New Article: Honoring Scripture and Honestly Engaging Science

I need to send you a worksheet on figurative language. Is this a figurative or literal description of an event? I beat the tar out of my opponent.

Since no actual tar was involved, the description is figurative. On that level, it is not a fact that tar came out of my opponent. Is my statement therefore untrue? No. As a matter of fact, I did beat my opponent very badly.

A description can be both figurative and factual. I could write examples all day. It’s easy.

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I can give you an example where the literal interpretation is not true to fact because it is not the intended meaning. “I’m starving.” I’m starving, if taken figuratively to mean I’m hungry, is not necessarily not true to fact by nature of it being a figurative expression. It is a truthful way describe being hungry in English that all native speakers will understand as hyperbole in all typical contexts.

The literal interpretation of “I am a single mother” is that I am not married and have children. That is the literal meaning, but it is also not true to fact, because I am married. I told a friend this week “I am a single mother” because my husband is traveling and I am parenting alone. My friend understood my figurative meaning as being a true statement about my situation this week, even though if she took it literally, it would not be true.

This actually brings up some interesting stuff about the difference between figurative language and how we decide whether or not a speaker intends to communicate facts.

Ah!! progress. lol:innocent:

There are lots of clues, like you point out, that we are not intended to take the Genesis account as describing a historical event. It is a story. But many sentences in the story are meant to be interpreted literally in the reality the story creates. In the story, I think we are to understand God as actually walking in the garden and the snake as actually talking. Those are the “facts” of the story. That they don’t comport with information we know about reality is how we know it is a story, not a factual account of history.

If not comporting to reality is the determinative factor in what is or isn’t to be taken as actual history, then I know this, people don’t get up from the grave after 3 days if they were actually dead. The resurrection clearly does not comport to history. Neither does taking 5 fish and 3? loaves of bread sufficient to feed 5000. so clearly, to me, comporting to our experienced reality can’t be the entire criteria by which we determine figurative or not. If it is, all the miracles are gone.

On the other hand, when Jesus talks about Lazurus sleeping, we have used the clues in the context to determine that he is dead and this narrative is intended as a factual account, so we have to go with a figurative interpretation of the pronouncement that he is sleeping in order to make sense of it.
This just shows that literal and figurative meaning of individual sentences don’t necessarily add up to factual or fictional interpretation of an entire passage.

I would agree with what you said in the quote immediately above, figurative language doesn’t necessitate a figurative passage. but then, which is harder more difficult for God to do, make a snake talk or raise a man from the grave after 3 days of decay?

Again,my problem with the methodology I see is that you decide what passage is figurative if you are uncomfortable with it (or maybe embarrassed by it). That seems a poor methodology and once again, places you as the judge of what is true and false in the Scripture.

Tell that to Craig Keener, who just wrote a 500-page book on the genre of the gospels as a way to demonstrate their factual basis. What you call “lazy,” I call the basic hermeneutical method.

That’s not the methodology, Glenn. Are you sure you’re not back in the YEC camp, because you’re almost as quick with the insults as Ken Ham. I wish you well, brother, but I don’t have time for any more of your obtuseness right now.

Yes, determining genre involves more than just making determinations about comporting to reality. There are other clues in Aesop’s fables besides animals talking that tell us it isn’t describing a miraculous historical event.

But, if you want to believe the Genesis story of God walking in the Garden, talking snakes, and magical fruit is describing factual miracles, that is your interpretive prerogative.

You and your friend know your statement is figurative because you know your inner qualia (state of mind) and your friend knows your history independently of your statement. But we are not in that situation in Genesis. We don’t know what God intended. Thus to claim these passages, like the snake are not real, is to claim that we have private knowledge from God that told us not to believe the snake part of the story. God didn’t tell us in the account ‘this is figurative’. Thus, our determination of its figurativeness must be based upon our one presumption, which as a recent senator said, ‘That’s nothing’ we can presume anything we want but determining what if our presumption is really true is tough, unless we presume it is true and fail to verify it. If I presume it is false, then I won’t even try to see if I am wrong on that presumption. That is why I have said on this forum, I fear people want the bible to be false, it is a much easier life that way.

You are the one insisting that we fact-check the Bible and go around making determinations about what is true and false. I already said I think that is a bad approach. I don’t go around judging what is true or false in the Bible. I accept it is all true as an a priori and my job is to understand it.

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Jay, the YECs are right about that logic and yall are wrong in that regard. YECs are totally wrong about the science and yall are correct about the science. Clearly you have never really paid much attention to what I have done with my reading of early genesis. I changed the bad assumption of each of the sides above and came up with a way to make Genesis historically accurate. The fact that few like what I have done is not my problem.

Christy, if you can’t give me a clear criterion other than we decide, then yeah, I find the methodology rather weak and subject to personal bias.

Hence the years of life work that Bible scholars have put into understanding the historical and cultural context. I don’t think it is as hard as you are pretending it is. You are basically saying it is not fair of God that you personally got the wrong impression of what God intended to communicate, and he should have done better. Well, get over it.

Well yeah, I think if God can’t communicate to us factual information, then he isn’t much of a God. Remember, it was GOD’s idea to communicate with us, not our idea to communicate with Him. If he is incapable or unable to communicate clearly to us, what does that say about his capabilities? Not much in my opinion.

I gotta go do other things today, Chemo tomorrow and as usual, we have just beaten our heads against the wall.

It was God’s idea to communicate Genesis to people from the ancient near east, not us. That might mean that Genesis is adapted to that audience, and that we might misread it if we try to read it as if it was written to a western, scientific audience.

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Thanks for elaborating, and I think we really disagree on little of importance. My remarks did apply more to the AIG position, but your remark to “go be an atheist…” just hit a nerve. While there are beliefs that are central in my mind to the Christian faith, how Genesis is interpreted is not one of them. Your remark was in relation to the miracles of Jesus, of course, which is more difficult to explain away as the gospels are grounded in definite historical narratives and testimony, and central and essential to Christianity is the miracle of the resurrection.

And you learned that God didn’t have an intention to communicate with us today from precisely what source? I always thought God was communicating to all humans at all times. I guess I was wrong about that.

Once God starts adapting his message and leaving truth, the problem becomes, maybe the resurrection was foisted off on those gullible poor people in Judea and Gallilea who didn’t know men didn’t get up from the grave 3 days later, but we of course, know so much better than that!

My issue with all this lies in the question, Can a God you can’t communicate the real truth about creation actually be powerful enough raise a man from the grave after 3 days. Maybe I am just dense, but it seems to me that such an incompetent God would also be incompetent to fix a dead body after 3 days of rot. This is why the YECs are correct about this chain of logic, but grossly and dangerously wrong in selling their false science. But I feel the same about a position that merely agrees with the atheist criticism of the Bible, that it is utterly devoid of anything relating to the reality of this universe–which God supposedly created. If the creation account can’t be made to match reality, then can the resurrection be said to be firmly established when all we have to verify that event is the statements by maybe 12 or 13 people.who were not highly educated… (no we don’t have the statements of the 500 they didn’t write anything down)

Experiences are not a firm enough foundation upon which to base one’s metaphysical future. Humans have seen all sorts of vision throughout history, from spirit guides to the lords of the universe. With only experience, one can make any kind of argument one wishes to. and there are all kinds of experiences. One South American tribe believes this shows reality and what we live in is not reality. Remember, All of our perceptions of the external world are from firings of the nerves in our brains. What if such drugs, instead of giving a hallucination, actually enhance our perception?

These specialists called ‘shamans’ by anthropologists, are recognized by the Jivaro as being of two types: bewitching shamans or curing shamans. Both kinds take a hallucinogenic drink, whose Jivaro name is natema, in order to enter the supernatural world. This brew, commonly called Yage, or Yaje, in Colombia, Ayahuasca (Inca 'vine of the dead) in Ecuador and Peru, and caapi in Brazil, is prepared from segments of a species of the vine Banisteriopsis, a genus belonging to the Malpighiaceae. The Jivaro boil it with the leaves of a similar vine, which probably is also a species of Banisteriopsis, to produce a tea that contains the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloids harmaline, harmine, d-tetrahydroharmine, and quite possibly dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT). These compouds have chemical structures and effects similar, but not identical, to LSD, mescaline of the peyote cactus, and psilosybin of the psychotropic Mexican mushroom.
When I first undertook research among the Jivaro in 1956-57, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe. For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams. I met bird-headed people, as well as dragon-like creatures who explained that they were the true gods of this world. I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology.” Michael J. Harner, “The Sound of Rushing Water,” Natural History (June-July 1968), pp 28-33, in David Hicks, editor, Ritual & Belief, Boston: Ritual and Belief, p. 143

Can one really say this experience is invalid? One can only do this by having a priori decided that it is invalid. There is no way to verify or refute the claim that the bird heads and dragons are not the real rulers of this universe. Experience is useless.

That brings to mind the Ethiopian eunuch who was puzzled by his reading of Isaiah. Phillip was able to give context to the scripture that was not apparent and obvious such that it spoke to him. It was a meaning he could not have gotten from the scroll alone. God uses scripture, but not scripture alone, to communicate.

So we are invoking divine revelation on this issue for Dennis? Does that mean I must believe whatever he says about Scripture?

You leave out the Holy Spirit and actually relating to God in all of your talk about how we know the message of the Bible is true. That is super problematic in my view, because that means that your faith does indeed rest on your own intellectual and rational abilities, what you can understand, what you can prove, what you can deduce. You can’t get to the reality of a risen Lord who loves you via logic and reason, you get there via relationship. God doesn’t communicate with us through our limited understanding of an ancient text alone, he communicates with us through his Spirit. It’s too bad you discount this experiential knowledge as not valid, because it is really the key to it all.

No, but he may well believe what he feels the Spirit had led him to believe through the scripture. And that may include wise counsel from past and present saints.

Of course, how then do we handle it when what you believe to be true and I believe to be true differ from what Dennis believes is true? I guess the usual way is to start a new church rather than be in conflict, but we have plenty of denominations already. Rather than that, I am fine with God having a different message for different people and for different times. Even in my own life, I find that scripture can mean something different in different seasons. God remains the same, but his message changes to address different times and situations, as I see it.