The Adam-and-Eve war continues at Bryan College

To those who claim that there’s no incompatibility between science and religion, read this:

Bryan College is a small, conservative Christian school in Dayton, Tennessee, deliberately placed in the town that hosted the 1925 Scopes Trial, and where the school’s namesake, William Jennings Bryan (who was one of those testifying against Scopes for teaching human evolution), died shortly after the trial.

As I’ve posted before (here and here), the College is in a ferment over a topic close to my heart: the historicity of Adam and Eve.  It turns out that the college’s recent insistence that faculty and staff swear to an oath affirming that historicity is tearing the college apart. Even conservative Christians, it seems, have trouble believing that Adam and Eve were the literal ancestors of humanity.  That historicity has become increasingly problematic since the appearance of new papers in population genetics, showing that over the last few hundred thousand years, the population of Homo sapiens could not have been smaller than about 12,250 (10,000 who remained in Africa and 2,250 who migrated out of Africa to populate the rest of the globe).

In other words, the human population never comprised only two people. And if Adam and Eve weren’t the literal ancestors of humanity, then a critical part of the Genesis story is wrong: the acquisition of Original Sin. And if there were no Original Sin accrued by a literal Adam and Eve, then all of us—their supposed descendants—aren’t sinful by birth, and Jesus’s return wasn’t necessary.

Now theologians have been busy trying to show that Adam and Eve were really metaphorical (of course they didn’t really do that much before science showed that n > 2), but that solution has its own problems. It means that Jesus died for whatever metaphor they manage to concoct. If, for instance, “Original Sin” means simply—as some theologians think—the inherited “selfish” side of our nature stemming from evolution, then Jesus died to redeem us from what evolution instilled in us. Since Bryan College doesn’t accept evolution, that won’t work anyway.

Or one could also claim that Adam and Eve were the titular heads of humanity, and there were many other people around who were not anointed with Original Sin. But that also has problems. Genesis doesn’t mention anybody else around, and if Original Sin were inherited from parent to offspring, then the descendants of those other people weren’t afflicted. So how did we all become sinful?

Since the divinity and salvific properties of Jesus are the non-negotiable, bedrock truth claims of almost every Christian, a metaphorical Adam and Eve poses severe problems for Christianity, as the role of Jesus becomes unclear. No doubt theologians, with their clever and devious ways, can circumvent the problem, but it’s a problem that is bloody obvious to every thinking (and believing) Christian.

And this is what’s ripping apart Bryan College. The science is clear: Adam and Eve were not the sole ancestors of humanity. (By the way, the Catholic Church, supposedly okay with science, still maintains that they were.) But the Bible is also clear: there were two historical ancestors, and their malfeasance is what made Jesus’s appearance on Earth necessary. For conservative Christians this is cognitive dissonance in its most painful form, and it’s causing huge problems at Bryan College.

To deal with them, last November the College added an Adam-and-Eve rider to its long-standing statement of beliefs to which all faculty and staff must swear:

picture-1

Because of that rider, faculty left (or have been fired), and the students are protesting. A lot of them simply don’t like the Adam and Eve rider.

The continuing fracas is documented in an article in yesterday’s New York Times: “Bryan College is torn: Can Darwin and Eden coexist?” Just the title of that article shows the continuing incompatibility between science and religion in many people’s minds. As the Times reports:

Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”

For administrators and many members of the governing board at Bryan, the new language is a buffer against what they see as a marked erosion of Christian values and beliefs across the country. But for critics, the clarification amounts to an assault on personal religious views, as well as on the college’s history and sense of community.

“It makes Bryan a different place,” said Allison Baker, who graduated this month and was the vice president of the student government, which raised questions about the clarification’s swift enactment. “I would argue it makes it a more narrow place.”

It’s telling that some people see this new statement as an “assault on personal religious views,” as well as making the college “a more narrow place.” That can be construed only as religious beliefs coming in conflict with the new science that tells us that Adam and Eve were completely fictitious. (Of course many would have thought that privately anyway, even before the new science.) And “a more narrow place” means, I think,  “a place where science and reason are rejected”.  I find this curious in view of the original faith statement, which affirms that humans were created by God, sinned, and thus incurred spiritual death.” That equally defies evolution and reason, but I suppose could be seen as somewhat metaphorical.

But Adam and Eve were the last straw: the straw that broke Bryan College’s back. It is religion cracking in the face of good science. That’s clear from the departure of biology professor Brian Eisenback, who, after leaving Bryan, said this:

For Dr. Eisenback, who is writing a book with support from an organization that has called the college’s clarified stance “scientifically untenable,” teaching an array of perspectives was an act of faith in itself.

“Because of the culture war that is raging with Scripture and age of the Earth and so on, I think it’s important for me to teach my students the same material they would hear at any state university,” said Dr. Eisenback, who accepted a job at Milligan College, also in Tennessee, amid the discord here. “But then also, as a Christian who is teaching at a Christian liberal arts college, I think it’s important that they be educated on the different ways that people read relevant Scripture passages.” Others at Bryan insist that the college’s doctrinal stances should take precedence.

The raging fight between fact and faith is also evidenced by the College’s obdurate stance that when they clash, faith trumps fact:

Academic freedom is not sacrosanct,” Kevin L. Clauson, a professor of politics and justice, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Bryan Triangle, a campus publication. “It too must submit to God in a Christian college.”

. . . Such debates often take place, Dr. [William] Ringenberg said, as the colleges try to fine-tune the balance of faith and education. “Soon enough, the two of them will clash if you’re serious about academics and serious about having a biblical view of Christianity,” he said.

Stephen Livesay, the College’s beleaguered President, defended the Adam-and-Eve rider in a curious way:

Dr. Livesay said that Bryan’s leaders were determined to proceed with the clarification.

“I don’t think you have to believe the Bryan way in order to be a strong evangelical,” he said. “But this is Bryan College, and this is something that’s important to us. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are.”

What’s in our DNA, in fact, is evidence that we all come from a minimum of 12,250 ancestors. How funny and ironic that they say that their rejection of that fact is also in their DNA! But of course the DNA for Biblical literalism is metaphorical.

Some accommodationists, such as those at the National Center for Science Education, would claim that this problem could be solved by other Christians telling the administrators at Bryan College that evolution is simply not in conflict with their faith.  But the problem is that they already reject that view, for they’re part of the 64% of Americans who, when a tenet of their faith conflicts with science, simply reject the science.  And so we have one more example of the failure of accommodationism.

h/t: William

192 Comments

  1. Sean
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I would be so embarrassed to send my child to Bryan College, or to attend it myself. A college “deliberately placed in the town that hosted the 1925 Scopes trial”?? Named after William Jennings Bryan??

    It’s a college built upon an attack to free inquiry, the exact opposite of what a college should be.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      All fundamentalist and evangelical christian colleges are like that. Any institution that has a doctrinal statement that has to be signed is like that. We need a word for “colleges” that are opposed to everything a real college is.

      • Matt G
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Bryan, the Uncollege. No education. Never had it, never will. Ah ha ha ha ha!

      • Dave Cradle
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        The word you are looking for is “church”. :-)

        (Yeah, okay. Technical it’s “Seminary”)

  2. Jacques Hausser
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    “Genesis doesn’t mention anybody else around, and if Original Sin were inherited from parent to offspring, then the descendants of those other people weren’t afflicted. So how did we all become sinful?”

    Sin was (and still is) obviously selectively advantageous and pervaded all the numanity very quickly. Remember that sin is synonym with knowledge, curiosity,and independant mind.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      And where did Cain’s wife come from?

      /@

      • Randy Ruggles
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Cain’s wife came from one of the many other children that Genesis says Adam and Eve had. (Genesis 5:4) It helps if you actually read what you are attacking. ;)

        • Filippo
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          Would you care to conjecture how many was “many”?

          Also, how old is the Earth, and what is the basis for your answer?

        • Mike Francis
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

          That leads to a different problem. If Cain’s wife was one of Adam and Eve’s daughters, then Cain married his sister. Incest, anyone?

        • Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Well, I have.

          Gen 5:4 says Adam had other sons and daughters /after/ Seth was born. (And doesn’t actually say that Eve was their mother!)

          But Seth was born /after/ Cain knew his wife.

          And apart from problems of chronology, /nowhere/ does Genesis say that Cain’s wife was one of Adam’s daughters. That is only exegesis.

          It helps if you actually read what you are defending.

          /@

        • pissedoff atheist
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          would you care to tell me how we are here then? Incest NEVER works for healthy population.

          • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            Incest doesn’t work now because The FallTM corrupted our perfect genes and gave rise to nasty recessive mutations. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve with extraordinarily high neutral genetic diversity and no deleterious alleles. I die a little inside as I type these words because I know that some people actually believe them.

            • Jennifer
              Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

              But doesn’t the idea of recessive genes support evolution, which kills the religious assertion that evolution is false?

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

                They generally accept what they call “microevolution” and deleterious mutations. What they reject is (non-revertant) adaptation via natural selection of beneficial mutations. Don’t try to make sense of it: it’s too upsetting that kids all over the world get taught this crap.

        • Richard Green
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          So his wife was his sister? Ewwwww you theists… Yuk.
          See how morally bankrupt religion is? You are effectively saying that anything is permissible.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        He bonked his sister.

        It astounding how little fundagelicals care about the rampant incest implicit in the Adam and Eve myth. The Sensuous Curmudgeon has a hilarious dissection of this here. Of course, his source is the ICR, the same group of buffoons who managed to talk themselves into believing that plants are not alive.

  3. Charles E. Jones
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why having Adam and Eve be metaphorical creates any bigger problem for Christians than they already face. They already believe that God for some reason made humans inherently sinful. This is especially true of Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists. So, whether or not Adam and Eve somehow created an inheritable Original Sin isn’t all that important: Humans were created by God to be sinful, and so God extruded apart of Himself to allow a Mortal Coil to crucified as some sort of blood sacrifice that somehow washes away the sin that God gave us. But only if you truly believe.

    So, it seems to me the whole Christian foundation is a thorny theological problem that arises from the problem of Evil. Free will, the common answer to evil, of course sidesteps the fact that God apparently created humans with the desires to do evil in the first place. Why insert these unnecessary desires in the first place?

    • Matt G
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      And why are these desires stronger in some people than others? Why do some people seem inherently sadistic, while others are kind to a fault?

    • Trueland Mörrison
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      “…thorny theological problem…”

      I see what you did there. ;)

    • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      If anything, the literal account is more problematic than the metaphorical. God creates humans with the desires to do evil but no knowledge of good and evil, then forbades them from eating of the fruit that gives such knowledge with false threats. They eat of the fruit and get cursed (but do not die as promised) but how could they have known that it was evil to disobey God until they had the knowledge that came only from eating the fruit in disobedience to God?

      Getting rid of a literal Adam and Eve makes life much easier for Christians because then you can make up whatever meaning you like for the metaphor.

  4. francis
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    …people want to live eternally…they will even live a lie to get it….

  5. gbjames
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    “Sin” is pure hokum, offenses committed against an imaginary being. The word has no meaning in the absence of the pretend world of religion. Confusing this with crimes committed against real-world humans is habitual among the religious which is why there is so much hue and cry about sexual orientation. And this is why the Catholic Church has been so ineffectual in dealing with pedophile clergy. Crimes are committed and they respond by talking about “sin”. Drives me crazy.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      I find it especially funny when they describe “inherited sin” on the one hand. (How is that supposed to work, morally?)

      And on the other hand accommodationists exchange group correlation with “it has harmful effects to proclaim group responsibility” when you point out that religiosity is statistically correlated with social dysfunctionality. [As they routinely do here in Sweden, at least.]

      Obviously the two hands work without a head involved in between.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      It is why they keep claiming that sexual orientation is a choice – it can’t be a sin if it isn’t. The whole Adam and Eve story assumes consciousness was a choice and not an acquisition that humans were able to control. Then again, if we were created in this god’s image why was it necessary to make a choice to become conscious like the very god who created us in its image?

  6. Susan
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    When these people, who need to feed their families and pay their motgages, sign this statement, do they affirm that the one historical Adam was created 3 days after plants (genesis 1) or before any vegetation was created (genesis 2)? Inquiring minds want to know.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      +1
      Should you get an answer, be kind to share it with us.

      • Susan
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.

  7. observer
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Actually, the Bible does mention people other than Adam and Eve. Cain is banished and moves to Nod, where he marries and starts a family. The people of Nod are clearly already an established culture.

    Fun is seeing how fundies try to explain away the existence of these other people.

    • Dave
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, answering the question “Who were the Noddites?” should be the goal of the next big research programme at Bryan College.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        Neanderthals, of course!

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Damn right. It’s in our DNA!

          • francis
            Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

            ….my DNA shows a 3.1% Neanderthal…..

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Pre-adamism has been kicked around in some theological circles for centuries. It was perhaps never very widely believed, but its connection to white supremacy has made it even more disreputable.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Adamite

    • Billie
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      Not true, there is no mention of people in Nod in the Bible when Cain arrives. Cain was the first “Noddite”. (Gen.4:16-17)

      Nod means “wandering” and since the Bible specifically says that Eve is the mother of all life, there is no reason why Cain couldn’t have married one of his (23 according to Josephus) sisters who could have arrived in Nod a while later. After all, Adam lived 930 years and was told to be fruitful and multiply.

      Randy Ruggles is right: “It helps if you actually read what you are attacking.;)”

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget the angels and giants that were around back then too (Genesis 6). The angels were prone to a bit of hanky panky with the daughters of humans. That’s where the “heroes of old” came from, don’t you know.

      • scott
        Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Actually it is quite easy to prove Adam wasn’t 930. During this time period the word that we translated into english meaning “year” actually means month. He was 930 months, which is about 77 years, or an average human lifespan. Go figure.

    • Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      I guess Cain is to “blame” for my atheism.
      I remember hearing the Cain and Abel story in Kiddy-Church and I asked about the wife of Cain and how it could be, given that Adam and Eve were the first people. I don’t remember the answer I got, but I do remember that it left me unsatisfied. I was 5 when that happened.

      • Doug
        Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

        Genesis 1 says that on the 6th day, God created Man “male and female.” Then, in Genesis 2, He creates Adam & Eve. I’ve heard people argue that this means that there were other people aside from Adam & Eve; that just because the Bible focuses on Adam & Eve, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t other people alive at the same time.
        This is, of course, an attempt to explain away a contradiction, but it shows how it does no good to point out absurdities in the Bible. Christians have come up with an answer for any objections that you might raise. [They’ve had 2,000 years to do it.] The answers may seem lame to a skeptic, but they are evidently enough to satisfy someone who wants to believe.

        • Matt G
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

          When you want to believe something badly enough, you will perform whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to arrive there. This is not reasoning from evidence, but rationalizing a belief. PZ recently linked to a New Yorker article about how and why people do this, even in the modern age.

        • colnago80
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          It’s actually worse then that. In Genesis 1, Adam and Eve are created after the other animals. In Genesis 2, they are created before the other animals.

          • michaelfugate
            Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            Actually Adam is created before the animals in Genesis 2, then Adam needs a mate. So God creates all of the animals and parades them before Adam who names them, but none are suitable to mate with apparently (what no sheep?). He then fashions Eve out of Adam’s rib and everyone lives happily ever after – except for the bit with the tree and the snake.

            • Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              And the jealous ewe…

              /@

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

                So god didn’t know that Adam would reject mating with the animals and he would have to think of something new? I thought this god was supposed to know everything that would ever happen. How could this happen?
                Also, the flood story says that god was disappointed with what mankind had become, they weren’t what he expected or wanted. How could this be if he knew that it was going to happen since the dawn of time?

              • Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Then Abel burnt the jealous Ewe as a sacrifice to God and Cain murdered Able because, without other women at that point, Cain had taken a fancy to the Ewe. That’s right, isn’t it?

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:32 am | Permalink

                That is a really sheep joke….
                ;-)

            • Dale
              Posted May 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

              oh ya god commanded don’t eat the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden..the tree of knowledge in other words stay stupid and I forget was it eve or Lilith that gave him the apple? oh now I remember Lilith got kicked to the curb for not laying with adam

  8. lancelotgobbo
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Now I thought Eve, according to these same believers, was created from a ‘previously existing lifeform’. Exhibit A – one rib.

  9. bonetired
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Just been on to their web site and this garbage is present on their BIOLOGY page:

    “The science of biology reveals an amazingly intricate and beautiful world that reflects its Creator’s glory. Our majors examine the living world from the bio-molecular to the organismal levels; and they develop skill in the art of experimental design, execution, and reporting. We unequivocally affirm the inerrancy and authority of scripture and seek to develop our students’ abilities to serve God by serving others and by caring for God’s creation.

    “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” Colossians 1:16-17 (NIV).”

    Urghhhhh…..

    http://http://www.bryan.edu/biology

  10. eric
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Those Eisenbeck quotes are pretty telling as to just how censorious the administration is being. He clearly wants to teach what mainstream science says, without necessarily telling his students they ought to (religiously) accept it. Yet even that very detached, academic approach to mainstream science is not acceptable to the administration.

  11. Steve Gerrard
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Christian theology seems to boil down to
    1. You have to be perfect to get eternal life in heaven;
    2. You are not perfect;
    3. Here’s Jesus. Follow him, and he will get you in anyway.

    I have never understood why they worry about original sin. They can find things to feel guilty about without taking the blame for eating an apple.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if the mere thinking/contemplation of the theoretical possibility of eating an “apple” was enough to start A&E down the road of perdition. Re: Jesus’s remarks regarding committing lust in ones heart.

  12. Dave
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Minor correction needed to title of post:

    “The the Adam-and-Eve war….”

    One “the” too many!

    • Susan
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      I hope that doesn’t make PCC a “the”ist!

      • Dave Cradle
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        Excellent. Comment of the week. :-)

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of the classic:

      Now
      is the
      the time.

      b&

  13. Rhetoric
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    No Adam and Eve, no original sin. No original sin, no Jesus. No Jesus, no Christianity.

    Then there is the issue of a loving god being all about blood debts, and essentially giving the green-light on massive incest (How else would Cain and Abel be around?).

    And that is just in the first few pages…

  14. TJR
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I’d like to make some pithy comment here, but all I can manage is

    Streuth!

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      It may not be that streuthing. Remember this is Bryan College.

    • Matt G
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always wanted to say, in response to God asking Cain where Abel was and Cain responding “am I my brother’s keeper?”, that this is the world’s first example of sarcasm.

      And why did God ask Adam where he was after he ate the apple? God’s ignorance, or the world’s first example of a rhetorical question?

      • Filippo
        Posted May 29, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        And, did an omnipotent, omniscient Creator exist, were one in Cain’s place, would he perhaps be a little more circumspect of his utterances/replies to said Creator? (On the other hand, such a Creator would know what he was thinking, eh?)

  15. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    The position of inheritable sin must mean that there is a genetic basis for sinfulness. But the problem for Christians with that is that means being a sinner is hard-wired deterministic, and not a choice based on free will.
    Check mate, Bryan College!

  16. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Not only do I believe that we descendants of Adam and Eve and their incestuous offspring, but also that we, every last African, Asian, and Aboriginal Australian of us, descended from Noah and his incestuous little clan.

    I also believe that all humanity is visited every Christmas eve by Santa Claus in a special transportive act and that he squezzes through the every last chimney on Earth, even those in which the flue has been accidentally left closed – all with the help Jesus and his super friends. I also fully embrace the historicity of Bartholomew and the Oobleck

  17. cfunr
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I don’t get it. If we’re selfish and has a desire to sin, then it’s obviously because God wanted us to have that desire. So why would he be suprised if we chose to do what we desire?

    It’s kinda like, putting candy infront of a child and then punish them for wanting to eat it. Only, you also designed your child so that he would want the candy.

    And then, we have an all-good God, who can do things such as drowning every man, woman, and child on the planet, and still be good…. errr.. i digress…

    Christianity boggles my mind.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of a cartoon. God creates Adam, who is very happy to be here and tells God is is great. Then God gives Adam a penis. Adam is amazed, and proclaims “Go with God! All the way with God!”. God then says: “There is one condition: Thou shalt NOT touch it!”
      Adam is very disappointed.

    • Scott_In_OH
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      It’s kinda like, putting candy infront of a child and then punish them for wanting to eat it.

      I just want to point out that Michael and Debi Pearl, whose child-rearing manuals are respected by some Christians, advocate doing exactly this.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

        I’m reminded that in U.S. state law, there has evolved the concept of “attractive nuisance,” a situation or object which (so one or more judges have ruled) its owner or owner’s agent ought to have reasonably known and have been able to predict would attract – and potentially cause harm to – a child. Hence the removal of diving boards at private motel pools (and perhaps the closing/removal of pools). (Also the removal of swings from public school playgrounds.)

  18. Don Terndrup
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Almost all Christian denominations link the sin of Adam and Eve directly to the redemptive life of Jesus the Christ. For example, every year at Easter the “Exsultet” is sung at Easter vigil Mass. Here’s an exerpt:

    “This is the night
    when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
    and rose victorious from the underworld.

    “Our birth would have been no gain,
    had we not been redeemed.
    O wonder of your humble care for us!
    O love, O charity beyond all telling,
    to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

    “O truly necessary sin of Adam,
    destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

    “O happy fault
    that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

    So it seems to me that every denomination understands deeply that Adam and Eve really had to f*** up in order to make Jesus necessary. Logically that’s “If A, then J.” The only difference between denominations about this is the way they try to wiggle out of the statement “If not A, then not J,” which is prompted by our scientific understanding of our origins.

    • Matt G
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Adam and Eve were set up! A clear case of entrapment.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        If it came before a local state circuit court judge (and up the chain to the US Supreme Court), Adam and Eve might claim that it was a case of “attractive nuisance.” ;)

  19. The Militant One
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “And so we have one more example of the failure of accommodationism”

    Absolutely spot on.

  20. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, at The Christian Post:
    What’s In a Day? Young vs Old Earth Creationism

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Wow, from that article: “Let’s look at two strong arguments on both side of the aisle in relation to the meaning of a day in Genesis.”

      Later on: “After all, God could have created the earth in six days to appear as if it were 4.45 billion years old. He could have done it in six seconds. (He is God, after all.)”

      This is what passes for a “strong” argument? It reminds me of Religulous when Ken Ham asks Bill Maher if he’s God.

  21. Michael
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Academic freedom is not sacrosanct,” Kevin L. Clauson, a professor of politics and justice, wrote […] “It too must submit to God in a Christian college.”

    The Bryan College president is not God. I would have thought that was self evident after this mess.

  22. Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    What’s really funny to me about the last paragraph of the NYT article (although not really funny) is that biologists first went looking for DNA in order to understand how Darwinian theory worked. If we had stuck to the creationist program of research, I can’t imagine we’d understand DNA by now, or have the various treatments for cancer and other diseases based on genetics that we already depend on.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I get what you’re saying, but inheritance was a pre-Darwinian scientific problem, and looking for a cellular mechanism for it probably would have proceeded regardless, though perhaps not as quickly.

  23. Posted May 21, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    What about the other supposed bottleneck that occurred with Noah and the Flood? How do they deal with the lack of genetic support for that?

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I am wondering about that, too. I’ve never seen anyone address it, but I’m guessing their explanation will rely heavily on the word “kinds.”

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        There is an explanation – and it’s predictably inane. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll tweet a pic about it it in a few minutes – @HeatherHastie

  24. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    …and Jesus’s return wasn’t necessary.

    Wait. Jesus returned? Why wasn’t I told?

  25. Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Despite the attempts to reconcile Adam and Eve as metaphorical (and many theologians, as well as official Catholic doctrine simply don’t attempt it), it makes me wonder if any attempt is ever made to explain why Genesis would be written as a metaphor.

    Cultural context and writing styles aside, why would it be more understandable that we came from 2 people rather than 12000? If an all-knowing God inspired the writings, surely He could have just told them that he created 12000 people ex nihilo. No, instead it’s just 2 people and on the surface it seems far more likely that this is just how people ignorant of science would invent a story. We each come from two parents, those parents come from two parents, so why wouldn’t there be two original parents?

    If the Bible stated that there were originally 12000 people and didn’t attempt to construct a lineage of all the generations from the “first” person that is so absurdly separated from reality, it might actually have something going for it.

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      How It Happened”!

      By now I had put down my stylus. “Do you know the price of papyrus?” I said.

      /@

    • eric
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      Cultural context and writing styles aside, why would it be more understandable that we came from 2 people rather than 12000?

      Origins myths where a people spring from just one or two original families seem pretty common. Think Prometheus shaping the first man out of mud and having Athena breath life into him (sound familiar?), or even Ash and Embla, the first man and woman fashioned by the norse gods in the Edda).

      I don’t have an answer to why lots of ancient cultures thought it made sense that they were descended from one original couple, but it seems pretty clear that this notion was not limited to the Israelites.

      • Posted May 22, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        That’s more or less the point I was getting at. It was common across multiple myths and it would seem, looking simplistically at it, that it is easily observable that we have two parents and populations grow as two parents have multiple offspring, so starting with 2 is the most obvious conclusion.

        The part that isn’t obvious is where the 2 came from, so stories were invented. It makes little sense for a divinely inspired story to not simply say that we started with more than 2 and it was much further it the past. It would not have been beyond the comprehension of ancient people and even if it were, there was certainly no lack of imagination in attaching “mystery” to other supposedly divine concepts. That is, it seems wholly uninspired to come up with the simplest answer and then create myths that are obviously false unless they are interpreted as metaphors so abstract that nothing specific can be coherently inferred from them.

        I forgot who said it, but the quote, “If you want to know why your religion is unbelievable, ask someone from a different religion,” applies here.

  26. Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    But the two sides can coexist…

    • gbjames
      Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Theft and gift-giving can also coexist. Coexistence is very different from compatibility.

      • Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        And while they don’t mix, oil and water can coexist as well, but read the damn paper before replying. Small-minded intransigence will never rid us of creationism.

        • gbjames
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          Nice ad hom.

          On what basis do you conclude that the paper wasn’t examined before replying?

  27. Jeffery
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I started looking through the “New International Edition” of the Babble for the part where Cain tells God that, “…I will be a restless wanderer on the Earth, and whoever finds me, will kill me…” whereupon God puts the “Mark of Cain” on him and said whoever kills him will suffer “vengeance seven times over”- who is this, “whoever”? I started looking a little further about Cain’s “laying with his wife” but ended up, as usual, getting so nauseated that I quit….

  28. cremnomaniac
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The fact ath administrators have just decided to buttress their faith with an the addition of Adam and Eve, I find telling.
    As science advances, atheism and skepticism move forward, the religious have no recourse but to push back.

    Unfortunately, every push on their part makes them look even more ignorant than they already do. Its a symptom of the times. religion continues to lose ground and its painful for them; denial remains their last resort.

  29. TJR
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Would you Adam-and-Eve it?!

  30. jamesgart
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    The college should accept evolution completely since it is a fact!

  31. Scott_In_OH
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    And if there were no Original Sin accrued by a literal Adam and Eve, then all of us—their supposed descendants—aren’t sinful by birth, and Jesus’s return wasn’t necessary.

    This is true for Catholicism, but not for all of Protestantism.

    It is quite possible to argue (by which, of course, I mean it was argued to me as a child) that “original sin” simply means the first one and that we don’t inherit it. So I was not doomed to hell for something A&E did; I was doomed to hell for things I had done and would do. Fortunately, Jesus had died in my place, so I could get to heaven despite my unworthiness.

    Much more reasonable, right?

    • Posted May 21, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      The problem with that line of argument is that it means that either humans were imperfectly created by an imperfect YHWH and / or Jesus, or that Jesus and / or YHWH had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of humans.

      The former means that the Christian gods are serious fuckups, so why would you trust them to fix what they broke in the first place?

      The latter means that they’re just space aliens (perhaps from another dimension) who stumbled upon us and played some magic tricks to impress some gullible humans. How’re we to know that they’re not just fucking with us — or, perhaps, fattening us up like good shepherds do to their sheep?

      Without at least the pretense of a trustworthy and authoritative father figure, Christianity can’t even make prima facie claims to moral authority. And, without even that, why would anybody even bother to pay attention to Christianity in the first place?

      b&

      • Posted May 21, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        The yarn that I was spun is that there is a reason why things had to be the way they are for some greater good. (Normally the old free will and suffering chestnut.) If we were perfect there would be no need for faith yadayada. The side-effect of this greater good is “original sin” (i.e. inherent imperfection). Hell is not a place of suffering, it is separation from God. Jesus came to show us the way to avoid that separation by making us perfect through him. I don’t buy it myself but neither do I think that it’s quite as simplistic as being painted here. Not for all “thinking (and believing) Christians”, at least.

        I totally agree with the last point though. Even when I was a Christian, I often wondered how we knew that God was the good guy – we only had his alleged word for it. Satan, in his rare appearances, actually seems a lot more honest!

        Many Christians, of course, don’t think, because they don’t want it to be wrong and really don’t care about the things (i.e. science) that challenge their views. This is a failing with education in general, not just accommodationism. I don’t think that strident atheism is any more likely to open the mind of someone who has it firmly shut, as those in charge at Bryan College appear to.

        • Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          If “free will” is the answer, then one has to ask if there’s sin in heaven. Those who remember some of the stuff about Satan rebelling might find this unfortunate to answer.

          • Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            There are potential answers to this but it would make me cry to go into it, especially as I no longer believe it. (Do not underestimate the power of post hoc rationalisation in theology!)

            • Matt G
              Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              “Do not underestimate the power of post hoc rationalisation in theology!”

              We don’t.

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          The yarn that I was spun is that there is a reason why things had to be the way they are for some greater good. (Normally the old free will and suffering chestnut.)

          That just gives a label to Jesus’s incompetence and / or malevolence. Either he’s incapable of creating people with free will but free of evil, or he loves evil so much he’s not willing to do anything to put an end to it.

          If we were perfect there would be no need for faith yadayada.

          But that leaves open the question of Heaven. Is Heaven not perfect? Is there evil in Heaven? Is there free will in Heaven? If Jesus is more than happy to do all this great stuff in Heaven, what’s keeping him from doing the same here on Earth — incompetence or malevolence?

          I don’t think that strident atheism is any more likely to open the mind of someone who has it firmly shut, as those in charge at Bryan College appear to.

          Never forget the power of cognitive dissonance or of shame and social approbation. Also, there’s the Overton Window in constant motion.

          b&

        • Filippo
          Posted May 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          “Many Christians, of course, don’t think, because they don’t want it to be wrong and really don’t care about the things (i.e. science) that challenge their views. This is a failing with education in general, not just accommodationism”.

          I say it’s not so much “a failure with education” as a mass pop cultural failure. (As I observed today, why should high school educators on cafeteria duty have to pick up the mess off tables left by adolescent louts with low-slung britches and obsessed with their smart phones and iPods, and who view the purpose of a pencil to be something to break and throw at someone?) Anti-intellectualism and Philistinism gird the cognitive loins of “Amuricun Exceptionalism.”

      • Scott_In_OH
        Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        I think I’m with Rich Edwards on this one.

        We are each created with the potential for sin, but that’s really awesome because it means we have free will. Of course, it also means that if we live very long we will sin and deserve Hell (“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23), so it’s a good thing Jesus died in our place.

        So it may sound like I’m picking a nit, but I don’t see it so much as being “created imperfectly by an imperfect YHWH” as being forced to play an unwinnable game by a total jerk. More importantly, as a Christian I would have seen it as a completely fair game, where I was the one who was making the mistakes, and a loving parent was giving me a way out. I suspect it is the same psychology as that of an abuse victim.

        But the main point is that plenty of Christians don’t need to believe in a real Adam & Eve or inherited sin in order to buy into the rest of the system.

        • Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          “I suspect it is the same psychology as that of an abuse victim.”

          Oh yes! I’m not sure if this is the original source but see: http://i0.wp.com/unfollowingjesus.com/files/2013/01/abusive.jpg

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          We are each created with the potential for sin, but that’s really awesome because it means we have free will.

          Is there free will in Heaven? Is there sin in Heaven? Either there’s free will but no sin in Heaven, meaning the excuse doesn’t even get out of the starting gate; or there’s no free will in Heaven so why should we care about it here; or there’s evil in Heaven so why should we wish to go there?

          So it may sound like I’m picking a nit, but I don’t see it so much as being “created imperfectly by an imperfect YHWH” as being forced to play an unwinnable game by a total jerk.

          That works, too.

          Especially if you pull the pin on the next logic hand grenade:

          Why does Jesus never call 9-1-1?

          b&

  32. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    It is my opinion that the making of demonstrably incorrect statements based on religious faith like “we all descended from Adam and Eve,” have no place in education. It is not in the spirit of the provision of quality education and hints at a likelihood that the institution is unable to provide the same. It also makes one wonder what other limits are placed on scholarship and learning at the school.

  33. Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    This is clearly a case of religion in conflict with science. However, does anyone actually “claim that there’s no incompatibility between science and religion”? Surely the claim is simply that there is not necessarily incompatibility between science and all religion?

    • Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Some people do claim the former. However, that aside, I think Jerry’s point is generalizable. How does one decide which parts of the tradition is “metaphor” and which is not, for example? The very fact that one has to make this decision is evidience enough of the conflict. Which of course also occurs at the earlier stage of picking a religious tradition anyway.

      • Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        This is indeed the crux of the matter. For me (and some but not all other Christians I knew), the answer is a combination of science and theology.

        Science tells you which bits are definitely not true: six-day creation, Adam & Eve, global flood etc. Theology muddles through the rest to come up with something (hopefully) consistent with (a) itself, and (b) observations of the natural world.

        With regards to the conflict between science and religion, I always found it easier to make my Christian theology consistent with scientific evidence than I did with other parts of that theology, whether metaphor or literal.

        The mistake that some people make is to assume that no religious people use science to make that decision. They do. They just need a higher level of scientific certainty before rejecting a belief. Science is probably always in conflict with religion (i.e. pulling in different directions) but that does not mean that the two cannot also be compatible (i.e. non-contradictory) sometimes.

        • Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Is there a subtlety here? That religion can be be *tuned* to be compatible with science (as a body of knowledge), but remains fundamentally incompatible with science (as a way of knowing)?

          I *think* that when we talk about incompatibility we mean the latter, but counterexamples are generally discuss the former…

          /@

          • Posted May 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            Totally! Religion is not a way of knowing and I disagree with those who think it is. You are spot on: religion can be tuned to be compatible with science by identifying the areas of conflict and resolving them until belief is “consistent with the evidence”. (That lovely phrase that scientists use when there is no clear evidence in favour of their position but neither is it ruled out.)

            This was the nature of my Christianity, and that of other Christians I knew. You must also understand that sometimes, we would hold up our hands and say: “I don’t understand why this is the way it is but I have faith that there is a reason”. A Christian who claims to have all the answers is being dishonest with someone, whether it be you or themselves. What I wouldn’t do is say, “I don’t understand this so all those scientists must be lying,” or “This must be like that whatever the evidence may say”.

            We must also remember that, as a way of knowing, even science is limited. It does not identify truth, it identifies falsehood. The “truth” we perceive is always based on assumptions and at heart is nothing more than “these data are consistent with these assumptions”. Unfortunately, there will always be assumptions. It’s the best we have, it works really well, and is the only thing reliable enough to stake your life on. But it could be wrong.

            • Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

              religion can be tuned to be compatible with science by identifying the areas of conflict and resolving them until belief is “consistent with the evidence”.

              Not any more, and not for a loooooong time. There are no miracles, no gods. The laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and there’s not even the tiniest hint of room there for the supernatural.

              Now, of course, you can always invent some sort of conspiracy theory to preserve any manner of paranoid delusions. We are characters in the Matrix and Jesus is the lead programmer. Our tinfoil hats have slipped and aliens are controlling our thoughts again with their mind rays. Both those two statements are true and it’s all just part of Alice’s Red King’s Dream — and he, in turn, is a small part of Zhuangzi’s Butterfly’s Dream.

              But that type of craziness doesn’t actually do you any good, so there’s no point in dwelling on it save parenthetically in conversations such as these.

              At absolute best, all religions are no more than this type of conspiracy theory. In practice, they don’t even rise to this level of scientific respectability, as they make outrageously idiotic and long since utterly demolished claims about all sorts of things. The Bible, after all, opens with a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; it prominently feature a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and it ends with this most bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy with a dude getting his intestines fondled through a gaping chest wound. Is it really necessary to deconstruct it any further than that?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

                “Is it really necessary to deconstruct it any further than that?”

                It depends on how much empathy/sympathy you have for people unfortunate enough to have a logical/rational mindset combined with a deeply religions upbringing that dominates their formative years – and whether you want to engage with them and understand them, or just shout at/about them for believing stuff that they probably don’t.

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                There’s also a question of when adults are willing to take adult responsibility for not only what they say they believe, but what they passionately argue for.

                It is not at all unfair or inaccurate or caricaturization to state that the Bible opens with a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard and so on. Yes, most believers really hate the thought that that’s the case and go to great lengths to distance themselves from the idiocy of it all, layering bullshit upon bullshit about metaphor and mystery and eternal ineffability and the like. But it’s still a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard, and everything they do to defend the Bible could be done to defend Peter Pan as a sacred text — and to similarly-predictable hilarious and tragic results.

                That’s the real heart of the problem: faith. Only faith can get you into the type of untenable absurdity of thinking that there’s some sort of gravitas and dignity to be found in a book about enchanted gardens and talking animals and angry wizards and talking plants and magic wands and reluctant heroes and zombies and all the rest.

                Yes, it may be emotionally brutal to rip the rug out from underneath somebody, to point out that they’re idolizing some really, really bad children’s literature. But we’re talking about adults, and adults who’re loudly proclaiming their pride in parading around with their poopy diapers on their heads. Empathy and sympathy are one thing, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t ever extend to coddling that sort of behavior.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

                Ben, you are doing it again and cheapening a strong position by going for the lowest common denominator. No one would consider Peter Pan to be the attempt of an early civilisation to explain certain truths about the world through metaphor. I’m not endorsing “coddling” faith but being unnecessarily bullish and churlish is counter-productive if you actually want to engage with people and help them realise that you are right and that faith is not a virtue. If you make it too easy for someone to dismiss your entire argument as a “straw man” – even if at it’s heart it isn’t – then you are just wasting your time preaching to the converted.

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

                No one would consider Peter Pan to be the attempt of an early civilisation to explain certain truths about the world through metaphor.

                So?

                If you can explain to me how the Bible is less outrageous than Peter Pan, I’ll concede the point.

                Note: I’m not asking for examples of how people have attempted to dress a naked (and invisible and intangible) Emperor in splendid finery. The question isn’t whether or not people read more into the book than is really there or whether or not they have strong emotions about the book.

                The question is whether or not the Bible is actually outrageous.

                Because, if the Bible actually is the festering pile of shit that I claim it is, aren’t you just insulting believers by pretending that they’re too fragile to handle the truth? Aren’t you just coddling their wildly unjustified beliefs and only serving to keep them ignorant and deluded, to their own detriment?

                Turn it around. If you had been brought up believing that Peter Pan was real and the most important book ever written, would you want somebody to slap you up the head with a clue-by-four and ask you if maybe you aren’t a bit old to still believe in that sort of thing?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                Personally, I don’t think that the Bible is less outrageous than Peter Pan. I happen to agree with your views on the whole religion/faith thing. That’s not the point I am trying to make, though.

                A common atheist tactic is to go for the head-slap approach by equating some deeply cherished belief with something explicitly dumb. This is often a valid comparison at its heart – just as there is some validity to your Bible/Peter Pan comparison.

                The problem is that many religious people are not stupid and have thought about their faith, at least to some degree. They are not going to go “Oh yes, The Bible is just like Peter Pan. How stupid I am!” They will already have satisfied themselves that the Bible is not like Peter Pan, be it the “ancient wisdom” thing or personal experience/revelation of its “truth” in their lives. Whatever. It’s almost certainly flawed but they are convinced. So, they look at your argument and think: “Well, I know that the Bible is not like Peter Pan, so I know that this guy’s argument is a pile of crap.” And to some extent, they are right – the Bible is not like Peter Pan when it comes to misguided reasons for believing it nor in the nature of its content/claims nor the mystery of its authorship etc., even if they are alike in terms of realism.

                By making a punchy simplification, you exclude the important complexities and differences that actually underlie why billions of people believe the Bible but not Peter Pan.

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

                They will already have satisfied themselves that the Bible is not like Peter Pan, be it the “ancient wisdom” thing or personal experience/revelation of its “truth” in their lives.

                Undoubtedly so.

                But they’ll have done so by most carefully avoiding the actual Bible itself.

                That’s why I’m so fond of pointing out that the Bible opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and ends with a bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy in which the king of the undead gets his guts groped through his gaping chest wound.

                No, that’s not now any true believer thinks of any of those stories.

                But it’s a perfectly fair and accurate summary of each, to the point that there’s not one single mischaracterization in the lot.

                And, as such, even if the believer rejects me out of hand as a raving lunatic who knows nothing about his faith…the logic bomb will at least have been planted, and never again will he be able to think of Genesis without thinking of enchanted gardens, nor of Moses and the Burning Bush without thinking about magic wands, nor of Doubting Thomas without thinking about fondling Jesus’s intestines.

                It may be a slow fuse, but I rather doubt that it’s one that can be extinguished.

                And it certainly won’t be when the day comes that they can’t mention those stories in public without somebody reminding of just how absurd they really are.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

                “And it certainly won’t be when the day comes that they can’t mention those stories in public without somebody reminding of just how absurd they really are.”

                Well, that is certainly a day to aspire to.

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

                If you aspire to it, then you can join me in reminding Christians (in appropriate settings) that the Bible opens — all together now! — with a faery tale about an enchanted garden….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

                Fear not, I do when I think it’s appropriate. It’s just not the approach that I would take with my mum. Or friends from my youth who don’t believe Genesis is to be taken literally, for that matter. They would just think I was being dumb and/or a jerk. Probably both! With them, I tend to dwell on what a scumbag the god of the metaphorical Genesis is, the problem of evil, unanswered prayer… that sort of thing.

                I also tend to stay away from “Zombie Jesus” but that’s because you gain eternal life by eating him, not the other way round – and his reanimated corpse is a bit too charismatic. He’s more like an inverse vampire…

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                Of course, that’s the “grandma on her deathbed” scenario. You don’t tell her how stupid she’s been to buy into faery tales; you smile and nod and hold her hand and tell her how much you love her.

                But if grandma is in an hospice and is passing the time by trolling Web sites and selling Jesus, at least on those forums she deserves what she gets with both barrels.

                And you’re waaaaay overthinking the whole Zombie Jesus thing if you’re trying to exactly classify the particular type of monster he is and thinking nobody will take you seriously if you don’t nail the categorization perfectly. The dude died, was buried, climbed out of the grave, and wandered around with gaping wounds. That’s close enough to “zombie” for any but the most hard-core fan.

                If the argument is over whether Jesus was a zombie or a vampire or a lich or what-not, either the argument has already been won because all concede he’s an horrific monster from a fantasy story, or the argument has already been lost because it’s been sidetracked and nobody is taking it seriously.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                The zombie comment was a joke! I missed the obligatory “I’m not being serious” smiley – :op.

                I’m also not talking about letting grandmas on death beds hold on to their delusions. I am talking about not alienating friends, family and acquaintance unnecessarily, so that there might actually be the time and opportunity to explain the real problems with their actual beliefs. I fear that your “logic bomb” just gives more ammunition to the notion that you do not understand their position and therefore have nothing relevant to say. In my opinion/experience, those amenable to the logic bomb will be able to find and follow the path of logic to freedom without having to have it rammed into their faces. (To save repetition, see my answer to GBJames: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/the-the-adam-and-eve-war-continues-at-bryan-college/?replytocom=896284#comment-897553.)

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                Tailoring your answer to the specific Christian looks like a good strategy if you have the time for that.
                I’d say the odds of persuading any given one of them are very low, but they’re even lower if you don’t taylor the reply, so I think your approach is generally a good one.

                On the issue of those friends who reject literal Genesis, I’m curious if you don’t mind: do they also reject literal interpretations of other parts of the Old Testament, like Old Testament Law (e.g., their laws for warfare, domestic matters like adultery, etc.).

                If so, have you tried pointing out that the New Testament in different passages refers back to the Old Testament, endorsing the laws therein (at least, as laws appropriate for the ancient Israelites), or clearly interpreting events literally, and/or saying that the scripture is a good guide to morality, etc.?

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                @angramainyu2014: In my experience, those who reject a literal Genesis subscribe to the notion that God is gradually revealing himself more as society evolves and becomes more sophisticated. OT laws made sense for a nomadic desert tribe but were never meant to be absolutes for all time. Other stories are allegories for how we should ruthless cut sin out of our own lives etc. rather than glorifications of genocide. The Bible is vague and contradictory, though, and getting a straight answer is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. I think a lot of them believe that we all have a built-in moral compass and we just need to listen to it. Prayer is more about meditation and getting a sense from God of what you should be doing in a given situation, than asking God for stuff.

                The other problem is that, in my experience, no two believers are alike once you get away from Ken Ham style literalism. This is why I think it is important to help them find (and then share) their own inconsistencies and problems, rather than preaching at them all the things that you think are wrong with their belief but they might not actually believe to begin with.

                Dodgy OT morality is a big issue, though. At least it was for me. Objectively, the OT god is a complete bastard! I think that did a lot more to put me on a path to atheism than the silliness of a literal Creation/Flood account, which I had long since abandoned.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

                Rich,

                With regard to how some sophisticated non-literal-Genesis believers reply, and yes, that seems to be a common response in my experience as well.
                I was asking about the friends you mentioned, out of curiosity (and just to gather info about how different approaches are working).

                OT laws made sense for a nomadic desert tribe but were never meant to be absolutes for all time.

                The reply that OT laws were particular reply is untenable, though, for a number of reasons. But for example, one may start by pointing out that according to the OT, Yahweh commanded that if a woman was found not to have the “tokens of her virginity” (she may or may not have actually been a virgin) the night she was handed over to the man her father chose to hand her over to (she may or may not have consented; that was not required), then she shall be stoned to death; moreover, Yahweh implied that she deserved that.

                But on any reasonable assessment, that is not compatible with Yahweh’s being morally perfect – or even good – and gradually revealing more about anything; Yahweh plainly made a false moral claim or implication, and condemned a person to be stoned to death for actions for which she did not deserve anything like that – and, perhaps, did not deserve any punishment at all.

                That’s just one example among many.

                Have you tried this approach on those friends of yours?
                If so, how do they reacted (generally)?

                If it’s by claiming that that passages were not meant to be taken literally, one may point out that’s not a reasonable position – it was a set of laws, clearly meant to be taken literally, and Yahweh surely didn’t even suggest otherwise.

                If it’s by claiming that the Old Testament was mistaken and Yahweh didn’t actually command that (a common strategy, in my experience), then one may (for example) point to the many passages in which the NT endorses OT law, more or less directly (e. g., 2 Timothy 3).

                Additionally, there are NT passages that also make false moral claims and/or implications; purely for example one might mention the obviously false characterization of Lot as “righteous” (2 Peter 2), etc.

                Do they also reject much of the NT?

                Other stories are allegories for how we should ruthless cut sin out of our own lives etc. rather than glorifications of genocide.

                But that’s not reasonable, either.
                For example, how about the with the commands to engage in genocide, not in specific stories, but in their general laws regarding how to deal with other cities?
                In context, the specific commands to commit mass murder are very much in line with the general rules that also command mass murder. It’s unreasonable to consider those sets of laws allegories – and, of course, they were taken literally by the ancient tribe in question, as any reasonable person would have expected.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:23 am | Permalink

                I completely agree and it’s a good question. To be honest, I cannot remember the answer. I will look through some old emails and see if it was covered explicitly. Sometimes, I raise a bunch of issues and one or two get latched upon for further discussion, letting others slip away. I have also encountered the ultimate crap response of “although we mere mortals don’t understand it, it must be OK by definition because God did/said it”. That answer makes me fume and curse but I am not sure how to counter it other than to (a) reiterate the superiority of secular ethics and (b) change tack completely and try to demonstrate that a god of that nature could not exist in the first place to make such commands. Any suggestions?

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                I completely agree and it’s a good question. To be honest, I cannot remember the answer. I will look through some old emails and see if it was covered explicitly. Sometimes, I raise a bunch of issues and one or two get latched upon for further discussion, letting others slip away. I have also encountered the ultimate crap response of “although we mere mortals don’t understand it, it must be OK by definition because God did/said it”. That answer makes me fume and curse but I am not sure how to counter it other than to (a) reiterate the superiority of secular ethics and (b) change tack completely and try to demonstrate that a god of that nature could not exist in the first place to make such commands. Any suggestions?

                Thanks for the info.

                As for suggestions, I would engage in shameless self-promotion and recommend my moral case against Christianity for more arguments ;), but aside from that, briefly, one may (for example) point out that it’s an improper way of assessing the evidence and arguments for or against a hypothesis, in this case the hypothesis that Christianity is true.

                More precisely, Christianity makes a number of claims (well, it depends on the version, but I’m simplifying here), and some of them are moral claims. Now, we do have a means of assessing moral claims, and we normally do that in daily life. We assess them by means of our own sense of right and wrong – just what the non-literal Christian is claiming on the subject.

                So, one may point out that precisely, in order to assess whether Christianity is true, one may use one’s own sense of right and wrong to assess whether the moral claims or implications contained in the Bible are true, in particular whether Yahweh, Moses, etc., are morally good (going by the descriptions), whether the ancient Israelites had a moral obligation to obey such laws, whether it would have been acceptable to give them such laws, etc.

                As a way to drive the point home, one may use examples such as: Let’s say that religion X claims that there is a creator, Jack, who is morally perfect and tortures everyone for fun for eternity. Clearly, we can use our own sense of right and wrong to assess religion X and conclude, on those grounds, that religion X is not true.

                Now, of course Yahweh does not torture people for eternity for fun, according to the biblical description – that would make it too easy.

                But the point of this analogy is not to try to equate Yahweh’s actions with Jack’s in terms of degree of immorality or caricaturing Yahweh, but rather, to illustrate that it’s generally proper to test moral claims in a religion (like other moral claims) using our sense of right and wrong, and furthermore, that it’s improper to reject such objections on the basis of claims like “God said so, so it’s true by definition”.

                The fact that religion X claims that a morally perfect being tortures people for eternity for fun does not preclude us from properly assessing that the claim is false. We may properly apply the same means of evaluating evidence to Christianity, and it would similarly be improper for the Christian to reply on the grounds that “although we mere mortals don’t understand it, it must be OK by definition because God did/said it”.

                If the Christian claims an exception and says we may not make that moral assessment in the case of Yahewh, one may point out they ought to explain why (and there is no good explanation, so whatever they say, it will fail).

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

                “although we mere mortals don’t understand it, it must be OK by definition because God did/said it”. That answer makes me fume and curse but I am not sure how to counter it

                Try, “It’s a cookbook!”

                As in, a reference to To Serve Man.

                That is, even if the Bible really is the actual Word of one or more actual gods, you still don’t know if those gods are trustworthy or if, they like good shepherds and you the sheep, they’re merely fattening your lambs for the slaughter (or worse).

                Only you can, even in principle, be responsible for your own actions. Even if you place complete trust in another, it is still your responsibility for the decision to trust that other. Remember the “I was just following orders” defense from the Nuremberg trials and how well that went over?

                So, either the divine commandments are capable of standing on their own merits without appeal to divine authority, or they’re bunk and you’re actively letting yourself be used for something nefarious.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

                @Rich Edwards (cabbagesofdoom)

                (cool nickname, by the way).

                I think a lot of them believe that we all have a built-in moral compass and we just need to listen to it.

                True, but then one may ask them to use their built-in moral sense to assess the truth of some moral claims of implications in the OT or the NT, without presupposing them to be true, which would be unreasonable – it would be like putting the carts before the horses, so to speak -, and press the case with examples in which one can show that the “allegory” reply is unreasonable.

                The other problem is that, in my experience, no two believers are alike once you get away from Ken Ham style literalism. This is why I think it is important to help them find (and then share) their own inconsistencies and problems, rather than preaching at them all the things that you think are wrong with their belief but they might not actually believe to begin with.

                I agree that that’s good strategy, in case you’re trying to deconvert someone.
                Still, success is very unlikely in my experience – even if less unlikely than less tailored strategies.

              • Matt G
                Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:00 am | Permalink

                Rich, this is a real problem: being highly intelligent can make you very good at reasoning, or it can make you very good at rationalizing. If you start with evidence, you’ll probably be fine. but if you start with ideology (religious, economic, political, etc.), you’re going to get into trouble.

                My brother’s father-in-law is a highly intelligent person. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, taught economics at the college level, and is an atheist who strongly supports evolution. He’s also a climate change denier. Talking to him about is absolutely maddening. The problem? He’s a libertarian, and will not admit that this influencing his rejection of AGW.

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:13 am | Permalink

                I totally agree, Matt G. The problem is, people often don’t get to freely choose what they start with and their parents/childhood heavily influence that decision, which is precisely why non-secular education is so heinous and needs to be stamped out.

                The thing is, they are bright enough to have reasoned/rationalised away the most obviously dumb aspects of their ideology and confident enough in their own intellect to (justifiably) get annoyed and disengage when confronted with a belittling caricature of their position.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 25, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                “…confident enough in their own intellect to (justifiably) get annoyed and disengage when confronted with a belittling caricature of their position.”

                So what? These are adults, for the most part, who are misguided about the nature of the universe. Why should avoidance-of-annoying-someone be such an important goal? If their position is subject to “belittling caricature”, assuming the caricature holds, so be it.

                As Ben Goren has pointed out, when confronted with the abject silliness of the religious position, a seed is planted. At least the believer will see that “god is a fiction” is a view that exists in the garden of intellectual ideas. Perhaps they will think it through for themselves. If not, it isn’t the fault of the atheist for failing to be respectful enough.

                The alternative is to offer false respect to ideas that are undeserving of any at all. Calls for this sort of “respect” boil down to little more than “STFU”.

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                GB, I think you’ll notice that I’m neither advocating shutting up nor “respecting” faith (depending on your definition of both “respect” and “faith”). You are now in danger of making a belittling caricature of my position! There are not only two alternatives in behaviour: punch someone in the face or hug them. It is possible to vociferously, even stridently, oppose something without resorting to over-simplifications. It is possible to sympathise with someone without “coddling” their delusions. It’s just a matter of nuance and choosing appropriate battles.

                I am working on the assumption that, ultimately, we want to change the minds of these people. I like the optimism of “logic bomb/seed” idea. It provides an easy out and let’s us continue to repeat the same cliches about the stupidity of faith, then smile and slap each other on the back for how clever we are and how stupid religion is. I’m just not convinced of its efficacy. In my experience, as soon as someone thinks that you have obnoxiously missed the point, they will actively resist every part of your message. They won’t dwell and ponder on it. It reminds me of evangelical Christian “mission week” at Uni, when they would rejoice in their ten converts not realising that orders of magnitude more people had been turned off Christianity forever by the tone of their message and its utter lack of relevance to them.

                The problem with the belittling caricature is that those who might recognise themselves in it don’t care, and those who might care don’t recognise themselves in it. Sure, there may be a few for whom it gives the final push – but a more nuanced approach would probably be just as effective. Unlike Creationists, we don’t have to shout down our opposition – we just need to give them enough rope to hang themselves. What we certainly don’t need to do is give them excuses to ignore our message or write off our objections as ill-informed or irrelevant.

            • Posted May 25, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              “It’s the best we have, it works really well, and is the only thing reliable enough to stake your life on. But it could be wrong.” [my emphasis]

              Well, it could be.

              Epistemic humility—the recognition that we could be wrong—is a virtue in science as it is in daily life, but surely we have some reason for thinking, some four centuries after the start of the scientific revolution, that Aristotle was on the wrong track and that we are not, or at least not yet. Our reasons for thinking this are obvious and uncontroversial: mechanistic explanations and an abandonment of supernatural causality proved enormously fruitful in expanding our ability to predict and control the world around us. The fruits of the scientific revolution, though at odds with common sense, allow us to send probes to Mars and to understand why washing our hands prevents the spread of disease.

              — Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg, “Do You Only Have a Brain? On Thomas Nagel”, a review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos : Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, The Nation

              As Jerry, along with others of us, has repeatedly said, there are many scientific facts that will not change: that a molecule of water is composed of one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen; that germs cause disease; that evolution happens and broadly how (even though that’s not completely settled; e.g., the importance of genetic drift); that the Big Bang happened (although, here, the details are far from settled); and that (at as Ben is fond of pointing out and has done so earlier; link there) the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood.

              Yes, it could be wrong, but at this point the gap between our confidence in these scientific facts and certainty is so fine that you’d need a very subtle knife to find it.

              One of the things many lay people (and possibly a higher proportion of religionists; certainly, creationists) don’t realise is how much is as firmly understood. Our understanding of quantum physics (QFT) and cosmology, in the wake of the LHC and Planck, make the possibility of any supernatural creator vanishingly small: no hidden variables (so no magic); no new forces (so no spooky interactions with our brains); zero net energy in the universe (so no act of creation).

              Yes, it could be wrong.

              But don’t gift the religionists and other supernaturalists that. Make them fight for it. If science is wrong, the onus us on them to provide an explanation — and not just of the gaps, but of everything that science (at least that branch being criticised) already explains.

              Now some folks (like Bea, elsewhere on this website), argue that we cannot dismiss the supernatural using naturalistic arguments, because we don’t know how the supernatural works. But we do know, very well, how the natural world works — but wouldn’t if the supernatural ever interacted with it (conservation laws, thermodynamics, &c., wouldn’t hold, for example).

              So, science could be wrong. But not wrong enough to let the supernatural in.

              /@

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                “What Ant wrote.”

                Also, it’s important to understand how, exactly, it is that we are worng — and, rest assured, we most certainly are worng.

                Once upon a time, everybody “knew” that the Earth is flat. And, you know what? They were right! You can prove this to yourself by grabbing any city or regional map out of whatever disused filing cabinet you might keep such things in, spread it flat on a table, and discover that it’s more than adequate for any form of navigation you might reasonably wish to undertake with it within its boundaries.

                Eratosthenes rather famously used basic surveying techniques to measure the circumference of the Earth to within remarkable precision, firmly establishing that the Earth isn’t actually flat, but is a sphere about eight thousand miles across. But, if you do similar math, you’ll find that the deviation between the curvature of the Earth and a truly flat plane is on the order of several feet to the horizon many, many miles away, easily dwarfed by even the proverbial anthill. So the spherical model of the Earth is more right than the flat model of the Earth, but, again, the flat model is so useful that we still use it regularly to this day.

                Of course, we’ve since discovered that the Earth isn’t actually a sphere, but rather an oblate spheroid that deviates enough from spherical such that a mountain in Ecuador is actually farther from the center of the Earth than is Everest, even though Everest is the farthest from mean sea level. But I doubt very many people ever bother with such precision.

                And, as that last paragraph hints: the Earth isn’t an oblate spheroid at all, but rather a fractally bumpy approximation of one in constant motion. But it’s basically never useful to describe the motion of a tree branch swaying in the wind as part of the shape of the Earth, so that much is waaaaaay overkill.

                In the world of physics, just as we knew about a century and an half ago that Newton’s laws of motion, though powerfully useful, weren’t the whole story (because Mercury’s orbit deviated almost imperceptibly from what Newton predicted), we also know that today’s theories of gravitation especially aren’t the whole story.

                But!

                Just as the fractally-complex oblate spheroid model of the Earth reduces down to a flat Earth at human scales, and just as Relativistic and Quantum Mechanics each reduce down to Newtonian Mechanics also at human scales, so, too, can we be overwhelmingly confident that the “real” solution (if ever found) to the bits we don’t currently know will similarly reduce down to Relativistic and Quantum Mechanics (and, in turn, to Newtonian Mechanics) at the scales where predictions hold up.

                And, at those scales, religious fantasies about “Intelligent Falling” and the like simply don’t even remotely fit, no matter how you look at them. You’re right back to lunatic idiot conspiracy theories if you want to hold on to them.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

                @Ant, I’d quite like to follow up on one of your points offline, as GB (and probably others) are already annoyed at the length of my responses, especially as they get squashed increasingly thin! Would you be able to email me? (cabbagesofdoom at gmail) You can say no and I won’t be offended.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:44 am | Permalink

                Mr. Edwards, you have written 33 comments on tis thread. Please read the Roolz, as that is far more than 10%, and you’re turning this into an argument between you and everyone else. Please, as you requested below, take it to private email.

            • GBJames
              Posted May 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              Rich, you spend more than your allotment of words to advise against undue harshness without even providing evidence is said offense. You are either making the STFU case against strident Gnu Atheists or crashing through an open door. Which is it?

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                GB, I don’t understand the question. I am certainly not making a STFU case for anything but I am not sure what “crashing through an open door” means in this context.

                @Ant & Ben, I fear that certain elements of my argument are being latched on to and mis-/over-interpreted, which is always the danger in online comments.

                I agree with your appraisal of our scientific knowledge. I also think that anyone coming to the science with an open mind would eventually come to that conclusion. I am also happy that this message is being stridently made somewhere.

                I think we just disagree about the extent to which we should try to force people to accept the whole package in one swallow on the basis of scientific authority rather than trying to meet them where they are and lead them from there to a place of understanding, chipping away the errors and misconceptions piece by piece. Whereas you appear to advocate telling them their religion is wrong and then arguing the evidence why, I advocate sometimes (and in an education context) only going after the evidence and letting them find out for themselves that their religion is wrong. If we can eliminate faith as a “way of knowing” and teach the scientific evidence without an agenda beyond scientific literacy, I am optimistic that religion will decline without the need to go after it too hard directly and risk stubborn resistance for the sake of it. Give a “rational” religionist enough rope and (s)he will hang themself.

    • Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Religion is nothing without faith. Science is nothing with faith.

      There’s no consistent way to reconcile the two, though, of course, there are many adept at the art of doublethink who love to spout duckspeak about their happy marriage.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Matt G
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Science requires the use of reason, while faith requires the suspension of reason. So in what dimension of string theory are these reconcilable? You can stand on one foot and you can stand on the other foot, but you can’t stand on neither foot.

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Faith (as in “belief in things unseen”) does not necessarily require the suspension of reason. Dogma requires suspension of reason. Much religious belief is dogmatic – but not all. Saying there is no need for God given our current scientific knowledge is reasonable. Saying that there is no room for God is not. The only reasonable position is agnosticism, whether it be agnostic atheism (I am about 6.9 on the Dawkins scale) or agnostic theism/deism (I probably used to be about 2-2.5).

          • Posted May 24, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

            he only reasonable position is agnosticism, whether it be agnostic atheism (I am about 6.9 on the Dawkins scale) or agnostic theism/deism (I probably used to be about 2-2.5).

            That’s only if you’re working under the excessively-generous presumption that religious claims are actually coherent.

            Is it reasonable to be agnostic with respect to a married bachelor who lives death in Spartan luxury north of the North Pole? Obviously not — and the gods are no different.

            When one understands that gods are only and always have been literary plot devices, nothing more, then it becomes obvious why they don’t exist. Jesus didn’t walk on water because it was impressive; he did so because it’s impossible. The same with every other miracle from every other god from every other religion. But…here’s the thing: if one were to actually witness a miracle, you’d probably still be impressed…but you’d also know that it’s something that actually isn’t impossible after all. You’ve got the evidence right before you that it’s possible! Therefore, whatever the actual explanation, “miracle” it ain’t. Otherwise, you’d have to concede that the Conquistadors on horseback with their guns really were gods to the Aztecs.

            That’s the defining line between something impressive and something miraculous: the question of whether or not it’s possible. Which is exactly why it’s a plot device and nothing more.

            You remember from an earlier post of mine the point I made about how it’s always possible to construct a paranoid conspiracy theory, such as alien mind rays controlling our thoughts here in the Matrix? That applies to the gods as well, no matter how much power or knowledge you wish to magically bestow upon them. And if even the gods can’t rule out the possibility that they’re babbling fools lost in their own delusions in a bleak corner of a mental health institution (even if we’re part of what they’re delusionally imagining), of what sense could it possibly make to call them gods? Again, if it’s just that they’re bigger and badder than us…well, then every one of us is a god, if only to young children….

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

              I am suggesting that it is reasonable to be agnostic about everything, just that we cannot be absolutely certain that materialism and atheism are the only possibilities. Even science is built on certain assumptions. Assumptions that I am happy to accept because science works but they are assumptions nonetheless. Paranoid conspiracy theories may be unappealing but that does not make them impossible.

              I am also not suggesting that we are “actively” agnostic, as a 6.9 is functionally a 7.0. The importance is the external perception/reception. As soon as you appear close-minded, you lose any power of persuasion via reason or logic. It appears that you are determined to post hoc rationalise everything to your existing worldview, whether or not you are. If you are really confident in your position, there is absolutely nothing to fear by acknowledging that you might be wrong because no argument or evidence will actually prove you wrong.

              I generally agree with you, though I can’t quite decide whether it’s semantic trickery or philosophical genius; if a god exists then, by definition, it’s an alien and not a god. That maybe true (and is a popular Sci Fi device) but I’m not sure whether it is a distinction without a difference. To invert the question: if a single alien were sufficiently powerful and knowledgable, residing outside of our dimensions and able to manipulate our perceived Laws of Physics to its own ends, in what (functional) sense would it not be a god?

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                EDIT: That should start… “I am not suggesting that it is reasonable to be agnostic about everything…”! (Major proof-reading fail!)

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

                Paranoid conspiracy theories may be unappealing but that does not make them impossible.

                While, by definition, they’re not impossible…they’re also utterly undeserving of respect. Either the person is sane but not aware of how batshit crazy the conspiracy theory is, or the person is not sane. Correspondingly, the person either deserves to be brought up to basic standards of modern education, or belongs in a mental health institution.

                Consider: in any other context, if somebody told you that it’s okay for him to believe that dead people talk to him because you can’t 100% prove they don’t because of some random conspiracy theory, you’d know the person to be very confused, a crook, or crazy. But if he slaps “religion” label on the claim, we’re now supposed to admire him for his steadfast devotion to his faith. Sorry, but that’s every bit as crazy as the conspiracy theories themselves.

                To invert the question: if a single alien were sufficiently powerful and knowledgable, residing outside of our dimensions and able to manipulate our perceived Laws of Physics to its own ends, in what (functional) sense would it not be a god?

                If your hypothetical alien is a god, then everybody who’s ever played a video game is also a god. As such, the term is rendered less than ideally useful. It might work in the same types of contexts in which the latest teen heartthrobs are also gods, but not for the “serious” religious contexts.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                “But if he slaps “religion” label on the claim, we’re now supposed to admire him for his steadfast devotion to his faith.”

                No. We are certainly not supposed to admire him. But if we were to try to understand how and why he arrived at that delusion, we might be able to help him. Most religious people do not arbitrarily pick up their fantasies from nowhere – they are ingrained from an early age as a deeper truth than anything else. There is a lot of unlearning that needs to be done and many experiences from their life that have been attributed to God/Jesus/whatever that need to be reattributed elsewhere. If you fail to take them seriously, of course they will fail to take you seriously too. Respect the person, not the belief. Is that too much to ask?

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

                Regarding the alien, it seems to me it depends on what you mean by “god”, and different people seem to use the word differently – not always realizing that -, and by “functional” (there is more than one way in which this condition may be construed, it seems to me, without misusing the word).

                For example, such an alien would not be worthy of worship (I’d say no entity would), so it wouldn’t count as a god in some sense of “god”.

                Alternatively, what if the alien were subject to the power of another alien just as we’re subject to it, and the other alien to another alien, etc. Would that count as a god? Or is the definition under which it doesn’t, not functional?

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                It’s similar to the natural/supernatural thing. Semantics is important but it’s sometimes hard to tell whether important conceptual differences are get glossed over by clever (and/or careless) applications of meaning. If someone claims faith in an unseen god that turns out to really be faith in an unseen alien, does it make that belief any less religious or irrational?

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

                If someone claims faith in an unseen god that turns out to really be faith in an unseen alien, does it make that belief any less religious or irrational?

                I’m not sure what you mean.

                For example, When you say “turns out to be” faith in an unseen alien, what do you mean?
                In other words, why does it turn out to be so? Is it that there were misusing the word “god”?
                Did we believed she ascribed some properties to the entity she believed in, but she doesn’t?
                If so, maybe that affects our assessment of the degree of irrationality of her belief.

                But then again, how irrational her belief actually is does not depend on what it turns out later to be (i.e., on what we find out about that), but on what it is in the first place (the belief does not actually change int he scenario).

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I am talking about the meaning of the words. Ben Goren basically argued that gods and miracles cannot exist because their mere existence would stop them actually being gods or miracles, by definition. But that says nothing about whether the things being called gods or miracles could/did/do exist, just whether they are actually gods or miracles if they turn out to exist. (It’s not something I am going to lose any sleep over!)

              • Posted May 24, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                I see.

                Yes, Ben Goren defined miracles out of existence, so I agree if I gte your point. That’s not the way to go.
                On the other hand, in my experience plenty of people who claim or deny that there are miracles use the word “miracle” in a way that is too imprecise for the philosophical context in which it’s being used, rendering the argument and the usage improper, and pressing them on the issue makes sense, at least in some debate contexts.

                The same seems to happen with the natural/supernatural thing, if that’s what you were getting at.

                On the other hand, sometimes an entity is defined in terms of certain property, then if no entity has it, then the entity does not exist, which is why I would say that if Yahweh existed, then God still wouldn’t, in the common sense of “God” in philosophy (not that either Yahweh or God exists, anyway).

          • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think that that’s what people mean by “faith”. We don’t have faith that black holes exist, if we believe they do.

            But that aside, with regard to God, I think it’s reasonable to believe he does not exist, due to a number of considerations – ridiculously low proper prior, and no greater final probability -, understanding “God” in any of the most usual senses in present-day philosophy of religion, and even granting for the sake of the argument that they’re coherent (if they are, they at least entail moral perfection, and enough power and knowlegde to rule the world effortlessly and knowing everything that happens and did happen).

            In fact, I would say that after considering the matter, it’s not reasonable to remain agnostic, either.

            But in other senses of “God”, the reasonable position may be that of an agnostic.

            • Posted May 25, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

              I use “unseen” in the sense of “without objective supporting evidence”, which is not necessarily the same as “in the face of contradictory evidence”. I totally agree that we cannot be agnostic about some conceptions of god, which are flat out 100% ruled out by science and/or logic. I am just more worried about the damage done by appearing (or becoming!) dogmatic and close-minded than giving religion a bit more wriggle room than it deserves, so I err on the side of caution. I am strongly of the opinion that the religious will only be free to wriggle themselves into an increasingly untenable position.

              • Posted May 25, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

                I agree about the religious only wriggling themselves into an increasingly untenable position – or at least, equally untenable -., though in any case, their position is already utterly untenable.

                Also, while it depends on the case, I would usually not be worried about appearing dogmatic or closed minded (to whom? Christians?), or about giving religion more wiggle room than it deserves. It does worry me that many people make bad arguments against Christianity or another religion or some form of theism, even if they’re right in their belief that Christianity, etc. is false. I get the impression that you’re worried about some of that too, but I’m not sure there isn’t much room for fixing the problem.

                Regarding faith, I’m not sure what you mean by “objective evidence”, and/or how you distinguish objective evidence from non-objective evidence
                There are some definitions of that on-line, but in all of the ones I’ve found, either “belief of things without objective supportive evidence” is not a good approximation to any usual concept of faith, or alternatively belief of things without objective supportive evidence does require suspension of reason, or both.
                So, I would like to ask what you mean by “objective evidence” and/or how you distinguish it from subjective evidence.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

                Loosely, I would make a distinction between evidence that is consistent with an assumption but does not require it (subjective) versus evidence that requires that assumption to fit the data (objective). Does that make sense?

                I also think that “faith” requires that the person holding the belief does not think that the evidence is objective. You can be rational but wrong due to ignorance, after all. This is another reason not to assume the basis of someone’s belief just because they are religious – you may write it off as faith and expound the need for Reason, when really they just need to be directed to the relevant evidence.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:38 am | Permalink

                Loosely, I would make a distinction between evidence that is consistent with an assumption but does not require it (subjective) versus evidence that requires that assumption to fit the data (objective). Does that make sense?

                It does, but unless I misunderstood, it doesn’t get the results you aim for, due to the problem of underdetermination of theory by observation.
                For example, we do not need to assume that the Earth is older than, say, 15000 years to fit the data. There are always infinitely many consistent hypotheses (no matter how silly) that fit the data, like saying that Lucifer planted the fossils, the light apparently from distant stars, etc., or that Yahweh did it, or generally that a sufficiently powerful being did it, etc.
                So, on this account of objective vs. subjective evidence, it seems that the belief that the Earth is older than 15000 years – and pretty much anything else – would have no objective evidence supporting it, which would make it a belief on faith on the definition under consideration. But that wouldn’t match any common usage of “faith”.
                If I misunderstood, please clarify (personally, I wouldn’t attempt to define “faith”; I do think it’s a form of irrationality, though I don’t claim it’s so by definition).

                I also think that “faith” requires that the person holding the belief does not think that the evidence is objective. You can be rational but wrong due to ignorance, after all. This is another reason not to assume the basis of someone’s belief just because they are religious – you may write it off as faith and expound the need for Reason, when really they just need to be directed to the relevant evidence.

                That is a different issue. Yes, I agree some people believe in religion not due to faith, but just error.

                For example, if someone is raised into a religion, as a child it’s not irrational for her to trust the adults, and if as an adult she is never confronted with counter-evidence or arguments, etc., and has no time to ponder those matters because she’s so busy working 16 hours a day to make a living (or for whatever other good reason she’s not considered the matter), she may be a believer but without epistemic fault. Or if she’s still a child.

                That’s why people sometimes do deconvert – though in most cases not by talking to people who are trying to deconvert them, in my experience.

                However, it’s my assessment that someone who has actually considered the matter for some time (how much is difficult to say, but a few months will do) and remain a Christian (or an adherent to another religion) is being irrational to some extent, even if they’re very rational when it comes to debunking bad arguments against their religion.

                That said, there are different degrees of irrationality. So, even if perhaps a person should reject her religion if X amount of counter-evidence is given but she fails to to so, maybe, say, 100X will do the job.
                So, I think relevant evidence might work in some cases. Still, in my experience, it normally doesn’t, so I usually try to more modestly aim at reducing the risk that some non-theists would become Christians or theists in the future, or at giving other non-theist some more ammo, etc.

  34. Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been trying to post, but for some reason, my post does not seem to show.

    I’ll try a shorter post, maybe?

    Or one could also claim that Adam and Eve were the titular heads of humanity, and there were many other people around who were not anointed with Original Sin. But that also has problems. Genesis doesn’t mention anybody else around, and if Original Sin were inherited from parent to offspring, then the descendants of those other people weren’t afflicted. So how did we all become sinful?

    A Christian might claim (I seem to recall I’ve seen this sort of argument somewhere, though I don’t remember where) that Adam and Eve were the only two “Imago Dei” Homo Sapiens. The others didn’t have human souls, were not “Imago Dei”, but they were physically and genetically like them. As for Genesis, they interpret that that’s how Cain went away and got a wife or something.

    As for the alleged inheritableness of Original Sin, the Christian might claim that the descendants of those other people are also the descendants of Adam and Eve, which would be the case as long as Adam and Eve lived before the Identical Ancestors Point.

    Well, actually that works in order to make all people living today the descendants of Adam and Eve, but the Christian presumably wants also all people living at the time of Jesus (at least) to be their descendants. No matter, that’s only a question of placing Adam and Eve sufficiently back in time to make them ancestors of all of the people the Christian claims they’re ancestors of.

    I think non-theists who intend to be thorough should target also that sort of reply (and other sophisticated ones), which is the best Christians have, in the sense that they’re less obviously faulty than the others.

    There are other objections one can raise to that kind of Christian reply, of course, but I’m trying to keep the post short because for some reason it’s not showing…

    • Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      So, Cain’s wife had no soul?

      • Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Under that scenario, she did not have a the sort of soul that we have. But most sophisticated Christians hold that other animals (say, chimps) do have souls, just not of the kind we have.

        • GBJames
          Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

          I don’t have a soul. I’ve got an invisible alien from Alpha Centauri that controls all of my actions. I’m pretty sure this is true for all humans and chimps. Also cephalopods. And mice.

          • Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

            Is this a case sensitive imposter of the gbjames who often comments here or has the real gbjames gone camel case on us?

            • gbjames
              Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink

              ‘Tis I, the same. The iPhone did it. Why? I don’t know, but the damn thing seems to be haunted.

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

                Come to think of it, I get uppercased once in a while too. Three letters in a row in your name just stuck out. Noticing this stuff is what I get for having gone into Software Engineering…

              • gbjames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

                Yeah… software is how I pay the bills, too.

                In this (camel) case, my Gravitar also vanished. Go figure.

                Actually, I’d prefer the “GBJames” version. But I don’t know how to get WordPress to let me have it. Maybe I’ll play around some and see what I can break…

              • GBJames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

                Test. I think I made it happen!

              • Matt G
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Proceed with caution. The first time I tried to use italics here, I screwed up the “end italics” syntax and turned the entire rest of the thread to italics. It was embarrassing, but the power trip was a real rush!

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

                Come on, how could anyone \i > screw up something so simple as a closing tag? ;-)

              • Posted May 23, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                😄

              • Matt G
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                I prefer gbjames to GBJames. For one thing, gbjames has more intelligent things to say.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                Both of us choose to ignore that.

      • Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        There are several objections one may raise.

        For example, that reply would entail people were being born to non-people who were their mother or father, from whom they learned things like language, or some rules of behavior, etc., so in that case, why were those primates, capable of language, tool making, etc., and even what seems indistinguishable from moral behavior, not actually people, moral agents, etc.?

        The Christian might deny that they had anything like moral behavior and/or language (or at least moral language), but that brings other problems, like:

        1. Why do you see that chimps also get angry when they’re treated unfairly? Morality seems to have evolved gradually as well.
        2. How did those early human people interact with beings so different from them – the human non-persons -, married entities who looked like them but couldn’t even speak and/or who did not have morality, etc.? In other words, how do people even interact with such beings, who would have looked mentally ill to them?

        There is of course the big problem with the alleged inheritableness of the original sin, regardless of the issues raised above, and of whether there were ever two people. And so on.

  35. Flo_B
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I wonder what they would say to this poster for this years Life Ball in Vienna… :-D

    The caption reads
    “I am Adam.
    I am Eve.
    I am me.”

    (If you don’t notice anything at first look at the poster on the left)

    Of course, the Austrian right is up in arms against it… :-D

    If you can read german: http://diepresse.com/home/politik/innenpolitik/3808424/Life-Ball-Plakat_FPO-erstattet-Anzeige-

  36. CuriousReader
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    The statistic at the end of this article was misquoted. The correct quote is that “Only 28% of respondents in the … poll say that scientific advancements threaten their religious beliefs.” 81% of those who responded to the poll said that scientific advancements “have not significantly impacted their religious views.”

    It is also incorrect to divide people as being either religious or a scientist. A great many scientists are also religious, and many, many people who are religious are well versed in a scientific field or the principles of science.

    • gbjames
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      “It is also incorrect to divide people as being either religious or a scientist.”

      Did someone do this? I don’t think I saw that claim made.

  37. Ludovico
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    On the A & E myth:

    Where did the story of Adam & Eve originate and when? Is Eve guilty? (No, she isn’t, originally)

    Bible scholars agree on the Old Testament story of A & E being written 400 BCE. But Dutch scholars published new facts in April 2014. The A & E story jewish and christian books tell is based on a myth 800 years older.

    “In this book (Adam, Eve, and the Devil – A New Beginning) the authors develop an intriguing theory about the Canaanite origin of the biblical traditions concerning the origin of the cosmos and the creation of humankind. Adam, Eve, and the Devil tells a new story about human beginnings and at the same time proposes a fresh start for biblical research into primordial traditions.

    A number of clay tablets from Ugarit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugarit), dating from the late thirteenth century BCE, throw new light, Korpel and de Moor argue, on the background of the first chapters of Genesis and the myth of Adam.

    In these tablets, El, the creator deity, and his wife Asherah lived in a vineyard or garden on the slopes of Mt Ararat, known in the Bible as the mountain where Noah’s ark came to rest.

    The first sinner was not a human being, but an evil god called Horon who wanted to depose El. Horon was thrown down from the mountain of the gods, and in revenge he transformed the Tree of Life in the garden into a Tree of Death and enveloped the whole world in a poisonous fog. Adam (presented as a good god) was sent down to restore life on earth, but failed because Horon in the form of a huge serpent bit him. As a result Adam and his wife lost their immortality.

    This myth found its way into the Bible, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigraphical literature, though it was often transformed or treated critically. . .”

    Hebrew Bible Monographs, Sheffield Phoenix Press

    http://www.sheffieldphoenix.com/showbook.asp?bkid=271

  38. Chris Marks
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Is this nonsense real? How do they get away with teaching such garbage in what is supposed to be an educational institution – keep fairy tales in the loony bins and Sunday schools and protect kids from what is, in effect, child abuse

  39. nightowlky
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Imagine if all the effort put into this ludicrous belief was directed toward something that was actually useful. Think about the possibilities of new inventions, new technologies, new philosophies. Living a life worshiping a man-made work based upon older cultures’ myths is such a waste of the human mind.

  40. Skipper
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Its hilarious the twists, turns and contortions the stubborn bible thumpers will go through to argue their points when they have no facts to support their view.
    When faced w facts just have people sign a document disavowing the truth!!!
    That makes the facts false???
    I have a better idea why don’t the rational people try and convince the bible thumpers that maybe they are worshiping the wrong book
    Why not switch to an Origin of Species and claim God wrote that too??
    Would make their arguments a lot easier to deliver and true too :)

  41. Admiral Yrrek
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Not for Polite Company and commented:
    This post from over at Why Evolution is True brought up some points I have long wondered about with christianity; If people claim to believe that Adam and Eve and the garden are all just metaphorical, how does the rest of the boat that is the religion stay afloat?

  42. Posted May 23, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    The debate has been thoroughly aired and those antediluvian people at Bryan College will no doubt continue to stick their heads in the sand. What scares me is that we in the UK are allies with a country which has such a large number of like minded people, and which allows them such enormous power, both ‘intellectual’ and political. There are many of us in the UK who are ready to end the ‘Special Relationship’before we are dragged even further into their world view. Islam has its caliphate, but is there much difference between them and fundamentalist christians?

  43. Jason
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t the bible say that Adam and Eve were the only people in the garden … werent there more people outside of the garden … (I am not religious so consider it an actual question)

  44. Caleb J Malcom
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    We could go on and on about all the contradictions but there is always this passage

    “14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”

    If Adam and Eve were the first and Cain and Abel were their children first. Who are these other people that Cain is so afraid of?

    I bet they were mole people.

  45. Posted May 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Dickinson Meadows.

  46. Thomas Carter
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    When I was 7 years old and first heard of Original Sin my reaction was Huh?
    It made no sense then and now at age 65 I still have the same reaction.
    The concept is laughable along with Hell Fire & Damnation, Virgin Birth and the rest of that nonsense.
    It is really sad that through Human history so many lives and precious resources have been wasted and how much better off all of humanity would be if this Bronze Age crap were in the dust bin where it has always belonged.

  47. roadworker
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Why would any American parent send their child to one of these christian madrassas, when there are real schools in in the US.

    Also, if Adam and Eve were literally the only original people created by god, then adherents have an altogether different original sin to contend with, incest.

    This ‘redemption through Jesus’ addition to the Hebrew bible, really does present a lot of difficult complications.

  48. Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Rainbowman56's Blog.

  49. Posted June 19, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    God told Noah to build an ark, guided Moses hand in writing the 10 Commandments, let Jesus die for our sin… and people are still getting into trouble. That’s why I can’t believe any of this shenanigans.


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