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July 30, 2008

Comments

Elliot

Well, I won't comment on the Eastman thing, since I didn't read it. I do think there is, as you say, a dogmatic faction among secular folk, which insists that the more dogmatic, literal and modern interpretation is obviously the correct way approach scripture. These are the same people who routinely criticize religious moderates for being wishy-washy and hold up fundies as the REAL religious people... who happen to be evil and wrong. Which is why science must destroy religion blah blah blah rant rant.

It's the old fundamentalist/rationalist-two-sides-to-a-coin situation. One side says "Scientific explanations are all that matter, and the Bible is obviously wrong about those!" The other retorts "The Bible has to be literally right, which means it's obviously literally right about scientific explanations, which is why we believe in creationism."

I don't think there's much hope of intervening in these squabbles. Better to just practice a more open-ended approach.

Elliot

PS: "The Year of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs, besides being a very funny book, does a good job of illustrating all the art and interpretation that go into the literalist approaches.

Martin LaBar

Thanks for the link to the Stratmann story. Looks interesting.

DB Ellis

Interesting issue, the "correct" interpretation of scripture.

I think Eastman was probably of the opinion, and it seems a not unreasonable one to me, that the correct interpretation means interpreting it in the manner it was meant to be understood by its authors.

Sure, we atheists acknowledge that there are modern liberal interpretations of religious writings which attempt to harmonize scripture with science.

But is that how it was intended to be understood by the authors?

Of course, one is free to disagree with this idea of the correct interpretation of scripture. I, for one, am by no means dogmatically committed to it. Though it does seem a sensible option.

What, by the way, do you consider the correct theory on which scripture should be interpreted?

One problem many of us nonbelievers have with the way many liberal believers interpret scripture is that they seem to start from the premise that scripture is true and, therefore, when one's interpretation conflicts with science we need to change our interpretation to bring it more in accord with modern knowledge.

This approach, however, fails to acknowledge a reasonable possibility---that the writers of scripture were simply in error on this particular issue.

I am not painting all liberal believers with the same brush. I'm well aware some DO think scripture is sometimes mistaken. But many seem inclined to salvage the truth of scripture in the light of modern science by simply finding inventing an interpretation that somehow harmonizes them, usually by making the passage metaphorical, and then deciding that this must be the "correct" interpretation.

In other words, too many liberals seem just as inclined as the conservatives to assume from the start a scriptural passage is not in error. They just have a different approach. Instead of the denial of modern science the increasing "metaphorizing" of scriptural interpretation.

Of course, if, in fact, scripture IS in error both approaches will fail to arrive at the truth.

Gabriel Mckee

DB--

I think you've really just restated the problem, which is that both atheists and creationists have a fairly naive concept of our ability to understand "the manner [Scripture] was meant to be understood by its authors." You ask what I think the correct interpretation of scripture is, and I can only answer-- which scripture? Different books, and different parts of those books, were written at different times, for different audiences, for different purposes. How they are read today is very different from how they were read when written, whether its readers be liberal, conservative, or atheist. (That doesn't mean that all modern-day readings are invalid-- just that they're different.)

The problem shared by creationists and many atheists is that both assume that the purpose of the one part of the Bible they obsess over-- the opening of Genesis-- simply MUST have been intended as a comprehensive description of the physical universe. I don't think it was, not thousands of years ago and not now. It may be cliche to say so, but I think different cultures and eras have different understandings of what "truth" is, and the creationist-and-atheist reading of Genesis (since I think that it was you were really talking about) is an anachronism. You talk about the "increasing 'metaphorization' of scriptural interpretation," but that's kind of begging the question-- assuming that everyone read Genesis 1 as if it were a newspaper article for centuries, until Science created a need for metaphorical distance. IMHO, it simply ain't so. There are many kinds of truth: there is the truth of a physical object, and there is the truth of a story.

Me? I like stories.

DB Ellis

"both atheists and creationists have a fairly naive concept of our ability to understand "the manner [Scripture] was meant to be understood by its authors."

A very broad generalization.

"You ask what I think the correct interpretation of scripture is, and I can only answer-- which scripture? Different books, and different parts of those books, were written at different times, for different audiences, for different purposes."

Very true. So let us then limit the issue to the creation stories in the Bible. How do you interpret them and how do you think they were intended to be interpreted by their authors? And, also, how do you think they were interpreted by the christian church both in its original form and through its history?

Has a fairly literal interpretation predominated? Does it predominate today? And, if so, is it not reasonable for Eastman to criticize such an interpretation as contrary to science?

That he does so does not mean he doesn't recognize that other christian interpretations exist but christian liberals are, after all, a minority. I don't think its incumbent on him to pay equal attention to the interpretation of what is, in fact, a rather small percentage of christians.

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