Thursday, November 16, 2006

The God Delusion 3

Recently I was at a house group and, although I wasn't asked for my opinion, discovered I was the only person in the room who didn't take Genesis 1-11 literally, or even literalistically. It was made very clear to me that it was the sort of church leaders who take the view that the Bible isn't entirely history who are the problem with the whole church today.

I managed to keep quiet for the whole of a discussion of a David Pawson video on Islam until someone said that if we were descended from apes there wouldn't be any apes left so we can't be. At this point I cracked and said that was, sadly, not correct and I'd explain why if they wanted to know. I shouldn't have. Or should I? Who knows? But I did get the feeling I was spoiling the simple faith of some nice people. Or would have been if I had gone on.

Richard Dawkins has no problem spoiling the simple faith of nice people but they probably ignore him anyway so he won't get very far. In trying to end the faith of religious people chapter three of his book rubbishes the traditional proofs for the existence of God. They were rubbish anyway so it is a good job he did. He also rubbishes a proof for the existence of God which he desribes as 'the oddest case I have seen.' If it is that odd why bother with it? None of us do.

Three times in Acts it is said that Paul 'proved' that Jesus was the Christ. Each time the New International Version of the Bible uses the word 'prove' it is translating a different word. One means drawing out, one means demonstrating and a third means showing from the book. Proof is OK as the word to use if one has a legal model in mind - on the balance of probabilities - but not scientific. It is not a litmus test.

So you can't prove God. We knew that didn't we gang? In chapter four Dawkins turns his attention to the 'God of the gaps' theory. God is not what we get at the end of our human understanding. Well the news for Mr D is that Bishop John Robinson took this theory apart in the 1960s in his eponymous book. I'll read the chapter anyway but for me it hasn't come close yet to convincing me that the great stories Christians tell aren't the very best way to live life to the full. I almost hope he can do better soon because it is beautifully written.


Matthew McMurray said...

I must confess that I fail to understand why people feel that they need Genesis 1-11 to be treated literally. I seem to have developed the ability to avoid these conversations now - either that or I just sit quietly getting on with the important business of drinking ale.

One of the best commentaries I ever read (and I can't remember which one it was) said that it was a matter of what question was being asked by the writer(s) of Genesis. This is what I keep in mind. For me, Genesis is answering the "who" question. Who did it? God did it? How did God do it? Haven't the foggiest.

I think the general sequence makes sense though, don't you?

Matthew P said...

I'm with you on this one Matthew. I think Genesis teaches us that God is the creator, and the general sequence sounds right to me, but I'll leave the details of how to the scientists.

Can you ever prove the existence of God? Surely the best you can do is to say that based on the evidence you have seen you believe there to be a God. Which to me is the same thought process for the advancement of scientific theories, like Galileo claiming that he believed the world to be round (it was Galileo wasn't it?).

Caroline said...

If Dawkins had ever done any philosophy of science then he'd be very much more careful about proving anything let alone God.

But we do have some evidence

and that evidence can lead us to shape our lives and actions in different ways

and we can then test out whether this emerging life is to our liking and whether it fits with others. We might find that the evidence of, for example Jesus' love and interaction with this world, starts to change the way we evaluate what 'to our liking' might mean.

What is exciting to me, as a learner, is not that I might one day prove God but that I have all eternity to explore the infinity of God!

Do I get it wrong? Will I get it wrong again? Yes, of course I will. But then that is why I'm a learner and not a scientist.

Caroline Too

Anonymous said...

obviously you haven't been to noahs ark farm yet!

Jonathan Potts said...

Steve, what's the difference between "literally" and "literalistically"?

Thing is with Dawkins is he when he's talking about religion, he simply doesn't do his research properly. If he did, he'd know about John Robinson; and the fact that few people (professional theologians or otherwise) believe they can "prove" the existence of God these days. He's meant to have some chair or other for advancing public knowledge of sciences. So it's really bad form not to research what others have said before publishing. What sort of view of science/scientists does that give the public?

He's not alone - in a recent "popular" book by ardent atheist philosophy professor Daniel Dennet, he (so I've heard) saw it necessary to "debunk" the idea of transubstantiation. Oh, dear.

Rich Burley said...

No one has believed in literal Transubstantiation since the Council of Trent in 1615. No person who has done their homework believes we can prove the existence of God since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

As much as he would vehemently deny it, in 'the God delusion' Dawkins is using his scientific credentials to create a highly subjective and emotional attack on Christianity. It's easy to pick holes in Southern Baptists and figures from history, and probably fun too, but it's not really very scientific.

It's a shame so many Christians today feel that not only we have to believe in 6 day creation but take a position of moral superiority on it. They just keep adding fuel to Dawkins' fire.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you have a familiar problem there, Steve. I've got to speak on "what about dinosaurs' for CU next week, and I suspect some will expect creationism from me. Could be tricky.

As I said in my own blog, creationism has a serious philosophical problem, which is why would a divinely created, defined by God as good universe fail to tell the truth about itself. Surely its comprehensibility derives from its divine origin, and that comprehensibility reveals an age of about 13.8 billion years.

There's also the fact that Genesis 1-3 systematically contradicts pagan understandings of the relationship between god(s) and the world.

The difficult bit is helping people spiritually without compromising one's own integrity on these kinds of questions. As there seems to be more and more creationists about, that will be a growing problem.

St said...

Thanks for comments everybody. Jonathan I think the difference between literal and literalistic is still being worked out but the nuances are:

literal = reading without seeing the metaphor
literalistic = adhering to the explicit substance

So someone who took 'if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off' literally would see it as an exact command. Someone who took it literalistically would actually do it.

I think that's it. Must learn not to be too clever in trying to use words before I've fully grasped their meaning. Sorry.

Sam said...

on the topic of "spoiling faith" ...

Beliefs about the literal nature of Gen 1-11 in some groups of Christians who are keen on fellowship and bible reading come close to being part of the Christian identity. Therefore any contradiction of the status quo is bound to cause shock. After all, if the Torah was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

I think the only way to work with this is to show that by the way I study and examine the scriptures that I am standing on the shoulders of the reformers - sort of "what would Calvin and Luther do?" Answer: learn Hebrew, work hard at understanding the context of the scripture, including ancient near eastern religions, and wait humbly for the results of a patient exegesis. Only when we wear a "WWCALD?" bracelet (and model this) will our views be accepted as trustworthy.

To summarise: time is a a healer.

Pam said...

Could we have some teaching about creationism/Darwinism. An evening session say, unrelated to services.

The problem with home groups is that generally speaking no one knows much more than anyone else, so its difficult to grow.

Martin said...

I don't take 1-11 literally, and yet I do tend to think of 12 onwards literally. This is I feel quite an awkward position to hold. I do wonder how I should justify it, or how I should alter my position. Can you enlighten me a bit?

St said...

Why is it obvious I haven't been to Noah's Ark Farm by the way?

Tim Moulding said...

I am excited by a little phrase in the passage about "the Spirit of God hovering" and I hope I can take that literally?

I am a bit lost by quite a lot of the discussion on this but I am not very knowledgeable in these matters, so I probably benefit from Home Group quite a bit.

The thing is that I just want to know Jesus better so if the Spirit keeps hovering and (when I don't grieve Him) filling me up with the knowledge of the Glory & Grace of God, then I'll be happy.

Thankfully there are lots of people out there who, though not very clever like me, can teach me a lot about the love of Jesus.

I love the line in Notting Hill "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her". I am learning to say in similar fashion "I am just a person wanting to experience more of the presence of Jesus in my life so that I can understand better how much He loves me"

I guess that you are all in just the same place deep down?

Tim M