Alan Bloom, bible, biblical inerrancy, evolution, fundamentalism, God, open/closed minds, Q, Synoptics
A good many years ago, more years than I care to think about, I read Alan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. Lauded by the right as a correct indictment of the liberal philosophy of the Enlightenment forward, it made an impact on me for an entirely different reason.
Please note that I am paraphrasing here badly, but the gist of what Bloom said, was that one mind that he found amazing was that of the fundamentalist. He was boggled at the energy required to retain blinders to the realities of the world, all the while operating within it, meanwhile maintaining a rigid and irrational mindset about how the world functioned. That never the two met and created a crisis (reality and the constructed fantasy world) was simply almost beyond comprehension.
I never forgot that. Indeed, here the closed mind is not that of someone who has an intuitive belief about social issues in the world, and can back them up with a plethora of rational proofs. No, here we have a mindset that is supremely against the great weight of the evidence, and which refuses to consider the possibility of error.
For indeed it cannot. The fundamentalist has created a worldview that tells him that God either dictated the bible to writers (if he can do that, why not just write it yourself I say) or that he at least embedded in their minds exactly the information he wished transmitted. In either case, the bible is error-less and it is God’s own work for all practical purposes.
Most everyone knows that one of the most oft heard statements of biblical literalists is that “if there is error in any part, then the entire bible is suspect, and my faith has no meaning.” That my friends is an immovable object.
The fact that evolutionary theory has been around more than 200 years, and serves as a working paradigm for disciplines as diverse as evolutionary biology, medicine, astronomy, geology, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and no doubt more, has no impact. When the human genome project was completed, many thought that the issue would finally be put to rest. Alas it was not, it was simply ignored.
Two examples will suffice to explain this concept further.
I once had a discussion with a poster at CA. I was talking about Q–short for Quelle, German for source. Most scholars agree today that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke had copies of Mark and a now lost source called Q. Positing of Q solved many of the “synoptic problems” otherwise inherent in the texts.
A poster ridiculed me, reminding me that “everybody knows that Matthew was written first–open your bible.” Of course, everybody doesn’t know that, the majority of scholars argue otherwise. But to a fundamentalist, as this poster was, any error could not be tolerated. Thus, he followed the view that upheld his viewpoint although it was not supported by most scholars. (It’s not so much I deny the right to follow the minority, but honesty is required and ridicule is not at all appropriate.)
A similar incident occurred revolving around the exact issue, but on a blog. Sadly the blog was co-written by a Catholic “theologian” and a grad student in theology at the same conservative Catholic college. Again, Matthew was stated as being the first Gospel. I indicated that I was aware that the majority of scholars said differently. I was advised they were wrong, although the “theologian” agreed that his position was the minority one. I suggested that he owed to his readers to state that in all fairness. He didn’t reply.
My point is simply, that if you have already decided what must be, you only look for what supports you. I, as I said, am prone to do the same regards the Republican party, finding nothing much ever good to say about them. Yet I hope I am still willing to at least look at one’s source, and I do find a conservative pundit here and there whom I respect and who causes me to think.
Fundamentalists consider the game too serious for that consideration. Salvation is at stake. The earth was created to “look” old, presumably to separate those who would believe in the book as opposed to those who would follow their faulty senses. The former are saved, the latter in dire straits. Carbon dating is ridiculed, except when used to date the Shroud of Turin–then it is okay.
My faith is not tied to the bible being inerrant. My vision of God is far bigger than any book. If tomorrow science informed me that evolution was an error, and science once again had no real clue how we came to be empirically, I would be shocked, but it would have no effect on my faith. It is unlikely it ever could, because by definition science has no means to evaluate empirically the metaphysical.
Similarly, if it were to turn out that Matthew indeed was written before Mark that too would not change much for me. It would cause me to re-evaluate my understanding of how the bible was created, insofar as the tools used to make these judgments, but it would in no way alter my faith in any way.
That in a nutshell is why efforts to hold the conversation is worthless. You are talking to a person who has his eyes closed, his ears stopped and is humming. He hears not a word. It is simply too dangerous. Otherwise the sheer avalanche of evidence would bury him and he would “see the light.”
Some of course do. But mostly it is that group of kids, brought up in fundamentalist homes, who get off to college where they are invited to open their minds and think. Sadly, since they have been trained that if the bible is found faulty in any respect, it is worthless, they often become new atheists. That is why most atheists attack Christianity through a fundamentalist lens.
With that, I have ended my willingness to argue these points with the closed minded, whether they be fundamentalist Christians or their nemesis the “new” atheists. Both are desperate to be right, to the point of denying the nose on their face.
Such does not mean that I won’t discuss evolution per se. There are always fascinating issues to discuss and learn from. You might want to take a look at this which I found yesterday. It is not a rehashing of proofs about evolution but discusses the new “accommodationists” science and religious banding together to show the basic lack of tension between science and faith. An excellent article and worth a good discussion.