The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘scholars’

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical “Inerrancy”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 5, 2012

Recently, while on vacation, my wife and I went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  For those who don’t know, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known writings of the Old Testament of the Bible in existence.  They are roughly 2000+ years old, and written in a variety of languages; plus, the story of their discovery and excavation is quite fascinating.

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A few things in particular struck me about the entire exhibit, which included some of the actual scroll fragments (and their translations); specifically, these things I observed about the scrolls seemed to come into direct conflict with the notion of Biblical inerrancy espoused by so many religious fundamentalists these days…

First of all, the fragments were just that… fragments.  The scrolls were terribly decayed and incomplete, which is to be expected after over 2000 years of exposure.  Now this wouldn’t seem to be that much of a big deal, were it not for my other observations…

Second, there was a lot of material within the Dead Sea Scrolls which doesn’t appear within the Old Testament Bible.  In other words, the Old Testament Bible seems to be a whittled down version of these more original writings.  Which begs a question: why did some of this original material make it into the Bible and other material was excluded?  The obvious answer is that at some point, someone (that is, people) had to decide what to include and what to exclude.  In other words, even at the very formation of what we call “The Bible”, it was going through a very real editing process by very real human hands.  And this leads me to my third, and probably most damning, point…

The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves give differing, and even contradictory, accounts of various Old Testament Biblical stories.  That is, they are not even consistent within their own writings, and these are the earliest (and therefore most original) Biblical writings we have!  Why would this be, if the Bible is supposed to be error-free?  The answer is simple, yet difficult for some to accept: the scholars who have painstakingly analyzed the scrolls for decades have found that these writings were written in a variety of different communities by a variety of different authors (most likely local priests or community leaders).  As a result, each author had their own “spin” they wanted to place on various stories, which led some accounts to conflict with other accounts.

The conclusion is obvious: far from being inerrant in nature, the Bible is, and apparently always has been – even back unto the days of the Dead Sea Scrolls before “The Bible” even existed - a work of wholly fallible humans.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Are Christian Evangelicals coming around on evolution?

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 21, 2011

It was with much interest that I read the following NPR story on the question of Christian evangelicals acceptance (or not) of evolutionary science. I wanted to just highlight a few key parts of the story and give my thoughts on this interesting development…

Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

Let’s go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.” …

What I find so interesting about this situation is that these evangelical scholars are going against the grain of the traditional belief in a literal Adam and Eve.  One has to wonder how the broader evangelical community will react: will they seriously reconsider these traditional beliefs, will they dismiss the scholars because their creationist interpretation of Genesis trumps all, or will they seek to label these scholars as “heretical” and seek to purge them?  I think the likely scenario is a combination of all three, but it seems that some prominent Christian evangelical institutions are seeking the second and third possibilities.  On the one hand, some institutions are choosing to ignore scientific reality:

“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.

Soooo, when hard scientific evidence from nature contradicts you interpretation of Genesis, you ignore what nature says?  Yeah, that’s dumb.  No wonder people who don’t already buy into this particular theology tend to think it’s downright silly.

What’s worse, other Christian evangelical institutions are going even further and actively working to “expel” scholars who don’t toe the literal line on Genesis:

Several other well known theologians at Christian universities have been forced out; some see a parallel to a previous time when science conflicted with religious doctrine.

“The evolution controversy today is, I think, a Galileo moment,” says Karl Giberson, who authored several books trying to reconcile Christianity and evolution, including The Language of Science and Faith, with Francis Collins.

Giberson — who taught physics at Eastern Nazarene College until his views became too uncomfortable in Christian academia — says Protestants who question Adam and Eve are akin to Galileo in the 1600s, who defied Catholic Church doctrine by stating that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Galileo was condemned by the church, and it took more than three centuries for the Vatican to express regret at its error.

The great irony here is that so many of these same Christian evangelical organizations made such a big deal a few years back when the failed film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” came out.  “Expelled” argued that secular academia was forcing out scholars who dared to question evolutionary science; now, in fact, we see the hypocrisy behind these arguments.  For years, we’ve heard these folks bitch and moan at length about some supposed conspiracy to discriminate against them, yet they are the ones purging “heretics” from their ranks because these scholars follow science as opposed to a blind allegiance to certain theological interpretations of the Bible.

Last, but not least, is a word of warning from the article.  Christians, take note:

“When you ignore science, you end up with egg on your face,” Giberson says. “The Catholic Church has had an awful lot of egg on its face for centuries because of Galileo. And Protestants would do very well to look at that and to learn from it.”

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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