Why I Believe: Because the Bible is Difficult

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve still been thinking about a series of posts on “Why I Believe”. I’m not interested in posting the usual reasoned arguments (you can find 20 such arguments here), but I’d rather attack the accusation that Christians in general, and Catholics specifically, believe without any shred of evidence that God exists.

Roger Bacon, the father of the modern scientific method (and a Catholic priest), wrote about the need for evidence and how it gives us a knowledge that is more in depth. As I tried to point out in this post (but, frankly failed to point out effectively as it was often misinterpreted), my personal belief comes with evidence, validation, and confirmation. Frankly, the more I learn about my faith, the more it rings true.

Chesterton may have put it best (as he often does) when he said that ultimately he believes in God because it is true.  A quick dismissal of this statement may dismiss it as circular and unreasoned, but the statement is packed with implications of verification for that belief.

So it is with that said that I make my first argument, or present my first bit of evidence. This does not prove God, nor Christianity, nor Catholicism, but it does offer one shred of evidence in an entire sea of evidence pointing to the irrefutable truth that God exists.

I Believe Because the Bible isn’t Simple

In talking to @omgbiblequotes about how we read the bible, he responded with this:

Many atheists on Twitter (and other places, I suspect), love to point out apparent discrepancies and difficult passages in the bible. For example, Saul demanding the complete and total obliteration of an entire army. Or the Psalm which talks about bashing the heads of babies against a stone. Or laws which demand the stoning for seemingly minor offenses. Or passages which seem to promote misogyny and discrimination.

These passages can be difficult to understand if we approach the bible as simply a guidebook or simply a rule of life or set of morals. Fr. Baron (who reviews movies on his Youtube channel – you got to see his review of Quantam of Solace) talks about the irony and seeming discomfort of concluding the reading of Saul hacking King Agag to pieces with the standard closing “The Word of the Lord”.

Christians who do not have a basis in tradition or who do not have an understanding why we believe the Bible is inspired (and what that actually means) undoubtedly have to pivot and shift their arguments to account for these passages. Many of them fall into the heresy of Marcionism – a denial of the Old Testament being relevant or necessary in today’s world.

But I would challenge those Christians – and I will offer this challenge to atheists as well – to think about the indisputable fact that the Church in its early days not only accepted the Old Testament as inspired (difficult stories and all), but the Church doubled down on this position by ratifying the canon of books multiple times throughout its history (even as recent as the council of Trent).  These weren’t decisions that were made rashly or without thought. In fact, hundreds of years of thought and tradition went into these declarations. The difficult passages, the apparent discrepancies (for example, the apparent discrepancy of the ultimate fate of Judas Iscariot), were well known to those early church fathers. Modern day atheism, for as proud as it is to display and parade these apparent ‘deal breakers’, is hardly revealing anything new.

The Bible vs. Other Inspired Books

There are other books that claim divine inspiration. The book of Mormon (not the musical), the Koran, etc. But the Bible is unique to any other book that claims divine inspiration in infallibility.

What makes the Bible unique is that it claims one divine author (God) who inspired a multitude of co-authors, who give the Word of God voice and color within for us to experience. These co-authors did not come from one region and one time. They span centuries and vast geographical expanses. The bible is not made up of a single literary style – it is made up of allegory, of poetry, of historical account, of instruction, of legalism, of instruction, and so on.

Yet for as far reaching as the Bible is, for all the centuries that it’s authors span, and for the vast regions it’s co-authors called home, it is marvelously coherent.

This image showing apparent contradictions in the Bible made its rounds through social media:

mvq9Ax8

But this graph was inspired by another, similar graph which shows the cross-references within the bible:

BibleVizArc7mediumOrig

When we read the Bible recognizing that it was not written with one pen, does not have the voice of one human author, and spans such great distances and times, the coherence of the Bible is quite remarkable.

Digging further into the Bible we see remarkable events and prefigurements that would make the greatest novelists jealous. For example, the story of Abraham leading his son Isaac to be sacrificed. Rather than do this an injustice, listen to Fr. Barron (yes again) talk about the prefigurement and absolute wonder of this story which would be replayed in its fullness centuries later by Christ.

This Style Reflects Life

 I have run into several atheists who take exception to the Bible and the fact that it is difficult to understand. One may look at the charts above and immediately say that this is reason to dismiss the Bible as being inspired. I have talked to atheists who question why God couldn’t have written a book that is more clear and easy to understand, that doesn’t create such disagreements and require interpretation.

But what is the alternative? A book that reads like installation instructions for a stereo? A book of simple laws filled with “do’s and don’ts”?

The Bible most perfectly reflects real humanity. We know that life is not made up of black and white decisions. It is not just happy or sad, but there are all sorts of colors and shades that make up life. Human existence is complex. We are forced to try and interpret the events in our own lives and the lives of our loved ones to try and make sense of it.

The Bible tells multiple stories. We see the overarching story of salvation, but this overarching narrative is quilted together with books that fit and match the complexities of our every day lives. I stated earlier that the bible is not just one literary style – this is one of the beautiful things about this complex book. It allows us to pick up on subtleties between books, verses, and passages. We can see the bible tied together by Christ himself (and thus we must always read the Bible through the prism of Christ’s mission) and we can see how even those difficult passages in the bible color and give us deeper meaning on how to approach our very own lives.

Not a Proof, but One of Many Pieces of Evidence

As I mentioned in my opening, this is not intended to be a proof, but rather one drop among a sea of evidence that supports my faith.  As a Catholic, I don’t throw away the Old Testament, I embrace it. I read the Old Testament in light of Christ.  The reason the Old Testament is important is because of Christ – without Him the books simply do not make sense.

I understand this will likely fall short among atheists, but I have been asked for my evidence, my proof, the reasons for my belief. Frankly, if the Bible was more ‘straightforward’, it would lead me to be more inclined to deny its place as the Word of God. But the very fact that it mirrors and reflects the myriad of conditions we can find ourselves in through authors that wrote in different styles, different voices, different times, and different locations seems far more appropriate than a single book with one author, one purpose, one pen, and one application provides additional validation to the claim that it is the inspired word of God.

Theist in a Hizzy Response

Yesterday I wrote a quick post on the Logical Impossibility of Proving God which was based on a conversation with Dark Poet. Fortunately for me, he took the time to respond here:

Theist in the Hizzy

I love this stuff. 🙂 Here’s my response to his post.

I was happy to read your definitions of your god. These are very common attributes of a god used by theists and all I was asking for.

I know you had asked me to define God, and you thanked me for defining God, however, I wasn’t defining God. My argument rests on the fact that defining God is in fact a logical impossibility.  To define means to describe exactly the meaning or scope of something, to make out the boundaries of something – a task which is impossible with an infinite being.

Your second sentence here is more correct – I identified attributes of God. But this goes into the larger point I was trying to make: the theist doesn’t identify God and then come to believe, the theist is in a process of discovering God. But more on that later.

The heart of the point you were making seemed to be here (and correct me if I missed the actual main point):

If these are part of your definition of your god I’m not sure how you square one other attribute you used to define your god.

Unfathomable.

How do you claim all those other attributes? This is a huge problem I run into with theists often. This is similar to the square circle an all powerful god is unable to accomplish. It’s a major contradiction. You can’t claim on one hand god is all loving and on the other hand claim god is unfathomable.

If I understand you correctly, the problem here would rest on the definition of “unfathomable”. A quick search on Google shows the following definition: “incapable of being fully explored or understood.”  This is the sense in which I am using the word.

It is not that God can’t be discovered – He can and He invites us to discover Him – it is that the depths of God will never be fully comprehended or understood.

I think a parallel could be man’s exploration in space (which I alluded to in my previous post).  The size of the universe is quite unfathomable by the human mind. We can explore the universe, we can learn a surprising amount about the universe from our tiny spec of a planet, but despite all of this we will never, as a human race, be able to fully explore and know the Universe, all of its stars, all of its planets, all of its mysteries, all of its idiosyncrasies, and all of its incredible beauty (can you imagine a waterfall on some distant planet in a solar system located in a galaxy cluster that we have not even discovered? I’m sure it exists, but will we ever experience it?). It is unfathomable in its nature.

You mentioned that theists often share similar attributes and qualities of God – these are the attributes that we have come to know and experience as God has revealed them to us, but as any person who is on the journey to discover God more fully will tell you, these attributes merely gloss over the reality that is found once you invest in discovering God.

Moving on to the next point…

 I thought your present story was poor. You claimed there was a present in the physical world and instructed your son to test that claim by reaching in and finding the present. One could demonstrate it. Test it. Falsify it. Define it. It was not faith which is what you were attempting to demonstrate. You demonstrated the opposite of faith. Your son was not using faith. He trusted in you because you’re his parent, however, he then tested your claim.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to read this portion of your post, because this is almost exactly what I was trying to describe! Most analogies fail at some point – I just hope they hold up long enough to make the main point.

In the example of the present, faith was present in my son when he listened to his parents and agreed to look in the bag. His only reason for looking in the bag was in response to our calling him to do so. His faith was rewarded with confirmation of that faith in the present.

Faith isn’t a perpetual suspension of skepticism – it is taking that first step, which is usually only in response to that faint call from God, and then asking God to reveal Himself to us. If there was no response from God, pursing him would be an aimless pursuit and without purpose. But if you ask most theists who are genuine in their search to discover God you’ll find that they talk about having a purposeful life, a life with direction. This is because God does respond – He doesn’t ask us to live lives entirely blind.

In the example I gave, my son’s faith was rewarded with the tangible evidence of the present. This is where the analogy breaks down. In the theist life, our faith – our first steps – are rewarded with a response from God which often is quite personal, but absolutely unmistakable. And that response is usually accompanied by a stronger calling from God to go deeper.

We need good reasons for the things we believe because our beliefs inform our actions and our actions effect ourselves and others. If faith isn’t why you believe in your god please correct me. You hinted at evidence of your god. Why didn’t you share that? I value evidence. I’m guessing you’ve shared your evidence with other atheists before. If so, why not this time? Is it rejected as evidence?

I love the first line of that quoted paragraph. “We need good reasons for the things we believe because our beliefs inform our actions and our actions effect ourselves and others.”

So often faith is equivocated with blindness or without reasons, but the opposite is quite true. Faith isn’t blindness – faith creates vision.

In my last post I linked over to a blog post from a former atheist who became Catholic. I hope that you read it, but if you didn’t, I’ll pull this extremely relevant paragraph from what she wrote:

The more I went through the motions of believing in God, the more the world made sense to me; the more human history made sense to me; the more I started to make sense to me. The picture of human life that I’d formed based on science alone now seemed incomplete. I still believed everything I’d learned through the lens of science, but I now saw a whole other dimension to the world around me. It was like the difference between looking at a picture of a double-fudge chocolate cake and having one in front of me to smell, touch, and taste: everything I knew before was still there, but I was now experiencing it in a much more intense and vivid way.

Contrary to your guess, I have not shared specific evidence with other atheists. Sure, there is the realization that evidence I present will be turned away as explainable or merely subjective. But more importantly, we don’t come to know God by means of evidence first. Rather, our belief in God is confirmed by God with evidence.

St. Augustine said it best when he said “Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand”

I know that for most atheists this won’t be sufficient – most atheists see only one way of knowing reality and discard any other approach.  This is why in engaging atheists like yourself on Twitter I have no agenda of converting or convincing – I know that I can’t cause that, it requires a response from you. I certainly hope that you and others will respond to that call to look inside the bag, because the evidence you are looking for is there, but you need to believe the call is worth following first.

You closed with additional questions which, if you don’t mind, I’ll pass on for now as they feel like good topics to discuss in their own context in an orderly manner. For this post I wanted to focus on faith – not being blind – and on the notion that the atheist looking for evidence to believe will never find it, but that the person who begins from a standpoint of belief, the evidence is unmistakable. 

Ungodly Complexity: A Quick Rebuttal

About a month ago I came across Rosa Rubicondor’s post: “Ungodly Complexity“. There is no way I could compete with the volume of information published there, but I did want to comment on this article as I’ve pondered it for the past month or so and the incredible insight it provides. I don’t intend to provide a formal rebuttal, but rather point out a quick flaw in the argument, then expand on that as the argument itself is something that I think we can ponder.

Quick note: I have no idea if the author is male or female. Because the persona of the blog is “Rosa”, I will refer to the author in the feminine.

The basic argument of the article is that simplicity in design is a signal of intelligent design, that unnecessary complexity shows a lack of intelligence, not a greater intelligence. The example used is a spear tip or a dibber.

nether-wallopoak-dibberThe dibber, in this argument, is a simple tool that effectively does its job.  The spear tip as well is simple in its design, is easy to make, and is always effective.

This argument is then extended to the natural world which, as anyone would admit, is extraordinarily complex. I can’t help but be reminded of this clip from Family Guy (couldn’t find an original video)

Starting with the foundation that simplicity in design = intelligent design, and unnecessarily complexity is a sign of a lack of intelligence, the post goes on to identify what the purpose of humans are. After stumbling through some passages in the bible, the post settles on Ecclesiastes 12:13, which reads “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”

The argument is thus fully setup: if the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments, why the complexity? The argument can be summed up in this quote:

You see, the problem is, the vastly unnecessary complexity for such a nebulous purpose is not evidence of design, especially of intelligent design; it is evidence of unintelligent, undirected and purposeless design

Why I Don’t Entirely Buy the Premise

I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise that simplicity in design is a signal of intelligence. But it does ignore scope and scale.

Let me explain by way of a challenge. Since Rosa used a dibber as an example, let’s get 200 acres of land, 100 acres for me, 100 acres for Rosa. We are both to plant a crop of corn on our respective 100 acres.  Whoever finishes first, wins.

Since Rosa is in favor of the simplicity of a hand dibber, she can use one. I’ll use this:

stock-footage--agriculture-tractor-and-seeder-planting-canola-spring-long-head-on-and-turnWhoever finishes first, wins.

We can do the same thing with her example of a spear tip. We both go hunting for deer, she can use a spear tip, I’ll bring a rifle.

Obviously the human race hasn’t stopped innovating on the early designs she put forward as examples of intelligent design. But why? Are these early designs flawed? Of course not, but sometimes adding complexity, when done intelligently, allows a greater purpose, scope, and scale. The tractor pulling a seeder is more precise, faster, and far more efficient than a single dibber powered by a human hand. The rifle allows for far more efficiency in hunting than the simple spear tip. We see this addition of complexity added to instruments of every kind through history as we seek to do more in a more efficient way (which is why Rosa is using a blog, on a computer, over the Internet, to communicate rather than simply yelling).

Simplicity may be intelligent, but complexity allows for greater purpose.

What this Argument Allows…

I absolutely love the argument she put forward. In searching for the purpose of humanity she filtered down centuries of writing, thought, scriptures, and tradition down to a single verse in the bible (who knew it was that easy?). Unfortunately that verse is talking about the duty of man, not necessarily purpose.

As a Catholic, however, this argument itself is fantastic. Forget for a moment about whether the argument is legitimate or not, whether she has ‘disproved’ God or not. View this, if you will, from the standpoint of a Christian.  Her question looks at creation and begs the question to be asked: why? Why would God create such complexity? From the standpoint of a Christian who does believe God is the creator of every particle in the universe, this is a fascinating question.

We are able to put estimates on the size of the universe and attach numbers to this size, but are we really able to conceptualize its size? We are able to put numbers on just how small atoms, quarks, hadrons, etc are, but do we really have a full concept in our heads as to how the world works at this sub-atomic level? Can we imagine a solitary pebble on a planet in some distant solar system in a galaxy cluster beyond our possible reach?

The universe is an amazing, incredible place that we can ponder, explore, learn, unravel, and play in seemingly infinitely. Why, though, would God create such vastness, such smallness?

Atheists commonly misread the Bible, but this is one of the key messages in Genesis 2: the entire universe, and everything in it, was made for humans. We are created rational, reasonable beings with intelligence and curiosity. God wants us to explore, to learn, to discover. He wants us to play, and creation is our playground.

I have young children. Just like any parent, I’ll often create something for my kids to play with and explore. Their exploration and play teaches them basic skills and lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom and which form a foundation for more formal education.

Creation, in all of its wondrous complexity, is a giant playground that God gave us to gaze at, to be inspired by, to be confounded by, to explore, discover, ponder, and enjoy. Creation exists so that we may know God more and encounter Him in ways that simple books and words cannot hope to accomplish. We encounter God in science, in creation, our relationships, both good and bad, in love, in death, in birth, in happiness, in sadness, and so on. God, like any parent, wants us to use our reason and intellect, our curiosity and desire for discovery, and as we marvel in awe at His incredible creation we gain glimpses of this God that cannot be explained in simple words, inspired though they might be.

Our Real Purpose

So what is our purpose? If I were asked to pull it down to one verse like Rosa tried, I wouldn’t choose Ecclesiastes, I’d go with Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And to love God in this way is to come to know him, both in religion, but also in the created universe – the playground He gave His children.

 

 

 

How We Read the Bible

There seems to be a particularly large amount of angst among atheists when it comes to reading the bible.

I have previously written on my complaint that atheists read the creation stories as if they are supposed to be a factual account similar to a reporter recounting the events of a sporting event in a newspaper. I tried to make the point that books deserve to be read in the light of how they were written and for whom they were written.

But I would like to expand this further: the bible should be read in light of why it was put together and why its books were deemed inspired.

And I think it is important that we start with this: that the bible is not a book, it is a collection of writings.  Unlike the Koran or other holy books, the Bible doesn’t claim one human author, it claims multiple authors writing for different purposes to different audiences in different regions. As a Christian, I see a common thread through the scriptures which tie them together, but as we pull out a book from this library of books, it needs to be read understanding that it relates to the other books in some way. The question is how.

Yet when an some atheists pick up the bible and find a violent verse from Deuteronomy, they immediately equate that as something to be read in the same light as the ten commandments. The book of Jonah is read as a narrative similar to the gospels.

This sort of reading, taking each book in isolation of each other and not looking to that which binds them together under the same cover, is destined to lead to errors. It is also unlike how we would read any other significant book.

Development of Canon

The history of the development of canon is fascinating and interesting, but I will not go into it here. Moine and I touched on this a while back, but never followed up:

This was in reference to Irenaeus, a 2nd century Bishop who put forward one of the first proposed canons. Just to clarify a few things: a) Irenaeus was not a pope, and b) it wasn’t sorted out in a papal apartment. 🙂

For the sake of brevity, let’s stick with the basic version that the church agreed to declare what is considered scripture formally at the council of Hippo in 393 as the need arose to instruct the Christian church. We can certainly find evidence that the canon was largely accepted before this, but that’s beyond what I want to touch on here.

Why were these books chosen? Why was Revelation included (it is hard to understand, after all)? Surely the early church fathers were familiar with Deuteronomy, with the old law which commanded stonings for seemingly anything. Why didn’t they just do away with the Old Testament? Surely that would have been easier for the church, right? Then we wouldn’t have to read about babies head’s being bashed against rocks or try to explain Samuel hacking Agag to pieces, right?

Enter Marcion. Marcion was an early church figure who made such a suggestion – let’s do away with the Old Testament. Since we have Jesus, the Old Testament is done, finished – we are freed from those books and the God of the Old Testament.

If I can credit atheists for one thing, their consistent hammering on the more difficult to understand passages of the old testament forces many Christians to try to reconcile their faith with these books. Too many protestant churches pick bible verses to fit their idea of God, rather than discovering God through the scriptures. As a result, I think many protestants have hints of Marcionism (not fully, but when it is convenient).

What we know is that the early church fathers rejected Marcionism. Marcionism was rejected and the Old Testament was recognized as inspired and a part of our understanding of Jesus and the deposit of faith.  The church fathers were compelled to include the Old Testament, baby head bashing and all, into the list of inspired books. Furthermore, this canon was defended even up to the council of Trent as some people had trouble wrestling with some of the text.

Why? Did the church fathers just simply not know their scriptures? Did they simply turn a blind eye? Did they simply not care? Or was there a reason these books were included?

In facing the challenge of Marcion, the church fathers recognized that in understanding Christ, we must understand that through Christ the scriptures are opened up.  Christ opens up the old law, the Old Testament.  We see this in the stories of Christ after the resurrection when, on the road to Emmaus, Christ started with Moses and explained the scriptures to his disciples (Luke 24:27). This idea that it is through Christ that we read the scriptures is shown most effectively in Revelation chapter 5 when only the slain lamb is able to open the sealed scriptures. In chapter 5, it is only the slain lamb who can give us an understanding of the sealed scriptures.

As Christians, we cannot discard the old Testament.  We cannot choose to read some verses and ignore others. We must read the Old Testament for what it is: pointing and leading us to Christ and His sacrifice.  The Old Testament tells us of God’s repeated calling of his people, and their repeated turning away. The Old Testament shows us in dramatic fashion the consequence of sin and what justice demands when we separate ourselves from the source of life.  The Old Testament opens up to us answers as to who we are, why God created us, our struggling relationship with God, why Christ came to save us.  If we try to isolate violent verses, either to ignore them or to try and disprove the suitability of Christianity, they become impossible to understand and comprehend and reconcile. But when we view them through the lens of Christ they become scriptures that ring true and open our understanding of God and our relationship to him.

Reading the scriptures in light of Jesus requires that we go beyond the scriptures and into the faith that he left us in His church. I am sometimes asked “who are you to say how the bible should be read”?

https://twitter.com/SimplySecular/status/380886642212356097

The fact is, I am not picking and choosing. Like many others, and like any other significant written text, my understanding of individual scriptures is developed by reading them directly, reading them through the Tradition of the church, reading the commentary by scholars, reading reflections by theologians, etc.

Furthermore, I try to read the bible with an understanding of why it was compiled in the first place.  Any book that is taken out of its intended context and purpose will result in a misreading.  It would be an incredibly foolish and presumptuous position for me to say that I can pick up any great work, read it isolated, and say that I understand the author perfectly. It would be even more foolish for me to do so with the Bible as it encompasses so many themes, so many books, and so much history.

But sadly this is what the atheist does when they proclaim a disproof of the bible based on passages of violence or the ridiculousness of a person being eaten by a whale or what they understand to be contradictions.

I’ll leave the reader who got this far with this short video from Fr. Baron where he talks specifically about the violent passages of the Bible.  He is much more coherent in thought than I, although I borrow plenty of his explanations.

Why Can’t Atheists Read Genesis Like Other Historical Texts?

I firmly believe that if the Bible were not the Bible, and if atheists did not have so much contact with fundamentalist Christians who take a literalist view of the bible (or, conversely, liberal Christians who take a far more allegorical view of the bible), that the books of the Bible would be read with much more care and study. But as it is, many atheists seem to fall into the camp of treating the bible only through a modern lens.

Pope Pius XII discussed reading and understanding the early texts of the Bible:

What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).

I tried to make this point in this post here, although my attempt was admittedly feeble and lacked depth. I added on a video from Fr. Baron who does a much better job describing the “ham handed approach” atheists often take towards these ancient texts. That video is below (and highly recommended):

It is in light of this that I easily get pulled into discussions on the Bible when I see tweets like this:

https://twitter.com/Mattwaggy14/status/374975820693258240

Ok, so let’s ignore the obvious fact that the Genesis account never says that Adam and Eve had just 2 sons (poor Seth, always the forgotten one).  Let’s also ignore the fact that Gen 5:4 explicitly says that Adam had “sons and daughters”@prophetAtheist, a person who I consider to be one of the good guys on Twitter (and who has shown me just how clumsy I can be in debate), more explicitly pointed out what @mattwaggy14 was trying to say:

What baffled me here was why the assumption was that Adam and Eve didn’t have any daughters.

This reply actually made me stop for a minute: was he actually advocating for more than a literalist reading of Genesis? It is one thing to argue that Genesis should be read in a literalist fashion (although that is, as Fr. Baron states, “a ham-handed approach”), but to imply that if Genesis omitted something that therefore we should believe it didn’t occur?

The possibilities of a reductio ad absurdum argument here are just too plentiful. Do we believe that Adam and Eve went to the bathroom? Never says so in Genesis. We don’t have an account of Eve dying – is she supposedly immortal according to Genesis?

I have a certain affinity for atheists. I respect their call to logic and reason and using the human intellect, but, on the whole, their approach to ancient texts like Genesis is thoroughly clumsy and not thought out. In discussing these early texts with a few different atheists, and in viewing countless other conversations and opinions, most atheists seem to approach these texts through the prism of modern expectations. There is little to no effort whatsoever to understand the context, the philology, common literary forms of the day, culture, etc.

Atheists seem to want to put Genesis, and those who believe it to be the word of God, into two buckets: “literalist reading” and “allegorical” reading (akin to legend). What they dismiss is the literal (not literalist) reading that accounts for the style of historical writing. From Catholic.com:

It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

This doesn’t seem so hard to accept and understand. In academics we frequently cite the period, the civilization, the culture, the philology and cultural norms to understand texts, especially when those texts are more foreign to our modern way of writing and doing things. Why can’t we do these with the ancient texts of Genesis?  Keep in mind that Pope Pius XII advocates for more than just context and philology. Why can’t we use that reason, logic, and critical thinking to understand that the texts deserve, at a minimum, a fair reading before they are dismissed as pure fraud?

And just in case you didn’t click on that link above, I would recommend reading this on Catholic.com. Much better stated than I could ever hope to say.

Atheists’ Fascination with Creationism

Atheists seem to have a fascination with creationists. They seem to look at creationists as some strange creatures – kind of like those cave insects that never see the light of day – and wonder how they could ever wake up in the morning without being completely shame faced for their beliefs.

I guess I can’t blame them for picking on creationists as it is really quite low hanging fruit. But I fear atheists are making two mistakes by attacking creationists: 1) atheists tend to lump all theists into the creationist camp (not true), and 2), they are missing the entire bloody point of the creation story.

I am a theist and I believe evolution is a sound theory. I also believe that the creation story is entirely compatible with evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. Why? Because the creation story isn’t trying to make a statement as to the scientific origins of the earth or the chronological events that lead up to the existence of man.

Anyone who reads the creation stories will hopefully see that there is a problem if you are trying to get an order of events accounting of the creation of man.  (In Genesis 1:24-27 God makes animals and then man while in Genesis 2:5-7 we see that God makes man “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth…”). From my understanding, most biblical scholars will explain that there are two biblical creation stories. In fact, it is highly likely that the stories came from other traditions as there are ample examples of similar creation stories (Epic of Gilgamesh and so on).

Despite this obvious fact, atheists love to pick on creationists to point out that creation didn’t happen in the way the Bible describes it. It’s as if they want to say

Ha! The world was not created in 7 days! The bible is wrong!!!

…therefore atheism.

But ultimately atheists, you look a bit silly when you do this. In fact, you look as silly as the creationists! While you are busy disproving creationism in order to debunk Christianity, why don’t we point out how Huck Finn never actually lived and therefore all of Mark Twain’s books are pure bunk? Or that Rodka never actually killed the woman in “Crime and Punishment” because he wasn’t a real person, and therefore the book is pure “fairytales and fantasy”?

The reason creationists look silly, in my opinion, is that it should be obvious that the creation accounts are not intended to be read in that manner. Sure, there’s the science too – that’s also quite convincing.

The creation stories are one part of an entire book – an entire tradition – that tell us of the love story of God for humans. The creation stories are fundamental building blocks to answer the questions of “what does it mean to be human”, and “why did God create us”, as well as any of the “why does God allow…permit…etc”.

So let’s end the fascination with creationism. It doesn’t make anyone look good.