December 8, 2008

"Is it literally true, the Bible?"

"You know. Probably not."

President Bush answers a question.

He continues:
No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is "God sent a son." That God in the flesh, that mankind can understand there is a God who is full of grace and that nothing you can do to earn his love. His love is a gift and that in order to draw closer to God and in order to express your appreciation for that love is why you change your behavior.

So you can read the Bible and not take it literally. I mean you can -- it's not inconsistent to love the Bible and believe in evolution, say.

Yeah, I mean, I do. I mean, evolution is an interesting subject. I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life and ...

But do you believe in it?

Well, I think you can have both. I think evolution can -- you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But it's, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an [A]lmighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.
"I'm just a simple president."

54 comments:

Palladian said...

"I'm just a simple president."

That's somehow more endearing and hilarious than Obama's "above my pay grade".

Joan said...

It's not often lately that I get to say I agree with our President, but this: I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an [A]lmighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution is where I come down on this issue, also.

I, too, love "I'm just a simple president." You know he means it.

Ann Althouse said...

I thought it was immensely touching.

Fred4Pres said...

I wish people would give Bush a break (Sarah Palin too). Most Christians can accept evolution but believe God created the universe. Often surveys and polls on this issue are sematics and used as a club to beat believers as ignorant creatins.

I fully accept evolution. And I think there is more to life on earth and human existance than mere random chance. And I believe in God (sorry Christopher Hitchens) but I do. And I believe there is a lot more to Jesus than some reglious figure who ran afoul of the authorities in Judea 2000 years ago.

And I do not think I or any other Christian believer any more likely to go off on a religious jihad any more than some random secular athiest is to go off on some Communist godless purge--the chances of either are exceedingly low.

So let's give each other the benefit of doubt, shall we.

kynefski said...

Good for him. He has good reason to be devoted to his god, but will not pretend that what is known is not. I wish he would give an address at Patrick Henry.

More of us should acknowledge when we're out of our lane.

somefeller said...

I'm not a Bush fan, but I don't see anything to criticize here. His is a reasonable statement. More sophisticated religious thinkers certainly don't see any contradiction between evolution and the idea of God as the First Cause. That was certainly the viewpoint taught on the first day of biology class in my Catholic high school, and that day was the last day religion came up in the class. Catholic theology certainly wasn't mentioned on the final exam, while Darwin was.

I'm not sure if I believe in that viewpoint, but it's certainly a reasonable worldview, and I'm glad Bush supports it publicly.

rcocean said...

Sorry, I liked Bush's answer. I'm even more simpler than he is. I don't have the slightest idea what people mean when they say "Do you believe in evolution?"

Do you mean the "Dariwn's theory? or "Survival of the fittest?" or "The Big Bang theory?" or "Macro_evolution, that we all came from one cell?" Or do you mean "intra-species evolution?" Or it all of the above.

And I see no contradiction between the Bible and "Evolution". The age of the earth is irrelevant.

But I see very little proof for "Evolution" with a Big E. That is the idea that Man and chimps share the same ancestor or that we all came from one type of organism through random selection. Amazing that with 150 years of research the fossil record is so very skimpy. You'd think we'd have found zillions of mutant half evolved fossils by now.

mcg said...

I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life and ...

And that would be correct. Not only that, it is tautological. After all, we have evolution (and an explanation of it); we don't have a full explanation for the mystery of life---particularly if you include the mystery of existence.

Every origin scientist (biological or cosmological) wrestles with infinity. Some just use a proper name to refer to it.

Original George said...

It's always a good idea to beware of fellas who say that they're just simple country boys.

Better to be undermisestimated than to want everybody to think you're a superstar. Not as far to fall that way.

Theo Boehm said...

As a Catholic and someone who has been concerned with theology and spiritual matters my whole life, I will say that was a fine answer. Looking at the post title, I winced in anticipation of the usual worst from President Bush.

Instead, we got the best.

He's no Lincoln in his spiritual depth and eloquence, but, mangled as his response was, it was, in its way, entirely sound and very touching.

Fred4Pres said...

Talking about irrational thoughts and fears...

Mutiny on the Dish

Know hope.

Chip Ahoy said...

Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."

And the faintly fired Bush replied meekly, "but I am but a simple president."

Then Jesus with much sympathy said unto the Bush, "Very well then, I shall make of thee a fisherman of fish. Now take up thy rod and thy reel and get to fishing."

Freeman Hunt said...

A great answer.

As to the evolution versus the Bible bit, only fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists think that evolution and the Bible are incompatible or even contradictory.

John Althouse Cohen said...

As to the evolution versus the Bible bit, only fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists think that evolution and the Bible are incompatible or even contradictory.

What does being an atheist have to do with seeing the Bible and evolution as contradictory? Anyone could see that from reading Genesis, whether or not they believe in God.

Hazy Dave said...

Hallelujah. And God save us from Presidents who think they're God's gift to Women, America, the World, et Cetera.

Way too many people who should know better talk as if intelligence were the most important criteria in choosing a Leader. And then, they don't notice they're judging intelligence on the basis of verbal agility (and accent, and vocabulary, and "eloquence")...

Patm said...

I will always love Bush. He's real. He's genuine. So few people in public life are genuine, anymore.

Seven Machos said...

It is has always been hilarious to me that atheists play this gotcha game with religious people: do you believe in Adam and Eve or do you believe in evolution? Hmmmmm?

I mean, really. Who is being simple here? The binary morons who posit an allegory and a theory full of holes and ask you to choose between them? Or the person who sees that both the allegory and the theory have immense value, and realize that they are woefully inadequate to have a full understanding of the cosmos?

Seven Machos said...

P.S. Just so we are clear: Freeman Hunt is saying that the Bible and Genesis are not contradictory at all.

Hazy Dave said...

John, it's fundamentalism that doesn't leave room for interpretation. Not so much the Atheist vs. Christian dichotomy. There are a lot of allegories and metaphors and such in the Bible. Centuries of interpretation have produced all the quarreling experts you could ask for.

Maybe that's not the important part. It's not a good idea to eat raw pork, but maybe it's okay to eat a hot dog on Friday. Advice that had particular value 3000 years ago may have different resonance today. But don't think you're smarter than I am just because you're an unbeliever.

Meade said...

"I thought it was immensely touching."

How Bush found me.

Lyle said...

Fred4Pres,

You're dig at Sullivan, "Know Hope", is priceless. Great dig, great dig.

sonicfrog said...

Isn't it strange that, in the weeks since the election, Bush has become.... somehow.... human. You don't see nearly as much bile from opponents as you used to, and in the interviews Bush has done since then, he is more relaxed than I remember ever seeing him.

Ralph said...

Iraq is all but won, and he's all but out of here. What a thankless job. Lots of adulation, but so many things out of your control.

holdfast said...

I disagree with Bush on Shamnesty and the the idea of "Big Government Conservatism" (which only enables big liberalism), and I got mad when I felt like he was only making a half-hearted effort on some things, but I always thought he was a good man - probably not a "great man" (they scare me) but a decent, good hearted man who loves family, country and god.

peter hoh said...

Fred, it's a funny mutiny, that happens with the captain's encouragement.

Patrick Appel: Andrew and I spoke last Friday. He encouraged me to air my dissent on this matter.

peter hoh said...

I saw the interview on Nightline. Yeah, good answer.

He also gave a pretty good answer when asked if he thought he and Muslims pray to the same God.

And he spoke very well on the issue of being misquoted on a religious matter back when he was governor (or running for governor).

FWIW, I've been around some strident anti-evolutionists who would probably object to Bush's answer.

Dennis said...

I'll always love that man, and I'll miss him. I hope God blesses George W. Bush with a long, rich and happy retirement. He has earned it.

John Stodder said...

Let's just say this about Freeman's statement that Genesis and evolution are not contradictory. Note the distinction, an important distinction that she made between herself and other believing Christians and "fundamentalists."

In the universe of people who call themselves "Christian," only a percentage that I'd guess is less than half believe the Bible is literally true and literally the word of God. Religious scholars certainly don't believe this, given all the trouble they go to trying to identify the authors of the different books.

Thus, for the non-fundamentalist groups, a tale such as is told in Genesis is viewed as a kind of poetic expression of God's power. He is as powerful as the God depicted in Genesis. But we don't pretend to know exactly how he created creation.

In that way, the theory of evolution does not conflict with Genesis. The theory of evolution does not depend logically or otherwise on the absence of God or the refutation of any particular religion.

Bill said...

rcocean: But I see very little proof for "Evolution" with a Big E. That is the idea that Man and chimps share the same ancestor or that we all came from one type of organism through random selection. ...

We've got ample proof — from comparative anatomy, the fossil record, and now from DNA.

Even before evolution was thought of, people realized that lifeforms could be sorted into nested boxes. For instance, chimps and humans share characteristics which distinguish them from cats, dogs, bats, whales, etc. But all those share characteristics which distinguish them from lizards, eagles, frogs, sharks, etc. But all those share characteristics which distinguish them from spiders, bees, crabs, squids, etc. And so on, wherever you want to start.

This doesn't really make sense if every species had been designed from scratch. It's much more reasonable to conclude that new species were developed by tweaking an older one. And the fossil record confirms this, showing e.g. that the first mammal was some kind of reptile, as was the first bird. The first reptile was some sort of amphibian, the first of which was some sort of fish, etc.

We can see the same thing in other fields: We have documentary evidence that the Romance languages have evolved from Latin. We can reliably infer the existence of a common ancestor of Spanish, Russian, Greek, and Hindi. We can also infer a common ancestor of most Eurasian languages, albeit without certainty.

rcocean: ... Amazing that with 150 years of research the fossil record is so very skimpy. You'd think we'd have found zillions of mutant half evolved fossils by now.

I wouldn't call the fossil record "skimpy". But fossilization is a very, very unlikely event. Almost all fossils must be from species which had already won the 'survival of the fittest' contest, which is why we don't see much evolution between a species' first and last appearance.

James said...

rcocean said:

"And I see no contradiction between the Bible and "Evolution". The age of the earth is irrelevant.

But I see very little proof for "Evolution" with a Big E. That is the idea that Man and chimps share the same ancestor or that we all came from one type of organism through random selection."

No, the age of the Earth is not "irrelevant." How old do you think it is? Because if you share the normal viewpoint (i.e. ~4.5 billion years) and you somehow reject that humans and chimps had a common ancestor, what exactly do you think happened? 250,000 years ago, Homo sapiens just suddenly popped out of nowhere?

As for your ridiculous fossil record argument: 1) there are plenty of "transitional fossils" and 2) fossilization occurs only under specific conditions. It's not as if every skeleton of every dead animal is simply preserved. The fact that we have the record we do is remarkable, and only people who deliberately overlook the vast mountains of evidence in favor of evolution would come to the conclusions you do.

blake said...

Of course, when the Bible says God made Man in His image, that's a reference to the soul, the divine spark, the ability to create.

Worrying about where the body came from is sort of silly, theologically speaking.

Step Back said...

Yes, the ability to create a deity in our own image. (And the ability to elect "simple" presidents to lead us into salvation.)

downtownlad said...

"I'm just a simple minded President".

Yes - he certainly is.

kynefski said...

But I see very little proof for "Evolution" with a Big E. That is the idea that Man and chimps share the same ancestor or that we all came from one type of organism through random selection. Amazing that with 150 years of research the fossil record is so very skimpy. You'd think we'd have found zillions of mutant half evolved fossils by now.

I'm not sure I understand what you are saying here, rcocean. Do we see mutant half-evolved organisms around us today?

As to common descent, I recommend Francis Collins's The Language of God. He offers what I think you'll find to be persuasive evidence.

A simple request: When arguing against evolutionary theory, please replace "random" with "indifferent." It probably says what you mean more clearly.

Paddy O. said...

As to the evolution versus the Bible bit, only fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists think that evolution and the Bible are incompatible or even contradictory.

So true.

And fundamentalists tend to think they know all there is to know about what they don't agree with. They don't. But, they get all feisty, and wordy, and put on an air of more-brilliant-than-thou.

Fundamentalists, of both sides, I suspect don't care as much about evolution itself as what they're trying to prove about God. Evolution becomes a tool, or a rather, a club.

Windbag said...

The issue of the literal truth of the Bible becomes focused on creation versus evolution. The bigger question concerning the literal truth of the Bible isn't how/if/when God created the earth, but if Jesus' statement "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, except by me," is true.

The fixation with creation is a diversion from the issue of whether or not we are sinners who have offended God and in need of His favor. By disproving the first, we can render the second moot.

Fred4Pres said...

I was hoping Patrick Appel's post was a sign Andrew Sullivan was starting to regain his sanity...

but apparently it is only a weak attempt to dig Andrew out of his Trig Trutherism hole.

There is no "debate" here, the entire Trig alternate birth theory is nuts. It was nuts from the start. But Andrew was so...excitable, that he could not let it go. It went so far as Sullivan emailing Michael Goldfarb (of the McCain campaign) and telling him he was the biggest single man blogsite in the world so Palin needed to send those medical records promptly to prove Trig was her child. Team Mac rightly responded with mockery. You can criticize Palin's credentials without going into Andrew Sullivan's nutburger theory land.

Kirby Olson said...

It's too bad he can't have a third term.

kynefski said...

Evolution becomes a tool, or a rather, a club.

I sincerely hope that everyone can distinguish the pastafarians pointing to evolution as a way to ridicule the faithful from the biologists working to understand how life evolves.

Understanding something of evolutionary theory opens a window on nature that is otherwise clouded. No one should deny herself the real pleasure arising from that understanding, just because our history has tainted the word.

Beside which it can be weirdly entertaining. Google "zombie caterpillar".

peter hoh said...

Windbag wrote: The issue of the literal truth of the Bible becomes focused on creation versus evolution. The bigger question concerning the literal truth of the Bible isn't how/if/when God created the earth, but if Jesus' statement "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, except by me," is true.

In the broadcast interview, Bush didn't exactly reject the idea behind John 14:6, but he didn't embrace it as an absolute statement about the way to God.

El Presidente said...

Darwinism is the creation myth of the 20th century.

Joe said...

Yes, because we all knew we were brought here by aliens.

traditionalguy said...

Believers in the inspiration of the scriptures can never win an argument with a scientist who only believes in seen and repeatable data. So why argue? As food for thought let me add: [1] The view of linearity of time leaves out the forces of re-creation continually popping up into this World [2] Quantum physics teaches us that order some how comes out of a mass of chance and disorder [3] Only an energy of attraction in the relation of electrons-protons within atoms exists and all we see as data is temporary as are all living organisms. In the end all we can see is expressions of from an ordering Word,i.e.,an equation. That we havethe gift/freedomt of consciousness of our condition allows us temporaries to enjoy the beauty in this green planet earth upon which the re-creation between Gen.1:1 and Gen.2:2 could have been literal and done by a creator Spirit following a Judgement on the Planet that had left the planet formless and void. But that's a revelation in scripture that could only come from a personal speaking creater spirit who was there at the "time".

Patm said...

"downtownlad said...

"I'm just a simple minded President".

Yes - he certainly is.
7:21 AM"

But not so simpleminded that he could get a four-word quote wrong.

Boorah, Bush. I'll miss him. I've never seen any politician whose ever utterance and meaning has been so relentlessly distorted both for political expediency and for the creation of simple, adolescent and brain dead "jokes."

From Inwood said...

Prof A

At first I thought you were still trying to justify to intelligent Conservatives (no snarky "oxymoronic" comments!) your vote for Obama who couldn’t adequately & articulately explain his inconsistent economics to Joe The Plumber. A simple plumber!

But you later say that you were touched, & I take you at your word & I'm sorry for prejudging you.

John Althouse C

I had the same experience as Somefeller in my RC education.

For instance, I was not taught, & do not believe, as did Bishop Usher, that the world was created 4,004 years before Christ. In fact, there is more indoctrination today in RC schools about nukes & Republicans & poverty than when I went to school.

But I digress.

We were not taught, nor do we RCs believe, as you say that the Bible and [the theory of] evolution [or, Darwinism] are “contradictory”. Nor do I believe so today.

The Bible and Darwinism are concerned with a related thing & approach their subject in a rather different, but equally important manner.

Now comes the time at a cocktail party or bar-b-que where the trimmer says something like “can’t we all get along?” & voices the obligatory platitude about neither side having a monopoly on the truth, or makes some other equally vapid observation & adds “how about them Giants”!

OK, but how about this:

Theologians can come to the wrong conclusion when they try to use the Bible to answer issues it isn’t designed to address, but Scientists can also come to the wrong conclusion using the scientific method to answer issues such method is designed to address. The devil is in the details, you might say.

And when when agenda-driven science or religion attempt to interject themselves into the making of public policy ….

Finally as someone has noted

“There is no one, single scientific truth that will always be correct, because what we “know” today to be true may be stood on its head tomorrow by additional scientific evidence.

“One doesn’t have to go back centuries to when man believed that the Earth was the center of the universe to see the validity of this statement. In the span of my lifetime alone we’ve gone from supposedly predictable laws of nature to a random quantum universe; from an expanding universe to a contracting or stable one (depending upon how much dark matter actually exists); from a big bang beginning to a four-dimensional universe to a membrane-driven universe with eleven dimensions of reality. Sixty years ago man was convinced that the speed of sound was the ultimate barrier to flight; today Mach 1 is equivalent to a lazy drive on a Sunday afternoon. Thirty years ago we 'knew' we were all about to freeze; today we 'know' we’re going to raise the Earth’s temperature from 1-9 degrees, in 30-100 years, depending upon which Al Gore-inspired histrionics are utilized that day.

“Therefore, the immutable, unchanging answers science provides will always be incomplete. Science may guide us and even answer some of our questions. But the questions it answers are pedestrian, not philosophical. And the answers it gives are always subject to revision and change as new information becomes available, or old information is re-analyzed. What we know as a 'scientific fact' today may be as ridiculous tomorrow as [his laundry list of debunked scientific 'truths']”

Regards

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

The man is correct. Evolution does not explain abiogenesis and abiogenesis has no provable theories, although they're trying.

I have always enjoyed his self deprecation and stated humility. I will miss those virtues these next 8 years.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

err, a theory is by definition not been proven and awaiting proof. I'm just a simple voter.

kynefski said...

A theory is a proposed explanation. If you think that a theory fails to adequately account for available evidence, you propose an alternative theory. Without alternative theories, arguments against current theories are scientifically meaningless.

So, if you think that life cannot evolve by an unguided natural process, you must propose another process by which life evolves.

Except in Louisiana.

blake said...

Another non-religious point: Few works of language are going to be literally true. There are figures of speech, metaphor, synecdoche, etc., etc., etc.

I don't see how that bears on truthfulness, divinity or divine inspiration.

Anthony said...

Well, technically if we're talking about a true theory, by definition it is logically true and internally consistent; i.e., it's already been logically proven. What is amenable to empirical falsification are the hypotheses that flow from the theory.

Hence, a theory is by definition true, but may be useless in any empirical sense.

Michael said...

No, what he meant to say was: "I'm just simple..."

Kathy said...

Blake said:
Another non-religious point: Few works of language are going to be literally true. There are figures of speech, metaphor, synecdoche, etc., etc., etc.

I don't see how that bears on truthfulness, divinity or divine inspiration.


Yes, that's exactly right. JAC shows his inexperience with this issue in his comments. There are of course a few hardcore biblical literalists out there, but even other Christians find them strange. A much large group accepts the divine inspiration of scripture, although they might define what that means in different ways, and accepts that scripture isn't always meant to be literally true--sometimes it uses allegory or metaphor or parable to make a point. As to the arguments over authorship, they have nothing to do with whether or not the Bible was divinely inspired. The most commonly held view is something along the lines of "God led this particular individual to write this text in this way at this time and made sure he didn't screw it up." So divine inspiration or no, the authorship of the book still impacts our understanding of what it means, because we believe God works through our individual quirks and foibles rather than running roughshod over them.

I guess I just wish a few of you guys who don't seem to understand how this works would try to inform yourselves more. Find a good "thinking" Christian site and read a bit. First Things is a good one if you like erudite discussion.

j a n said...

Taking the Bible literally is really a huge generalization. If I may, a link to some thoughts about that: Not So Literal.

veni vidi vici said...

I took the comment in this thread that "the age of the planet is unimportant" to mean that it is unimportant vis. the message and lessons of biblical allegory. But then, I tend to try understanding comments based on an assumption that the commentor isn't a babbling idiot.

I'm with patm; Bush can be a lot of things to lots of people, but from my reading of "A Charge to Keep" in '99 forward, he's always struck me as a man who knows his own limitations, and that's a pretty wise man in any circumstance. "I'm just a simple president" means "I'm a politician, and we all know what they know about technicalities", or "I'm not a scientist or anthropologist; that's why I'm not the guy to ask for specifics from". Or, in today's journalistic environment, perhaps, "I'm not the high priest shaman of the republic, just the president; why don't you fuck off and go join a book group or otherwise get a life?"

Simpleminded, eh? The guy that had the vision and guts to put in motion a plan that would wind up the sanctions regime and free tens of millions in Iraq? Pray that President Obama brings as simpleminded a vision to his office.