Theistic Evolutionism – Questions

A few days ago I wrote about what I see as some of the fundamental similarities between holocaust denial and Creationism, without mentioning the one area in which they differ completely: the Bible. Although White Nationalists and others who hold strongly racist views can be astoundingly dogmatic at times, they don’t claim to have in their possession the revealed truth of God. (Actually, some of them do, claiming that either Norse pagan religions or Christianity are explicitly racist in nature. I’m ignoring them because they’re just too crazy to consider.)

I bring this up not to address an oversight on my part, but to ask a few questions of so-called ‘theistic evolutionists’ – theists who have the good sense to accept evolution and not pretend that every word of the Bible or Qur’an must be literally true. Feel free to reply if you’re a theistic creationist yourself or if you used to be one.

  1. How do you reconcile those parts of Scripture which appear to require a literal interpretation of the entirety of Scripture? (I’m being a bit vague here, I know, but I’m simply echoing a question that I’ve seen posed by Creationists both on WordPress blogs and elsewhere.)
  2. Does accepting evolution make you less likely to believe in God because of some sort of teleological argument? If so, does that ‘weaken’ your faith (interpret as you wish) or do you think that God reveals his existence via some other aspect of the Universe?
  3. Can you imagine a hypothetical situation where some sort of scientific discovery leads you to becoming an atheist? Or is your belief in God (as opposed to your religious views about Scripture) entirely separate from scientific knowledge?

While I’m at it, I also have a question for Creationists, one that has recently been posed in the comments section of this blog:

  • If your belief in a young Earth and your rejection of evolution are based on Scripture, why does it matter whether the scientific evidence agrees with you? Why bother to make these pathetic attempts at undermining established science? (I’m not going to pander to you and pretend that the body of Creationist ‘work’ is anything other than pathetic.)

19 Responses to Theistic Evolutionism – Questions

  1. Sirius says:

    As Jesus said to Nicodemus: “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”
    [John 3:12]

    That’s my answer in a nutshell. I should add that if you’re not going to make any pretense about how you feel about my beliefs [nevermind your straw man about “pathetic attempts at undermining established science.” It is in the self-correcting nature of science for the established dogma to be undermined and replaced. Have you yet not read this?], I shall not make any pretense that my pearls of wisdom are being cast at anything other than willfully ignorant swine.

    As for your questions for [former] theistic evolutionists, the first two are void for vagueness.

    I shall respond to the third when I have more time.

    –Sirius Knott

  2. forknowledge says:

    The Galileo fallacy; a new one for you, Sirius. That it is the business of scientists to undermine previously accepted knowledge does not mean that the most radical attempts at undermining are therefore valid – especially when those attempts are so pathetic.

    Indeed, the pathetic nature of Creationism takes the rug out from under your claim that the veracity of truths of a ‘heavenly’ nature should be seen in light of truths of a more earlhy variety; if you and the Bible can give nothing but senseless ramblings when it comes to nature, I’m not going to be very inclined to believe you if you start talking about matters of heaven.

    The obvious solution would be to stop being so pathetic, but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.

  3. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I’d consider myself a theistic evolutionist. I’ve actually been hoping you’d get around to paying us some attention, For knowledge. (I understand that there are a variety of reasons why it might make more sense for you to mostly focus on the creationists.)
    #1) I’m not sure what you mean by the parts of scripture that “require” a literal reading. My best guess is that you mean “What parts of your faith are non-negoitably literally true?” I’m going to answer that question on the assumption that it’s what you meant.
    Sometimes, this question is used to create insiders and outsiders. It’s used by a certain group who call themselves Christians to want to say “So-and-so and such-and-such a person isn’t a REAL Christian.” These in-group out-group games are often times connected to issues of salvation. The “Real” Christians trumpet their assurances that the pseudo-Christians won’t end up in Heaven.
    I am sickened and offended by these games that followers of Christ play. I’m not claiming that no one goes to Hell. (Scripture seems pretty straight foreward on that account.) But I am crystal clear that I don’t need to work any of this out.
    Depending on my mood, I sometimes resist the term “Christian”. Both people claiming to be Christian and people who hate Christianity have done a lot of damage to that word. In those mods, I cling to the term “Follower of Christ” rather than “Christian”
    I think if I gave a creed-by-creed or chapter-by-chapter break down this would be rather pointless and mind-numbing for all of us. I also think I’d likely be wrong in a variety of places in both directions. There are some things I believe to be literal that are probably not literally true. There are other things which I view as symbolic which probably actually happened.

    I take all of scripture quite seriously. I wrestle with every word, phrase, chapter, and verse. I believe that God helps me in the quest to find what he wants me to see in scripture. I believe that the process of wrestling with these truths is an important part of the process.

    I’ve seen creationists pose this question, before, too. And frankly I find it mystifying. It simply isn’t possible to take the whole of scripture literally. For example, it states that God stopped the sun from moving around the Earth so that a battle could continue in day light. Even creationists generally agree that stopping the sun from moving is quite beside the point to prolong a day. The Earth is what would have to be stopped from moving.
    Similarly, The book of John stated the Jesus is the “Word of God” clearly that’s not literally true. He was much more than a sound. And Genesis states that God said a variety of things were “Good”. Why would God speak when there was no one to hear Him? What language would he be speaking since Adam later appears to invent language?
    Furthermore, Jesus teachings rely heavily on parables. There’s no way around that fact. Jesus himself called them parables and explained that they were not literally true.

    Religious conservatives have created this narrative where the standard explanations that they offer count as the default. They’ve constructed this fable that they take everything at face value, that they take everything literally. It just isn’t true.
    It’s reasonable to ask “How do you determine what is literally true?” But this question is just as reasonably posed to a creationist as it is to a theistic evolutionist. And if you want a longer explanation either about the process that I go through in determining this or about the conclusions I’ve come to, I’ll be happy to oblige you.

    #2) Evolution strengthens my faith. When I read Genesis I see in it things that people of that time simply could not have known, truths that are incredibly consistent with evolution.
    More specifically, in very broad outlines, the order stated in Genesis of when things were created was right. God breathes his spirit into the dust to create man. I take this to be a nod to the beginnings of life from nonliving matter.
    Adam, the first man, develops language, nudity taboos, knowledge of good and evil, awareness of death; painful childbirth, the invention of farming, domesticating animals…. His children experience the first malicious murder.
    All these strike me as a unique description of what it is to be human. I think it’d be difficult to find something uniquely human that isn’t on that list.
    Some of these require some interpretation; all of them require scriptural references. I’ve written a couple blogs on the topic. If you’d like more information let me know. I’ll post the links to those posts rather than try to summarize those posts here.

    #3) I can’t imagine a scientific discovery leading me to doubt the existence of God. My belief in God isn’t rooted in scientific discoveries. I can imagine a scientific discovery which might reshape my belief, as scientific discoveries do help form some of my beliefs about the nature of God.
    This doesn’t mean that I simply take God’s existence as a given. It just means that science wasn’t the thing that motivated to believe that their was a God in the first place. Overall, I’m pretty skeptical about science’s ability to prove or disprove God’s existence at all.

    I’m looking foreward to reading responses, critiques, etc…

  4. Interesting post, Forknowledge.

    Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

    1) I’m not sure what you mean by “appear to require a literal interpretation”. There are, of course, several verses in the bible that are clearly not meant to be read literally. Jeff already pointed some of these out. Naturally, there are other places that are more difficult to determine. For me personally when such an issue arises, I research as much as I can from as many angles as I can. I will look to see what some of the early church fathers said about the issue. I will read what contemporary bible scholars have said about the issue. I will look into the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic text and refer to concordances about the meanings of the actual words, look at other verses that use those words, etc. I also take into account the historical and cultural influences of the time. Does this mean that I will ultimately come to the correct conclusion over whether something is meant to be literal or figurative? Unfortunately, no, but as I am human, that is to be expected. In fact, there are some issues that I have gone over and over again and have changed my mind about many times. And then there are others that I have temporarily given up on as ever trying to possibly understand. 🙂

    I also think Jeff brings up a good point that this particular question is as equally valid for creationists as it is for non-creationists.

    2) I don’t feel that accepting evolution makes me less likely to believe in God, but I can see why others find the idea dangerous, possibly leading to a slippery-slope effect that ends in unbelief. Certainly for some people it probably has, unfortunately.

    3) I can’t imagine any scientific discovery making me become a non-believer. Science explains the natural world. God is a supernatural being. While I hesitate to say that the two have NOTHING to do with each other, I don’t believe science will (nay, that it simply CANNOT by its very nature) ever have anything to say definitively one way or the other about the existence of God.

  5. freidenker85 says:

    Here’s a question to both ATN and Jeff:

    While it is completely true that belief in a god can be divorced entirely from naturalism and the scientific enterprise, it is logically impossible to believe that the Christian/Jewish/Muslim God is the one who, say, created all human beings out of dust: the evidence simply shows that this is not the case, and it is impossible to believe that human beings were created AND evolved. It is possible, of course, to put God at the starting point of every gap in our knowledge, and that’s just fine and definitely not logically invalid: you could say that God is outside of time and outside our scope of observation – and you won’t be necessarily wrong.

    The question is: how do you reconcile that with your belief, particularly, in a Christian God? Do you simply reshape your belief as the evidence comes along? In that case, wouldn’t say that the bible gives a rather incomplete (or perhaps inaccurate) picture of what the universe is like?

    What sensible people do from that point on is entirely subjective: I choose not to bother with positing a God in a universe complicated enough without inventing something even more incomprehensible to explain what’s going on in it – some people, and I say this without any hint of disapproval, prefer to assume that something completely incomprehensible is the only thing that might allow for all this to be.

    Since this is impossible to observe, I choose not to bother – it’s a matter of choice.

  6. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    As I stated earlier, I believe that the Genesis account is quite supportive of the Neo-Darwinian understanding of the universe.
    One of the most obviious reasons that it doesn’t do so in a more obvious manner is that a more literal explanation would not have made sense to people for the first several thousand years that it was around.
    If Genesis read “In The begining God created a singularity event which created not only all matter and energy, but space itself…” In chapter 1; a few chapters later if it said “And because the carriers of non-adaptive genes were wiped out of the gene pool through natural selection, a variety of living beings emerged; first single celled organisms and later multi-celled organisms.” If even later it said “And so it was that that the early hominids migrated from Africa to the Middle East, then Europe and Asia, and across the Bering land brige.”…
    Of course, all these statements would have been utter nonsense to those reading scripture before the early 1900s. Unless God planned on using the bible to share with us every scientific detail of the universe, he simply couldn’t give us a literal account of humanity’s creation.
    I think that the Genesis account is inexplicably accurate, given the limitations that it has, in that it had to be a narrative which would make sense to prescientific socieities.
    More specifically:
    In some sense, nobody disagrees that humans came from nonliving matter. Evolutionists say that this was some form of primodrial soup. This soup can be turned into Amino Acids, the building blocks of protiens. To the best of my knowledge (and maybe somebody will correct me if I’m wrong) we’re not clear on how we get from amino acids to self-replicating cells.

    Creationists generally envision God literally reaching down and scooping up some dirt. They envision him breathing into this dirt.

    Many theistic evolutionists (like myself) say that based on the evidence we have now, it appears that God breathing is somehow involved with that progression from amino acids to early life.
    Is this a God-of-The-Gaps argument?
    Well, maybe.
    But there’s a bit of a dilemna here. When people who don’t believe in God ignore the evidence, we are rightfully condemned for being willfully ignorant. When people who believe in God try to coordinate our understanding of scripture with science, we’re told that we’re just locating God in the places that science doesn’t have an explanation for.

    The reality is that everybody asks “Given all the sorts of evidence that I’m willing to admit, how can apparently disparate elements work together?” Members of every group adjust their positions as different considerations make themselves clear.

    The creationists might claim that there Christianity is identical to the Christianity that Jesus’ followers practiced. I wouldn’t make a claim this bold.
    Most scientifically minded people are wise enough to recognize that the content of scientific understanding changes quite frequently. In the same way that scientists would argue that the fundamental rules of science haven’t ever changed, I would argue that a few fundamental principles of Christianity haven’t changed; but a significant percentage does change. Not only in reaction to new understandings in the hard sciences, but also to cultural, anthropological, and political science understandings.

  7. Freidenker85–I can’t agree with your statement that the evidence shows that God could not have created humans from dust. First, I can’t agree because I’m not entirely sure what you are saying–are you referring to the literalist interpretation of many creationists who believe God literally formed man from dust? If so, naturally I don’t read the passage in such a manner anyway. If you are saying that the evidence says that God could not have a hand in creation in any form, I cannot agree because I don’t think this is something science can test one way or the other.

    Your “God of the gaps” statement is how many Christians may, in fact, interpret such sticky issues, but “God of the gaps” brings up other issues itself, and many people are careful to avoid this. It is dangerous to insert God into sticky problems where theology may potentially disagree with science because there is always a very good chance that science will eventually come up with some sort of explanation that does not require God’s handiwork. This idea has already been touched on by Christian scientists like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins (though Collins’ book “The Language of God” makes me cringe at times, it still raises some good points).

    I don’t think the bible giving an incomplete picture of the universe is any problem at all, and I’m not quite sure why anyone would think it would be. It’s not meant, and was never meant, to be an all-knowing historical, cultural, or scientific textbook.

    Hmm…ironically this conversation is starting to remind me of the song “Freewill” by Rush:

    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
    I will choose a path that’s clear
    I will choose freewill

  8. Eric Kemp says:


    Two things.

    “…it is impossible to believe that humans were both created AND evolve.”

    Excuse me? Are you saying that if God really did create humanity then there COULD NOT BE any change in allele frequencies over time? That a created being MUST HAVE complete stagnation when it comes to DNA recombination? Also, with what evidence to you make this claim?

    “Since this is impossible to observe, I choose not to bother – it is a matter of choice”

    Well I agree with you there. Your position that chance, natural law and Natural Selection accounts for everything and mine, that God created the Universe and everything in it, are equally unobservable. You’ve chosen the former. Therefore, do not be shocked when you die and there ISN’T complete annihilation.

  9. freidenker85 says:

    Jeff and ATN: (starting with Jeff, ATN, if you would be so kind, you could simply scroll down to my response to you)

    I understand that it’s possible to read the bible and make it fit into what we see here today, at least in the case of Genesis that does in fact speak of events that have no other record and could be accurately referred to as a myth. I’m sure you can’t disagree with this definition, as you, yourself, said that the bible isn’t supposed to be 100% accurate, but at least understandable enough at the time, and a genesis being a “creation myth” is a great way of being just that. If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that the bible just gives people a “head start” before science can unravel the rest? I’m not saying that this is the bible’s purpose, I’m just asking whether or not that’s what you say it does.

    And to try and pry the answer to my question again: while it is, of course, possible to credit God with creating, say, the primordial soup (supposing we have a comprehensive explanation as to how any soup created the first bacteria, which we don’t) – it is still not possible that God actually took dust and blew into it and poofed a man out of it. Adam is a word in Hebrew (my native tongue besides sign language) which has the same root as “Adama”, meaning “ground” or “earth”. It doesn’t get any more literal than that and there’s really no way around the fact that this is what the bible really says, whether one chooses to take it at face value or not.

    There’s no way around reading what you say without de facto treating the bible allegorically – I’m sure that no one in their right minds would have read the bible a thousand years ago and thought that anything there is allegorical – and exactly because people just take the bible’s word for it and don’t feel any need to align genesis with their experience because they don’t have that kind of experience. This is probably not going to be disputed by you, so correct me if I wrongly conclude that the answer to my original question was that you take certain aspects of the bible as literally true and take others as not, usually per your observable, modern-science-guaranteed experience (Biology, for example).

    If you agree with what I wrote, let me ask you this:
    Since believers throughout history believed in a more literal bible than you did, probably including Christ and the first Christians, don’t you think that you’re in a way straying from original Christianity? I readily admit that since Christianity has so many sects, it’s hard to tell which is “a real Christian”. If I had to choose, I’d choose a Christian like you 🙂 (well, at least if your Christianity is a representation of any particular sect in Christianity)

    I’m sorry, I meant “literal creation” as “God poofing humans out of real-world dirt”. The bible specifically depicts such an event, and if you take it literally, you get a magical event with no factual basis whatsoever. While I do not find the idea of God or believing in God to be problematic and definitely not indisputable wrong or right (it’s probably beneficial in many respects, IMO), I think that actually believing something that is magical par excellence is a dangerous precedent and is downright silly. For adults, anyway.

    I definitely haven’t said that God could not have taken a part in creation in any form, it’s just that any sensible person who trusts his own experience and his knowledge about science cannot reconcile the fact that humans were definitely not dust that magically transformed into human beings. If the bible actually means “God created life out of the dust, which is a synonym for non-living matter which then transformed into simple life which then evolved without God’s mechanical help but perhaps with his instruction into human beings” – well, that’s something entirely different, and I can’t possibly argue with such a claim because there’s no way to be right OR wrong about it.

    I completely agree with your “god-of-the-gaps” paragraph, by the way.

  10. freidenker85 says:


    “Excuse me? Are you saying that if God really did create humanity then there COULD NOT BE any change in allele frequencies over time?”

    No, I referred to humanity, or at least the genus Homo, that evolved from earlier life-forms. I’m saying that it is impossible that this is true if man was also magically created without any ancestors, since the two arguments flatly contradict each other.

    Also, I find it fascinating that you include 3 elements in my worldview: chance, natural law and Natural Selection. You take two seemingly all-encompassing ideas and you bunch them with a relatively small piece of the scientific big picture, and this is also the term you capitalized. Why make such a big fuss of natural selection and even visually emphasize it?

    Also, I must say that saying that “God created the universe and everything in it” can be accurate if you mean “God created a staggeringly huge number of hydrogen atoms and then guided them in some non-discernable matter until a huge aggregate of atoms became simple life that eventually evolved into Homo sapiens”. If you actually believe that human beings and dinosaurs magically came to be a few thousand years ago, it is as simple as opening a book to readily disprove this claim, unless, of course, you openly admit that your take on the matter is immune to evidence-based refinement. If this is the case, then there’s really no point in discussing this issue whatsoever. Unlike you, I’m not sure I’m right. I choose what I choose because it has a better track of success, not because I’m sure of anything.

    I’m sure, however, that you are 100% sure about God and his creation of the universe (and perhaps even all of life in recent millennia)

  11. forknowledge says:


    Thanks for the reply, I was hoping you’d take a stab at this! I was purposely vague about what I meant by Scripture requiring a literal interpretation because I’m not an expert on the Bible (and that’s putting it mildly) and because I wanted you to keep in mind the kind of arguments that YECs might have used against theistic evolutionism – in other words, arguments that boil down to ‘if you can’t trust that the Genesis account is factual and true, how can you trust that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is factual and true?’ (or some variation on that theme). I would agree that whether this is a problem only for a certain ‘type’ of believer, although someone like DTE would probably claim that you’re playing games to avoid giving up on the Bible entirely.

    Everyone else:

    I’ll try to get back to the rest of the comments later, but right now I need to run for a lecture!

  12. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    Wow! There’s so much here. Let’s see:

    Yes, it might be said that “I fit the bible into what I see today.” But this isn’t a special case for me. Everybody who accepts a certain idea fits it into the other ideas they have. Darwinians fit Darwin’s ideas into Mendel’s idea’s about heridity and Watson and Cricke’s discoveries about the shape of the double helix. Creationist’s have been give this pass on this. The theology that they subscribe to is less than 100 years old. In a rather arbitrary manner, they fit certain key verses, phrases, and books of the bible. For example, the place a premium on the taking quiite literally the books of Revelations in the New Testmanet and Isiah in the Old Testament.
    Dirty little secret #1 1 of these folks is they do end up having to take other verses quite symbolically in order to make all this work out.

    If I said that the bible isn’t supposed to be 100% accurate I misspoke. I believe it is 100% accurate. I simply don’t believe that is 100% literal. For me, this is a key difference. Taking things literally sometimes trivializes meanings rather than enhances them. For example, if I told you “The early bird catches the worm” You have quite missed the point if you believe this is a historical statement referring to one specific bird and one specific worm.

    As for the question “What is the bible meant to be?” This is an incredibly tough and important question. If it were to be written today, I would want it filed in the poetry section of a book store, not the self-help section, nor the science section. Great poetry’s wisdom takes work to unwrap. Self-help books pour out their meaning upon the first reading. It is an expression of God’s love for us, a description of the cosmic drama we find ourselves in, a chronicle of what has gone right and wrong as we have sought after Him.
    There are a variety of elements of scripture which enhance it’s “truthiness” (to steal a word from Stephen Colbert) There are many truths in the bible which transcend the limitations of the human writers, the Genesis account seems to me to be one. I don;t think it’s so much as a head start for science as a little sign post for us, in this era, that God was involved in the whole process.

    Though you have the words “To try and pry the answer to my question” at the beginning of a paragraph, I couldn’t find a question. I guess the question this paragraph implies is this one “Given that Adam’s name means ‘ground’ how can you side step the idea that God breathed life into the dirt which turned into Adam?”

    I side step the issue thusly:
    God used the evolutionary process to bring about humans. He intended this from the beginning. He breathed life into the dust with the intent of this dust eventually becoming human. (I realize that the idea that God knew where evolution was headed is probably controversial. I’ll jump into that debate if anybody wants to.)

    The idea that reading the bible allegorically is a modern construct is another myth propegated mostly by the “literalists” (Quotes intended: they aren’t any more or less literal than me; they just pick and choose differently.) Many quite early church fathers were quite open to allegorical readings. Augustine appears to have viewed Adam is a symbolic figure, as did Iraenus. Some people claim that even Paul the Apostle sometimes appears to treat Adam symbolically, but that’s a really sophisticiated argument that I’m not quite smart enough to summarize off the top of my head.

    Yes, I take some parts of the bible as literal and others as figurative. I’d go so far to say that there has never been a coherent account of scripture which took the whole shooting match literally– and further, that no one has ever truly tried. (E.G. what does it mean to say “Jesus is the word of God” literally?)

    The Jewish tradition which Jesus and his disciples sprang out of had a vastly different view of how to treat conflict than we do today. There are very important texts to the Jewish tradition that read much more like legal texts than theology books, in that there are dissenting opinions and multiple interpretations included in these Jewish books. It was with the insitutionalization of the church, through Constantine and the early popes, that put such a monolithic importance of right belief (orthodoxy) at the expense of right practice. (orthopraxis)

    Every believer ever has had to synchronize scripture with world view. A danger in this is that we might project our own prejudices and assumptions on the unchanging truth of scripture. But this is the human condition. There is no way around it. It’s not at all unique to the modern era. A writer I quite enjoy challenges us to “stop reading scripture” and “let scripture read us”; meaning that we ought to approach the bible as openly and humbly as we can.

    I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m skeptical to the claim that the history of Christianity has viewed the bible more literally than me.
    However, I’m not troubled by the possibility that I do see scripture as more figurative than past centuries. I’m simply not concerned with what counts as “a real Christian”. I’m concerned with following Christ as truly and completely as I possibly can. Thanks for the kind words about “my kind” of Christianity. I’m blessed to be part of an amazing church in Massachusetts. It happens to be nondenominational . Many of us are “getting” it that there is a much more important divde than old-school sects and denominations… Some of us identify with words like “emergent Christian” “Post Modern Christian” and “Red Letter Christian” we tend to be heavilyinfluenced by folks like Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren, and to a slightly lesser extent folks like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, and Don Miller. (Sorry for the commercial. I just thought I’d throw out a few names and terms for folks to google if they are so inclined.)

  13. freidenker85 says:

    That’s a fascinating comment there, Jeff! I hope you’re not taking any offense at my constant prodnosing, I’m a curious person, regardless of my atheism, and I do not intend to insult or to harm in any way with my questions.

    I have some issues that I find interesting and others that I simply wish to clarify.

    Firstly, I was surprised when you called Darwin’s previous ideas “theology” or insinuated that his previous ideas were somehow concordant with your garden variety theology. Darwin’s theology was pretty much your average 19th century devout Christian’s: God exists, created heaven and earth and mankind in his own image.
    What he saw did NOT fit into his previous ideas and presuppositions. That’s the amazing part about his scientific discovery – it changed his worldview, it didn’t simply fit into it.

    You wrote:

    “I’m simply not concerned with what counts as “a real Christian”. I’m concerned with following Christ as truly and completely as I possibly can.”

    To me, it seems like a sentence and a contradiction right afterwards, but perhaps it doesn’t to you because you may have thought that “real Christian” as I put it doesn’t mean exactly what you wrote in the latter sentence. I find it quite bizarre that you wish to follow Christ as truly and as completely as you can, while at the same time, seem impervious to how Christ himself might have perceived and probably taught the old testament.

    I found your description of “what the bible meant to be” quite interesting, but it also inescapably leads me to wonder: since God himself was never around to tell you whether or not you should take the bible allegorically or not, how do you know if you’re right about doing so? For that matter, the bible could be a decoy to test for positive atheism and thus be meant to reward atheists and send them to heaven! Are your ideas based on any biblical authority (that is, text in the bible) as opposed to your own subjective way of reading it? Personally, I think your subjective way of reading it is humble and innovative, traits I quite admire, but still, the question does raise itself.

    Lastly, as a person who was raised Jewish in the Jewish state of Israel, I can say I know a thing or two about the Jewish tradition. I know that the Jewish tradition usually focuses on casuistry (quite painfully, too) and there are, in fact, 4 ways of interpreting any verse in the Torah (or the old testament, whichever way you want to call it): Pshat (literally), Drash (allegorically), Remez (alluding to some other verse or context) and Sod (the verse purposefully has a concealed meaning). I can pretty much guarantee you that while casuistry plays a huge part in the way the Jewish (especially in the Talmud and Mishna) tradition deals with laws, there isn’t, however, much confusion as to the literalism of Bereshit Alef, or Genesis 1: it says: Bereshit bara elohim et hashamaim ve’et haaretz, which translates freely to: “The first thing that happened was that God created the heaven and the earth”. This, except for the word “Bereshit” which has caused Jewish scholars to quibble for millennia, is definitely Pshat.

    Sorry about the small sojourn into Jewish theology, but in any conversation with Christians, this is the only theological contribution I can make. Since Christianity is traditionally “Judaism – part 2”, I don’t think that Jewish theology is irrelevant, especially when discussing the old testament.

  14. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I could ramble and babble about this stuff all day; I find your approach fair minded and even handed. So please, continue.
    I mis-typed if I referred to Darwin’s idea as theology. I agree that the term doesn’t fit.
    (I skimmed but couldn’t find the reference; if you cut and paste or quote or something I’m actually a bit curious about what I might have been thinking.)

    I guess the idea about following Christ vs Christianity is this:
    There are people who believe that the term “Christian” belongs to them. I’m willing to let them have the term. I think it’s been distorted across the centuries.
    It’s a bit like the masons: in one sense it means a guy who makes stuff out of stone. But it also means membership in a group that no longer really has much to do with masonry. If we went to one of those masons today he probably wouldn’t be much help in laying bricks and stuff.

    It’s not my job to judge the folks who call themselves Christians. I feel a sense of connection and affinity to them in some ways. I feel disconnected and at odds with them in other ways. I feel that tradition has accumulated lots of unnecesary and un-Christlike practices. In calling myself a follower of Christ and not a Christian, I’m resisting the traditions that I think have been unhelpful.
    Some of the people who call themselves Christians have used the label, and their positions of power in much the same way as those who crucified Christ. They have been bigotted and exlusivist. I’m reacting to this.

    The question about how I know about the bible is an enomorous one. I’m going to duck it for now due to a lack of time.

    You’re insight about the Jewish tradition is fascinating. Thanks for the quick lesson.
    I’ve got some follow up question and comments for you about this when I get back to this…

  15. freidenker85 says:

    Sorry for my shallow perception, but I’m not quite sure what reference you’re asking me to give. As a compromise, I’m willing to throw something at the wall hoping it sticks, but I admit readily that might not be what you asked for.

    Darwin was supposed to be ordained as a priest and was a devout Christian. You don’t really need a quote or an autobiography for that, I think a Wikipedia article about Charles Darwin will confirm this just fine. As a basis for his “changed beliefs” which he obtained well after he developed the theory of evolution (and, of course, familiar with the facts of biology that were rather at odds with his original theology), I will quote the famous “devil’s chaplain” quote:

    “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature!”

    Wikipedia says that Darwin wrote this in 1857, just before publishing his theory. It also says:

    “The book’s title is a reference to a quotation of Charles Darwin, made in reference to Darwin’s lack of belief in how “a perfect world” was designed by God:”

    This is from the Wikipedia article on Richard Dawkins’ book “A Devil’s Chaplain” .

    I’m pretty sure you’d agree with me that a person who almost got ordained as a priest would never have said these things before running into the data he gathered as a natural scientist.

    Let me just point out that it’s probably true that I or anyone else might be shoehorning the facts to our presuppositions, but I think I rather substantiated the argument that this is not true for Darwin’s case. At least not in relation to the theory of evolution.

    Frankly, I think it’s absolutely amazing that a person with such vast theological background would give it all up when faced with facts that are at odds with his previous beliefs. I’m not entirely sure that it’s true for my case: I was never indoctrinated and never needed religion – my life’s been full of struggle, real-world struggle. Since religion offered no practical help for me, I never saw it necessary and thus, adopting a reality-based worldview and rejecting faith came easy to me. So I’m pretty sure I’m biased in that way.

    Maybe it’s what makes me unbiased, too. I really can’t say.

    Feel free to ask more about Judaism, despite all the inanity in this religion, Jewish casuistry is one the most mind-boggling form of mental gymnastics there is. I know very little of it, only in the form of the Tanach (old testament) mandatory matriculation I had in high school (and some bits and odds), but I’m sure this is REALLY not the kind of stuff Christians learn, even in seminary school.

  16. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    The reference I was asking for was my own words; if I understood you correctly I mentioned Darwin’s theology. However, it’s not particularly important.

    I think that you are right: there is some bravery in Darwin’s willingness to submit his entire reality to what he was discovering. Given the data that Darwin himself saw that his discoveries “disproved” theism, one reasonable interpretation is the interpretation I assume that you’re taking. This interpretation is simply that Darwin was correct, and theism is incompatible with Darwinian evolution.

    On the other hand, another interpretation might be that his theology was flawed. I’m not debating how much theological training he had… (Though perhaps he had a bit too much of the wrong kind.) I am suggesting he lived in a theological rigid, quite literalistic time.

    Interesting, how we humans can be faced with quite similiar circumstances and come out so opposite. Like most people, my life has also had it’s share of struggle. In the middle of my darkest hour is where and when I found God.
    Some people run the whole “This just proves that religion is a crutch” argument when I admit this. My understanding of this time in my life is quite different: I believe that God was chasing after me for quite some time– probably most of my life. I think that his methods grew gradually less subtle at getting my attention as I grew gradually better at ignoring Him. I believe that I brought this dark time on myself.
    (I’m not at all suggesting that this is what’s going on when all people experience dark times.)
    I don’t believe I would have made it through this time without God, however. I see His help as very real, and I see my view as very reality based.

    At any rate…
    What does “casuistry” mean? That’s a new term to me.

    Now back to the preceeding email:
    How do I know how to interpret the bible?
    Well, first off, I believe that God is around to help me to understand these things. I recognize how bizzare this claim sounds. My recognition doesn’t change the belief, though. I believe that God guides me into truth.

    As for specific scriptural references:
    If all of my reasons for accepting scripture were internal to scripture itself, it would be quite ludicrious to accept scripture at all. If I met somebody on the street and they said “Everything I say is true.” I wouldn’t believe everything else they say just because they said that…
    On a large scale, so much of scripture just “clicks” with what I experience in the outside world. I know a bit about other religions. I recieved my bachelor’s in philosophy and got half way to a master’s degee in philosophy; this was before I was a Christian but my area was the philosophy of religion, and more specifically, the field of religious pluralism. I’ve read at least a bit of the scriptures of all the major world religions. There was a period of time I called myself a Buddhist. But nothing resonated like parts of the scriptures, particularly the sayings of Jesus, some of the “Old Testament” prophets, and the book of Eccliastes.

    On a more specific level, the story of Israel’s wrestling with the angel I find to be incredibly important and instructive. As you probably know, the figure wasn’t always named “Israel” and “Israel” means “wrestles with angels.” I believe this whole episode is incredibly important in explaining what we should do with God.

    Many folks point to the passage in the book of Timothy where Paul says “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for…”
    The thing I find hilarious about this is that the folks who usually point to it suggest that they are literalists. The irony is the very phrase “God-breathed” can’t be taken literally!

    I’d be interested to hear more about those four methods of interpretation. Is the idea that we ought to pick and choose among the methods depending on the verse, or that we ought to apply each of them to each verse?
    At some point in Jewish history, the Rabbi’s must have gotten on board with the idea that the Earth circles the sun and not the other way around. At this point, they must have had to do something with the passage where God extends the day so that Joshua can continue to lead the Israel in slaughtering their enemies.
    The wording (atleast in the Christian translations I read) makes the most obvious literal interpretation that God held the sun still. It seems to me that Genesis requires a similiar transition, an acceptance that the story (or atleast elements of the phrasing)is symbolic and not literal.

    Christians who don’t understand their Jewish roots rob themselves of so much understanding… For example, When I started to “get” the passover, I was able to see Jesus’ crucifiction in this whole other light: The sacrficed first born (in this case, of God) whose blood protects us from the penalty that is coming. You are absolutely right that we Christ-followers/Christians don’t pay enough attention to Judaism.

  17. freidenker85 says:

    Well, I’m definitely did not mean that what Darwin discovered “disproves theism” – that’s impossible! What I did say is that what Darwin found out was not concordant with his theological background, and that’s why he turned into disbelief. The whole point of mentioning that is to illustrate you how Darwin became a believer from a non-believer through a process of learning about nature and finding out it’s not what bible school taught him it is. You’ve argued that Darwin’s theology was different than yours (he was Anglican, not exactly the most wired Christian sects there are, correct me if I’m wrong.) – that might as well be true – maybe if Darwin had a theological standpoint similar to yours, he wouldn’t be surprised at all at the things he found and discovering what he did about nature wouldn’t make him stop believing in God (or to question that faith).

    Of course, it still leaves me right about him changing his mind, though. It’s possible to interpret this transition from one wrong worldview to another (as you would, I guess.)

    I became an atheist when I was 20, (I’m 23 now). Before that, I was your garden variety secular Jew. Since adolescence was difficult (sick mom, deaf parents, mom died since, by the way) – I often tried to reach to the divine for solace. It never helped, it never made anything easier. Most of the time, I simply stopped giving it any attention and instead sought for “secular ways” to make things easier. Secular ways that worked (training, improving my sign language, engrossing myself in learning, etc.)

    This eased the transition into atheism: when I first found out about science and the scientific method, I was awestruck at its vast power to actually change the world. The way a few processes can lead to an approximation of the truth and can be utilized to change reality in a favorable way. I remember thinking to myself: “that’s exactly what I wanted all those years”. I discarded theism first and foremost because it does not pass scientific scrutiny – because for so long I was hammered down by constant strife that I quickly decided to let go of anything that wasn’t visibly useful – at least as far as my worldview is concerned.

    About the methods of interpretation – there’s really nothing much to it except what I said about it. This form of religious interpretation is a very old Jewish tradition, if I recall correctly, even Rashi (in medieval France) used them.
    Oh, by the way, casuistry is the English word for “Pilpul” – which literally in Hebrew means “putting in pepper” and practically means something more like “Spicing it up”. In other words, it’s getting really, really deep about a subject and trying to review it from every possible angle.

    I wouldn’t exactly congratulate Judaism for its early modernness: we have some of the weirdest, strangest and most disgusting laws: it is according to the Halacha that a man can marry at 9 and a woman at 3. It specifically says that the reason a woman can marry (and women who marry have to, by Halacha law, have sex with their husbands to commit the Mitzvah (commanding, virtuous law) of “Pru U’rvu” (Reproduction. This is an original verse, but I’m not sure what the English version is). The logical outcome of this is actually that women marrying at 3 must have sex with their husbands, even if their husband is nine. Even if this never happened, it’s simply revolting.

    Judaism is also disgustingly xenophobic, at times. We have laws that tell us not to help foreigners in certain conditions and also specific clauses in laws pertaining to killing and murder that are different when foreigners are concerned.

    Judaism is also a rather philosophical religion, at least as far as the Torah’s concerned. It’s considered a huge virtue (practically a selection pressure) to be well-learned in the Torah and all the books that followed it (usually, the Torah refers to all Jewish teachings). Even though there’s not much written about being a scholar in general sciences, Judaism’s encouragement of studying has helped the Jewish communities to often be head and shoulders above the rest, especially in times when learning was practically anathema in Europe (the middle ages, mostly).

    Out of the 3 methods, the only method I have no examples of is Sod, meaning that the verse in question has a purposefully concealed meaning. I can’t think of any occasion in which this applies.

    By the way, the things I did learn about the old testament were mostly literary analyses of various parts in the bible. The thing I found most baffling is when we went through verses that were completely meaningless at face value and rabbis had to quibble for eons about what they DID mean. Since it was part of the bible, this was, of course, of great value to Judaism. One particular verse comes to mind, I’ll write the transcript and then try to translate it to English:

    “Ki Ha’adam ets ha’sade”

    It literally means “Because man(kind) is the tree of the field”.

    Usually, such haiku phrases would mean nothing to me and I’d make nothing of it, but I remember being taught that one of the ways to interpret this using Drash (see my earlier post) is that people shouldn’t cut down trees for siege weapons in the surrounding of the besieged cities because trees are just as valuable spiritually as human beings.

    Another interpretation altogether is that there was simply a typo while the Torah was copied and it was actually “Ki La’adam ets ha’sade” – and this means “The tree of the field is FOR mankind”. This actually makes a lot more sense to me: if you guys conquer this city and hack down the trees around it, you won’t have anyway to feed the people who later dwell in that area (namely, the Israelites).

  18. jeffsdeepthoughts says:

    I guess that our paths aren’t altogether different. Difficult circumstances lead both of us to question the world view we’d both been born into. (In my case, the culminating difficult experience was my wife’s near-death to illness.) Ironically, I was brought up relatively in a fairly secular humanistic environment. The world view I fled is the one you ended up in!
    I think that there is some connection between usefullness and truthfulness. However much our respective world views “work” will reflect some on how likely we are to be correct. It’d be nice, in cases like this, to have a time machine, and visit us both in ten years and see how our various views have served us. (Of course it’s not at all about usefulness)

    I love that, that deep interpretation is spicing up our understanding. I think I’ll probably blog on that topic at some point.

    I was unfamiliar with the particular wierd rule you mention. But Leviticus has it’s share of strange things. There’s a couple chapters about skin rashes that are quite detailed and gross.

    I hope it’s not impetuous of me to ask this question about xenophobia… You are much more informed about the issue than I am. But I wonder if taken in context, historically, if Judiasm is as xenophobic as it appears. At the time, tribe was everything. And stuff that looks very harsh by today’s standards often times turns out to be merciful when taken in historical context. I’m sure you’re familiar with the claim that though “an eye for an eye” looks very hateful and revenge-centered by today’s standards, at the time, it was actually a call for mercy. At the time, the idea was that if somebody took from you, it was appropriate to take twice as much back, in revenge. Demanding that people only take back as much as was taken from them turns out to be a call for justice, despite what it looks like by today’s standards.
    I wonder if the apparent xenophobia is the same thing. There are many demands in the Torah/beginning of the old testament that state that strangers and aliens actually get similiar rights to Hebrews. Most places, at that time, if you were a foriegner you were subhuman.

    The idea that verses could have purposely hidden meanings seems exciting and quite relevant to this conversation. Could an example of Sod be the fact that Genesis actually describes evolution, even though the reality of evolution was hidden for centuries, and so the meaning of Genesis was understood differently?

    I was surprised to hear about the possibility of miscopying the bible. I’d always been taught that it’s much more reasonable to question miscopying in the “New Testament” than in Jewish Scriptures, because the Jewish scholars (I’d been told) took quite extreme measure to mantain the original wording.

    My amatuer and unschooled opinion doesn’t count for much on “because mankind is the tree of the field” particularly since the word “because” implies that whatever went on before the sentence is important.
    However, if I were to see that sentence, I’d wonder if the meaning is that mankind is somehow unique, special, or different: the field is all of creation and mankind is like a tree in the middle of the field; somehow spoiling the field’s fieldness, if that makes any sense, or at least different than everything else. Because if you had too many trees it wouldn’t be a field at all but a forest.

  19. freidenker85 says:

    I have to admit that I don’t know where your blog is. Can you link it up here?

    Firstly, Genesis pointing to evolution is Sod to the best of my understanding. Since I haven’t gone to a Yeshiva, I can’t really say further.

    Judaism is very xenophobic and quite barbaric in some of its laws, and I know, because I’ve learnt Leviticus and Deuteronomy in painstaking detail (“Va’yikra” and “D’varim” respectively. The names in Hebrew actually literally mean, respectively: “And he shall read” or “And he shall cry out” and “Things” or “That which is read or said”).

    There are horrible laws in both. Stoning drunk and rude children, killing people for being pagan (can you get anymore xenophobic than that?), killing witches (and happily not being too specific about who is a witch, thus giving terrible lee for the witch hunters in Europe to use this edict to simply remove any woman a townsman doesn’t like). There’s a taboo on making “Sha’atnez” (don’t know the English term) – which is basically any fabric that’s made of a combination of two fabrics. (Say, cotton and wool), a taboo on getting tattoos, a decree to kill by stoning anyone who copulates with animals, men who copulate with men, etc. etc.

    By the way, many decrees that are xenophobic in Judaism are not just in the Torah, one of the most xenophobic Jewish scholars I know of is Rambam (Maimonides). The Torah is actually slightly less xenophobic than he is.

    Also, I wish to say that just because Judaism is courteous when compared to biblical times, doesn’t, of course, excuse it of being barbaric and xenophobic – a people, just like individuals, has to grow up and move on with the times. I do not excuse any doctrine that’s barbaric simply because of transient ignorance – this is no worse than not exempting criminals who are unaware of the law. (There’s a legal principle in Israel that states that ignorance of the law does not exempt a criminal, so I don’t know if this this principle makes sense to you as it does to me)

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