Interpretation and homosexuality passages II

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This email discussion is continuing. I got a response back, I've sent off a response to that, and I've gotten another one back already. It's venturing into broader issues of interpretation and inerrancy. I've included it in the original file and in the Arguments About Sex and Sexuality collection.

Update: Now that I've got an extended entry feature, the second part of the file linked to above is here. The first part is in the previous post.

The email discussion continues:

On the flat earth issue, I understand the concept of metaphor; when Joshua commands the sun to stand still he could be speaking metaphorically, just as Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said, I am the door. Nobody seriously thinks that Jesus has hinges and a keyhole because called himself the door.

But that doesn't help you, because taken as a whole, there is no question that the writers of Scripture believed and taught the earth to be flat and that the sun revolved around it. For a more complete discussion of that point, please see http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/febible.htm

Which brings us back to my larger point: You have done exactly what you accuse pro-gay revisionists of doing, which is basically being a revisionist. When the passages that everyone for centuries had understood teach a flat earth became inconvenient, they were simply reinterpreted, and nobody much cared that in reinterpreting them centuries of generally accepted hermeneutics were being cast aside. You, like the pro-gay side, have simply selected the interpretation, from a multitude of possible interpretations, that supports your world view.

I'm in the middle of a busy workday so I don't have time at the moment to go into what I believe to be the relevant rules of hermeneutics, though I'm open to continuing the discussion if you are. In the meantime, I would make the following points about your last question, proving morality. Are you saying that morality is not susceptible of objective proof, because I certainly disagree with you if you are. In answering the question, Is Practice X immoral, here is what I believe to be the proper line of questioning:

1. What is the social result of encouraging, or permitting, Practice X?

2. What is the result of banning, or discouraging, Practice X, both for society as a whole and for those individuals who wish to engage in Practice X? Phrased another way, does society benefit from Practice X, and do its adherents suffer unnecessary pain from a ban on Practice X?

I think you misunderstood what I was saying about the flat earth thing. I wasn't saying that we reinterpret what the people of the time thought. I was saying that the meaning of what people say is determined by things that they have absolutely no clue about sometimes. This is a popular view in philosophy of language, called externalism about content. I'm not connected to the internet as I'm writing this, so I'll have to look at the website later, but I want to make sure you understand what I'm saying independently of that.

I have two examples to show why many philosophers believe this. Take the view of George Berkeley. He believed that all our perceptions are just ideas in our minds placed there by God. He didn't believe in a real external world. It was sort of like the Matrix except it was God giving our minds the perceptions, and we don't have these bodies out in the real world. The real world just is the world of ideas. Tables exist in that world, but they're not external to us. Our bodies exist in that world, but those bodies are really just in our minds. Science is a reasonable venture to discover the natural laws of the world of ideas, which is the world itself. Now we didn't understand this until Berkeley was able to show it to us through philosophical argument, as he saw it, but it's true nonetheless. When I talk about a table, I think of it as an object external to my mind, but that's not true. It's in my mind. I might even say that it's external to my mind, which is strictly speaking false, but what I mean by that is that it's external to the body I perceive in the world of ideas. So what I'm really saying is true (or true enough) -- that the table is external to what I perceive to be me, which is located in the world of ideas within my head.

On Berkeley's theory of meaning, then, the words 'external to me' as used by the ordinary person just give a sense of where the thing is in relation to where my body is perceived to be in the Matrix-like world of ideas. Even if people are going around saying things that are incredibly misleading, you can make sense of them as true enough within the world of perception. That's what I was saying you can say about people who speak within their perception. Just as I don't think it's false to say that the sun rises, I'm speaking of my perception of it. I happen to know, that that's what I'm doing. Joshua wouldn't have. It doesn't change the fact that the meaning of our words depends on the reality that gives rise to them, and describing the sun standing still instead of describing the earth standing still is not reinterpreting what Joshua would have meant. It's interpreting what any sort of expression uttered in that time about the sun would have meant. Most philosophers today agree with me on this. This is standard philosophy of language.

The second example is a about the meaning of 'flat'. I'm sitting at a table now, and the table is flat. I can lay things on it, and if I try to write on it it's fairly smooth. If I got out a microscope, I would discover that it's not strictly speaking flat. It's got bumps. Well, what does 'flat' mean? You might think it means absolutely flat, in which case we say false things all the time and just don't care about truth but about approximation. In that case, what Joshua describes is approximate and therefore ok. Alternatively, you might think that what we say about tables being flat is just plain true. It's not absolutely flat, but it's flat. What we mean by 'flat' is that it's flat enough but not necessarily absolutely flat. In that case, 'the sun rises' doesn't mean an absolute sense of the sun moving but the earth standing still, which science shows is not true. We just meant whatever it is we keep seeing AS the sun moving. It's a relative sense of the sun moving in relation to our perspective. That's what we're referring to, and it turns out that the phenomenon isn't what we thought it was. 'The sun rises' still refers to what we keep seeing, even if it turns out to be not what we would have explained it as, just as 'water' refers to H2O and always did, even if people in earlier times thought it was a basic element. They had false beliefs about what the expression referred to. Their sentences using the word were still true.

As for the morality issue, I think you've given some good criteria for looking at when we should have laws against something. I just don't see why the effect of our actions should be the only thing that would affect whether it's morally ok. That's why I agree on most of the issues about what the laws should be. I just think that some issues can't be determined wholly by human investigation, and morality is one of them. If God created the universe, and particularly us, with certain aims in mind, and he wants us to pursue those aims, then that's the basis of morality. Thus it's wrong to rebel against God and live life as if there's no God. Is that a measurable harm to society if one person decides to live a secular life? Not significantly so. Should we have laws against such lives? Absolutely not. Will it lead to harm if everyone does so? I think so, but it's not the kind of harm that people of differing views will agree on, and empirical studies will have a hard time establishing the effects of a secular lifestyle with enough backing to show that it's paramount for society to pursue religion. That just isn't going to happen. Therefore the moral wrong of rejecting God is not something that fits under your criteria but is still wrong. This is just about general attitudes toward God and nothing about sexuality. The way that works in is if God has in fact said something about morality and sexuality, then the moral view is to accept that as coming from God, even if we can't see any significant harm coming from it. That's why I think the issue is independent of harm and social results.

3 Comments

Looking at the linked web site it doesn't seem near conclusive that all ancient people of the scriptures were flat-earthers, least of all those writting the scriptures. I'd grant that they were geocentrist, but I'm not sure that's any great crime. There are working, mathematically correct, geocentric models of the universe. They simply fail the rule of parsimony.

1-26-04 6:51 pm

Given relativity and perspective-dependent notions of location, it's not really an issue anyway. I'm not sure if I believe in substantival views of spacetime (vs. relational views), but on either view the things IN spacetime aren't absolutely located anyway, I think.

1-26-04 9:33 pm

FLAT EARTH THEORISTS FULL OF HOT AIR

I perused the theory that the Bible argues for a "flat earth" and it is very unimpressive. Essentially the writer appears to have taken some methaphoric and symbolic statements and twisted them out of context, beyone recognition, to fit his dubious claim. It is laughable.

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