1.06.2008

Guest Article: Science and Christianity

Here we find a translation of the story of Creation as told by the Torah and, later, the Bible.

Link.

At it's most basic level, the story of creation does not address much about what Science has discovered about our universe. As for the thousands of galaxies, solar systems, suns, planets, etc. that make up the universe of which we are a part, Genesis merely says "God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars." This, of course, was simply to delineate night and day. Also, this took place after creating water and land. Both of these observations lead to a contradiction with what Science tells us, and thus a contradiction between legitimizing Christianity's story of creation and Science's.

As for Evolution, Genesis then states that God created creatures of the sea and birds in the sky, then some beasts for the land, and finally man to rule all of them. Now, according to the Theory of Evolution, birds evolved after primates; yet the Torah gives us the birds coming at least a day or two before Humans.

These are only a few contradictions between Genesis's version of Creation and Science's version. Obviously, Science of this century has more tools to work with at discovering how we originated than Genesis does. Do these contradictions really mean anything? Do they disprove Christianity? Probably not. They are relatively minor, and have little bearing on what will happen to our souls after we pass on.

Yet one crucial part of this opening chapter of Genesis does deal with our souls and our relationship with God; that part which states that God created Man in His own image. Now, as we physical beings cannot resemble a supernatural one in appearance, this must mean we are created in God's image in terms of the spirit, in terms of the soul. Yet Science and Evolution tell us that all creatures on the Earth come from the same organism, the same place: "The common descent of organisms was first deduced from four simple facts about organisms: First, they have geographic distributions that cannot be explained by local adaptation. Second, the diversity of life is not a set of completely unique organisms, but organisms that share morphological similarities. Third, vestigial traits with no clear purpose resemble functional ancestral traits, and finally, that organisms can be classified using these similarities into a hierarchy of nested groups."

As we research
our genetic coding further, we continue to discover relationships to the other life on our planet at a closer and closer level to the subatomic. Things like the Golden Ratio of 1.618 which lie in a myriad of structures on different animals, including Humans, strongly indicate our inseparable relation to other animals. Yet if we all come from the same organism and all share the same basic genetic coding, how can some of us have souls and others lack them? I believe that if any of us has a soul, than all of us must; furthermore, if any human has a soul, than so must every form of life. This resembles some Buddhist theories about our relationship to the natural world.

The Bible does not address the issue of animals having souls; it does not even address the Dinosaurs. For many, a belief in a religion requires some questions and a few answers; after viewing Christianity with the lens of twenty-first century Science, we find many questions left unanswered.

8 comments:

The Speaker of the Dead said...

Oh, Locke...

First, the "contradictions."

What was the purpose of the two creation accounts in Genesis (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2)? It was not, as you seem to imply, scientific exposition. It was written primarily as a polemic against polytheistic accounts of creation prevalent during the time.

Let's note what Genesis 1, written by pre-Grecian Jews, indisputably does get right:

1. The Universe had a definitive temporal beginning.
2. This beginning was accompanied by light.
3. The Earth was formed, followed by seas and land masses.
4. Plants formed.
5. Animals formed. (Birds and mammals evolved at similar times, Locke.)
6. Humans formed.

Now, for a text written thousands of years ago by a minor Near Eastern civilization, that's huge.

Water and land were created in verse 6, whereas the light came in verse 4. Verse 1 ("God created the heavens and the earth") refers more to the totality of creation than to the actual Earth.

Of course, who really cares? These attempts to resolve Scripture and science are kind of humanistic and move us away from the true intent of the Bible.

That being said, should we analyze Genesis 1 (and Genesis 2) literally?

http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/day-age.html

Allegorical views of Genesis have existed at least since Augustine and Origen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of_Genesis

Now about man's being made in God's image:

Evolution explains how, in general, species may have arisen. It does not preclude any acts of special creation.

And although it is true that we are similar to other species genetically, anyone can acknowledge that, in terms of behavior, humans are incredibly different from all other species. Because of this fact and because of the possibility of special creation (or at least some sort of "ensoulment"), it makes complete sense that only humans would have souls. (Some Christians, however, do believe animals have souls.)

Christianity leaves many questions unanswered? The Bible, indeed, does leave many scientific questions unanswered. But it's not a science textbook. It was not written to expound upon dinosaurs, other universes, or evolution; it was written to reconcile man to God. The Old Testament, in particular, was written not to 21st century Americans as much as to ancient Israelites.

And your beliefs about everyone's having a soul would raise just as many questions. Which worldview, in fact, doesn't raise questions? They all do.

Locke said...

If a difference of 100 million years is "about the same time" for when birds and mammals evolved, than I agree...

I think attempts to reconcile Science and Christianity stem from the fact that if part of the Bible proves to be inaccurate, that calls into question it's authenticity as the source of knowledge about our life and the afterlife. As it has two stories of creation, both the six-day creation and the adam/eve/garden of eden creation, which is correct? Which should we believe? If they were written by Israelites to reinforce monotheism, than that concedes that part of the Bible was written for a purpose solely of human design. Doesn't that mean that other parts of the Bible could have been written solely for a human purpose? Couldn't this suggest that the entire Bible and the concept of God was created by Man, and not the other way around? By just one part of the holiest book being false, doesn't this shatter the foundations of the entire religion?

If Jesus's Judaism is incorrect concerning Creationism, and he himself, the Son of God, lived his entire life not even knowing how the world really was created, how can we trust him to save our souls?

Just questions.

You claim behavior as the great differential between humans and other animals. The most obvious forms of behavior that set us apart from animals seems to be our unquenchable thirst for violence, war, death, conquest, and evil. Thousands of years have only produced a race more and more likely to kill not only members of its own species, but also other animals as well. According to the Bible, God gives us the right to rule over the animals; does that mean we have the right to drive them to extinction? To subject our planet to the threat of nuclear holocaust or global warming?

Of course humanity has positives, and despite our best efforts we have survived and flourished, becoming more than we ever could have hoped to be even 50 years ago. But it seems like by giving us a soul, God almost guaranteed a lot of people would be going to hell.

Or.

Or we could believe in something else, something that does not condemn billions to eternal torment, some simply for never having heard of Christianity, growing up in New Caledonia. Perhaps Science gives us a chance to disprove Christianity, and thus save ourselves from Hell just for not thinking something.

Questions.

Speaker for the Dead said...

Isn't this fun?

First of all, no one knows exactly when birds and mammals started evolving. Second of all, "bird" and "mammal" are rather arbitrary concepts anyway, and geologically speaking, 100 million years isn't as much as it seems.

A couple problems. First of all, God would have much more interest in reinforcing monotheism than the Israelites, who generally seemed happy to adopt the polytheistic and paganistic views of their neighbors. So that does not establish part of the Bible was written for a "purpose solely of human design." The Bible was, however, designed for humans.

Which creation account do we believe? Both. They're designed to present different views of creation to the Israelites. And since they're right next to each other, it would be difficult to argue that there are important inconsistencies between them that skeptics have just noticed now. They're complementary accounts.

So man created God? Let's see:

1. The Israelites made up a monotheistic god in spite of being surrounded by huge polytheistic religions.
2. They then decided to circumcise themselves and refrain from extra-marital sex, because as we all know, men love monogamy.
3. They then decided to invent many accounts of how they left the God they had invented and came back to him, making themselves look like arrogant idiots in the process.
4. Meanwhile, they happened to guess that the universe started in a burst of light (Notice that the light came before the Sun, Moon, or stars. In "The Brothers Karamazov," Smerdyakov wonders where the light came from if not from any of these sources. The ancient Israelites must have been really lucky) followed by the creation of the earth, plant life, animal life, and human life.
5. etc.

Now, about what you said about how evil man is...

Yup. We are. As a thought experiment, consider how pointless and boring peace, life, and goodness would be without war, death, and evil. Evil is, in fact, absence of good. What separates man is that many of his central desires are not rooted in survival or procreation. Why would we evolve such a desire for God, after all? Do animals have this desire?

God entrusted us with the right to rule over animals and the world not to run them over and nuke ourselves out of existence, but to tend to them. But this isn't really an argument anyway.

Guaranteed people would be going to hell?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that I believe in conditional immortality - the saved are rewarded with eternal life, the dead are destroyed (which is what you think happens anyway). The fire and brimstone view of hell is, in my mind, not very compatible with what the Bible says. In that case, it is much more accurate to view God's giving us souls as also giving us an opportunity for eternal life. As the Harry Potter books say, "The last enemy that shall be conquered is death." Oh wait, that's in the Bible...

So I answered the eternal punishment question.

Now about the people who have never heard of the Bible...

I think about that every day. And we've already discussed this. A few quick points:

1. Romans 7 discusses the relationship between the law and sin. And I'm not exactly sure what the theological implications of it are.
2. "To whom much has been given, much has been expected." Whatever the case may be, it's silly to say that we're in the same boat as the New Caledonians.
3. God's ways are higher than our ways. This argument is basically an excuse. You don't have to understand everything about God to believe in him.
4. God is just.
5. God judges the heart.
6. Salvation is through Christ alone. That doesn't mean New Caledonians will never be saved or whatever; it does mean, at the very least, that God will have to intercede for them in some way, because no one deserves salvation of his own merit.

Locke said...

They're complementary. So...after Adam and Eve had Cain and Able, and Cain killed Able, how did they have kids? Unless Cain and Eve...but that's...

You are looking at what they got right, and I am looking at what they got wrong. Funny how there's no right answer.

But if there's no right answer, do we err on the side of caution (your side), where if we're right we go to heaven, or the side of no one knows what?

I guess that's just a difference of opinion.

What has intrigued me for a long time is man's desire for God, a desire no other animal has. Not every man desires God; some hate the concept, or simply use it for their advantage. But always the majority of people look to a meaning for life above what they currently have. Isn't this just a natural part of the human condition, to wish for a better life, if not now, than after death, an unknowable realm of possibility? Or is this more than just the human desire for betterment; an actual genetic or cultural conscience dedicated toward the existence of some supernatural entity?

We have only the flawed humanity to examine; I do not think this is enough. Perhaps we are all just crazy, making up these concepts to debate about. Until we find another sentient race to compare ourselves to, I think we will never truly be able to answer the question of whether God is just our own creation out of hoping for a better life or whether we are created to look for Him.

By answering the eternal punishment question, you show that all of us have a different, personal version of any religion, and if that is so, how universal are the truths to which that religion subscribes? How far does interpretation go? Why does the Bible not tell me so?

Harry Potter is not Christian and never will be, and nothing you say or do can ever change that. It's like...how Dumbledore is not gay.

Speaker for the Dead said...

Adam and Eve had many more children than Cain and Abel (Not "Able," you liberal.) According to Josephus, the Jewish tradition is that Adam and Eve fathered over fifty children.

It's not that there's no right answer, it's that people will never see clearly enough to establish a consensus right answer.

And I can honestly say all these questions and answers are really rooted in hypotheticals, not in reality.

But I really think that we have to look at Christianity not just in rational terms, but in spiritual terms. The fact that we can even look at it both ways speaks volumes.

Obviously, some sort of desire for God is a major aspect of human nature. I would argue that the desire is universal; it is merely suppressed by modern culture and bad personal experiences with bad religion. The question is simple: Why would we evolve such a powerful desire for meaning? A lot of our other strong desires - food, sex, and sleep, to name a few - make a lot of sense in terms of evolution. The desire for meaning does not.

The whole thing about another sentient race is just irrelevant.

The fact that there are subjective interpretations of objective truths does not deny the existence of those objective truths. What do you mean, "Why does the Bible not tell me so?"

Harry Potter believes in Jeeeesus.

Locke said...

A subjective interpretation of an objective truth. That wouldn't give the objective truth much credibility. If you can interpret every "truth" differently, then I think it's beyond question that you're just making something out of nothing, shooting in the dark, and completely removing any credibility you have. If everyone interprets something differently, than it's obvious to me that assuming it still comes from the same source is foolish.

How can you possibly say with any confidence that the desire for God is part of human nature? You don't know nuthin' bout human nature. You don't know the extent of blank slate vs. environment, you don't know how the brain works or how much of what we do is of our own volition.

Harry does not. That you could even try to pin a belief in a fictional being on a noble, kind and intelligent wizard is wrong and I demand you take it back.

"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives has mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too will drink the wine of God's fury" - Book of Revelation

So if I draw a beast on my hand and bow down to it, i should...cut it off? http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/custom/fringe/sns-ap-microwaved-hand,0,1050180.story

Spaceman Spiff said...

I'm going to go ahead and just comment on the original post.

A rudimentary analysis of the type of literature that Genesis 1 is shows how silly it is to analyze it scientifically. The creation and flood myths (myths in the sense of their literary form, not in the sense of being false) appear to derive in part from Babylonian myths of a very similar nature. The similarities and dating suggest it isn't likely that these originated with Moses; they more likely developed during the exile period (with the caveat that some parts are much older).

But the differences between the Hebrew and Babylonian myths are far more fascinating than their similarities. It seems apparent that they were 1) theological arguments with Babylonian and other myths, and 2) etiologies for the natural world, the Hebrew community, traditions in that community, etc.

What does it mean to affirm such stories as scripture? It seems to me the best possibility is to affirm the theological content (which can't be separated from the narrative, but can be separated from the historicity of the narrative) more or less, or the direction of the theological content.

Such an approach seems to me to take a far higher view of scripture, inasmuch as we are accepting the form that scripture actually takes before we decide what form its authority should take.

Btw, what's the deal with only mentioning 1st century and later sources interpreting Genesis? Why not check out how Genesis is used in other parts of the OT, or the Apocrypha, or other Jewish sources? Genesis had been interpreted for a looooong time before Jesus showed up.

Speaker for the Dead said...

Really quickly, Locke...

I'll give you an example of the equivalent of what you're doing. I could attack the evolutionary track record of a certain species, because scientists can't say exactly how and when everything evolved. And so I could attack that certain one and then not believe in evolutionary theory because of that. And it would be pretty stupid of me to point out random things, interpret them incorrectly, etc.

If literature can have multiple layers of truth, why can't the Bible?

I cannot say exactly how the desire for God is (or is not) wired into humans, but for some reason, worship is a universal trait of human culture. You may say we are culturally conditioned to believe in God (or gods), but that would not explain why belief in gods arose in the first place. It is undeniable that the vast majority of humans seek some sort of higher spiritual fulfillment.