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26192Either way, atheists win!

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  • Todd Greene
    Feb 1, 2012
      Fundamentalist/evangelical Christians today generally consider the Genesis creation story and global flood story to be more-or-less "historical" accounts of events that actually took place. Note that this view of these Bible stories is the "traditional" one because that's how the stories were treated throughout Christian history up until the last two centuries. However, as genuine investigation of what the world is really like has proceeded apace over the last few centuries, especially in geology and astronomy, we now know that those stories, as historical narratives, are completely false.

      So today, besides the traditional view, there are hundreds of millions of Christians who have accepted scientific discoveries and have adopted views that treat stories such as that in the Bible not as historical narratives but as "allegorical" stories (i.e., mythological prose) teaching "theological truths" about the relationship between God and humans. Though the details concerning just how much of the stories are considered figurative and how much is considered empirically relevant differ (I mention this because, for example, the Day-Age interpretation does not treat the entire creation story as figurative but advocates that the "general outline" is empirically relevant; another example is how a lot of Christians believe that the flood story is based on a historical event, but that is was a large local flood, not a global flood), the general approach is to accept scientific discoveries, at least to a substantial extent, and then modify their views about the Bible so as to retain a basic belief about the Bible being inspired by God.

      In the context of issues that atheists have with religious belief, and with Christian belief in particular, it doesn't really matter which view is taken, atheists win either way.

      In regard to the first view, atheists win, obviously, because in that view the Bible teaches obviously false ideas about reality, ideas that are empirically relevant (i.e, can be checked against the results of empirical investigation of relevant aspects of the real world itself) and which have been scientifically tested and falsified. (Thank you, young earth creationists!)

      In regard to the second view, atheists win, because...

      Well, let's backtrack for a moment, because there's a highly relevant epistemological principle here that can be brought out obviously by looking at an argument that is commonly used by Christians who take the first view (indeed, it could very well be their most popular argument) - a general principle that, interestingly enough, applies equally to the second view.

      Fundamentalists are notorious for advocating the "apparent age" argument. In the face of the extensive body of results in geology and astronomy that show unequivocally that the earth and the universe have been around for a very long time, far longer than merely 6,000, or 12,000, or 25,000 years (whatever "X" *thousand* years young earth creationists want to try to stretch Genesis chapters 5 and 11 into), most of them capitulate substantially to the scientific facts, but turn around and then say "Well, God just made things look that way. When God created the world, he created everything with all these physical features so it looked as if the world had been around much longer even though it hadn't." So the scientific facts are exactly what you'd expect with a universe and an earth of great antiquity, but the antiquity is only "apparent" and thus not indicative of real age.

      The problem with this is precisely the epistemological consideration of TESTING. How do you check such an idea out? The point that must always be made to an advocate of the apparent age argument is: Show me the empirical data that supports your claim that the physical features of age are not real but only apparent, and then I'll accept it. Produce your evidence for what you're saying.

      Of course, THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE. It's impossible because the precise purpose of the apparent age argument, the fundamental principle the rhetoric is based on, is to treat all actual evidence as utterly irrelevant. In the parlance of the philosophy of science, it's unfalsifiable, and not just pragmatically unfalsifiable, but unfalsifiable in principle. In principle, it's exactly the same as saying a god made everything on Thursday last week, and just "put everything in place" as if things had been around before that even though they weren't - including your memories of things before that. Even your memories are fake, because - well, this is the point apparent age advocates base the whole thing on - "God can do anything". (Of course, the actual issue isn't whether or not God can do anything, but whether or not there's any actual evidence to support their claim that God did what they claim he did. Indeed, the broader issue is whether or not there's any actual evidence, good evidence, to support their claim that a god even exists in the first place!)

      Okay, now that we've taken a look at that, let's go back to the second view. In that case, atheists win as well, because just changing interpretations of the Bible to mean whatever you need them to mean in order to - here's the point - keep it from being inconsistent with what we've learned about reality through scientific study (even if not going further to try to make it actually consistent with science, such as with the Day-Age interpretation), then you're actually doing the same thing the advocates of the apparent age argument are doing. In regard to their beliefs about the Bible, they're trying to run away from the very principle of empirical testing (testing ideas by checking them against relevant real world data) - and this is also exactly what Christians who take the second view are doing! So that they can "rationalize" their belief that the Bible in some way came from a god, by in their minds removing the Bible from being in any way obviously testable by scientific examination, by just "allegorizing" Bible stories out of having any empirically testable implications in the first place (to varying degrees, of course).

      Either way, atheists win.

      - Todd Greene
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