Anti-Creationism Unconstitutional

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A U.S. District Court in California has ruled that it's unconstitutional for a public school teacher to say that creationism is superstitious nonsense. According to Supreme Court precedent going back to 1984, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn't mean merely what it says (which is just that the government can't set up a state religion) but extends even to government employees saying something that a reasonable person might take to count as endorsement of a particular perspective endorsing or disapproving religion. Add to that the conviction that creationism is religion, and you get this result. This does seem to me to be a direct application of current Supreme Court precedent and the standard view of creationism as religion (which the Supreme Court has endorsed, at least in one instance of the use of the term and a U.S. appeals court has declared to be applicable to intelligent design as well, although that judgment is only legally binding in one of the three federal court districts of Pennsylvania, just as this current decision is only legally binding on one of four federal court districts in California). [For the record, my detailed evaluation of the last case is here.]

Now I don't happen to think this is the right result, for several reasons. For one, the term 'creationism' can mean a lot of different things. It could mean the view that the the Earth is 6,000 years old, more precisely known as young-earth creationism. Some hold this view because they believe scripture teaches it, in which case it counts as a religious belief. Others claim to find it taught by science, in which case their support for it is of the kind that should count as science, even if it's bad science. The Supreme Court has declared that since it is taught in scripture, and science the scientific reasoning being presented is not good science, it can't be of the kind that should count as science. That claim has always seemed wrong to me, and I think this result is exactly what follows when you take such a view. If it's not of a scientific kind, then deriding it as bad science is also not of a scientific nature but of a religious nature (even if it's against a religious view).

But the term 'creationism' can also mean simply that there's a divine being who created. That's often a religious belief. It can also be a philosophical conclusion of arguments that have been present throughout the entire history of Western philosophy and have been held alongside religious beliefs by some but independently of religious beliefs by others. Thomas Aquinas, for example, presented arguments for God's existence that did not rely one bit on any religious beliefs. Lots of thinkers have believed in a creator without thinking they have any religious obligations to that creator. So even that kind of creationism isn't clearly religious, although it often is. Intelligent design arguments fall into this category if they conclude with the belief in a divine creator (rather than a more open conclusion, e.g. merely that there is some designer, which could be aliens if we're talking about biological ID arguments rather than cosmological fine-tuning ID arguments).

When a teacher says that creationism is superstitious nonsense, absent a context, it's not clear what that teacher means. It's certainly not obvious to me that it's a derision of particularly religious elements in any particular one of these things creationism can mean. But I do suspect that most people saying something like this aren't going to be sensitive to any of the distinctions I've just outlined, and they probably do intend to think of creationism as a religious teaching. Given some of the other statements this particular teacher made, I think this is especially likely in this case.

But is deriding religion a violation of the Establishment Clause? It certainly is, according to the current court precedents. Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly presented the endorsement test, which prohibits government employees when speaking in official capacity from saying anything that either endorses or disapproves of religion, and later decisions have made use of this principle.

According to what's commonly called the Lemon test (from Chief Justice Burger's 1971 opinion in Lemon v. Kurtzman), which Justice O'Connor meant to be clarifying with her endorsement test, a statement regarding religion can be unconstitutional in any of three ways. If it has no legitimate secular purpose, if its primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion, or if results in excessive entanglement of government or religion then it violates the Establishment Clause, according to that decision, which has been maintained in a number of subsequent decisions. It's hard to see this teacher's comment as having no secular purpose, if what he wants is just to promote science, but it doesn't seem easy to me to get out of the charge of inhibiting religion. It doesn't inhibit religion per se, but it does inhibit a particular religious expression, even in the most restricted sense of creationism as young-earth creationism. If it was about a much broader conception, then it seems to seek to inhibit a broader category of religious expression.

I think the fundamental problem with Supreme Court doctrine on this sort of issue is that none of this has much to do with what the Constitution actually says. The First Amendment's Establishment Clause reads, ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Together with the misnamed Free-Exercise Clause (which is a phrase, not a clause, which adds "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" we have the entirety of the Constitution's pronouncements on religion. The founders were preventing the establishment of a church state, such as Great Britain's Church of England. Congress is prevented from making a law respecting the establishment of religion.

The term 'respecting' could mean either "with respect to" or "giving respect to". I tend to think it means the former, which is a broader prohibition. Congress can't make any laws about the setting up of religions. Religions are free to do as they choose in setting themselves up, without laws prohibiting their free expression. But even in the more restricted second reading, Congress is only preventing from making laws that show respect for a religion. In that case, it still doesn't mean that government employees can't show respect for a religion (never mind show disrespect). This is about laws prohibiting certain religious conduct or establishing a state religion. The Free Exercise Clause itself should show us that, since prohibiting religious speech by an individual is thus prohibiting fee exercise. I'm not sure how that should be any different for a high school history teacher than it is for President Obama's frequent invocation of God. Some say it restricts both, of course, but I don't see how it restricts either. There's perhaps something immoral about deriding religion in the classroom, but I don't see how it's unconstitutional.

But if I'm right, it also means that there's nothing unconstitutional with endorsing or at least showing great respect and favoritism to particular religious beliefs in the classroom. You don't even have to go as far as I do with the Establishment Clause to allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design arguments as constitutional, since those aren't in every context really religion. That's not to say that the young-earth creation science view should be taught as good science, which is another matter entirely. It's also not to say that intelligent design arguments based on scientific premises are good philosophical reasoning, which is also a separate question. It just strikes me as historically ignorant and conceptually confused to think that these things are unconstitutional. If it takes a ruling like this to show the anti-religion crowd the absurdity of current judicial precedent, then I welcome such a ruling. Since lower courts are bound by the Supreme Court, I do think this case was rightly decided given the role of this judge. Nevertheless, it's the wrong result, and that should be a wake-up call to those whose current views on creationism and intelligent design have led to this.

18 Comments

A very interesting post. I wonder if God needs to be identical to a demiurge, so that arguments for the existence of God may count as arguments for existence of a creator. Still, it’s never been clear to me if scripture makes testable claims or not; if it does then it’s arguably science and if it doesn’t it isn’t. If scripture is science, then I think the consensus among contemporary scientists would be that it’s been falsified; but a false scientific theory doesn’t become ‘bad science’ just because it’s been superseded by a better one: Newtonian physics isn’t ‘bad science’ and there’s certainly an argument for referring to, say, the theory of ether in a history class. So perhaps there’s a prima facie case for mentioning the theory that the Earth is 6,000 years old in history class. I just don’t think religious people take themselves to hold testable beliefs, but I may be wrong.

The legal position as you set it out does sound weird, and complex. I’m not sure I quite understand the verdict, who you think is to blame for it or what should be the way forward. Does opposition to religion count as a religious position? It doesn’t seem like a violation of free speech to expect professionals to operate under a code of conduct: People don’t want teachers in authority of their kids to lace lessons with their pet prejudices! If there’s something immoral about deriding religion perhaps there’s something immoral about praising religion. So I wonder why you’d wish a curriculum to endorse or show great respect and favouritism to particular religious beliefs. Different religions make incompatible claims and it’s not clear on what grounds religious consensus may emerge. Which particular religious beliefs should be granted preferential status and why? People may deserve unqualified respect but I can’t see why their beliefs do.

Anti-Creationism Unconstitutional for a much more important reason, i.e. the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...." The very foundation of the Federation rests on the self-evident nature of some form of Deistic creationism--Not necessarily 6-day Christian book of Genesis creationsim, but some sort of creation by God. For a school to teach that all men are not created equal, or that men are not created by God, is to teach treason--it is anti-american. On this basis, atheistic evolution should have never been allowed in the schools. Not that book of Genesis creationism should have been in the schools, but the simple creed of the Declaration of Independence certainly should be!! That creed defines that God created all men equal, yet not how or over what span of time. As long as our schools are not teaching that Deistic creed, they are anti-american institutions.

Of course scripture makes testable claims. It's never 100% to prove or disprove a historical claim, but you can find evidence for and against scriptural claims, such as that certain individuals did certain things in certain places at certain times. But that doesn't make it science. Chronicling historical events doesn't amount to science.

I know of no instance of anything in the Christian scriptures being falsified.

Those who think the Earth is 6000 years old do not think this is merely a formerly-held scientific theory. They think the best science leads to such a conclusion even now.

You might be right about freedom of speech allowing restrictions on the conduct of a teacher in how they say things. But that's not what's at issue here. The school wasn't restricting the teacher's conduct. They were defending the teacher. The question is whether the First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits this as government disapproval of religion, not whether it's ok for the school to have a policy that its teachers be nice to religion.

I have no interest in public schools implementing a curriculum favoring particular religious beliefs. I don't have any problem with individuals in government expressing their individual beliefs in public, including when giving speeches or giving arguments for positions that are commonly associated with religion. This should be true of teachers too. If a teacher in a public school wants to present arguments in a science class for fine-tuning or to present arguments against such views, that's fine with me, as long as it's done in an honest and balanced way so that what both sides say is clear. Teachers incapable of doing this morally ought to refrain, but I don't see any constitutional objection to a discussion of the merits of the arguments. That doesn't mean I favor a curriculum favoring any particular religion.

As for the Declaration of Independence, from the next comment, I have very little sympathy for such an argument. The Declaration of Independence is not part of the Constitution, and it's not binding law in the U.S. in any way, as far as I can tell. It's certainly not treason against the U.S. to deny God's existence.

I wonder how one would go about falsifying Christian scriptures and what it would mean if it proved impossible to do so. Astrology is notoriously unfalsifiable. But I thought that according to scripture it’s the sun which orbits the earth rather than vice versa, in which case something in the scripture is a scientific claim which has been falsified; I also thought the best current estimate is that the earth is over 4 billion years old and that there’s empirical evidence for a figure of this order. Of course there’s always room for scepticism; but then I can’t see on what grounds, if we’re going to doubt the evidence, we should settle on the 6,000-years-old hypothesis as against the 5-minutes-old hypothesis. So I admit I’m not sure how much time it’s worth spending in class carefully presenting arguments for and against fringe views ‘in an honest and balanced way’. Of course paradigms do shift: Homer too claimed that certain individuals did certain things in certain places at certain times and people now believe they know where Troy is and that the Trojan war did happen. But this hasn’t quite raised the credibility of the Olympian gods.

I don't know anywhere in scripture that teaches that the sun orbits the earth. I do know of one passage that speaks phenomenologically the way we do all the time. I don't say a thing that's false when I speak of the sun rising. I'm not talking in terms of technical scientific specificity. I'm instead using ordinary English, and in English we say the sun rises when the sun in our perceptual experience moves up above the horizon.

The best scientific evidence of the age of the earth is some really large number, yes, a number that's entirely consistent with the biblical narrative of the origin of the universe. We have no idea how long the events described in the first few chapters of Genesis could have taken if they happened as described. The text doesn't tell us how to map the creation days onto real time or even whether they happened in chronological order, and there are in fact strong reasons internal to the text to think it couldn't easily be meant to be a genuine chronology but is just speaking theologically about what God did and what God is like.

There is one reason to prefer the 6000-year-old hypothesis over the 5-minute one. At least a superficial and wooden reading of an ancient text that claims divine inspiration leads to such a view. There's no reason at all to suspect the world is actually only 5 minutes old, even if the skeptic would insist that we can't rule it out. Also, I wouldn't call the young-earth view a fringe view. A significant percentage of the American public (I believe nearly half) actually believes that humanity is less than 10,000 years old (although this view is compatible with the view that the Earth itself and the universe are as old as the dominant scientific picture puts them). I don't know how many of those also believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years, but it's probably a significant enough portion that it's not a fringe view in terms of numbers of people, even if those who claim that science shows such a thing are on the fringes of science.

I'm not sure what you're getting at with the falsifiability thing. You said you didn't think there was anything in the Bible that's falsifiable, and I listed some things that seem very much falsifiable. You point out that there are other things that aren't falsifiable. So what? Are you trying to get into a general apologetical discussion here? My only point is that there are philosophical arguments based on scientific premises (e.g. fine-tuning) that might have a place in a science class as long as an explanation is given for why many people resist such arguments. I have no idea how this falsifiability stuff is supposed to relate to that.

Jeremy,
I have been lurking on this site for a while now.
I agree with most of what you said in response to “European observer”
However, the way you characterized YEC again (see below) prompted me to respond
One thing that I find amazing (and not necessarily in a good way) is your insistence on summarily dismissing the young earth view using rather strong words: “a superficial and wooden reading”, or in previous posts (see comments on your Commentaries on Genesis) claiming that “It's very hard to maintain such a position even textually” without backing up your assertions with equally powerful arguments or evidence.
It is very clear that you do not agree with YEC, it is clear that you have a rather strong dislike for the view leading you to put any commentary that would dare advocating it “way down the list from any evangelical commentary …” as you are “very reluctant to recommend any work that defends such a view, even if the rest of the work turned out ok”.

what is not so clear is if you are acquainted with the view from primary sources (you know, those bottom feeder commentaries that you are reluctant to recommend just because they defend the view)

Wouldn’t it be grand if you also applied the same principle to works that have more damaging transgressions such as a low view of Scripture?
From your exchanges with Steve Hays less than a year ago and other posts it does not appear that you proved your point as easily as the language you employ to characterize the view appears to suggest (to put it mildly)

What you proved at best what that exegetically, the text does not require a YEC reading, which is a far cry from proving that the YEC reading is “superficial”, “wooden” and untenable textually
What was more telling is that like most opponents of the YEC view, you allowed factors and presuppositions external to the text such as “what God has revealed through scientific study”)to influence if not determine your reading of the text. Not a very good exegetical approach to say the least

My goal is not to repeat the debate or even present arguments for the YEC view

It would however be helpful to avoid inflammatory language to characterize a view that has history of hermeneutics and the text in its favor (as Millard Erickson in his systematic theology, an Old Earth proponent concedes before declaring like you that the scientific evidence (or as some would say interpretation of the evidence) cannot be ignored)
This often boils down to epistemology and what considerations take precedence in exegesis (I have too much respect for the text to allow external factors to override (not just illuminate) the textual meaning)
I am currently exploring various theological takes on eschatology (Classical Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, historical premillennialism, amillennialism and so on) what I find funny but ultimately distressing is that each camp is generally more interested in characterizing opponents by using strong adjectives and painting a caricature of them than really providing strong biblical arguments to back up their specific view while dealing with the other view with fairness

Such approach might work well with an undergraduate crowd but I believe that we need to give more credit to readers of this website (in order to avoid a case of Proverbs 18:17). With more “traveled” interlocutors, it might actually work against what one is trying to prove
I found that a willingness to actually listen and consider the arguments of those who disagree with can work wonders. It also forces us to recognize that at time opposing views can have valid points and even provide better explanation of the part of the data than our own views. Yes it might end up weakening our own arguments or theological system, which is fine if this results in us getting closer to the truth

sincerely,


Alain

Alain, there are some issues where I think there are decent arguments on both sides, and I get tired of such debates sometimes, but I'm more willing to accept that some won't follow me on them. I just don't think this is one of them. I don't think there are any halfway-decent arguments for the Young-Earth view, not without adopting a crazy epistemology (or really philosophy of language). I think the position you've stated requires you to deny the obvious results of scientific study that tell us that the Earth moves around the sun. If we can't let science tell us some truth about the world that will then allow us to derive the meaning of scripture, then we can't do it in that passage either.

I don't actually think this should be handled in epistemology but rather in philosophy of language. Language only has meaning because of how it is used. If we used the word 'water' to refer to grape juice and only grace juice, that's what it would mean. If we discovered that we'd been wrong about the chemical structure of water all along, and it's actually got a hard-to-detect helium atom inside it, then our views about what substance water is would have to change. Having false beliefs about what words refer to is compatible with still referring to the thing based on your actual interaction with the stuff. So if it turns out that the daily event called a sunrise isn't what people thought it was, then they were wrong about what it is. They still referred to it when calling it a sunrise. Why can't the same be true of people who referred to creation days while thinking of them as 24-hour periods arranged in chronological order if it turned out that science showed us that such a chronological ordering in so many 24-hour periods didn't happen (as it has indeed done)?

Another example is the common view of Jonah being swallowed by a whale. Scientific study shows us that whales couldn't swallow a person because of the construction of their mouth, but the Hebrew term used there could refer to a big fish. Without science, we wouldn't know that. But the normal assumption when reading the text without that scientific understanding would be to assume it's talking about a whale. If we want to insist that the Bible is true, we have to understand the world that it speaks about to see how what it says can actually fit with what we discover about the world.

It's certainly true that our scientific methods are fallible. We might get things wrong, and we might get them wrong in ways that show that the interpretation of scripture that science seemed to overturn ends up being confirmed. But on matters that don't come down to gospel issues (e.g. whether Jesus was really resurrected), I don't see how it does Christians any good to hang on kicking and screaming to a view that the text doesn't require that's pretty much a laughingstock of a view in terms of the science.

But it's certainly not true that I haven't discussed this. It's been several years since I said my piece on the six-day shibboleth in certain circles and then gave a literary argument for why the text itself does not favor such a reading. But I haven't encountered anything since then that changes my mind significantly about any of the key issues here, so I don't see why I need to author a new post on it just to have said something recently. When I encounter an issue that I think does merit a new post, I often do write a post on it, as I did here when I realized that the problem of death entering the world actually leads to an argument in favor of the Old Earth interpretation.

I looked into these issues in close detail in high school, and I found that the Answers in Genesis approach just didn't seem to be based on good science. It hasn't changed its views or approach since then, and science has proceeded since then without bringing along those who insist on reading the text this way despite every reason not to do so. I have enough on my plate that it just seems like a waste of time to continue looking at an issue that seems to me to have been settled long ago.

On my commentary recommendations, by the way, I'm offering my views on the usefulness of commentaries. If I found a commentary that in every way was superior to the ones on my list but happened to have the Old-Earth view, I would certainly consider adding it. The commentary in question that I had that discussion about was by an author whose work I had looked at on Exodus in comparison with other Exodus commentaries, at a time when good evangelical commentaries on Exodus were slim pickings. I didn't find his work on Exodus all that helpful. Given that Genesis (in comparison with Exodus) has far more commentaries that are very excellent, it just didn't seem to be the kind of situation where I would expect his commentary to be so good that it would outweigh a bad feature. On Genesis, there happen to be so many good commentaries with a high view of scripture that I don't have to turn to commentaries that don't. In fact, two of the best commentaries even by scholarly standards turn out to be by evangelicals. On books where that's not true (e.g. Kings), I have to take what's good from several commentaries and just rely on what's there. So I don't see how I was doing what you were saying I was doing.

Jeremy,
It is clear that we approach the biblical text differently and that those hermeneutical and epistemological differences influence our respective conclusions (I will stick to the epistemological and hermeneutical aspects of the issues).
It is my contention that epistemology and the hermeneutical system its produces are the key factors in our disagreement. just like epistemology is at the center of the wider rejection of creationism by the scientific community

I will state right away that both your epistemology and hermeneutics are flawed from the perspective of a high view of the Bible because you do not allow the biblical text itself and the horizon of the biblical author to determine the meaning of the text, rather you seem to require that whatever conclusions we come up with must conform to external factors such as scientific discovery (this is not to imply that you do not have a high view of scripture but rather that the methodology you employ might conflict with it)
This is not exegesis; it is eisegesis of the worse kind that seeks to make the biblical text more palatable to the modern mind even if the result violates the most likely original meaning of the text
Your overarching concern appears to be finding an interpretation of the text that is not at odds with scientific findings and does not unnecessarily turns you into a laughingstock

Yes, the interpreter should use all tools available including archeology in order to escape his or her modern preconceptions and worldview and recover the author’s horizon. However, ensuring that the meaning of the text does not conflict with modern (and still fallible) scientific discoveries should not be the concern of exegesis (it becomes eisegesis at that point).

Correct me if I am wrong but your epistemological system appears to work as follows:
The Bible is true to reality
Science also reveals truth about the physical world
Therefore Proper biblical interpretation must agree with scientific truth which legitimately becomes a guide in exegesis
For the above to work, it requires that one places science on par with biblical revelation as long as one is certain of the “assured results of scientific inquiry” regardless of whether or not the original author held to the same scientific views or worldview
I suspect that in theory you might not place science on par with the Bible but you appear to do so in practice unless of course “gospel issues” come into play

In contrast to what appears to be your epistemological system, mine only allows the biblical revelation (that is what is revealed in the text itself) to determine the meaning of the text and is not concerned with harmonizing the findings with modern science. The Bible for me is the ultimate truth; my only concern is to draw the meaning from the text. I do not worry about harmonization (which belongs in the realm of apologetics but not exegesis).
This is not to say that I do not allow archeology and so on to illuminate the text

The example you gave from Jonah 2:1, 11 is a poorly chosen one
“Jonah and the whale” misconception only happened because of the KJV translating the Greek ketos in Matthew 12:40 as whale. In Jonah 1:17; 2:1, 11 they translated the Hebrew dagah as fish. This is more a matter of the translators of the KJV (and that family of versions). Lexical studies (if one is to believe BDAG and HALOT among others) for both Greek and Hebrew show that the various words used refer to nothing more specific than a big fish or a sea monster
One does not need scientific studies to arrive to that conclusion

Even better, scientific studies are unable to settle the issue. They can only tell you that under “normal circumstances” a whale cannot swallow a man (the same normal circumstance would militate against water changing into wine, a shaft turning into a snake, a dead man coming back to life after being touched by the bones of a dead prophet, a woman changing into a pillar of salt and the list goes on). The last time I checked God is able to perform miracles that defy the laws of nature (the very definition of a miracle).
As such, the simple fact the construction of the whale’s mouth makes it impossible to swallow a man under “normal circumstances” does not preclude that a whale, under supernatural “influence” could in fact swallow a man. I am not arguing that the “big fish” was in fact a whale, what I am arguing is that it would not have been the first time God does something impossible according to the scientific method

The very reason why skeptics reject miraculous accounts in the bible is because and I quote you, it does not “actually fit with what we discover about the world”.

I wish you would take your view of the role of science to its logical conclusion and examine all the claims of the Bible to see if they “actually fit with what we discover about the world”. I wonder how much of the miraculous in the Bible would stand up to such scrutiny

Granted your desire to make the Bible “actually fit with what we discover about the world” might solve 1% of the 9999+ issues where the bible appears to be at odds with pure scientific inquiry (this includes miracles) but the 99% of issues that remain and cannot be explained away by clever esiegesis will still turn you into a laughingstock in a eyes of a naturalistic world (i.e. even Jonah without the whale is still absurd to most)
What you seem to overlook is that scientific inquiry is not only limited by the fallibility of the human observers, more damaging, it is also limited by its own scope and “jurisdiction” as naturalistic methods cannot account for, assess, explain, or pass judgment on the spiritual/supernatural sphere and God’s actions in the universe.
What science allows us to discover about the world is a best a partial picture that should not become the standard by which special revelation is judged (especially since the scientific method rests on naturalistic assumptions)
Science, I believe, is a gift of God, but for science to play its God’s given role, it must know its place and limitations.

I will try to “briefly” deal with what I found troubling with your position
You said “I don't think there are any halfway-decent arguments for the Young-Earth view”
I am sorry but I doubt that you are qualified to make such a blanket assertion
In your review of Wenham commentary, you admit that you do not have knowledge of biblical Hebrew. This seriously undermines your assessment since a proper assessment of YEC arguments requires that one be familiar with the way Hebrew works as a language and the differences between Hebrew narrative and poetry.
(I am not implying that we do not all rely on the work of others or that we need to be experts to have an opinion, what I am saying is that your lack of knowledge of biblical Hebrew should temper your strong response ot YEC since you might not master all the arguments)

In the post that you linked about the “silly six-day shibboleth”, your comparisons of Gen 1 with the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 and the parables of Jesus do not appear to show an awareness of the crucial difference of literary genres between the various pieces that you refer to. Daniel 9 falls into the category of apocalyptic literature that is itself a subset of prophetic literature. Parable is another genre in itself that begs for a non-literal referent (i.e. the seeds are the Gospel).
The proper understanding of the various genre shows where figurative language is to be expected and when it is less likely

You appear to mistakenly think that a chiastic structure necessarily indicates a poetic genre. This is surely not the case since chiasmus appears outside of poetic passages and can be found in narrative, wisdom, and prophetic literature (see David Dorsey’s the literary structure of the OT). Many of the narrative sections of book of Genesis that clearly claim to be historical and chronological are ordered according to a discernable chiastic structure (good examples are the flood narrative, the story of Joseph). I know of no one that would claim that the story of Joseph is figurative

You appear to make much of the multiples of seven in Gen 1-2. What is overlooked in that seven and its multiples also appear in clearly historical and chronological sections of Genesis (Noah took seven of each clean beast and bird; the flood came after seven day. Jacob waited seven years for each of his wives; Egypt had seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine). Instead of seeing seven as a sign of figurative language, it is better to see God as the Lord of History as establishing patterns and symbols early on, using literal referents to teach and instruct His people spiritually (i.e. seven represents perfection)

You also appear to mistakenly believe that "repetition" belongs to the exclusive domain of poetry (the toledoth “this is the book of the generations of” is repeated eight times in Genesis without suggesting that it has a poetic or figurative function)

There is a difference between characteristics that are exclusive to poetry and characteristics that common to many other genres (only the former help your argument)

The text yields many clues indicating that the genre of Genesis 1 is NOT poetry and much less contains figurative language
This is where ironically John D. Currid’s work on Genesis is helpful in presenting a simple refutation of the figurative view
The Hebrew construction of the vav-consecutive-plus-imperfect is generally indicative of an historical sequence in narrative. It is found 24 times in Joshua 1-2 and 51 times in Genesis. However, this narrative device is almost never found in Hebrew poetry
You also will have to explain why Genesis does not have clear indications of symbolism, tropes, or metaphors which are the usual characteristics of figurative language
You also need to explain the complete lack of another key feature of Hebrew poetry, namely line parallelism in Gen 1 (except maybe in 1:27)
Form a canonical perspective; you also have to explain the lack of intertextual interpretation of Genesis as a figurative account. Instead passages like Exodus 20:8-11 appear to take Gen 1 quite literally
You claim that “The text doesn't tell us how to map the creation days onto real time or even whether they happened in chronological order”
Yet the days are numbered, which is an indication of sequence and usually used in scripture to refer to literal 24 hour days

You said of the overall account “ is it being used to illustrate spiritual principles and theological claims distinguishing God's creation from pagan creation stories, or is it a chronological, scientific account about 24-hour periods in history?”
This is a false dichotomy that is easily exposed
The bible is a theological book, even books like Kings and Acts who emphasize their historical claims do not cease to convey a theological message. Is it not a matter of "either… or", it is a matter of “both… and"
Additionally, a narrative could describe an account that is true to fact without claiming scientific accuracy. It is not a matter of scientific account or figurative account. As Derek Kidner observes the language of Genesis 1 is that of every day describing things by their appearance (a phenomenological rather than scientific account).
What you call a superficial interpretation of Genesis 1 is what Kidner would call “the primary impression that it makes on the reader”. A reading that the primary audience was more likely to adopt. Allen P Ross essentially agree with the view

Lastly, it is telling that experts in the fields from Archer, Hamilton to Waltke do not primarely dismiss the 24 hour view on textual grounds. They all argue that YEC does not fit the scientific data (this is not however an exegetical argument). You would do well to follow the example of Hamilton who unlike you is an expert in the field. Although he does not agree with YEC (his view basically claims that Gen 1 has nothing to say about YEC versus Old Earth debate but focuses on a polemical response to foreign cosmologies). What I find interesting in Hamilton’s view on YEC is that he acknowledges the strengths of the view (that is YEC has more than halfway-decent arguments). He sees YEC as giving a more natural understanding of the meaning of “day” that agrees with the rest of the OT. He concludes that “the burden of proof, however, is on those who do not attribute to yom in Gen 1 its normal and most common interpretation, especially when yom is always described as being composed of an evening and a morning (see page 53)”
Archer, Hamilton to Waltke argue that Gen 1 does not require a 24 hour day interpretation (which may be true), but this is not the same as arguing that Gen 1 is incompatible with a 24 hour day interpretation (which seems to be your view)
From a textual perspective, what you could establish at best is that Gen 1 allows for other interpretations. This is still a far cry from proving that the a 24 hour day interpretation is not the most natural exegesis of the text or that any other interpretation is superior
Once you introduce the need to account for the scientific evidence you have left the field of legitimate exegesis (recovering the author's intended meaning) to that of apologetics

Alain

Alain, I'm sure you're not getting my position correct, and I'm not sure you're innocent of the same thing you're accusing me of. You didn't address my argument about the Joshua passage with the sun standing still. It's only because of science that we know that the sun doesn't revolve around the Earth. I've given an account of how the passage can still speak truly even though at face value it seems to be assuming the sun actually does move around the Earth, but there's a much easier way around the problem, and it's a way that's analogous to believing the Earth was created in six days. You can simply accept that the sun does move around the Earth rather than what we all do believe. According to the hermeneutic you've outlined, that's exactly what we should believe. If not, I'm really unclear on why. You haven't explained the difference between the two cases. They both involve science shaping how we interpret the text.

So seeing as how you would do in that passage the same thing you accuse me of doing in Genesis 1:1-2:3, I'm not entirely sure why what I'm doing is so wrong, and if you think I'm doing something more radical than what you do with the Joshua passage then then you'll need to explain why, because whatever more radical thing you think I'm doing doesn't seem to me to be something that I'm actually doing.

Now there are several other matters to get out of the way. One is that you're confusing a high view of the text with a high view of one's interpretation of the text. I have an extremely high view of the text. I subscribe to the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy. On the other hand, I don't have an incredibly high view of our interpretation of scripture. That process is highly fallible. The easiest way to see that is the fact that people with a high view of scripture come up with contradictory interpretations. In some cases, I think there's an obvious interpretation, and I can't see how people get a different one, but in other cases I can see how both sides can end up where they end up.

But it's quite clear that our interpretation process is not infallible the way scripture itself is. We have to acknowledge our own humility on this, else we end up holding our interpretations on the level of idolatry, as if our own conclusions after reading the text have divine authority. Such a view actually amounts to a much lower view of scripture itself than the view that scripture is infallible but our interpretation is not in much the same way that KJV-only views actually lower the authority of the original text in order to hold the KJV up at a higher level.

At the same time, science is also fallible. It usually tends to move more closely toward the truth, getting closer and more precise approximations over time. There are occasions when it takes a side turn toward a dead end but sits there for a while before it comes back toward the path of progress, and there are times when it stalls and hangs on to a false view in the face of evidence of the truth. But it does tend to move toward truth in a fallible way.

What this means is that you from your perspective as an interpreter can't put science up against scripture when figuring out what scripture actually says. You have to put up what you think a close study of scripture leads to in comparison with what you think a careful scientific study of the world would lead us to conclude. Those are two infallible processes, and neither of the is scripture. One might argue that the Holy Spirit will guide us in interpreting the scripture, but he obviously does not do so infallibly or every believer would have the same views. One can also point out that the Holy Spirit can guide us in interpreting the scientific evidence.

The result of all this is that we have to look at all the sources of information and figure out which evidence is strongest. There is debate over what the scripture can mean, even if I were to grant that the most obvious interpretation would be the young-earth one. I would say that both interpretations can fit with the text in a way compatible with a high view of scripture (i.e. that what the text says is indeed true). Even if one is more likely on exegetical grounds, they are both possible. Then you proceed to see what the world is like from scientific study. If the less-likely but possible view accords with what science indisputably reveals, while the more-likely one textually does not, then you have your answer (at least for now, barring some further revelations to do with each source of information).

If you don't like the case of Jonah, examples abound. Actually, your concession that archeology can illumine the text shows that you do not really believe what you're telling me, since archeology is just the use of science to discover things about the world that will then limit our interpretation and might in fact run contrary to our initial impressions when reading the text.

As for some kind of hesitation to say something that admits of a supernatural explanation in the face of modern science's objections, I find that claim ludicrous. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I don't take the parable option for handling Jonah (although I think it's compatible with inerrancy to do so). I don't explain away the reference to Cyrus in Isaiah by concluding that a later prophet wrote those sections of Isaiah, and I do the same with the predictive components of Daniel. There are evangelicals who go with the mainstream scholarship on those features, relying on the unlikelihood of predictive prophecy and assuming that it was probably written after-the-fact. I find such moves totally unmotivated if the world is supernatural the way the Bible describes. I find the attempts to explain the plagues in Egypt as all the result of natural phenomena to be completely untenable (especially the killing of the firstborn: what would kill just the firstborn if it's natural, and why wouldn't it affect any Israelites?).

But this is a different matter. This isn't a case of something being unexplainable except for the supernatural, therefore leading to a conclusion that a miracle occurred. This is a case of the best science leading to the conclusion that something positively did occur, and the most careful biblical interpretation allows for that as a possibility (whether it's the most obvious one or not). The other cases involve something that doesn't happen in our experience, and the naturalist will assume that it can't, but those who accept the supernatural will allow for it as a possibility and thus accept that when scripture reports it happening we accept it as true. But when science tells us of an event actually occurring, it can help us interpret a scriptural text that could be read in several ways, the same way an ambiguous NT text about what time Jesus' crucifixion might have occurred can be read several ways, and evidence about the Jews or Romans kept track of time (e.g. that they would usually round to certain times, such as the 6th or 9th hour) can affect how we read the text.

You make a strange claim at the end of your second-to-last comment. You say the scientific method (as if there's just one) involves naturalistic assumptions. Maybe the problem is that you're assuming the scientific method to include not just the methods of going about scientific experimentation and observation but the philosophical conclusions one might draw at the end of such study. There are those who say that science shows us there's no God or that science shows us that there is no non-material component of human beings. But such claims seem crazy to me. Science doesn't show any such thing. That's a philosophical conclusion drawn inductively from the fact that things have always gone a certain way in our experience except in reports the person making the argument declares to be unreliable. I'm not one to say that science doesn't involve philosophy, but this sort of argument isn't really about what most people think of as involved in scientific reasoning. It's a naturalistic philosophical reasoning, not observation together with hypotheses than can be confirmed or falsified.

It's true that I can be less confident of arguments related to the Hebrew language than Hebrew scholars can be. It's also true that I can be less confident of arguments related to science than actual scientists can be. But I do know how to read and assess arguments, and I do know how to consider what different scholars will say based on the same evidence, especially when they present that evidence. The commentaries I've read on Gen 1:1-2:3 do present such evidence, and these people do know Hebrew very well, surely as well as Currid does. We're talking about making a fallible but often successful process a little more fallible and a little more prone to error. So what? If you really want to argue that not knowing Hebrew makes it impossible for someone to interpret the Bible, then so much for the perspicuity of scripture.

I never claimed that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is outright poetry. I said it has poetic features that involve a careful structuring to illustrate theological points. I also never said that its poetic features require it not to be historical, chronological narrative. All I said is that those features make it plausible to see it that way. It's the fact that there are prima facie non-chronological features that suggest its non-chronological nature. The point of showing these features is to explain why it would have the surface-structure of a narrative if it's not a narrative in the historical-chronological sense. It's a literary device. I don't think it must be doing that because it has poetic features. I just think it's more likely given the seeming contradictions (and yes, I'm aware of ways to get around the contradictions, but they seem less convincing to me than that the whole structure isn't intended to be chronological).

As for intertextuality, I don't need to find anything that takes it non-literally, because I do indeed take it fully literally. Within the account, the days are days. Within the account, what happens does happen in chronological order. I explained all this in the posts that you appear to have read. Even someone who takes the entire book of Genesis as mythological (in the sense that they don't accept that any of it happened) can refer to the things that take place in it as happening within the story, the same way I can talk about Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker as people within the fiction when I discuss Star Wars. If later biblical interpreters had done this with the prodigal son, they would be referring to a fictional character created by Jesus in his storytelling. But they might have said something like, "when the prodigal son ran away, he was being impulsive". In fact, many evangelical commentators think Jude does exactly this with one of the Enoch writings. I don't hold this sort of view about Genesis, but what this all means is that later biblical authors deriving implications from the text without treating it as mere metaphor should not entail that what's going on is a historical account of what happened in what order in exact detail the way we get in the narrative historical accounts later in Genesis.

Perhaps religion and state can’t be neatly kept separate if the state retains responsibility for education while questions of the overlap or otherwise of ‘magisteria’ remain unresolved. I appreciate that you take the empirical implications of scripture to be compatible with science, which is easily done anyway if one is anti-realist (non-cognitivist or constructivist) about either religion or science. It’s certain through-and-through-realists who seem to have a problem, though I still fail to see how commitment to a creator or intelligent designer could have any empirical implications in the absence of auxiliary hypotheses about the agent’s make-up or intentions. It may not be possible to prove there’s been no creator as it may not be possible to prove human lives aren’t affected by planetary movements; being unfalsifiable doesn’t make a claim scientific or respectable. In response to the kind of claims in scripture you put forward as falsifiable in principle I drew a parallel with the Iliad; supernatural events remain opaque to evidence for the Mycenaean civilisation and the Trojan expedition. So I guess I’m puzzled precisely what it is that people who support ID think they can contribute to science; the first scientists were the first philosophers, who rejected explanations in terms of anthropomorphic deities available at the time.

By ‘fringe views’ I meant fringe-within-the-scientific-community, assuming science curricula are decided by scientists rather than referenda. Large segments of the population in Europe believe in ghosts, horoscopes or the evil eye; this may be a good reason to keep studying social phenomena in the first instance, not to rush into amending science curricula accordingly. If the views of about half US citizens diverge so sharply from the dominant scientific picture in physics or biology then some fascinating questions arise about the education system overall; perhaps nothing discussed in science class can be expected to have that much impact on kids' pre-scientific views anyway. So maybe what ID proponents really want is simply to raise the respectability of such views by getting ID a mention in science contexts, which is prima facie problematic if the view is observationally inert unless downright religious. Alongside constitutional considerations there’s a methodological meta-controversy as to a scientific controversy being there or not. Fine-tuning seems to me to be currently on a par with creationism and ID, occupying at best some twilight between physics and metaphysics. This might change, like the status of Democritus’ atomic theory arguably did; it took some millennia in that case. But if you’re advocating for teaching philosophy in schools I’d fully support the call, though I’d have to admit bias.

I wouldn’t argue with you about what the scripture teaches but in the 17th century people were accused of heresy for claiming that the earth was not the centre of the universe. Perhaps the reaction had less to do with scripture and more to do with deflecting threats to cherished perceptions of human importance, uniqueness and significance, much as the evolutionary tree of life was taken to pose in the 19th. If you’re prepared to interpret scripture in the light of the best scientific theories available then it’d be circular if you also appealed to science to claim confirmation for scripture, wouldn't it? Re the solar phenomenology for terrestrial observers, I take to be uncontroversial that there are no raw facts and observation is theory-laden; and that interpretations are reconstructions. I agree that one might invoke some reading of an ancient text to ground preference for the 6,000-years-old hypothesis over the 5-minutes-old hypothesis but being prepared to discount all the evidence for physics whilst refusing to query the evidence for divine inspiration of an ancient text sounds more like selective amnesia than philosophical scepticism; still, I understand this is not your position and I appreciate your putting forward the argument nevertheless, in fairness.

Hi Alain! You seem to be familiar with a whole lot of ‘isms’ that mean nothing to me so I can’t deserve the credit other readers of our host’s wide-ranging blog may do. Perhaps I’m not up to specification and a Proverbs 18:17 case; I don’t know what that is either but it sounds pretty ominous!

Jeremy,

The reason why I did not deal with every single issue you raised (i.e. Joshua 10) is not because I try to avoid it but because the lengthy nature of our respective posts prevents both of us from dealings with all the arguments presented.

I do not think that the record of the Battle of Gibeon in Joshua 10 is an appropriate parallel. For starters, the genre of the passage is not the same as Gen 1. Joshua 10 is clearly poetry (terseness, line parallelism and so on). The writer purposely switched from prose to poetry.

Even if the poetic language is not considered a deciding factor, the perspective of the account is phenomenological as it intends to describe what an observer saw without concern for the scientific interworking of the occurrence. If you apply the same phenomenological perspective to Gen 1, it does not present s us with a scientific account of creation but it nevertheless describes what a witness would have seen as God created the earth. As such, the perspective is the same

However, your interpretation denies a phenomenological perspective in Gen 1 while mine treats both passages in a similar fashion (phenomenological accounts) within the boundaries of their respective literary genres

I believe that I have achieved my original purpose which was to show that your characterization of YEC as a superficial, wooden interpretation without a single halfway-decent argument was unfair to say the least and was not substantiated by the actual exegesis of the text.

I was waiting for overwhelming and decisive textual arguments that would put to shame all YEC arguments, you have made your case, but it did not live up to your rather forceful initial dismissal of YEC
Unlike you, I do not claim that main alternative view of Gen 1 does not have valid arguments; I only claim that from a purely exegetical perspective, YEC accounts the best for all the evidence in the context of the whole canon (death, sin, intertextuality and so on).

YEC has its own issues of course (i.e. with the current scientific consensus) but those issues are not primarily exegetical
What is also clear is that our hermeneutical differences are due to epistemological and philosophical disagreements.

While we could argue at length over the merits of our respective approaches, something is clear, what you advocate (as quoted below) is not exegesis, it is eisegesis (unless as someone said nature and science are considered to be the 67th book of the bible)

“Even if one is more likely on exegetical grounds, they are both possible. Then you proceed to see what the world is like from scientific study. If the less-likely but possible view accords with what science indisputably reveals, while the more-likely one textually does not, then you have your answer (at least for now, barring some further revelations to do with each source of information).”

By doing the above, you have decided to abandon the recovery of the author’s intended meaning and you are substituting your own.
You could say: what about archeology? Archeology serves a totally different purpose in the hermeneutical process. Since the goal is to recover the author’s intended meaning, the interpreter uses archeology and related disciplines to recover the horizon of the original author, his view of the world, his culture, history and so on. The goal is bridge the distance between ourselves and the original author.

Modern scientific conclusions as used in Gen 1 do not serve the same purpose and do not help us recover the horizon of the original author since they were not part of his sitz im leben (unlike the clues given by archeology). The difference is fundamental
Jeremy, I would like to thank you for the exchange. I appreciate the fact that you were willing to share your philosophical presuppositions. It helped me gain further understanding of why some reject YEC beyond the usual exegetical arguments. It also confirmed my suspicion that philosophical disagreements about epistemology and hermeneutics play an important role in the debate surrounding Gen 1

I am glad to see that above of this, we share the same hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that those issue while often brought to the forefront are nevertheless secondary

Sincerely,

Alain

I'm actually not an anti-realist about either, but I am willing to accept other literary genres for the biblical literature than just straightforward historical narrative told in chronological order with scientific precision. But I'm also not sure why the miraculous has to be taken to require scientific anti-realism anyway. There are plenty of ways to think about miracles that don't involve that. They could be suspensions of the laws of nature that we have no scientific reason to think happen (which isn't the same as having no reason to think happen). They could be part of the laws but not in any way that we could figure them out by observation. If Hume is right about laws of nature, there's no reason ever to be suspicious of miracles (which shows an inconsistency in his thinking, since he uses science to try to undermine the possibility of miracles, something his view of scientific laws can't allow him to do). I don't see how any of that involves anti-realism about science. There's still something that science investigates in any of those cases, and it still discovers genuine facts, just not absolutes with 100% epistemic certainty, and it's not an exhaustive method for determining all the facts. But that's not anti-realism about the very subject matter, as scientific anti-realists claim.

As for ID, I think it's only science in a pretty extended sense, although a lot of what cosmologists in physics do is also in that category. Theoretical physicists who discuss a multiverse with respect to quantum mechanics are also doing something unfalsifiable, but no one hesitates to call it science. As far as I can tell, the different multidimensionality theories are all consistent with the equations, and the arguments in favor of different ones all have to do with which theory is theoretically simpler in different ways (fewer dimensions, whether the equations could be more greatly simplified in a theory of everything, and so on). None of that has to do with falsifiability.

As for the first Western philosophers, there's divinity all through them. They were not naturalistic by any means. Thales said magnets have souls and are divine. Heracleitus was the first to speak of a Logos principle underlying the final causes within nature. Anaxagoras posited some kind of intelligent or rational principle to explain why anything changes at all, thinking natural causes couldn't do so. Empedocles had old-fashioned dualism of Order and Chaos as divine principles of some sort, and it's clear he had in mind final causes. Aristotle had the prime mover, who serves as an explanation only in terms of final causes, and then all of nature serves ultimately to imitate its perfection. So there's plenty of what contemporary naturalistic science-minded people would call mysterious (or, to use the technical term in analytic philosophy, spooky).

I actually think the heresy charges that on the surface-level were about science had more to do with politics than religion, but it does seem to me that there was an assumption that medieval and Aristotelian scientific conclusions were read back into the Bible in enough cases where contemporary exegesis relying on an understanding of what people in those times actually believed would have turned up a different view. For instance, I believe the Babylonians and Egyptians had a much different view of the planets than the view Galileo was opposing, but I don't remember the details enough to state that confidently. There are biblical statements that take the world to be round, although it's not 100% clear what that means, and I believe it was the Babylonians who said something similar. But the phenomenological point is what makes this hard to push as an argument anyway, as I've been saying.

For the record, here's Proverbs 18:17: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." [ESV]

Alain, it doesn't matter if the Joshua 10 statement is poetry or prose. If I said the sun rose this morning in prose, it would still be true.

Actually, I'm happy to say that Genesis 1:1-2:3 involves a phenomenological perspective of sorts. It's described from the point of view of breaking up each act as if it's a day. But there's no way to measure actual days until well into the process, so that does indeed suggest that the day framework is just that, a framework for ordering the passage, just as God orders creation throughout the chapter. There's no external observer whose perspective it is, but that doesn't mean it's not phenomenological language, and it saying it's phenomenological language doesn't mean there's a sun rising on the first day and setting at the end to show that it's a day. It's a literary device to treat it as a day to keep each day-act separate.

To be a superficial and wooden interpretation doesn't require that there's no way to read it that way. What makes it superficial and wooden isn't that the text might obviously seem to mean that on the superficial level. It's that its proponents insist that such a superficial meaning is the only possible one. I happen to think the Jonah narrative is intended to convey actual events that took place, but that superficial reading isn't the only one, and my acknowledgment of that indicates that I'm not insisting on a wooden interpretation. I just happen to favor the superficial reading in that case. I don't in this case. It's not derogatory to call a reading the superficial one. The superficial one is usually correct. It's just wooden to insist on the superficial reading when another one, one that is very much compatible with the text, much more obviously fits with what we know about the world. So I don't think it's unfair to call it superficial or wooden as I'm using those terms (and I do think those are standard ways of using them).

I'm not moved by intertextuality concerns. The ones I've seen are either dealt with the same way, or they aren't real problems, but I guess I'd have to know more of what you have in mind. I actually think intertextuality helps the old-earth case, given all the other ways the Bible speaks of creation, e.g. in the psalms, prophets, and wisdom literature (which I know is poetry, but its variety of language and conceptual frameworks seem to me to undermine somewhat the interpretation that young-earth views are the only way to take Gen 1:1-2:3).

As for sin and death, I think that's a real argument that old-earth views have to deal with, but I think that's been done very well by a lot of people. I'm not satisfied with everything everyone says, but I think there are plenty of things to say, e.g. see here, here, and here.

You keep misusing the term 'eisegesis', which is when you read a meaning into the text as if it must say that when it need not. What I've done is give an argument for what the text must refer to that doesn't depend on internal considerations (with some features that are internal that also suggest it). That's not the same thing. This is no more eisegesis than saying that Jericho in the NT is not the same Jericho and knowing this based on extra-biblical literature and
archeology. It may well be that Luke had incorrect views about what Jericho referred to when narrating what Jesus did in Jericho. He may well have thought Jericho was the same one that was destroyed in Joshua. But what matters is what his statements mean, and what they mean would still be true even if he had the wrong view of their referent. What makes a statement true may not be exactly in line with everything the author thinks about the statement, and that doesn't undermine its veracity. It just means the human author isn't as epistemically grounded as the divine author. But I would hope you agree with that already on other grounds.

I guess the anti-realist and the realist who accepts fallibilism and the evolution of science may be arguing about semantics. I agree with your critique of Hume on miracles; I can’t understand what ‘suspensions’ of the laws of nature may mean. Any ‘laws’ can be made consistent with any state of affairs, at a price. Ad hocness is not a cost scientists are willing to incur. But there are reports of miracles in ancient texts which aren’t taken seriously even though the texts are corroborated by archaeological evidence; so singling out certain miracles only seems ad hoc too.

I agree with your assessment of the views of the pre-Socratics; I suppose calling them ‘spooky’ is fair comment over ontology, even though they’re usually called ‘natural’ or ‘physical’ for their epistemology. But you’re not denying they rejected anthropomorphic deities, which is all I claimed; I have no idea what the Old Testament dates are, but if the texts were available to Xenophanes I think he’d have composed even more irreverent verses. As for Aristotle, it’s not his fault if Europeans rediscovered him through Arab Muslim scholars and then put him on a pedestal rather than strive to pay him the compliment he’d paid his teacher.

I don’t disagree with your assessment of the position in physics where it merges with exercises in metaphysics. I just find it weird that issues of demarcation should be dealt with by a constitution. And I wonder to what extent the ID agenda may be dictated by constitutional considerations. Is ID seriously intended as a rival to current paradigms in biology and physics worth exploring in its own right, or did it evolve from creationism to by-pass legal restrictions and bring talk about religion in schools where no RE can be taught? As I said I’m not sure about the relationship between a creator and God, and I have no problem with RE being taught in schools. I’m just puzzled by the fuss.

And thanks for citing the Proverb for me; it’s a fair point.

Suspension of the laws of nature don't make sense on a Humean view of laws, but they do make sense on a realist view of laws. If laws explain why causation occurs, then there are general truths about which sorts of things cause which sorts of things and when. Those are the laws. If a divine being were to do something outside that set of rules, then it would be a suspension or violation of the laws in some way. It's not how I prefer to think about miracles, but it's coherent as long as you're not working from a Humean view of causation. That part of Hume's critique is question-begging to someone who doesn't accept a Humean account of causation. Hume's real problem comes when he claims that this means the particular sorts of miracles people claim to have happen couldn't have happened, basing this claim on the scientifically-discovered laws that he claims are not rationally-known except as observations of which events have during the brief time of our experience been constantly conjoined.

Some of the pre-Socratics rejected anthropomorphic deities, sure, but Xenophanes rejected them in favor of something much more like what we now call traditional monotheism. He believed in a transcendent, perfect being whose basic nature isn't all that far removed from the God of Thomas Aquinas. There are surely things in Christianity and Judaism that he would have rejected, but the picture of God is still a lot closer than you make it sound. My main observation with the pre-Socratics is that they accepted an intelligent mind ordering the universe with final causes, which is all intelligent design arguments in their purest form are really arguing.

I find it as odd as you do that issues of demarcation are being dealt with as if constitutionally-mandated. I found the Dover, PA intelligent design court decision to be intellectually uncareful, ignoring a number of important philosophical distinctions and attempting to enshrine mistaken views of intelligent design arguments into law by judicial fiat. This is how the courts operate in the U.S. What people can't pass legislatively they just declare to be the law in court, and it's that very attitude that makes the Supreme Court so political. If judges would simply interpret the law, as judicial conservatives have been arguing for 30 years now, we'd have a much less politically-loaded court. Since about the time of Franklin Roosevelt, the Supreme Court has been engaged in a massive power grab to decide policy in a way that no elected officials could undo it without a long-term replacing of justices with more minimalist judges.

i think that you two(Jeremy and Alain) should take a step back from your respactive postions and look at the bigger picture. try looking at this argument from a thrid person perspective. you have both made very clear points now just sit and think about what the other is saying. i get from what you two are saying to each other you just keep rebuting back and forth but you dont take any time to evaluate the other view point.

jordan.
PS.not that anyone on earth cares what i think.

Jordan, I would say that we are doing exactly what you say we're not. We're evaluating the other viewpoint. Rebutting back and forth is evaluating the other viewpoint.

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