It is believed by some that science and religion aren’t at odds with each other. This is known as non-overlapping magisterial (NOMA), which was advocated by the late Stephen Jay Gould.1 The theory of evolution is thought to disprove the creation narrative in Genesis, hence the reason why we have a variety of beliefs, such as creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolution, &c. I will admit that modern science isn’t necessarily opposed to theism, but theism doesn’t necessarily require scriptures.
Since 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian as of 2014,2 my focus will be with regard to Christians. If any other religious text is different from the order and time of the Universe, this article will apply to those as well. In this day and age, there are Christians who are liberal in their approach in understanding the creation narrative, and Catholicism as a whole shares this liberty.
It might be thought that interpreting the creation narrative literally is a recent thing, but I don’t think so. Mythologies like Enûma Eliš, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Pyramid Texts had creation narratives as well. Considering the Akkadians, Babylonians, and Egyptians lacked knowledge of modern cosmology, I don’t see any reason why the Israelites would be any different. Even if the creation narrative was understood only as a myth, rather than literal history, it still demonstrates what the Israelites believed.
It doesn’t appear that such myths prevented Jews from believing certain things, such as the creation of the Universe by water,3 or the belief that there was a real man named Adam.4 Even the flood is treated as having happened,5 as is Noah’s existence.6 Perhaps I’m in error, but contemporaries of Jesus had no knowledge of the documentary hypothesis, let alone the supplementary hypothesis. Furthermore, if these people weren’t real (and I don’t think they were), then salvation is meaningless.7
While NOMA presents a dichotomy where religion explains “why” and science explains “how”, I find this view naïve. Science has explained why things are the way they are. Why do humans stand upright? Why do humans enjoy sweets? Why is the pharynx a passage for both ingestion and respiration? I don’t think we can blame sin for the risk of choking on solids. Perhaps Yahweh didn’t think that one through. I don’t expect any religious view to offer an explanation for these.
At the same time, while I’m not in favor of this dichotomy as presented by the late Gould, nor by those who support his view, I’m also not in favor of the idea of concordism. Concordism is the belief that words in the Bible can be reinterpreted when modern science gains new understandings about the Universe. It simply serves to harmonize the Bible with modern science, such as the creation narrative in Genesis with the theory of evolution.
I find concordism to be faulty. Suppose a concordist took scientific evidence to support his views, and then suddenly the next day the theory of evolution was disproved. Does the concordist now accept the events of Yahweh creating all the living organisms? What if the big bang was also disproved? Perhaps the concordist will interpret “day” as a literal 24-hour day. I think a lot who know about hermeneutics would say we should understand stories as they were originally intended.
If we consider Moses Maimonides and his well-known book, The Guide for the Perplexed, we know that in his second book, he covers several subjects pertaining to the natural world.8 It wasn’t unusual to syncretize Hebrew thought with Greek philosophy. We may consider Philo of Alexandria, as well as the Septuagint, for example. The irony is that while those of the Abrahamic faiths may believe their scriptures to be divinely inspired, these same scriptures are subject to science.
I am aware that the late Pope John Paul II once said, “We know, in fact, that truth cannot contradict truth.”9 Others who wish to maintain their beliefs, as well as modern science, may think similarly. Again, if we go back to concordism, this just doesn’t work. I am also aware that some might say story is a myth, but that the underlying message is true. In other words, to use the creation narrative, it’s a myth, but what isn’t is the fact that God created the Universe out of nothing.10
If we are to suppose myths are the underlying message, then what is something like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil supposed to represent? What is the garden supposed to represent? Is Yahweh also a representation of something or someone, such as a parent? What does this mean with respect to salvation, or the afterlife? Does this mean Jesus is simply symbolic for betterment of humanity? If so, then Christians should subscribe to the moral influence theory of atonement.11
Although some Christians will acknowledge that their scriptures aren’t divinely inspired and that there are myths with underlying messages, they may also consider their scriptures to be a moral guide. I suppose this is fine, although I find it disingenuous as one is required to ignore the atrocities in some parts of their scriptures. Nevertheless, I suppose as long as there is a separation of religion and science in the same way there is a separation of church and state, live and let live.
- Nonoverlapping Magesteria by Stephen Jay Gould
- America’s Changing Religious Landscape | Pew Research Center
- 2 Peter 3:5, 6
- Luke 3:38; Romans 5:12-14
- Matthew 24:38, 39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:4, 5; 3:4-6
- Matthew 24:37, 38; Luke 3:36; 17:26, 27; 2 Peter 2:4, 5; Hebrews 11:7
- If Adam didn’t exist, then there was no fall. Without a fall, there was no disobedience that led to death. Without disobedience from Adam, Jesus’ death is rendered meaningless.
- The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides, book 2 – Sacred Texts
- Truth Cannot Contradict Truth – New Advent
- I find it interesting that some conservative Christians accuse atheists for believing the Universe popped into existence from nothing, yet believe their god created the Universe out of nothing. The only difference if this accusation was true is the add-on of a deity.
- The moral theory of the atonement – Religious Tolerance
The problem with Butt’s problem
I recently stumbled upon a response to Dan Barker’s Freewill Argument for the Non-existence of God (FANG).1 The author of the response, Kyle Butt, begins by summarizing Barker’s argument. Butt believes Barker’s argument has “several problems” for this argument. The first problem, according to Butt, is how Barker can maintain that personal beings have free will, yet not believe humans, who are personal beings, have free will. In order to support this, Butt quotes Barker from his debate with Peter Payne, where he thinks free will is an illusion. Barker considers himself “a strict determinist.”
I thought to myself what relevance does this have if Barker actually doesn’t believe free will exists? It doesn’t seem to have an relevance, since Barker doesn’t consider himself omniscient. I decided I’d be charitable in my interpretation of what Barker meant by free will being an illusion and what he meant by “strict determinist”. Having been able to actually read Barker’s argument, I feel that I have been charitable. I don’t doubt Butt read Barker’s argument, but it seems strange that Butt could have missed this.
According to Christians, personal beings have free will.
This doesn’t state that Barker himself believes personal beings have free will, so I don’t think there’s anything difficult for Barker to maintain. In fact, Butt quotes Barker from his book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. This is what Barker says.2
I am a determinist, which means that I don’t think complete libertarian free will exists. Since we don’t know the future . . . we have the illusion of free will, which to me is what ‘free will’ actually means.
I think if Butt had used the principle of charity, he wouldn’t have fallen into a misrepresentation of what Barker actually believes. Reading Barker’s words, it seemed to me that when he said he doesn’t think complete libertarian free will exists, he wasn’t denying free will. He was simply denying the libertarian definition of free will. In fact, I decided to see what it was that Barker actually believes. Ironically, Butt should have known better,3 unless his article was written prior to his FANG response. From Barker’s same book,4
By the way, this contributes to my compatibilist position on human free will.
Perhaps Butt simply overlooked this if his response to the FANG argument was written afterwards. Either way, it’s clear that Barker believes in some kind of free will, just not the libertarian kind, which he considers illusory. Butt thinks this is a “devious switch”, but it honestly isn’t. Even Calvinists accept compatibilism. There is no specific definition of free will, since humans are bound by their physical bodies. It doesn’t seem to me problematic that humans are incapable of breathing underwater, whereas fish are incapable of surviving outside of water. There are restrictions, regardless.
Does free will require that you don’t know the future?
Barker believes that free will requires that you don’t know the future, but Butt dismisses this as “an assertion, with no factual or logical backing. Who says that free will requires that you not know the future?” Either Barker thinks this is simply common sense, or perhaps there’s an enthymeme. It seems reasonable to me that in order to have free will, you must lack foreknowledge of the future. After all, knowing what is in store for you means there’s nothing you can do to alter the future. It simply will happen. This is probably what Barker means. Butt disagrees.
In fact, free will does not require that a person be ignorant of the future. Could a person know what would happen in the future, have the ability and power to change it, but still choose what he knew would happen? Yes. The life of Jesus Christ gives a perfect case in point. In Isaiah 53:9, the Bible says that the Messiah would not lie. This prophecy was written about 700 years before Jesus walked the Earth. According to Dan, that must mean that since God knew that Jesus (God in the flesh) would not lie, then Jesus did not have the ability or choice to lie. Yet, when we look to the New Testament, we see that Jesus was tempted in all ways like other humans are (Hebrews 4:15), but He did not sin. Did Jesus have the ability to lie? Yes. Did He have the opportunity to lie every day of His life on Earth? Yes. But did Jesus know that He would not lie? Yes. We see, then, that foreknowledge of an event does not rob a person of the ability to change the event. It is not that God, by knowing His future actions, cannot change them. It is simply that He does not choose to change them.
It seems Butt misses the point. In fact, Barker addresses this in his FANG argument. Suppose God could know what will happen in the future and has the ability to change it, but chooses to go with what would happen. Is it really a choice that he made? Or does he simply think he made that choice, since he knew full well what would occur? If God knows what will happen and decides to pursue it, then his decision is illusory. If God can change the future, but decides not to, then this comes off as illusory as well.
Let’s work with the example of Jesus that Butt provided us. Since it’s most likely that Butt believes Jesus was the incarnation of God, then Jesus wouldn’t be capable of lying anyway. His humanity may be brought up, but who are Christians fooling? I doubt they would believe that Jesus’ humanity would be more powerful than his divinity, as if his humanity could somehow override the desires of his divinity. It’s doubtful that Jesus could even sin, since if Jesus is God incarnate, and if God cannot be tempted, then Jesus couldn’t be tempted.
Butt thinks that it’s not that God cannot change his future actions, but instead chooses not to change them. Well, this is also a problem, especially since it is likely Butt’s understanding of God originates from classical theism. The classical view is that God is immutable. Thus, it’s not that God chooses not to change. He simply cannot change. If Butt thinks God can change, but chooses not to, then omniscience must be redefined. Process theism would be able to address this problem.
While I can agree with Butt that knowledge of a future event doesn’t mean that it is the cause of the future event, I find his example to be faulty. If the person in question is simply a human being who has decided that at 12 p.m. tomorrow is going to drink coffee, then all is well if such an event takes place. However, this means that the future cause occurred because he decided for it to. He could have done otherwise, not knowing the future. After all, suppose this man looked forward to drinking coffee at 12 p.m., but ended up in a vehicular accident. Butt continues:
To further illustrate this fact, consider the idea of God’s omnipresence in relation to the actions of humans. According to the biblical definition, used by Barker to form FANG, does God know all future actions of every human? Yes. So, God knew that you would be reading this information at this moment. Does God’s advance knowledge cause a person’s actions? No, because foreknowledge does not equal causality.
It seems Butt isn’t grasping the point. If God knew that I would read the article at this moment, then this moment could not have been performed otherwise. I could not have decided to perform a different action. It might be that God isn’t causing me to read Butt’s article at this moment, but he knows fully and completely without so much as an atom deviating its course that I would read Butt’s article. I could not have done otherwise. It might be thought that God has set up the future this way, so he would have indirectly caused this event.
- The FANG Argument: A Refutation by Kyle Butt
- Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, p. 128; since I don’t have the book in my possession, I quoted what Kyle presented.
- Does God’s Existence Rest Upon Human Consensus? by Kyle Butt
- Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, p. 213
This is a question that is asked, it seems, to preserve the notion of the existence of God. I can ask, “Why is there a god, rather than no god?” It’s unusual that the theist is quick to answer this by saying God is eternal. He possesses aseity. I am not certain how the theist has come to this conclusion. If she has come to this conclusion by speaking to God, I’d be interested in meeting him. If she thinks there has to be a reason why something exists, then she’s simply posited an unnecessary entity.
I’ll give my own answer why there is something, rather than nothing. “Nothing” doesn’t exist. It cannot exist, otherwise it’s something. If nothing is something, then the question is meaningless. Something does exist, and we might say something is existence itself. I understand that this answer is mundane. One might even say that I didn’t answer anything. Perhaps not. It seems reasonable enough to me, though, even if it seems tautological.
Let’s consider the story of Adam and Eve.1 It begins in the second chapter of Genesis where we are told that Yahweh took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden. With Adam in the garden, Yahweh commands Adam that he is free to eat from any tree of the garden, except the one in the middle, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How peculiar that Yahweh even commands Adam. It comes off as an invitation with a warning.
The warning, by the way, is eating from the fruit will cause death. How would Adam know what death was? There isn’t any indication that Yahweh explained to Adam what death was. Even if Yahweh did explain what death was, how would he have done so? It would be akin to explaining what red is to a blind man. It might be said that Adam named all the animals, but he didn’t know what these animals were called. All right, but we know Adam was capable of speech and ideas.
Suppose we compare Adam to a child. A child is capable of speech and ideas, but that doesn’t mean this child knows what death is unless he has observed it for himself, either by seeing a dead insect, animal, or even a relative. Furthermore, children think differently about death than adults. They think it’s temporary until they mature in their understanding.2 It might be said that Adam was more mature than children, but the advantage that children have in knowledge is that death is a reality.
Adam could not have known that death was even unpleasant, since he lacked knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that Adam’s understanding of the world around him wasn’t good or evil, since there wouldn’t be any way for him to compare the two. Suppose two individuals who are the opposite. One is rich and the other is poor. The rich man has access to premium foods and drinks. Everything he purchases is of premium quality. In his eyes, such a quality is mundane.
On the other hand, the poor man wouldn’t see premium quality as mundane. It would be of the highest excellence and for this rich man to be anything but impressed would be unusual to the poor man. In Adam’s situation, he would be neutral like a balanced scale with neither side being weighed down, even insignificantly. In order for the scale to tip one way or the other, Adam would need to make a choice. Since there wasn’t evil, he wouldn’t even know what evil was.
Things become a little more interesting, however. We are told that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that Yahweh had made.3 One might wish to interpret “crafty” to mean “prudent”, as it can be in other cases,4 but I don’t think it’s appropriate in this regard because the serpent uses his cleverness to deceive Eve. He is not regarded as prudent in Pseudo-Jonathan,5 nor by Josephus himself.6 Rather, the serpent is considered evil.
Since the serpent lies through half-truths,7 and since lying is considered sinful, as is deception, then sin must already be present. Even Eve tells Yahweh that the serpent he placed in the garden deceived her.8 I think Eve is right to put blame on Yahweh for placing the serpent in the garden. I’d even say it’s right for Eve to charge Yahweh for creating the serpent in the first place. God, in his vast knowledge, knew that he made the serpent this way and placed a forbidden tree in the center of the garden.
Certainly, Yahweh would know the risks, since even skeptics see a problem with their own finite minds. If it was part of Yahweh’s plan for Adam and Eve to disobey, then he cannot punish them, since they were simply doing what was part of the plan. It might be said they had free will, but the game was rigged from the beginning.
Yahweh knowingly created Adam and Eve. He knowingly placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. He knowingly brought Adam to the garden. He knowingly created the serpent to be crafty and did nothing to bar the serpent from the garden, although he had the power.9 Adam and Eve shouldn’t be guilty for acting as they did. If the outcome would have always been the same, whether Adam or Eve were in the garden, or if someone else, then the game was rigged.
- Genesis 2:15-17; 3
- A Child’s Concept of Death – University of Rochester Medical Center
- Genesis 3:1
- Proverbs 12:16 et al
- Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis 3:1
- Antiquities, book 1, ch. 1, para. 4
- Genesis 3:4, 5
- ibid. 3:13; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14
- ibid. 3:24; Oddly enough, the text doesn’t say Yahweh drove Eve out with Adam.
It has long been accepted that “almighty” refers to God’s omnipotence. This should come as no surprise, since the Vulgate translates the Hebrew word שַׁדַּי to omnipotens.1 I’m not aware of any evidence that the Israelites understood שַׁדַּי to mean “the ability to do anything”, or “the ability to do all that is logically possible”, or even “infinite power”. Oddly enough, the Septuagint says nothing about God’s power in this verse,2 although παντοκράτωρ is used in Job 5:17.3
It might be said that our understanding of omnipotence is biblical, since Jesus himself says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible.”4 Yet, it is also said to the disciples that if they have “faith like of a mustard seed [. . .] nothing will be impossible for” them.5 If it is said this is an exaggeration, then why not the same for God? If it is said because he’s omnipotent, then that’s begging the question. If it’s because he’s God, then so what?
If one is to be consistent, then even verses mustn’t be taken out of context, for I can say that Jesus only was referring to the power of salvation. Furthermore, if we are to take Jesus’ statement prima facie, then there’s no reason to reject the idea that God cannot do the logically impossible. To do so is not to take the statement prima facie, but to interpret the statement in a way to avoid logical absurdities that have been demonstrated throughout history by skeptics.
This correction is acceptable in classical theism insofar as it remains only in classical theism. After all, when there is a contradiction with respect to omnipotence in the Bible, how is one to maintain the classical definition of omnipotence? The language must be cleverly skewed, but skewed nonetheless. This is no issue for those of a more liberal approach, those who accept that the Bible is not a homogeneous work.
While those of the conservative view accept that the Bible is an anthology of books, laws, poems, and letters written in different periods for different audiences by different authors, they still wish to maintain that the Bible is homogeneous. They must needs maintain this view to preserve the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, even if this belief extends only to the original manuscripts. Yet, to believe only that the original manuscripts were so is unfounded.
While I am aware of a classic example of the chariots of iron,6 I won’t bother with this, since neither the Septuagint understands God’s inability to move these chariots of iron.7 Rather, it is ascribed to Judah. As to why God did nothing to resolve this situation is unknown. Still, perhaps instead of translating שַׁדַּי as “almighty”, it may be translated or at least understood to refer to ruling over all, viz., to be sovereign.
While this may be acceptable to classical theists, I find this more appropriate from a biblical standpoint. I don’t see this understanding of God to suffer as much in terms of attempting to resolve the incoherency of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, which burdens classical theism. Although classical theists may disagree with me that there’s a burden at all, even they should admit that skeptics of these attributes of God helped reshape them.