We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Biblical Literalism: Science Wins Again

Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), is built on the insight that contemporary biblical literalism calls on a form of scientific thinking in its defense of the Bible.  The insistence in a real and literal six-day creation is an insistence in the factuality of the events recounted in Genesis 1-2.  In pre-scientific times, Borg notes that Christians naturally accepted a six-day creation without question.  Why would they question the obvious?  Science, however, has thoroughly discredited not only the Genesis stories but also the whole world view on which it is built.  Those stories are not factual.

They never were "factual," because our modern use of the concept of fact was born out of the scientific revolution.  It is a fundamental component of the scientific way of thinking.  The Genesis accounts come from a time before facts, but biblical literalists today treat them as if they are factual accounts.  They have "repurposed" the accounts to fit into a modern, scientific framework; but then they have been forced to deny the relevant findings of science because science denies the "facts" of Genesis.  In short, biblical literalism draws on the world view of science to defend the Bible but is then forced to deny the findings of science as a consequence.  Science wins, no matter how one slices this loaf of bread.

By arguing for the factuality of the Genesis stories, biblical literalism tends to obscure the theological truths that are still meaningful to us today.  However the universe is being created, we still put our trust in God, Creator of the Universe.  We remained awed by the beauty of that creation and have a far, far better grasp of its unimaginable extent and grandeur.  As I have written here before, the more science discovers about the nature of reality, the better we realize how incredible God's creation really is.  A literal six-day creation doesn't hold a candle to the explosive majesty of the Big Bang nor does it begin to compare with the mind-boggling discoveries of modern-day quantum physics.

Borg really calls on us to get over our infatuation with scientific thinking and see its limitations when it comes to matters of the human spirit and the Spirit of God—and the contents of the Bible.  Facts are not God nor even god-like.  When one paddles quietly through the mists of dawn on a northern lake, one is embraced by realities that have nothing to do with facts.  Science is a tool and nothing more.  Facts are fine in their place, but who cares about the "facts" of the sun rise, the call of the loons, or the grace of a crane gliding in for a landing amidst the soft breezes of the morning?