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Michael Reiss: why I resigned from the Royal Society

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William Crawley | 12:31 UK time, Sunday, 15 March 2009

reiss.article.jpgMichael Reiss, the scientist-clergyman who was forced to resign from his position as director of science education at the Royal Society, six months ago, has spoken about his resignation for the first time on today's Sunday Sequence programme. I asked him if he was "forced to resign" and he replied, "That's a fair summary of what happened."

Many Fellows of the Royal Society, Britain's most distinguished science academy, had been outraged to hear that their director of science education was trying to give creationism equal time in the nation's classrooms. Except he wasn't. Reiss is no creationist. He's an evolutionary biologist who has argued against creationism for quite some time. But he's also a part-time priest in the Church of England, and that association with religion always left him rather suspect in the minds of some of the Fellows, including Richard Dawkins. When Dr Reiss was first appointed, Dawkins said giving the job to a clergyman was like something from a Monty Python sketch. When I asked Michael Reiss about that comment today, he joked that someone from his generation can only take that as a compliment.

Dr Reiss explained that some press coverage of his comments at a science festival last year completely misrepresented his views, but this was sufficient to place the Royal Society in a very difficult position. He accepted that some the debacle was seen by some as an "own-goal" and that his comments were used by some Creationists in the culture war between evolution and creationism. In the judgement of some, it seems, his position at the Royal Society became untenable, even though it was accepted that the basis for concern was unfounded.

What's remarkable is that Michael Reiss, a soft-spoken and very thoughtful man, is clearly not interested in rhetorically punishing those who misrepresented his views, or those within the science establishment who mounted a campaign which succeeded in having him removed from his Royal Society job. When I asked him if the Royal Society was a cold house for Christians, he was quick to defend his former employer. He is even careful to point out that some leading British Creationists were kind enough not to try to portray him as a Creationist, even though some in the media had done so. In other words, even the Creationists could recognize that he was not one of their number. It was the scientists -- or some of them, at any rate -- who had trouble understanding his personal views as entirely consistent with his life-long commitment to evolutionary biology.

There is a cultural moral in all of this, somewhere. I'll leave it for you to work out what it is. You can listen to my interview with Michael Reiss on the iPlayer or on the Sunday Sequence website.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Here's a question for Christians who believe in evolution. If man evolved from lower animals as evolutionists whether atheists or believers say, how did man become imbued with a soul when other animals didn't get one? According to Genesis II:3

    This is from Today's New International Version;

    "7 Then the LORD God formed a man [c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

    In this version we can only infer that this is when man got a soul but from the King James version, we get;

    And 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.

    So just how does a soul evolve? Pastorphillip, I know you could answer this question before we get to Chapter 3. I presume you are a creationist, not an evolutionist and so for you the answer is obvious. What is your informed opinion?

  • Comment number 2.

    Marcus --

    It's worth noting that not all Christians believe in the existence of a Cartesian-style soul. But those who do and who are also evolutionists (such as CS Lewis), typically argue that God chose to "ensoul" the creatures we now describe as human beings at some point in their evolutionary history. I'm not advancing this view myself, but I don't see any logical difficulty for those who wish to advance it.

  • Comment number 3.

    On the subject of souls, there is an intriguing comment at the very end of Steve Jones' re-writing of the Origin of the Species, "Almost Like A Whale".

    As well as being an advisor on David Attenborough's recent series on Darwin, Jones is also a member of the British Humanist Association. However, he writes a couple of things that Richard Dawkins I don't think would ever write:

    Much of what makes us what we are does not need a Darwinian explanation. The birth of Adam, whether real or metaphorical, marked the insertion into an animal body of a post-biological soul that leaves no fossils and leaves no genes. (page 437)

    When it comes to what makes us different from other creatures, science can answer all the questions except for the interesting ones. (pp432-433)

  • Comment number 4.

    Mr. Crawley;

    "But those who do and who are also evolutionists (such as CS Lewis), typically argue that God chose to "ensoul" the creatures we now describe as human beings at some point in their evolutionary history."

    You would think that the Bible would somewhere mention or at the very least infer a minor detail like that if that is what it meant to say. Of course those evolutionary Christians don't say when this happened or have anything to cite in the bible to suggest that it is any more than their own hypothesis. Either way you look at it, from an evolutionary or creationist standpoint, it seems to me making sense of the bible is like trying to put to a jigsaw puzzle together made from some of the pieces of several jigsaw puzzles and still get a coherent picture. While the goal is virtually impossible, the attempt requires a good sharp pair of scissors and a lot of imagination.

  • Comment number 5.

    "When Dr Reiss was first appointed, Dawkins said giving the job to a clergyman was like something from a Monty Python sketch."

    One reason why Dawkins should not be respected as an objective thinker. Such mockery undermines any claim he could possibly have to be a champion of reason. No longer can he unhypocritically denounce the intolerance of religion when he expresses these kinds of sentiments.

    What we need is a new enlightenment, where the secular inquisition is exposed for what it really is: the promoter of bigotry, the betrayer of freedom of thought and the exploiter of those who trust in the objective methods of science.

  • Comment number 6.

    Marcus,

    Those who accept the straightforward account of Creation in Genesis have no need to imagine the 'evolution of the soul'. Man was created unique in exactly the way the Bible describes.

    Attempting to 'marry' the Genesis account with evolutionary thinking is both futile and Biblically inconsistent. (It seems to me that some Christians take this position because they fear being ridiculed for being 'unscientfic'.)

    I would not discourage you from working at the 'jigsaw', but how much better to get to know the Bible's Author - He has the lid of the box!

  • Comment number 7.

    "He is even careful to point out that some leading British Creationists were kind enough not to try to portray him as a Creationist, even though some in the media had done so."

    Were they kind or did they see bad pr on the horizon? If they had claimed Reiss to be a creationist, Reiss may have wanted to protect his reputation as a scientist and publicly, loudly state 'I have have nothing to do with these total morons'.

  • Comment number 8.

    pastorphillip, thank you for making your position clear. I think you are what some would term a "literalist" meaning that you take the Bible verbatum, at its word in the literal meaning of what it says. That gives us a frame of reference. BTW, any explanation for how god created birds (fowl) in both genesis 1 before he created man and in genesis 2 after he created man? See my citation in both the KJ and TNIV versions to this effect in the thread about the Vatican washing machines.

    Those that try to reconcile the bible with evolution already have a problem by Genesis II. They often say that since the bible is not to be taken literally in that that the amount of time alotted for each "day" as it is described might be hundreds of millions or billions of years. But Genesis II makes it clear that the land animals were not created until after god created man. By their logic, man evolved from animals after many hundreds of millions of years. Not only do they see the time frame as vastly different, but the sequence is out of order according to the bible as well. It means just that much more cutting and pasting that they have to do to reconcile the irreconcilable pieces of their multiple jigsaw puzzles, forcing them to fit. At what point does it become obvious that there is so much cutting and forcing that the two stories are simply incompatible?

  • Comment number 9.

    Marcus,

    I beg to differ with Christians who read millions of years into Genesis 1. It seems to me that the writer intended the Creation account to be understood in a straightforward way - the fact that it is part of the Historical section of the Old Testament would affirm that view.
    (And God Himself confirmed it in the 4th Commandment - Exodus 20v11)

    Not everything in the Bible is intended to be taken literally, but my position is that where the literal sense makes good sense it's common sense not to twist it into nonsense! (If you see what I mean!)

  • Comment number 10.

    Pastor P - I think Marcus's point was that Genesis gives us two creation narratives - in one man is created first, before other creatures, and in the other the plants and animals come first. It is not logically possible for both accounts to be literally true, so a literalist will have to pick one and find an explanation for the other.

    I think having two accounts help us understand creation including in terms of evolution. The account with plants and animals first supports evolution, with man being created at a key moment, with an individual creation of his soul (one of the reasons man is qualitatively different from other creatures, not just a bit smarter than apes but hugely different). The other account I think confirms that man is the point of creation, the reason for all of it, and not just some accidental biproduct of evolutionary forces.

    But neither account makes sense in a literal way.

    As for Dawkins and other secular scientists who attacked Michael Reiss, they are just intolerant bigots.

  • Comment number 11.

    It's ironic that Dawkins refers to Monty Python in such a negative light, considering one of his closest friends (Douglas Adams) worked with the Pythoners, and even appeared in one of the episodes...

    Unfortunately, there are quite a few ignorant Creationists (I know a few of them) who are liable to claim Reiss as a closet Creationist. They're often just as misguided as Dawkins...

  • Comment number 12.

    Pastorphillip, you truely disappoint me. You have not answered any of my previous questions up to now and I've posed several on other threads.

    You said in #6 above

    "Those who accept the straightforward account of Creation in Genesis have no need to imagine the 'evolution of the soul'. Man was created unique in exactly the way the Bible describes."

    But now you say in #9

    "Not everything in the Bible is intended to be taken literally, but my position is that where the literal sense makes good sense it's common sense not to twist it into nonsense! (If you see what I mean!)"

    No I really don't see what you mean. What you appear to be saying is that the bible is open to interpretation which differs from what it says literally when and how you decide what the interpretation is to be. Are you saying there are times when the bible doesn't make sense when taken literally and must be interpreted? I don't see how this makes you different from those you criticize for their interpretations unless I misunderstand your meaning.

    mccamelyc;

    That is not what I said at all. I did not say that the bible gives us two narratives. I never said that. Not yet anyway. What I thought I made clear was that it gives us one narative that appears to directly contradict itself. That it has given us two different mutually exclusive accounts of the same event, god's creation of birds. In Genesis 1 it says they were created before man. In Genesis 2 it says they were created after man. It is completely and unambiguously explicit in both accounts as I have cited it verbatim. If you have a different text to reference in this regard, I'd be happy to look at it.

    I was hoping and expecting Pastorphillip would present a logical explanation to resolve this seeming contradiction but I don't see one here. This is only one of many to come.


    I also said that those who call themselves Christians and say that they believe in the bible but figuratively, not literally have a monumental problem if they believe in evolution. Those who believe in evolution contend that man evolved from land animals so land animals had to come first. But Genesis 2 is again explicit and unambiguous when it says that man was created before the animals that live on the land. These two accounts cannot be reconciled either. This is not a matter where you can just fudge your way through it. Either man descended from land animals or land animals were created after man. No amount of wriggling can escape the mutually exclusive nature of these two accounts.

    Soon we'll go on to Genesis 3 where I think you will be surprised at what the bible actually says, not as I interpret it but explicitly and unambiguously in its own words.

  • Comment number 13.


    The moral of the story is clear: Science is a religion and like all established religions it is protective of its territory, dismissive of opposition, and requires undivided loyalty in its adherents.

    Science offers a way of viewing the world and of shaping our thoughts: that view is absolutist and uncompromising. The scientific establishment has shown itself as intolerant as any mediaeval curia. It places a concern for reputation before truth and justice exactly mirroring the attitude of the Roman Church on such issues as paederastic clergy.

    In Dawkins Science has its prophet and evangelist who, I have to say, does a wonderful job both in corralling the faithful and in preaching to the unconverted: his Mistress's own Revd Ian Paisley.



  • Comment number 14.

    portwyne, whether science is a religion or not depends on your definition of the word religion.

    From dictionary dot com, the sixth definition;

    "something one believes in and follows devotedly"

    In this sense, belief that the universe is rational in that it is consistent and its truth can be discovered by observation, hypothesis, testing, and conclusion fits this definition. But its explanations set it aside from other religons as defined by different definitions becuase all of its explanations are tentative until they are overthrown by new observations which contradict the best theory and demand new theories consistent with all of the observations available. Science has no unshakable truths to offer. Every theory is impeachable if evidence points to it being wrong.

    If an individual or group holds to a theory that has been discredited this way, then they are no longer being scientists. Science is not really a belief in a set of facts but in a process. It relies on no supernatural beings, no undiscoverable explanations. It also does not address the question of why the universe or life exists. The question of purpose is beyond its scope.

    You are right about one thing, there are people who call themselves scientists who for selfish reasons act irrationally by clinging to disproven theories. And of course when they do that, it is not science but in a sense a religion because it rejects the process of drawing rational conclusions in the face of facts it doesn't like.

  • Comment number 15.

    "In this sense, belief that the universe is rational in that it is consistent and its truth can be discovered by observation, hypothesis, testing, and conclusion fits this definition. But its explanations set it aside from other religons as defined by different definitions becuase all of its explanations are tentative until they are overthrown by new observations which contradict the best theory and demand new theories consistent with all of the observations available. Science has no unshakable truths to offer. Every theory is impeachable if evidence points to it being wrong."

    Well said Mark.

    Portwyne, you said

    "Science offers a way of viewing the world and of shaping our thoughts: that view is absolutist and uncompromising."

    It certainly is uncompromising in that it mercilessly rejects anything that is demonstrably false. A good thing imo. And while I thought your post exaggerated things to near hysteria, I would agree with with you that science seeks to defend its territory. And I would go further than you did. It seeks to expand its territory in almost any direction. It has been very successful at that and can be expected to be even more successful in the future.

    And where views and ideas spill over into practical realities, I would agree with you that the march of science must feel quite relentless, merciless and intolerant to those with different ideas.

    greets,
    Peter

  • Comment number 16.


    PeterK - if you thought my post # 13 was "near hysteria" - you really haven't lived...

  • Comment number 17.

    portwyne:

    Science takes no position on the supernatural. I've been told this often enough by Atheists and it is quite correct. Richard Dawkins' theological outlook is completely irrelevant when it comes to science.

    pastorphilip:

    So, in order to be a "proper" Christian we must now reject all scientific knowledge gained over the last several hundred years ??? That in effect is what YECism (a literal reading of the book of Genesis) is really advocating. To claim that there's scientific evidence that dinosaurs lived alongside humans (just like in the Flintstones) and disembarked from Noah's Ark a few thousand years ago just turns the church into a laughing stock in the eyes of Atheists. If you cannot see this then you are willfully ignorant (as most YECs appear to be) as to the serious damage that is being done to the evangelical church. it is a battle the church cannot possibly win. Personally, I now feel that YECs such as yourself pastorphilip, are redefining what it actually means to be a Christian.

    As for the Reiss affair, I think the Royal Society have scored something of an own goal here. His resignation has been used with good effect by various YEC organisations to claim that the royal Society (and evolutionary science in general) is promoting Atheism.

  • Comment number 18.

    In response to some of the above:

    * While Genesis 1 gives the order of the days of Creation, Genesis 2 fills in extra details about the creation of man on day 6. The passages are not contradictory.

    * Christians do not 'reject scientific knowledge'; we simply challenge aspects of evolutionary speculation (as do an increasing number of scientists who are not Christians)

    * Some Christians have not yet realised that the challenge to the opening chapters of Genesis is designed to undermine the foundational teaching of the BIble and to remove God from the universe He created. Fortunately, the good news is that He is going nowhere!

    * The Michael Reiss affair is a vivid illustration of the fact that our children are to be brainwashed with the evolutionary model, and no consideration of any alternative is to be tolerated.

    Michael Denton had it right - Evolution is indeed 'A Theory in Crisis'. Sadly, some have not yet woken up to the fact.

  • Comment number 19.

    Marcus - there are clearly two different narratives in Genesis - I think generally referred to as Yahwist and Elohist, as different terms are used for God in each account. Whoever brought Genesis together could not have been unaware of that, and of the "contradictions" - which are only important for literalists.

    As for Dawkins and his ilk, they are poor scientists - they don't follow the science but try to force it into their ideology, for example with the multiple universe theories to explain away the unique set of circumstances essential for life to evolve.

  • Comment number 20.

    pastorphillip

    Again you disappoint me having failed to directly answer any of my questions. But I am not deterred. Even though you clearly do not have any answers to my question so far, I shall continue to go on "intrepidly." :-)

    "Fortunately, the good news is that He is going nowhere!"

    I think many atheists would say He has arrived at that desination already. And not a moment too soon for them :-)

    "Christians do not 'reject scientific knowledge'; we simply challenge aspects of evolutionary speculation"

    You can use a pejorative term like speculation but the fact is that all scientific theories no matter how well grounded are ultimately speculation based on what hard data from observations is available. As I said, there are no ultimate truths in science because it is only a process, not an end in itself. It doesn't matter who believes what that determines whether it is true or not. Once everyone in the world believed the earth was flat but that didn't make it even slightly less round.

    mccamleyc;

    Do you have any specific explanations or examples of explanations by biblical scholars to cite in response to the contradictions I've demonstrated? Saying there are two naratives is not a response. Can you site how each narative differs, where they came from, and how and why they were put together even though they contradict each other? How do they relate to the specific instances I have quoted so far?

  • Comment number 21.

    Marcus - not at this time of night. But any standard work of biblical scholarship will refer to the different traditions found in Genesis. The Jews weren't stupid -when they put them together in one book they were obviously aware of the contradictions, but also that it wasn't that sort of historical writing.

  • Comment number 22.

    mccamleyc

    We're talking about something rather simple here. Reconciling two statements less than one page away from each other in the same "book." I'll refresh your memory and Pastorphillip's in case you forgot my qustion.

    In Genesis 1:19-1:23, it says god created birds on the fifth day.

    "19: And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
    20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
    21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
    22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
    23: And the evening and the morning were the fifth day."

    Then on the sixth day, he made all the land animals

    "24: And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
    25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good."

    Then after that, he made man.

    "26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
    27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them"

    Now he couldn't have given man dominion over the fish, fowl, and over cattle, and over every creeping thing if he hadn't created them first. So that is pretty clear.

    But in Genesis 2:19, God created the fowl and the beasts of the earth again to see what Adam would call them;

    "19: And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
    20: And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field;"

    So, did god create man after the birds and land animals or before? Is that such a complicated question? mccamelyc, are you saying that these two chapters of Gesesis come from two different sources? Do you have evidence of that are are you just trying to fudge it because it makes no sense to you either and you won't admit it? Pastorphillip, what say you sir about the sequence of when the animals and birds and man were created. Which came first, the chicken or the....man? Inquiring minds want to know. (Pastorphillip, were you sleeping in class or playing hookey from Sunday School when you were a kid and they got to that part :-)

  • Comment number 23.

    Marcus,

    I addressed that issue in #18 above.

    Do pay attention!

  • Comment number 24.

    The Reiss affair, far from illustrating brainwashingm as pastorphilip suggestsm, is an example of what happens in a culture war. Overreaction.

    As for the pastor's reading of Genesis 1 and 2, he is simply wrong. As all biblical scholars will tell him, these two passages were written by different authors at different times in history. They have two different accounts of creation, from two different traditions. Whether they contradict is hardly the issue.

  • Comment number 25.

    M2
    Nice to see the troll is repressed for the time being.

    I think the question of the soul is interesting and important.
    Materialism holds that the universe is composed of physical parts and their relationships, and that only physical parts and their relationships should be involved in rational explanations. But it seems that humans need to have a rational non-material part if we are to account for human knowledge (and many other features of human experience - but here I'll focus on rationality).

    I'll lay out a few of the problems for materialism

    1) We should not expect human rationality to provide knowledge of Scientific unobservables if human rationality is the product of non-rational non-teleological forces.

    It seems extraordinary that human nervous systems, aimed at reproductive advantage, should be able to track the truth about entities that humans will never directly encounter (Black Holes, for example), or understand processes that have no direct bearing on their survival (eg Redshift).

    2) We should not expect human rationality to provide knowledge of logical truths if human rationality is the product of non-rational non-teleological forces.

    If I observe a dangerously underfed predator in my vicinity, then that fact generates a causal chain that results in my belief - "There is a dangerously underfed predator in the vicinity" and an belief about an appropriate course of action - "Run/hide"
    So a physical event causes a belief.
    But what causes my knowledge of logical truths? Say, "P therefore Q, not Q, therefore not P"?
    This is not true of any one situation, but a potentially infinite number of situations which I do not come into contact with.
    Logical facts are abstract truths, with no causal power. They will be true of thoughts I have today, thoughts I'll have in the future, and a potentially infinite number of thoughts that no human beng will ever have.
    Now the survival value of modal logic, or refutations of the ontological argument, on the Savannahs would seem limited. And even if it did have a survival value, how did "mechanical" causes latch on to truths about abstract states of affairs?

    3) Materialists often argue that scientific explanations are meant to act as a "universal acid" - they drive other explanations from the field. But if this is the case, Materialism will have considerable difficulty in accounting for human rationality.
    If the universe is causally closed, then our beliefs have material causes and only material causes. It may seem as if human minds consider the content of propositions and their logical connections when forming new beliefs. But in fact each belief is caused by an underlying brain state and it's connections to other brain states.
    If brain states fully explain our beliefs and their connections, then there is no need for an accompanying explanation in terms of persons and their reasons. In fact our "reasons" have no causal power at all. Human rational reflection is an illusion - merely the afterglow of neural processing.

    4) Thomas Nagel has argued that we need an "Autonomy Assumption": "...people have, to greater or lesser degrees, a capacity for reasoning that follows autonomous standards appropriate to the subjects in question, rather than in slavish service to evolutionarily given instincts merely filtered through cultural forms or applied in novel environments."

    There are three reasons for accepting the autonomy assumption (i) it reflects normal human pratcice (ii) it is normally adequate to explain a person's beliefs (iii) to deny it is incoherent.

    (i&ii) We normally want to know a person's reasons for believing a propositionto be true, which we can then go on to assess as good or bad reasons for such a belief. We don't normally regard a person's judgment as merely physically caused and the reasons they offer as mere rationalizations. Once a person has cited their reasons, we have an adequate explanation of their belief. We only search for non-rational causes when a belief is held against all reason or experience
    (iii) If we lack the relevant intellectual autonomy across the board, then even the neurologist's beliefs about the brain would just be attributable to such biological causes, rather than to reasons that provide real warrant for such beliefs within a rational framework with truth-tracking integrity.

    For a full account of autonomous human rationality we humans need to be an enduring self that can form premises, see logical connections, and draw conclusions. The self needs to be able to remember, consider and decide. Some sort of responsibility for a proportion of our beliefs seems to be necessary for rationality. A deterministic system doesn't meet the requirements. My calculator my be reliable, but it is not rational.

    5) I've argued at length on the God and Science thread that material causes would not be expected to produce mental events. Nagel argues that there must be a deeper reality that is the basis of both consciousness and physical facts. The theist agrees - and identitifes the cause as God. Consciousness, causal power and reason are assumed as basic properties of reality. These are basic properties of a person, so we say that the personal is the basic state of reality. From the Theists viewpoint it is not surprising to find a contingent, ordered universe with conscious beings in it.

    But now the case for Theism is clearer as we do not only have to explain conscious events, but enduring selves with knowledge of logical truths, capable of rational refelection and reliable rational faculties. I can't see that the materialist can account for this at all.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 26.

    pastorphillip #23

    Your answer in #18 isn't good enough ...for me. I don't understand it. Are you saying that Genesis 1 and 2 DON'T contradict each other in the sequence of creation or that Genesis 2 is not to be taken literally? I wouldn't want to be accused of calling you evasive but I still don't see what you are trying to tell me. If you are saying Genesis 1 is the correct sequence, how do you explain the fact that in Genesis 2, it is explained why the birds, cattle, and creatures that crawl were created, so that god could see what Adam would name them. If Adam hadn't existed yet, that would make no sense but the account in Genesis 2 says he did exist already. You don't have to interpret anything here, it tell you exactly that. Now perhaps you are not accostomed to being questioned because your congregation in Northern Ireland is far more savvy and sophisticated than a lil' ole country boy like me from the stix of New York City and already knows the answer but where I come from, if you don't understand something, you question it until it is explained or you accept that it has no explanation. I wouldn't want to suggest that your congregaton simply accepts what it is told and doesn't spend even one second to think about it. So if this is your best answer, I will simply accept that you cannot explain it at least to me and we will go on from here. We have lots more to cover even in Genesis and it will be a long time before we get to the new testament. At this rate it could take many years. So what say we move on to Genesis III and see what it says about how god thinks and just what kind of god has been created by the bible.

  • Comment number 27.

    It's rather amusing to see Marcus put the pastor in such trouble for a good while already now over just the very first few bits of the bible. At this rate it could indeed go on for a long, long time. :)

  • Comment number 28.


    marcus, hi

    I'm really not sure I can stay out of this 'theological' debate much longer.

    :-)

  • Comment number 29.


    Hi Marcus

    I hope you dont mind if I join your discussion about genesis 1 & 2.

    I dont suggest I have an absolute understanding of the text but I will suggest one viewpoint which I feel might comfortably reconcile chapters 1 & 2.

    May I use an analogy?

    It seems to me a common enough device in many media to revisit events in several different manners to convey different aspects of a story.

    It does not seem unreasonable to have a chronological presentation followed by a further closer examination of the information later, which may pluck different facts out of chronological order to highlight a particular issue.

    You could, for example, have a section which examines the chronological order of stages in the building of a house.

    This could then be followed by an analysis of the purpose of each of the different materials used.

    There need not be any contradiction in the two narratives.

    If the analysis examines the purpose of the roof before the purpose of the foundation this does not in any way invalidate the chronological description of how a house is built.

    I am not purporting to be an expert on these chapters by any means, and nor am I saying my viewpoint is correct.

    I just think it is one perspective that might be worth considering in the discussion.

    regards
    OT

  • Comment number 30.

    orthadox tradition. What about my postings leads you to believe they need interpretation? They seem unconditionally explicit to me. There are two chronological presentations and they say different things. I suggest that you reread it carefully at least several times. Then you will gain an absolute understanding because no matter which text you read, they are in plain English and every word has a clear specific definition. This is not rocket science. If it helps, take a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the center. Head one column 1 and the other 2. In the first column list the things that happen in the order they happen in Genesis 1 and in column 2 do the same for Genesis 2. Now compare them. You will then be as expert as anyone else. Then come back and tell me why they need further explanation if they do not simply contradict each other.

  • Comment number 31.

    I believe, though, that McCamleyC already answered your silly questions, in post 19.

    or are you enjoying shooting fish in a barrel too much.

    Yes, we all know they give different accounts. The question to be asked is what purpose there might be for having different accounts, and for including both, one after the other, in the same book.

    The fact of the matter is that, even given the obvious discrepancies that you have been having such fun with, someone obviously thought it purposeful to provide BOTH. I don't think they did so so that you can engage in, quite frankly, juvenile discussion about the differences, as if you're the only person who has ever noticed them.

    The fact that their quite obviously different but were both included could be interpreted in two ways.

    The first way, which says a lot about your view but has little historical credibility, is that the people who compiled the pentateuch were literally of sub-human intelligence, and simply could not SEE the differences. I can understand that you might believe that to be the case, but, if so, why bother having two accounts at all. Why not just lump everything together, inconsistencies and all?

    The second interpretation is that it is perfectly obvious to anyone that they are two separate accounts, even to those who compiled it. which gives rise to the question why give two separate accounts? Possibly to provide change in emphasis, changes in style, or perhaps to suggest that there quite simply are two different accounts held by different people, but that despite that numerous similarities makes both accounts valuable viewpoints of origins.

    Again, i think this has more to do with your view of humanity than with any genuine intellectual argument.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hello Bernard,

    The paragraph in your post above

    "The second interpretation is that it is perfectly obvious to anyone that they are two separate accounts, even to those who compiled it. which gives rise to the question why give two separate accounts? Possibly to provide change in emphasis, changes in style, or perhaps to suggest that there quite simply are two different accounts held by different people, but that despite that numerous similarities makes both accounts valuable viewpoints of origins."

    does nothing to remove the contradictions, does it? Sounds like you're saying 'There are differences, but it doesn't matter that much'. But to a literal interpretation, these differences do matter. So how does what you say answer any of Marcus' criticism of pastorphilips' literal reading?

    greets,
    Peter

  • Comment number 33.

    I think Marcus takes "literal" too literally.

    I'm quite proud of that. :)

    The point is that, clearly having two separate accounts suggests a purpose for having both, and not just a failure to see the differences.

    If I were to tell you a story twice, with slight inconsistencies, you would first wonder why I was telling you the story twice, and would reasonably assume that I wanted to highlight the inconsistencies for some reason or another.

    You wouldn't assume that I simply couldn't see or understand the inconsistencies.

    If that were the case, why would I have told you the story twice?

    Now, I'm not biblical scholar, but it seems to me that if the compilers of the pentateuch deliberately included two separate versions of the same story, we should ask why they did this.

    There is no point crying that the two stories aren't exactly the same.

    Of course they're not! That's why it was told twice. If they were exactly the same, it would only have been told once.

    But, in answer to your question...I don't know why there are inconsistencies. I haven't studied Genesis in that much depth i must admit.

    What I do know is that the two stories are not inconsistent because the compilers didn't notice that they were. were that the case, they would only have included one story!

    So I can reasonably suspect that the two stories, while differing in detail, provide valuable differences of emphasis which do have meaning. that would make more sense, surely?

    Perhaps if you tried to work out what those subtle shades of meaning are, instead of telling us all that we're two stupid too have noticed that there are two stories and not one, you might have more success.

  • Comment number 34.


    "does nothing to remove the contradictions, does it?"

    oh for goodness sake!

    :-)


  • Comment number 35.

    Hello Bernard,

    "But, in answer to your question...I don't know why there are inconsistencies. I haven't studied Genesis in that much depth i must admit.

    What I do know is that the two stories are not inconsistent because the compilers didn't notice that they were."

    I'll go along with you assumption that people then would have been perfectly able to tell that they are different. But that does nothing to justify a literal reading of both.

    "Perhaps if you tried to work out what those subtle shades of meaning are, instead of telling us all that we're two stupid too have noticed that there are two stories and not one, you might have more success."

    I think you're mixing up my position with that of Marcus. Or Marcus' criticism of pastorphilips' position.

    greets,
    Peter

  • Comment number 36.

    Can somebody *please* explain what everyone's position is here? I've lost track of who was arguing what.

    M2 - The accounts were both literal and contradict each other.

    PP - The accounts were both literal and don't contradict each other.

    Bernard - Because the accounts would contradict each other if literal they weren't meant to be taken literally.

    PK - either M2 is right or Bernard is right - but PP isn't.

    OT - either Bernard is right or PP is right -but M2 isn't.

    Have I got this right?

    GV

  • Comment number 37.

    Not quite, GV.

    You missed me out. I posted nothing.
    I'd like that recorded.

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm a bit confused myself, I must admit.

    I think at least part of our problem here is what we mean by "literal".

    For a story to be lteral, must every small detail of it be historically and temporally accurate?

    Or is there a wider sense of literal? Can a story be literally true in substance, even if small details differ in different accounts?

  • Comment number 39.

    After all, even newspaper accounts, the paradigm of truth-telling, often differ in details of chronology, or other trifling matters.

    Does that make them literally false?

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks Marcus

    Why do you insist that chapters 1 & 2 are both chronological narratives? Nowhere do they suggest that they both are.

    If you insist on imposing this reading of the passage you are running dangerously close to a closed minded, fundamentalist (inflexible) interpretation of the passage, which I'm sure you dont mean to.

    It *seems* you are unintentionally caricaturing the Pastor's preference for a broadly literal reading of the passage.

    Many people misunderstand or exaggerate what a "literal" reading might mean to others. It might simply mean in many cases something akin to a natural reading. It might not be necessary to force a reading method onto a passage like G1&2.

    What would be illogical, for example, with chapter one being a chronology and chapter 2 being a broader description of how life in the garden related to each other, explaining geographically and ecologically how the product of days 1-7 work together in harmony ....and.... setting the scene for the temptation and fall?

    Running straight from the chronology of chapter one to the fall might seem a little disjointed without a little scene setting??

    Also, it might have been considered that a picture of harmony and perfection in ch2 was required to contrast the following fall and chaos.

    Just a suggestion.

    Incidentally, if it is an issue, I dont see why my reading of chapters 1&2 would not be compatible with a theistic evolutionary reading of these passages.


    OT

    PS Is it possible that all these debates over origins are really just a smokescreen for our private (subconscious?) fears and hopes towards a creator God?

    PPS GV - I think PP has a logical point as far as he goes, which has not been very far. M can't be right or wrong because he has not yet actually expressed a view IMHO.

  • Comment number 41.


    romejellybean would like it recorded that he posted nothing and Graham missed him out.

    Opps, was that the wrong chronological order?



    Now, having said that, there could be a Christian consensus of sorts arising here.

    Here is my position.

    Marcus, you are just going to have to accept my 'amateur' contribution, sorry about that.

    Why two accounts?

    No, sorry, FIRST, repeat after me everyone, "The bible is not a science text book." (!) :-)

    Now the two accounts malarky.

    It is obviously interesting to point out some of the 'differences' between Genesis one and two, but ironically I suggest that some of the issues raised don't go far enough. The 'differences' are greater than those which concern some here, but it is in these very differences that I think an explanation lies.

    Now we're going to have to think 'perspective', 'point of view', 'narrative purpose', you know, like in the movies. Think 'wide shot', 'close up', 'over the shoulder shot', 'medium shot'.

    So with that in mind, I'm going to say that Genesis one is all about God. God created, God said, God saw, God made, God blessed. God is the subject of every verse (of course there weren't chapters or verses in the original text). It's not so much about how the universe came to be, more about who caused it to be. Our attention is drawn to God. The subject is more about the creator than the creation. So whatever we think about the truth, falsity or otherwise of this book, the literary style is clear. God is the subject of chapter one. Count the number of times the word 'God' appears in the first 31 verses. Then think of someone reading this aloud, emphasizing the words, it is oratory and declaration.

    Turning to chapter two; as some (everyone) note there are differences. But I suggest the differences are actually more significant than suggested. There are differences of style, content and point of view and one of the differences is that the human race, people, are now the focus of the story. Names appear, human names, Adam, Eve, place names, river names, the name of God is now included, YHWH, (the Lord God, not just God). We have the relationship between God and people, between people and people, between people and nature all noted. Just like the director 'calls the shots' in the studio, so the accounts switch from shot to shot, screen to screen.

    The real question here is, "What is the purpose of two accounts?" I have outlined above what some of them might be. This, I suggest, is the key which will unlock our understanding of the text.

    In short, the word is not contradictory, it is complementary.



  • Comment number 42.

    Well nobody answered the question AFAIAC so it's time to move on. No amount of fudge can hide the tangled twisted contorted logic underneath. But we're just getting started. So on to G-3. I'll post on the Washing Machine thread. What a fantastic metaphor for all you would be Irish poets. The song of the Irish Washerwoman. A woman seen as a washing machine, a cooking machine, a house cleaning machine, a baby making machine, a pleasure giving machine and when things go badly in life, a punching bag. Not just by Christians but by Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Bhuddists, and men of all assorted religions and of no religion. In many societies women are still treated as property and held in contempt. Perhaps G3 will shed some light on why that is so for some people.

  • Comment number 43.


    Well, as far as Marcus is concerned nobody answered his question. Maybe he doesn't watch movies, maybe he's never seen '24', who knows.

    But what does everyone else think?

    Does Marcus have a case, or what?

    Vote now, by typing, 'quetion answered' or 'question not answered' in the comment boxes below. Then we'll tot up the votes, study the outcome and then ask the real interesting question, what does or does not qualify as an answer at all.

  • Comment number 44.

    Actually, I think we've all answered him. But there's none so blind as that won't see.

    Our Marcus has decided, no less, that we are wedded to the view that every single detail has to be literally correct for a story to make any sense whatsoever.

    Haven't you ever read "the Hungry Caterpillar", Marcus?

  • Comment number 45.

    It's actually becoming quite tedious, if I'm honest.

    I think I'll wait until I hear a real argument before saying anything else

  • Comment number 46.

    And generally i'm all for pointless argument

  • Comment number 47.


    And the votes so far:

    Yes, questioned answered - 2
    No, questioned not answered - 0

  • Comment number 48.

    What was his question?

  • Comment number 49.

    Was there one.

  • Comment number 50.

    As far as holding true to a literal reading of both Genesis accounts is concerned, my vote is that Marcus' question has not been answered.

  • Comment number 51.


    Voting update:

    Yes,question answered - 2
    No, question not answered given certain parameters - 1
    No, question not answered - 0
    What was the question? - 1

  • Comment number 52.

    Petermorrow
    In post # 47 you state quite clearly that 2 have voted that the question has been answered and 0 have voted that it has not.

    Later in post # 51 you still say that 2 say the question has been answered, but 1 questions that conclusion and another doesnt know what the question was.

    Can we be sure that Peter is the author of both posts, given their clear differences? Was #51 a later addition?
    Can post #47 still be taken as literally true, if #51 is also literally true?

  • Comment number 53.


    Another update direct form the count centre.

    Yes, question answered - 2
    No, question not answered given certain parameters - 1
    No, question not answered - 0
    What was the question? - 1
    Commentary on voting pattern and doubt cast on chiefist vote countering officeicer - 1

    To whom it may concern, yes, I am me, but you're gonna have to take my word for it.


  • Comment number 54.

    Post # 47 and 51 definitely show all the Morrowine characteristics. Monosyllabic words, use of low numerals, distinctive grammar.

    However, post #53 is a departure in literary form. The spelling takes a complete nosedive, apart from anything else. I think we are dealing with at least two authors here,
    Morrow and Deutero-Morrow.

  • Comment number 55.


    Sorry Marcus

    I thought Peter Morrow gave a pretty useful explanation on G1&2 and it certainly appears that you responded in a pretty closed minded manner.

    Yes, at least three significant explanations have been given and no serious consideration has been given to any of them, IMHO.

    OT

  • Comment number 56.


    Having taken into account request various requests for additions (in the form of voting options) to the ballot paper I have determined that it would be best to revert to the initial voting plan, therefore the votes cast now stand at 3 - 0.

    Romejellybean.

    The variation in text style, form and spelling can be easily explained in terms of colloquial expression and tone. Further documentary evidence is available if you cross reference posts, 47, 51 and 53 on this thread with post 12 on the 'Roman Catholic washing machine' thread. It doesn't matter which order you read the posts in. BTW are Roman Catholic washing machines different to Protestant washing machines, I mean, for example, are some better at washing away stains than others?


  • Comment number 57.


    By the way Marcus

    The commentaries given above on Genesis 1&2 in no way require any belief in divine inspiration of the text nor a belief in any form of creationism or intelligent design.

    It is no stretch to look at chapters 1&2 in terms of any literature / film / tv series (as mentioned above) and appreciate the change in focus between the chapters, without contradiction.

    At PM says, they are complimentary

    sincerely
    OT

  • Comment number 58.

    re post #56

    To the best of my knowledge, Peter, Catholic washing machines only differ from Protestant ones in one respect.

    Protestant washing machines generally take a small detergent pill and some softener.

    Catholic ones dont take the pill.

    I always find it amazing though how both machines are identical, they have exactly the same users' manual, so why do the clothes always come out so differently?

  • Comment number 59.


    OK, serious answer again

    Genesis 2:19

    KJV - 19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

    Marcus you appear to be concerned that this changes the chronological order of the creation of animals and people. Now, where is the need for this to be a chronological sentence?

    And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air - statement

    and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them - statement

    and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof - statement

    Where's the issue?

    We were doing some gardening this week (you know Marcus, we haven't seen the sun in Ireland since last May) so it was good to get out and remember that there is an outside in this neck of the woods!

    Here's what we did.

    On Monday we trimmed and faced the hedge, raked up the cuttings and took them to the recycling and composting depot.
    Tuesday - St Paddy's Day - no gardening went for a walk and the kids took their bikes.
    On Wednesday we carefully 'topped' the hedge to further straighten it and tidy it. Then we raked up more cuttings. They were also removed to the recycling depot.
    Thursday was grocery shopping day, no gardening.
    Friday - today - We cut the grass, emptied the cuttings in the recycling bin and raked over the area.
    Tomorrow we hope to plant some shrubs and stuff.

    So this week we recycled and raked up wild rose and hawthorn cuttings and cut the grass with an electric mower and trimmed and faced the hedge with hand clippers and did some shopping in a store called Sainsburys and went for a walk in the woods were we spoke with some people we knew. I think you'll find that the chronology above fits the summary here.

    You'll also find that what I have said about our work in the garden is true.

    The NIV by the way adds in the word had

    NIV - 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.

    I'll say one thing though Marcus, you've provoked an outbreak of Christianity unity here, and that's no mean feat!


  • Comment number 60.


    And one more thing, here's an answer to another question on the 'washing machine' thread.

    We hope to rest on Sunday, and you know what that means, it means the job we set out to do is done.


  • Comment number 61.

    "Having taken into account request various requests for additions (in the form of voting options) to the ballot paper I have determined that it would be best to revert to the initial voting plan, therefore the votes cast now stand at 3 - 0."

    This is blasphemy. I hereby can on all righteous Pastafarians on this blog to join me in a crusade against this perversion of the One True Voting System.

  • Comment number 62.

    If any of you people posting here call the responses that I got to my questions an answer, I've got a great deal on a bridge that goes to a place called Brooklyn I'd like to talk to you about.

    The fact that some of you are sold a bill of goods so easily gives me insight into why it was possible for people in Northern Ireland to persuade so many others to fight their wars against each other for them for so many centuries.

    In the words of an old NAACP ad on American TV; "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

  • Comment number 63.

    Great debating skills Marcus.

    You really know how to bring out the nub of an issue.

    :)

  • Comment number 64.

    Cambodia, Vietnam, Kuwait, Granada, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua....

    Yip, you Northern Irish have a lot to answer for!!!

  • Comment number 65.

    jellybean;

    If the soldiers in Cambodia had shot their leaders instead of obeying orders, 2 million Cambodians would not have died needlessly. This shows the danger of being a follower of charismatic leaders with doctrines and simple minded answers to all of life's problems. Dangerous to the individual, dangerous to society. First they teach you whom to hate, then they teach you whom to kill, and then they put a gun in your hands or teach you how to make and plant bombs. This is how and why people in Ireland killed each other for hundreds of years. Instead of hating people who are actually just like you on the other side, why not choose to hate those who teach you to hate them instead. You have nothing to gain by killing Cathoics if you are a Protestant and nothing to gain as a Protestant if you are Catholic. Under either government you are still going to pay high taxes.

    B_I, glad you appreciate my insight. It comes from the perspective of distance not being a direct part of it.

  • Comment number 66.

    Not the best logic in the world, Marcus.
    With your theory we would end up with

    those who taught you to hate
    versus
    those who were taught to hate.

    Still two groups hatin' and shootin', Marcus.

    Love, forgiveness is the way I'd go.

    And what did any of that have to do with what I said earlier about U.S.'s outrageous foreign policy?

  • Comment number 67.



    Marcus

    ref post 62,

    I think you have demonstrated that you are not really interested in a serious discussion.

    You have drawn your conclusions before carefully refuting the answers put to you.

    You are fully entitled to do this, but you cant claim to be open minded or seriously interested in understanding what the passages in G1&2 mean.

    Is possibly the case that you feel compelled to dismiss the Christian faith for some other reasons that have got absolutely nothing to do with the origins of life??

    sincerely

    OT

    PS why no mention of Iris Robinson here yet Will?

  • Comment number 68.

    O-t

    "Marcus

    ref post 62,

    I think you have demonstrated that you are not really interested in a serious discussion."

    I could just as easily say the same about those who share your point of view. Perhaps you don't like the fact that I won't be snowed as easily as you or others were. I'm not easily persuaded of anything.

    "Is possibly the case that you feel compelled to dismiss the Christian faith for some other reasons that have got absolutely nothing to do with the origins of life??"

    First I dismiss the existance of god for lack of evidence. But even if I believed in god, I'd dismiss Christianity and Judism on the basis of the illogic and irrationality of the bible as I have demonstrated already with far more to come. I could probably do the same with other religions. I don't understand why people who believe in god even need a religion anyway. I think most people who believe in god have been brainwashed as children. That's usually what it takes. I'm glad I wasn't. I consider that to have been one of my parents' greatest gifts to me seeing what it has done to ruin so many other lives.

  • Comment number 69.

    #67
    "Is it possibly the case that you feel compelled to dismiss the christian faith for some other reasons which have got absolutely nothing to do with the origins of life?"

    #68
    "I'm glad I wasnt (brainwashed) I consider that to have been one of my parents' greatest gifts to me...."

    Mmmm! interesting.

 

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