Monday, April 7, 2014
Genesis the Parable
I have a problem; I'll admit it. From time to time, I get in debates over religion, often with atheists. One of my best friends is an agnostic atheist (that is, he does not think there is a God, but is open to the possibility), and we would get in great conversations for hours on end. But online it is a different beast. The conversations are usually the same, with the same rebuttals and half-truths, the same misinformation, and the same lack of education on both sides of the argument.
Here I shall produce a defense and explanation of science. Skip it if you like.
I am not anti-atheist. Belief in God comes down to one thing and one thing only: faith. Not blind faith, not faith in place of logic, just faith. When people try to use science to argue against a religion, it never works. Science is the pursuit of knowledge using deduction and induction by forming hypotheses to explain an observed phenomenon (or "law"), which is then verified by testing. In other words, scientists see something, they ask why that thing is, and they test their hypothesis. Others test it as well. When several hypotheses all support the same principal and this principal has been tested thousands upon thousands of times (and passed each test), then it becomes a Theory (an accepted reason for certain observations - not to be confused with hypothesis). Theories are about as close to the truth as us humans can discern; there is very little room for error. When a theory is disproven by even one test (which is rare indeed), and they verify that this test was valid and not an error, then the theory has to be revised or altogether scrapped for a new Theory, one that still stands up to the hypotheses and tests that have been thrown at the old one.
Here I shall explain and defend religion. Again, skip it if you like.
Religion is rather like science, but with a major different. Instead of attempting to discern the truth by using observed phenomena, it attempts to discern the truth using what we believe has been revealed to us by God (or gods, as the case my be) or through philosophy. This is why science will never explain, prove, or disprove it. We don't simply make things up. The Christian Church has been molded by a series of great thinkers which are referred to as the Doctors of the Church. The idea of the Holy Spirit took decades to arrive at and was not made dogma in its present form until the Council of Lyons in 1274. Other great thinkers are not usually recognized as being theologians. Descartes, the father of the Cartesian Coordinate System, came up with "I think, therefore I am." Most people don't know how this works or what its purpose is. Imagine you are in The Matrix. How can you know that anything around you is real and not simply a fabrication? Well, there's only one thing you can be sure of - that you are doubting. Something that doubts is something that thinks. And there has to be some thing that is thinking, thus the concept of you exists because you doubt, because you think. But Descartes went on. He used some philosophical concepts invented by the ancient Greeks, that there are two ways in which things exist: in thought, and in reality. They Greeks called these "essence" and "existence" - WHAT something is and THAT something is. For instance, my computer has the essence of a MacBook Pro. It is real, thus is exists. The computer of my dreams is Hal 9000 without the evil streak, but Hal 9000 doesn't exist. It only exists as a thought. So what if there is something whose essence IS existence? The mere thought of that being necessitates its existence, and through that existence all other things exist. I think I've got that right. But that's what Descartes argued, and I'm sure there are valid counter arguments. Even Charles Darwin argued that evolution does not negate the existence of God. My point is that many, many great thinkers have shaped religious beliefs.
Defense of theism aside, the crux of this post is an online debate (alright, an argument) I found myself embroiled in some time ago. Someone was telling me that, as a Christian, I have to believe everything in the Bible as literal truth and that I am not allowed to believe in science or evolution. I do hope you can see the irony of an atheist telling someone what he is allowed to believe. I attempted to explain that many parts in the Bible are historical accounts, that many are laws for a specific civilization, and that many are in fact parables. And here I wished to defend the idea that the Genesis account is, quite possibly, a metaphor or parable. This is entirely MY interpretation.
First off, Jesus often spoke in parables. The account of Job is from an impossible point of view. And the entire book of The Revelation to John is riddled with symbolism and metaphor. So it is certainly not unheard of. Let's take part of Genesis. Say, Adam and Eve. Did God really make everything in 7 days? I am not the first to believe that "days" may be a symbol for "stages." God made Eve from Adam's rib - which could easily be a symbol for equality. Not from Adam's foot, not from his tooth, but from his side, close to his heart. Then Adam and Eve were tempted by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and ejected from paradise when they gave in. It may be that this is part of what makes us human, and that this act is what defines them as the first humans. The first human, whoever he or she was, made the choice to learn actively, to use that knowledge to better himself. This is the temptation, this is what made the first human unable to return to the bliss of ignorance. Suddenly there are responsibilities, the knowledge of death, the understanding of consequences.
So there you have it. Surprisingly, even the Catholic Church has admitted that evolution is real, and shown how it does not, in fact, interfere with the possibility of God. This admission also means that the Catholic Church agrees that not all the of the Bible is to be taken literally. So what is your take?