Friday, 14 February 2014

Whose Reading of the Bible is Illiterate, Now?

1) Creation vs. Evolution : Why a Literalist should be a Papist and not a Barnesist, 2) New blog on the kid : Whose Reading of the Bible is Illiterate, Now?

One Brian Switek (I'll return to him later) explained his non watching of the Ham-Nye debate with it being a non-debate. Exactly as Creation Museum is a non-Museum. He linked to one Josh Rosenau (I think I came across him as interviewed in a French language video by Belgian Evolutionists*, put on youtube by a local Communist group near Paris*). Now, Josh Rosenau (who made a bad impression on me* in that video)) in the second paragraph of the blog post linked to** says this:

It’s a view that tosses out everything we know about biology, geology, physics, archaeology, and astronomy in service of an idiosyncratic, ahistorical, and illiterate reading of the Bible.

And, as I feel an urge to get past the ugly features of Josh Rosenau as soon as possible, I am glad that this fanatical evolutionist sentence actually linked to something I found a bit more intelligent though erroneous. Here it is:***

Suppose I told you that I don’t believe in Ohio because the Gospel of Matthew says it doesn’t exist.

After the initial surprise, you would — as a friend — set about trying to convince me not to believe such falsehoods. That’s falsehoods with an “s” — plural — because I’ve just told you I harbor two equally false and equally outrageous delusions: One about the fine state of Ohio and the other about the Gospel of Matthew.

You can’t do everything all at once, of course, so it makes sense to tackle these one at a time.

I very totally agree on that one. A bit further down:

I stop clinging to one falsehood and come to accept that, yes, Ohio does in fact exist. But I’m still clinging to the other falsehood — to the other half of one two-part falsehood.

“The Gospel of Matthew is wrong,” I say.

But you can’t leave me there. I don’t just mean that you can’t leave me there on the side of the highway outside of Youngstown (you may want to, but we’re in my car, remember). I mean that you can’t leave me there, disabused of one falsehood but still clinging to the other.

Now you have to address the other half of my delusion.

This is not optional, for either of us.

You’ve shown me that I was wrong to think that Ohio does not exist and now you must show me that I was wrong to think that the Gospel of Matthew says otherwise.

And a bit further down:

This is true even if you don’t like the Gospel of Matthew. Maybe you had an unpleasant experience in a community theater production of Godspell. Maybe you’re a rabbi who has long criticized the way Matthew’s Gospel has been used to reinforce anti-Semitism. Maybe you’re a committed atheist who also feels a responsibility to convince me that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of myths and fairy tales and that I need to reject the whole book along with all my ideas about an invisible friend in the sky.

None of that outweighs the simple fact that the Gospel of Matthew does not say that Ohio does not exist.

It totally agree on that one too. But now we start getting to things I would like to caution a bit against, even before he starts (possibly, I am still reading) getting to stuff like applying his parable to the case he has in mind.

You remind me that the Gospel of Matthew was written more than 19 centuries ago by people who had never heard of the Americas, let alone of Ohio.

When Satan showed Jesus all kingdoms of the world - was that another Gospel btw? - did he also show him Ohio? Now, it is possible he did not since it is possible Ohio had no real social organisation beyond family mini tribes back then. And did not count as a kingdom. I am not even sure the empires that went before Azteks in Mexico were shown, since sacrificing men to idols (as their successors did so they might have done so too) is a gross injustice and "a kingdom without justice is a large robber band" rather than a real kingdom (look it up in St Augustine if you do not believe me).

You note that the New Testament was written in a form of Greek that did not have a word for Ohio.

It could of course very easily import the word Ohio. Modern Greek makes it Οχάιο. Supposing there was another pronunciation before the great vowel shift, I would have made it Ωείω or Ωίω, but if the letter I was always a diphthong in the word, Classical Greek would have made it Ωαίω and declined the noun as Ινώ. Proper names (such as Ohio) are very easily incorporated in any language. Now, I have myself made use of this idea - in a context really about terminology - when meditating over day two, the separation of the waters. Moses wrote in a Hebrew which has no word for Hydrogen (or for that matter Oxygen). I wonder whether "waters above the firmament" may not be H2 rather than H2O and the Oxygen of our atmosphere also being created on day 2 as 2 H2O > 2 H2 + O2. But I somehow doubt that Fred Clark is using the parallel with the same reasonable application (even apart from the fact that the parable is badly chosen, since Greek would easily have incorporated a word for Ohio).

But in any case, you could emphatically demonstrate that — as a matter of indisputable fact — the Gospel of Matthew never claims that the state of Ohio does not exist.

Indeed. The Bible (some other book than St Matthew, though) when saying "Earth" - as in eretz, landmass - has four corners (check with SW corner Cape of Good Hope, NE corner Sachalin or Korea, SE and NW corners a bit more rugged and England and Australia may have become islands since the words were written) does maybe count the Americas as "islands" rather than part of the landmass, but it does not deny the Americas exist.

What happens in that worst-case scenario is this: You do half the job, and then allow me to do half a job on you. You convince me that Ohio does, in fact, exist, but then I, in turn, manage to convince you that this means the Gospel of Matthew is wrong.

And thus the total cumulative level of delusion and deception remains unchanged. You’ve convinced me to abandon one falsehood, but you’ve allowed me to retain the other — and now I’ve convinced you to adopt it with me. All that achieves is a slight redistribution of wrongness. We remain, collectively, just as far from the truth as when we started.

That should never happen. Even if you’ve never heard of the Gospel of Matthew before I mentioned it, and even if have no idea whether or not it has anything to say about the existence of Ohio, you should know enough not to take my word for it. You know what I had to say about the existence of Ohio, after all, and if I’m so utterly, completely, massively wrong about that, why would you decide to accept my expertise on the New Testament?

Very much agree.

This worst-case scenario, alas, is not as hypothetical as the rest of the clumsy analogy sketched above.

I wonder (or rather no longer do so) if the last part of the analogy is not worse than the rest as far as analogousness is concerned.

This worst-case scenario even trips up otherwise very smart people like Neal DeGrasse Tyson. Tyson is a brilliant communicator when it comes to popularizing complex scientific ideas. But he’s also apparently a young-Earth creationist.

Or, at best, he is a credulous believer in the hermeneutics of young-Earth creationism. And that’s wrong. Accepting the hermeneutic claims of young-Earth creationism is just as wrong as accepting its claims about biology, geology or the “evidence” for Noah’s flood.

“You read, say, the Bible, the Old Testament, which in Genesis, is an account of nature, that’s what that is,” Tyson said to Bill Moyers. That’s an invocation and affirmation of Ken Ham. That’s a declaration of the wisdom and interpretive expertise of all young-Earth creationists.

And that’s a mind-boggling bit of illiterate nonsense which is every bit as factually wrong, anachronistic, and genre-illiterate as the assertion that the Gospel of Matthew is a geographical treatise on the American Midwest.

Now, first of all, I do not know if Ken Ham ever said such a thing as Genesis being an account of nature, except of course certain chapters of its origin and others of its remaking of the flood. I do not think Ken Ham is as genre illiterate as to confuse true history with true science. Even when there are scientific implications of a historic fact.

One exemple would be someone saying "rivers never flood the land beside them and so never threaten human lives (except unwary who fall in) or habitations" and I could show them wrong because in such and such a year the news said such and such a river actually did so. Or a sociologist would argue that governments are never overthrown by people taking up arms against them, and I could point at Rubicon and Teruel, for Caesar and Franco successfully overthrowing Republics, to Milan and Venice taking arms to overthrow the governments of a Stauffer or a Basileus in their countries, to Romans chasing Tarquines and Swedes chasing Ynglings from power after the rape of Lucrece or the burn-in trap of Ingjald, to George Washington overthrowing English rule over 13 Colonies, to Cromwell, Monk and Bill Orange changing the government in England, Scotland and Ireland or Robespierre and Napoleon and ... I could go on ... the one in France, or Mensheviks and Bolsheviks the one in Russia. And if he tried to deny that governments fall without people taking up arms against them (or more of arms than were used in chasing the Tarquins and the Ynglings), I could point to Poland, Rumania and Russia, not forgetting the three Baltic States around 1990.

Not so if the one could tell me "but the Times is not a treatise in river science, in hydrology" or if the other could tell me "these political stories make great propaganda but notice how they were not written by professional sociologists" and get away with that kind of thing as an argument. Unrepeatable exact fact (even beyond ocular testimony, and with a record transmitted for others from either time or place of event) trumps abstractions about repeatable facts. And I think that Ken Ham would basically agree with that assessment. Rather than - as Fred Clark's strawman would have it - consider Genesis as being, as far as text genre is concerned, natural science. He is given with a truncated citation as “Genesis … is an account of nature, that’s what it is.” But he is not even in that truncated citation said to call it an account with a systematic and detailed rather approach rather than a general and historic one.

It is anyone calling it something which has no relation to nature as such, some pure slush as far as exact information about observable things, who has an illiterate understanding of the Bible. Plus, even if rabbis could somehow squeeze in millions of years into the days (despite the fact that unlike days a series of years has no evening and morning) or Barnes into the gap between verses 1 and 2, the millions of years before Adam married Eve, the millions of years with people or even humanoid animals dying before the same Adam ate a forbidden fruit and "died the same day" (=millennium, in verse 2:17 we see no reference to evening and morning), that would contradict Christ and St Paul. And as rabbis do not love Christ, may they be αναθημα!

Hans-Georg Lundahl
BU Nanterre
St Valentine's Day

PS, it may be added that though rabbis very certainly know Hebrew, they have no monopoly on it. St Jerome translated most of OT from Hebrew rather than Greek to Latin. He also calculated the age of Heaven and Earth when Christ was born to 5199 years - which is still in the traditional Christmas Proclamation in the Latin Mass - using the exact same method as later Ussher did on a different text than the Greek one he used for the calculation. And of course the Seventy Translaters knew Hebrew as well, when translating yôm as 'ημερα rather than as αιων. Nor is there any sense in claiming an exegetic question must only be decided by those alive today and the previous exegetes be bypassed. Rather the reverse is true.

* Following three links resume my previous acquaintance with Rosenau:

Créationnisme, danger école (partie 1)

youtube user Parti Communiste Français of Gennevilliers

My blog Répliques Assorties : Créationnisme Danger École

** Josh Rosenau / Science League of America / National Center (sic!) for Science Education : Getting Ready for the Nye-Ham Debate

*** Fred Clark's blog slacktivist : Redistributing falsehoods isn’t the same as finding truth

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