Posts Tagged ‘scientism’

Reading The Bible As Literature

June 16, 2014

Is there a reason so many debates about the Bible just miss the point? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Okay. We get it in the atheism/theism debates. Some people believe the Bible is reliable. Some do not. That’s fine and until the return of Christ, that’s not going to change. Yet I have been pondering lately that the way we talk about the Bible is part of the problem, and this isn’t just how atheists talk about it, but also how theists talk about it.

It seems while we speak about if the claims of the Bible are true, which we should, there is a lack of the recognition that the Bible is a piece of literature. It speaks with allegory, hyperbole, metaphor, simile, etc. It uses poetry and narrative and proverbs and apocalypses to make its point. The Bible exists in one book, but it is itself a collection of many books, books written by different authors in different times and locations.

Considering all of this, the Bible is not going to be an easy book to understand! Add in that it comes from languages different from our own, a culture different from our own, a time different from our own, and a place different from our own.

I started pondering this the most recent time I saw someone describe the Bible as a book of fairy tales. This is a common claim, but quite frankly a strange one. Fairy tales are really wonderful works of literature that show a richness of imagination and insight into the human predicament. What kind of person would laugh at a fairy tale for being a fairy tale? Yet this kind of statement is not an insult to the Bible alone, but it is also a lowering of the kind of writing that is a fairy tale.

Now why do many atheists say this? I suspect it’s because our culture has been heavily influenced by scientism. We have this idea that all truth should be amenable to the sciences and that science is the highest way of knowing anything if not the only way of knowing anything. We expect then the Bible to speak in scientific language because we are a scientific people.

It doesn’t, and that’s not because the Bible is anti-science. Many of us are not anti-science and we don’t speak in scientific language. The Bible has a totally different purpose. Even if you don’t think it is from God, the authors at least were really trying to make a message about God and they did not have to do it in a way that is convenient to modern listeners. They would write in ways their immediate audience would understand.

Besides, how many of us would really like to have many events described in scientific language? Consider for instance the union of man and woman in the act of sex. Which account would you rather here to describe what happens in the event? Would you prefer a purely scientific account or would you prefer to get an account perhaps from the lovers themselves? (Naturally after they’re done. There won’t be much desire to explain in the midst of the act.)

If you choose the first one, I pity you. I really do.

What needs to be done is to wrestle with the literary forms of the Bible and see if maybe our modern ideas of what the text means are wrong. Perhaps the Bible is not interested in the questions we are interested in. Perhaps one really needs to wrestle with the text to understand it. Still want to disbelieve it? Fine. At least do your part to really try to understand it as a text.

I’ve spoken about the atheists, but frankly, I think the theists are just as guilty. In fact, in many ways, I think my fellow theists are more guilty than the atheists are because we’ve set the standard that the atheist will follow.

For us, it really boils down to one word.

Literal.

Immediately, some people reading this who are Christians are going into a defensive stance because I have just made a statement that is going to dare to suggest that we don’t take the Bible literally. Why I must just be a liberal Christian who rejects miracles and inerrancy and everything else.

On the contrary, I believe we should ALWAYS take the Bible literally.

Why?

Because literal really means “According to the intent of the author.” If the author meant the text to be taken straight forwardly, then do so. If he meant it to be a narrative, then do so. If he meant it to be a metaphor or an apocalypse or a generality, then take it that way as well.

Too often, we have taken literal to mean something more like a wooden reading of the text. That’s not what a literal meaning is. That’s why in today’s parlance if I was asked if the Bible is the Word of God to be interpreted literally, I would say no, because sometimes the Bible is not straight forward.

Why should this surprise us? Jesus told his own parables in a confusing manner. In fact, he did so purposely. Job in his book talked about the search for wisdom and compared it to mining and digging deep for great wealth. It would not be easy to understand and considering all we’ve said about the Bible, why should it be?

Thus, when we hear Christians talk about the literal interpretation, too often it sets up atheists who think that this is always the way the Bible should be read and when read in that sense, they reject most of it as nonsense, and who can blame them? In fact, none of us take it that way or else in reading the words of Jesus, we’d all be blind and have no hands. (Too many people heavy into inerrancy fall into this trap of literal interpretation.)

In fact, when I put a short form of this up on Facebook, what happened immediately but a debate started about Genesis 1, which shows the problem! It’s immediately jumped to that Genesis 1 must be read in scientific terms! Surely this is what the author of the text meant to convey!

But maybe it wasn’t! Could it be someone like John Walton is right with his interpretation of Genesis One. Of course he could be wrong, but isn’t it worth listening to to consider first instead of assuming our presupposition is correct?

The theist, you see, is often guilty of not treating the Bible as literature as well and not really being able to wrestle with the text and ask the hard questions of the text. Some of us have this idea that we should not question the Bible. I disagree entirely. We should question the Bible with every question we can bring to it. In doing so, we can best find out what it is the text is saying.

Ironically, the two sides mentioned both have similar mindsets. Both of them tend to view the Bible always in a straight forward sense and both assume the Bible was written in a way that is directly fitted for modern 20th and 21st century people in a Western civilization.

Maybe it isn’t.

That’s not the fault of the Bible then. That’s the fault of us for wrestling with the text.

If you are on a debate site and you are arguing about the Bible, then for this part, it doesn’t really matter what side you’re on. You owe it to yourself to wrestle with the text as literature and seek to find out what it means and why you think it means what it means. If someone questions that, then it’s up to you to defend your position and if you can’t, be open to changing your mind.

Will we still disagree about the truth claims of the Bible? Absolutely! Yet if we follow a procedure like this, hopefully some of us will have instead better informed disagreements as to the nature of the text and what it is saying rather than a quick dismissal of it all or a quick embrace of it all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/14/2014: How Do We Know?

June 12, 2014

What’s coming up when I record the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For those wondering when the episodes will be up soon for your listening pleasure, we are working on that. I will be meeting a techie friend of mine tonight who is going to show Allie and I everything that we need to know to get them online. We are working to do all that we can, but we would appreciate any support from those of you who do like the podcast and want it to keep going.

But for now, let’s move on to this Saturday’s show. What are we talking about?

Epistemology.

Dang. That sounds exciting. Some of you might be wondering what that is.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. What is knowledge and how do we know anything at all? In fact, the book we’ll be looking at is by two Christian authors named James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman. The book is “How Do We Know?” It is an introduction to epistemology.

So who are these guys?

Let’s start with James Dew since he’s listed first on the book.

“Dr. Jamie Dew grew up in Statesville, NC but moved to Raleigh, NC in 1994. Through the witness of some of his friends, he came to Christ when he was 18 years old and surrendered to vocational ministry shortly thereafter. He earned a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, GA in 2000 and then moved to Wake Forest, NC to work on his graduate degrees. He earned his PhD in Theological Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008, and is working on a second PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England. He is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2010), co-author of How Do We Know?: A Short Introduction to the Issues of Knowledge (IVP, 2013), and co-editor of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain (IVP, 2013). Dr. Dew pastored in NC for 10 years, and also served in various churches as a Youth Pastor and Minister to Adults. Now, Dr. Dew is the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Support and is the Dean of the College at Southeastern. He has been married for 13 years to his wife Tara and they have two sets of twins: Natalie & Nathan (6) and Samantha & Samuel (3).”

Dew_2

And who is Mark Foreman?

“Mark W. Foreman is professor of philosophy and religion at Liberty
University where he has taught philosophy, apologetics, and bioethics for 25 years. He has an MABS from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the author of Christianity and Bioethics (College Press, 1999, [reprint Wipf and Stock, 2011] ), Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians (InterVarsity Press, 2014), How Do We Know: An Introduction to Epistemology (with James K. Dew,Jr., InterVarsity Press, 2014) and articles in the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Harvest House, 2008) as well as chapters in Come Let us Reason: New Essay in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012) Steven Spielberg and Philosophy (with David Baggett, University of Kentucky Press, 2008) and Tennis and Philosophy (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). Mark has been a member of Evangelical Philosophical Society for over 20 years and is currently serving as vice-president of the society. His specializations are Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics and ethics.”

Foreman

Please be looking for this broadcast as we discuss their books and questions related to it such as “Is faith an epistemology” as Peter Boghossian claims, and “Is science the only way or the highest way of knowing?” as many internet atheists claim.

I hope to have everything up shortly. Be watching!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Neil DeGrasse Tyson Should Stick To Science

June 9, 2014

Is science unique for the reason Tyson thinks it is? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

How many of you have seen this meme in some form around the internet?

goodthingscience

The sad reality is that this gets shared in several places since some atheists seem to actually think this is an argument in some way. In fact, the reason Tyson himself said the quote is because he believes it is a powerful statement about a unique aspect of science. Of course, this is why he has been called a Philistine.

The reality is that about 10 seconds worth of thought on this quote would be enough to show that it is a terrible argument, but since there’s a meme of it it sadly seems to have some rhetorical power. How is it nonsense? Simple. Substitute anything in for science and see how it works.

“The good thing about astrology is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

“The good thing about the Book of Mormon is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

“The good thing about the moral acceptance of genocide is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

Tyson’s claim should not be read as a claim about science per se, but rather a claim about the nature of truth. If anything is true, and that includes science, it is true whether or not anyone believes in it. If it’s true that Julius Caesar sneezed after he had lunch on his 21st birthday, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

“Well we can’t prove that that’s true.”

Doesn’t matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

“Well we have no evidence.”

Doesn’t matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

Now Tyson could say that science can be done repeatedly in experiments so we can test a truth claim. Indeed it can and this is something that is unique, but it still doesn’t lend support to his earlier claim. This is just one way that distinguishes science but it doesn’t distinguish the nature of the claims themselves. All claims about reality that are true are true whether they’re believed in or not.

The real problem is a sort of scientism here that science is the highest way of knowing truth and sometimes the only way of knowing truth. Both of these should be rejected by everyone. Now if materialism was true and everything that was in the universe was matter, then you could perhaps have a start of a case, but that is not known through science. That is known by doing philosophy instead.

When it comes to understanding the way nature behaves in the material world, then science is without a doubt the best tool that we have. If you want to know what makes water what it is or how an internal combustion engine works or what the nature of planets in other galaxies are, then science is the way to go!

In fact, if anything can be demonstrated scientifically, the Christian should have no fear of it. After all, all truth is God’s truth and if Jesus rose from the dead, not a single fact established by science can ever overturn that. In fact, this is why I recommend that when you argue against a scientific position, don’t bring Scripture into it. That makes it the Bible vs. Science and guess which way your atheist opponent is going to go.

Honestly, if you’re not well-read in science, I wouldn’t even argue science at all. If you are, then if a claim about science is false, then that is simply bad science being done. How do you overturn that? You do good science instead!

Suppose you don’t believe macroevolution is true. Okay. That’s fine. If that’s what you think then you don’t need to go to Genesis which your opponent does not accept. It means as much to him as it does when a Muslim quotes you the Koran.

Instead, if macroevolution is false, then those who believe in it are somehow doing bad science. How will you demonstrate this? You’ll do what you think is good science. Now whether macroevolution is bad science or not is not my call to make, but if it is, it will only be overturned by good science. If it is not, then it will not be overturned.

While we should be thankful and celebrate people getting a more scientific education, let’s be wary of philosophy going around masquerading as science and not just philosophy, but bad philosophy (Which needs to be overturned by good philosophy). Tyson certainly has authority in his field of science, but when talking about the nature of truth, he is outside of his field and should not be taken as an authority.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God: Part 8

January 1, 2014

Is there a place for the paranormal? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re returning now to Sense and Goodness Without God by Richard Carrier. I’m skipping over a couple of chapters because there’s not much I really want to cover in them other than some minor details. I’d just say on the chapter of reason that I trust in reason because of a good Thomistic common sense realism.

I use paranormal in the opening line because that is the term Carrier uses, but it is not a term I prefer to use. I do not even prefer to use supernatural. I go by the terms suprahuman and supranatural instead. To say supernatural often implies that nature is just fine on its own and needs no deity sustaining it. This is a point that I disagree with so why should I use a term that automatically grants credence to a position I find highly questionable?

As we go through the chapter, on page 213, Carrier says that there is an approach that bypasses science altogether by pointing to a superior metaphysics and going under the name of first philosophy. Carrier is never clear on what this is. Does he mean all of metaphysics in general? This is the only conclusion I can reach. If so, there is a great problem here as metaphysics is never defined.

As one who has studied metaphysics, I often find this to be the case. People dispute metaphysics, but they don’t really know what it is. Metaphysics is simply the study of being as being. This does not go against science as the sciences often study being in a certain condition. Physics studies material being in motion. Angelology would study angelic being. Biology would study material living being. Astronomy studies being in space. Zoology studies animal beings. We could go on and on.

Interestingly, Carrier places metaphysics dead last, but on what authority? Why should I accept that? Am I to think studying the nature of being itself is dead last in understand the nature of truth, that is, in understanding that which is? It looks like knowing what “is” would come first.

The first method of finding truth that Carrier speaks about is, SHOCK, the scientific method. Now as readers know, I am not opposed to science, but I am opposed to a scientism approach that places the natural sciences as the best means of determining truth. Now if everything is purely matter and there are no essences to things, then this would follow, but that is the very aspect under question.

On page 215, Carrier says

“But htis is another strength of science: science is not only about testing facts for truth, but testing methods for accuracy. And thus science is the only endeavor we have that is constantly devoted to finding the best means of ascertaining the truth. This is one of the reasons why science is so successful, and its results so authoritative. Yet metaphysics has no room for means of testing different methods for accuracy, and if it ever started producing surprising predictive successes, it would become science.”

The problem I see here is yes, metaphysics is not done the same way the natural sciences are. So what? The whole idea starts off presuming the natural sciences are the best way to know something. Yet the natural sciences are more inductive than deductive while metaphysical arguments are designed to be more deductive. The conclusions are to be known with certainty. Metaphysical arguments also do for most of us start with sense experience and what we see.

Yes, science is successful, but as has been pointed out earlier with using the analogy of Feser, a metal detector is the best tool for finding metal objects at the beach, but that does not mean that the only objects to be found are metal objects. Science is the best tool for finding truths about nature, but that does not mean those are the only truths to be found.

On the next page he says

“And science does not simply undergo any arbitrary change, as religious ideology or clothing fashions do, nor does it hold out long against contrary evidence, asserting that the facts must surely be wrong if they do not fit the going dogma.”

Now this is interesting since any changes that were made would not be arbitrary. I am not Catholic, but it isn’t as if the Pope woke up one morning and said “What a beautiful day. I think I’ll declare the perpetual virginity of Mary.” There were historical debates and discussions. I do not think the perpetual virginity claim is true, but it did not just happen arbitrarily. The same with fashion tastes. People change tastes in fashion for a reason.

Yet the great danger in Carrier’s statement for him is that the sword cuts both ways. For me, for instance, if macroevolution is true, cool. I’m fine with that. What happens to the atheist position if macroevolution is not true? I do not doubt there will still be atheists, but an extremely important beliefs of theirs being gone would cause some doubt I suspect.

Another example is the case of miracles. Let’s take a work like Keener’s book “Miracles.” Let’s suppose it has 500 miracles in it. I haven’t counted. Let’s suppose only 50 of those are shown to be real honest miracles. Okay. I’m disappointed some, but hey, I have 50 miracles right here. My worldview is still fine. I have evidence of miracles which backs Jesus rising from the dead.

What about the atheistic worldview? Can the atheist say the same if he has to admit that there is no known natural explanation for what happened and that the event did indeed happen? He can say “Well we’ll find a natural reason.” He’s entirely allowed to do such, but if he is assuming there has to be one, is he not then using a naturalism-of-the-gaps? Could it not be that just as much, the fact of a miracle must be wrong if it does not fit the dogma?

And no, I am not going to deny that too many Christians think this way as well. There are too many Christians who stick their heads in the sand and don’t even bother to interact with different evidence. This is what I call the escapist mentality.

Before moving on, it’s worth noting that Carrier says on page 217 that metaphysics sets the lowest bar for credibility, but yet has not defined metaphysics once.

Carrier says that if faith is placed before truth, it will lead to conflict. With this, I agree. Everyone should. Truth must be paramount. Yet Carrier goes on to say that if faith is what someone has because something is true, then science becomes the one true faith.

Why should I think this?

I believe several claims that are not established by science and act on them. I believe in the laws of logic. I believe in rules of mathematics. I believe that there is a world outside my mind. I believe propositions about morality and beauty. Can there be knowledge outside of the natural sciences? Yes there can be. If so, why think the scientific method is the best method?

Before moving on, once again on page 219, metaphysics is denigrated and once again, it is not defined. The same happens on page 221.

Carrier then goes on to talk about how science was in the medieval period. Yet this is not an accurate history at all. I would like to know his sources, but unfortunately, he never gives them. I will instead give some counter sources. First off is my interview with James Hannam on this topic that can be found here. Atheists can also consider the work of Tim O’Neill, an atheist himself who disputes this dark ages claim. An example can be found in his look at Hannam’s book here. In fact, he has a graph there that is common on the internet that is supposed to show the lack of scientific endeavors in the period and refers to it as “The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever.”

And once again, worth noting, is that on page 222, again metaphysics is secondary to science, but again, no definition.

On page 223, Carrier asks why it is God supposedly packed up his bags and stopped doing miracles when he had supposedly been doing them in abundance.

Well first, there has never been a period of abundant miracles.

“Wait! Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

Yes. Yes I do. And the miracles are actually sparse in it as well. There are three times where miracles become more abundant but they never reach the kind of idea Carrier has. Those are the time of the Exodus wandering, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Yet miracles have not ceased. Indeed, Keener indicated earlier has made a strong case they are still ongoing. You can find my review of his book here and listen to the interview that I did with him here.

Carrier expects a world where guns turn into flowers and churches are protected by mysterious energy fields. Why should we expect any of this? Because God exists and can work miracles, He should work miracles in the way we think He should? Why?

Much has been said today, but there is more coming on history. I prefer to save that for a fuller approach and will do that next time I blog on Carrier’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Demon-Haunted World

October 29, 2013

What do I think of this work of the man who brought us Cosmos? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Carl Sagan is famous for saying “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” While as a Christian I disagree with this sentiment, there is a debt of gratitude owed to Sagan as Sagan was one of those people wanting to popularize science for a non-scientific audience and open them up to scientific thinking.

I read Sagan’s book after an atheist recommended I read it in response to my suggesting he read Keener’s “Miracles.” I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in Sagan’s work. While Sagan is definitely an atheist, one does not find the usual vitriol one has come to find in the works of the new atheists. I often had the impression that Sagan would have been the kind of atheist I could sit down and reasonably chat with concerning why I hold the position that I do.

In fact, much of what is in this book should be amenable to Christians easily and if some of it is not, that could point to a great insecurity that exists in the mind of the Christian who has that fear. Why should we who think God revealed Himself in Jesus in this world think that further study in this world will somehow disprove that truth? (And besides, if it did, we should be thankful. Who wants to go through life believing what is untrue?)

We should be applauding the work of Sagan to get science into the mainstream and support scientific research. I also wholly agree with him that our young people are not thinking enough, though that does not just extend to science, and need to have a greater education rather than just being entertained all day. I would support entirely seeing shows on TV that would grab the interest of young people so they could learn about areas such as science.

When I was in school, for instance, we would watch 3-2-1-Contact. I know several others who grew up watching people like Bill Nye, the Science Guy. While I am against just purely entertaining our children, I think there are ways we can do education that are attractive to students and make them want to learn. I know today a number of adults that still remember rules of grammar and math by thinking of old episodes of Schoolhouse Rock.

Yet there are some concerns. I think too often Sagan puts all the eggs in the science basket. Science is an important piece of the puzzle, but it can too often be made the whole deal. This could be understandable however since science was the passion of Sagan and it’s easy to see everything in light of that passion and think it is the most important.

Sagan is certainly right to go after the gullibility in our culture with pseudoscience, as he should, but when it comes to him stepping out of his field, he is too quick to also buy into gullibility. We must all check ourselves for bias and it’s too easy to think a story or claim meshes with our worldview and is therefore reliable. i will not thus comment on Sagan’s science. I am not an authority there. But there are areas I do consider myself an authority in that I think Sagan gets wrong. It is a warning to all of us.

For instance, on page 37, Sagan sees metaphysics as philosophy or as he says “Truths you could recognize just by thinking about them.” This is not an accurate description. Metaphysics is really the study of being as being. It is true to say that metaphysics has no laboratory while physics does, but this is the problem of saying that a branch of knowledge is not as valid because it does not go about the same way another one does. History has no laboratory. Mathematics has no laboratory. Literature has no laboratory, yet we would not say that those are less valid branches of knowledge. It is a mistake to see the way that science does what it does and think every other way is insufficient.

Also, Sagan makes the claim that Deuteronomy was a forgery found in the time of Josiah. Considering works have been written on Deuteronomy showing that it fits in perfectly as a Suzerain treaty which dates to the time it is traditionally thought to have been written in, this is problematic. In fact, one could hardly say it agrees with Josiah. Why would Josiah write a document that would put his kingship thus far in a bad light by showing how far he had failed?

I also think Sagan should be taken with a huge grain of salt when talking about the medieval period, especially since his main source seems to be Gibbon. (Another problematic area comes in when one would like to check Sagan’s sources. He does say what books he uses, but no page numbers are cited so one cannot know where the claims are found.) This is especially with regards to Witch Trials and the Inquisition. More modern readers would be benefited by seeing a work like Kamen’s on the Spanish Inquisition or seeing the research of James Hannam on the medieval period.

There are other areas where Sagan just gets facts wrong such as thinking the transmission of the biblical accounts would be like a telephone game (page 357) or that the Bible teaches a flat Earth (300) or claims of genocide in the Bible. (290)

Also, on page 278, Sagan thinks an infinite universe would be a problem for Christian theism. I do not see why this is. It would mean changing one’s interpretation of Genesis perhaps (Though I hold to Walton’s view so that would not be much of a problem) but from a Thomistic perspective, an eternal universe still depends on God.

Commendable in all of this also is the fact that Sagan does not deny the failures of science. Science has brought us cures for diseases, but it has also brought us weapons of mass destruction. The solution to this is not to teach more science, but rather to teach more morality. Science can be just as badly used as religion can be. One can say science works by pointing to launching a man to the moon, but one could also say it works by pointing at a missile hitting a city. A difference with religion of course is that the man who launches a missile on innocents is not violating any principles of science, but a Christian who murders an innocent man is violating a principle of Christianity.

Despite all this, I found myself rather pleased ultimately by Sagan’s work. While I do think he puts too much in the science basket, it is understandable and one would hope that today’s new atheists would learn to be a bit more like Sagan. I can thus commend this work to others in understanding the importance of science for our society.

In Christ,
Nick Peters