world for whom demon possession is a very normal part of reality. To try to translate completely one worldview into another is to do a kind of violence to the other, and to assume some kind of absolute superiority to one’s own. If there is one thing that I believe, it’s that there is a TON of mystery in God’s world, and even if science has done a fantastic job of helping us to understand how the physical world works, it hasn’t answered a whole lot of very important questions. Who knows? Our great grandchildren just might understand the world so much better that we do that they might consider some of the things that we assume to be laughable. As Christians, I think we always need to have a kind of humble openness to God teaching us new things about Creation. This is one of the reasons that I think that science, as a method, is such a wonderful gift from God. When performed rightly, it is self-correcting.

That’s a hard attitude to maintain, though—humble openness. It certainly is for me.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67996

February 16th 2012

Mark,

Disclosure: I have not read all of your posts above nor those of your respondents. I guess sometimes I don’t have the time, patience or stomach for it.

However, I did scan over some of it, and a couple things caught my eye.

You wrote: “my current Western scientific worldview makes it very hard for me to think of the demonic in terms of personal entities roaming the earth and ‘possessing’ people. My tendency is to want to say that what the Bible was talking about was what we would now call mental illness or psychosis.”

Now, you are or have been a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies, a chaplain, a professor (I assume of religion or theology), and a director of a Christian university.

Are you saying that you do NOT believe in the objective reality of demonic spiritual beings?

Are you saying that, instead, we should be concerned only with the “blues” and chemical reactions in our brains?

You wrote: “To try to translate completely one worldview into another is to do a kind of violence to the other, and to assume some kind of absolute superiority to one’s own.”

I’m not at all sure about what you meant. Are you saying that you would NOT assume that your faith, as well as your worldview, is superior to a different faith/worldview?

 


Papalinton - #68002

February 17th 2012

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution


Is it your role to play the resident court jester on Biologos?
If it is, then you are putting on a splendid performance.

I can’t say much for your grasp of theology nor the jejune worldview held, but you are entertaining.

Ignorance is a blissful state.

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68037

February 17th 2012

Papalinton,

Thanks for the compliments. We all need to smile and laugh once in a while.

I’m glad you’re back! Because you never answered my questions on page 2 of “Let’s not surrender… part 5”.

So, I’ll repeat them here:

You wrote: “There was nothing irrational about organisms with first brains… The reptilian brain is the most ancient of the brains.”

So, there was nothing irrational about the first brain-bearing organisms. But we (humans) believe that irrationality exists.

Then, is irrationality something only human beings are capable of? Are reptiles more rational than you?

If rationality came first, with the very first brain-bearing organisms, then irrationality evolved later. Evolution is generally described as a progressive thing, leading to ever more complex and capable organisms. (I have heard of de-evolution- more like a gradual degradation of a line of living things - but it seems to get just a small fraction of the attention evolution garners.)

To be consistent with this view, wouldn’t evolutionists say that irrationality is a progression or enhancement to homo sapiens?

Now how about this proposal: All evolutionists would agree that rationality did not always exist on planet earth.

OK?

Now, what exactly preceded, in fact caused, the first occurrence of rationality?

How would you characterize it? Certainly rational or irrational won’t do. Maybe non-rational?

Finally, how would the very first rational thing know that it is rational and not irrational?

 


beaglelady - #68010

February 17th 2012

“Are you saying that you do NOT believe in the
objective reality of demonic spiritual beings?”


I bet he does after reading your post


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68038

February 17th 2012

Now, THAT is a good line. Well done, beaglelady!


PNG - #67940

February 15th 2012

The transition from the flat earth and firmament view to the Greek view occurred gradually, obviously with educated people first. The Wikipedia article on Flat Earth is interesting and I think there is indication there that some conservative theologians tended to hang onto the old cosmology longer. I’m guessing there was some conflict in the early church over this, and I think Augustine was an early proponent of concordism, opting to believe that the Old Testament accounts were really compatible with the Greek science, which looks dubious to me, but it helped to keep Christianity from looking archaic. The main concern of the OT writers was surely theological, but it does seem that they did assume the primitive cosmology.


Jon Garvey - #67969

February 16th 2012

PNG - its seems from my reading of Augustine that he refused to tie the Bible down to physical cosmology at all, which in the light of ANE studies that were, of course, completely unavailable to him is remarkably perspicacious of him.

I think what’s erroneous is the whole modern assumption (which you share, by your last sentence) that primitive science is what you find in ancient “cosmology” texts - which are actually more ancient cosmogeny. I don’t think Enuma Elish ever meant to tell Babylonians that if they climbed high enough they’d touch the body of Tiamat. Nor did Egyptians really expect that if you walked far enough you’d bump into Nut’s feet or hands as her body formed the sky.

What you get in the ancient texts is a lot of theogeny (irrelevant to the Bible, where God is One and creates all), a lot of cosmic temple imagery (widespread across the ANE and in spades in the Bible) and a smattering of phenomenological description. That’s because personal cause and teleological function was what prompted them to write, whereas we think cosmology means only physical origin and structure.

If you want the real distinction between ancient and modern conceptualisations, the three-tier diagrams aren’t what it’s about at all: it’s the difference between a purposeful Universe (in the “primitive” view) and a merely existing one (in ours). The ancients would never have dreamed of drawing a picture of the Universe without the gods in it. It would be like drawing a football match without the teams.



PNG - #68011

February 17th 2012

As I said, I agree that they were mostly concerned with the theology, but I don’t think that means they didn’t have any view at all of the physical universe. If that’s what you mean, I suspect you are wrong, but neither of us has any ancient people available to study directly, so it becomes an argument that has no definitive solution, like so much in Biblical studies. When there is a finite amount of textual evidence, all of it written by people a long way from us in time and in culture, it is possible to argue forever about exactly how they saw things. I’m a biochemist - I’m used to questions that can be answered definitely. Sorry if I get tired of the perpetual arguments in Biblical studies.


Jon Garvey - #68032

February 17th 2012

Ah - how simple life would be if all the world were biochemistry! My career was in medicine, and in that field you couldn’t even rely on people’s chemistry to be consistent, let alone their opinions.

I read somewhere the other day that science is great down at small scales like the molecular and below: and great at the scale of galaxies and the cosmos. It’s just a shame that most of the important stuff happens in between the two.


beaglelady - #68051

February 17th 2012

Who said this and what does it mean?  That science is not so great anywhere else?


Jon Garvey - #68060

February 18th 2012

Not a fundamental principle, Beaglelady, but an interesting angle that actually resonates with experience. I think it may have been Steve Fuller.

Remember physics experiments at school where you could get points on a graph almost without cheating? In biochemistry you had to work harder to decide where the line should go. In biology you get a paint-spray scatter of results and deal in standard deviations. In medicine you have to buck the science quite often because individuals stubbornly refuse to follow the curve. In sociology you give up doing maths altogether. History (which is where PNG and I started) is simply weighing what evidence you have.

In other words, at the mid-range scale of hufely complex events like weather, life or human affairs (most of what concerns us, in other words), science becomes an abstraction that may be helpful, but is seldom accurately predictive. That’s why natural scientists like PNG get frustrated by the humanities, and why physicist Ian Hutchinson in his recent series was all for evicting human studies from the field of science altogether.

There are, after all, many more “laws” in physics than there are in biology, and none at all in history.


beaglelady - #68070

February 18th 2012

We aren’t discussing history. And I thing science is doing a fine job in just about all areas.


Papalinton - #68003

February 17th 2012

“The transition from the flat earth and firmament view to the Greek view occurred gradually, obviously with educated people first.”


Insightful comment, PNG.  And a half-decent and useful analogy reflecting the painful but gradual process of the transition from Genesis 1 to Evolution for the commenters here on BioLogos.

Jon Garvey - #68007

February 17th 2012

”...the transition from Genesis 1 to Evolution for the commenters here on BioLogos.”

That would be a bit like the transition from apples to oranges. Those who don’t recognise their category errors are condemned to repeat them ad nauseam.


Papalinton - #68043

February 17th 2012

A good point made, Jon.  Indeed a category error.  But how does one convince the William Lane Craigs, Albert Mohlers, pillars of American christian thought, and at the other end of the scale,  the Westboro Baptist Church congregation, of this category error?  These people have made their claim just as assuredly as you have done, based on the exact same scripture.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68050

February 17th 2012

Papa, Jon, Mama Cass, …

Sorry to break up your little love-in.

Changing those apples to oranges is indeed a tall order. (Just hold your breath, though. With God, err I mean evolution, all things are possible… given enough time.)

“But how does one convince ...?”

Very, very simple. By providing proof. Absent that, by providing convincing, incontrovertible evidence.

So, Papalinton, as I asked you over on “Science, Religion …”, what is your single most convincing, incontrovertible piece of evidence? (And yes, be very specific.)

Come on.

Fire away!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boww2CMtOo4  (Far from a favorite, but apropos. You can even read some allusions to evolution in it! Nowadays, I see evolution in everything. Isn’t science great?!)

 


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #68075

February 18th 2012

Papa where are you?


Jon Garvey - #68059

February 18th 2012

Papa

I’d settle for your own realisation that no transition is involved between Genesis and evolution, any more than there is a transition between the American Declaration of Independence and a Ford Thunderbird.


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