Michael Ruse: Adam and Eve didn’t exist, but theology is still in great shape

Over at PuffHo, Michael Ruse continues to push his strange but fascinating mixture of sense and nonsense.  In a piece sensibly called “Adam and Eve didn’t exist. Get over it!,” Ruse addresses the recent Christianity Today article on how to reconcile science with Adam and Eve (see our discussion here). And, as he shows without reservation, the genetic facts absolutely put the lie to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.

If Ruse had stopped there, it would have been fine—and a public service.  But of course he can’t, because he’s always compelled to osculate the posterior of faith.  And so, as is his wont, he suggests alternative interpretations of the Bible that better comport with genetics:

Augustine thought that we are all tainted (original sin) because of actual act of disobedience by a real Adam. This cannot be so. But there are alternative theologies at hand. Irenaeus of Lyon (before Augustine) worried that everything rested on the fault of one rather naive man faced with a wily serpent. Instead, he interpreted original sin as part of our general incomplete nature, something that was completed by the Christian drama. Jesus was never “Plan B,” in the sense of sent to earth to clean up the mess created by Adam. His coming and sacrifice were always part of the divine intention.

“General incomplete nature”?  What the bloody hell is that?  And why would an uncompleted drama have anything to do with original sin? No, there has to be some reason why every human is born in sin, not just that he or she becomes a sinner. For only the former interpretation makes scriptural sense—even under liberal Christian theology.

And if Jesus wasn’t “Plan B,” but part of the whole divine intention (as seems clear), then what does that make of God? First he botches the whole thing on purpose, and then tortures his son on a stick to make things right? Why wouldn’t God have just bypassed the entire Adam business and not introduced inherent sinfulness at all, thereby obviating the need to torture and kill his own child?  Under a clear-eyed view of Christian theology, God comes off as some sort of sadistic playwright, one who wrote Eraserhead when he could have given us Mary Poppins.  Such is the senselessness of the Christian faith.

Given a theology like this, the disappearance of a literal Adam and Eve is not only possible but something of a relief. This is not to say that this theology is now the only right one for evermore, but rather that giving up some thoughts in the face of science is not necessarily the end of faith. And there may well be religious (and not just scientific) advantages. The Augustinian scenario always leaves the bad taste about why we should be blamed for the sin of someone else.

A relief? Not to many Christians, as the Christianity Today pieces makes perfectly clear. If we’re not born in sin, then much of what Christians believe—especially Catholics—falls to pieces.  And of course, it makes Jesus die for nothing at all.

Finally, Ruse makes a good point: that science makes theology change, and it’s never the other way around.  Doesn’t that make theology inferior, always malleable to newly discovered facts?  Sadly, Ruse says “no”:

But is there not the uncomfortable worry that religion — theology — is always going to play second fiddle, having to give way in the face of science? And never the other way around. When did a Nobel Prize winner ever change his or her mind in the face of a reinterpretation of the Trinity? It may be true that this is a one-way process, but in no way does this imply that theology is inferior. The changes are part of theology. If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here)*, then we have the power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world that God created. We have the ability and the obligation. This means doing science, however uncomfortable it may be. We see through a glass darkly. At some point, we will see face to face. But not without a lot of effort by us.

How could theology not be inferior? First of all, it’s all made up, and second, it is a slave to science.  Saying “the changes are part of theology” is simply an accommodationist’s way of saying, “Theology changes only when science or secular reason forces it to”.  If we really used our “power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world”, we wouldn’t believe in God at all.

Note to Dr. Ruse:  You can give up now.  You’ve tried hard, but the Templeton Prize isn’t going to come knocking.

__________

*Wait—I thought Ruse was an atheist! How could Augustine be “right”?

52 Comments

  1. Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Reading this, my first thought was that perhaps Ruse was gunning for an autographed copy of WEIT.

    But then I made it to that last paragraph you quoted — and especially the sentence that prompted your footnote — and it became obvious.

    Ruse isn’t an atheist. He’s a full-on theist. It’s just that his favorite god is that in-effing liberal theological god that go-to-church Christians don’t recognize.

    But there’s no doubt but that this god of his isn’t the Deist god, either: it’s a personal, judgmental god that has a hobby that involves making pets and pulling off their wings — not so different from the gods of the Christian pantheons after all, it turns out.

    Cheers,

    b&

  2. Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I think what we may be seeing is the tediously slow conversion of Ruse. Then at some point he can come out of his own closet, and tell everyone that he is indeed sorry for his sinful atheism. It seems a stone-throw away from his accomodationist nonsense to theistic evolution. He may then become very popular, His popularity would see no bounds, and go on to win the Templeton prize.

    • Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Indeed — it seems quite likely that he’s a true-believing Christian going through his “I hate Jesus” phase, withholding his belief out of spite.

      In Ruse’s case, I don’t think this phase will last much longer. It probably won’t be long before he has his “Come to Jesus” moment (if he hasn’t already). If so, his Jesus will be of the fuzzy sophisticated variety. The Christian rituals and all the theology will be symbolic, but Very Meaningful nonetheless. At the very least, he’ll adopt a Flew-style deism, but I don’t see him stopping there.

      That’s the difference between an atheist and what a Republican might call an “atheist in name only.” To an atheist, all this religious nonsense is patently absurd, bleedin’ obvious, over-the-top faery tales. All of it, including the “Ground Round of All Beingness” nonsense. Ruse, and those like him, are still holding out for that special secret clapping rhythm that’ll bring Tinkerbell back to life — even as they swear up and down that they’ve never personally witnessed any evidence of faeries.

      Cheers,

      b&

  3. Adam M.
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    “If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here)*, then we have the power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world that God created.”

    Perhaps he meant “(and if Augustine was right…)”, where the conjuction of the two would be necessary to understand the accept the remainder of the sentence. But I don’t know.

    • Max
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re on the right track. I suspect that what Ruse intended was something like, “Augustine was right here: if we are made in the image of God, then we have the power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world that God created.” The parenthesis looks like an attempt to imitate the rhythms of speech in writing, which doesn’t always work so well. “Here” is probably meant to signal that “Augustine was right” applies to the whole if/then statement, not to the first part taken in isolation.

    • freedtochoose
      Posted June 13, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      What might Augustine’s view be with today’s scientific knowledge?. If contemporary religious scholarship accepts the science of the day, as is the view of the self-labeled progressives–and Augustine was certainly progressive for his day–what was the science of the 4th/5th Century Augustine would rely on in his theological views… and how would they be altered today?

  4. Drosera
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    You can’t rationalize something as inherently stupid and contradictory as the Christian religion. It does have some entertainment value to see suckers like Michael Ruse trying to do so. It’s like watching a contortionist. But all they are accomplishing is to put icing on a turd. It’s still a turd.

  5. KP
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    *Wait—I thought Ruse was an atheist! How could Augustine be “right”?

    Yes, reading your excerpts it makes one wonder about him.

  6. CS aka "Happy Cat"
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    But all they are accomplishing is to put icing on a turd. It’s still a turd.

    “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine poison go down.”

    • CS aka "Happy Cat"
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      There was supposed to be a strike through medicine. Guess the “s” tag didn’t work.

  7. Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Ruse’s continual pretence to be an atheist gains him kudos among theists. Because they fondly imagine he is an atheist (indeed, he keeps telling them he is an atheist) they are able to say, “You see, even the atheist Michael Ruse agrees with us.” It’s an old trick, often used by even more obviously fake atheists than Ruse.

    Actually I find this article quite useful. Ruse and others are always telling us we ought to take theologians seriously, and Augustine is one of the main names they trot out. It is useful to see it laid out so pitilessly for all to see how fatuously empty even the best of theology actually is.

    • Jhjeffery
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      On Richard’s site, I mentioned that I had not heard of Ruse (surprisingly) until I read his book on Darwin. In reading the book, I became convinced by its Christian bias, that the author must be a Christian himself. Later, I found that he is a professed atheist. It is an contention that I simply do not believe.

      There is (happily) some emergent anti-Christian bias in academia (yes, even in the US) and I suspect that Ruse pretends to be an atheist in order to fit into the role.

      • David Sepkoski
        Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        This line of argument boils down to ‘Ruse doesn’t promote the kind of atheist strategy I prefer, therefore he must not be a real atheist.’ I don’t always agree with his approach to convincing believers about the compatibility of faith and science, either. But in countless conversations with Michael I have never had any reason to suspect that he is anything other than what he says he is–an atheist, and a staunch defender of science.

        I would say that attacking his arguments is fine–he invites it, after all. But attacking his integrity like this–rather baselessly–is poor form. He often disagrees with you, Richard, but he’s never attacked yours.

        • Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          “If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here) . . . “.

          As Jerry points out, how can he be an atheist if he says that? As for never attacking my integrity, he did say that I made him “ashamed to be an atheist.”

          Richard

          • Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            As for never attacking my integrity, he did say that I made him “ashamed to be an atheist.”

            What a peculiar sentiment to express.

            I’m sure Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. After all, if he were real, she’d be able to see his workshop from her back yard. Yet it would never occur to me to feel shame in our shared disbelief merely because there’s so little else we have in common.

            Richard, does Ken Ham make you ashamed to be a citizen of the Commonwealth?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • satan augustine
              Posted June 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

              Richard is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia?

              • Posted June 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

                No, no — the Commonwealth of Nations.

                b&

          • Greg Esres
            Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

            “If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here) . . . “.
            As Jerry points out, how can he be an atheist if he says that?

            I will often use language like that when talking to a theist; it’s a matter of talking to them in their own language. Ruse may be simply providing them with some grounds they would consider acceptable for changing their views.

            It’s very possible that Ruse is faking being an atheist, but everything that he says is perfectly compatible with being a real atheist, and I think the latter is the more charitable interpretation.

            • Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

              I’ll grant you that there’s a common rhetorical technique of granting an opponent’s points in order to demonstrate that the conclusions drawn still remain invalid. And, indeed, that’s exactly what Ruse does in this essay.

              It’s just that the conclusions he invalidates aren’t merely those of Biblical literalism, but also of rationalism.

              The whole thrust of his essay? “Clearly, some alternative theology must be sought. This is not giving up or mere ad hoc responding. The great British theologian John Henry Newman saw clearly that the essential truths of the Christian faith remain unchanged, but that, given new knowledge in each age, they need constant reinterpretation and updating.”

              Read that again. Ruse, in his own words, is endorsing the position of a great theologian that the essential truths of the Christian faith are still valid. An alternative theology must be sought; the faith must not be abandoned, for Christianity’s essential truths are eternal.

              He follows that with a short paragraph, one which could easily be adopted as part of the BioLogos foundation’s articles of faith:

              God is creator, Jesus is his son who died on the cross for our sake, this act of sacrifice made possible our eternal salvation — these claims are unchanged. But what exactly this all might mean is another matter.

              His entire essay is like that. Indeed, I know more than one pastor who would be quite happy to read that essay verbatim from the pulpit as a featured sermon. Ruse’s are the words of a true-believing Christian, and not of somebody who sees the Jesus story as the childish poppycock it so unreservedly is.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Greg Esres
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

                Perhaps, but I’m not sure that it matters. Accusing Ruse of being a closet theist is either an ad hominem argument or a genetic fallacy. His reasoning must be engaged as if he were sincere. Accusing someone with whom you disagree with being a traitor has the chilling effect of snuffing out any disagreement. You see this in American politics and the RINO label.

              • Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                Perhaps, but I’m not sure that it matters.

                This isn’t a case of a logical fallacy but rather of impeaching the witness.

                On the one hand, Ruse claims he doesn’t hold to any religious beliefs…yet he repeatedly, unabashedly, and at great length defends Christian theology using the exact same language as Christian theologians.

                If Ruse claimed to be a civil libertarian yet went on at great length about the inferior mental faculties of Africans, you can bet he’d be called to account. Here he is claiming to be an atheist yet, in his own words in a op-ed piece in a popular forum, he attributes the origins of the universe to the Christian pantheon and proclaims Jesus as the one true source for salvation.

                Clearly, Ruse is lying. Either he’s lying about his disbelief or he’s lying about his opinion of the validity of Christian theology. Either way, he’s lying about his position on the fundamentals of the discussion at hand, and about an issue he proclaims to be of utmost importance.

                At this point, it hardly matters what he really believes, for it’s clear he’s willing to express any belief at all, including contrary beliefs.

                Maybe he really is in the process of converting to Christianity. If so, that would at least excuse him of intentional dishonesty during a period of personal confusion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Greg Esres
                Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

                This isn’t a case of a logical fallacy but rather of impeaching the witness.

                No, because he’s not a witness to anything. If he were testifying to facts and were shown to be a liar in other areas, it might be relevant. Here he’s not testifying to facts, but is providing his line of reasoning. We have no interest in his credibility, because the reasoning stands on its own.

                We can’t engage in ad hominem and then fault theists for doing the same. I certainly understand the temptation and we all have the tendency to resort to that when discussing amongst ourselves, but we should not advance that as a rational argument.

              • Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                No, because he’s not a witness to anything.

                I know you wrote that in the context of a courtroom trial, but his statements about Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross opening the door to eternal salvation for humanity are exactly what a Christian means when they use that term.

                We have no interest in his credibility, because the reasoning stands on its own.

                In this case, his “reasoning” is that the metaphorical nature of the Genesis narrative shouldn’t be viewed as disruptive to theological interpretations of the spiritual Truth of the Resurrection. And whether or not he believes in that truth is most germane to the discussion.

                For a Christian, it is precisely whether or not Ruse actually believes it that will determine whether he is a Christian and thus saved and trustworthy.

                For an atheist, either he’s being disingenuously coy with the religious, which casts doubt on all he expresses or he actually believes it — in which case he’s (presumably) discovered some good reason to embrace Christianity but is withholding it from the rest of the world.

                It is in no way unjustified to call out somebody who adopts a certain label while simultaneously espousing numerous positions antithetical to those considered foundational for the label. A “communist” who espouses the benefits of private corporate ownership; an “humanitarian” who endorses torture as an interrogation technique; a “Klansman” who campaigned for Obama; and an “atheist” who preaches the doctrine of eternal Salvation in exchange for the Crucifixion: all are hypocrites, and none are worthy of respect.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

            But attacking his integrity like this–rather baselessly–is poor form. He often disagrees with you, Richard, but he’s never attacked yours.

            Well, even apart from the example that Richard offers, that depends what you mean by “attacking integrity.” He certainly has written a long string of articles and blog post making wildly hyperbolic claims about a group called “the new atheists.”

            Here’s one

            http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/new-atheism-redux/34321

            Here’s another

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/is-new-atheism-a-religion_b_837758.html

            Here’s another again

            http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/new-atheism-a-disaster-comparable-to-the-tea-party/33421

            and so on. Then there is his way with other people’s email…

            • Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              Ruse’s integrity can’t be attacked, he has none. He is a sniveling accommodationist, that’s all. He see himself has have the intellectual grandeur to do what no one can do, bridge the gulf between religion and science. What a boring doofus. The only thing one can say is that perhaps the idiot is an cultural Christian.

        • Badger3k
          Posted June 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          The first time I heard Ruse was on Nightline with Dembki (or was it Behe? I always forget), and the way Ruse was fawning over him and messing up basic points on evolution, I wondered whose side he was really on. Given his attitude towards religious babble, I would hesitate before I said he was a defender of science, and never consider the term “staunch” for him.

          • Posted June 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            From the content of his work thus far Ruse appears to be an atheist pretending to be a Christian, a Christian pretending to be an atheist, an accomodationist who’s sitting very high up on the fence and only looking in one direction or just a limp, perhaps very reluctant, atheist who still carries major religious baggage which both prevents him from viewing faith honestly and makes him arc up at the slightest criticism of it (in the same way as any fully-fledged believer).

            Whatever Ruse’s actual positions are, his open loathing for those he pejoratively terms “New Atheists” and his seemingly purposeful & prideful ignorance of both the style and, especially, the substance of their arguments speaks of someone at best confused, at worst deeply dishonest and deserving of outright mistrust.

            In short: I don’t care if he’s a believer or not; his refusal to engage Gnus honestly and his constant kowtowing to religious privilege makes him nowhere near worth the attention he gets.

        • articulett
          Posted June 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          I think we “Coyned” the term “fatheist” for people like Ruse who are atheists but still have a knee-jerk need to defend faith and insult those who critique it.

          I entered the skeptic’s movement after reading a bizarre attack on Dawkins from Ruse in a Skeptic Magazine over 6 years ago. From my reading, the man seems terribly jealous of Richard’s popularity and I see him as actively promoting anti-atheist bigotry under the guise of calling for civility. If he’s an atheist, I don’t see him as furthering any goals I want to be a part of. He makes no sense to me.

  8. Greg Esres
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Instead, he interpreted original sin as part of our general incomplete nature, something that was completed by the Christian drama.

    This, in general, is the rationalization I undertook when I was still trying to justify some religious belief. The “sin” of Adam wasn’t a real action performed by a human being, but merely a metaphor for a flaw in human beings.

    This allows you to accept evolution and an old earth, but the patch job on theology is only temporary, if you persist in trying to make theology sensible.

    A dissonance reducer of this sort is understandable in a human being, but really isn’t understandable when being offered by a philosopher who should be able to see through the inconsistent position.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      If Original Sin is just humans’ inherent “incomplete nature”, then the Christian god is responsible for it, not humanity. The theological point of Adam and Eve was that they had a choice, and exercised their “free will” to sin, for which their progeny are punished. If there is no original choice, if the claim is just that “people are naturally sinful”, then that’s the work of the god, not people. There is then no need for “redemption”, just repair of the god’s initial shoddy work — the burden and responsibility is the god’s, and not humanity’s.

      • keddaw
        Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        And that’s why God (Jesus) is the one who suffers for it.

        Quite why we then need to worship and praise God for repairing His shoddy workmanship is beyond me. Frankly we should be getting some store credit for the inconvenience.

        Maybe that’s what having your prayers answered is…

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if Ruse is deliberately offering what he can tell is an ultimately untenable path-job theology. If it leads some people who identify as Christians to an essentially figurative reading of the Bible, but it’s not going to give them a real stable Christian interpretation, then maybe he’s counting on them stabilizing into an openly or practically atheist end-state.

      Certainly coming off as very friendly to Christianity and as a sympathetic advisor would help convince them to take the pill.

      It just isn’t what I would take to be an appropriate attitude to take toward responsible adults. It amounts to “lying for reality”.

    • JonF
      Posted June 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Ho-hum. This is only a conundrum if you insist on a purely Augustinian view of Original Sin. There are other viewpoints in Christian thought, notably the view of the Eastern churches which are not dependent on a literal Adam (although the Eastern Fathers assumed he existed). Now that theology does rest on a Platonic understanding of what is meant by “human nature”, but as far as I know nothing in evolutionary theory overrules such a metaphysics.

  9. Adam M.
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    From the article: “The great British theologian John Henry Newman saw clearly that the essential truths of the Christian faith remain unchanged, but that, given new knowledge in each age, they need constant reinterpretation and updating.”

    I don’t know how they can write this kind of thing. Sounds like change to me!

    “God is creator, Jesus is his son who died on the cross for our sake, this act of sacrifice made possible our eternal salvation — these claims are unchanged. But what exactly this all might mean is another matter.”

    It as though he wants to say that changing the definitions of words doesn’t change the statements that use them, but of course it does…

  10. Drosera
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    What should be the attitude of the Christian faced with clear evidence that some part of the Bible cannot be taken literally and that this must have consequences for hitherto-accepted theology? Clearly, some alternative theology must be sought.

    No, Mr. Ruse, that’s the wrong attitude. Clearly, the Bible is demonstrably wrong, and there is no need to believe in any part of it. That should be the attitude. Christianity is, after all, not a genetic condition. It is learned behavior that can be unlearnt.

    ‘part of the Bible that cannot be taken literally’: euphemism for ‘ridiculous nonsense that was believed by bronze-age goat herders, which has to be salvaged by highly sophisticated theology.’

  11. Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Christian Theology: Obscure language intended to keep belief in ancient Blood Magic alive!

    • Posted June 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Also: opaque language designed to reassure the faithful, through confusingly though authoritatively and comfortingly-phrased big words, that Christianity’s Best Minds are on the task & yes, you should keep going to church.

      • keddaw
        Posted June 14, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

        They should have left it in the ‘original’ Latin and thus inscrutable to most rationalists.

  12. jaxkayaker
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    “If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here), then we have the power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world that God created.”

    The only way for this statement to be defensibly true is if the comma were supposed to precede the parenthetical phrase, and that Ruse was claiming that Augustine was right that we have the power of reason and the ability to learn, etc. Maybe that’s what he meant.

    I have no particular defense of Ruse in general, though. I’ve seen him speak twice and he was a pompous ass both times.

  13. sasqwatch
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I think you’ve found the solution, Jerry, and don’t even know it. God is, in fact, David Lynch and not Robert Stevenson (under Walt Disney). Problem solved.

    “In heaven… everything is fine… in heaven… everything is fine… in heaven… everything is fine…

    …you got your good things, and I’ve got mi-i-i-ine.”

    It all makes sense now. I’m off to create another sect… Branch Davelynchians.

  14. Posted June 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Poor Ruse – a Christian manqué, or just a Christian in disguise? It’s one thing to say, breezily, that there is an alternative to the idea of original sin, as well as an alternative to the idea of atonement. Yes, there is. There are hosts of alternatives to practically every Christian doctrine. Many of them are called heresies — that is, things chosen in defiance of authority. In fact, though it is expressed by Irenaeus, it is an Eastern Orthodox idea, and was never accepted by the Western Church, where the idea of original sin, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, and the validating resurrection were central to Christian faith. Irenaeus may have been bishop of what is now Lyon, but he was born of Greek parentage, and probably grew up in Asia Minor. His theology is at home in the East, with its very mystical conception of Jesus, the resurrection and human purpose and destiny.

    According to the Orthodox, the death of Jesus is not the important thing. The central thing is the resurrection, which shows what human beings are capable of. The orthodox call it theosis, a process of becoming godlike. The human task is to become like God, and that is what life is for. This was simply not possible under the old dispensation, because it was not even obvious that that’s what life was about. It took Jesus and his resurrection to achieve that.

    That’s why Easter is so central to the whole liturgical life of the Eastern Church, because it is a celebration of the human end and process. However, the Western Church took an entirely different course, and to overturn that would in fact require a complete revision of (Western) Christian doctrine, including the significance of Jesus life and purpose, and of the meaning of his death and resurrection. This is not likely to happen.

    From the Irenaean point of view, life and its suffering is essential, not because we deserve punishment — as in the Western tradition, where the crucifixion is looked upon as a sacrifice for human sinfulness, and our own suffering is (or at least can be seen in terms of) a sharing in that sacrifice — but a form of discipline to remind us to purify our lives and further the process of theosis to which our lives should be devoted.

    Now, of course, this is all very nice and neat, but it is impossible to demonstrate any of this. These are only myths. One shaped the Christian culture of the East, the other of the West. For Ruse to suggest that the Western Church can simply plug in another conception of human sinfulness shows how little he knows about theology. It’s all a single fabric. Begin to pull on the threads, and soon the whole thing will unweave itself. It is also obvious that Ruse thinks that Christian theology is just a matter of tinkering with ideas until you end up with something “plausible”. But if that is what it is, then in what sense is it revealed? Of course, if theology must change in response to scientific discovery, not only is it inferior, it is clearly not a form of discursive thought at all, but a kind of imaginative play, a bit like Freud, who mythologised human psychology. Does Ruse not consider Freud’s myths to be inferior to scientific psychology?

  15. jose
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I stand by my own take of Adam and Eve. The one they taught me in elementary school, that is.

  16. Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    This (from Ruse) is goofy…

    Two thousand years ago, for a Jew to believe in Adam and Eve was perfectly sensible. But time moves on and with it our understanding of the world around us, and old beliefs have to give way to new ones. Aristotle thought that some people were born to be slaves. He was wrong. St. Paul thought we are descended from Adam and Eve. He was wrong.

    Yes, but wrong in a different way, for different reasons.

    • articulett
      Posted June 12, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      Ugh… an inability to tell an opinion from a fact based claim– this little obfuscation makes him seem very much like a religionist to me. He’s so garbled compared to the gnu atheists he criticizes; he might be able to learn something from them if he wasn’t so damn sure he knew more than everybody already.

  17. Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh hell there’s other stuff that bugs me. I’ll just have to do my own.

    Blame Ruse, not me – he talks such a lot of nonsense that it takes several people to pin it all down.

  18. Sastra
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    God is creator, Jesus is his son who died on the cross for our sake, this act of sacrifice made possible our eternal salvation — these claims are unchanged. But what exactly this all might mean is another matter.

    I suggest a new contest. Instead of trying to figure out a way to reconcile a literal Adam and Eve with evolutionary genetics, now let’s see if anyone can figure out a way to reconcile:

    “God is the creator, Jesus is his son who died on the cross for our sake, this act of sacrifice made possible our eternal salvation”

    with:

    atheism. Full out metaphysical naturalism with a materialist/physicalist bent. Gnu atheism, even.

    In this mission, if you choose to accept it, you need to go all metaphorical. Get as symbolic as you want — just as long as, at the end, you can say that the claims are all “unchanged.” All you’ve done is find a new meaning. That’s all. The claims are, themselves, unchanged … save for the fact that they are now perfectly acceptable to atheists. A “God” everyone can like.

    I propose Michael Ruse go first. He can set the standard that we all have to beat.

    • Posted June 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Just offer the challenge to Ruse alone. That should provide entertainment enough, plus I’m not sure anyone else could suppress their gag reflex long enough to emulate his two-fisted philosophical wankery.

  19. GordonWillis
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    The changes are part of theology. If we are made in the image of God (and Augustine was right here), then we have the power of reason and the ability to learn and understand the world that God created. We have the ability and the obligation. This means doing science, however uncomfortable it may be. We see through a glass darkly. At some point, we will see face to face. But not without a lot of effort by us.

    This is clearly a statement of faith. Ruse is a theologian.

    This whole argument is mere rationalisation. Knowledge shows us that our doctrines are wrong. But we are committed to keeping them, so we have to adjust them to make them fit what we have discovered. Then we ignore the fact that we have changed our doctrines and declare that our understanding of God is becoming clearer. See, Paul was right all along…

  20. Dave Ricks
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Ruse wrote: if A (and B), then C.

    I read that as: if A, and if B, then C.

    Ruse says he’s an atheist, and I believe he’s telling the truth about that. I think he has a pet research topic of trying to make Christianity work (but not Judaism, Islam, or Mormon), like I used to have a hobby making model trains in HO scale (but not O scale, N, or Z). Maybe he had laudable motivations years ago (e.g., writing Can a Darwinian Be a Christian circa 2000), but since then, he refuses to evaluate whether his project “worked” or not, and evaluate if continuing his project is worthwhile. He’s holding on to his pet topic too long.

  21. Posted June 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I would refrain from making the “christian in disguise” claim. Superficially, it too closely resembles the No True Scotsman ploy.

    Sure, we can express surprise (shock? remorse?) that an atheist would make such mealy-mouthed arguments. You can even make a point of cataloging Mr. Ruse’s history of taking similar tacks. This all falls in the category of evidence for his being an accommodationist, but it misses the point.

    Once again we have a critic of Gnus — one who labels us as arrogant and unlearned in the ways of theology — being so bold as to lecture Christians on what they should believe. How dare he? From the point of view of a believer, suggesting a “soft” version of Christianity as better is no different than suggesting that none-Christian is better.

    I think Ruse is blind to introspection.

    Rationally yours,
    Thomas Paine

  22. Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    *sigh* I will never have what it takes to be a philosopher, as keeping to an outdated text in light of new knowledge is a special art. I can picture it: one day reading a sacred text sentence and understanding that it clearly states “A” and means “A”. Then upon receiving some revised scientific fact “F”, mumbling to myself, ‘Ah, this text says “A” but must mean “B” so that “F” fits.’ The text “A” does not and must not ever change. Text “A” is assumed to be correct for whatever the definition of correct is now. It is like numerology: Any number or sequence of numbers can be imagined to have any meaning you want with applied interpretation. It seems that the philosopher’s job is to do the same with sacred texts; keep the words, but have a mental transformation of the text from “A” to “B”. I don’t have the mental fortitude to keep assuming such a flawed source text is correct, when so much of it is shown to be bunkum. I would toss it out and get something more accurate and up to date. Ah well, I can console myself with the fact I am better paid than a philosopher, without having to go through these mental gymnastics.

  23. SAWells
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Can’t Ruse see what would happen if we applied the same kind of reasoning to science? We’d still be studying the properties of phlogiston- after all, even though all these experimental studies find no evidence for phlogiston, and all the phenomena which phlogiston was meant to explain have other explanations, what’s really happened is that our understanding of phlogiston is becoming clearer. Right?


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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