Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Creationists want it both ways...

I've been spending an exorbitant amount of time lately poking the creationists over on Ray's blog. I don't really expect to "convert" anyone, but it's interesting to see the ways that they frame their arguments and whatnot. Now, I largely believe that the issue of evolution is problematic for some breeds of Christian because it calls in to question their privileged place in the universe. Note that I say "their" rather than "ours". There is a tremendous arrogance among the "saved" that I've spoken of on here before, and I can only say that, among the followers of Ray's blog at least, my original griping on the subject was a gross understatement of the truth.

One of the most interesting things I've encountered thus far is the strange relationship some of these folks have with science, as both an institution and a methodology. Whenever science fails to support their preconceived notions it is uselessly and dogmatically naturalistic you see, but when it coincides with their beliefs it is not only correct but nearly infinite in its persuasive power. I suspect some of this comes from the ongoing debate between the skeptics and the believers on Ray's blog. Ray's brand of Christians seem incapable of grasping the idea of existing without out and out worshiping something, so when skeptics talk about science as a useful methodology for understanding the world we are naturally saying that we worship it. It's a peculiar thing to wrap your mind around, but some of their statements make more sense (more narrative sense, anyway) when you finally see that some of them have that perspective.

One thing that is of interest to me is the degree to which creationists think scientists are in (dis)agreement about evolutionary theory. Many of them seem to think that there's an enormous amount of debate within the scientific community as to whether or not evolution in the broad sense is true. Indeed, a recently Pew survey indicated that something like 54% of lay people think that scientists in general support evolution. Read that again. 54% of lay people think that scientists in general support evolution. What a weird survey. Actual surveys of scientists reveal acceptance of evolution by anywhere from 95% to 98.5% of scientists. In fact, the good ol' "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism" that the Discovery Institute is so proud of represents a minuscule number of scientists (approx. 700 out of nearly 500,000) and its numbers are likely padded by its pallid wording that "Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Hell, I think almost everyone would agree with that. Add to that the fact that numerous signatories on the list are either not in biological science fields or openly admit that their concerns about evolution are ideological and you have a list of names that just doesn't mean much.

Another question that never quite gets answered is what creationists make of scientists with both strong Christian and strong bio-sciences backgrounds who believe in God but also accept evolution as settled fact. The figurehead of this group is the eminent Francis Collins, whose belief in God has been manifested in public debates with atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins but whose entire professional career has been spent doing legitimate experimental work and, among other things, heading up the Human Genome Project. Here's a man whose faith is not in doubt but whose lifetime of work in the fields of biology and genetics has left him thoroughly convinced of evolution's reality. It is scientists like Collins who make it impossible for the creationists to have it both ways when it comes to science.

I've been asking the creationists over on Ray's blog what they think of Collins for weeks now and I've gotten no replies. I guess, as with the evidence of evolution, they choose to pretend that he doesn't exist.


Eric said...

Where did you get your information for your "Manuscript evidence, eh?" over on Ray Comfort's blog? I'd like to read that book or website. Thanks!

ps. I don't know why you waste your time over there, but I enjoy reading your posts.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

All of the sources below are books save for a couple of plugs for the IIDB forum at the bottom.

The Manuscript Bit:

Ehrman, Bart - Misquoting Jesus
A lay work dealing with authorship and transcription issues in the NT. My explanations of the creation of the KJV (might have been in a different set of comments), the Johannine Comma, and the last 12 verses of Mark come from here.

Ehrman, Bart - Lost Christianities
Another Ehrman work, this time dealing with schisms, factions, and heresies of the early church. I'm not sure I sourced it directly in that post, but it provides an excellent overview of doctrinal differences in the church and provides examples of how some documents were modified to suit the needs of various theologians (such as Marcion trying to set up a dichotomy between the gods of the OT and NT.) It also provides an extensive section on Paul's pro-Gentile ideals and the resistance with which they were met by the other church leaders.

Ehrman, Bart - Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium
Despite the strange title, this work tries admirably to get at the historical Jesus and what he tried to get across during his ministry. This is the source of my note that Jesus was familiar with Jewish scripture (though that kind of goes without saying).

Friedman, Richard - Who Wrote the Bible?
This is a book about the OT and the Documentary Hypothesis (the refutation of Moasic authorship of the Pentateuch in favor of a multiple authors model.) He's also written a book called "The Bible With Sources Revealed" that continues his discussion on the issue. I regrettably don't have that one.

Helms, Randal - The Bible Against Itself
This work examines the Bible as a collection of separately authored documents that are at times in conflict with one another because of different theological or social views by the authors. It deals briefly with DH issues but also talks about other differences, such as the comparison of Chronicles with Deuteronomy.

Greenberg, Gary - 101 Myths of the Bible
Among other things, this book touches on DH and, more importantly, does a good job of comparing the OT to various Egyptian and other contemporary mythologies. The comparison of Genesis with the Egyptian creation myth is worth the price of the book.

Archaeology - (This is something with which I'm -not- so familiar, sadly.)

Kenyon, Kathleen - Digging Up Jericho
Kenyon did the definitive excavations of Jericho and her dating is still the accepted one in the field.

The Greenberg book listed above also deals with Sodom and Gomorrah and the rivers out of Eden.

Further archaeological references were come from the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, specifically the Biblical Criticism and History area. Especially informative is a thread ironically titled "Exodus Events Confirmed by Archaeology" in which some apologist fellow basically softballs a bunch of questions at the resident archaeology buffs. It almost reads like a Q&A.

Oh, and also of note is stickied thread on IIDB in the same area called "Dean Anderson on the Documentary Hypothesis" that will give you a conversational overview of the topic.

My personal reading lately has actually been non-religious stuff, so I had to do more dusting off of my old books than you'd have expected for a 7 paragraph post. (I also know one of the IIDB mods who skulks around in the History forum and he pointed me in the right direction for most of the archaeology references.)

I'm pretty comfortable talking about the textual stuff because I've read a lot on it and I have a friend with a divinity degree who keeps me in a constant back-and-forth. As for the archaeology, I know a bit about it but I didn't want to try and shoot from memory on it without linkable sources - as you might have noticed they hang on to any little typo or detail like a hyena on a wildebeest over there rather than answering any of the broader questions.

Anyway, I hope that helps.


Three Ninjas said...

I am also a non-Creationist Christian. I'm pretty anti-fundamentalism in general. I've noticed your questions about Collins and eagerly awaited a response. I really need to find out if I'm going to Hell or not!

Naturally, they always assume that I'm an atheist, and when I reveal that I'm a Christian, they don't ever comment on it. I really want to see what they'd say. Ken Ham would call me a compromiser.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

Ray's dodging around about Collins REALLY bugs me. The guy, as you may have noted, never really takes any positions. :-\

Three Ninjas said...

I have to disagree with you there, Skippy. "Evalooshunz R dum" is a position.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

Hehe. I guess I have to concede that one, Jason.