31 October 2007

Biblical Thought Experiments

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 5:34 am

For those of you who are interested in such things, I just wrote a post at Open Source Theology called The Biblical Creation Narratives as Thought Experiments. In it I ask the emerging post-evangelicals to consider the implications of regarding the stories about the seven days, the Garden, Adam and Eve, the Tree of Knowledge, etc. as mistaken speculations of ancient thinkers, having no privileged claim to transcendent truth. There’s a growing tendency in the post-evangelical world to acknowledge that these stories might not be literally and historically true. However, this acknowledgment gets disguised by invoking the concept of “true myth”: encoded in the details of the story are spiritual meanings that were inspired by God and endorsed by Him as true. So now I’m asking what happens if the “true myth” proposition is set aside. Feel free to comment either here or on the OST post.



  1. Glad to see that you have plunged in at OST!

    On True Myth, it’s my opinion that this is always true, though perhaps not in the sense that we expect.

    God is active in history, with all cultures and with all individuals. An insightful study of history may give us hints of this, but our frames of reference are simply not very good at picking it out.

    Religious texts, those that we think of as classics (that have survived generational and cultural changes without losing their appeal), will have a bit more of this data but in a contradictory sense to what we expect. In other words, when the text says “GOD says X” we first have to ask what the originating culture was up to and how the propagation of X would benefit their agenda.

    The reason for the appealing and abiding nature of these classic religious texts, is, imo, more to do with their culture-religion-politics affirming nature than anything else. But, incidentally, these texts also will preserve the real dialogues where God is trying to pull us out of our cultural traps. Religion fights back by blanketing the truth with a shroud of doctrine and by imposing a fixed grid for interpreting the text.

    After doing a lot of this sort of questioning, I think that we will finally start recognising God’s own voice and hence the truth that is mostly contradictory or antimythical to what the religion that uses the text wants to do with it.


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 1:51 am

  2. I think the “true myth” discussion at OST remains open for elaboration. It seems to me that the comments on that post, mine included, focused largely on interpreting the details of the stories and making them fit together into an internally coherent whole. So, e.g., our last round of fairly intense interaction addressed what God’s “you will surely die” threat/warning to Adam must have meant, given that Adam didn’t die for another 700 years or so. Then we’d have to discuss what it meant to say that Adam lived all that time: maybe it referred to a tribe or a lineage rather than the individual man, or that some day we’ll find evidence that human lifespans used to be far longer than they are now, etc. That project fits with what I believe is your understanding: the Biblical narratives will turn out to be true in the long run, as our understanding of the texts and of nature move closer to the truth.

    But if one reads these stories like an unbeliever, or as if the texts were secular, and if one accepts as valid the thrust of scientific knowledge, then one doesn’t assume a priori that these creation stories will turn out to be true. Instead, the farther along we go in understanding astrophysics and evolution, the less believable the Genesis stories become.

    We tried to open up the true myth discussion to the possibility that the Bibles stories might be allegories or morality tales, that embedded within these fictions were more abstract truths about the nature of God and man. But it seemed that no one on OST was willing to abandon the idea that these stories were historical narratives. But you have to have faith in the longer story to think it’s worth the effort to reconcile Genesis 1-3 with other knowledge we have in the 21st century that the ancients didn’t. On the face of it, read straightforwardly on its own as a narrative, the Genesis 1-3 text is too implausible to be taken seriously as a factual account. It looks like a myth, not that different from other prescientific myths.

    So I thought I’d see if anyone would be willing to explore this other possibility: the stories just aren’t factually true. Maybe if that can be acknowledged, some more serious consideration of these stories as allegories might open up. I mean really, Sam: would Adam have lived forever if he only he could have found a reliable supplier of fruit from the Tree of Life?


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 5:07 am

  3. There was a group of people who thought of first digging into what the text 1)does and does not actually say and 2) to try to figure out what it’s original context was, what function did it perform? why was this story told? by whom and to whom? etc.

    It’s been very interesting to me personally because there’s a lot there that i realised was my assumption, and then there’s the factg that the same few words can be out together to form a part of so many different meanings. In a sense the enigma is a necessary part of the mythic quality and what makes the creation narratives so fascinating.

    But i think we have not got to the second part yet and that is to try to figure out what it means for us today. perhaps that is much scarier than just analysing the text from a historico-critical standpoint.

    i guess i believe that there are definitely elements of something other than just creative writing here. But extracting that is difficult and its also very personal in a way that makes it difficult to objectify and explain. i do find that compared to a lot of other creation stories there is something that stands out about Genesis, not just in uniqueness of content (that could change at any time) but in the portraits of mankind that are drawn there. It resonates with reality in a very fascinating way, but perhaps that’s just me! In other words, I’m sure that it’s myth but i am also very sure that there is a different type of ‘real truth’ embedded there and that that is in a way more startlingly prescient than what any accurate echo of geology or of astrophysics would do for me.


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 11:47 am

  4. “…was willing to abandon the idea that these stories were historical narratives. But you have to have faith in the longer story” It’s odd, but I think the last time I tried to think of the Genesis stories as “history” was sometime in college (many years ago) and I’m sorry if that’s the impression that I keep giving people! My thing with the text is to first try to get into the text on it’s own terms and that sometimes must look like rather fatuous faith!


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  5. I’ll return for more substantive exchange later, but meanwhile… did you see that some other fundamentalist blogger snagged part of my post and put it up as an example of foolish Christian PoMo theologizing? Andrew is engaged in battle; I added a brief comment to the effect that, as a non-Christian, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in such a discussion.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 12:09 pm

  6. Most fundies wouldn’t like me very much; I don’t think the Holy Spirit lost His voice after that last darned Apostle went and kicked the bucket… ;D

    Conservative ≠ Fundamentalist. For the most part, anyway.


    Hardly a battle. Andrew and I have chatted before. He knows I’m no fan of the underlying ECM epistemology. As I’d pointed out in my response to your comment (which, incidentally, was quite gracious), I don’t think I can, or even should presuppose an errant Text.

    And that is what lies at the heart, for me, of the discussion. Standing on that foundation, and the ECM largely disappears (at least, the liberal wing, anyway). Remove that foundation, and Christianity (at least, Biblical Christianity) disappears.

    So, as I’d said back to you, I believe my job to be to say what the Bible says, and live it out in my life to the best of my ability with the Spirit’s grace, and let God do His thing in your (or anyone else’s) heart.

    I’m awfully pre-modern, that way…


    Comment by mike macon — 1 November 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  7. I guess OST and in particular with your posts on True Myth and now on Andrew’s sidestepping inerrancy, you guys are getting to be a thorn in the flesh for the inerrancy crowd. If they have started quoting and denigrating you, you must have made it onto their “deemed terrorist” lists. Great Going!!


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  8. Sam, maybe we should try again on the true myth post — set aside the historicity question and see if it’s possible to discern the moral of the story. I’m skeptical, largely because the moral of the text is going to be backfilled from theological assertions of the community reading the text. It gets into some of the issues James Kugel brings up — the guy who wrote How to Read the Bible that you linked to on the Ivan post.

    Mike, welcome to Ktismatics. For those of you following along at home, Mike is the guy who linked to my OST post about the creation stories as thought experiments and, not without evident disdain, dismissed it as self-refuting. Ah, but we’ll let that pass — he thought I was an emerging Christian, which might be even worse than an agnostic in this sort of exchange. ECM = emerging Christian… movement?

    By your first paragraph, Mike, I’m guessing you’re a charismatic. If so, you might be amused by this post.

    “Remove that foundation, and Christianity (at least, Biblical Christianity) disappears.” That has been the usual conservative position, such that liberal Protestants and others like Catholics and Orthodox who don’t really bother themselves that much with inerrancy don’t really count as Christians. I’m wondering whether there’s now more wiggle room in that stance. I’m not committed to driving Christians down the slippery slope, but I do think the early chapters of Genesis could be jettisoned without much collateral damage. But I’m on the outside of the gates, and you’re in the sanctum sanctorum — it’s this emerging post- or revised evangelical movement that interests me. I’m wondering whether anyone will actually discuss the post on OST itself, since it does push the conversation beyond where it usually goes there.

    “Pre-modern”… I think that’s the direction taken by those PoMo evangelicals who find themselves attracted to Catholicism, high liturgy, icons, etc. Also the tendency to interpret Scripture from the perspective of the community of faith rather than as textual data to be analyzed.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  9. Actually, and ironically, Rome does teach inerrancy, as does (I believe), the many Orthodox communions. My issue with Rome et al is the addition of Tradition to the equation (sola ecclesia, over against sola scriptura). I don’t, however, believe that Catholics are automatically non-Christian. I know some very good priests that love the Lord, with whom I have much more fellowship than I would with… oh, say, your typical left-wing ECMmer.

    But I digress.

    Actually, BTW, my original post wasn’t meant “with disdain” so much as an amusing “point and chuckle.” Perhaps that might seem the same thing; for that, mea maxima culpa. One of the problems of blogging is that sometimes







    which makes it seem like I’m typing with a huge frown. Really, I’m not. I’m a fat, furry, jolly theological conservative charismatic guy who loves the Red Wings and French Silk Pie.

    Andrew automatically dismisses out of hand the evidence for inerrancy; I automatically dismiss out of hand his dismissal of inerrancy; soon the gloves will drop, sticks will be tossed, some jerseys yanked over each other’s heads, and…

    …we’ll likely get double-majors for roughing and be ejected from the game.



    Comment by mike macon — 1 November 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  10. I grew up Catholic, and if inerrancy was official church doctrine it wasn’t very well publicized. It just didn’t come up for consideration very often. The Pope didn’t either, really — it seemed more about morality and sacraments than Scripture or even tradition. But then I wasn’t paying close attention after my Confirmation.

    I actually met Andrew when I was living in France, stayed at his place in The Hague for a couple days — he’s a very cordial host and a lively conversationalist.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  11. Mike, pleased to make your acquaintance. I am one of those PoMo types that do enjoy a good rough and tumble, though I also think most of the time it is counterproductive to fellowship. Of course, since I am a bit PoMo, and not from the warm, fuzzy conservative half of the emergers, p’raps fellowship may not be uppermost in your mind after all!

    I rather like OST. There is a lot of disagreement voiced there but some very constructive dialogues also do take place. I ‘met’ John Doyle there, as well as a number of other fascinating people.


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  12. It’s there; it’s just not quite what conservatives like myself would be truly comfortable with. But it is there.

    …heh, heh… you said, “warm, fuzzy conservative…” Though Driscoll has in recent times distanced himself from the ECM, most people still regard him as such – just on the way conservative side.

    And I like Driscoll.


    Comment by mike macon — 1 November 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  13. Driscoll, McLaren, Bell and any number of other much published and frequently interviewed personages do not really constitute emerging at all. In various ways these are self-declared, ‘defacto’ leaders who are also incidentally cashing in, as any good capitalist should do given the opportunity…

    What I’ve seen as emerging is folks who have had a real struggle with what conservative evangelicalism has come to stand for. A very few have taken an intellectual route, it seems to be more of an organic sort of reaction. For folks like this OST really is one of the best places to go. You are welcomed. You are listened to. You find out that you are not the only one who has these sorts of struggles. You learn that God still loves you and that there is life even outside the church that you had grown up in…


    Comment by samlcarr — 1 November 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  14. NO, there is NO life outside the church you have grown up in!!!

    Sorry, had to do that there. Bit of an joke… I’m good now for at least two or three days…


    Life doesn’t exist (independently) in any church; life exists in Jesus.

    Which, incidentally, is why us conservatives get the Holy Ghost Heebie Jeebies when reading ECM stuff; IF life exists in Jesus, and “these (the Scriptures) are they that speak of [Him]”, attacking the foundation (the Word) attacks by extension the superstructure built on the foundation (salvation).

    So it’s really as much a visceral, emotional response/reaction as it is a theological/intellectual one, when conservatives look into the ECM from the outside and gape in growing – if morbidly fascinated – horror.


    Comment by mike macon — 1 November 2007 @ 4:08 pm

  15. Mike, any idea about how much influence the emerging ideas have had inside American evangelicalism? And how much of it is just a new label slapped on the older idea of making the church relevant to the contemporary secular youth culture? Maybe if Erdman shows up he can make an observation.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 November 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  16. Eeek. Just typed out a bunch, and then it went… elsewhere.

    In my opinion (which, along with $.50, will get you a small cup o’Joe at the corner gas station… or “petrol” station for those of you in… wherever it is they say “petrol”…) the ECM has huge influence in current American evangelicalism. Which I, incidentally, find to be a good thing. Nothing like a good, polarizing subject to get people to actually think through their positions rather than just believing it because, darn it all, that’s what we’ve always believed, now pass the potato salad and stop confusing the issue with facts, thank you very much.

    It’s the current cause celeb. Literally everybody’s talking about it, and everybody’s got an opinion.

    Over just the last five years, the “movement” has undergone radical change, and it has polarized within itself, with theological conservatives like Driscoll and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Kimball distancing themselves from the other side of the doctrinal aisle and defining what they do believe, while those on the left…

    I’ll be charitable and leave the statement unfinished.


    And yes, in my opinion (which, along with… oh forget it) the ECM is really a new, albeit slightly updated, label slapped on an older idea (or set of older ideas, as the case may be). For instance, I find a lot of what the (liberal wing of) the ECM is saying resonates eerily with the thoughts of a certain Danish divine.

    Ah… our midweek study’s done, I’m home, and my lovely and gracious wife has graciously set before me a lovely spread of food. That, and I’ve DVR’ed tonight’s game vs. the Calgary Flames…


    Comment by mike macon — 1 November 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  17. I’ve long been fascinated by the evolution of man story. When considering stuff like Adam’s age, it strikes me that methodology in archaeology-geology-anthropology-evolutionary biology and related stuff becomes problematic.

    Our estimates of age and therefore demographics of earlier populations are based on the conclusions of scientific studies of our own, modern ways of ageing. So, we look at a bone that’s been dug up that may be a million years old, study it’s morphology and declare “40 yr-old male H. neanderthalensis”. I sort of suspect that this is gratuitous ‘science’.

    Fact: Neanderthals are extinct. Fact: The extinction overlaps the expansion of populations+range of modern H. sapiens.

    Why couldn’t ancient mythological documents contain real memories of these huge happenings? We see that Adam, though living to such a “ripe old age”, actually is recorded to have produced only 3 children! The Cain and Abel story itself could be an echo of the contest between the different hominid species for dominance, with the faster reproducing and more militant H. sapiens wiping out all other rivals in short order and then proceeding to dominate the world and the same could be echoed again in Gen 6, a story that definitely indicates some sort of a legendary memory of interspecific hybrid vigour…

    Given the limitations in current scientific method, an agnostic approach on these questions really may be prudent…


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 12:08 am

  18. Sorry, left out one rather important evolutionary “truism”. High reproductive rate relies on fast turnover, i.e. shorter lifespans; while slow reproductive rates correlates better with increased longevity, given that there is active niche limitation.


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 12:27 am

  19. Adam is recorded to have had far more than three children. Genesis 5:4, “After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters…” Only three are named, most likely because only three have direct impact on the unfolding record of the story of salvation.




    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 3:44 am

  20. Details indeed, it’s also interesting that reproduction typically begins after over a century of life…same species but a rather different life cycle??


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 5:29 am

  21. Who says reproduction begins after over a century of life? The Genesis 5 genealogical record names specific scions of the pre-Flood fathers, tracing a very specific line. No assumption is demanded by the Text that (for instance) Enosh was Seth’s firstborn (in the sense of being born first, not in the Hebraic sense of “first in preeminence”) – only that Seth was 105 when he begot Enosh, whose line Moses continues to trace.

    Part of taking the Bible literally is noticing what it doesn’t say as much as what it does say. ;D


    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 7:23 am

  22. “Part of taking the Bible literally is noticing what it doesn’t say as much as what it does say.”

    Even taking the meaning of a text figuratively, it helps to know what the text does and doesnt’ say. E.g., the tower of Babel is interpreted as a morality story about man’s pride, getting above himself, etc. But the story itself doesn’t say that: it says that the builders of the tower were motivated by fear, not pride. I’m wary that “true myth” interpretations aren’t averse to disregarding the bits of text that don’t fit the purported moral of the story, and that the moral comes not from close reading but from superimposing theological and traditional presuppositions.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 8:33 am

  23. Mike: Andrew automatically dismisses out of hand the evidence for inerrancy

    Since when was there ever “evidence” for inerrancy???

    Inerrancy is a philosophical conclusion based on theological premises. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, of course, just that it is not a self-evident doctrine that one can mine from the biblical text.

    As far as I can tell, inerrancy has been used as a foundational belief whereby Evangelicals can club people over the head and say, “The Bible is without error, dammit it! Turn or burn!”


    Comment by Erdman — 2 November 2007 @ 8:41 am

  24. Mike: Part of taking the Bible literally is noticing what it doesn’t say as much as what it does say.

    Which would include recognizing that the Bible never says that it is inerrant, right?!!?


    Comment by Erdman — 2 November 2007 @ 8:44 am

  25. Very true, and very astute.

    One of the reasons why I make sure to read a healthy portion of dudes I don’t already agree with – makes me question those traditions and presuppositions to make sure I’ve really thought them through.

    Even so, the best way (in my opinion) to read the Bible is as a complete, organic whole, and as much as is humanly possible to let it be its own commentator – in context (literary, linguistic, historical, and cultural). Part of interacting with those you don’t already agree with is to help you take off the glasses you’re reading the Text through and examine the glasses themselves – one of the good things the ECM is trying to do.


    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 8:44 am

  26. Erdman – that depends.

    Does the Bible use the word “Trinity?”


    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 8:44 am

  27. Erdman – and it’s hardly us eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil evangelicals who hold to Biblical inerrancy. Even those darned Catholics believe it – at least, as far as the official teaching of the Church goes.



    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 8:48 am

  28. […] a few rounds of the same, John Doyle […]


    Pingback by Holy Firestorm, Batman… « mikescape — 2 November 2007 @ 9:19 am

  29. Mike, “the best way (in my opinion) to read the Bible is as a complete, organic whole, and as much as is humanly possible to let it be its own commentator – in context

    i can’t quibble with that much, perfectly reasonable and indeed the more we respect the text and take it on it’s own terms the better!

    You are quite right that the Bible does not say that our first forefathers were necessarily centurions when they hit their reproductive stride (so to speak), but given the propensity of ancient cultures to give pride of place and mention to the first son, this does indeed seem to be at the heart of the genealogical principle being applied here too, so I think its a fair question and a fair assumption since even in the reverse direction, most of today’s male he-men are both senile and impotent well before they get close to completing their first centuries.


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 10:37 am

  30. Sam – can I call you “Sam”…? ;D

    Good point. And actually, it’s one of the things that speaks to me of the more-than-merely-human origin of the Bible.

    Time and again, it offends human tradition.

    God calls Zack Jake’s “firstborn.” But the first kid born to Jake was Ishmael. God’s using the word “firstborn” in a very specific sense – to denote first in preeminence, making a point that though the human tradition is primageniture, God operates by a different set of principles than Man’s.

    Zack is the one through whom Messiah would ultimately descend, his is the genealogy that “counts”… he’s the real firstborn.

    For instance.

    Good discussion…


    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 10:44 am

  31. It appears that my “what if” post has been permanently diverted into an intramural Christian debate about inerrancy. The “what-if” for Mike is that without inerrancy the whole of Christianity slides down the slippery slope to agnosticism, and consequently his assurance of his own salvation falls into serious doubt. For Andrew, assurance comes through a not-fully-determinate combination of Scripture, tradition, Holy Ghost revelation and sensus divinitatus.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide… Scientific knowledge isn’t inerrant; it’s continually being subjected to doubt, debunking, refinement and replacement. Evolution as a scientific theory didn’t really begin until Darwin 150 years ago. The whole Big Bang theory wasn’t really taken seriously by astrophysicists until about 40 years ago. But these developments didn’t come out of the blue: they built incrementally on prior discoveries and theories. There is movement over time (those awful modernists call it “progress”) toward more reliable knowledge, but it never becomes perfectly true, never permanently avoids further critique and refinement.

    It’s possible that radiocarbon dating is reliable only in contemporary times, that the half-life of the carbon-14 isotope used to be a lot shorter than it is now. I don’t know the science that went into this dating technique, but I do know that the guy who came up with it won the Nobel Prize, suggesting that his peers in the field thought he might have come up with something pretty good. Apparently there is no observational or theoretical reason to suggest that subatomic behavior changed dramatically sometime within the time that humans have been on earth. The only reason to suggest that it might have changed is to make the data from Genesis 1 fit with natural science. On the agnostic side of the divide, that’s not a good enough reason to toss out the scientific findings.

    Similarly, evolution contends that humans and chimpanzees branched off the same evolutionary trajectory, and that we share >95% of the same genes. Monkeys don’t live longer than humans, and there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that the prehistoric prehuman monkeys used to have 800-year lifespans. The only reason to explore these alternative hypotheses is to make Genesis genealogies jibe with science. It just isn’t a good enough reason, unless you already believe the Bible’s genealogies to be accurate on some other non-scientific grounds.

    From my position as a non-believer, I’d find the whole Judeo-Christian story more plausible if inerrancy were abandoned. Doubt and progressive refinement of understanding seems part of the human condition. I could imagine that God might participate in and cooperate with this human endeavor without overriding it. And also, I wouldn’t think less of believers if they were to acknowledge a degree of uncertainty in their faith.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 11:19 am

  32. John, we do seem to have got right off of your track though the diversions may not be as drastic as they seem. Mike has proposed a methodology that does avoid the inerrancy word. At the same time I seem to still be a bit stuck in the True Myth camp, but certainly not because of any inerrancy theory. Still, i will desist as this is definitely a distraction.

    I can’t find the dating stuff that you allude to (C14…) has that comment been deleted? But I think that there is no question but that we do have to come to something much more scientific in approach and much less dogmatic, or even not at all dogmatic (wishful thinking?). In other words a whole lot of dismantling of prefilters does need to take place before we do get round to dealing with the text much more on its own terms rather than what we think that it ought to say…


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  33. No, don’t desist Sam — it’s part of the experiment, part of what happens when the possibility is opened up for public discussion. My carbon 14 remarks had to do with your thoughts that maybe scientific dating estimates don’t necessarily scale back to the beginning — or at least I think that’s the thrust of part of your thought.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  34. Oh, no that’s not exactly what I meant. You point out the analogy argument for lifespans from apes etc., and that’s much more of the idea that I think is essentially unscientific because, while it sounds reasonable, and even sounds scientific, it is not testable or falsifiable.

    Many such untheoretical strands help scientists to ‘flesh out’ their theories as ‘thought pictures’ but are not in fact any part of the theory itself. Now, as we do get more evidence, actual physical evidence, that allows us to properly compare life cycles, longevity, reproduction, etc. We will be able to actually come to some conclusions. My point was to hypothesise on the rather sudden extinction of the Neandertals, at just about the time that they would have competed with H. sapiens and for pretty much the same resources.

    Some of the more interesting theories I’ve heard to ‘explain’ the long lifespans of the ancients include that the earth’s speed of revolving round the sun has undergone a marked (TENFOLD!)decrease perhaps because of the gravitational effect of some massive thing that went past… Then there’s the biological clock going out of whack due to environmental degradation and so on. One comes back to Bishop Usher’s 4004 BC or variations thereof.


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  35. Not every implication of scientific theory is directly testable by empirical evidence. There’s not direct way to investigate any phenomena that occurred before scientists were around to look at it. Assumptions must be made. But scientists are by nature and profession a curious lot, so they come up with ingenious ways of testing hypotheses indirectly, radiocarbon dating being one pretty robust one, space telescopes being another.

    If the Bible were to be regarded as man’s efforts to understand what God was doing, rather than as God’s inerrant revelation, then we could all agree that the snake-losing-its-legs hypothesis of Genesis 3 is empirically false, but its falsity has no direct bearing on the God Hypothesis.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  36. In archaeology for e.g. some fascianting stuff is emerging especially with regards to the dating of various layers of stuff in the Levant. For reasons that are rather obvious, the Israelites are frantically scrabbling about after direct evidence for 1. the Exodus-Moses, 2. The occupation of Canaan – Joshua, 3. Saul-David-Solomon and the 1st Temple. In the process, dating techniques and correlations with the existence, growth, destruction, recolonisations of towns in Palestine are being minutely and fruitfully studied, though so far without having really done much to ‘prove’ anything on the big 3, (as above).

    It is this sort of work that is also going on in a much more modest way in N. Kenya and Ethiopia with the study of hominid lines and earliest man, and in Europe for the Neanderthal-H. sapiens thing that will eventually answer a lot of questions. In the meantime some degree of scepticism on the way we create the ‘fillers’ to ’round out’ what we think ‘must have’ happened, I think would be wise.

    In other words,given enough careful study, the testability part at least should sort itself out


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  37. ;D Sorry about the sidetracking, John.

    Your blog, your rules… and you’re right. ;D

    One more thing – GO WINGS


    Comment by mike macon — 2 November 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  38. No rules, just interesting to observe. Oh, and I too put in some “hard time” in Michigan, having managed to graduate from MSU. So Go Spartans and Go Blow to the Wolverines.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  39. Scientists make their living by being professional skeptics: it’s easier to make a name for yourself by proving something wrong than by supporting someone else’s conclusions. It’s usually the popularizers of science who treat the findings as gospel (so to speak), giving the public a misleading impression regarding the certainty and permanence of the state of knowledge.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  40. man’s efforts to understand what God was doing, rather than as God’s inerrant revelation

    From our end, the wrong end of the telescope, it seems that we would be restricted to a bit of modesty. In fact, I think part of the sophistication of Genesis account is that it weaves a story that effectively explains much of man’s predicament, including why we feel that nature is perverse and that we deserve better!

    But then, if there is actually a dialogue taking place between God and man, would it look much different?

    I think it’s very fair to start exactly where you draw the line and rest confident that if there is more, it will out itself sooner or later.


    Comment by samlcarr — 2 November 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  41. “Effectively explains” — that’s a nicely worded but loaded phrase.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 November 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  42. Mike,

    That the Trinity is not a biblical proposition means to me that it is a philosophical formulation to be held with an open hand. This is particularly the case because it is anti-logical; goes against the various forms of the Laws of Logic that have been developed. 1 does not equal 3. Yet, that is essentially what we posit by the doctrine. I confess the Trinity, but I immediately confess that by believing it I am a fool.

    Please note that my problem is not with people who believe in inerrancy, my issue is with Evangelicals (capital “E”). They are the ones who have blown the issue way out of proportion and made a man-made philosophical construction the cornerstone of the faith. Bad move. Very bad move. It is also, I may add, a lousy philosophical construction because it fails to understand the nature of language and communication.

    Your appeal to Roman Catholicism holds little weight with me, because I am not Roman Catholic.


    Comment by Erdman — 2 November 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  43. Jon,
    the difficulty is precisely that the bible and the doctrines have become melded into one and the same thing in people’s minds.

    You can’t, nay, you shouldn’t, try to have one without the other! And when forced to choose, the preference is always to keep the holy doctrine and ditch this pesky, inconsistent, unoriginal autograph of a text that somehow has this property of disequilibrating even the most delicately structured doctrine.


    Comment by samlcarr — 3 November 2007 @ 10:19 am

  44. It really is interesting to watch Scripture disappear – falling into the background as our zeal for all things “biblical” takes front and center. Some call this bibliolotry, but the concept has been around here and there as long as there have holy scriptures. There was a similar occurrence in the days of Jesus, as the religious leaders built in extra layers of “law” to supplement the Law and make sure – yea, doubly sure! – that we did not transgress. It’s like putting up a fence around the property to make sure we do not trespass. Then built another fence 20 yards around that first fence so that we don’t even get close. And then, well, by golly – build another fence because, after all, you can’t have too many fences.

    The problem is, we get so preoccupied with fence building that we lose the spirit of why it was wrong to trespass to begin with!


    Comment by Erdman — 3 November 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  45. One of my interests in writing the post at OST was to see whether inerrancy had been sufficiently abandoned by evangelicals that the irony of my alternative literal reading of Genesis 1 wouldn’t have much impact any more. It sounds like inerrancy is still pretty well entrenched, at least in America. Not so in England, apparently.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 November 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  46. The feeling that I get is that it is now considerably less of an issue than it used to be. While it’s still there in the ‘list of good doctrines’ the highlighting of this as the key battle line, and the one thing that is the most essential, has faded considerably. Certainly there are still preachers who get a lot of mileage from this topic but less so now than in the past.


    Comment by samlcarr — 4 November 2007 @ 7:20 am

  47. Thanks Sam. It’s part of the reason I think my book is really geared toward the unbeliever more than the believer. I doubt very much that a believer would, based on my exegesis, decide that elohim might really be a group of Babylonian traders and that God probably didn’t really create the material universe. But an unbeliever or “believer lite” might get a kick out of the irony of this sort of alternative literal reading and how it dovetails with science. On the other hand, half of American adults believe that God created man the way the Bible says in Genesis: all at once, within the last ten thousand years. America is a different sort of place from the the rest of the Anglophone world.

    Thanks also for participating in Mike’s discussion. It’s clear there’s still some strong and thoughtful inerrancy out there. I just put up a summary of the diverging positions on Mike’s post. I also observed that neither the inerrancy nor the “errancy” positions has much to do with the unbeliever’s stance toward the Bible. Out of all the preceding 70+ comments, only two addressed the “what if” idea of the original post, the experimental possibilities of reading the text from a different perspective, temporarily setting aside assumptions about inspiration, etc. Those two comments were by me and Erdman.

    For those coming late to the party, Mike’s post is here.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 November 2007 @ 7:47 am

  48. I think the post on Mike’s blog is going to wind down. In my view the inerrantists win, largely through strength in numbers and persistence in beating down the opposition by making the same points over and over again. The errantist isn’t really much different, also repeating the same argument. The gist is this: for the inerrantists, if the Bible has errors it’s unreliable, making it indistinguishable from Mormonism or Islam or any other man-made religion. For the errantists, Scripture is part of a triangle of an inspired human testimony that also includes the community of believers and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart. Perfectly true knowledge isn’t necessary in order to have confidence that one’s faith is true, say the errantists.

    The ironic but predictable thing about it: I wrote the original post that stimulated the debate, but so far neither side has addressed my question; namely, what if believers read the Bible like unbelievers do? Here’s the question I posed on Mike’s blog and at OST:

    All the expressed beliefs and arguments concerning inerrancy and its importance expressed so far are internal disagreements among Christians. Same God, same faith, in broad-brush terms the same belief in the divine inspiration and reliability of Scripture. The non-Christian falls outside this grid. If you don’t believe in the God to whom the Bible gives testimony, you have no a priori reason to believe that the Bible contains ANY truth about God, let alone inerrant truth. If you have neither an internal witness of the regenerating Holy Spirit nor an interpersonal witness of the community of believers to rely on, these other sources are unavailable to you as testimonies to the truths of Scripture. One might say that, when it comes to reading the Bible, the non-Christian occupies a whole different REALITY from the Christian.

    Andrew suggested that believers try reading the Bible “as if” it weren’t perfect testimony to a God they already have faith in, to read it the way unbelievers read it, with the intention of gaining a different perspective on the text. So let’s say that unbelievers read the Bible as a human text, without recourse to divine testimony of its truthfulness provided either by the text, by the community, or by internal regeneration of the spirit. Do Christians derive any benefit from reading the Bible like a non-Christian? By visiting that alternate reality for awhile, are Christians likely to come away from the experience with any new insights about the text or their faith? Are they likely to learn anything valuable about the unbeliever by seeing through his eyes for awhile, by talking together about the text on the unbeliever’s terms?

    As an unbeliever I can see advantages to this approach. On the other hand, I can also imagine arguments to the contrary. Maybe it’s better to present as clear a picture as possible of the Christian reality, then rely on the Holy Spirit to draw in those with ears who are being prepared to hear. Why take a walk on the dark side when you have to step into the light in order to see the truth? But this is just me speculating about what believers might think. On the other side, it must be acknowledged that the unbeliever does believe something: that the Bible isn’t true, that there is no such God, etc. The unbeliever also entertains hopes that maybe if the believers could step into this alternate unbeliever reality for awhile they’d start seeing things more clearly. So perhaps there is a danger. What sayest thou?

    Again, no response. Erdman at least reiterated that this was my question, but nobody engaged it. I think it’s difficult for Christians to think or talk about their assumptions when discussing Scripture with unbelievers. Almost always they know more about the Bible than the unbeliever, so they can set the tone. In my experience the believers don’t really meet the unbeliever on his/her own ground. One of the satisfying things about my conversations here on Ktismatics and also at Theos Project is that it’s possible to have such conversations with both sides crossing over the line to the other side. No one seems threatened, and I hope we all come away with something more than we started with.

    Maybe I should have posed my questions here instead of on OST — it would have been a more interesting discussion. I already know the inerrantist arguments; I already know that the Christians who come here aren’t strong on inerrancy and aren’t afraid to acknowledge it. But I think the resounding silence at OST and, ultimately, on Mike’s blog about the nonbeliever’s perspective speaks volumes.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 November 2007 @ 7:38 pm

  49. John, in a sense for many PoMo oriented Christians, the question of scripture’s authority has taken something of a back seat as there is now so much that has to be questioned. Perhaps that’s one reason why a lot of people did not respond much to the substance of your post.

    Another question is ‘how does one do this’. It takes a fair amount of skill and practice to dissociate from a well-used grid when reading anything. One of the reasons why I so much enjoyed studying English Lit. in college was that after reading something new, and then forming some first impressions the discussion of the work often throws open a myriad of other possibilities and sometimes (e.g. with Dickinson) a class would end up split just about 50/50 on two diametrically opposed interpretations. Then, seeing things from ‘the other side’ becomes increasingly more difficult each time you read the text and reinforce your own opinion…


    Comment by samlcarr — 4 November 2007 @ 11:37 pm

  50. To me the big questions are: is there a God? did God create the world? is there life after death? To answer all these questions Christianity has traditionally relied on the Bible to a significant degree. I understand that the PoMo Christians say yes to all three questions and are ready to move on. Did Christ atone for everyone’s sins, or just the Jews’ (the big OST topic, apparently)? Did Paul really mean that women shouldn’t hold positions of leadership in the church? How much authority should the church ascribe to tradition and community vi-a-vis Scripture (implicit in Andrew’s exchanges on Mike’s blog)?

    I was posing a what-if question: what if you Christians stepped away from your intramural debates and engaged in a discussion about the Bible from the unbeliever’s viewpoint? No need to dispute whether the Bible is or is not inerrant; instead, read it from the perspective of someone who has no basis in inner glow or in tradition to regard any of the Bible as true. But this hypothetical scenario is apparently too abstract for either the inerrantists or the PoMos to imagine or to empathize with. The grounds for dispute and the battleground fall entirely inside of the Christian camp.

    If you take away Genesis 1-3 there’s very little written in the Bible about God having created the universe and humankind — it’s just not a big topic relative to Jewish history and law in the OT, or Jesus’s life/death and redemption in the NT. On the other hand, science in the last 150 years has had a lot to say about the creation of the universe and humankind. So if you substitute the scientific narrative for the scriptural one about how these things came to be, does the idea of God as creator disappear from the Judeo-Christian story? Almost surely it would not. Why not? Other religions’ gods didn’t create the universe — even gods who coexisted with Yahweh in the ancient Near East. To say that Genesis 1-3 are “mythic truths” revealing that God created the universe and humankind through some unspecified means is to superimpose tradition and community beliefs on the text, overriding the evident meaning of the narrative itself. Are Christians okay with that? These are the kinds of questions I’m wanting to ask, and have been wanting to ask since I started commenting on OST and writing Ktismatics. My general conclusion is that in general neither the traditional evangelicals and fundamentalists nor the emerging Christians want to engage in this line of discussion. Either they can’t see its relevance or they’re side-stepping the issue.

    It’s because of these conclusions that I quit writing so much about creation issues on Ktismatics and at OST. I returned to OST with the idea of turning Sir Toby’s into a dialogue between a believer and a nonbeliever, but the main believer in the Inn, Peter, kept inventing conversations with his main believer nemesis, Andrew. Similarly on my latest post about Genesis 1-3 as thought experiments: the inerrantists pounce on it, and Andrew engages in that debate among Christians rather than looking for an emerging ground of conversation with the non-Christians. So I’ve just relearned what I knew 9 months ago: the Christians are the cause of one another’s desire, and my non-Christian voice is irrelevant to that desire.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2007 @ 5:46 am

  51. I just paid my first visit of the morning to OST. I put up two comments last night, one being a summary of my observations that I’ve recapped here at Ktismatics. On the other one I responded to a commenter’s observation that looking for the “truth” in Genesis 1-3 is a modernistic project, whereas reading the text as narrative and story is “more PoMo.” I said that the Genesis 1-3 text surely reads as a narrative, but that the true myth hermeneutic overrides the obvious narrative meaning with an underlying propositional message (there is one God, he created the universe, etc.). So what’s the next comment on the thread? This is an interesting debate. I plan to make a post about biblical inerrancy soon. It is all for good dicussion. By the way, currently I do not believe the bible is inerrant, but I do believe it is in some sense inspired by God. Like I said: the Christians are each other’s desire.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2007 @ 5:58 am

  52. On the other hand, maybe I offered a good service to the PoMos by bringing inerrancy into direct discussion. I haven’t spent much time at Jesus Creed lately, but my sense was always that Scot McKnight was perpetually side-stepping the issue. The idea is never specifically to say that one regards the text as containing errors, but to find interpretive ways around the parts you don’t think are true. Genesis 1-3 are true myth. Paul was speaking to specific circumstances rather than renouncing women’s leadership on general principles, and so on. I personally think these sidesteps don’t hold water, to mix metaphors in a quite flagrant manner. I think it would be more straightforward just to say it: Paul was wrong about certain things, the creation narrative is a myth pure and simple. For Andrew to champion that straightforward position in the face of resolute conservative resistance, and for you and Jonathan to support Andrew in that battle, is a good deed performed for the emerging cause.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2007 @ 6:10 am

  53. Ktismatics:
    Again, no response. Erdman at least reiterated that this was my question, but nobody engaged it. I think it’s difficult for Christians to think or talk about their assumptions when discussing Scripture with unbelievers. Almost always they know more about the Bible than the unbeliever, so they can set the tone. In my experience the believers don’t really meet the unbeliever on his/her own ground. One of the satisfying things about my conversations here on Ktismatics and also at Theos Project is that it’s possible to have such conversations with both sides crossing over the line to the other side. No one seems threatened, and I hope we all come away with something more than we started with.

    Yes, that is also something I appreciate about our postings and comments. You are right about guys like Mike who just kind of blow past the issues and try to overwhelm people with their sound and fury (signifying what?). It’s a bit embarrassing, honestly. In the post you linked to, Mike set himself up as a superior intellect, claiming that Andrew’s position had defeated itself. Andrew wasn’t quite sure how that was the case. In fact, Andrew’s position was not self-defeating. As it turns out, Mike doesn’t even really have a grasp of the flow of the argument, nor does he really seem to understand what a “self-defeating” claim is. (He called it “self-rebutting,” which I have never really heard used as a technical term.)

    Mike is a good example of what happens when a young guy goes to seminary, learns a little (emphasis on “little”) Bible, and then suddenly thinks he is a philosopher!

    He seems like just a young guy, though. Perhaps there is still time for some truth to filter through!


    Comment by Erdman — 5 November 2007 @ 7:22 pm

  54. Ktismatics,

    Do you find the “emerging cause” a cause worth fighting for??? I’m sensing some sympathy for the emergent folks, not that there is anything wrong with that.


    Comment by Erdman — 5 November 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  55. I can’t speak for others, and i know that much of my thinking is considered frankly eccentric, but one of the things that happened to me was to start questioning my assumptions of certainty of belief. I started to acknowledge to myself that there could be (prbly is) a disconnect between what I see as reality, truth, and what actually does exist/actually is. I realised this as both a perceptual and a cognitive limitation on my part.

    A natural consequence is that my understanding of believing has drastically changed. I’ve become more aligned with a Mtt25-Pascal’s Wager sort of approach.

    and my non-Christian voice is irrelevant to that desire.

    Your question John, looks to me like a bit of a reverse us vs them thing. I don’t think that the distinction really holds water anymore. Those who consider themselves as Xtians are a bit obsessed with that and have perhaps temporarily rendered themselves unable to even theoretically shift perspectives. It struck me, on Mike’s blog, that a number of the respondents were asking “why on earth would one want to do that?” about Andrew’s Principle 2. They felt that it was retrograde, they may also have felt threatened that secularity was trying to find a back-end entry into their thus far holy and secure thoughts…

    Still, I think that even though the discussion got sidetracked, it was one worth having and I do think that except for an excess of pride, many will admit that they now have some food for thought. I think that the uncertainty that they feel towards Andrew or Jon or myself will also force them to think a little bit about that. They are not quite ready to call us apostate, tho a couple decades ago that is exactly what would have happened!


    Comment by ponnvandu — 5 November 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  56. Do I find emerging a cause worth fighting for? I find it a cause less worth fighting against than straight-up evangelical fundamentalism. There’s too much about Christianity that I can’t swallow for me to be a good candidate for (re)conversion, but at least it’s possible to explore topics of common concern without necessarily having to become enveloped inside the Christian worldview. I also like the idea of discussing movies and books that aren’t the Bible or commentaries or explicitly Christian, which is much more difficult with the fundamentalists.

    “Your question John, looks to me like a bit of a reverse us vs them thing.”

    I’m not sure I understand your point here Sam, but you’d have to agree that the inerrancy discussion as framed on Mike’s blog is an in-house Christian discussion. I’m less concerned about apparent factual discrepancies on relatively trivial matters like where Judas hanged himself than I am about the bigger topics: was Paul right about women and gays, did God really command all those deaths in the OT, did God really create the universe, etc. The combination of Scripture, regeneration and community mean that most aspects of Christianity are “overdetermined” for believers — all three strands of the rope reinforce each other. An unbeliever would take none of the three for granted — no internal witness of the Spirit or of the community that, say, God is a trinity or that man needs redemption or even that God exists. It would have to be a much more “zero-based” engagement around the traditional Christian topics, rather than a question of which few bits of the whole can you agree, eventually, to let go. Does that make sense?


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 November 2007 @ 11:29 pm

  57. John, within the evangelical-fundie camps there is a strong polarization developing between those open to more ‘this-worldly’ activity and those who have stuck to the ‘lets all pray for the 2nd coming NOW’ groups. The 2nd group have realised that times have changed and that they are increasingly in the minority. The emerging phenomenon and the debates between emergers and the more missionally oriented evangelicals have definitely also contributed to the battle that is shaping.

    Within emerging, apart from those ‘conservatives’ that are talking to the evangelicals, there is a also a much wider ‘spread’ that at one pole fades into secularism, at another pole into mysticism, and with one more pole leaning towards syncretism. Generally there is a movement away from atonement as the central doctrine to Christus Victor/Incarnation as the stronger themes.

    I don’t know where Jon fits in but I don’t find any of these polarities very comforting. I am convinced that God is trying to tell us something of importance through the bible, through history, through our interactions within current culture-society etc. To me Jesus holds pride of place in terms of sensitising me to the difference of God, and to perhaps hearing for the first time something of what that difference is. I would also be pleased if Jesus would consider me a disciple.

    After seeing this in Jesus I realised that the same sort of dialogical thing is found in both secular and other religious writings. So, my own views are not that easy to plug in anywhere for I am essentially very ‘conservative’ in all of my reading, but not at all in the sense in which this is usually meant. I also haven’t found many people that would agree with me!

    In short, there will always be differences in perspective. This doesn’t mean that there will not also be points of agreement or that there may not result quite life-changing discussions. I have learned a tremendous amount from Ktismatics and hope to continue to do so!

    It is frustrating when communication is blocked “in principle” but that is not universal and there is fruitful ground to be covered and increasingly so, as Xtianity starts to shed some of its own excess baggage and engage with the real world.


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 November 2007 @ 12:36 am

  58. When I was more actively discussing the creation narratives I put up a series of posts trying to interpret why my reading of Genesis 1 wasn’t going to fly with the emerging church. Among them: I came up with an alternative literal reading of Genesis 1 that contains no inconsistencies, but the emergings seem prepared to abandon the literal reading of that text. My reading removes the possible stumbling block for the scientifically literate of having to believe that God created the material universe in order to believe the rest of the Judeo-Christian narrative. However, by moving Genesis 1 into the “true myth” category the emergings assert even without Biblical elaboration the underlying truth that God somehow, some time created the material universe. My reading says that Genesis 1 is a description of elohim proposing the first natural science framework, which humanity later elaborated into contemporary science that emerged out of the Reformation’s empirical treatment of Scripture. At the same time, the emergings increasingly dismiss empirical science and reformed theology as manifestations of a Modernism that’s gotten the church into its current sorry state. I proposed that Genesis 1 describes the beginning of human culture, while the emerging church continues to heap disdain on secular culture while simultaneously calling for a renewal of “God’s creation” (i.e., nature) and a renewal of a church culture separate from the corrupt world culture. My exegesis celebrates man as creator, but this Biblical tenet seems to hold no place in emerging anthropology. In short, very little of emerging theology opens a pathway to the ideas of value I draw from Genesis 1.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2007 @ 6:36 am

  59. On the other hand, well-read secularists don’t have much interest in Genesis 1 outside the Dawkins-like debates. Reading the Bible as a cultural text rather than a religious one is hard for people to do. Liberal Christians have already dismissed Genesis 1 as a myth that’s not much worth paying attention to — though they too all seem to accept some variant of intelligent design or at least panentheism. So at least in the emerging Christian world it’s possible to have conversations about the Biblical text itself.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 November 2007 @ 6:46 am

  60. It’s actually fascinating to me when some group of individuals, (perhaps all members of one church and getting together to do bible study or to be a prayer group), start getting to know each other, it becomes increasingly clear that each person’s philosophy, hermeneutic, politics, ethics and ways of relating have little or no commonality. Yet the idea that they are together in some larger enterprise (church) makes these remarkable and irreconcilable differences actually of little consequence! The theoretically “common” framework is actually an eyewash and when picked at a little bit, will fall apart.

    This looks to be something of a conventional game that we play that gives us the illusion of belonging to a tradition or organisation. As the illusion gets stressed and as reality starts to impinge, sometimes the bonding in the group will break or sometimes the group will win and the group then floats free of the organisation. But, that’s another discussion. It is the very fact that it is interpersonal commitment rather than any real oneness of vision that is actually important and this takes us a while to figure out.

    I may not be able to talk to Mike Macon about the bible without starting a fight with him but that does not preclude me praying for his family and their new child. Which of these two phenomena is more real? Similarly when I was recently going through a very real crisis, a whole bunch of the ktismatics ‘fellowship’ including John the agnostic, Jon the undefinable PoMo, and Ivan the atheist from Oz and others too, gave me what I would describe as “prayer support” tho i doubt that Ivan and John (in particular) would prefer that terminology.

    Commitment creates the interpersonal space that allows relationships to develop and grow, regardless, it seems, of having or not having, any philosophical underpinnings.


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 November 2007 @ 8:45 am

  61. K: I was posing a what-if question: what if you Christians stepped away from your intramural debates and engaged in a discussion about the Bible from the unbeliever’s viewpoint? No need to dispute whether the Bible is or is not inerrant; instead, read it from the perspective of someone who has no basis in inner glow or in tradition to regard any of the Bible as true. But this hypothetical scenario is apparently too abstract for either the inerrantists or the PoMos to imagine or to empathize with. The grounds for dispute and the battleground fall entirely inside of the Christian camp.

    the inerrantists pounce on it, and Andrew engages in that debate among Christians rather than looking for an emerging ground of conversation with the non-Christians. So I’ve just relearned what I knew 9 months ago: the Christians are the cause of one another’s desire, and my non-Christian voice is irrelevant to that desire.

    I have been wondering some of the similar questions, myself, over the last few days, namely, why do I care about someone like Mike? He hasn’t really written anything with any profound intellectual insight. Basically, he takes a silly and simplistic argument and insists that it is impregnable. Furthermore, all those who challenge his simple-minded line of reasoning are fools.

    On the other hand, I have a good deal of intellectual respect for you, John. And I learn a great deal from engaging conversations and posts and insights that you have worked through. In most ways, there is more continuity between you and I than between Mike and myself, even though Mike and I would confess a common creed.

    Yet, somehow I am more drawn to his Mike’s silly discussions on his silly blog than I am to your line of questioning, John. The draw, of course, is a different one, but I can’t quite put my finger on just what it is. Although I am drawn to Mike’s silly blog I probably will not return. Why? It is the wrong kind of draw. Mike will never grow, at least no time soon. So, why keep butting heads? And yet I still desire to shut him down….but, of course, no matter how rational I am Mike will never get it – at least no time soon – because Mike is stuck within a narrow paradigm that doesn’t allow him to think about certain things in different ways…

    I don’t know if these comments help sort through things or not.


    Comment by Erdman — 6 November 2007 @ 11:28 am

  62. Jon, I frankly feel the same urge and that’s what Andrew also did when he went to Mike’s blog in the first place to ‘do battle’ as John put it.

    But, I also worry. It is actually not very difficult to back an inerrantist into a tight corner and then show that they are defending an indefensible position. Yet it is a position that these poor guys feel has a weight of ‘scholarship’ behind it largely because conservative popularisers of theology have sold millions of books with this as a theme.

    My feeling is that to so prove (a fault) will be very destructive not just to a philosophical position but to the ego that has been propped up on this ridiculously flimsy foundation. So, i hesitate and instead try to make people think on different lines: are you so certain that I am not saved? are you so sure that I am a bad disciple… Besides who would want their regular readers to realise that they had been found faulty! if I were to have this conversation it should be one-on-one, or at least in private (email/chat…).

    It’s odd to feel a sense of responsibility and also to feel guilty about walking away from it, but that’s usually what i try to do before i put my foot into it too much.

    Such ambivalence is just not there when I get to Ktismatics. I know that i’m going to be challenged and that i am going to learn and that’s always exciting and something to look forward to. I was frankly quite worried when John indicated that he would be putting ktismatics on the back burner.


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 November 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  63. My exegesis celebrates man as creator, but this Biblical tenet seems to hold no place in emerging anthropology.

    In the conservative framework its all about dominion, ego building dominance, and control. Where that leads is to exploitation : What can we take out and how fast. Let me profit and prosper and do that by grabbing whatever i can get.

    The Emergings would like to be a bit more green. They have rediscovered Jesus and the New Creation and the Kingdom of God, which just has got to be more holistic and more organic than what conservatives had taught. Very vague, vaguely green, fair trade oriented, less waste, less pollution, and less exploitative towards land, labor and the 3rd world. But, not a good reading of Genesis. No real idea of what an alternative economics would look like. There is no such thing as ’emerging anthropology’, or at least none that i have seen so far!

    The modern scientific and industrial movements have been based on making the entropy of the universe work for us rather than against us. In the process, the balance of Malthusian demographics evaporated and we even believed that we were on the threshold of solving all of our problems. Utopia seemed to be just around the corner.

    Then come the world wars. We may have mastered entropy but in the process we have lost our last tenuous connections to our true selves. Nuclear power and the atom bomb another double whammy and we realised that controlling entropy can be good, bad, and deadly. The cold war kept things in check for some time but was eventually overcome.

    Now we are heading for remote wars. Push the button from a very safe distance and the enemy is destroyed. The problem is of course that almost anyone can make the same or even better remote killing machines. There is no deterrence not even in sovereignty. And we, the masters are also realising that we have made the longterm survival of our own species a rather doubtful thing. One of the interesting things about Iraq is that the militants have figured out how to penetrate all defenses such that the army itself had to hide behind private security contractors. Technology is a two edged sword.

    John, we need a new reading if Genesis.


    Comment by samlcarr — 6 November 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  64. “It is the very fact that it is interpersonal commitment rather than any real oneness of vision that is actually important and this takes us a while to figure out.”

    I’ve been having some discussions on American Stranger about the relationship between ideology and utopian thinking. Traxus cites Frederick Jameson as saying that all imagined utopias derive from a desire for and drive toward collectivity. Jameson looks at culture from a Marxist perspective, which certainly feeds off and builds on this communal impulse. Collective utopia is likewise embedded in Christianity’s vision of the universal Church as body of Christ. It seemed that Mike and his blogging buddies imagine the abandonment of inerrancy as leading to a dystopia occupied by isolated individuals who have no assurance of their personal purpose or salvation. Implicitly, then, we might be able see their Christian utopia as an invididualized one, occupied by perfected eternalized humans who have clear ideas of what they’re doing. It’s almost a Nietzschean vision of supermen, perhaps.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2007 @ 7:53 am

  65. “In most ways, there is more continuity between you and I than between Mike and myself, even though Mike and I would confess a common creed.”

    Again on American Stranger, I had a brief dispute with Sixfootwoofer, a guy who thought I was being critical of the younger generation’s inability to mount an aggressive protest against societal ills like the war and rampant capitalism, citing the “good old days” of the Vietnam antiwar movement. In my day the “don’t tase me bro” dude at Kerry’s speech in Florida would have precipitated a spontaneous riot, and the cops would have had a difficult time taking the dude out of the auditorium — that sort of thing. So Sixfoot said he wished old farts like me should acknowledge that the current generation faces a tougher challenge than my generation did, and then just shut up. I said that as I read the opinion polls, some big majority of today’s college students regard making a lot of money as a preeminent goal in life, so Sixfoot and I have more in common than he does with most of his contemporaries. He agreed.

    There would be no football rivalries if the teams weren’t playing the same game.

    Andrew came back to the OST and said that he was sort of embarassed about getting caught up in that pissing contest at Mike’s place. Mike and co. would probably be more eager to rise to the challenge if I were to debate creationism with them, which is the battle they’ve prepared themselves to fight. And they certainly dangle the right sorts of lures — more and more evidence points to the accuracy of Genesis 1, etc. We’d have to agree on the name of the game if we’re going to get into a fight. When someone sidesteps the usual terms of engagement and puts forward a discussion framed by a different set of parameters, others a hard time knowing how to formulate a response. There hasn’t been a convergence of opinion on buzz words, hot buttons, knockout punches, etc. Mike’s blog generated a lot of commentary, but after awhile it got repetitive — the battle lines are already drawn, and everybody knows his own and the other guy’s next moves. It’s sort of soothing, reassuring to both sides to replay these same battles.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2007 @ 8:24 am

  66. Ktismatics:
    It seemed that Mike and his blogging buddies imagine the abandonment of inerrancy as leading to a dystopia occupied by isolated individuals who have no assurance of their personal purpose or salvation. Implicitly, then, we might be able see their Christian utopia as an invididualized one, occupied by perfected eternalized humans who have clear ideas of what they’re doing. It’s almost a Nietzschean vision of supermen, perhaps.

    I think that there is a lot of truth here. Mike & Co. seem to be of the throw-back Evangelical variety where right ideas are the primary objective of the Christian life or even of anyone’s life. The failure of non-Christians, ultimately, is a failure to cognizantly believe. (Of course, this entails spiritual blindness, but the objective of right-thinking is still the ultimate objective.) Community exists, primarily, to reach the heart via the mind. Epistemology is king in this world. But for me it just seems as though it is warmed-over Modernism with a Christian label.


    Comment by Erdman — 7 November 2007 @ 11:10 am

  67. Ktismatics: It’s sort of soothing, reassuring to both sides to replay these same battles.

    Good analogy of game. Very, very good.

    What is interesting is that in these pissing-match games both sides walk away believing they won. They all claim victory. They nudge their buddies and say, “Did you see what I said? And did you see the best they had as a comeback?!!? What a bunch of idiots?” Rephrased in Christian lingo it goes more along the lines of spiritual blindness rather than idiocy, though idiocy is certainly not excluded.

    But if everyone walks away from these games as winners, then why not just acknowledge how ridiculous the whole exercise is and change the format? Is it possible to still compete, but to look at competition less as a defeat of the opponent and more as an opportunity for personal growth? I would say that competitions break out here and at my blog, but I try as best I can to look at is as an opportunity to learn and push myself. Some competitions go better than others, of course…..


    Comment by Erdman — 7 November 2007 @ 11:18 am

  68. It’s funny but I really don’t think there were any winners at Mike’s Blog. Most of the serious points were just passed over, I think largely because they did not register at all. But, as I felt earlier, that’s probably all for the best. By the time it wound down, I doubt if Mike and his friends would have felt very self congratulatory either…. but who knows?

    In what I’ve seen of the blogging world, there is quite a decent spirit of competition ordinarily present in a lot of the exchanges right across the board.
    It’s half the fun.
    The other half is the learning.


    Comment by samlcarr — 7 November 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  69. Right. I don’t write off competition as negative either. However, at Mike’s blog (and at places like TWeb) rational argumentation gets swallowed up by confrontational argumentation and winning supersedes growth and dialog.


    Comment by Erdman — 7 November 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  70. I sometimes wonder whether I’m so competitive, so afraid of losing, or maybe of winning, that I stake out territories where there is no competition –which means there’s also no dialog. Anyhow, even if that’s my pathology, I do enjoy opening up some of these uncontested territories. Now on OST I’ve started exploring the Slippery Slope theme park ride — all the thrills of snipping Genesis 1-3 off the Bible without the risks. We’ll see if anyone plays along. It’s both a scientific and a fictional instinct to explore these kinds of imaginary scenarios.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2007 @ 9:00 pm

  71. The non-inerrantist (= errantist?) position is that faith rests not on sola scriptura, but on the converging testimony of the external witness of Scripture, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and the communal witness of the Church. It reminds me of the triangular convergence of self, world and other in people like Davidson and Tomasello, rather than the foundational pre-eminence of any one of the three.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 November 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  72. I’m a Ktismaticial True Mythologist (KTM), and I have absolutely no inkling to listen to the “communal witness of the Church”. I would rather add as the stool’s third leg; deconstruction of the dialogue between God and mankind. But, the ‘triad convergence’ as a PoMo form for epistemology is startling!


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 November 2007 @ 5:11 am

  73. That’s very interesting Sam. So instead of the communal witness as epistemologically privileged, you might regard it as obfuscatory, concealing more than it reveals. A set of alternative hermeneutical procedures — deconstructive, deterritorializing, maybe even psychoanalytical — can be applied not just to the texts but also to the communal witness, looking for suppressed, unexpressed and unformulated ways in which God and man are speaking to one another. This alternative hermeneutic can be applied also to the individual subjective experiencing of the Holy Spirit, filtered as it is through ego and desire and unconscious biases.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 November 2007 @ 7:12 am

  74. Wow, John! Exactly. I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind without knowing what it would really entail – and there it is.


    Comment by ponnvandu — 8 November 2007 @ 11:29 am

  75. In fact if you substitute something slightly less biased for the inner witness “of the Holy Spirit” I think we would have reached something that non Christians too could confidently connect with. There is an inner witness, one does not have to call it anything very specific – a resonance, something like a tuning fork effect is what this brings to mind, though as to who wields the tuning fork..?


    Comment by samlcarr — 8 November 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  76. I agree about the idea of resonance and attunement. It’s like a variant of string theory: what seem like individual elements are really the one-dimensional view of tubes or coils that wind through N-dimensional space. So a feeling, a drive, an idea, an interest, an act of will — these aren’t individual elements that sit either here or there, either in my mind or in yours or in the God’s. They’re places where a thread intersects a surface, appearing as a point. If you regard your own thought, feeling etc. as a particular place on a string or a fabric or a force field, then if you set it in motion do others connected to the same string feel the resonance and respond to it? Something like that, Sam?


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 November 2007 @ 9:06 am

  77. John, that sounds a lot more sophisticated and plausible than the rudimentary idea that I was toying with. It strikes me that difference is one of those things that causes me to do into a ‘decision making’ mode. When i run into something that just doesn’t jive with human (meaning basically my own instincts) then i need to ask if that is God. This difference I see most clearly in the interaction between cultural impetuses and the introduction of a cross flow that then applies a corrective to something that was going haywire – say in one mode of functioning of the prophetic tradition of the OT. Though here again this is not a steady voice that can be universally trusted e.g. the melding together of the prophetic and leadership functions in Moses led straight to genocidal tendencies!

    The intersections and interactions that you are looking at in individual tendencies could be a broader application of the same principle where as we deconstruct looking especially for difference, we will see a pattern of points that produce unique patterns of meaning – I don’t know, haven’t got that far, or very far at all, yet!


    Comment by samlcarr — 9 November 2007 @ 11:01 am

  78. Sam:
    In fact if you substitute something slightly less biased for the inner witness “of the Holy Spirit” I think we would have reached something that non Christians too could confidently connect with. There is an inner witness, one does not have to call it anything very specific – a resonance, something like a tuning fork effect is what this brings to mind, though as to who wields the tuning fork..?

    For what it is worth, Calvin distinguished between the sensus divinitatis and the “inner investigation of the Holy Spirit” (IISH). Is this a good distinction? Or is it all one and the same? From a biblical perspective there appears to be a natural sense of truth or God, etc, while there are also specific roles assigned to supernatural conviction or impressions. Theologically, it may depend upon our perspective of who God is (or even if he exists, as the case may be) and to what degree he meddles with our lives.


    Comment by Erdman — 9 November 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  79. Can you clarify this inner investigation idea a bit, Erdman? I’ve never heard anything about it.

    I’ve started hitting an interesting stride on the original OST “what if” post. I’m taking an imaginary ride down the “slippery slope” of errancy, seeing what might happen if Genesis 1-3 were dumped from the canon. The last couple comments I’ve been looking at how the NT writers augment the OT idea of God-as-creator. If anyone besides me is taking the ride down the slide, they’re not talking about it in the OST comments — or at least not yet.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 November 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  80. Jon, I’m not sure really whether it’s all part of one continuum or not. The SD could look a bit like what John describes above but my feeling is that that would be a very nonstandard understanding. I guess I’ve thought of SD as more of a sort of predisposition than as a cognitive process. One could imagine an SD effect which would be felt as a resonance.

    What I had in mind is a deconstructive and critical sort of approach and being enamoured of the sort of methodology that went into the Dibelius-Bultmann approach to Form Criticism which was a filtration process that eliminated all that was dross, leaving a kernel of stuff to then work reliably with. Whereas, what I would like to do is to hold it all together and deconstruct with difference questions in mind – if that makes any sort of sense at all. Then, as John suggests, to do this ‘in community’ with other persons who are similarly curious though each will have their own deconstructive results to contribute, and we may actually see if there can be any convergence or even better separate points creating a 3D mosaic of meaning…


    Comment by samlcarr — 10 November 2007 @ 9:30 am

  81. Sam: I guess I’ve thought of SD as more of a sort of predisposition than as a cognitive process. One could imagine an SD effect which would be felt as a resonance.

    Question: Could it be both?

    That is where Alvin Plantinga goes with it. He suggests that the “resonance,” as you put it, stirs the cognitive process. It may sound spooky at first, but i think there are plenty of non-God areas where this takes place, and Plantinga explores them (and we will too at my blog, once I finish up some things in the pressure cooker, like my last school project). Memory is a big one. Memories just kind of resonate with us. When I am struggling with a memory that I am unsure of I think to myself, “I seem to remember that is was this way….” Memories might involve some specifics like “I seem to remember that she wore an orange shirt.” But memories typically don’t have to be directly associated with a visual mental picture. I don’t necessarily have to see the orange shirt to have this memory resonate in my mind.

    But there also may be more vivid memories. In this case, there is a strong feeling, and you may even have a mental, visual picture in your mind. If someone disagrees with you, then you might say something like, “No. I know what I saw. I remember that orange shirt, and I wouldn’t forget something like that.” But if your impression was this strong, then it your memory would be the basis for forming a strong belief; namely, that the woman wore an orange shirt. There may be other things that influence your belief, like if I was at the same place and I strongly believed that the shirt was green. So, your belief could be called into question. But the point is that we are wired and constructed in such a way that some forms of “resonance” result in belief formation. So, what may at first appear to be a mere “feeling” is, in fact, one of the primary ways that we form cognitive beliefs. As such, I (following Plantinga) think that there is a link between “resonance” and cognitive belief formation.


    In the second paragraph, last sentence I said: “I don’t necessarily have to see the orange shirt to have this memory resonate in my mind.” What I meant was that “I don’t necessarily have to see the orange shirt in my mind’s eye to have this memory resonate in my mind.” We seem to be designed or programed to have a sense that she wore an orange shirt, even if we do not have a visual picture of it in the mind’s eye. That’s where I was going with that.


    Comment by Erdman — 13 November 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  82. Jon, that is very interesting. I look forward to a more complete exploration of this when you have the time.

    John, I really would like to explore this common ground of intersecting cross flows a bit more deeply. For the moment, if we eliminate the God Factor, what we are left with is some sort of a mysterious self questioning that is perhaps an innate but very hidden part of our belief process and which also facilitates something like a nonverbal fellowship within a spectrum of perhaps otherwise contradictory beliefs?


    Comment by samlcarr — 14 November 2007 @ 6:35 am

  83. The resonance and crossflow ideas seem inherent in the self-world-other triangle. Ideas and beliefs aren’t just objects lodged in individual heads: they’re stretched across some sort of triangular vector matrix. I’d contend that these are immanent rather than transcendent forces, but their functioning is similar either way.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 November 2007 @ 8:47 am

  84. This is somehow reminiscent of the stretchy feely membrane idea but also becoming something internal that connects across unseen boundaries and so is a bit portalic too. The concept is in there somewhere but nailing it down may not bee that easy.


    Comment by samlcarr — 15 November 2007 @ 10:42 am

  85. Well Sam I think the thought experiment is going quite well. A lot of threads to pull, a lot of grand themes identified. I also like your last comment on the True Myth thread, where you decouple Genesis 1-3 from the nationalistic agenda. I’m not at all persuaded by Andrew’s reading of the Israel-Gospel connection, though I haven’t really looked into it carefully. I do admire his persistence, but he seems mostly to be establishing a particular metanarrative rather than keeping the doors open, which is what OST used to be about.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 November 2007 @ 6:59 pm

  86. Yes, the discussions at OST really are getting into some new territory even by OST standards. Andrew has an interesting idea and an important one from a hermeneutical perspective that the text should be thoroughly grounded in its historical context, but then he doesn’t want to break free of this context and move on to anything that might be really new in the NT, so his is a sort of extended Judaism that accidentally got detached from its roots and is now floating off that needs desperately to be reattached.

    His analysis is partly right as is his prescription but I don’t think that re-embedding everything will automatically solve all the problems. The reality is that the NT is too uncomfortable a text for anyone attempting to organise a religion. I do think that the church fathers quite deliberately moved away from rooting us in the text and part of that involved cutting it loose from it’s own context.


    Comment by samlcarr — 25 November 2007 @ 9:55 pm

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