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Post No.: 1002bible


Fluffystealthkitten says:


Charles Darwin, despite working out the theory of evolution, still held onto some religious beliefs. That’s because personal knowledge also evolves in a gradual fashion thus he still held onto some vestigial lessons he had been taught in his life up to that point and had absorbed from the prevailing surrounding culture of the time. Galileo Galilei similarly still held onto those religious beliefs he was raised to believe in that weren’t contradicted by the empirical evidence that proved the Earth wasn’t at the centre of the universe. A heliocentric model was also flawed though – but this just demonstrates how scientific knowledge also gradually evolves as we collectively learn and understand increasingly more.


The following puts the cat amongst the pigeons for some. It focuses on but isn’t just about the Christian Bible but any religious text…


As our scientific knowledge grows, the contents of the Bible can be reinterpreted from literal to allegory or even fairy tale. It’s considered erroneous to interpret ancient texts with modern eyes or to interpret someone else’s work with our own biases (‘eisegesis’ versus ‘exegesis’) – yet what were the ancient authors of the Bible truly thinking? Did they truly believe in the words literally or only figuratively? And isn’t a modern Christian applying her/his own biases based on modern science when arguing that certain passages should be taken literally while others should not? It’s a bit too convenient to ad hoc claim that God ‘accommodated’ and allowed the ancient authors to use the science-of-the-day so that the words of God or Jesus don’t appear to be clueless for believing that the Sun moved while the Earth stood still, that mustard seeds are the smallest of all seeds on Earth, or bats are birds, for instance.


People can accept the theory of evolution wholeheartedly yet believe in ‘evolutionary creationism’ if they (move the goalposts and) (re)interpret creationism as meaning that God created the universe by any method, and not strictly within 6 days roughly 6,000 years ago – even though that’s what the Bible literally says. They might adjust to believe in a deity that merely set in motion the forces of evolution and then life self-assembled, in contrast to one who intentionally intelligently designed each specific animal and plant we can observe.


So note that when two people say they believe in ‘God’, they might mean different things – like one believes in a sentient being who intervenes with miracles while the other believes that such a being merely kick-started the world but never entered or enters it; or a theist and a deist. So it helps to check rather than assume what someone means when they mention the word ‘God’, or ‘Goddess’.


Isaac Newton reportedly employed ‘God of the gaps’ thinking when he couldn’t fathom why Saturn’s orbit was discrepant so concluded that this must’ve been some kind of intervention by God. This was because telescopes in his day were too weak to spot Uranus, which was imparting a gravitational effect on Saturn.


Many modern scholars rationalise that the science-of-the-day was written in the Bible (hence why scientific ‘concordism’ regarding the Bible fails) in order to not sow confusion in the minds of the common people of the time so that the book could concentrate on the more crucial moral or spiritual lessons i.e. the Bible isn’t a book that explains how Heaven goes (e.g. the true age of the cosmos) but how to go to Heaven (i.e. how we should comport ourselves).


Yet it nonetheless sows confusion about how to get to Heaven hence the existence of so many different interpretations of verses and branches of Christianity!


If the science in the Bible is outdated, perhaps the words of God in it are also outdated? What’s considered ‘message from God’ versus ‘incidental’ should be separated, not conflated – but this separation appears ad hoc because it could be that it’s all ‘made up words from men in history’ rather than includes any ‘inerrant words from God’.


The notion that ‘scripture can never lie or err’ should now be taken as ‘sometimes it can’. It’s ostensibly merely a matter of poor hermeneutics or a poor interpretation of the words in the Bible – just like ‘no’ should now be interpreted to actually mean ‘yes’ but only for some parts and not others depending on what maintains one’s faith in the book the best. Even the moral lessons are arbitrarily sometimes to be taken literally but then at other times not, such as not really needing to sever one’s thieving arm off or gouge one’s adulterous eyes out. If the secular moral lesson of don’t murder otherwise ‘you’ll go to jail’ really meant ‘you’ll get slapped on the wrist’ then it’s a very different sin, crime or moral lesson – it’d mean murder isn’t that bad. (I’m not saying we should put to death those who work on the Sabbath, etc. – I’m saying that the Bible doesn’t appear to be a reliable source of moral philosophy that we should take with unquestionable faith at all – we should come to our moral views by applying more critical thinking.) Contradictions are rationalised away as seen fit. There’s too much biased ad hoc reinterpretation – if the Bible were under trial, its lawyers appear to be constantly shifting their story to try to defend it.


Compared to Genesis 1-3, The New Testament may be based on eyewitness accounts of real people, but this doesn’t mean they must’ve truly seen miracles – just what they thought were miracles. Deliberate hoaxes and fake/false news aren’t modern phenomena either. We understand so much nowadays about the science of psychology, of illusions and faulty eyewitness accounts, for instance; as well as the psychology of religious beliefs themselves.


So as we learn increasingly more and more – fewer and fewer things in the Bible are to be taken literally… until perhaps nothing should be?


That said, we must acknowledge that physics or science answers questions that can be empirically observed, tested and falsified (what’s objective) – whereas metaphysics or philosophy (which we could derive from the teachings of a particular religion but not necessarily) answers those questions that cannot (what’s subjective). These two realms are separate yet actually complement one another. Intellectual leaps, or ‘leaps of faith’, informed by intuition and reason bi-directionally bridge these two realms of knowledge and belief whether we’re aware of us doing so or not.


For instance how does scientific knowledge of DNA inform one’s belief/disbelief in an intelligent creationist designer? One could conclude that it’d completely extinguish the idea of an intelligent designer. Alternatively one could conclude that an intelligent designer directly designed and created DNA or set in motion the events that indirectly led to the formation of DNA and how it works.


In the other direction, our personal religious or secular philosophical beliefs can function like a metaphysical set of lenses through which we observe and interpret nature. For instance if we already don’t believe in a God then we’ll interpret star nebulae as purely outcomes of chemistry and mathematics. Alternatively if we already do believe in a God then we’ll interpret them as works of God or God’s plan.


Science impacts religion more than vice-versa though – wherever and whenever science can answer a question, its answer will override any religious answer.


But remember or recognise that science cannot answer all the questions that are important to us – like the meaning of life or even what we ought to do with the scientific knowledge we obtain. For example science can diagnose whether a foetus has Edwards’ syndrome – but cannot answer whether the parents ought to abort the foetus or not? Our morals come from our metaphysical beliefs. Another instance is how do scientists answer the question of how this universe (or the universe before this, or a multiverse) came from nothing? They have theories but cannot ever categorically prove that this was what precisely happened. How do we know for absolute sure that we’re not just ‘brains in vats’ living in a simulation? Is it just faith to believe that we’re not? There are several mathematical axioms we must simply take like ‘faith’. So don’t we all hold various faiths?


All this doesn’t however therefore automatically mean that any kind of religious scripture provides the correct answers. Different scientists can disagree with each other – yet good scientists aren’t saying, “It definitely is what I think it is so stop questioning it and just accept this answer as faith.” It’s just their own present best guess. Good scientists base their beliefs on what’s most probabilistically true according to the preponderance of empirical evidence uncovered so far – not on faith.


We should always distinguish our philosophical, religious or spiritual beliefs from our scientific views. Even atheists and agnostics have metaphysical beliefs otherwise they’d have no opinions on what they believe is moral/immoral. But a common mistake of atheists and agnostics is to conflate their metaphysics and science, and to assume their worldviews are scientific and objective. Of course biblical literalists are also mistaken to believe that their worldviews are purely objective too. The upshot is that we can get proper scientists who are also Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. – this isn’t always contradictory. Science and religion (or philosophy more broadly) answer different kinds of questions. Many answers to questions are simply subjective. Everyone – religious or not – really must learn to differentiate between what’s objective and what’s subjective.


Everyone possesses a personal epistemology – a way to decide how we know what we know – and it’s influenced by our personal metaphysical beliefs. And if you believe in intelligent design or a divine plan, would this be down to the social conditioning you were exposed to for being raised in a religious community? Alternatively if you reject intelligent design or believe in dysteleology, would this be down to the social conditioning you were exposed to for being raised in a secular community?


Too many people routinely wrongly assert that their subjective beliefs/opinions are objective truths/facts. We need to recognise that our subjective views aren’t the only reasonable ones. Well even facts can be mistaken and thus subject to dispute because old scientific theories can be superseded if new evidence points to stronger ones. But opinions are always disputable. Physics has absolute truths but metaphysics does not.


Yet a morally relativistic stance, and to not hold any strong convictions about what’s morally right or wrong, is debatably untenable if we want a harmoniously-functioning civilisation – for instance to believe that lying is neither right nor wrong because science doesn’t say that it’s either right or wrong. Deception in nature is empirically widespread according to the scientific evidence – but science tells us what is, not what ought to be. So we’ve got to somehow hold our metaphysical beliefs humbly since they’re subjective yet, in some cases, fight for them as if they’re absolutely objectively right.


Moral arguments always ultimately fall into philosophical arguments hence we’re applying our own personal metaphysical beliefs whenever we advocate for a particular set of moral views and attempt to justify them – even if we don’t realise that they’re philosophical, not scientific.


I suppose we can question whether people’s emotional gut feelings, intuitions – or indeed religious beliefs – count as ‘applying philosophical thought’ though because true philosophical thought requires logical reasoning and sound justifications, and people frequently lack these when endorsing their particular moral views! They just roar, “I’m right and you’re evil!”


Religions can provide ‘readymade’ moral guidance but we can be morally considerate citizens without following any traditional religion. To be morally considerate however – we must believe in some kind of metaphysical claims that aren’t based on physical empiricism. Science and religion attempt to answer different questions thus can peacefully co-exist within, and between, us. Meow.


It’s just that I personally think the practise of philosophical critical thinking is a better moral guide than religion because the former is open-minded whereas the latter relies on taking things on faith.




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