Saturday, April 28, 2007

Scientific Literacy

One prevailing plausibility structure in today's culture is "Scientific Literacy."

Steven Pinker writes:

Today, no scientifically literate person can believe that the events narrated in the book of Genesis actually took place.

How would you answer Pinker from the plausibility structure of orthodox Christianity?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


Anonymous said...

Well since we can nicely break up the reading of scripture into figurative and literal, it is really easy. Gen 1 is just figurative.

Pastor Rod said...

How far are you willing to take this? Pinker is not just talking about the creation account.


daniel the smith said...

A few comments.

First, I think it's more useful to answer from within his own "scientifically-literate" PS than from that of Christianity, the reason being that our answers won't make sense to him. He would need a personal introduction to a functioning christian community for that (my opinion).

Naturally, the full extent of our answer actually can't be expressed in a purely scientific PS, so it's probably best to focus on building credibility, and more to the point here, pointing out deficiencies in his own PS.

An obvious response (from his own PS) is that if you define the miraculous to be impossible, you become incapable to accepting it if it does indeed take place (I think of this as the "Bart Erhman Error"). It is also rather arrogant to assume that only the things scientists have succeeded in doing, or think they can do eventually, are all that is in fact possible (either to us eventually or to a theoretical (to him) God). Extrapolating from "I have never seen X, and neither has anyone I know" to "X can never happen" is fallacious. If you only believe in things that can be repeated in a laboratory, you will miss the ones that can't-- and that is exactly the sort of things one finds in genesis.

That said, there are some things that must be responded to, since they are somewhat testable. Christians have let a particular reading of the first few chapters of genesis reign for a long time. It is apparent from science that this reading is false (all truth is God's truth, right?), or that God is really screwing with our heads.

I don't think it's as easy as anonymous suggests-- we can't just call things figurative because we don't like them or they appear to contradict reality. That's a dishonest use of the text, any text. Fortunately, I think there are alternate ways of reading the creation and flood accounts which are both more faithful to the text and a better match with reality.

As for one-off miracles (like Balaam's donkey and stuff), I'd say they're not documented well enough to be believable from a scientific PS. The only one I would argue for to him is Jesus' resurrection, as it is the one that will convince anyone if they can be convinced. It also happens to be the only one that (I would say) is necessary to believe in to be a christian (belief in the rest of the bible, I would say, follows, not precedes, this). So in other words, I would not take the time to try and defend every single miracle recorded.

All that said, the best answers really do come from a christian PS, but they can't be given until he experiences that PS in action-- they can't be given on paper or maybe even verbally-- at least not outside of a close friendship.

Sorry that was so long :)

Pastor Rod said...


Excellent comment. I'll hold off giving a detailed response to allow others to react to what you have written. (That means you, philosphy students).


M. Pease said...

H'lo again;

In part "orthodoxy" is dependent on which branch of the Christian family one is talking about. There are many differing views of what it means for Scripture to be inspired by God.

While the Bible is a timeless story about the wooing of Man by God, perhaps not every part is easily portable through time and should be given an historical referent for evaluation. Genesis is not necessarily a seamless whole, there are, in fact two differing accounts of creation (which many try to meld into one). Others believe that the origins stories were similar in style and meant to match and contrast the origin stories of neighbouring cultures. They show how the Hebrew God is different from those others who need constant feeding and ego stroking.

I have to agree with Daniel that answering from within our own PS is a generally pointless endeavour.

From within their own Structure, we might point out that there are currently known to be over 270 flood stories from cultures around the world, with a number of them including a survivor with a name similar to Noah.

Finally, while we might be able to give a fair minded debater a few things to think about, in the end it is God alone who can "prove" the reality/validity of Scripture to anyone.

Pastor Rod said...


Welcome back. Good contribution. That should stimulate plenty of discussion.

I'd like to continue the discussion in the other thread.


amy diaz - iwu said...

Science is known to be objective in theory and warrants provable cause and effect. However, could it be that humans have created objective and subjective truths because comprehension of reality within our plausability structures only permit truth based on experience? If you understand that we came to exist from something much greater than ourselves (God) then you couldn't argue the idea that this greater being is not capable of things outside of human perception - we have limits to our comprehension.

daniel the smith said...


I don't think I'm understanding the first bit of your post. :( But the last sentence, which is exactly what Pastor Rod asked for (an answer from within the Christian PS), is, I think, a good example of why I think it's often not useful to answer from within our own PS.

You start, "If you understand that we came to exist from something much greater than ourselves (God)..."-- but the problem is that this is precisely what a scientific PS *doesn't* understand or accept. I suppose this could be considered a form of "begging the question" (from their point of view).

Hopefully that doesn't sound like a criticism, as I do think your answer is essentially the blanket answer from within the Christian PS (depending on the person, I think it might be important to supply more details though, of course).

amy diaz - iwu said...

Daniel, Thank you for your comment - What I'm stating in the beginning of my post is that humans already have a problem with comprehending anything outside of reality (experience). Especially a scientist who believes in cause and effect. However, a person within the understanding of cause and effect, would have to comprehend that the universe didn't evolve from nothing - something had to exist to start the reaction of the first cause. Believing otherwise wouldn't fit the mold of their theory. So, what I'm saying is that even if you don't like the "term" God for the label of which our creator is, we still have a being much greater than ourselves that created humans, or, if a person so chooses to believe that we evolved from slime, then, we can state it as the being that created the slime in which we evolved. Either way, their denial of a much larger being than ourselves wouldn't stand to reason, even if they're a scientist and not a Christian. Therefore, this would lead to the statement I made about our comprehension. I hope I'm being much clearer on my statement this time.

daniel the smith said...


Ah, now I understand what you're saying. :)

What you're saying is the reason why every Christian should love the idea of the Big Bang. ;)

Basically what you've established is that it is reasonable to believe that a god might exist. But why is it reasonable to think that that god that might exist is the God spoken of in Genesis, that Genesis is accurate, or even that it was transmitted to us today relatively unchanged by time? Etc, etc.

I personally wouldn't like to go that route with an unbeliever (unless it was necessary to undo some wrong impressions on what he thought he had to believe to join the club) because it takes a long time before you get to the main point, Jesus.

Thanks for the interaction... :)

amy diaz - iwu said...

Daniel, I can see your point of not wanting to approach this in the way that I've stated. However, like you said, we first need to build credibility.

I believe that the only way to start this process with a non-believer is to bring about the reasoning in which a god does exist by using their own theory against them. Then we can move on to the reasoning of the God in Genesis. I think if someone can get to a point of open-minded discussion with a non-believer, their comprehension of the god, (they now have reason to believe exists), could very well be the God in Genesis. It shouldn't be that far-fetched to believe that our creator could be the God that reveals Himself to us in the Bible and that He is a loving God.

I just think it would be easier to address a skeptic this way. How could anyone talk to a non-believer, without establishing the existance of God before throwing Jesus into the mix?

daniel the smith said...

I didn't get enough sleep last night, so this will be short--

Amy, I guess for me, Jesus is the only thing that *does* establish the existence of God. I believe what I do about God because of what I believe about Jesus, not the other way around.

Jesus and the communities that practice his teachings are things that are extremely hard to interpret from a scientific PS. Everything else would be easy for me to reinterpret/ignore if I were an atheist.

The philosophical arguments that get you from a potential generic god to the God of the bible all sound good to me, but I don't find them convincing-- they serve to make the faith I already have a little more reasonable, but they would not even come close to convincing me if I were an atheist.

That may say more about me than it does about people in general, but in my experience I think it's pretty true of people around my age in the circles I'm in.