Re: The Tower of Babel - Less Confusing

From: Don Winterstein (
Date: Sun May 18 2003 - 05:38:22 EDT

  • Next message: Jay Willingham: "Re: God and nature; miracles"

    Paul wrote:

    "Well, my reasoning (and George's, though slightly different) seemed odd to Glenn Morton. He kept saying the same thing you are saying here. I believe this inability to understand comes from being deeply ingrained with a paradigm, so deeply ingrained that it is very difficult to get out of the box. The paradigm says, If God spoke Genesis, then everything he said, science as well as lessons on faith and morals, would have to be accurate, true. It could not be any other way.

    "This assumption, paradigm, is rooted in reason. It is not that one should not be reasonable or jettison reason, but that reason is an inadequate and often misleading SOURCE of true knowledge. That is Rationalism, using reason as a source, is the error. The Greeks were famous for distrusting empirical data. They wanted absolute truths, and the only way they felt they could get them was to go from observations to reason. Not to experiments with the physical world, but to abstract reason. The loved math. It is that love of rationalism that gave us the dictum that if one dropped a heavy weight from a high location and a light weight at exactly the same time, the heavy weight would hit the ground first. This is a perfect example of rationalism. Human reason is quite satisfied that, of course the heavy weight would hit the ground first. I have even posed this question to college graduates who majored in some liberal art, but had little scientific training, and they are very skeptical when I tell them that both weights will hit the ground at the same time. I especially remember one gal who graduated from UC Berkeley. When I told her the weights would hit the ground at the same time, she said very emphatically with strong doubt in her voice, "Are you sure?"

    "Similarly the perfectly reasonable assumption that God would not say anything which was not true is from Reason. As a rule of thumb for the revelation which God intended to make in Scripture, I accept his word as true, but it is not an absolute: it is not true for everything found there. My position is not that "God provided inaccurate information to the Hebrews because they couldn't handle accurate information." God did not provide the cosmological ideas in Gen 1 or even the Flood story. Those ideas were already present in the culture when he decided to speak through the writer of Genesis. They were apparently inherited from the patriarchs. In any case they were already there, just as the right to divorce a wife for any reason was already there. In the latter case the hardness of heart of the Israelites prevented God from supplying the pure truth. At least that is what Jesus thought, and I agree. In the case of the stories in Gen 1-11, I think providing a truer account would have at least made the communication of the theological truths more difficult. I think the Israelites would have been forced to stumble if they had been asked implicitly to set aside their old ingrained prehistory. Also, it seems clear to me both from Gen 1:26-28 and the history of mankind, that God has delegated the discovery of scientific truth to humankind. Accordingly, he does not reveal his knowledge of scientific truth. He does not provide accurate information in that realm even to his chosen people, and my study of Scripture shows me that all science in the Bible from Gen 1 to Rev 21 is the science of the times.

    "As the OT shows, God had his hands full just trying to communicate monotheism, holiness, etc. to the Israelites It would have been counterproductive to add trying to teach them science, and there was no need for it. In fact, Gen 1-11 is implicitly a polemic against the theology of the times. It the basic prehistory had been set aside, the polemic and witness to the true God would also have been undermined. It was written in the thinking of the times because that is the way it would speak most forcibly to people.

    "So, instead of relying on Rationalism to tell me what God must do or must have done, I just look at the empirical facts. They tell me he has not corrected their ingrained prescientific prehistory, and it is equally clear to me that the prehistory comes essentially from the Mesopotamians. In that part of the world it is the science of the day. For the readers it was scientifically up to date.

    "So, God did not provide inaccurate information. Nor is he of such a rationalistic frame of mind that he feels compelled to correct all they believed. He implanted curiosity in humankind and gave them the task of correcting the science---which we have done and are continuing to do. God is a father and a teacher, and the OT is a tutor, Paul says, for the people of God in their youth. God adapted his revelation of true theology to the ingrained prescientific mentality of the times. For example, they believed the sky was a solid dome, and the Babylonians said it had been put up by Marduk after a terrific battle with the sea-goddess Tiamat. In order to correct the bad theology, God takes up the concept of a solid sky, but reveals that the Creator did not have to battle any goddess or anyone else to make the sky. Indeed, the sky is presented as a completely natural part of the universe, not attached or ruled by any god except the God who created it. You want to see the divine revelation here? It is in the setting forth of the sky as a completely natural part of the universe. No other peoples at that time could even think like that. There is more revelation than that, of course. But, I am just illustrating that God did communicate true revelation to the Israelites, but via their preexisting ingrained scientific understanding.

    "If I write anymore I will have a book here. So, I hope you can see my approach to Genesis is perfectly reasonable but at the same time perfectly honest. I don't have to distort the Bible or the sciences, and the recognition that the science in Gen is ancient is based on the empirical evidence showing that it is found in the ancient Near Eastern writings. The recognition that the theology is indeed a divine revelation is based on the witness of the Holy Spirit , yes, but also on the fact that the theology stands in strong contrast, indeed in some places apparently purposeful contrast to the theology of the times; and it is superior to that ancient theology.

    "Think about this. It is a different paradigm, just as reasonable as the old rationalistic one, but it flows from the data, not lording it over the data."

    Indeed a reasonable approach. However, the problem for a lot of Christians will be that your paradigm puts the Bible reader in charge of assigning a degree of veracity to every statement. For every given thought or statement, what fraction is Truth and what fraction cultural accommodation or artifact?

    Of course, this kind of veracity or value assignment is what all but the most literal of interpreters and I myself do anyway. And we're never going to reach consensus in this lifetime on what degree of veracity belongs where. God didn't give us Absolute Truth. What we most value in the Bible depends strongly on our personal relationship with God and its history. We conclude there's a basic need for tolerance of others' views.

    In response to Paul, Jim Eisele said in part:

    "Words attributed to a deity are shown to be inaccurate.
    Instead of concluding these were merely human words, you
    determine the deity was being compassionate (accommodating,
    in your words).

    "Personally, I think you have other reasons for believing.
    The sad state of religion today is that religious people
    rely on highly subjective personal experience. That's
    not scholarship."

    Experiences having to do with externals can be shared with other people, and those people can reinforce (or deny) the validity of those experiences. The experiences are objective in that they can be unequivocally shared . Other experiences are private. We can try to share them, but we can't count on others to reinforce them because we alone have them. No doubt it's the latter kind you are accusing religious people of relying on.

    True religion is never mere scholarship. True Christian religion always involves a personal relationship with God, and this, as a personal and private thing, cannot get full reinforcement from others. Others can reinforce to a degree if they think their personal relationship with God is similar. I see nothing at all sad about a personal relationship with God.

    Neither God nor anyone else has given us absolute truth. If God had so given, I suspect people would cling to the absolutes (much like certain YECs seem to cling to the Bible, and much like the Pharisees seemed to cling to the law) and bypass the personal relationship with God. Thus it is understandable that God, who would have us cling to him, would not give us absolutes.

    Human languages, including math, in fact are probably not capable of expressing absolutes. Words mean something only in a particular context. Relativity is the best we can do.

    If nothing less than absolute truth will satisfy you, I wish you luck but doubt you'll ever find satisfaction if you're honest with yourself. Knowing God as a person is the closest anyone can get to apprehending absolute truth. Knowing him is subjective, but he is not subjective. Many of the things we know with greatest confidence because of objective empirical support, such as quantum electrodynamics, have little relevance to us as spiritual persons and thus can satisfy our intellects to a limited degree but give the rest of our person only cold comfort. Knowing God can give far fuller satisfaction, and to the whole person.



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