Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Science vs. The Bible?

I knew this day would come, but I did not expect it so soon, or so blatantly. Dinner time here at Castle Marius usually consists of the missus and I finishing our food relatively quickly, and then 45 minutes of getting the COA to finish. Last night I was unusually weary and lay down on the couch after finishing, leaving the ladies at the table. As I was dozing I heard the young'n pipe up, "Should I believe the Bible,or science?" Needless to say I was instantly awake. This is a tricky issue round these parts. I am, on a good day, agnostic, and given the antics of the Religious Right over the last decade my stance on religion has soured to the point of derision and antipathy. My wife, however, is a Southern Baptist and does not always appreciate my questioning of biblical issues. I was anxious to have this discussion, but knew I must needs tread carefully to maintain domestic tranquility. So I told our young inquisitor that the two are not, necessarily, at odds. We then went into a discussion of what metaphor means, and then I told her that science describes the universe as it is, and religion describes the universe as it should be. She seemed to accept that, and so did my wife. Crisis averted. I did, however, tell her that should any Science teacher try to tell her that evolution is wrong, or that the Earth is only six-thousand years old that I wanted to know about it immediately. I want her to have the same opportunities I had to make up her own mind about religion, but I will not tolerate her being force-fed any of that 'Intelligent Design' BS in a public school. So far it doesn't seem to be a problem, but the more I hear about Creationist leaning school boards in Louisiana and Texas, the more I fear that such ignorance can't be too far away from our own peninsula.


sherlock said...

I only left school 7yrs ago and until recently had never actually heard of the 'Intelligent Design' - I'd heard the creation myth in primary school and never believed it (it wasn't as cool as the Greek creation myth or the Norse one; they were my bed times stories :))... it may have been discussed during Religious Studies classes but I can't remember it and when we talked about evolution in science it made sense. Maybe you should teach your kid about all religions creation myths, they make for great bedtime stories... and just in case it gets brought up in science at school you should encourage her to ask why is it only the Christian creation myth that's being talked about.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could tell her that science deals with things that can be tested and proven, or disproven, and religion deals with things that cannot be proven or disproven and which must be accepted on faith (or not).

Kerokapala said...

MY earth sciences teacher in the 9th grade was a devout... something... and she would always place some mention of god or "how god did this" in her lectures. That was a miserable class.

Monkey said...

Maybe I have just never experienced this- or the Midwest really is very different, but it is my understanding that teachers here cannot mention creation theory in science class.

I have a subset of very religious students and I run into problems when we work with persuasive writing. I let them pick their topic, but insist they use "academic resources." We talk about the difference in proof that "you believe with your heart" and proof that can be displayed through empirical evidence. ie- the "why you cannot use the bible or what you dad said as evidence in my class" talk

flurrious said...

I feel lucky that I went to school in the 70s and 80s, when we were all Godless sinners.

Also: Meerkats! Whooooo!

celebhith said...

How very interesting that this subject should come up now. . . as it's a subject that's been stewing in my brain for a bit, though not quite from that perspective (more like destiny or accident). I'll be blogging about it in the next day or so.

But it sounds like you handled it beautifully and I'm very proud of you for that.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Many people who believe in God and read the Bible but also believe the evidence of fossils and genetics that science has discovered reconcile science with the Bible by interpreting the creation account in Genesis as figurative, not literal. So according to this, the six days of creation could be a metaphor for a period of time hundreds of millions of years old. But this does not satisfy those who are concerned that if we take the creation account in the Bible as a metaphor, not literally, then the same could be done with anything in the Bible and everyone is free to interpret anything in the Bible they do not like as a metaphor. Metaphors exist in the Bible, but they are usually made clear that they are figures of speech. The passage about the six days of creation is not written that way. It is written as if it is a literal account.

There is a way to reconcile a literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis with the physical evidence in fossils and genetics (but it probably will not sit well with your wife since she is a Southern Baptist). Most people do not know that the Bible does not say that the earth came into existence 6,000 years ago. In fact, according to the first three verses of the Bible, the earth existed before the six days of creation. The six days were actually a renewing of the surface of the earth, restoring it to a condition that could support life, and restoring life itself to the earth. As far as Genesis is concerned, the earth that existed before the six days of creation could have existed for hundreds of millions of years and could have teemed with life before some destructive event caused the earth to be covered in water and in darkness.

So life could have been developed gradually, over millions of years, and fossil evidence laid down after Genesis 1:1 and before Genesis 1:2. Then there was a disaster of some kind, and the six days of creation would be the account of how God restored the surface of the earth and restored the species of life that existed previously.

Marius said...

That is an interesting concept, and one I find no fault in. I must confess that I was secretly hoping this post would summon some whackos with whom I could grapple, but your post is both informative and well thought out. I can accept that as a possible scenario, and my wife even says, 'hmm'. :-) Thank you for stopping by and giving me an intriguing perspective.

Anonymous said...

I suggesst you all buy sunscreen and ice. Something tells me folks like you people wil lbe in hell!

Marius said...

Sunscreen and ice? Really? Is that the best you can do? Disappointed.

Marius said...

Wait a minute...Doug? Is that you?

Anonymous said...

Told you 2009 would be more fun!

Marius said...


Chris Schelin said...

Hey Rick,

Genesis 1 IS metaphorical...or, more technically, it's a poetic, liturgical text structured for use in worship and not for ancient Hebrew science class. The nonliteral nature of the creation account has been recognized at least as far back as the 4th century by St. Augustine of Hippo.

Meanwhile, the "gap" theory between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 that the previous commenter mentioned is simply not tenable. The mention of Earth's "formlessness" in v. 2 is not an allusion to some otherwise-unacknowledged decimation of an old planet. Rather, the description is an acknowledgment a shared cross-cultural mythology stating that the universe started in chaos and that the gods (or God) has overcome chaos to establish an orderly world in which people may live.

I wouldn't say that Genesis 1 tells us what the world "should be" according to nice-but-meaningless religious fable. I think it tells us what the world is, just as science does, but it tells us through a lens of imagination rather than empiricism. It invites us into contemplative, attentive perception, until we at last behold its holiness.

Hope all is going well in Florida. I'm glad I dropped in here - it's been too long since I've heard from the mind of Marius.

umbrarchist said...

One can of course take a more complicated view of the whole thing.

Bible Trek

God is not necessarily as dumb as the Christians would have us believe. Considering how complex the physical universe is, if it was created by a God then is that God going to have a simple minded metaphysical universe?

Marius said...

Hey, Chris! Long time no see. I'm glad you stopped by too. Thanks for throwing your two sheckles into the ring. I do realize I was oversimplifying things, but it seemed a viable way to get through the discussion without causing undue friction. And I truly wanted to avoid indoctrinating my daughter against religion since I want her to be able to think critically about the issue and make up her own mind in the future.

Anonymous said...

In some ways, our modern reading of Genesis is not sufficiently generous to the ancient Hebrews. When we talk of them as being full of ignorance, superstition and imagination -- and ourselves, now, full of science -- it seems terribly anachronistic of us. What carbon-dating tools should they have used to better and more specifically point out origins? Seems to me they did OK work by identifying ages: the day-ages called out as a sequence of earth's development.

To me, it isn't that we have science now and they didn't then. It's more a question of our esteem for science now compared to the data and tools available to them then.

Having said that, we need to teach with the best knowledge we've got. We know more today than we did thousands of years ago. In another thousand years, I hope we know much more than we do today. Part of that new knowledge will include doing a better job of accounting for the incredibly intricate complexity to our planet and our place in the solar system. We'll get there once we stop presuming that chaos is sacred ... our hindsight may view some of these assumptions as "bad science."

Challenging questions often indicate smart kids and good parents. There you go, Rick!
-Greg (GAB)

Robert said...

The bible contains some beautiful poetry and stories but I don't see it as any different from a novel with historical events laced through its contents.

We should treat books as transitory objects ,the information contained in them can be enriching and powerful but should be treated with an open-mind and not at all times interpreted as true . Especially when the source of the postulated information is ambiguous and has been rewritten and translated numerous times.

Even science related books should be read with an open-mind , at any time newly gained empirical evidence can render its theory or its previously factually based contents invalid or partially invalid. I don't see many respectable scientists who dogmatically hold onto their theories when they've been refuted by partners . Einstein eventually admitted his mistake.

But here's a distinction with scientific books and religious scripture, why would the Bible be written allegorically? . Isn't it dubious , a book of such importance , yet so enigmatic in its implications on our being and coming into being.

Besides , the intricacy or simplicity of our universe has nothing to do with the existence of a god, a mythological figure construed by people in times where scientific reasoning and observation wasn't the prevailing means of explanation about our nature.

Replace God with a Purple Lion or Green Vulcan , I don't see the difference . Pray or talk to either of these 'invisible' deities and you'd probably be described as Schizophrenic and delusional by your psychiatrist . Divine appearances in our day, why don't they occur in front of a dozen people at a time ?

Messy post , I know. I get pretty vehement about this topic , I will never forget how my mum persisted in bringing me up as a Catholic and dragging me to Church . It tickled when the priest smeared a salty cross on my forehead. (Did I feel a mysterious burning sensation at the touch of his holy finger ? What was that? ! OOPS) FLASH , God speaketh to me " You shall obey my command " FLASH .dr