Deconstructing Genesis

Avi

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The problem here is that IO is too full of intelligent practitioners of religion. :D
You are right, it is a unique environment in that respect :).

But there are a few literalists out there... and even more in the population as a whole.

Of course, so is your goal for this thread to engage the literalists in this forum ?

My problem is that I'm actually very naive when it comes to the Bible. I've never read it, never critiqued it before. It hasn't been until I arrived at IO that I had any reason to crack open a passage or two.
So it sounds like you have a little catching up to do there CZ :D.

So it just astounds me that this story has not been called out before... at least that I've seen. So I thought it time to do so.
There have been hundreds of opponents of Bible throughout history. The trick is making the suitably sophisticated argument. I have mentioned Spinoza before, he is one of the critics that I am interested in studying further.


By the way, I don't see this as straw man arguments. I'm not trying to describe and distort what you believe in.
Right, I think we are having a misunderstanding here. What I meant is that you are building the position as though it is a literalist position and then exposing the faults. I was saying that all of us here on the this thread are not literalists, so you are knocking down a strawman as far as I am concerned.

I think I understand that you are addressing a literalist reader, even if they are not here (yet).

I am going after the text itself and interpreting it as a first-time reader. I think this is a key point.
Often looking at ideas from a new perspective is very enlightening. I encourage you to continue your journey. :)

There is so much institutional investment in Genesis that believers aren't able to see the contradictions anymore.
Absolutely, as a scientist I would say the inertia is enormous.


Even you and PoO say you see the uplifting aspects of the stories. Could you please fill me in on what uplifts you about A&E and the Flood, because frankly, I don't see it.

This might be the key to opening the discussion more widely. I will give you a few examples, but there are many more possible:

1) Foundational concepts - so many of the bible stories are found in our everyday lives. In the example you pick, A&E (Cain and Abel), think about sibling rivalry. Think about the fall of man/woman (which you have been discussing). Consider the role of the devil (serpent).

2) Ethics and morality - again foundational in these areas. Much of western philosophy has grown from biblical examples. A later work called "Ethics of our Fathers" comes for Biblical ethics.

3) Ideas of the Law - the Jewish perspective on bible, which we call Torah, is that it is the foundation of the Law. Much of this is detailed much later in what is called the Talmud. In my view this was preliminary to later development of Church Canon and then British Common Law.

I could give you many more examples. Interestingly, I am pretty sure some of the literalists could give you even more examples.

Another interesting point is that it may be more difficult for the literal believers to debate some of these notions as though they are philosophical arguments. These beliefs are deeply held by many but not always easily explained.
 

Postmaster

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The old testament is a blessed book, it holds universal truths that are still valid today. But maybe its power is wearing off?
 

bananabrain

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citizenzen said:
I didn't wish to unduly irritate Christians by appearing overly combative in their section.
how about jews? hehe.

There are people today searching for Noah's Ark or the Garden of Eden, using the Flood to counter science and evolution.
these people are fundamentalist nincompoops whose most egregious fundamentalism consists of fundamentally misinterpreting the purpose and function of the texts in question. imagine a bunch of people trying to use shakespeare's plays as a tour guide to modern england and you won't go far wrong.

The only reaction to Genesis that makes any sense is, "Well of course it's fiction, but there are lessons to be learned even in fiction."
no. the only reaction to genesis that is an *open-minded* one is "what is this text trying to teach us, how and why?

Yet I contend that even the lessons people think Genesis provides are not what the actual words tell us.
i'd certainly agree with that. try reading it in the language it was written in for a start. next, listen to what wil just said:

wil said:
Yet again I am always amazed how atheists see the bible the same as fundamental literalists. Yet most of Christianity does not. Oh my the flood didn't happen, heavens to mergatroid, 'bout time you caught up, but it won't make the news at seven....we already knew that.
i mean, personally, when i want to find out about something, i ask people who understand it, not people who clearly don't.

Somehow the story of Genesis has been interpreted as a failure of mankind when it should be seen as a failure of God. How did this blame get mistakenly turned to man?
who says it's a failure of man? you're looking at a particular type of christian reading of the text. it's a jewish text; perhaps you ought to ask us?

The curtain needs to be pulled back to reveal how flawed these stories are. Anybody who doesn't wish to participate... well... you know where the door is.
are we still allowed to participate if we want to question these assumptions?

I would place this under the category of personal vendetta... with extreme prejudice.
well, fair enough, but perhaps it would be fairer to blame the fundamentalist nincompoops rather than genesis? i mean, would you blame shakespeare because you can't find any ghosts at elsinore castle?

citizenzen on noah said:
Yeah... well... maybe it's just me, but I fail to be filled with "great optimism" by this.
nor should you be. are you seriously telling me that there is no contemporary relevance in the idea that the consequence of humanity's arrogance, hubris and violence might be the destruction of our entire civilisation? i think you might be asking the wrong questions.

So in less than 100 years Noah had procure the materials, engineer and build an enormous wooden boat (at least 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high) by himself (there is no mention of a work crew and anyway I wonder if God would approve of defiled humans working on his project). Noah then had to gather two of every "animals and creeping things and birds" and enough food to feed every creature for a year. That would mean he had to travel to each continent, collecting for instance, koalas from Australia and the eucalyptus leaves they eat, pandas from Asia and their bamboo. He would have needed an Ark just to prepare for his Ark! But maybe I'm missing your point here.
yeah, you kind of are. the starting point for our understanding this sort of text is asking precisely that sort of question, which is precisely what our sages did. it was the ensuing discussions that were the source of enlightenment.

I would like to ask you, as a thought experiment, how you solve the migration of animals from the ark. If they were being fruitful and multiplying immediately after landing, then we should see evidence of this. How is it that all the monkeys with tails knew to return to South America? How does one reconcile the distribution of wildlife as we currently know it and have it all emerge from one location, with one mating pair, in just a few thousand years?
that's all fine, but it isn't the question we're interested in. genesis is not an answer to the question "how did life begin on this planet?", but "why are people the way they are - and how, therefore, should we live?" genesis certainly has insightful answers to this. what it isn't is a scientific textbook.

Avi said:
Poo's insights are very well articulated with respect to this issue. I have heard the notion that she describes as the Jewish one, with respect to the story of A&E being a transition from animal to human. I am not sure where that notion comes from. It might be what is called "midrash" which are stories which relate to the Torah, but I am not sure.
for an insight into this issue, i refer you to previous posts of mine, especially the ones in this thread:

http://www.interfaith.org/forum/garden-of-eden-2328.html

and this:

http://www.interfaith.org/forum/god-made-coats-of-skin-6848.html

and there are some important points here:

http://www.interfaith.org/forum/creationism-intelligent-design-evolution-or-6115.html

http://www.interfaith.org/forum/is-christianity-a-negative-religion-6922-4.html#post99365

http://www.interfaith.org/forum/creationism-intelligent-design-evolution-or-6115.html#post81990

if you want to learn something of the entry-level "what's the real question here?" sort of discussion, i can do no better than point you at the classical C12th commentator rash"i.

Berei**** - Parsha - Weekly Torah Portion

citizenzen said:
Yet Genesis betrays this all-knowing aspect of God. God does not know that Eve has eaten from the tree of Knowledge or shared the fruit with Adam...
that's not what the text says, though. it doesn't say "and G!D didn't Know what adam had done". G!D Asks the questions, but what makes you think that the answer is news? as a parent i often find myself in the position where i know perfectly well what has happened, i just want to hear how my kid explains himself.

So it just astounds me that this story has not been called out before... at least that I've seen. So I thought it time to do so.
if you look at the links above, you'll see you're not the first.

when the fall was put on the shoulders of Eve, do you think that changed a few lives over history? Do you think that might have shaped how we treated women through the centuries? I do. I think that interpretation was a vital force in female oppression, a force that we still feel the repercussions of today.
oh, certainly. unfortunately, people often see in the text what they want to see in it (such as the idea that there is a "fall", which is not a jewish idea) rather than what the text actually says and implies. if only people used the correct approaches, these errors would not occur. like i say, go and read the links to earlier threads, those will give you some far more interesting questions instead of this aren't-literalists-idiots question-begging approach.

b'shalom

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path_of_one

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BB's comments are very enlightening... will have to check out all the links.

You ask me what is uplifting about certain Genesis stories such as A&E and Noah's Flood. I can say, personally, mythology is not always meant to be uplifting. Uplifting makes me think of feel-good stories that make me feel better about myself and the world. Mythology's purpose is not always to make one feel good. Sometimes, it is to warn, to teach of processes that occur when we make poor choices.

I think A&E has been misinterpreted and misused by much of Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist movement. But like BB, I don't think the misinterpretation = the story itself and its real meaning.

You were saying, CZZ, that this is just how you read the text upon first reading. But have you explored how much your interpretation may be influenced by the cultural knowledge you might have of fundamentalist Christianity? You may be influenced by a certain coloring of the story that is not necessary to read into it- ideas like the "fall of man" and so on. In my experience, one can get out of these sorts of prior knowledge boxes by reading mythology as one would interpret a dream one has. Each line must be read and re-read, asking questions about what "reading between the lines" one is doing and if it is really warranted by the text itself. As BB demonstrates, assigning motivation or cognitive state to God due to God's actions is one such "reading between the lines" that must be questioned.

The way I see it, there are a few ways to read mythology that assist in generating some useful meaning rather than this sort of fundie-literalist position. First, one can open one's mind to research on the culture, language, and history of the myth and its writers. One seeks to understand A&E, for example, by reading how Jews perceive it and why, by seeking to understand how it would have likely been understood in its time and place. This is the sort of secular reconstructionist position. One seeks to overcome one's own cultural biases in reading the text by stepping out of one's own culture and trying to understand how the authors and primary interpreters would have understood it.

The second way is the mystical, personal one. I don't think this would work for people who don't believe there is a meaning to be had in mythology. It requires an openness to find personal meaning and truth in mythology. In doing this, one meditates on the story without reading between the lines to begin with. Typically, one takes a lot of time and mulls it over intermittently. I usually do this through meditating for a while first, then directing my attention to the story and allowing my thoughts to kind of run by me. I sift through those thoughts and figure out where they are coming from. What might I be wrongly assuming? What could be other meanings of each symbol in the myth? It can be helpful to approach the myth as if it is a dream one had- what does everything really mean? What is the lesson? It's worth saying that lesson can change over time as one's own life changes. There is no one right answer. I've worked over Genesis 1 and 2 (which, by the way, have internal discrepancies that I think have fairly big implications, so reread those 2 chapters and you'll find a number of them) for years. It is not a cut-and-dried story, and I think anyone who treats it that way and perceives it as a simple story of the creation of the world and fall of humankind is missing a lot of the symbology and meaning.

As for the Flood, I will say this as a Druid, as it diverges substantially from Christian interpretations... I find the story of the Flood uplifting in its way. What I see from a Druidic perspective is that humanity is one small part of this earth, and can be squashed like a bug by the forces of nature. The earth can knock us back and life keeps on going. We are not the only important thing and perhaps not even the primary important thing. I actually find that reassuring and enlightening. Seems like people would do well to remember that as we cause environmental damage that may later wipe out a good chunk of our population.

(And by the way, pretty much anyone who is not a fundie-literalist knows the Flood didn't literally cover the whole earth. You can't blame the Jews at the time for thinking it did. After all, people didn't even know the Americas existed. People thought their earth was much smaller, and if water covered all the lands you regularly moved in and knew about, you might have supposed it was the whole world too. This gets to that question of putting things in historic context. To bash on people from thousands of years ago because they wrote stuff that would be considered inaccurate today is ignoring that we are relying on thousands of years of progressive understanding about our world. That said, even if there was never any flood anywhere, the purpose is to ask what does the story mean to me right now?)
 

citizenzen

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PoO, I also appreciated BB's comments and yours too.

While this is a few years old, I thought I'd share it with y'all...

Most Americans take Bible stories literally

The Washington Times, February 16, 2004

An ABC News poll released Sunday found that 61 percent of Americans believe the account of creation in the Bible's book of Genesis is "literally true" rather than a story meant as a "lesson."

Sixty percent believe in the story of Noah's ark and a global flood, while 64 percent agree that Moses parted the Red Sea to save fleeing Jews from their Egyptian captors.

The poll, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, was conducted Feb. 6 to 10 among 1,011 adults.

"These are surprising and reassuring figures -- a positive sign in a postmodern world that seemed bent on erasing faith from the public square in recent years," said the Rev. Charles Nalls of Christ the King, a Catholic-Anglican church in the District.

"This poll tells me that America is reading the Bible more than we thought. There had been a tendency to decry or discount Bible literacy among the faithful," he said.

"But this indicates a strong alliance among Americans with the inerrant word of God, as opposed to simply the inspired word of God, as viewed in the context of faith tradition," Father Nalls said.

...

This is more than a few fundamentalist. This is still the dominant belief in America.
 

path_of_one

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I'd trust the PEW Foundation's much better (and larger- 35000 people) study over an ABC News Poll.

Religion in American Culture -- Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

From a chart in the "Portrait and Demographics- Beliefs & Practices":
National Totals:
33% believe that their Holy Book is the literal Word of God (every word literally true)
30% believe that their Holy Book is the Word of God, but not literally true word for word
28% believe that their Holy Book was written by men and is not the Word of God
9% don't know or refused to answer.

My guess is that the 1000 people ABC News Poll chose was a poor representation and/or they didn't ask the questions in the best way. Questionnaires are famous for being tricky things to write, administer and interpret.

In any case, if you are arguing that the fundamentalist-literalist view of the Bible is incorrect, I would agree. If you are arguing that the problem lies with mythology itself, such as the story of A&E or the flood, then I do not agree. Like BB, I would say it's not the responsibility of authors of mythology thousands of years old to ensure useful interpretation for people today. That's our job- to educate ourselves, to critically think, to meditate on meaning for our own lives. If people don't do this and want to treat sacred narratives as if they are history textbooks or science reports, it certainly isn't the sacred narrative that is at fault.
 

citizenzen

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And this [bolding mine]...

Nearly Two-thirds of U.S. Adults Believe Human Beings Were Created by God

The Harris Poll® #52, July 6, 2005

Earlier this year, the State Board of Education in Kansas reignited an old debate – whether or not creationism should be taught in public schools – and shone the spotlight on a new theory, intelligent design. While many in the scientific community may question why this issue has been raised again, a new national survey shows that almost two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) agree with the basic tenet of creationism, that "human beings were created directly by God."

At the same time, approximately one-fifth (22%) of adults believe "human beings evolved from earlier species" (evolution) and 10 percent subscribe to the theory that "human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them" (intelligent design). Moreover, a majority (55%) believe that all three of these theories should be taught in public schools, while 23 percent support teaching creationism only, 12 percent evolution only, and four percent intelligent design only.

...

I have no problem with Christianity being taught in public schools... as part of a comparative religions course. Teaching it as a science, on par with evolution is a ridiculous notion, and will only serve to further dumb-down an already (arguably) idiotic culture.
 

citizenzen

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If you are arguing that the problem lies with mythology itself, such as the story of A&E or the flood, then I do not agree.

I have absolutely no problem with incorporating mythology into our lives and our culture. I have a big problem when what is obviously mythology is misconstrued as fact, especially when that mythology then invades (like a horrible flesh-eating plague... with fangs) into the secular realm of civil law and public education.

BTW, thank you for the Pew results.
 

path_of_one

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No problem- the PEW study is really pretty fascinating.

And I entirely agree about evolution and the misuse of mythology.

The way I see it, most Americans are poorly educated. This is the primary reason they do not "agree with" evolution. Yes, there are exceptions. But the vast majority of my students have come in with little to no understanding of population genetics (or even genetics in general, for that matter), had never actually read Darwin or any modern evolutionists' works, didn't understand the forces of natural selection, didn't understand how mutation works, and didn't understand statistics well enough to make sense of scientific articles on evolution. A bit of information is handed out, a few lab activities done and voila! people understand evolution and most "agree" with it.

It isn't the Bible that is the problem. It's a lack of critical thinking and education. We're a nation of sound-bites and dumbing it down for half-hour television programs. Evolution and mythology... neither one do well when given out in sound-bites, commercials, and sit-coms. :eek:
 

Faithfulservant

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lol fundamentalist movement. Like its some newly spread thing..

And CZ bless your confused egotistical heart. I know you just want to be heard and you have some issues with Christians but after reading through this thread it is exactly what I said it would be... a lot of (biblical) Christian bashing. So I will beg off because nothing I say will be valued much and thats ok too :) I'll keep my pearls to myself.

;)
 

wil

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a figment of your imagination
I'm not trying to boil it down to that simple of a syrup. I'm not saying literal belief is a cause so much as it is another symptom.

But I do have to ask, when the fall was put on the shoulders of Eve, do you think that changed a few lives over history? Do you think that might have shaped how we treated women through the centuries? I do. I think that interpretation was a vital force in female oppression, a force that we still feel the repercussions of today.
um er yes if you litterally interpret it.

PoO, I also appreciated BB's comments and yours too.

While this is a few years old, I thought I'd share it with y'all...
Most Americans take Bible stories literally

The Washington Times, February 16, 2004

An ABC News poll released Sunday found that 61 percent of Americans believe the account of creation in the Bible's book of Genesis is "literally true" rather than a story meant as a "lesson."
and almost 50% of high school graduates need remedial math in college.

What you are speaking of is a problem with us not with the bible.
 

nativeastral

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I have no problem with Christianity being taught in public schools... as part of a comparative religions course. Teaching it as a science, on par with evolution is a ridiculous notion, and will only serve to further dumb-down an already (arguably) idiotic culture.

no but 'intelligent design' could and should be part of a philosophy class as there are plenty of academic articles on it; giving the youth the full spectrum of logical arguments would enhance critical thinking.
 

shawn

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Another version of the story has it that people were "bio-engineered"/created as a work force or slave species.
Adam/Eve/early humans were designed to be servants, their primary function being to till the soil and care for the crops and gardens owned by his "God".
As long as they accepted their servitude and obeyed their ever-present masters, all their physical needs would be met and they would be permitted to remain in their "paradise" indefinitely.
There was however, one unpardonable sin they must never commit.
They must never attempt to seek certain types of knowledge which have been symbolized in the story as trees.
Tree #1 symbolizes an understanding of ethics and justice.
Tree #2 symbolizes the knowledge of how to regain one's spiritual identity and immortality.
One of the beings (or this could refer to a group or faction) who did this had second thoughts about the results and decided to teach early man (Adam) the way to spiritual freedom.
The biblical word for snake is nahash coming from the root NHSH, meaning "to decipher, to find out".

Despite all of their reported good intentions, the "snake" clearly failed to free the human race.
Ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian and biblical texts relate that the "snake" was quickly defeated by other custodial factions.
The "snake" was then banished "to earth" and was extensively villainized by his opponents to ensure that he could never again secure a widespread following among human beings and complete his objective.

So the story has more to it than what one would gather at face value.
When you compare this story against the story of accidental evolution from primordial slime with no assistance whatsoever, it is the latter which looks fanciful and requires more faith to believe it.
The A&E narrative has been derived fro earlier Mesopotamian sources which described life under the rule of Custodial Gods.
The "God" or "Lord God" of the bibles A&E story can be taken to mean "the custodial rulers of Earth".
The story is entirely symbolic.
Adam and Eve symbolize the first people who were artificially created.
They lived in an abundant paradise, a garden.
They were designed to be servants, their function was to tend the lush gardens and crops "owned" by the Custodians.
As long as they accepted their servant status and obeyed their masters, all of their physical needs would be met and they would be permitted to occupy this station indefinitely.
But there were conditions.
They must never seek certain types of knowledge.
Those forbidden forms of knowledge are symbolized in the story as 2 trees:
-the tree of knowledge of good and evil which symbolizes an understanding of ethics and justice.
-the 2nd tree symbolizes the knowledge of how to regain and retain one's spiritual identity and immortality.

When the snake presented his opinion in Gen 3:22 the passage reveals an important truth which is echoed in many religions, namely that a true understanding of ethics, integrity and justice is a prerequisite to regaining one's spiritual freedom and immortality.
Without a foundation in ethics, full spiritual recovery becomes nothing more than a pipe dream.
The Custodians clearly did not want mankind to begin traveling the road to spiritual recovery.
They wanted servants.
It is difficult to make thralls of people who maintain their integrity and a sense of ethics.
It becomes impossible when those same individuals are uncowed by physical threats due to a reawakened grasp of their spiritual immortality.
If spiritual beings could no longer be trapped in human bodies, but could instead use and abandon material bodies at will, there would be no more spiritual beings available to animate slave bodies (golems).
So the Custodians had to act.
The flaming sword symbolizes the no-nonsense approach the Custodians undertook to insure that genuine spiritual knowledge would never become available to the human race.
To further prevent access, additional genetic tinkering was effected to deal with humanities "original sin".
Material existence was made intentionally arduous and humans would have little time to seek out the understanding we need to become spiritually free.
This has continued through the millenia as we see that all the major "custodial" religions always seek to limit people's progress by restricting various kinds of specific knowledge.
Now why would they do that do you suppose???
For our collective betterment.
NOT.
The age old dilemma has always been that of slavery.

And yes....I know....it reads like fiction.
But when confronted with religious fiction vs science fiction, I prefer the science.
 

Avi

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Another version of the story has it that people were "bio-engineered"/created as a work force or slave species.

Shawn, is this your own idea or did it come from some other person / group ? If the latter, could you please give us the name(s) ?
 

shawn

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Shawn, is this your own idea or did it come from some other person / group ?
There are numerous people who have been discussing this for a long time, Tellinger, Sitchin, Bramley, etc.
So...no, this is not my idea at all, I just figured it would be good to throw another aspect into this discussion.
 

Avi

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There are numerous people who have been discussing this for a long time, Tellinger, Sitchin, Bramley, etc.
So...no, this is not my idea at all, I just figured it would be good to throw another aspect into this discussion.

So Shawn, I am not clear about your own position on this description, are you an advocate of this notion or a critic ?
 

shawn

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I think it is plausible, but who can really say?
All these notions of ours are learned speculation.
Would you agree?

(Cz has poetically compared all our opinions to a pile of steaming turds, but I think the boy was just into the sake a bit.)

Just a simple yes or no would suffice.
 

Avi

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I think it is plausible, but who can really say?
All these notions of ours are learned speculation.
Would you agree?

(Cz has poetically compared all our opinions to a pile of steaming turds, but I think the boy was just into the sake a bit.)

Just a simple yes or no would suffice.

No .... :D
 

Avi

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Shawn, I couldn't resist :D.

Ironically, your post does more to support CZ's thesis than all of his rationalist argumentation could achieve. :)

How could I dispute your seemingly irrational description, given the one I am advocating, Genesis, is not exactly quantum physics ?

And perhaps that is really the point here. It seems like science is the discipline that is really in the best position to tell us the origin of the universe, the world and humans. We can argue about the data, the results, the analysis, but that should be the focus of the argument.

Religion can interpret the results, hopefully through an ethical and moral lens. Where the religious view disagrees with science, there should be serious doubt about the religious view. It might be interpreted metaphorically or allegorically. The scientific view should not be rejected without some more rational view.
 

shawn

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So you know do you.
(somewhat presumptuous and arrogant of you, but who am I to judge:D)
Now I am not clear on your position.
You are of the mind that your cherished speculations are indeed fact and the last word??????
Or you allow for modifications as new information comes to light?
or ....what????
 
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