Eric MacDonald’s new website, Choice in Dying, is taking off nicely. His post on assisted suicide and Christmas was picked up by Andrew Sullivan, which brings a website more readers than even Pharyngula does. Eric is an ex-Anglican priest, and what he says about religion is worth reading; do bookmark his site.
His latest post, “‘Integrating’ science and religion” is about BioLogos‘s perennial obsession with Adam and Eve, something I’ve written about myself. But Eric goes into the background much more deeply, and with much more knowledge of theology. Here are some excerpts from his take on physicist/Christian Denis Alexander’s “white paper” on Adam and Eve, a piece published at BioLogos:
For example, Alexander ends his “white paper” with the claim that
In relating anthropology to Biblical teaching we are in a much stronger position than that [than science itself, which sometimes must acknowledge that there is no coherent theory for apparently conflicting data-sets], since the models proffered go at least some way towards rendering the two data-sets mutually coherent. (9)
The reference to the two data-sets is entirely delusional. There is one data-set, the scientific findings of genetics and anthropology about the evolution of Homo sapiens, and its subsequent migration from Africa to populate the world, and then one story, sifted out historically from a great many origin stories, the one that has come down to us in the biblical text which is deemed sacred by Christians and Jews. In what sense can this story be considered a data-set? That it has been privileged by religious believers whose religion survived while others did not, scarcely gives it, in any reasonable sense, probative value regarding the nature of the world or the significance of human beings. . .
So when Alexander begins his “white paper” — it’s hard not to laugh derisively when typing those words — by saying that
Theological truths revealed in Scripture are eternal infallible truths, valid for the whole of humanity for all time, although human interpretations of Scripture are not infallible and may change with time over issues that are not central to the Gospel, (1)
he is merely making marks on paper, not saying anything. He wants there to be a “data-set” of theological truths, so he simply dragoons the Bible into providing one. But there are so many unsettled questions here, at the very beginning, that make it simply impossible for him to go on, if his aim is to say something coherent.
But this just shows how open to interpretation and reinterpretation the biblical stories are — even those that are central to what Alexander thinks of as the Gospel. So there is no way that we can provide a “data-set” on the religious side of the proposed integration of science with religion that is in any way coordinate with the data-sets that are the very stuff of science. Nor is there any way to settle the question of which interpretation is the right one regarding the biblical stories, though, in the case of science, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, that is, in how things actually turn out. So a “model” for a theological “truth” is no more than a proposed interpretation of biblical texts considered as revealed by a god. And this is simply not enough to be going forward with, and even Denis Alexander must — at least one hopes that there is this much rationality left, despite its manifold deformations through the alembic of the Bible — know this even as he tries to fit the many shapes of religion into a mould that remains steadfastly obdurate.
Yes, people can consider me, P. Z., Dawkins et al. as “theologically unsophisticated,” and dismiss our arguments on those grounds, but nobody can say that about Eric. They’ll have to deal with his arguments qua arguments.