Second response re: objections from ‘Atheist spat’ article

Our article on a spat between New Atheists vs their bedfellows in the NCSE/BCSE provoked several responses including one from theistic evolutionist Richard M. which we replied to here. Richard followed this with a second e-mail (given in its entirety below) …

A point-by-point response by Jonathan Sarfati and Philip Bell follows.

Dear Philip (plus Jonathan),

Thank you for your detailed response to my comments. I will respond by addressing several of the remarks made in your letter. First is the statement that “Given that you are one of our most frequent critics, one must ask how your professed Christianity differs in any practical way from atheism on the subject of origins.”

You have raised this point before, suggesting that I have a “low view” of scripture. With this I beg to differ-I have a detailed and thorough view of scripture, and I have enough detachment to look at it somewhat analytically. Virtually every human society has an explanation of its origins, one that is usually self-centered enough to establish that society, in the minds of its members, as unique and separate. The accounts in the early chapters of Genesis are one of many such-it forms a unifying and “learnable” explanation that served an early mid-eastern society well. Although, like most such myths, it is not internally consistent (and often inconsistent with what we know of nature), it was satisfying and explanatory for its creators and transmitters and formed a central basis for their way of life. Greek and Roman mythology served the same purposes for their societies, although in many cases I suspect people winked at its veracity (much as wiser children are willing to accept Santa Claus as a useful deception). In such mythologies, strict adherence to factuality and internal consistency is secondary to the main functions of cultural identity. Our modern insistence on the factual veracity of history is (with a few exceptions) a relatively recent development.

This approach does not denigrate the early pages of scripture; it just recognizes the most likely nature of these ancient writings, and it also recognizes their role in organizing and interpreting the rest of scripture. The fact that Jesus, Paul, and other biblical figures used the context of these writings in communicating their message testifies to the central role they served in Jewish thinking over the centuries. To have used a reference story outside the context of this shared common narrative would have their message far harder to deliver.

You also say in your reply (via an internal quotation) that a single, rigid interpretation is essential for communication. You are greatly mistaken. In the fields of literature (especially poetry), art, music, religion, and ordinary personal discourse, ambiguity and imprecision are useful (and even necessary, at times) for communication. Consider, for example, the vagueness and ambiguity of many of the prophesies found in the Old Testament. Their very imprecision invites all sorts of claims about their later fulfillment, but it also serves to cause people to look at later events in the light of the overall prophetic message. So where precision is called for, it can be used. Where imprecision or indirection serves the communication better, it can be used. At this point you will probably be considering me to be a relativistic postmodernist-and you would be quite wrong. Postmodernism, which I dismiss as both a scientist and as a Christian, is given the lie by (among other things) a simple illustration: even the most doctrinaire adherent to the assertion that “everyone has his own truth” looks both ways before crossing a busy street, lest he be struck down by an illusion of someone else’s mind….

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