BioLogos: Don’t tell people that Genesis is fiction

July 2, 2010 • 6:12 am

I’m not sure what’s going on at the Templeton-funded accommodationist website BioLogos, but lately they seem to be reviving Biblical literalism.  First there was the website’s waffling about whether Adam and Eve were real people, and now, as reported by commenter Scott on yesterday’s “Tea Party Jesus” post, BioLogos is retreating from the notion of Genesis as metaphor.

You’d think that, for a website devoted to reconciling faith with the facts of science, the idea of Genesis as inspirational fiction would not be negotiable.  If anything is absolutely, rock-bottom true, it’s that life evolved, beginning about 4 billion years ago, and that the creation myth of Genesis is completely wrong.

Yes, you’d think that, but it isn’t so.  To buttress the idea of a literal Genesis, BioLogos has posted a short video, “The danger of preaching on Genesis, by Joel Hunter, a preacher at the oddly named “Northland, a Church Distributed.”

Here’s BioLogos‘s characterization of the piece:

In this video Conversation, Joel Hunter acknowledges the risk that pastors take when preaching on Genesis—and in particular, when they approach it with an attitude of humility, allowing the possibility that the text was not meant to be understood in literal terms.

What?? Humility is bad??? At first I thought that this was a mistake, but it’s not:

Hunter notes that a large number of congregants in our churches today are uncomfortable with the literal narrative of creation in six twenty-four hour days. In fact, many believers are open to the notion that God used alternative means of creation. Those with this viewpoint are not convinced of the all-or-nothing mentality that pervades contemporary evangelicalism, but rather, they see the possibility of evolutionary creation as a testament to God’s abilities.

Hunter emphasizes, however, that one must avoid being dismissive or derisive of those who do hold to a literalist view of Genesis because for some, reconsidering the traditional creation narrative introduces questions to which they are unsure of how to respond. Many with this viewpoint feel that if Genesis can’t be understood in straightforward terms, then we cannot know how to read the story of the Resurrection—as a historical account, or simply as a metaphor? Questions like this have the potential to cause them to wonder if they must now question the whole truth of Scripture.

Without “bullying” literalists into a new scriptural interpretation, we should still provide Christians with the space—and permission—to more completely consider the “fullness” and the “great mystery” of God.

The purpose of the video, it seems, is to tell preachers to be careful when telling their flocks that Genesis might be a metaphor.  Why is that “dangerous”? Because it might scare “uneducated” people into questioning other parts of the Bible, like the Resurrection.  And we can’t have that!  No questioning! “Humility”, once a virtue, is now seen as a problem.  And, “bullying”, apparently, means “telling people that Genesis might be metaphorical and not literally true.”

Here’s Hunter: (this is a screenshot, not a link; to see the video go here):

Here are quotes from Hunter, soft-spoken but oozing intellectual arrogance:

“When people say, look if the scripture’s not plain to the uneducated mind, if the scripture can’t be understood by what it says to somebody like me, then is the Resurrection really just a story?  Is it just a metaphor for rising up out of constraints, and overcoming the death that we face in everyday life and so on and so forth and was there really a Resurrection? And so that’s what’s at risk for many people, and I don’t, again, want to dismiss or denigrate those who hold a literalist view because they honestly believe that if they vary off that, then they themselves, will have to question the truth of scripture. . .

. . . there are those with a lot more capacity intellectually than they’re using, and they need to be given permission to use that intellectual capacity to understand the fullness of God and the great mystery of God.”

Okay, here’s my translation of Hunter’s words into plainspeak.

“Look, fellow preachers, there are a lot of dumb people in our pews who can’t be told that Genesis is wrong because if they see that, then they may start questioning the foundational claims of our faith that are equally bogus, like the Resurrection. Where would we be then?  So don’t even intimate that Genesis might  be wrong.

On the other hand, we don’t want to alienate the smart people either—those who realize that the claim of a six-day creation is ludicrous, in plain contradiction to the facts of biology and geology.  So don’t say anything about Genesis! You’ll put us all out of business!”

By giving preachers a platform to say that Adam and Eve might really have existed, or to warn against questioning Biblical literalism in the face of science, BioLogos has abjured its mission to bend faith to the facts.  Their mission now seems to be hiding the facts so they don’t disturb the faithful.  As many have pointed out, this attitude treats religious people as if they were delicate and befuddled little children who simply can’t bear to hear their beliefs questioned.  Question their politics, sure, but their religion? Never!

But if you don’t do that, of course, you’ll never convert them to accepting evolution.  Isn’t it possible that those “uneducated minds” could be educated?

It’s possible to bend over backwards so far that your head goes up your butt.

61 thoughts on “BioLogos: Don’t tell people that Genesis is fiction

  1. It is really too bad that they are afraid of what the dumb people might do (they might not tithe to the church). If there is a God, I like to think that its greatest gift is our ability to think, question and reason. Apparently to some Christians, those are abilities best kept silent.

    (p.s. Love your book, BTW…..)

    1. Okay, found my speech again (and reblogged your post).

      In short, I am disgusted by the lack of honesty, the arrogance and the plotting of deception provided by people who think religiosity is a precondition for good moral.

  2. I really just don’t get it. I don’t understand how religious people can read or listen to something like this and so many still keep the faith. I suppose if you spend a couple thousand years perfecting the great mind fuck the “common” folk will be easy meat for you.

    1. Societal, employer and family pressure can be a major stumbling block against abandoning one’s irrational religious pretenses.

  3. What is the history of this church idea?

    Is this a sign that the “new atheists” are causing large cracks in the wall by shaking the foundations, and this response is a desperate attempt to wallpaper over the cracks?

    1. The church has been cherry picking parts of its holy books for thousands of years.

      One really big example, Jesus pretty much says that in order to follow his way, you need to sell all your worldly possessions and give it to the poor, and that a rich man is about as likely to get into heaven as a camel is to fit through a needle. Then you look at the Pope in his fortress, or any other practitioners who draw a living wage.
      There are plenty of other things they flat out ignore, at least in the pulpit. I didn’t even hear about the book of Job until we read it in my high school western civ class. They don’t teach the parts where God and Jesus are real jerks. Some of these stories get taught, but they stop discussing them when you get old enough to realize that, hey, Joshua committed genocide, and hey, surely there were some babies killed by Noah’s flood that weren’t evil.

  4. They may not be dumb, but just having problems with various mental/emotional disorders which they are self-medicating with religious beliefs. I think some of the higher uppers actually have real concern for this type and realize that they are crippled and it behooves to be gentle with them.

    While other chappies high on the totem pole are motivated in the way you have described in this post–they got to keep changing and tweaking their stories so as to keep the whole house of cards stable.

    What they don’t get is that religious beliefs are not true medication and treatment and these religious believers will not only stay the same with their anxieties, compulsions, obsessions, depressions, etc, but that they will damage their kids also and America.

    Because America is such a religious country, I regard it as being a mentally/emotional unstable community in general. Exceptions, on a individual basis and on a bigger level exist, of course.

  5. I don’t see the problem. Just tell those stupid people that Genesis is indeed a metaphor, but that the Resurrection is indeed literally true, and that Jesus H. Christ died for a metaphor. What could possibly go wrong with that?

    I look forward to the AAAS putting its stamp of approval on this.

  6. So the guy’s in FL, Northland to boot. A quick search confirms suspicions that there are plenty of retirement communities there = home to people too old to change. He’s too busy focusing what neurons his flock has left toward helping his CD (Church Distributed) add to its CD. Anything less than supporting what they’ve believed all along will likely mean less for the CD’s.

    Suspect he owns a stake in the local funeral home too.

    Glad to be able to say I’ve never set foot in the state.

    1. Hey, easy on the old folks:) I’m only 64 and I noticed most of my contemporaries have slid of the the right and their religious remarks are increasing. Its sad but I hate to upset them. One won’t talk to me anymore when I challenged his exreme RW views. Oh well.

  7. There is no proof that “cave” isn’t a metaphor for a christian god’s hiney hole, therefore it is. Which means, of course, the christian bible is really a metaphorical cookbook; wash your jesus of its sins (smelly bits) before eating, even if baking will occur prior to jesus consumption.

  8. I agree with you all with the exception of one thing. Never respond to a post such as this beginning with the words “i don’t understand why…” – I long ago stopped trying to understand the minds of people who believe in the boogey woogey man in the sky, genesis and the resurection. I dont have a PHD in psychology. Remember these people rely on ‘faith’ – belief without proof! I have as much chance of understanding this as why my wife has the need for 40 pairs of shoes, and her understanding my passion for golf. To the logical and rational thinker religion is utterly absurd. Don’t try and understand why or how these poor people can believe this nonsense and stunt any potential for free thought and everyones right to question everything. The real difference between religion and science is this: the religious will look for anything to support the notion of god…”the sunrise is so beautiful…it couldn’t have been a coincidence” and turn a blind eye to everything that that factually shows its rubbish. Scientists however are gladly proven wrong as they simply tick off one incorrect path or hypothesis and keep searching for the TRUTH. Keep on going Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Coyne…you are all inspirational.

    1. Well, cognitive dissonance, or rather the lack of it, isn’t for everyone. But it is a readily observable phenomena that people can hold to internally consistent (well) but mutually inconsistent models.

      That is no surprise and of some survival value. (For example, you can love your S.O. for being the best while accepting that he/she isn’t always.)

      The trouble comes when some models insist on being better than others and representing actual facts. And the solution is simple. In principle … :-~

  9. Why do Christians talk so weird?

    They turn nouns into verbs and verbs become nouns and apparently anything can be turned into an adverb.

    ‘The fullness of God’?

    Is that when you binge on communion wafers?

  10. What exactly is the problem with treating the Resurrection as a metaphor ?

    Really, why is that — alone among the idiocies that Christians believe — a deal breaker ?

    1. Well then most Christians can’t be passive-aggressive, they can’t meddle for your own good, after all they are trying to save your soul, really and not metaphorically save it.

      Actually original sin is the big deal, without that, resurrection would not have been necessary for their godkid to do (after dying for his father’s kids so he can go back to his father to wait for the rest of the kids to arrive). Hence, that is why, Adam and Eve are indispensable.

      Christians are nuts, no polite way to say it, and they will continue to be that way, because of the deference to religious beliefs, despite the beliefs being obviously crazy and stupid. They can get away with being deranged unlike the depressives, bi-polars, Asperger’s, split personalities, and name your label, because their nuttiness is protected by the fact that it is couched in religious terms.

  11. “Unctuous” is such a useful word, don’t you think?

    Describes this fellow perfectly in a single swat.

  12. Extraordinary.

    Things like this only strengthen the meme theory because these people are obviously just lumbering robots with completely contradictory ideas tumbling about in their heads, roaming around loose on planet Earth. The programming of their brains has been utterly corrupted by the illogic of religion, and now they do things which seem almost incomprehensible–if they weren’t merely robots gone haywire.

    Which they are, of course.

    What needs to be studied, at the level of the neuron and the brain, is how (and how long) these contradictory ideas can persist in these victims’s minds in the presence of proper scientific training and education. How long does it take a poor, memetic ape-like robot to be de-programmed, when its original programming was so flawed and so pervasive, in other words?

    A truly disturbing story, but completely understandable in terms of the meme, IMHO.

  13. Notice that his advice to avoid Genesis was the same conflict-dodging seen in the Dennett/Lascola interviews.

    If in doubt, Hunter should take a leaf and notice that if he just puts out the idiot version, the smarty folks will “take it as metaphor.”

    Nobody has less respect for the faithful than an advocate of faith, it seems. Anybody noticed this trend?

  14. The BioLogos position is an excellent example of how condescension and arrogance are necessary components of religion. If the parishioners rights to understand are respected, the parishioners will recognize the flaws in the religion, and abandon it. Therefor, the religion’s leaders must act as if only they have the right to know and decide, and to keep the parishioners ignorant.

    1. Exactly. These folks, and the accommodationists, don’t recognize that the nasty “New Atheists” actually respect the views of the religious more than they do, because we intellectually engage in the actual claims. We presume that they actually believe the things they say, and that those beliefs are actual truth claims, and that the truth of those claims is actually important.

      Meanwhile, these clowns are just patting the faithful on the head and saying “There, there, you believe what you want — thinking can be really hard!”

      1. Hunter: “I don’t, again, want to dismiss or denigrate those who hold a literalist view because they honestly believe that if they vary off that, then they themselves, will have to question the truth of scripture. . .”

        And accommodationism comes full circle.

  15. While the theology posts generally merit a FAIL, “Science & the Sacred” does have the occasional science post. This one on whales calls Jerry’s book “a recent popular book on evolution,” and cites it by reproducing a figure. Congratulations! You’re educating the washed!

    I don’t have the will to dive into comments, but I’m sure there are many who answer evolution is not true.

  16. Hunter notes that a large number of congregants in our churches today are uncomfortable with…

    And that’s it in a nutshell. The overarching criterion is what people are comfortable with. That’s a good criterion for some things – dentistry, mattress marketing, chair design – but not other things – science, journalism, forensics, law, history, navigation, engineering, archaeology…

    1. ‘mustn’t let any of that fact stuff get in the way of comfort!

      I’d like to ask that preacher (and Francis Collins), “If god wasn’t real, would you want to know?” I think they are afraid to even entertain the question.

    2. Unfortunately American journalism now relies on the criterion of what people are comfortable with. Angry viewers piss of advertisers (or donors for PBS and NPR), so don’t tell them anything they don’t like.

  17. This is a path that we (rather the religious) have been down many times before – the ecumenical problem. As soon as a putative neutral organization starts, the war of the beliefs starts too. Everyone tries to wedge their particular belief in.

    And that is why BioLogos, NCSE and others like them are so ridiculous. Even if they would like to try to keep some facts to promote in the face of faith, the ever changing demands of the different churches ends with them having to dump all facts and accept that mumbling is the last resort.

    After all, if you keep repeating “evolution” and “science education” enough times it will still be a truth, won’t it?

  18. I think that Professor Coyne is being too professorial here: he seems to operate under the assumption that stuff from the pulpit is designed to educate. It isn’t. 🙂

    Their fear that learning that the stories in Genesis are myths with no historical meaning will eventually undermine their “faith” is founded. 🙂

  19. “It’s possible to bend over backwards so far that your head goes up your butt.”

    Metaphorically speaking.

  20. It’s good for the principals of BioLogos to be confronted with the intellectual dishonesty necessary for their enterprise. I’m not sure they realized it going in.

    And that is why BioLogos, NCSE and others like them are so ridiculous.

    Bah, the situation at NCSE is completely different. They know it’s bullshit, and they’d be more than happy to see all of their clerical “partners” lose faith.

    1. Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but:

      – I don’t see how knowing the facts makes the venture less ridiculous. Quite the contrary, in such a case the opposite should be the perception of onlookers.

      – I don’t find any evidence that BioLogos and NCSE is different in purpose or knowledge. What did you have in mind?

    2. About NCSE:

      “The National Center for Science Education, founded in 1981, engages in a number of activities advancing two primary goals: improving and supporting education in evolution and the nature of science, and increasing public understanding of these subjects. […] Our goal is to provide information that will lead to community consensus, rather than confrontation. […] NCSE’s members come from all walks of life. Many are teachers and professional scientists who care intensely about the quality of science education. Others are parents, clergy, science enthusiasts, and concerned citizens.”

      About BioLogos:

      “Founded by Dr. Francis Collins, BioLogos addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith, promoting dialog and exploring the harmony between the two. We are committed to helping the church – and students, in particular – develop worldviews that embrace both of these complex belief structures, and that allow science and faith to co-exist peacefully.”

      Exactly the same thing, consensus/co-existence and clergy support/helping the church, rather than facts and neutrality.

  21. A good example (as if we need more) of how so-called ‘liberal’ believers can act to cover and protect their fundamentalist brethren. No doubt there are exceptions like Ken Miller but when push comes to shove, far too many liberals will side with the fundies rather than risk anyone should lose their faith or worse, think for themselves.

    It’s articles like this that have convinced me that accomodationism isn’t merely philosophically but also politically wrong.

  22. “Because it might scare “uneducated” people into questioning other parts of the Bible, like the Resurrection.”

    If talking snakes are fictional, I don’t know why should I believe that a guy who was killed resurrected three days later. Isn’t your body starting to rot after three days? Aren’t there hundreds of white little maggots eating you? How come rotting Jesus arises three days later, goes to the Apostles’ place and tell Thomas “Here, put your fingers in my holes!” Yeah, Thomas, feel the maggots!

    Resurrection is just as silly as Genesis to me. The same applies to turning water into wine, multiplying bread, curing blindness and paraplegia and so on.

    1. Heh. My immediate reaction was that is too soon, but a little googling tells me a few flies are ovoviviparous, and that anyway maggots take “8-20 hours to grow”.

      Cheeze! (And some like that too.)

  23. Of course there’s going to be growing pains when the facts conflict with the myth. I wonder how long Francis Collins can continue to believe that his “waterfall sign” was a real message from the invisible, undetectable creator of the universe telling him that Christiany is “the truth” rather than something more mundane such as a temporal lobe seizure or plain old wishful thinking.

    A natural explanation is always more likely to be true than a supernatural one since nothing supernatural has ever been demonstrated to exist. And if science cannot know about such things, why would we trust that anyone else could?

    Perhaps all theists ought to exercise caution in claiming to know things they cannot know. It’s not the atheist who is claiming divine knowledge. Moreover, theists may want to consider the morality of teaching something as “truth” when it might well be a lie (and if it was, would they want to know?)

    None of the faitheists will say it, which is why I think the new atheists need to say it as often as possible:

    Faith and feelings are not a path towards the truth. They never have been. But believing that they are has lead many people to fool themselves and others.

    The whole “belief in belief” nuttery that Dennett discusses so well is such a virulent meme. People are afraid to lose faith –as if they were losing something real or good or valuable. And to them faith IS valuable, because someone told them it is the key to salvation– what the invisible creator of the universe wants MOST OF ALL. They fear hell for losing faith!

    I resent that this meme forces honest people into the role of co-conspirator to a lie we want no part of, or (if we dare to speak up)we are vilified a “militant new atheist” that must be silenced.

    Francis Collins ought to have kept his magical beliefs to himself. He should never have used science to try and justify is superstitions. The semantic shuffling is the inevitable mess when people try to prove that religion and science are perfectly compatible.

    1. “Francis Collins ought to have kept his magical beliefs to himself.”

      Depends on his motivations. I’m fairly certain what atheists should do and why. But I’m far less certain what faitheists want to achieve, mostly due to lack of knowing recent history.

      Someone (here, I think) recently noted that “christian science” or “scientific creationism” or whatever grew out of 7th day adventism. Faitheists like NCSE may have started as a belated and basically inefficient (since it blocks symptoms not the disease) attempt to disempower such fundamentalism. Or they could feasibly like BioLogos seem to ride on the fundamentalist process to attempt to disempower what they see as “new” atheism and its effectiveness in the public discourse.

      Is Dennett the person to go to find out about the Dark side of human thinking as regards history? Or are there other resources? An understanding of that would be if not necessary so helpful.

  24. This ‘one story for the educated and one for the uneducated’ reminds me of the early gnostics. They believed that only the chosen could benefit from their knowledge and the rest should be told easier stories. Having read some of the gnostic stuff I can understand their caution, man is it weird!

    Pastors have been failing to pass on their knowledge of the scriptures for decades. They go to bible college, learn all about it and keep it to themselves. Often they lose their own faith and even if they don’t they know it’s far too dangerous to pass this knowledge on to their flock. This is why the catholics made it a sin to translate the bible out of Latin, then the peasants might read it and find out the truth.

    Ignorance is bliss, or at least other people’s ingnorance is, if you’re a priest.

    1. Atheism/deism in late 18th century Europe was treated similarly. Whether or not it’s for benefit or detriment, the “tiered message” is a horrible thing to do to ideas.

    2. Studying is a lose-lose situation for religionistas. Studying science makes people loose faith. Studying religion makes people loose faith.

      Better to put your hands over your ears and go “la-la-la”. It may even render you a job at a faitheist organization; no competence required.

    3. Makes me wonder: where is the search for truth and knowledge in all of this?

      Everything about this piece seems to say that truth is the enemy of faith and even the church leaders know this and choose faith.

  25. This is where accomodationism ultimately gets you – tolerating delusion all the way to fundamentalism.

  26. I’m confused about what you perceive him to be saying. In the video it sounds to me like he’s lobbying for an interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts as metaphor to be considered an acceptable and legitimate interpretation. He’s arguing that the fear of this creating “dangerous questioning” is unfounded. He is speaking against the idea that you can’t say Genesis is metaphor. He is saying that the idea of Genesis is a metaphor is a very plausible interpretation, and saying so does not jeopardize faith as some would suppose.

    Again, I’m confused how one could watch this video and miss his point.

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