From God’s mouth to Biologos‘s ear

April 26, 2011 • 5:56 am

I was intrigued by a banner on the BioLogos website called “Ephesians 4:7-16, Moving the Science/Faith Discussion Forward.”  How could a part of the Bible advance a discussion that for two centuries has gone nowhere?

It turns out that the banner links to an article by Pete Enns, Biologos‘s Senior Fellow for Biblical Studies, called “Evolution and Our Theological Traditions: Calvinism“.  It’s part of a continuing series that, apparently, is aimed at getting us to see the Bible as a historical document that shouldn’t be taken literally—except, of course, for selected parts, including those about Jesus.

Referring to the reaction of nineteenth-century scholars at Princeton’s Theological Seminary to the “higher criticism” of European scholars, a criticism aimed at unravelling the Bible’s historical construction, Enns says this:

There are in their writings, however, progressive trajectories that are promising for the current state of Evangelicalism regarding how Scripture and science can be in conversation.

Bible in Context

The distinctive mark of a Calvinist approach to the Bible, as we saw in earlier posts about John Calvin, is that the Bible reflects its historical contexts. God did not “write the Bible” as an abstract treatise, hurtled down to earth from an Olympian height, nor as a Platonic ideal kept at a safe distance from the human drama. (The Dutch Reformed theologians were particularly adamant about that, and we will look at them at a later post.)

Rather, Scripture is God’s gracious revelation of himself and his actions in the concrete, everyday world of ancient Semitic and Hellenistic peoples. And for this reason, the study of Scripture as an historical phenomenon is neither optional nor peripheral for the church. Rather, although at times very challenging, it is a wonderful, vital, and indispensable responsibility for students of Scripture. Through such study, by God’s spirit, we, as students of Scripture, come to learn more deeply and more broadly who God is and what he has done.

This sounds all humble and stuff, but is really incredibly arrogant, for here Enns claims absolute understanding of how God is manifest in the Bible.

There’s only one proper reaction to this kind of exegesis: How do you know?  As Biblical scholarship continues to kick the props of divinity out from under scripture, people like Enns continue to assert that the Bible is still God’s word—of a sort.  That is, the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but God’s word is still in there.  But where? In which parts? Which parts are fictitious, written by men, and which part are “God’s gracious revelation of himself?”

How do these people know?  The answer is that they don’t.  It’s all subjective choice, choice informed by the advance of modern secular reason that makes things like the Flood and Creation untenable.  Well, we don’t have much historical evidence for Jesus, either, and none for his divinity. And of course Adam and Eve didn’t exist, but BioLogos still wants to find some truth in that story.  Maybe God just appointed one man and one woman as his agents on Earth.

It is this purely subjective decision on how to interpret the Bible that renders all the varied schools of theology untenable.  The evidence, as it stands, shows that the whole document, and all its attendant theology, are purely man made.  That won’t wash for the faithful, so various schools have arisen battling about the particular sense in which Scripture is God’s word. (See Biologos‘s fight with Ken Ham, for instance.)

If you’re going to maintain that parts of the Bible remain divinely written or inspired, then you’re taking yourself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

And that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. Who are they to decide what is “good” theology?  What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

173 thoughts on “From God’s mouth to Biologos‘s ear

  1. We’ve also just seen, from the current Pope, another hazard for the accomodationists; at any moment a denomination that was supposed to be all evo-friendly might turn out to creationists after all.

    1. I’d like to counter that with another statement:
      Any abrahamic theist who supports the theory of evolution doesn’t actually understand it.

      The part they do not understand is that evolution is truly unguided and that the development of our current intelligence was never a sure deal.
      Btw, I suspect that many other theists (and atheists) have the same misunderstanding. But a true understanding of that part of the theory of evolution should defeat any idea of exceptionalism for jews, muslims or christians.

      1. I don’t think a proper understanding of evolution endangers exceptionalism much, to be honest. However, it does endanger the notion of “created in God’s image”, and more importantly, “it’s all part of God’s plan”.

        1. I think they would then argue that “god’s image” [I NEVER capitalise the word] was not literal but that we were just “god-like” but then we get into daft theoretical theology stuff where they seem to make it up as they go along. They might also say that every chance mutation/selection was divinely “inspired” or some such guff. Then we are back to pre-ordained “chance”. Clear obfuscation on their part (if I can be permitted to use the two words together)!

          1. That is the beauty of being a religious apologist. You can just make up stuff at will. I recall a Mormon biologist who reconciled human evolution with a literal Adam and Eve by making up a story about a vote IN THE SPIRIT WORLD to give immortality to two people (who promptly lost it of course). He realized that his idea was heresy in Mormon dogma, but he somehow remained a faithful Mormon. So much for religion being based on ETERNAL TRUTHS.

    1. Naturally – and right is wrong (such as medically necessary abortion), evil is good (god’s “tests”), and of course rank ignorance is ‘knowing god’.

  2. One of the joys of my youth, upon letting go of God, was realizing how interesting ancient scriptures were. Not having to worry about what parts were divinely inspired, you could pay attention to what the writers were trying to get at.

    1. Looking back at my Lutheran Sunday school, I was amazed at how often they would tell us a story by citing Bible verses in various different books. When you go and read the thing straight through, you notice that its not a single story, and it frustrates me when religious people seem to imply that it is one.

      I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us how often religious people quote mine writers in evolution, they’ve been doing it in the Bible for centuries.

    2. Yes, read them as a collection of folk tales, myths, history & propaganda & they are interesting culturally.

    3. We could argue that atheism show far more respect to the ancient storytellers than fundamentalism does: we can deal with the stories as stories instead of trying to force them to be true.

  3. Moving the Science/Faith Discussion Forward

    The preceding message was brought to you by The Ministry of Truth (Minitrue).

    From the same people who brought you “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength”.

    1. – “Creationism is Evolution.”

      (Catholicism on evolutionary creationism aka theistic evolution.)

      – “Crime is Moral.”

      (Catholicism on condoms against HIV and systematic pedophilia. Islam on fathwas and systematic exploitation of women.)

      – “No Choice is Pro Life.”

      (Fundamentalists on abortion.)

      – “Dogma is Law.”

      (Catholicism & Islam on religious “courts” and “laws”.)

      – “Churches are States.”

      (Catholicism on church privileges.)

      [I have no idea why cat-licks come out so bad. Or rather, I may have an idea but it is too “Good is Evil” to present…]

  4. What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

    It amazes me that the accomodationists seem to think believers are too dense to see that someone else, with whom they share no religious beliefs, is trying to pick their theology for them.

    1. Indeed. Or that they won’t notice that the only reason to prefer the new theology is the current state of science – but there is no conflict between science and religion.

  5. You know, I’ve yet to get a serious answer on this one from Christians: Why the Bible?

    I mean, at a first glance, it’s just another Bronze- and Iron-Age anthology of the exact same set of faery tales that you could find anywhere else in the Mediterranean at the time.

    So, what’s the Bible got that all the rest don’t?

    Every time I’ve asked that, the Christian has demonstrated a perfect ignorance of ancient non-Christian mythology and proceeded to rattle off all sorts of “wonderful” things about the Bible, each of which applies perfectly well to every religious text ever penned — it claims divine inspiration, it contains fulfilled prophecy, it has some inspiring stories — y’all know the drill.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a so-called “sophisticated” theologian address the question without similarly and spectacularly missing the point, either.

    Of course, there’s an obvious reason for that: if they applied the same objective standards to the Bible as they did to other texts, they’d either conclude that they’re all true or that none of them (including the Bible) amount to more than religious fiction. And, if they did that, of course, they’d no longer be Christians….



    1. Thinking on this a bit further…Richard, I think you’ve got Jerry’s Web site on your reading list. And I know you have contacts with some of the most respected “sophisticated” theologians of our day.

      Might you be able to issue a challenge to a few of them of competing theologies?

      Have each establish a set of whatever they think qualifies as objective criteria for why their holy books are divine and others aren’t. Have them apply the criteria to their own works and to the works of the others. Have some people who actually understand the word, “objective,” (AC Grayling springs instantly to mind) both critique the criteria and independently apply the criteria. Let the chips fall where they may.

      I’ll bet you a beverage of your choice that they’ll refuse the challenge. I’ll double that bet that, if they don’t refuse, the results will be quite entertaining and enlightening.



        1. Not directly, but that’s exactly the sentiment I’m expressing.

          I think I first encountered Stephen F Roberts‘s version of it back in my USENET days:

          I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.



    2. I’m particularly fond of the “claimed divine inspiration” as proof that jebus was divine. It has usually been followed with “And jezhus was the only prophet of the time who claimed to be the son of gawd!” Two which I’ve retorted, multiple times: “Well I’m the son of god too! Now, what makes jezhus special again?”

      1. Which isn’t correct even in the context of the Jews. Apparently the Romans were killing Messiah’s by the boatload during the revolt against the Romans in AD70. Some were even inadvertently hilarious.

        Also, why believe Jesus, when you disbelieve Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, and all manner of other people that claimed to be gods? I suspect most Christians just have a bullshit detector with a Jesus sized hole in it.

    3. The Bible is special because it was special to their parents. That’s all. Or even more generally, it’s special to people that were very nice to you.

      It’d be an interesting social experiment to manufacture a holy book, get some very friendly, nice graduate students and see just how easy it is to get people to believe in the Path of Gandalf, or the Song of Aslan.

      1. Aslan was Jesus. I remember feeling particularly disappointed when I was 10 or so & got the bit in C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books when it was clearly so. I liked the books so it felt like a propaganda betrayal.

        1. And Gandalf is Jesus. Tolkien wrote the “Ring Trilogy” as the New Testament, as the Old Testament “Silmarillion” was too complex to both finish/satisfy him and capture the minds of others.

          I can’t remember who was the Silmarillion devil that got cast down to Earth (not the smaller Middle Earth), but it isn’t Sauron. To keep the continuity with the saga (no virgin births et cetera) Sauron was a descendant, in the same way that Gandalf isn’t one of Tolkien’s original angel entities but a descendant. You can fill in the vague “mysterious sudden appearance” of the magi with the New Testament myth if you wish. (Clearly intended so by Tolkien.)

          1. Melkor who changed his name to Morgoth.

            The best way to read the Simarillion is to get someone else to read it and tell you the best parts.

        1. A couple of years ago Scientologists sent the (university) library I work in, unsolicited, two boxes with the complete nonsense works of Ron. So they are not short of a few quid. Needless to say they went where they belonged.

    4. “they’d either conclude that they’re all true or that none of them”

      This was at the core of my own ‘deconversion’.

      On a similar vein, one tactic I’ve used on creationists, who are full of examples of why evolution is false. I propose that a space alien lands here, and has talked to a Navajo, a Hindu, an Aborigine, and they’ve each told the alien where humans came from. I now ask the Christian creationist exactly *what* evidence he can provide that would prove the Adam and Eve story true and the others false.

      I have NEVER gotten any answer beyond a lot of handwaving.

    5. Actually, Ben, I have a good idea why the bible (as it came to be chosen).

      I once read the Gospel of Judas: a terrible book, no story, no forward movement, just weird isolated events (I believe other competing gospels suffer from such faults too).

      Whereas the NT as it was developed achieved the compactness that all good movie stories seek: a mission to start the hero on his journey, obstacles along the way, enemies who want to get him, a twist near the end (Judas) followed by a death-defying ultimate test.

      It’s better storytelling, that’s all. The early church may not have heard of Joseph Campbell but they knew it in their gut, as we all do on hearing a good story versus a poor one.

      1. I’d also suggest that even though the early Church fathers were not as scholastically rigorous as we’d like, certain books were obvious forgeries even then, and a lot of these books were ‘discovered’ or ‘Mormoned’ rather miraculously. Sometimes even books they liked couldn’t be supported because they were too obviously fakes.

          1. Perhaps a biblical scholar may correct me but by the time of Nicea the main four gospels had converged enough – through an accumulation of rewrites – to form an approximation of one account of (the fictional) Jebus.

            Put four liars in a room roughly saying the same thing and the story begins to sound as if it must have been real.

  6. “There’s only one proper reaction to this kind of exegesis: How do you know?”

    You could practice it and find out. See for yourself whether his way is good or not.

    1. “You could practice it and find out.”

      Which version of “it” should we practice? With hundreds of denominations in Christianity alone which one should we practice in order to fully know his goodness?

      1. The right one of course Rick! Do not worry – whichever flavour you choose, the others will be wrong!

        1. …as will the one you actually choose, if it doesn’t result in you thinking it “good”.

          damned if you do…

    2. And which of the many competing and contradictory ways would that be ?

      At last count there were over 38,000 xtian denominations, all of them claiming to have the true word of the ceiling cat.

      Most of them damn all the others to hell, is that the part you suggest we practice ?

      Which one of those 38,000 sects do you belong to Daniel and how do you justify your choice ?

      1. The Marcionites believed that the Old Testament god was a lesser being – perhaps Daniel agrees with them? Only 37,999 to go…

    3. What, by gouging out our eyes every time we look at a pretty woman, as Jesus himself commanded in the Sermon on the Mount? Perhaps by killing all the adult Afghanis, enslaving all the boys, and forcing all the pre-pubescent girls into a lifetime of sexual slavery just as YHWH ordered Moses to do to the Midianites? And maybe follow it up by killing everybody who refuses to convert to Christianity, as again ordered by Jesus himself?

      What’s that I hear? “Metaphor”? “Not meant to be taken literally”? “It’s not evil if Jesus says it’s good”? Yeah, right.

      You see that post up above where I responded to my own #7? If you want us to think you’re anything other than a sad joke, you could start with your own response to my challenge.



    4. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the souvenir sno-globe.

      The bible as an historical document is less reliable than Gone With the Wind. At least we know that Atlanta burned.

      Daniel: Your fundamental error is in assuming that we haven’t studied the bible. I’d be willing to bet that a WAY higher percentage of the denizens here and at other high-profile atheist sites have read the mythology cover-to-cover than those in the church you attend.

      Have you? The whole thing? Front to back, no stopping? (You can skip through the ‘begats’.)

      The surest path to atheism is to actually read the books that are declared to be the words of gods.

    5. Upon reading through the Bible at Sunday school, I noticed that they never taught from a lot of books. They quote mined, strung together stories from across books, told blatant lies (one teacher resolved the two different genealogies of Jesus by explaining that one was for Mary. Even though it said in the book that they were both for Joesph, and he wasn’t even Jesus’s father, or was he?).

      Reading other works of mythology, you marvel at how those people could be deluded by all that magic. But there isn’t really anything to them, and there isn’t anything to the religion I was born into. Feeling good while practicing isn’t a great test for truth… plenty of people are satisfied with a variety of faiths, others change faiths, others are dissatisfied with them all, but not for reasons of proof. I didn’t leave church because I was dissatisfied with a life style, or a community (though it was pretty dull). I left it because it was fake, and the only way they kept a smart kid like me in it was by lying and ignoring my questions, or shrugging off the real, unanswered problems with their faith because they’d rather not miss the next church BBQ.

      1. I sincerely doubt that ‘most atheists started out religious’.
        Consider China, for starters.
        (Not even taking into account that young children everywhere are atheist until indoctrinated)

    6. Which version of Christianity do you follow?

      While it’s very telling that they’re there at all, I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to mention the 30+ thousand number that Steve Oberski mentioned (up there a bit^) when talking of Christian denominations.

      All you need do is point out that there’s more than ONE. Then ask “Why A and not B?”

      So, Daniel: which path of Jesus do you follow?
      Why yours and not another?
      Does yours precisely follow that of the one you were raised with?
      If it differs in any way to the one you grew up with, why?
      What gives any religious person the right to “interpret” their faith in any way, especially when most holy books claim absolute authority?

      1. For the record, I don’t expect an answer to any of those questions, or any related sub-questions.

        A response would be nice, but an actual answer is a whole other basket of loaves and fishes.

    7. You could practice it and find out. See for yourself whether his way is good or not.

      Daniel, that’s the sort of advice you’d give someone who is considering a new therapy — a diet for losing weight, or perhaps a method of becoming less impatient or more appreciative. Or maybe a hobby or pursuit, like roller skating. It may or may not work for everyone, but try it out and see if it works for you. See if you like it.

      I thought religion and Biblical exegesis was supposed to be a search and discovery of what’s really true, of facts — not a practice that’s convenient, or “true for you.”

    8. Clearly that doesn’t work, see those who have done so and became atheists.

      The reason is, besides some social reasons that doesn’t reflect well on the religious communities, that very question.

      So quit dodging and tell us a sufficiently good answer that sways skeptics.

  7. “Scripture is God’s gracious revelation of himself and his actions in the concrete, everyday world [long, long ago]”

    So, God revealed himself (graciously) in 2 Sam 24:15? “So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.”

    “[the study of scripture] is a wonderful, vital, and indispensable responsibility for students of Scripture. Through such study, by God’s spirit, we, as students of Scripture, come to learn more deeply and more broadly who God is and what he has done.”
    I wonder if these folks have ever actually read the bible. Or if they only read other “sophisticated” theologians’ analyses.

      1. If you don’t worship a God unwilling to show himself as anything more than a character in a book, he’ll murder you, and your family? Or he’ll murder you and your family to test your faith? And you’ll all die anyway because a man and a woman ate magic fruit?

      2. Has this joker provided the required proof or evidence yet? From what I can tell, he employs the rhetorical skills of a third grader (no insult intended towards age-appropriate third graders). There’s a lot to learn? Why don’t you school us heathens on what the lessons are?

      3. Yeah, there is.

        Mind pointing to the historical record of this particular plague? 70K dead is nothing to sneeze at, and it would leave a historical record.

        1. But have you practiced it and found out for yourself like Daniel ?

          Only then can you see for yourself whether this way is good or not.

          1. … Sadly, I had to leave behind my vat of contagious diseases and my flamethrower when I moved to NZ. I never did get the chance to test this idea fully.


      4. Lol. Yes there is a lot to learn from that passage. Most importantly, how big of an asshole your god is.
        And speaking of bias, look who is talking!

  8. I recognize that the theological accommodation of science/history is truly untenable if you take the text as being at all literal or inspired, but it is folks like Peter Enns that pull fundamentalists a step closer to reality at which point they open their eyes and realize that even that accommodationist position is untenable and move further into full blown rational naturalism. At least that was the case for me in my de-conversion.
    I read Peter Enns book on Inspiration and Incarnation and another by a Kenton Sparks that was an evangelical appropriation of historical criticism on the text of scriptures (God’s Word in Human Words was the name of the book), although both were evangelical, they succeeded to dissuade me from belief in Inerrancy (that the bible is completely without error), then it was only a few more steps to realize that if scripture was man made, I was just picking and choosing what I believed.
    So, yes it is good to criticize foolishness, but I would also recommend this foolishness as a stepping stone to truth, most people can’t handle the truth when they have been fed a myth their entire lives, it can be a way to ease them back to reality.

    1. Your experience is fascinating to me. I could envision a “Belief-Naturalism” spectrum where, depending on where someone is, we could suggest readings to help guide them to the next step.
      1. bible literally true? basic contradiction analysis
      2. bible the voice of god? here’s where ‘god’ kills babies, and children, and non-combatants.
      3. bible as metaphor? how to pick and choose your metaphor vs fact?
      4. resurrection physical or figurative? no evidence of any zombie uprising by any other historian, so probably another metaphor
      5. If its all metaphor, why worship god? Problem of evil.
      6. If you’re not worshiping god, you’re just giving money to humans.

      and so on.

    2. Interesting point. Then again I don’t think that anyone would suggest that the work of Ken Miller and Francis Collins has NO effect on fundamentalists. I am all in favor of a plurality of approaches and your testimony suggests that, for some at least, a liberal theological approach may work with some individuals.
      I would be curious, however, to know whether the same effect could not be achieved by means of reading a more secular (or at least agnostic) writer, such as Bart Ehrman.

      1. Yes, Ehrman does even better because he doesn’t pull punches. The problem with him though is that he is not taken seriously by the Christian community because he is an outsider. Just as Dawkins arguments aren’t given a chance because to a fundamentalist he is obviously wrong, so why bother hearing him out?

        1. And Hector Avalos isn’t taken seriously because as a former Pentecostal child preacher, PhD in biblical studies and currently avowed atheist…?

          The deluded (yes, that’s what it is) will always excuse their delusions. Nancy Reagan probably still consults horoscopes daily.

      2. Then again I don’t think that anyone would suggest that the work of Ken Miller and Francis Collins has NO effect on fundamentalists.

        it doesn’t.


        The only people truly affected by Miller’s sound thrashing of creationism and ID are the people who already thought science had value, and weren’t wed to the “anti-materialism” meme.

        you want to see converts? Look at the people who have regularly proven the icons of fundamentalism and ID to be liars.

        THOSE are the people who make progress with the fundies, NOT Miller.

    3. We had Religious Knowledge classes at school (in the UK). We did textual analysis of the synoptic gospels in those classes – it was not taught as ‘the word of god’ but in the same way one would treat literary criticism.

    4. So, yes it is good to criticize foolishness, but I would also recommend this foolishness as a stepping stone to truth, most people can’t handle the truth when they have been fed a myth their entire lives, it can be a way to ease them back to reality.

      It doesn’t work. Seriously; it’s been tried before. All it does is give them another way to rationalize bullshit and feel comfortable with it. It doesn’t tend to change their outward actions one whit.

      Accomodationism is fail, no matter how one looks at it, and apparently so few actually HAVE looked at it historically, I have to call blind ignorance in the continued call for it as a tool in promoting rationality.

      here, again:

      It has NEVER worked.

      don’t believe me? It’s not hard to google up history on it and see for yourself.

      1. I dunno … seemed to work for me. I am not saying accommodation is necessarily a good thing (note the comment about it being an untenable position) but speaking pragmatically it can have a place in an ideological transformation. Maybe I should clarify, recommend Peter Enns writing to fundamentalist evangelicals, but do so with a smirk and mutter “dumbass” under your breath as you do.

        1. Wouldn’t the fact that there are so many liberal Christians suggest that a majority don’t move beyond the accommodationist position or see it as untenable?

          Can they all be in a transitional state?

          Is it true that once you begin questioning your beliefs full-blown atheism is on the horizon? In my experience, most people never get past “belief in belief” as a virtue.

    5. Interestingly, Enns is too much of a threat to many evangelicals. He understands that the Hewbrew bible is an ANE document with many parallels with other ANE myths. His writings about the non-historicity of folks like Adam and Eve no doubt sends the Ayatollah of Appalachia – Ken Ham – into a tizzy but it also irks many xians who have to have a literal Adam lest their faith be destroyed [never have understood that thinking]. Jerry noted a while back that BioLogos was taking a more religious trajectory, and it’s interesting to note the Uncle Karl has virtually disappeared, and challenging articles and comments and thought-provoking ideas are few and far between.

        1. That is what you get when you cut away and put in a fermenting vat what was added to the Lowbrow bible.

          Phew, I would think it stinks too!

    6. I don’t think the value of multiple approach is in question. The question is if pro education, pro science organizations that calls themselves secular should be religious.

  9. Someone should release an edition of the bible that includes colour coded highlights, so that people can find the colour that correlates to their particular denomination and thus decode quickly and easily which parts of the bible they are supposed to take literally, and which parts they are not.

  10. The distinctive mark of a Calvinist approach to the Edda, as we saw in earlier posts about John Calvin, is that the Edda reflects its historical contexts. Odin did not “write the Edda” as an abstract treatise, hurtled down to earth from Valhalla, nor as a Platonic ideal kept at a safe distance from the human drama.
    Rather, the Edda is Odin’s gracious revelation of himself and his actions in the concrete, everyday world of ancient Norse and Germanic peoples. And for this reason, the study of the Edda as an historical phenomenon is neither optional nor peripheral for the pagans. Rather, although at times very challenging, it is a wonderful, vital, and indispensable responsibility for students of the Edda. Through such study, by Odin’s spirit, we, as students of the Edda, come to learn more deeply and more broadly who Odin is and what he has done.

  11. “It’s part of a continuing series that, apparently, is aimed at getting us to see the Bible as a historical document that shouldn’t be taken literally—except, of course, for selected parts, including those about Jesus”

    As a Jew, the selected parts I prefer to focus on are Genesis 15:18-21, and Genesis 17:8, with the additional proviso that God is there referring only to legitimate descendants, i.e., via Isaac, not Ishmael (wouldn’t want a momzer to prosper!) Remember, this is the word of G-d.

    1. No. It’s not.

      No kidding and not to belabor a point, there is no god. Any writings about god — any god — are the purest of fiction. Made up in the vivid imaginations of men who did not understand the weather.

      1. No kidding and not to belabor a point, there is no god.

        Rather, there are no gods. The great many Judeo-Christian gods eponymously named, “God,” included, of course.



        1. I almost always add “not even yours” to that statement. But yes, Shiva, Ea, and Quetzalcoatl are just as imaginary as the god some call “God”.

    2. – “Remember, this is the word of G-d.”

      – No it is not.

      (Hitch said it best: Whatever can be asserted without proof, can be dismissed without proof)

    3. So your answer to the claim that a religious text shouldn’t be taken literally is that it should be taken literally?

      Please address the claim instead instead of supporting it (showing rot for brain).

      1. Well, of course you _could_ support it even if it is superfluous to do so. But why? We would learn more from criticism.

  12. The only difference between mythology and theology is that one discipline is studied by people who are required to believe in the myths as described.

    No student of mythology is required to believe that Hercules performed 12 labors.

    No student can be admitted into a theological school without declaring belief in the specific school’s doctrines — in advance, and without having actually studied the subject.

    It’s no wonder Dan Dennett finds so many pastors who don’t believe. (I think I know one of those personally, so it’s probably a lot more common than we think.)

    1. Have you dropped a line to Dan giving him the contact information of said pastor? As I recall, he’s still researching them.

      You’ll get an acknowledgement from Dan or one of his assistants, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear of the matter. When they say, “strictest confidence,” they mean it.



      1. Good to know.

        I only have strong suspicions (obviously, it would be impossible for this person to “come out” without destroying his livelihood).

        But he walks, talks and quacks like a nonbeliever in a clerical collar.

        1. I know that one of my pastor friends does not believe anymore. As he put it once, “I just have a feeling that we’re all alone down here.” Yet what else can he do for a living?

          Yep, we are alone down here, except that we have each other, which is pretty damn important. Talking about sky gods and the “afterlife” just distracts us from that importance.

          1. Yeah, I get the same vibe from this guy.

            But he’s a nice man, his sermons are about living ethically in our modern world (not fire/brimstone/heaven), he visits people in the hospital and nursing homes…and all that jazz.

            He’s a social worker in a dark suit. Probably gets paid less for his troubles (and has to work on Sunday).

            1. My friend doesn’t have much of one, since he has changed denominations a couple of times. He has never paid into Social Security, either. Basically he’s in it until he dies.

    2. I think a lot of pastors/priests/ministers don’t believe in their professed religion. Oh, most started out believing, and that’s why they trained for the job. But how many people’s faith survives even seminary intact?

      And once you have years invested in the training, you might as well get some work applying all that education, right?

      What alternatives does one have at that point? Go back for a different degree and pile on more debt? Or get a job in food service or selling shoes? (Not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs except the poor pay.)

      I think most just try to hide their doubts or disbelief and carry on.

      1. I’m also quite willing to believe that they think they can still do some good in their function, like helping people.

        On the other hand, religion is mostly show anyway, and they can still perform their part.

      2. I think a lot of clergy — like a lot of churchgoers — don’t so much hide their doubts and disbelief as reinterpret it.

        Ok, God is not literally real and the Bible stories didn’t really happen that way … but there are lots of ways for things to be real, and lots of ways for things to ‘happen’ without actually, you know, happening. Love is real, and Santa Claus has truly delivered his presents every time a child opens up a gift and smiles.

        And so forth and so on. The more intelligent the person trying to think their way around their doubt and disbelief, the more elaborate and convincing the reinterpretations will sound. It’s an art, and they are the artists. Clarity of Thought is not their friend.

  13. “Through such study, by God’s spirit, we, as students of Scripture, come to learn more deeply and more broadly who God is and what he has done.”
    Yeeeess… They talk of god as if he were some rich anonymous do-gooder or the millionaire who goes to work on the shop floor to see who is pulling their weight.

    1. Wow – God is an Undercover Boss?

      When’s the reveal? When do we all get raises and company cars? When do we get to see the video where he f*cks up all his tasks? 😀

  14. Many Xtians state “What difference does it make if there is a few mistakes in the bible. After all, the Bible isn’t a history book. It’s not a science book. It only tells us about God and salvation.” I would like to remind them what the religious reformer, John Wesley, said:

    “If there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.”

    Well spoken!

    1. Not only that excellent point: but the Bible is rather unclear about the salvation issue as well. How many different and incompatible ways to salvation are there in the New Testament alone? I count at least six, which reflects the different and contradictory views of groups of early Christians on the subject.

      Even if you wanted to know how to “be saved” — and which believer doesn’t? — the Bible itself only gives conflicting and unclear answers.

    2. I like to ask: “Has Jesus read the Bible?”

      Not, of course, “Did Jesus read the Bible?” Clearly, it wouldn’t be finished until a century or so after we are to believe he had an uncomfortable weekend for our sins — and canonization, of course, wasn’t for a couple centuries later still.

      No, I mean the Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, who will judge the living and the dead. Has that Jesus read the Bible?

      If so, then clearly he’s quite happy with the way it reads. If not, one would presume that he’s more than capable of correcting it. He did create the universe, after all (or so we’re told); what’s getting a publishing contract compared to such a feat?

      And, what with being the ultimate judge of all humanity, it would also seem safe to assume that he’s quite familiar with human nature and is well aware of our propensity for taking a literal approach towards things.

      So, either Jesus is happy for so many people to read the Bible as literally word-for-word Capital-T-True or he’s playing the mother of all NIGYSOB games with us.

      At this point, I think it useful to leave the discussion with another question:

      Who was Joseph’s father?



      1. For myself I have started to ponder the question why people like to fondle other people’s intestines.

        (Eek!) Jebus, why!?

  15. In my experience, using my family as an example, they believe that all of the bible is direct from their god. I have tried to ask about how they came to this conclusion, and I get various bullshit answers but one that I do not have a response for is the so called “bible code”. That there are patterns in the OT thatcan not be duplicated and thus makes the bible the inerrent word of god. Does anyone have an answer or way to refute this?

    1. I’m pretty sure everything they did in the Bible Code has been duplicated in Moby Dick. Essentially they just use the Bible (the King James, I think) as a giant wordfind, and try to find a variety of ‘prophecies’ of things that have already happened.

    2. Bible codes are pure made-up crap.

      You can take any text — Harry Potter, Gone With The Wind, The Story of O — and apply the algorithms to them.

      You’ll get lots and lots and lots of “hidden” messages.

      And, of course, the nuttiest part of bible coders is that they’re applying the algorithms to the heavily sanitized English version known as the KJV.

      Utter and total rubbish. Pure cowpatty.

    3. here ya go, James:

      We have performed many independent scientific tests of the Bible Codes claims. All of them failed to detect anything not easily explained by random chance.

      A paper of Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg in this journal in 1994 made the extraordinary claim that the Hebrew text of the Book of Genesis encodes events which did not occur until millennia after the text was written. In reply, we argue that Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg’s case is fatally defective, indeed that their result merely reflects on the choices made in designing their experiment and collecting the data for it. We present extensive evidence in support of that conclusion. We also report on many new experiments of our own, all of which failed to detect the alleged phenomenon.

      1. Thank you all for the information. I am confident that it will not matter to my family, but it matters to me.

        1. You’re welcome. If your family is that intractable that they refuse to read any critique of their favorite code notions, then my advice to you is:


          far, far away.

          you will regret doing so far less than not.

        2. A code that can only “predict” an event after it happens is suspicious. It suggests that someone has worked hard to find something that fit into what they already knew about.

          Skip-codes are notoriously flexible: you can keep varying them and changing your start and end point until you finally manage to see a phrase that looks vaguely like it’s referring to something that sounds familiar. Then you present this ‘result’ as if this is what the method and target were after all along.

          It’s especially easy if you’re working from a text without any vowels. As you might imagine.

    4. james-

      I posted some links to the discussions from authors that have debunked this nonsense in the scientific literature.

      since there is more than one link, it has to await Jerry’s hand to put it up.

      suffice it to say, it has all been proved that the codes explain nothing not explainable by random chance, or even slight of hand.

  16. Most ironic perhaps is the reference to Ephesians. The book is likely a forgery. Paul didn’t write it. The bioillogicals are a lot closer to the fundemtalists than they are willing to admit.

  17. This has been mentioned before, but even if the bible WERE historically accurate…so WHAT? Still not proof of anything supernatural, but most importantly I ask is this really the best that the creator of life, the universe, and everything has to offer? How to sacrifice goats? How to do cheap magic tricks? Why you should murder any number of innocent beings for perceived offenses? What is in the bible aside from some dishonest commands to treat each other nice here and there that is beneficial to us throughout time? I venture nothing.

    1. Ah, the fine art of turning a bug into a feature: the dull, mundane, parochial nature of the miracles is exactly how an all-powerful God would TRY to communicate to lowly human beings. If God had done something more universally impressive on vaster scale, we wouldn’t be so likely to recognize Him as our God, or find Him so easy to relate to. Or something.

    1. Thanks for posting that – I hadn’t heard. Damn, as well. She was majestic. Good that the youngsters may be old enough to be able to make it just with the male.

  18. “getting us to see the Bible as a historical document that shouldn’t be taken literally”
    Usually, what makes a document historical is that it can be taken literally. If some paper reads “The castle will go to my son, and the jewels to my daughter” the interpretative part is minute.

    1. Well the Iliad is a historical document* that shouldn’t be taken literally, and wasn’t meant to be. It tells us a lot about the culture it was composed in. It even, it turns out, tells us a little teeny bit about a city that was eventually destroyed and lost to history for centuries.

      It does not, however, constitute evidence that the Goddess Athena started a war by shooting an arrow at Achilles, or however it goes.

      *OK it was spoken. Sue me.

  19. So is Dan more of a hit and run kind of troll these days? He is very aggravating, but doesn’t seem to care to give more that a little entertainment at a time.

  20. Daniel.

    “You could practice it and find out. See for yourself whether his way is good or not.”

    Response: practice what. Christianity?

    Which one and why?

    As I said up there, the fact that 30+ thousand different denominations exist is interesting (and revealing), but you really only need two to make “which one” a valid question.

    So. Which Christianity should we practice?

    How do you many of us haven’t already tried to be good Christians? Bear in mind “You weren’t doing it right” isn’t an answer.

  21. Apparently Enns knows nothing of John Calvin. Calvin was as vile as they come; like The Hippo long before him, Calvin promoted the notion of a loving sado-masochistic god. Calvin had nothing of any value to leave humanity, and his evil still haunts our world. Like many priests before and many priests since, Calvin interpreted the bible as he pleased while claiming that his was the correct god-inspired interpretation.

  22. Enns is an ignoramus who’s trying to sound smart. Case in point: he thinks “Hellenistic” is an ethnic identifier like “Semitic” (i.e. he thinks “Hellenistic” means “Hellenic”). Historians use the term “Hellenistic” to refer to cultures that were visibly influenced by Greek culture during the classical period. It has no ethnic connotations, unlike the term “Semitic”. The two are not mutually exclusive: most of the Hellenistic peoples of the Near East were Semitic.

    Hint: if you’re going to make arguments about historical context, it helps to have a basic understanding of that context in the first place.

  23. How about giving a helping hand for the accommodationists and create an accommodationist version of the Nicene Creed? Like:

    “We believe in one Evolution…”

    After all, the accommodationists seem to be fully satisfied when the faithful accept evolution (and only evolution) as their scientific saviour. Superstition regarding other matters is not that dangerous and should be fully tolerated.

  24. Yes, I comment regularly on the BioLogos site, and have indeed had a number of comboxes by the BioLogos ‘brainstrust’ delete them. And they were not diatribes or nonsense contributions as would befit appropriate censorship. Some indeed have been restored on putting my case via e-mail to the site administrators.

    Notwithstanding, I have commented on this particular topic by Peter Enns at the BioLogos site, at:

    It is a most arduous task to talk to the religiose about their ‘condition’.
    Again, sometimes I am in two minds; they do advocate science as the proper tool for learning about the natural world, and therefore maybe I should give some slack. But in the contacts with commenters on the site it becomes abundantly clear their ‘holey book’ [pun intended] remains inviolable and out-of-bounds for rational inquiry, unless it is through the lens of the Apologetical spy-glass.

    And for me, their definition of the natural world is purely limited to that which one experiences through the five senses. This, in itself, is a spurious contraction of the capacity of science to investigate all things human. And yet they call themselves ‘scientists’.

    Since reading and contributing to WEIT’s article on Nick Matzke and accommodationism, [and this is where I think Nick is wrong] we do not need to be accommodationists for the religiose. They do a pretty robust job themselves. And while BioLogos may pretend to be a friend of science, it is first and foremost, a defender of the ‘faith’, a defender of the mythos; science is only a second order consideration. It attempts to display a benign mien to the science/religious interface I would place BioLogos in the same basket as the Templeton Foundation, a religious organisation attempting to inveigle its bona fides on the coat-tails of science in order to garner some form of legitimacy, credibility and respectability.

    I now make a clear point at Biologos that while the science is good, any imputation or suggestion that the science derived from religion is hotly refuted.

  25. And that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. Who are they to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

    Does it ever bother anybody here that Sam Harris does THE EXACT SAME THING?

    “We have a real problem with Islam, and it’s not an accident that we’re not having this conversation about the Amish or Quakers or Jains or even Buddhists…. Ideas have consequences, and the idea that you can get to Paradise by dying in defense of the faith – in fact, dying in defense of the faith is the best thing that can happen to you – that is a mainstream notion in Islam.”

    Or is it OK when he does it?

    1. Where is the theology? Harris were speaking on fundamentalism on both sides and the social destabilization the ideology of jihad leads to.

      Phenomena and consequences, not a smidgen of theology. And a discussion worth having.

      Now in the context it is worth noting that Harris isn’t ‘truly’ atheist AFAIU, whatever that means since no one is consistent. He is a great supporter for science and skepticism, but AFAIU he also supports buddhism.

      He may think it is “secular” despite being dualist, but that only places him analogously to naive deists.

      Which is why I would cut him some slack on religion, ethics for morals (utilitarianism), et cetera.

      1. Or at least he started to; I didn’t listen through but to be able to answer the claim here.

      2. He is clearly comparing the relgious doctrines of Islam unfavorably to the Amish, Quakers, Jains and Buddhists.

        In the case of the Amish and Quakers he is comparing small Christian sects to one entire religion, which is absurd, and Jains are a tiny religon. And as far as Buddhism – Buddhists are capable of violence as the conflict in Sri Lanka demonstrates.

        You could easily quote passages of the Old and New Testament – as Jerry has demonstrated and claim that this is what makes Christians violence.

        And actually, Jerry made the same argument himself, and in fact sounds exactly like so many Teabaggers I have argued with online:

        “Do I oppose the center’s construction? No. Do I think that building it on that site is a good idea? No. It’s no better an idea than would be building an American cultural center near Ground Zero in Hiroshima. It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.”

        To claim that fanatics are representatives of any religion with a billion or so adherents is bigotry – plain and simple.

        All religions are wrong and foolish. You can certainly quarrel with what it says in the Koran, just like you can quarrel with what it says in the Bible – but you can’t claim that Islam is worse than Christianity just because there MIGHT be some adherents who are more fanatical.

        It isn’t the words in those books – it is material circumstances that cause fanatical religions adherence. Once regions of the world that happen to have lots of Islamicists improve materially to the levels of Christian regions there will be fewer Islamic extremists. To claim that the violent words of the Koran somehow have a stronger power than the violent words of the Bible is either to actually give them as much magical powers as the believers – or it’s racism.

        And it’s altogether disgusting as well as poor reasoning. Doubly disgusting coming from the lionized, revered public intellectuals.

        1. And in fact, once conditions improve in Muslim regions there will be more atheists there too. There is clearly a connection between education and material well-being and atheism. People who come from Muslim backgrounds are just as likey to become skeptics as those from Christian backgrounds – under the right circumstances.

          On what grounds would you predict otherwise? Islam has greater magical powers than Christianity? The ethnicity of the Muslims makes them stupider?

          To compare one set of religious doctrines unfavorably to another – FOR WHATEVER REASON – automatically privileges one set of religious doctrines.

          This is a waste of time, at best for atheists.

        2. Nancy, long time no see, but I see you are still fond of discussing theology and how it makes the case for agnosticism as opposed to “new” atheism. Or at least, that is how I remember it.

          He is clearly comparing the relgious doctrines of Islam unfavorably to the Amish, Quakers, Jains and Buddhists.

          Maybe he does if you listen further. But you haven’t addressed my point that he is comparing for phenomena and consequences, not theology, so I will assume that he is indeed what he does.

          The only one espousing poor reasoning then looks like you, now that you mention it.

          Maybe I’m reading too much into my memory, but worrying on a prioris (theological assumptions) as if they were aposterioris (religious consequences) is what joins theists and hard core agnostics in belief such as “belief in belief”.

          If you don’t update your conclusions with data this is where you land, in cuckoo land.

          For example, do I look like I “rever” Harris (already in my first comment)? In religious or accommodationist eyes reverence is “not to criticism”. I don’t know where that place you, except as I noted far from making use of observation.

          1. Sorry for the bad english, I seem to need to eat.

            “that he is indeed what he does” – that is indeed what he does.

            “not to criticism” – not to criticize.

    2. Actually I was going to compare Harris public interaction with Shermer, when I found I couldn’t. He is anti-theist, to use Hitchens’ term; Shermer is more of a now-and-then apologist IIRC.

      Utilitarianism isn’t testable, since “well being” isn’t measurable in the way that, say, “well funded” is. So doomed to remain a “just so” story.

      Unless you take it on you to propose that people should live thusly, in which case it becomes an ideology.

      Now you are skirting close to religion, in the way some accommodationists do. But as long as it is useful, anti-theist and not a social movement, I don’t see much harm. It isn’t exactly a good idea either. I don’t know where on this scale Harris places.

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