Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Evolution and the Bible

I haven’t done one of those random biblical topics in a while and since this is my diary blog, I’m now going to do one.

The Theory of Evolution and the Bible should not be in conflict.

The Theory of Evolution is a painstakingly developed modern synthesis that is the foundation of the science of biology and the key to the development of the drugs and vaccines that keep pestilence away from our front door.

The Hebrew Bible is the history, collected wisdom, philosophy, legends and fables of an ancient nomadic people. They recorded their hopes, fears, victories and catastrophes. It is an absolutely amazing document.

The so-called New Testament I divide into three parts, the gospels, including the Book of Acts, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. The gospels are a blend of biography, philosophy and a moral synthesis that combines both traditional Hebrew and Greek ideas. The Epistles give us a flavor of the thoughts, hopes and fears of a people almost 2,000 years removed in time. The Revelation saves for us an example of a type of apocalyptic literature fairly common in the first century.

However the bible is neither the literal word of God nor any other kind of word of God. It is no more divine, and perhaps somewhat less so, than Plato’s Dialogues.

Allow me to suggest that if you do not accept that the Earth is around 4 billion years old and that the Theory of Evolution is fundamentally sound, then either you do not understand the evidence or you are engaging in wishful thinking.

That is not to say that the Theory of Evolution is perfect. It’s not. It’s got a lot of questions related to “how, when, where and why” but there is no serious doubt about “if.”

I’m not going to get into the errors and contradictions in the bible. It’s a waste of time. Christian apologists have come up with arguments and rationalizations to cover almost everything. Sometimes they’ve even come up with contradictory explanations for the same thing. Believers don’t care about how “probable” an explanation may be. If it’s even remotely “possible,” that’s good enough for them. I applaud their creativity. I don’t find their arguments terribly persuasive but they are creative.

The bottom line is that if you believe the bible is the inerrant word of God, then you haven’t read it objectively. There are several passages in the bible that scream out to me that it was written by men. No passage convinces me more than Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

Deuteronomy 22:13 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her 14: and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, "I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity," 15: then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate.

16: The girl's father will say to the elders, "I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. 17: Now he has slandered her and said, 'I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.' But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity." Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18: and the elders shall take the man and punish him.

19: They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

20: If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, 21: she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.

There are all kinds of things wrong with this passage.

Let’s start with the question of why would God care if the bride is a virgin? The typical answer usually revolves around something related to the importance of sexual purity. Funny how that only seems to be an issue for the female of the species isn’t it? Marriage is an institution developed by men. You will notice that God never performed a marriage ceremony for Adam and Eve.

Let’s continue with the observation that there is a difference between what is true and being able to present evidence that it is true. God would know this. I also find it disturbing that the burden of proof is placed upon the accused girl, or at least the parents of the accused girl, the person in the weakest position.

Let me ask you this one, what happens if hubby drank a little too much at the marriage feast and then couldn’t get it up? Ignore the idea of love as far as marriage is concerned at this place and time. That’s not usually the way it worked. Marriages were typically arranged by families for various reasons. A bride price called a mohar was typically paid by the father of the groom to the father of the bride.

Ignore the idea of the involvement of mature adults as well. Virgin brides were typically very young, around 14 or 15 years old. The bridegrooms were either almost as young or older men entering into a second marriage. Just to further complicate the situation, marriage worked a little different in those days. It was a two step process. First came the erusin, the betrothal, and then came the nissuin, which was the actual marriage ceremony.

The woman was legally married as of the betrothal and it’s at that time that the bride price was paid, but she remained in her father’s house until the actual marriage ceremony. At that time she moved in with her husband, who most likely was still a member of his father’s household, and the marriage was consummated. The bible doesn’t mention what happens to the bride price should a problem arise with the bride’s virginity, but I think it’s safe to assume it would have to be returned.

If you think about it a bit, the whole situation has the potential for a number of unfortunate scenarios that have absolutely nothing to do with the virginity of the bride. I'm not saying things went wrong with any frequency, it's the potential for disaster that I'm concerned with. I'm sure God could have come up with a better system.

Let’s then move on to the totally absurd unevenness of the punishments. If the girl can’t prove her innocence she gets stoned to death. If she’s falsely accused the bastard receives some unspecified “punishment” and has to pay 100 shekels to the girl’s father. As a bonus the girl gets the dubious pleasure of having to stay married to the guy that tried to get her stoned to death.

You will notice that it’s the father that gets compensated because apparently it was the honor of his house that was stained. The whole thing reeks of patriarchy run amok, a world view where women are considered little more than property. Does any intelligent person believe that’s what God has in mind?

The typical argument here is that somehow the girl’s crime was greater than the guys. Why? Because not only did she engage in sexual relations while still in her father’s house, but then she tries to get married under false pretenses and adds the sin of false witness to the sin of impurity.

That’s pretty sneaky for a 14 year old child that has absolutely no education beyond how to perform simple household chores. I’m sure someone consciously trying to work a deception like that would figure out a way to prick her finger to supply the expected evidence as well.

The excuse I’ve heard for the lightness of the punishment for the guy is that it wasn’t all that light. Some translations say whip rather than punish and a whipping could be rather harsh. It’s still not anything like getting stoned to death though.

The justification for having her stay married to the fink has been cited as now he has to provide for her for the rest of her life. There are two really big problems with this idea. First of all, how pleasant a life do you think that’s going to be for the girl especially in a society where wife beating was most likely acceptable or at least ignored? Second, if one considers passages like Deuteronomy 24:1-5, divorced women getting married again wasn’t all that unusual.

The most interesting justification for this passage that has ever been given me is that it’s essentially a bluff. I’ve gotten the same justification for the command to stone a rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Supposedly the two passages are bluffs that were never intended to be used. Both passages are there to keep the kiddies in line but are not to be applied.

My reaction to that is please, give me a break. This ranks as the number one rationalization I’ve ever heard. Like I said, they’re creative, unconvincing, but creative.

I rank Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as the most absurd passage in the bible but there are plenty of others. When you have a rational explanation as to why God would issue such commands, give me a call.

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