On theology and science

I do want to comment, so I’ll start a new topic right here.

I do not expect you to question your faith. But I do hope that you will seriously question inerrancy.

The Bible was written by humans and for humans. It could not be otherwise. Even if it was inspired by God, that could only mean that God gave people the ideas which they then wrote in their own words. That it is a human book is part of what gives it value. If you were told that it was written by reptilians as dictated by their reptilian god, you would not take it at all seriously.

The Bible describes the world as seen and understood by its authors. It partly reflects their culture. It was written by geocentrists. Today, most of us are heliocentrists. Culture changes and the way that people see their world changes.

Yes, the Bible is full of warts. If you don’t see the warts, then you have not read it carefully enough. But it can still be a valuable guide, even without taking it to be inerrant. It is surely better to take it for what it is, rather than to indulge in too much make believe.

Growing up, I first heard of evolution while in high school. It was actually in a religion class. I didn’t immediately accept it. But I didn’t immediately reject it either. It was fuel for thought. It never caused me to question my Christian beliefs at that time. If God was creator, then God created the world that we see. And if the world that we see is best described in terms of evolution, then God created evolution. That’s how I looked at it, and why evolution never caused me to question my faith.

I always saw the teachings of Jesus as foundational. I never saw Genesis as foundational. I don’t doubt that Genesis is foundational to Ken Ham’s way of making money. I suspect that he mostly ignores 1 Timothy 6:10.

What mostly caused me to question my faith, was the conservatism of American Christianity. Growing up, I was naturally somewhat conservative. Becoming liberal enough to at least attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus was hard. But that was part of what I learned from reading the Gospels. The churches in Australia (where I grew up) already seemed too conservative. What I found in American churches was worse.

I don’t agree with that. I don’t actually see atheism as a thing. A name ending with “ism” suggests a committment to a system of beliefs. But it isn’t. Or, at least, for me it isn’t that. It just meant questioning my prior theistic views and being open to other possibilities. I still value the moral teachings of Jesus.

To me, it always makes intellectual sense to thoughtfully question conventional assumptions while still attempting to be a decent human and attempting to make this a better world. And that’s about all atheism or agnosticism are to me.


I strongly suspect that you follow them more closely than those who view Genesis as foundational do…

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What exactly is she saying here? Which doesn’t make intellectual sense without which? If it’s atheism that doesn’t make intellectual sense without evolution, why should evolution be any more important in that respect than chemistry or geology or meteorology, etc., all of which substitute natural explanations for events previously supposed to be divinely ordained?


My suspicion is that she has some seriously wrong ideas about atheism and atheists.

That’s not really surprising. The churches are still spreading those wrong ideas.

I’m just a “live and let live” kind of person. But Christian apologists are still saying that atheists are satan worshipers.


It’s a lot easier than considering the possibility that one’s own beliefs are more a product of a tribal mentality than of any careful consideration. As in:

Questioning either would require questioning their tribal origins.

Perhaps you should ask that of Christians who understand evolution. It makes zero sense to me, but it appears to say a lot about your own methods of reasoning.


@nwrickert, there is only a button for “like,” not for “riotous applause,” and that is why I have only “liked” your post.

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I don’t agree and I can’t imagine why you’d think that. As I have expressed elsewhere on this forum, evolution would not prevent my believing in the supernatural at all. Neuroscience, on the other hand, makes it very hard for me to believe in any immaterial form of the “soul,” which I take to be the proximate end of the supernatural world. And while the absence of immaterial “souls” does not in itself preclude a god presiding over some sort of realm to which we have no access, it does nothing to affirm it.

Would atheism make intellectual sense without evolution? Of course. I can’t imagine why not. Without evolution one would have difficulty accounting for the patterns of biological diversity we see, but that difficulty wouldn’t give one any reason to think there was a god.


Thanks for creating the new thread. My questions were addressed to some of the specifics that @SlightlyOddGuy wrote. I know each person’s experience is different. Some people like labels some don’t. Some labels don’t make sense for what a person actually thinks at all. Thanks for explaining what you think - I’m always curious about that.

That’s not what many Christians believe about inspiration. I just searched for a link quickly. This would be my view. Bible Inspiration and Inerrancy | Moody Bible Institute

As I explained, I wouldn’t find the answers to purpose, meaning, morality, and beauty seriously if I didn’t take it for what the Bible says it is. Jesus says he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. And if I didn’t believe this,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of Godb may be complete, equipped for every good work.

then the Bible is no valuable than other moral teaching from anyone where I can just take what I want, and leave the rest. I would then assume that what I read is from human writers who might have some good things to say, but they can’t have it all right.

It’s a thought experiment. What if evolution was falsified? Could you still be an atheist, or would you say the evidence then points to some sort of deism? Does it depend on the way it’s falsified? So I’m not saying the other areas of science aren’t important, I’m asking if atheism hinges on evolution not being falsified. I’m asking what you think in that thought experiment.

Thanks. To be clear, it wouldn’t give you any second thoughts about deism and you see yourself happy to just wait for another naturalistic explanation for diversity and complex life? That is what I understand you to say, just want to make sure - definitely interesting.

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It’s a hard hypothetical to imagine, because the evidence for evolution is just so completely overwhelming. To be clear, I don’t mean by that “evolution by natural selection” or any other qualifier – just the faunal succession. SOME kind of transformative power plainly operates on living things, so I would wonder what that was that went around moving jaw joints, causing endothermy, moving limbs from the “full-time pushup” stance of a primitive amniote to the “straight under” arrangement seen in dinosaurs and mammals, and so on.

But yes, as to the mechanisms which account for all of that, if it were to be shown that none of our current explanations work, one would have to look for other explanations which govern the PROXIMATE causes of these things. I suspect that any other explanation, however, would have to broadly be its own kind of “evolution” – there’s simply no reason to think that any living things spontaneously generated, when we have the faunal succession showing modern forms being approached by ancient ones.

To be clear about that, consider:

Primitive chordates before there were any vertebrates.
Cyclostomes before there were any gnathostomes.
Ray-finned fish before there were any lobe-finned fish.
Lobe-finned fish before there were any tetrapodomorphs.
Tetrapodomorphs before there were any proper tetrapods.
Tetrapods before there were any amniotes.
Amniotes before there were any synapsids.
Synapsids before there were any mammals.
Mammals before there were any placentals.
Placentals before there were any rodents.
Rodents before there were any squirrels.
And then, what it was all for: the red squirrel.

The facts of all that – with the earliest of each form having basal features derived from the previous forms – aren’t reasonably in dispute and so the question “whether” these changes happened is not, I think, in order. The question “how” they happened is the only one which the particular tenets of modern evolutionary theory deals with, and any number of notions about the particular “hows” might be wrong. I will always be content to wait to see what insights can be generated along these lines. Finding out, let’s say, that natural selection just doesn’t work (the ship has sailed on that one, of course, so this is a pure hypothetical) wouldn’t point to a god, but would point to the need for more inquiry.

I just wouldn’t ever look to biology for a god. I would look elsewhere. As I’ve suggested, investigation into supernatural phenomena, e.g., the supposed immaterial soul, would be more relevant.


Yes, I understood that. But you left the impression that you might be interested in what others say.

Theology is rich in the use of metaphor. Preachers are story tellers who try to convey a message in their story.

If I take that Moody version of “inspiration” literally, then it says that the Bible was written in gibberish. It says that the words of the Bible expressed modern scientific ideas that could not possibly have made sense to the people for whom it was originally written.

To me, that just looks like a terrible way of trying to make sense of the Bible.

There are no easy answers for those. And if you think the Bible gives you such answers, then you have not properly understood it.

But why take that literally? Surely it is a metaphorical way of talking.

That seems like a good way of understanding the Bible.

I do not see science as a source of absolute truth. I see science as providing good explanations that help us understand the world. But it is only a best effort. There is no guarantee of truth. And future science may cause us to revise our understandings.

I have not ruled out deism. I still wonder about that possibility. That’s why I describe myself as “agnostic” rather than as “atheist”. I’m inclined to think it takes us outside the realm of what is knowable.


Same here. I only have affirmative disbelief where gods are obviously made up, e.g., Flying Spaghetti Monsterism and Christianity. All the others are possible, so far as I know.


Well to me, inspiration means that God guided the writing such that even in 2021 it would be useful for teaching, correction, and training. So that means that even though interpretation is fallible, by searching the scriptures carefully, we can decide if a passage that includes science is written in phenomenological language, or is metaphorical, or is written in a literal sense (there may be other choices). So everything was written in the culture of the day, but God guided the writing so that obviously false scientific ideas of that day’s culture would not have been included in the Bible. (For example, because it’s inspired the Bible doesn’t include anything culturally that we’d now see as egregious or obviously false like this The Sun in the Muddy Pool and the Prophethood of Muhammad)

As an example, I wanted to better understand Genesis 1. So after studying it carefully, as I’ve explained here, I decided that the best interpretation of “waters” in Genesis might be that all the matter God created looked like waters, and that’s what the passage is intending to convey. That would be understood in the culture today, and we can understand it in sort of a phenomenological way now since we know what water is composed of, and it doesn’t include all the elements. So the understanding may be a bit different in each culture, but it still is always profitable for teaching. That’s just one example of how I can see inspiration working so that the Bible is always applicable across any human culture at any time in history.

Why do you think that?

How would you take that metaphorically?

Studying Genesis 1 carefully would necessarily entail comparing it, but mostly contrasting it, in detail with Genesis 2.


The idea that the sun stood still for Joshua – that seems like an obviously false idea that made it into the Bible.


As a young Christian, I started out assuming inerrancy.

My pastor encouraged me to read the Bible. So I did.

I was able to maintain my belief in inerrancy all the way until I reached Genesis 1. At that point, something had to give.

What Genesis 1 presents is likely a very good fit to the primitive pre-scientific views that were in vogue at that time. The sky was a solid ceiling, with the sun and stars as light fixtures in that ceiling. The waters above the firmament explained why it sometimes rained.

And Genesis 1 clearly describes daylight as existing before the creation of the sun.

I never saw this as a reason to reject the Bible as false. But I did see it as suggesting that the Bible reflected the cultural understandings as they were at the time it was written.

Perhaps “metaphorically” is the wrong term. But I see it as a figure of speech, not intended to be taken literally. It is very common for orators to use such figures of speech.

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I dunno @nwrickert . I see no problem with inerrancy of Scripture. The real issue is when that is somehow morphed into “inerrancy of my interpretation of Scripture.”


Yes, I agree that’s the problem. But it is unavoidable.

We judge errors using standards. And we are always going to use the standards that we accept.

Yes, of course. It depends on what alternative is supported. If new species started popping up out of nowhere in my back yard, I would be forced to conclude that some very powerful entity was behind it. Of course that wouldn’t mean the entity was God, much less Jesus. But it would be some distance along that path. Don’t make a false dichotomy; evolution and biblical creation are not the only two possible hypotheses.


How do you understand inerrancy exactly (so as to reject it and persuade others to do the same)? Nothing else you stated in this thread necessarily rejects inerrancy as some of us understand it. You do mention this:

But many inerrantists take this as phenomenological language (or one could look at Walton’s more nuanced view).

I can think of lots of reasons to reject inerrancy (even though I tentative accept it myself, as I understand it)…so no problem with your conclusion. Just wondering what it is you’re exactly rejecting.


Obviously, the Bible includes miracles. That one was written in phenomenological language.

Firmament doesn’t have to mean a solid ceiling. I had no idea what it meant so that is why I decide to study Genesis 1 more. I think it’s a bad translation, and can mean an expanse or something spread out. Strong's Hebrew: 7549. רָקִ֫יעַ (raqia) -- an extended surface, expanse I question why people think this was their view culturally, without knowing much myself; I’d want a lot of historical evidence how people who could see the stars with the naked eye and notice how celestial bodies weren’t fixed would really think this.

Yes, and that’s odd because people then only connected light with sun, or perhaps fire. Why would they also describe something that made no cultural sense to them?

If I say, I turned a light on, that doesn’t mean I turned daylight on. One meaning could be that God created the elements of light and they were actually luminous.


Reminds me of a fictional book I just read that I thought about reviewing in the forum :slight_smile: I probably will later with another book.

That’s why I mentioned deism.

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