Sunday, October 9, 2005

Eenie, Meenie

In an article alluded to an earlier post (Beneath Even Debating?) the TimesOnline specifies those claims of the Bible which the Catholic bishops of England have decided are untrue and those which are true. It's a very interesting list, raising the question of what criteria the bishops' decisions were based upon.

Here's the list:


Genesis ii, 21-22: So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Genesis iii, 16: God said to the woman [after she was beguiled by the serpent]: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

Matthew xxvii, 25: The words of the crowd: "His blood be on us and on our children."

Revelation xix,20: And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with brimstone."


Exodus iii, 14: God reveals himself to Moses as: "I am who I am."

Leviticus xxvi,12: "I will be your God, and you shall be my people."

Exodus xx,1-17: The Ten Commandments

Matthew v,7: The Sermon on the Mount

Mark viii,29: Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ

Luke i: The Virgin Birth

John xx,28: Proof of bodily resurrection

We wonder how the bishops decided that the Genesis passages which were adjudged untrue were, in fact, not true. It would also be worth knowing what the bishops mean when they say that the passage is not true. Do they mean that it is not true in any sense or do they simply mean that it's not literally true? The column seems to suggest the latter, but it's not clear.

The passage from Matthew seems to offend simply because it has been used to rationalize anti-semitism which the bishops apparently think is reason enough to declare it false. If so, they're resorting to emotional rather than scholarly reasons for making their judgment. The Revelation passage is apparently deemed false because it seems too fantastic, but then why do the Virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Christ pass the test?

Perhaps the sages of the Church had good reasons for their choices, but they seem to have decided on the basis of their own sense of credulity, almost as though they were playing a game of theological eenie, meenie. We hope not.

Beneath Even Debating?

Andrew Sullivan cites this article in the TimesOnLine UK on a statement by Catholic Bishops in England regarding the literal truth of the Bible. The writer, Ruth Gledhill, states that:

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in schools, believing "intelligent design" to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

Gledhill is identified as the religion writer for the Times Online so she should know better. That she would write such a sentence is evidence that either she's incompetent or she's willfully trying to deceive her readers.

Let's deconstruct her claim:

1) It is true that some Christians would like to have a literal reading of Genesis taught in public schools but no one has seriously tried to accomplish this since Louisiana's attempts were defeated by the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard in the late 1980s.

2) The belief that Genesis is literally, and thus scientifically, true is creationism. It is not Intelligent Design. ID takes no formal position on any of the questions raised by the Genesis account. Genesis could be shown to be completely wrong in every particular and Intelligent Design would be unaffected.

3) Intelligent Design is not a theory "of how the world began." It says nothing about how the world originated. The theory of Intelligent Design makes only two claims: First, it claims that blind, unguided, impersonal forces and processes are not adequate by themselves to account either for the exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmos in every aspect of its structure, nor the high level of information found in the biosphere. Second, it claims that any adequate explanation of both the pervasive fine-tuning of the cosmos and the high information content of living things must somehow include intelligent agency.

Sullivan shows that he doesn't understand what's going on in the current debate any better than does Glendhill when he offers this comment:

The Catholic bishops of England tell American fundamentalists the bleeding obvious: not everything in the Bible is literally true. Money quote: "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision." Of course. Anyone who believes that the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago is not expressing his or her "religious beliefs". Believing something that is demonstrably and empirically untrue is not religion. It is simply superstition or lunacy. It has nothing to do with faith in things we cannot know. The notion that it should actually be taught in public schools as science is beneath even debating.

This is a classic straw man fallacy. Sullivan wants the reader to believe that what's at stake in efforts like that currently being fought out in the courts in Kitzmiller v. Dover is whether students will be taught that "the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago." This, of course, is not at all what is at issue despite the attempts of the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case to create that impression.

What is being contended in the Dover case is whether a school board should have the right to insist that when biology teachers instruct students that life is the product solely of blind, unguided, impersonal processes that they also point out that not all scientists nor philosophers think that to be true. Some of them, perhaps many of them, think that intelligence must somehow have been involved.

It would be interesting to see Mr. Sullivan or the Catholic bishops demonstrate that any of this is "demonstrably and empirically untrue."

From the Mail Bag

Every now and then we get an e-mail like this that makes us feel that we're doing something worthwhile:

I've been following Viewpoint for a little over a year now, since [a teacher] introduced me to it. I believe that this [Real Reform] is one of, if not the best, entry you've written since I've started reading Viewpoint.

Every word of what you've written in this entry is completely accurate and to the point. Your eleven points are, in my opinion, entirely viable, if only the populous, and the various levels of government by extension, "decide to make American public schools truly excellent."

Thank you for taking the time and effort to make Viewpoint such an excellent resource and treasure trove of information.

Thank You,


Thank you, Micah.