Why Genesis Is Literally False, But Also Metaphorically False!

Posted: March 5, 2013 in Fundamentalism, Genesis, Metaphor
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How Genesis Is Not Only Literally False, But Metaphorically False
Posted by Daniel Fincke
Mary Midgley argues that only the views of fundamentalist literalists are refuted by the fact of evolution:

Appeals to evolution are only damaging to biblical literalism. Certainly the events described inGenesis 1 are not literally compatible with what science (from long before Darwin’s day) tells us about the antiquity of the Earth. But this is not news. The early Christian fathers pointed out that the creation story must be interpreted symbolically, not literally. Its message centres not on the factual details but on gratitude for the intelligible unity of the creation. Later Christian tradition always understood this, even before the historical details began to be questioned.

This argument is so old that I feel justified in simply replying by reiterating the points I made in an old post.I

I made the central argument more clearly in the comments section, so I’ll start by reproducing most of that remark:

just because science-accepting Christians offer to read Genesis only  metaphorically does not exempt them the metaphorical or mythical  meanings from scrutiny.  Just being a myth does not make the ideas  contained within it automatically true.

If this was indeed a book described by God, why is it false both  literally and metaphorically?  Can’t God get his story right?  If he was  divinely writing books why not just be literally true and tell us about  evolution in the Bible?  Why not tell us we emerged through a long  process and because we were naturally selected for different  environments and ways of life than those in which we presently live, we  must take care to  correct for some of our ill-fit cognitive tendencies.   In other words, if this were a divine book it would get these sorts of  facts right.  But it doesn’t.  Because it wasn’t inspired by God it was  dreamed up by ancient people doing the best they could to imagine and  wonder what things were like.

There was nothing wrong with that at the time, but now we’ve moved  past those primitive guesses and we should accept that authorities once  taken to be true simply are not.  That’s not “war” against Christianity  and religion, it’s how reason works.  We abandon ideas and authorities  when they are proven false.

The problem with religion is that it wants to freeze us in the past.   We must forever think of humanity as fallen, even when we realize we’re  just descended from other animals and not from a pristine state of  human perfection in a pristine garden.  We must forever think that pain  comes from a curse when in reality it’s just an adaptive trait that  warns us of danger and it existed long before humans could have ever  sinned.  We must forever think of humans as inherently corrupted by some  ancestor’s sins instead of fundamentally innocent beings who learned a  set of social relationships of cooperation and hierarchy while still  lower order primates and are still struggling to learn the best ways to  take care of our own needs and flourishing while balancing the interests  of our society.

Religion insists we must always freeze our knowledge, we must suspend  our ability to say, “oh, the old religious myths turned out false—we’re  not inherently evil, we’re not to blame for suffering in the world, we  don’t have to mistrust our natural drives as corrupt—just instead see  them as sometimes ill-fit for contemporary society since they evolved in  another time for different needs.”

Religion tries to teach people to defer to ancient authorities who  have no knowledge credentials and to override free, rigorous, and  sincere reassessment of what is good and bad in our nature.  Religion  teaches you that bronze age people’s fantasies are somehow divine  revelations when there is not a single good reason to think so.  They  have no special knowledge that only a God could give them.  They didn’t  give us the theory of quantum mechanics as a gift from the designer of  quantum mechanics.  They don’t seem to know any single fact about that  alleged creator’s world that they couldn’t have made up themselves.  So  why think they got special knowledge from that creator?

It goes on and on and on, Lisa.  There is no good reason to believe.   The Bible is false on every level.  The legal code it gives is repulsive  barbarism and the antithesis of the democracy I believe is just and  enlightened.  The genocides of the Old Testament are the height of  immorality.  They’re indistinguishable in their evil from the actions of  Hitler.  There are commands to slaughter men, women, infants, to rip  open the wombs of pregnant women.  It’s pure corruption and no sign of  divine wisdom.  It took a turn away from faith to Enlightenment to get  the democratic institutions and scientific advancements that make  possible an egalitarian society and technological power to extend  lifespans into the 70s and to create powerful means of creating and  communicating.  Faith doesn’t do these things.  It freezes knowledge in  the past, it teaches us to hate our human nature as fallen, and it  opposes the spirit of free, secular society.  And in all these ways, it  represents an obstacle to people’s free reason and rational decisions  about ethics.

And:

the non-literal reading of Genesis is just as false as the  metaphorical one.  When religious people argue that the Garden of Eden  story is unaffected by scientific knowledge they ignore the fact that  the Eden myth asserts an initial state of perfection from which we have  fallen because of a sin.  But that’s not “metaphorically” or  “mythically” true.  Our ancestors were (1) not even better human beings  than us, let alone “metaphorically perfect” humans, in fact they were  “lesser” evolved than we are socially, culturally, morally, and  physically—pretty much by every standard we have for judging human  excellence, (2) they did not incur pain on the universe, either  literally or metaphorically, since it already preexisted our arrival by  millions of years, and (3) our tendencies towards ethical failings and  our sufferings are not punishments for any sins (“original” ones or  otherwise, either literally or metaphorically) but are in fact  explicable in terms of both the precision and imprecision of complex  sets of strategies for social and environmental success that proved most  benefiical to our survival.  Similarly our intellectual shortcomings  have everything to do with an evolutionary necessity for making  judgments of a local kind coupled with an evolutionary indifference to  judgments of highly precise theoretical kind.

In other words, an evolutionary understanding of primeval history  exposes not only that the Genesis story is not literally true but that  its mythically presented propositional claims that pain in the universe  is connected to moral failing, that moral failing is a punishment for a  sin, that the need to work and for women to suffer excruciatingly during  child birth are both owed to matters that are our faults, and that  humanity was initially better off than we are now are, are all flat out false.

And finally I want to repost two superb videos that add much, much more to those points I just made.  The first points out the falsehood, both literal and metaphorical, of Eden myths and the points out the harmful consequences of such thinking.

embedded by Embedded Video
YouTube Direkt And start Christopher Hitchens’s brilliant speech below (maybe my favorite of his) and think about whether the scientific picture of reality he presents is one that we were made in the image of God by a benevolent personal God who selected the ancient Israelites to reveal himself to us and to provide us with our morality:

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Comments
  1. […] Why Genesis Is Literally False, But Also Metaphorically False! […]

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