Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Literalism, Creationism, and the Hebrew Bible

posted by David Klinghoffer

More objections from adherents of Biblical literalist creationism to my recent posts on the subject have been coming in. Some are thoughtful and raise subtle distinctions. As a Facebook friend writes: 

I just wanted to register the fact, without rancor, that I am a “naive Biblical literalist” myself. As a matter of fact, it sort of sounds like a lot of Jews are too. And there’s a difference between “Biblical literalism” and “sola scriptura” or “soul compentency” or Scottish common sense philosophy (or “any milkmaid could understand it perfectly”).

Did not the Lubavitcher Rebbe insist on the “literalness” of the creation account in Genesis? In fact, didn’t he insist that the sun moves around the earth?

Others are poignant and (in a gentle way) make me feel guilty. An email correspondent asks:

As a Gentile who has had a long interest in the Jewish Scriptures, who has visited Israel, and loves the Jewish people and supports Israel in whatever small capacity I am able, I found your article very interesting.
 
I’ve always assumed that Genesis is recording real history from the time I was first taught the stories as a young boy.  I always accepted that G-d is real, that He speaks to people, has a plan for this world and made a promise to Abraham that is irrevocable. I guess that is why I also support the creationist position but I notice that you say that is a naïve position. So, I am very interested to understand how the Jewish rabbis interpret Genesis and what I should be thinking about this issue.  If Genesis is not literal, does that mean that we should no longer consider Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Joseph as historic figures (forgive me if I spelt them wrong)? Does that mean that G-d’s promise to Abraham never happened and the Jewish people never entered Egypt? I’m interested to understand.

If we’re willing to entertain the idea that Noah’s flood (the subject of this week’s Torah reading, Noach) did not occur as plain historical fact exactly the way it’s described in Genesis, why not put Abraham between similar brackets? What about Moses?
Regarding Moses, his historical existence and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai would seem to be nonnegotiable. They are the subject of No. 7 and No. 8 among Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith. But is Noah, just as the literal Scriptural account of his flood experience expresses things, similarly nonnegotiable? I don’t see grounds for thinking so.
For Moses and for Abraham, furthermore, you could point to many authenticating details in the historical record — not proof, of course, but confirmation that the narratives are historically plausible. I wrote a whole book on Abraham from that angle: The Discovery of God.
The question is whether thinking of the flood, or the Garden of Eden for that matter, as figurative is damaging to the integrity of your faith, or not. Accepting the Darwinian account of evolution — life emerging through blind, purposeless churning of matter — would sure seem to do radical violence to that integrity. But as for narratives where the historicity is not so clearly essential to theological coherence, a saying of the Talmud that I often think of recommends itself:
“Teach your tongue to say ‘I do not know’” (Berachot 4a).


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Dan

posted October 20, 2009 at 5:26 pm


Klinghoffer was correct in pointing out the naivety of Biblical literalism. There is no need for him to apologize or accommodate individual’s feelings.
Instead of Biblical literalists emailing and facebooking David Klinghoffer, what they should do is provide a factual, evidence based explanation for their acceptance of the literal accuracy of Genesis. Should they be able to do so, then Klinghoffer would be wrong in referring to them as naive, until that happens, he stands correct.
I will offer the following questions to Biblical literalists to answer:
1. If the human race started exclusively from Adam and Eve, how does one account for the survival and florid genetic diversity among humans from such a shallow gene pool a few thousand years ago?
2. In light of the Genesis account of creation, how does one explain fossils, fossil distribution, and the fossil column?
3. If the Genesis account is factually correct, how does one account for radio-chemical dating techniques and the convergence with other means of dating?
4. How do you account for the cosmic microwave background radiation?
5. We can see stars and galaxies quite far away, given the speed of light, how do you account for our ability to see them if the universe was created by god just several thousand years ago?
6. If Genesis is factually correct, please answer the following regarding the flood of Noah:
a. how did all animal species achieve such diversity and survival if they also only came from one reproducing pair a few thousand years ago?
b. given the dimensions of the ark listed in Genesis, how were all the animals able to fit on the ark, plus their food for 40 days. also, how were they able to maintain exercise to prevent atrophy as they would need to move immediately after landing on Ararat. Further, how were dietary needs met for such a broad array of animals – for example, Koalas feed primary on eucalyptus leaves.
c. what did carnivores eat after exiting the ark?
d. how were 8 people able to care for all those animals for 40 days?
e. given the volume of water needed to cover the whole earth up to a depth of at least ~30,000 feet, where did all this water go? how did the kinetic energy of all that water falling, experiencing friction and thus releasing heat, not melt the earth?
7. how does one explain the existence of fossil fuels in light of the parameters offered in Genesis?
I do not recommend turning to answers in genesis or similar institutes for answers – countless scientists have used data to reject and refute their answers as incorrect. Therefore, other explanations are needed.



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LazerA

posted October 20, 2009 at 7:41 pm


I don’t have the energy at this time to respond in detail to Dan’s list of questions, but I will simply point out that none of them present serious challenges to a sophisticated literal understanding of the Biblical narrative, although some of them are intriguing.
First of all, a literal interpretation of Scripture does not imply a superficial and unsophisticated interpretation. Such an approach has no place in Jewish tradition.
Secondly, a literal interpretation does not require that every possible question must be explicitly addressed in Scripture. No Jewish interpreter argues that the Biblical narrative is a comprehensive and detailed narrative of the events it describes. It is, at best, a general description of complex events.
Finally, as is clear from the literal meaning of the Scriptural narrative, many of the events described were clearly of a super-natural nature. As such, many of the questions you have posed could be answered quite simply as additional miraculous aspects of the event that were not explicitly mentioned in the text.



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Ben Noach

posted October 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm


I find it very interesting that the world is at war with Genesis while science itself is otherwise “politically incorrect”–a European, “western” imposition that both violates the “earth mother” and dare not interfere with the supernatural cosmogonic myths of “indigenous peoples.” In fact, teaching Darwinism to Australian aborigines would probably be called “cultural genocide” and lead to a trial at the United Nations.
Scientists, of course, are only human and one of the foibles common to all humans is cowardice–fear of attacking an unsafe target. Therefore scientists, in the face of the hostility of nature-worshipers, animal-rightists, Third World fundamentalists, and sundry other off-limits targets can only focus all their bile and spleen at the rural white American.
One can empathize. After all, Catholics have learned that the only people who aren’t free to criticize the Catholic Church–even to simply state the scientific fact that it has engaged in horrendous persecution of other Xtian sects–are American-style Fundamentalist Protestants. Yessir, Catholics may have to suffer in silence at the attacks of atheists, agnostics, homosexuals, and other such people but let Rev. John Hagee say the same thing and it simply will not be tolerated. Shoot, liberal Reform rabbis will even join in the attack on the “anti-Catholic bigotry!”
What would this world do without the good old American “redneck?” Blacks ahd Hispanics in California pass a referendum to prevent the institution of “gay marriage,” and frustrated “gays” (who dare not criticize the religions or cultures of Blacks and Hispanics, even if that religion is identical to that of the “rednecks” themselves) have that good old reliable whipping boy. Blacks speak with exaggerated Southern dialect? Make fun of the speech patterns of “hillbillies.” I’m thinking that without these unfortunate people on which to pour out its frustrations the world might very well explode.



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Dan

posted October 20, 2009 at 7:59 pm


So, LazerA,
You do not have any answers to my questions?
Scientists do – and they have data to support their answers.



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Ben Noach

posted October 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm


I think, Dan, that Lazer was pointing out the truism that the coming into being of nature cannot be ascribed to nature. That being the case, the creation is an inherently supernatural event and to insist that the formation of the world be understood as a purely natural process–the same natural process by which the fully created world now operates–is an exercise in illogic and a contradiction in terms.
How do you explain the tearing of the Yam Suf into separate paths for each tribe of Israel with fruits and sweetmeats miraculously appearing for the children? That seems to violate the laws of nature as well.



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Turmarion

posted October 20, 2009 at 10:00 pm


David, given that in the past you’ve said, “On the other hand, that life has an evolutionary history including billions of years of change — that is unassailable as science and unobjectionable to me as a Jew,” (emphasis added) which as stated is 100% compatible with theistic evolution, I don’t see why you worry so much about the delicate feelings of Biblical literalists, while smacking theistic evolutionists from pillar to post. I believe God created the cosmos, but not literally in the way Genesis records, and I have no problem with saying so to those of my fellow theists who take the naive reading. Likewise, I accept evolution, but I do not think the arguments of Dawkins and co. to the effect that it necessarily entails atheism and is incompatible with theism are correct, and I have no problem saying so to my fellow scientists and science buffs who take Dawkin’s equally (in its own way) naive view.
[J]ust beyond the edge of my ability to grasp, there lies some spiritual reality to which the “symbol” points, a quite literal reality that exceeds my power of expression as it exceeds that of human speech and writing in general.
This is what Christian theology would call a “sacrament” (in the broader sense, not just one of the seven), or in the Orthodox tradition, a “mystery” (in its technical, theological sense). Of course, you have to be careful–to say that reality in the spiritual realm is more than just symbolic is one thing (and I’d agree with you thus far), but to accept a literal truth that involves a conflict with observed reality or physical law (e.g. a heliocentric solar system or the Deluge as described) isn’t sacramental, it’s–well, naive.
Dan: Great posts.
LazarA: First of all, a literal interpretation of Scripture does not imply a superficial and unsophisticated interpretation.
In fact, it does imply a superficial and unsophisticated interpretation, if such literal interpretation involves absurdities such as God having a body or the sun going around the Earth.
Finally, as is clear from the literal meaning of the Scriptural narrative, many of the events described were clearly of a super-natural nature. As such, many of the questions you have posed could be answered quite simply as additional miraculous aspects of the event that were not explicitly mentioned in the text.
Of course a believer in any religion could use the same rationale. Buddists could argue that the Earth is really a flat island surrounding Mount Meru (and some older Tibetan lamas believe this is literally true) and that the Buddha literally walked down a huge staircase from the Tushita Heaven to Earth. Heck, Scientologists could argue for the literal realtiy of the whole Xenu mythos this way!



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Dan

posted October 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm


Turmarion,
Makes sense to me. I don’t think full acceptance of natural selection and genetic drift, based on the data, automatically means one must be an atheist.
Ben Noach,
I offer the Casimir effect of quantum electrodynamics as a plausible explanation for the existence of the physical universe. The Casimir effect has been experimentally determined; a vacuum does have order and structure. I am NOT saying that the formation of the present universe, with its establishment of fundamental forces, is 100% a product of this; but there is data suggesting this as the explanation.
Further, before I can answer your Yam Suf question, I must first question: did fruits and sweetmeats miraculously appear in the first place – or is this part of a mythological tradition of didactic text? If you cannot demonstrate these fruits and sweetmeats existed in the first place – I see no point in answering your question. We might as well debate how much bigfoot weighs.



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Mark2

posted October 21, 2009 at 8:17 am


Dan, your questions are good, but you have many of your own to deal with, too. Why not answer these “Top 30 Problems with the Big Bang”?
http://metaresearch.org/cosmology/BB-top-30.asp
Oh, I know, “I believe science has all the answers!”



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Dan

posted October 21, 2009 at 1:07 pm


Mark,
When you can explain to me what the questions are asking in regard to evolution contrasted with the literal accuracy of the Bible, then an answer will be warranted. This is ridiculous. I have doubts about EVERYTHING in science. Doubts over the lipid-bilayer of a cell, doubts over the singularity of a black hole, doubts over the two-state oxidant nature proposed for cytochrome P450s. I’m skeptical of the photoelectric effect. I struggle with Maxwell’s equations. I have many doubts over binding affinities determined in biochemistry. Making predictions of molecular orbitals is difficult at best, I still can’t predict nucleophilic vs. eletrophilic reactions. Take a step back, look at the big picture, weigh evidence on one hand vs. the other. That is what is being discussed here. If one wants to discuss the merits of the Big Bang theory – go to a physics convention.
Further, my questions are not good. They are obvious, common-sense questions any 10 year-old should consider. Just like any 10 year-old should be able to see the problem with the myth of Santa Claus.
I will now offer A VERY BRIEF (this means un-cited) alternative explanation for Genesis.
Religious beliefs are a common feature among civilizations. Further, many of these religious beliefs were used as a social force for various means of group cohesion, loyalty, sustenance, power structure, and identity. Many religious beliefs include an account of the origin of our physical universe and the Earth with its biological inhabitants. To this extent, ancient Jewish (and now Christian) traditional texts are no different. Also, as ancient people’s tended to be illiterate in a symbolic language, these accounts needed to be presented in a means ensuring its oral passage (the story was easy to remember). Prior to the advent of TV and mass media entertainment, oral myths were a popular means of passing time. As ancient peoples mingled, various myths got incorporated (see the Epic of Gilgamesh). These myths, much like modern fables and fairy tales, were perhaps also intended to promote a moral lesson. For example, with Adam and Eve, the lesson could be that the supernatural god has a connection with man-kind, man-kind must be in harmony with that, take care of Nature, be responsible, etc, etc. Should we fail (some call this ‘sin’), we have consequences. Similarly, a moral lesson can be invoked for the folk story of Noah. Also, these religious lessons served as an oral history for societies. One can imagine countless other scenarios for the origin of religion – attempts to explain Natural phenomenon, attempts to calm people over frightening Natural events, attempts to understand what is happening with the (supernatural) world to ensure a more prosperous future, etc, etc.
Fast forward centuries… religion became a powerful means of socio-political control. Fast forward a few more centuries… religion still thrives in America for various other means (good for business – Pat Robertson, group identity, social support, fear of hell, psychological desire, means of attracting females, etc), despite science demonstrating the implausibility of the literal accuracy of these original myths.



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Turmarion

posted October 21, 2009 at 7:33 pm


Once more, excellent post, Dan. I’d only add the following:
One, the link Mark2 gives isn’t even relevant to the religion/science discussion, as it seems to be more about debates within science, and in some cases, alternate (or even pseudo-) science. In any case, the page Mark2 linked to is arguing, apparently, for the steady-state universe against the Big Bang. This is odd for someone presumably arguing for the literal creation account, since the steady-state cosmos is even farther from the Genesis 1 account than the Big Bang! Of course, theologically, either version can be seen as compatible with creation by God (see Mortimer Adler’s excellent book, How to Think About God for a more detailed account).
Two, perhaps Mark is arguing along the lines of “If the scientists can’t even agree, why should I bother listening to them?” This would be like arguing that since physicians and nutritionists disagree about what the optimal diet should be in all its details, therefore I should disregard them entirely and eat lard sandwiches washed down by strychnine soda! Science doesn’t know everything, but it knows an awful lot, and ignoring what it does know is often done only at one’s peril!
Of course, regardless of science’s shortcomings, things that are obviously absurd such as God’s having a body or a heliocentric solar system, are total non-starters for all but the naive. Understand, a naive, literalist believer may be a fine person and a better Christian or Jew than a sophisticated believer who understands the metaphors and the science; but that doesn’t make his beliefs correct.



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Mark2

posted October 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm


“In any case, the page Mark2 linked to is arguing, apparently, for the steady-state universe against the Big Bang. This is odd for someone presumably arguing for the literal creation account,”
I’m not.
“Two, perhaps Mark is arguing along the lines of “If the scientists can’t even agree, why should I bother listening to them?” ”
Nope.



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Turmarion

posted October 21, 2009 at 8:52 pm


Mark2: In light of your most recent post, I guess then that I have no clue what you’re trying to say. Care to enlighten me?



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Mark2

posted October 22, 2009 at 7:52 am


How can I enlighten the most enlightened person on earth?
I think I’ll pass.



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Turmarion

posted October 22, 2009 at 9:10 am


Mark2: How can I enlighten the most enlightened person on earth?
If snarkiness is your answer, and you’re not prepared actually to exchange ideas or explain what you mean, then yes, you should pass, and let someone else use the bandwidth who won’t be wasting it.



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Turmarion

posted October 22, 2009 at 11:19 am


Slight correction to my 7:33 PM post from 21st–instead of “heliocentric” it should say “geocentric”. The latter’s what’s absurd, not the former! Sorry about that.



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Jay Hutchison

posted October 22, 2009 at 11:21 am


You cannot argue with people who believe in a literal interpretation of holy book of the ancient Hebrews. They are not capable of intellectual thought. But they sure are funny… reminds me of my little nephew. He will believe anything.



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Dan

posted October 22, 2009 at 1:58 pm


I think it would be beneficial to bring this discussion back to the original topics presented.
1. Klinghoffer correctly referred to creationists as naive Biblical literalists. In short, a literalist can be considered a person who accepts the accounts in Genesis as actual historical fact that occurred (nearly?) exactly as written.
2. Klinghoffer claimed to receive communication from such individuals who objected to his label. I have no reason to doubt his veracity on this.
3. Klinghoffer meant no offense and is hesitant to retract. I encourage Klinghoffer to stand by his original assertion, which appears correct.
To the Biblical literalists:
This is a excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate why you are not naive. If you take offense to being called naive, then I encourage you to make a case for yourselves as to why such a label is inaccurate. In other words, answer basic questions skeptics, scientists, rationalists, materialists, etc have regarding the actual, literal accuracy of the accounts in Genesis. Answer these questions with COMPELLING data and evidence that WITHSTANDS reasonable scrutiny. I have posted a few such questions in an earlier post. You do not need to answer ALL of them. If you can reasonably answer HALF of them, I’ll be far less likely (by orders of magnitude) to consider biblical literalists naive. Instead of emailing and facebooking Klinghoffer about how you don’t like the applied labels, use his blog to defend yourselves. Heck, he lets me fairly post and has never been disparaging, I’m sure he’ll let you post as well.



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Dan

posted October 22, 2009 at 2:00 pm


should be “an excellent opportunity”



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Dan

posted October 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Again, I would like to re-iterate that I think our discussion needs to come back to some of the more germane topics at hand – in this case, biblical literalism and its naivety.
I do not encourage disparaging posts of the host of this blog, which amount to personal attacks.
I do think ‘louise’ raises one point, however, which I would like to expand upon. I do have concerns over the direction certain factions of American society are taking in regard to science.
Given the nature of the global economy, increasing world population and the burden to biologically sustain such numbers, warning signs of a degree of rapid climate change, divergent group contact with its potential for conflict over resources, insufficient low-imapct current energy supply, and an aging population, it seems unlikely that turning to unproven, improbable, ancient folk mythology for literal truths of the natural world will be able to explain and solve these looming problems. I suggest modern science, which relies on materialistic testability and falsifiability as a better alternative to addressing these material problems in Nature. I contend the benefits of modern science over ancient mythology are obvious. This is why biblical literalists are naive.
I would also suggest we are entering the time of consequences. One means to ensure our economic and biological survival, both as a country and as a species, is to promote science. The promotion of science includes accurate, rigorous science education – education in what knowledge is available, how it is/was obtained, and how the modern scientific method operates. Science education is necessary to ensure the continuation of proper science. In opposition to science education is the promotion of biblical literalism as being based on science, and non-scientific ideas such as intelligent design. This confuses people at to what is, and what is not, valid science. If we are confused over science, I caution our progeny may not face a bright future.



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Mark2

posted October 26, 2009 at 6:35 am


“If we are confused over science, I caution our progeny may not face a bright future. ” Take a look at this essay, by a staunch evolutionist professor.
http://mje.mcgill.ca/article/view/2224/1694
“I used to teach a course on science and pseudoscience which was offered to honors students, which are most definitely not a random subset of the student population at the university. These were among the best and brightest students on campus. They also came from disparate backgrounds with fewer than half of those I interviewed pursuing a science major. I asked them to respond to questions aimed at evaluating their general knowledge of science as it is assessed among aspiring high school teachers. These were questions about matters of fact, not principles of science or critical thinking. Not surprisingly, science majors knew (slightly) more science than non-science majors did. I then asked them to rate their belief in a series of paranormal phenomena, from voodoo to astrology, from water dowsing to haunted houses, and so on. The results indicate no significant difference between genders, but, astoundingly and contrary to expectations, the science majors held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students!”



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Dan

posted October 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm


Mark,
Here is some work discussing the importance of science for our future survival:
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463#toc
http://www.compete.org/images/uploads/File/PDF%20Files/NII_Innovate_America.pdf
There is a difference between teaching science to displace superstition and teaching science to generate knowledge of the natural world and the ability to apply that knowledge. That is why I question they very premise of the opinion article.
There is a reason why the piece is an OPINION piece and NOT a body of research. Students entering college are likely to still cling to superstitious beliefs they had been raised with for 18 years and in many cases it may not be until graduate school, when they actually dig in and engage in science, that those beliefs are displaced. For this same reason, many medical doctors believe in miracles as most hardly engage in science in medical school. We will probably always have believers in ghosts, goblins, and gods. Nevertheless, in a future that depends on science, it’s not a good idea to teach pseudoscience in the classroom – it is illogical to teach things which will weaken people’s understanding of what science is and what it is not. Francis Collins is outspoken regarding his faith in a God. Few deeply question (some do, though) his ability to engage in science, as per his past accomplishments. BTW, Collins has stated intelligent design is not science.
Further, this piece does NOTHING to demonstrate that a literal belief in the bible is not naive – in the sense that the events transcribed in Genesis actually occurred.



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Mark2

posted October 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm


“There is a reason why the piece is an OPINION piece and NOT a body of research.”
Ummm, the author QUOTES research to reach his conclusions. Did you see that part?
“There is a difference between teaching science to displace superstition and teaching science to generate knowledge of the natural world and the ability to apply that knowledge. That is why I question they very premise of the opinion article.”
I can count up to at least four pages of the mcgill article demonstrate that the premise you think you saw is /not/ the premise of the article. The author clearly is promoting both things.
“Students entering college are likely to still cling to superstitious beliefs they had been raised with for 18 years and in many cases it may not be until graduate school, when they actually dig in and engage in science, that those beliefs are displaced”
That’s fine and all, but that in no way explains what the author wrote: “astoundingly and contrary to expectations, the science majors held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students!”
“BTW, Collins has stated intelligent design is not science.”
What brought him up?
” it’s not a good idea to teach pseudoscience in the classroom – it is illogical to teach things which will weaken people’s understanding of what science is and what it is not.”
We agree 100%.
“Further, this piece does NOTHING to demonstrate that a literal belief in the bible is not naive – in the sense that the events transcribed in Genesis actually occurred. ”
True. I’m sorry that people like me keep diverting away from what you want to be discussed. However, I did address something you wrote, so I thought I was okay.



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Dan

posted October 28, 2009 at 12:58 pm


Mark,
Glad we agree on education. I encourage everyone to promote high quality education in our society as an excellent tool to confront and conquer future challenges, among other benefits.
Speaking of education, for those who reside in the midwest, such as myself, the U of Chicago has some excellent educational talks this weekend. Many of the featured speakers are practicing scientists currently doing research on evolution.
http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/
http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/participants.html



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Mark2

posted October 29, 2009 at 12:29 am


Sounds interesting, Dan. I have a soft spot for Michael Ruse, one of the speakers. In his talk, “Is Darwinism past its “Sell By” Date?” he says (based on the abstract of his talk) “Today, thank goodness, not one item of Darwin’s thinking remains intact; but, at the same time, everything that Darwin had to say is as vital and relevant as it ever was. ”
Lewontin, too, says some really neat stuff, like: “what good is a theory that is guaranteed by its internal logical structure to agree with all conceivable observations, irrespective of the real structure of the world? If scientists are going to use logically unbeatable theories about the world, they might as well give up natural science and take up religion. Yet is that not exactly the situation with regard to Darwinism?”
Dan, although you and I agree about not teaching pseudoscience, I do tend to agree with William Provine, Section of Ecology and Systematics
and Department of History Cornell University — or, Professor of Biological Sciences at Cornell University (I’m not sure which one he is now), where he is more open as to what is brought into the science classroom:
“Evolutionists have worked hard to keep alternative theories of origins out of the science classrooms. I think this is a tactical mistake. It means that anyone who comes in believing in creationism, for example, will not have his/her beliefs challenged directly with evidence from the teacher or students because the issue of creationism is suppressed in class. Evolutionists fear that students will believe creationism rather than evolution, and that only evolution should be taught. How interesting, indeed, that evolutionists might think that the evidence for creationism is more compelling to students than the evidence for evolution, or that the teachers of biology are incapable of presenting evolution convincingly, the solution for which is suppression of creationism. I think the better solution is to let creationism and evolutionism fight it out in the science classrooms everywhere. Entirely apart from constitutional considerations, I would hope that any teacher of evolution would raise issues about alternative theories of origin.
I have a suggestion for creationists. Do not try and hide the supernatural aspect of creationism. It sets intellectual dishonesty as the standard of the discussion. Good reasons exist for discussion in the science classrooms of supernatural origins (for me and many evolutionists, eradicating them; for Bird and others, spreading them–hey, the classroom sure will be interesting). The Lemon test is limited to the USA and is an anachronism that should be revised. Teachers and school boards in public schools are already free under the Constitution of the USA to teach about supernatural origins if they wish in their science classes. Laws can be passed in most countries of the world requiring discussion of supernatural origins in science classes, and still satisfy national legal requirements.
And I have a suggestion for evolutionists. Include discussion of supernatural origins in your classes, and promote discussion of them in public and other schools. Come off your high horse about having only evolution taught in science classes. The exclusionism you promote is painfully self-serving and smacks of elitism. Why are you afraid of confronting the supernatural creationism believed by the majority of persons in the USA and perhaps worldwide? Shouldn’t students be encouraged to express their beliefs about origins in a class discussing origins by evolution? If these two volumes (of a book he reviewed – Mark2) are a measure, we have nothing to fear from the arguments of creationists. –



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Dan

posted October 29, 2009 at 10:00 am


Mark2,
Real quick. Basically, the two reasons why (the vast majority of) scientists and science educators do not want religious, supernatural, or alternative definitions taught in their classes is because it fails the definition of modern science. Science, by definition, only deals with the natural, physical world. And, #2, the alternative explanations are not accepted by scientists as valid scientific explanations.
These two reasons may sound overlapping, however they may be more different than many realize. Let’s use an example from evolutionary anthropology. There was (and probably still are) a handful of scientists who had considered humans to have descended from an aquatic primate species (comparatively less mammalian hair, high body fat% at birth, babies ready swimmers but not walkers, etc, etc). While this hypothesis would fall within the definition of being valid science – it is testable, relies on naturalistic causes, etc, etc. The data has not supported it at all and the vast majority of scientists reject this hypothesis as it stands. So, a science educator would not be doing just service to his/her students to teach this as accepted science.
I’m not a science teacher, but it is technically correct that in theory they have extensively freedom to teach evolution in the classroom. I sometimes wonder if many do not teach it thoroughly because they fear backlash from students, parents, and school boards which may result in legal action or suspension – even though they may be confident they will win in the long run, they don’t see it as worth the trouble.
I’m inclined to agree with Dr. Provine (I’m not sure if he is still alive), in one aspect. Students should be allowed to question and express, and the teacher should be allowed to discuss with them. However, I do not think it wise for science teachers to present alternative, religious, or supernatural beliefs – because they are science teachers and not teachers of other subjects. In other words, if it is student initiated, I have little problem.
Hmmm, I’ll have to consider if supernatural creationsists have sometimes hid the supernatural aspect of their beliefs. I don’t know if I have been fully aware of this. That being said, I have encountered advocates of ID claim they are not creationists. While their simple claim is essentially “life is too complex, etc, etc… therefore designer”, I do not see how this eliminates the supernatural or how it is testable, despite the claims and ‘examples’ in books by their advocates. Further, they have not produced any data. For these two reasons, it find it troubling that they refer to ID as science and that they will go further and call it a “theory”. This gets back to my 2nd paragraph about teaching it in the class room as I would consider it an alternative idea.
I also wonder if this blog is not defunct.



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Turmarion

posted October 29, 2009 at 10:53 am


It has been interesting to follow the dialogue between Mark2 and Dan–lot of good points.
Mark2: I have a suggestion for creationists. Do not try and hide the supernatural aspect of creationism. It sets intellectual dishonesty as the standard of the discussion.
Excellent, excellent. This is something the people at the DI would do well to take to heart (not that I’m holding my breath).
Dan: I sometimes wonder if many do not teach [evolution] thoroughly because they fear backlash from students, parents, and school boards which may result in legal action or suspension – even though they may be confident they will win in the long run, they don’t see it as worth the trouble.
From personal experience teaching science and knowing others who do, this is very much a valid issue. In my case it never went beyond some individual students griping, but a colleague got a big sheaf of papers “disproving” evolution from a student’s pastor, and there are other situations in which there really are job security issues (depending on how supportive the administration is). It shouldn’t be that way, but the facts on the ground (including the Lemon Test) are as they are.
I’m a little puzzled, Mark. From your last few posts you’re obviously on the side of evolution, your arguments for creationism being discussed in class being more tactical and letting ideas fight it out in nature than actually supporting it. Yet earlier you seemed to chide Dan for having “problems of his own” regarding his questions, and the site you linked to had not only alternative theories but some stuff that was frankly loopy. This made me think you were attacking science as such, a common tactic of IDers and creationists. Then I sincerely asked, out of puzzlement, where you were coming from, and got a rather snarky response.
I guess you’re making the point that science isn’t as settled as some scientists like to portray (with which I’d agree) and that without free and open discussion, science can become a kind of oppressive magisterium itself (with which I’d also agree). In any case, in the context of this blog and the discussion as it was going, the extreme terseness of your replies made it really difficult to figure out where you were coming from, which makes dialogue difficult.
Anyway, my compliments to both you and Dan for an intersting thread.



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Frank

posted October 30, 2009 at 8:01 am


Did Ruse really say, “Today, thank goodness, not one item of Darwin’s thinking remains intact; but, at the same time, everything that Darwin had to say is as vital and relevant as it ever was.”? Wow. Can you imagine if Pat Robertson said, “Today, thank goodness, not one item of Jesus’s thinking remains intact; but, at the same time, everything that Jesus had to say is as vital and relevant as it ever was. “? All the non-Christians would be snickering for the rest of the day!



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ET

posted October 30, 2009 at 9:13 am


Let me first say that I’m no scientist, nor am I a degreed theologian, but I thing I can say, I am a definite believer that there is a God (Jehovah – Yaweh) and that He is the creator of all things in Heaven, the earth and beneath. I base this on a personal encounter (relationship) with God by way of the Holy Bible which is something that has been disputed since the deludge. I was raised in the Pentecostal Faith and as a child (11) I was attending a church revival. We (meaning there were others) were asking God to forgive us of our sins and save us and fill us with His Holy Spirit. First it was just repeating what the elders were telling us if we really wanted God to come into our hearts and perform this work in us. When I first started off I could hear everyone basically saying the same thing, but then things started changing. I began to cry and the more I cried, the more profound my plea became until, I no longer heard anything or anyone other than myself and then it happened. Suddenly, there was like no one there but me and there was a brilliant light, like the sun, very powerful, but slowly decending ever so gently. It stopped a my head and after that, I can’t tell you what transpired for it knocked me out. No one pushed me down. No one put their hands on me. No one sprinkled anything on me. When I did manage to get up, my legs were as wobbly as a new born calf. I staggered like a drunk but I had not had even so much as a glass of water. My jaw began to quiver, kind of like newborns when they yorn and then I started babling I don’t know what, but it was like there was a conversation, I was being asked something that there was no way I could lie and what was coming out, even I didn’t know. Many people have said many things, but this one thing I know, GOD IS REAL.



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Emily

posted October 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm


Hi Mark2,
If the course were “Origins of the Universe/the Earth/Man” then exploring supernatural creation would be fine. But it’s science class. If a student brings up young earth creationism or something similar, it seems reasonable to discuss it, but to include it in the curriculum would be like watching The Matrix in math class. Creationism isnt being supressed, its just not relevant there.
Now discussing the scientific evidence for creationism, what a scientific theory is, and any gaps in the evolutionary theory would be excellent topics for sophisticated biology classes.
This may not be directly relevant to anyone’s comments here, but evolution is not making any comment on the existence of God, one way or another.
Emily



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Dan

posted October 31, 2009 at 7:26 pm


Over a week has passed and not one biblical literalist has commented on this blog to present a clear, articulate, evidence-based refutation of the contention that literalists are naive and, accordingly, the bible is factually accurate. However, posts by Klinghoffer have suggested that literalists have read his blog, disagreed with the positions, and even taken the time to respond to him outside this blog regarding this issue.
Frank,
Here is a link to an article by Ruse which likely describes the essence of his talk:
http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=8535&page=0



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Mark2

posted November 1, 2009 at 1:29 am


Hi Dan, thanks for the link. There’s one sentence in that article that made me want to question Ruse. He wrote:
“In particular, successful organisms will develop features – adaptations – that help them to succeed.”
I think this is a sentence ripe for analysis. It definitely has its issues.
The word “them” in the second half seems to refer to word “organisms” in the first half, but in reality it refers to the descendants of these organisms (or it refers to the entire line).
Also, is true that animals develop features that help them to succeed, if the intermediate step /towards/ that feature was in fact deleterious to the animal?
Shouldn’t “successful” be defined /after/ the fact? [[Are these organisms successful BEFORE they develop these beneficial features, or are they successful only AFTER they develop these features. (The latter, I suppose, even though the grammar implies the former.)]] Were dinosaurs “successful”? If we took a time travel machine to those times, we’d say, “look at these successful creatures!” But eons later, we’d say they failed. The whole definition of “successful” is terribly wishy-washy.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll succeed better if I develop some adaptations. I wonder how long Ruse would say that ought to take. After all, he says I (or my descendants) WILL develop them.
(PS: Thanks, Emily, for your thoughtful comment.)



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Mark2

posted November 1, 2009 at 1:39 am


Turmarion wrote: “I’m a little puzzled, Mark. From your last few posts you’re obviously on the side of evolution,”
When was the last time you saw someone obviously on the side of evolution happily blog about the two quotes that I shared earlier? –>
“science majors held more strongly to paranormal beliefs than the non-science students! (Pigliucci)”
– and –
“If scientists are going to use logically unbeatable theories about the world, they might as well give up natural science and take up religion. Yet is that not exactly the situation with regard to Darwinism? (Lewontin)”



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Turmarion

posted November 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm


So then, Mark2, what is your perspective? What exactly are you arguing for or against? Young Earth Creationism? ID? Evolution? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?



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Mark2

posted November 1, 2009 at 4:50 pm


I like to do what Bradley Monton does.



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Turmarion

posted November 2, 2009 at 12:48 pm


Mark2: I like to do what Bradley Monton does.
You mean irritate people on both sides, because you get a kick out of it? Since that seems to me, from reading his blog, to be a large component of what he’s doing. At least he seems less given to cryptic utterances and is pretty straighforward about which sides he comes down on.
Actually, he does make some interesting points, and I have heard about his book, which I intend to read when I can get hold of it.
In any case, my view is that for any kind of meaningful debate, discussion, or interaction on issues like this, everyone should be clear and explicit as to where he is coming from. I, for example, am a theist (Catholic, specifically) who has scientific and mathematical training, on the basis of which I’m skeptical of ID as presented by most of its proponents. I am certainly not a young-Earther or literalist creationist. I oppose metaphysical materialism but give methodological materialims more weight that Monton seems to. I think there is no ultimate conflict between science and religion, though the extremes on each side would vigorously diagree on that. Finally, I don’t think science knows (or ever will know) everything, but I think it’s one of the best tools we have for finding out about the universe around us. So, no secrets about where I’m coming from.



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Mark2

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:13 pm


Do you think PJ Meyers would have spoken as much truth as he did for the Expelled movie had he thought that Behe or Dembski were filming him?
99% of the time, I’d agree with you Turmarion, about being clear where one is coming from. But in ev/cr debates, the opposite seems to work better.



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Dan

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:52 pm


Getting back to the issue of Biblical literalism and its naivety, I am curious if David Klinghoffer has found himself in a compromising situation.
Here is why:
1. Stephen C. Meyer is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, along with David Klinghoffer
http://www.discovery.org
2. The curriculum vitae for Stephen C. Meyers notes that he recently served as a university professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:vRD_mA1X3r4J:www.stephencmeyer.org/curriculum-vitae.php+Stephen+C+Meyer+vitae&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
3. To become a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, the requirements are stated:
http://www.pba.edu/aboutpba/administrativeoffices/human-resources/faculty-positions.cfm
In which, one must affirm the guiding principles of Palm Beach Atlantic U.
These guiding principles are as follows:
“All those who become associated with Palm Beach Atlantic as trustees, officers, members of the faculty or of the staff, must believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments; that man was directly created by God; that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin; that He is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior; that He died for the sins of all men and thereafter arose from the grave; that by repentance and the acceptance of and belief in Him, by the grace of God, the individual is saved from eternal damnation and receives eternal life in the presence of God; and it is further resolved that the ultimate teachings in this college shall always be consistent with these principles.”
4. Is Stephen C. Meyer, fellow at the Discovery Institute, therefore a naive Biblical literalist?



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Mark2

posted November 3, 2009 at 6:15 pm


To answer your curiosity, Dan, I think that both Meyer and Klinghoffer would remind you what Klinghoffer wrote at the end of the above post: “But as for narratives where the historicity is not so clearly essential to theological coherence, ‘Teach your tongue to say ‘I do not know.’”



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Frank

posted November 4, 2009 at 2:05 am


@Dan: “Speaking of education, for those who reside in the midwest, such as myself, the U of Chicago has some excellent educational talks this weekend.”
Some ID folks give (at least preliminarily) their charitable reviews of this conference –
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/11/more_from_the_university_of_ch.html#more
and
http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/10/lewontin_and_numbers_day_one_o.html#more
I could also provide a couple of links from pro-evolution websites, but that wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun.



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