Metaphorical vs. Literal Truth

Jesse Galef did an excellent article showing the problem with “Metaphorical Truth“.  He analyzes the issue beautifully.  Below is my take on it.  But be sure to read his short article.

Did George Washington cut down a cherry tree and then confess his misdeed, or didn’t he?  If he did, we have more evidence that George was an honest man.  Indeed that is the exact intent of the author —Parson Weems.  But if George did not cut down that cherry tree, we are still lacking evidence.  George may have been an honest man, but we should not look to this myth as evidence.

Is the Bible true?  Fortunately, many liberal/progressive Christians are now willing to concede that much of the Bible is not literally true.  But many are loathe to totally give up on the word true even of the verses they consider non-literal.  “True” after all is a powerful word.  Every religion wants to consider its positions “true”, they all want their god to be “true”.  “True” is not a word one wants to give up on easily.  Few will easily forsake the word “true“.  Sure, they may concede a certain story may not be “literally” true, but they still want that story to be “metaphorically” true.

Their tool to preserve “truth” in a myth is  a hermeneutic style called “Narrative Theology“.   Using the Narrative approach they feel they can both keep valuing these passages and still consider them true in some sense.  But should they be allowed to keep both these?  I can understand the valuing a message in any myth (as I illustrated “valuing” in the Hindu story on Ganesh) but that is far different from considering the myth to “true”.

Theologian N.T. Wright recently did quick 10-minute video, Meaning and Myth,  telling us how we need to embrace myths as “true” while we still recognize them as non-literal myths.  In this video, he is willing to call Gen 1 & 2 “myths” but still wants them to be right about God’s working in nature and right about “a primordial couple getting something wrong”.  But you see, he offers no evidence for that.  He is trying to count these stories as evidence while he simultaneously calls them a “myth”.  He wants to sound cool, modern, intellectual and yet sneak back in the same of ideas.

This Metaphorical Truth Slight-of-Hand can be found inside all of the following packages:

  • Post-liberal theology
  • Radical Orthodoxy
  • Post-modernism
  • Emergent Church movement

This flavor of progressive Christianity uses this intellectual slight-of-hand so they can feel that have escaped falling into the abyss of rationistic, individualist theological liberalism.  But such a move is dishonest.   Now, I must say that outside of the “Metaphorical Truth Slight-of-Hand”, there is much about this “Narrative” approach that I do see as valuable including:

  • Viewing the story as complete in itself (non-reductionist)
  • Seeking deep messages and themes without focusing on literal truth
  • Trying to feel the intent of the author
  • Allowing a story to speak to you on a personal level

But we can do all this without clamoring to preserve the word “true” with the phrase “metaphorically true”.  And we can realize that a myth is a myth and not confuse them with actual events.  Sure, the story can affect you deeply and mean a lot to you, but that does not make it “true”– literally or metaphorically.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

65 responses to “Metaphorical vs. Literal Truth

  1. I don’t have the intellectual acumen to address this properly, so I hope you will bear with me. What do you mean by “true”? Factual truth, as in the truth delivered by a textbook about how electricity works? When I first began dealing with metaphorical truth, I was not defending the Bible but my love of reading literature. My parents used to berate me for reading so much, saying it wasn’t “real life.” “It’s just a story” or “It’s just poetry.” This annoyed the living daylights out of me, as I thought fiction and poetry revealed a lot of “truth” about real life – the truth of how humans will interact with each other in different situations and in different times, the truth about how emotions play out in human affairs. These aren’t factual truths. They are the truth of shared human experience. I don’t think I would call this sleight of hand. As you touch upon, Christian theology has been dominated by a “rationalist” approach – it has taken the apparatus of science and tried to apply it to the Bible. Hence the nonsense of Intelligent Design and other attempts no doubt to nail down one overriding meaning to the text. The theologians espousing metaphorical truth have jettisoned the whole mess. Basically – screw rationalism, that’s now what we’re about. Let’s get back to what religion does best in the first place, which is tell stories about shared human experience. Poetry and not an instruction manual. For Christians who have felt like they were in a straight-jacket of Biblical literalism and sola scriptura, this is liberating.

    As for N.T. Wright, what exactly do you think he should be offering evidence for? Proof that they myth is “true”? Proof that the myth points to a transcendent God? You don’t “prove” a myth. Those stories of Adam and Eve are about a shared human sense (that not all feel) that the world could be wonderful but for some reason it isn’t, and we seem to willfully screw it up all the time. That seems true to me.

  2. This was a great look into an issue I’ve tried to cover myself. The analogy of George Washington was especially prescient.

    The myth reveals a greater truth about the man, but that truth must still be evident. There are additional records about his character that we can verify independently of the legendary account. This is what makes the story of the cherry tree effective; it emphasizes something known to be true, regardless of whether the actual story, in and of itself, is true or not.

    When it comes to the Bible, it’s fine to suggest that certain accounts are metaphorical and contain some greater truth, but that truth must be independently verifiable outside of the Bible. Unfortunately, when it comes to critical points of the Christian theology: the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus; these events lack corroboration. There is no record of a Roman census requiring people to return to their birthplace. During the crucifixion, there is no record of the event, nor the dead rising from their tombs. There are multiple drastically conflicting accounts of what exactly happened after, perhaps, the most influential event of the universe: Christ’s resurrection.

    It could be argued that each of these events, as written, contain insights and wisdom into the greater truth of the actual events. Metaphor is designed to enhance and build upon reality, not replace it. If these events are purely recorded in myth, and myth alone, then in what sense to they accurately depict anything?

  3. “But should they be allowed to keep both these? ”

    who will “take” it away from “them?” You? Atheists? ya nail me for sound exclusivist at times (and your right) but here the stench is in the air mi amigo.

    “Sure, the story can affect you deeply and mean a lot to you, but that does not make it “true”– literally or metaphorically.”

    so we can glean no pyschological insight from these stories? i mean, “Adam” means “man” and represents all of humanity… like the idea of actualizing one’s own freedom which produces a double anxiety of 1. not actualizing it and being restricted and not living to the full potential and 2. not actualizing it and with this new knowledge loosing your identity, social group, and having to go out into a scary and harsh world alone. surely that can’t be true at all. you’re right! we should find all the bibles and burn them! or at the very least, rip out Genesis chapter 2 as we have nothing to learn from it.

    or maybe there are things in life that cannot be logically derived. things like emotions, sin, faith, hopes and dreams, etc. etc. cannot be derived in anyway, yet we experience them. sure we can communicate the contents in forms and scales (right now i’m feeling about a 5 on a scale of 1-10 of how warm it is in my house, 1 is too cold, 10 is too hot) yet not the FULL experience. i guess i’m an existentialist at heart.

    i’m looking for the place where my head meets my heart for the heart knows things that the head only wonders at. i’m looking for these things and also trying to determine what is “true.” can the truth effect us deeply and we hold it dear? yeah! can a story do it? yup. now the question of a story be true or can truth be told in a story.. i’d answer yes! as Picasso said “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” it’s paradoxical and it doesn’t make any sense… that’s because, and i’ll go out on a limb here, REALITY IS PARADOXICAL AND DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE! sure we live in a world of Newtonian constants yet we also live in a world of Quantum messiness. We are unique individuals unlike any other yet share all of the same material of a distant star rearranged into something new and interconnected. the world is both rational and completely irrational. it hurts your brain to think about it but, that for me, is the truth of existence as i see it. and i’m not the only one here, i’d say many religious ppl do too.

  4. ” Let’s get back to what religion does best in the first place, which is tell stories about shared human experience. Poetry and not an instruction manual. For Christians who have felt like they were in a straight-jacket of Biblical literalism and sola scriptura, this is liberating.”

    Bad Alice… this is GOOD!

    “Metaphor is designed to enhance and build upon reality, not replace it. If these events are purely recorded in myth, and myth alone, then in what sense to they accurately depict anything?” -Janus

    there are Chrisitans out there that go on just what we can verify. check out the Jesus Seminary and the work of John Dominic Crossan and Ehrman. Where i find them lacking, esp. Ehrman, is completely missing the point. if the resurrection is a myth, and i tend to think it is on most days, what does that say about this movement that has lasted 2,000 years? maybe because people can experience resurrection metaphorically. the drug user who stops and leads a morally upright life, a literallist who embraces their gay child, someone with a debilitating injury or disease courageously upbeat and positive. this idea causes Christians to seek justice and the resurrection of the world; end of poverty, end of war, a coming together and embracing one another as kin. yet, i will not deny, that this great vision has been betrayed countless times by it’s followers.

    stories can mean a great deal, verifiable or not.

  5. Where i find them lacking, esp. Ehrman, is completely missing the point. if the resurrection is a myth, and i tend to think it is on most days, what does that say about this movement that has lasted 2,000 years?

    Luke, I think I see where you are going with this, but you realize of course that there are not too many Christians out there who would agree. I haven’t watched the NT Wright video about myth, but it seems most who buy into the myth part of Christianity also tend to insist on “certain historical facts which must be considered true,” I am pretty sure Wright himself offers apologetics for those historical facts in addition to his “myths which must be true.”

    And I haven’t found a way to share in the faith of those who insist on holding certain things true while enjoying the stories as myth myself, because there is always the evangelical part of those christians to, well, evangelize. The phrase, “Are you saved?” comes to mind. Granted I know I am hanging with (mostly) the wrong sort of christians to enjoy that kind of understanding with them, but really it seems hard to separate from that. Good for you for being able to do so however.

    Bad Alice, I much appreciate your note on enjoying literature for the stories conveyed. I found that very much lacking in evangelicalism, sure you could read literature, as long as it didn’t take you away from spending more time in the bible and its “true” stories.

  6. Steve Wiggins

    For years in my classes I have tried to teach students the difference between something being “true” and being “historically accurate.” Truth is a philosophical issue, it must be believed, and can’t be proven. If truth could be proven then all persons of rational thought would accept it. Myths present truth.

    What myths, including much of the Bible, do not do is explain what is historically accurate. That is not as big a hurdle as it seems to truth. Nevertheless, modern people tend to value historical accuracy very highly and to equate it with “truth.” History has become the source of our meaning, just as myth was a source of meaning for the ancients. In short, historical accuracy has become the modern mythology.

  7. “Let’s get back to what religion does best in the first place, which is tell stories about shared human experience.”
    Bad Alice (with Luke applauding)

    So, all the Old Testament stories of conquest and slaughter are valuable because the “tell stories about shared human experience.”?

    If it is all about stories of shared human experience, we have literature for that and can treat the Bible like any other literature. Thus unlike Luke’s hyperbolic accusation that I am screaming for burning the Bible. On the contrary, I say, take it off its “God Pedistle” and let it be what it is — human literature. I value literature highly. i just don’t like when someone tells me why there literature is so very superior and special.

    NT Wright felt that it is factually true that some primodial couple got something wrong. But his only evidence is that story. So all I ask is that he admit that he has no evidence — just a story someone wrote to support their opinion.

    so we can glean no psychological insight from these stories?

    Exactly, Luke. The story is merely an way for the author to put forward an opinion. We can’t count it as evidence. That is my point. And you seem to keep missing my point. The messages that people get from a myth are not insights into reality until they are tested against reality. They may be helpful
    or useful to that end but they are not fact or true just by power of the made-up story.

    Likewise, romance novels and the type of love they illustrate offer no “psychological insight” until they are measured against reality. I don’t care how many cheap romance novels are written and how moving they are to how many people. They are still just stories. Reality is the measuring rod.

    what does that say about this movement that has lasted 2,000 years?

    Please don’t tell me you are using the “It old, therefor it has to have something too it?” logic. Do I really have to go through counter examples: homophobia, misogyny, astrology, and much more have been with us much longer than 2,000 years.

    Either Jesus literally raised from the dead or he didn’t. All other metaphoric uses of turning your life around and equating that to a Jesus that died and rotted like the rest of us is just fine, be here I am talking about truth, not how to twist words.

    Using whatever symbol you want to turn your life around — and elephant headed god, inspiring quantum mechanics, virgins-as-heavenly reward or fellow jazz muscians is wonderful. Great. But we are having two different conversations.

    Again, myths don’t count as evidence for their purported message. Do you disagree?

  8. @ Steve :
    Let’s say I tell 2 contrived myths which have the following message:
    (1) all women are untrustworthy
    (2) Love can heal depressed people

    Both myths, being contrived, are not factually true. However, for the first myth, not only is it factually false, The MESSAGE is also false. We know this because we test it against reality. However, while the second myth, being contrived, is also factually false, its MESSAGE is true. We know this because we have seen it happen. We have tested it against reality. So, just being a myth, does not make a story true in anyway. And even the message of a Myth is only true if tested against reality. Thus, the general statement you made saying “Myths present truth” is wrong. They can present truth, but the only way to know that is to measure them against reality. They present no evidence in and of themselves.

    What do you think?

  9. “but you realize of course that there are not too many Christians out there who would agree. I haven’t watched the NT Wright video about myth,” -ATTR

    not too many Christians? where is your evidence? or are you basing this on experience or “myths” you’ve heard about Christianity that you’ve taken to be true? and who is NT Wright? He’s an Anglican and while open to liberal methods, largely conservative in his approach.

    “So, all the Old Testament stories of conquest and slaughter are valuable because the “tell stories about shared human experience.”? -Sabio

    yes. they do. if you look at the Reform Commentary on these stories you’ll see how the books of Joshua and Judges aren’t really good things. not everything in the bible says “follow this!” that’s where Form Criticism comes in and helps.

    “The story is merely an way for the author to put forward an opinion.”

    so it can’t possibly be true? all we have then is reality. okay, well how to make sense of reality? stories! see the problem here?!?! the irrational fullness of life means we have to some how filter things. one way to do this is to have common stories. ever wonder why TV is so damn popular? books? why fiction outsells nonfiction every day of the week? reality is not binary “it happened or it didn’t” because these things exist side by side. happening and non-happening.

    sure i caught a fish, that happened and that can be backed up… but at the same time emotions and thoughts were going on, and that was nonhappening. maybe i was thinking about my grandma, or being Luke Skywalker, or what it would be like to be a goat when i caught that fish. nonhappenings influence our happenings.

    “Reality is the measuring rod.”

    there’s a problem there as well as interpretation is key to reality. we all experience reality differently. so while ATTR can state what he did at the beginning of this comment, that simply hasn’t been my case or experience at all.

    if your reality is based just solely on things which can be verified, then your reality isn’t reality.

    “Again, myths don’t count as evidence for their purported message. Do you disagree?”

    yes i do whole-heartedly. we believe in stories because we find them to be true, or say something about reality as we experience it. myth counts as evidence as they establish a feedback loop of values and experience and thoughts and all the nonmeasureables that we irrational humans run around with on a second-to-second basis. and yes, even romance novels reflect some person’s view and experience of love… although we can say “whoa, that’s really misguided and a poor basis” it may or maynot matter to that person based on their experience.

    “awww.. man, you can’t argue that, that’s relativity! that’s nonsense cause it’s completely subjective!” you maybe saying… and you’re right! it is. but i can argue that because we’re dealing with humanity… if history has taught us anything and science has proven time and time again, human actions and interactions can’t be predicted. we are variables in the universe.

  10. “Thus unlike Luke’s hyperbolic accusation that I am screaming for burning the Bible. On the contrary, I say, take it off its “God Pedistle” and let it be what it is — human literature. ” -Sabio

    it is absolutely human literature! so it’s a mistake to say it’s inerrant and infallible, something all progressive christians have been saying for a while now…

    yes my accusation was meant to be extremely hyperbolic… just like the ones you use when you think i’m excluding the “poor little uncalled atheists.” that doesn’t fit my rubric of all of us being Children of God (universalist rubric) just as book burning doesn’t fit your rubric as a lover of stories and myths from all around the globe.

  11. @ Luke
    Maybe I would be clearer on your position if you answer the same question I asked Steve above. Thank you.

  12. dreadpiratescetis

    I be chuckling a hardy pirate chuckle at this post. Ye be a lazy Buddhist and I can tell! Were ye a strong Buddhist, this whole subject would not matter. We do not have the same problems with literalism in the East than you do in the West with Christianity. The West tends to look for the who, what, when, and where when they read history yet the East is much more concerned with the why. Me thoughts on the subject are simply a paraphrase what Karl Barth once scrawled: “To read a story and ponder it’s meaning is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

  13. you mean, this comment:

    “Let’s say I tell 2 myths which have the following message:
    (1) all women are untrustworthy
    (2) Love can heal depressed people”

    sure, i’d be happy to see this. your first assumption is that i would get these meanings straight from the story. i remember reading a fable in like 2nd grade and disagree’n with the supposed moral at the end. i had a different take on the story. but since you presented it as such, i’ll go with the ‘final redaction’ 😉

    i would go back to my experience and say #1 is false and #2 is true as i ‘measure it against reality.’ yet stories are often based on reality, so i would seek to know the historical basis of both stories and the experience of the authors.

    so my position is as such: both the message and the medium are paradoxically true and false at the same time. it is not an either/or in most cases. there are untrustworthy people in the world and some happen to be women. love can be liberating and healing. this is esp. the case when regarding the Bible. the ancients simply didn’t have the same view of history we have. myth and fact and intertwined. no more apparent than in the case of Acts. if you read all the major speeches, by Peter, Stephen, and Paul, they all say the same thing and hit the same themes. yet Acts is an accurate description, historically speaking, of how the early Church lived and carried out their faith. gotta read between the lines to get at it, but the truth is in there.

    just as i write sermons.. holy shit dude.. they say WAY more about me than i care to admit. the illustrations i choose to even how i exegete the text shows my psychological state of mind.

  14. Bad Alice, my very short answer to the difference between myths and historical accounts is that the former illuminate truth and the later contain truth. Maybe that’s a shallow, unphilosophical, or naive way of putting the distinction, but it is what makes sense to me.

  15. @ Luke :
    Then we agree on a lot concerning the truth of stories.
    You took the morals of these myths and tested them against reality (or your take on reality) and decided if they were true or false. You did not let the myths act as your only source of truth.

    The rest of our debate seems largely a fight over words. But words are loaded with nuances are used to persuade and convince, thus words matter. But I shall not pursue those nuances further here.

    Also, some of the other things you bring up about genetics, quantum mechanics and such I would love to explore, as I disagree on some points. But we’ll save that for a conversation over a brew sometime. Good luck on the last months of seminary. I imagine you will start a new blog once you get hired by a church, eh?

  16. @ My Pirate friend

    In the “East” I have seen villages war with each other of difference in the literalness of myths. It seems odd that a Westerner, living in the East for so long like thyself, still carries stereotypes of the East to the East — As if the East is homogeneous and really thinks so differently as a whole from some imagined homogeneous West.

  17. CRL

    Myths, the Bible no exception, say much more about their authors than they do the outside world. For instance, while Genesis says nothing (accurate) about the creation of the world, it does say quite a lot about the Hebrews: their view on human imperfection, their yearning to return to Eden, and their (negative) view of knowledge.

  18. Boz

    The way I see the issue is:

    When a person tells the story of the tortoise and hare, and concludes with “Slow and steady wins the race”; what they are actually doing is asserting a claim with no evidence, and using the story as a mnemonic.

    Similarly with the genesis story, a person might conclude (1) humans are imperfect, and (2) knowledge is bad.

    (1) and (2) gain their status as true(1) and false(2) not from the story, but from knowledge gained from another source. THerefore it is wrong to say that the story is metaphorically true, because the story has no bearing on whether the claims are true or false.

  19. dreadpiratescetis:

    I’m a Malaysian, and I guess that counts as being Eastern. I’ll tell you what: the reason why no one even cares about literal vs metaphorical truth is because lots are them aren’t even sceptical enough to challenge religion. Dogma is accepted by a lot as literal truth here.

  20. And also, by picking out which part of the holy texts are literal and which are not, religious people are in fact showing that they’re judging their sacred texts through their own lenses and prejudices.

  21. Ian

    Well I think it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.

    If truth is something like ‘corresponding to reality’, then it doesn’t offend me that someone can say the bible is true. Whether or not mythological, it corresponds to their experience of reality. One’s experience, and particularly the way one interprets it, is personally and socially constructed.

    The bible is a perfectly true expression of a life interpreted in the grammar of its world view, for example – a picture of the world with spiritual existence, divine accessibility, gnosis, and transcendence.

    There is a genuine, real, true, fall: after all we experience our sinfulness and the reconciliation that is possible through Christ Jesus. Regardless of whether it was two naked people without belly buttons, or whether that is a metaphoric and mythological truth that reflects the decision in each of us, and in our collective society to live in sin. It doesn’t matter. The fact is that the fall is true. Historicity is irrelevant, the fall speaks of a deeper truth – and that deeper truth is its position in the overall internal narrative of our experience.

    See how it works?

    Truth, in the sense I infer from Luke and Bad Alice, means congruence with the interpretive framework they use to understand their experience. I therefore agree that they do and are quite legitimate in finding truth in scripture, literature, or many other places. In that sense I too find many parts of the bible true, along with works byShakespeare and Elgar.

    It is this ‘truth’ I understand when people talking about “each person finding their own truth” or “what’s true for you isn’t for me”.

    I know it was a bit of a provocative title, but that’s basically what I was trying to get at here:

    Well I’d rather that wasn’t the definition of “truth”, but it seems that battle is already lost. But if it is, I want a different term; a different epistemic category for things that are objective. Alice seems to allow me to have ‘fact’ or ‘factual truth’ for that purpose. Rather ugly, but so be it.

  22. dreadpiratescetis

    Tis be not some Orientalism. There be multiple streams of thought in the East and there seems to be a greater tolerance for argument and disagreement. We pirates like a good swashbuckling time over some grog. Nightly I gather in cafes and argue theological points with both Muslims and Christians in my community. Thar be much more allegorical interpretations going on. Thar also be many a time where someone leaves because he be squawking mad. Yet they always return because the need for community beats individual needs. Darren W be having good scrawlings as well. Thar be an acceptance of tradition that many back home be flapping their gums coarsely at. Whether this be good or bad is not the question, it is different in ways I am still sorting out even after 15 years of piracy in these waters.

  23. (2) Love can heal depressed people”
    but the MESSAGE of the second is false

    Im still trying to figure out how #2 is false?

  24. @ T4T : Thanx, I edited it to make sense.

    @ Pirate : Maybe your community has a greater tolerance for argument. I doubt it is the whole of the East or anything about “the East” that makes it so. But tolerance for argument is indeed a virtue — even amongst pirates.

    @ Darrel : Do Christians, Muslims and Buddhist gladly sit around and debate at coffee shops in your country as they do in Pirate’s (minus the Buddhists)?

    @ Ian : I too resent the absconding with the word “truth” and the making impotent of yet another useful concept. “Inspired”, “Inerrent”, “Trustworthy” all these concepts have been abused by theologian. Sure, they get set up a new definition, but as you said, then we need to keep pointing out these confusions or just invent another word for the kind of substantial truth we are pointing at.

    @ CRL : I agree, the myth (story) says more about the author than about reality.

  25. @ Boz : Very well put ! Love the Rabbit and Turtle part !

  26. However, while the second myth, being contrived, is also factually false, its MESSAGE is true.(Sabio)

    Im not so sure its factually false. How can you scientifically test for this? Afterall, is it possible to even know what Love is and to what degree it can expressed and received? There are limits to science and I believe you are skirting that line.

  27. Sabio:

    I’ve never met anyone who even wants to debate on such topic. Religion is taken very sentisitively in my social community, and the only times I can really sit down and talk about religion is when we agree on the same point. And don’t you ever speak against *that* religion, you’ll be arrested for flaming and causing chaos.

    And thanks for the wish, dreadpiratescetis, I do hope that I can get involved in intelligent dialogues on religion in Malaysia. That’s a very far goal, though.

  28. Sabio,

    I have the feeling we agree over much more than we disagree. i can’t help but think of Jesus’ parables… there are some “social truths” found in them, like take for example the Good Samaritan. it was a “fact” that the road in the setting was dangerous and ppl got jumped all the time there. from there on out, however; Jesus is playing with “social facts” like priests are always good and Samaritans are bad ppl. in modern day language, the phrase would be updated to say “The Good Nazi/Taliban/Al-Queda.” sorta anyway.

    I like how Ian explains it.. smart guy that Ian. same with you! it’s good to question stories and what truths ppl are getting from them. i’d love to explore some parables with you or even make up some of our own! i’ll work on that for Tuesdays post.. i’d be fun!

    @Pirate: i was in Egypt too and experienced it as a moderate country. there did seem to be a lot of talk of religion in the cafes, but it was largely Muslims talking with Muslims. the Christians I encountered felt as though they had to “hide in plain sight” and while they didn’t talk religion openly, they had call signs like tattoos on their hands or some key phrases to ID themselves as Christian to one another. of course, this was me who can’t speak a lick of Arabic, you might have a different experience.

  29. @ T4T — I think you are misunderstanding me. Both myths, in this thought experiment, are totally contrived. They are total fiction and NOT TRUE. That is the GIVEN, in the experiment. I am saying the message, may be true (agreeing that love heals) but the vehicle is fiction. Give it another read.

  30. @ Luke :
    Well, Ian is more willing to give up on the word “true” and let it become huge and diffuse and misused just like “love”. But if you will notice in his last paragraph he says:

    Well I’d rather that wasn’t the definition of “truth”, but it seems that battle is already lost. But if it is, I want a different term; a different epistemic category for things that are objective.
    — Ian

    I hope you see how both Ian and I lament this loss gutting of the word “truth”. Sure, use it as you will. But you will be deceiving others who buy into the word in its normal sense and propagating the myth that these myths are really true. Polls show us that Americans are ignorant of my, and such moves (I feel) propagate this ignorance. That is my hesitation. I like being up front about things.

    We agree on much, but I think you sacrifice in order to please your community — personal opinion. We all do, of course. And I think that pressure will increase further as you go down the line. We shall have to see.

  31. thank you for being honest in how you experience me. that’s helpful.

    i think what we’re seeing is a difference in how people approach “truth.” you prefer a narrow, focused, methodical approach. i wouldn’t say reductionist, but a “by the book” style. I, on the other hand, am more nebulous, interconnected approach… a “loose” style which looks at the “book” and says maybe, but let’s play a little.

    like the Dali Lama, i tend to see value in both sides. i can look at your style and say, “yes, that is true.” and then do my thing and interact with those who do what i do and say “yes, that is true also” even if they completely contradict. no problem with paradox here… maybe i should have one, but i used to be binary when i was younger and was just stressed out. do i sacrifice in order to please my community? i don’t feel like i do all that much but i’m happy to have friends like you who call me out when they feel i’m selling out… so i can say “yes that is true too” 😉

    for me, the “truth” is complex, subjective, layered, and interconnected to other truths which make up the big ‘T’ruth. a post-modern approach which honors the modern methods. i’ll speak more in an upcoming post as i formulate thoughts about it over the weekend. have a good one sabio! best to you and yours!

  32. @ Luke
    Best to you and yours too.
    I am actually very flexible and fluid with aesthetics, pleasures, tools and metaphors. But I do try and be tight with truth. Again, among other things, I contend we use the word “truth” differently. I don’t think it is a difference of one of us being more complex, layered and interconnected and the other narrow.

  33. Okay, it’s obvious to me – as I read all these comments – that I’m dealing with some very intelligent individuals. I personally agree – for the most part – with Luke’s insights, but what does it matter, if a person can read a myth and find personal truth to apply to his or her life then all the better, right? And, on the other hand, if a person wants to believe every word of the bible is absolutely true so be it! I think that can lead to a whole lot of disappointment and frustration. But hey, who am I to judge! To me God and truth can be found outside the constraints of religion. So, if the bible contains errors and is based on myth, and we know it does, it doesn’t affect me in the slightest, because to me that’s not where faith is found anyway.

  34. Ian

    “Truth” in this discussion has two meanings.

    1. Objective truth – ‘facts’ as Alice called them.

    2. Subjective truth – things that ‘chime with’ or ‘speak to’ an individual.

    There’s no point discussing what ‘truth’ *really* is (what’s the truth about truth?) because we’re clearly using two concepts here.

    The sooner we can be clearer about what we mean, the better. I think the word ‘truth’ has been fundamentally compromised by this confusion, to the point where it has almost no meaning. (Can anyone describe anything which *couldn’t* be described as ‘true’ in some sense?)

    I’m not fussed about my preferred definition of truth eventually winning out. And I’m not sure which was the original, or if we’ve had the cultural concepts to differentiate the two meanings for long.

    I’m pretty happy with ‘fact’ for the objective side. Most of us here agree, I think, that the bible contains relatively few facts. George Washington cutting down the tree isn’t a fact, and more than Adam and Eve in a garden of paradise is.

    Someone on the subjective side want to choose a non-ambiguous synonym so we can move the discussion forwards?

  35. I didn’t mean to imply you’re narrow as in minded.. i meant to imply what you said here “But I do try and be tight with truth.”

    you’re right that we are using truth differently prolly because we have two different approaches to it. Ian points out one possibility, i wonder at the other ways we are using it too. are you using a “banking system” which contends that we use the facts, only the facts, and put no interpretation on them at all while I’m using a Horton & Freire model that is more communal and undefined? there could be many possibilities. a ‘fact truth’ vs. a ‘gut truth’? i dunno.. even thinking about it makes my head hurt. i think i’m out of my league there, but will have to read and think on it some more.

  36. I have agreed with Ian, he just put words to it. But putting words to it and narrowing definitions so as to make communication meaningful is important to dialogue.

    So, let’s use Ian’s phrases, since using a single word, “truth” is not helpful.

    (1) Objective Truth — we should see if we agree on what that is first.

    (2) Subjective Truth — sure, be poetic and artistic and keep it all fuzzy and personal. Great, I am all for that. But that is not the kind of truth I am discussing. Let’s talk about “Objective Truth”.

    So, back to the Post: sure, a made-up story obviously can have subjective truth — gee, that sounds like a truism. So, imagine that a myth’s moral shows that all women are essentially untrustworthy. Sure, even though that may speak subjectively to someone and confirm their view of reality and be their subjective truth, don’t make it a fact. It doesn’t make it objectively true. Can we agree on that with the new terms?

  37. Boz

    I think the definition of a story that is “Metaphorically true” is a story that contains metaphor(s) that are true.

    Similarly, the definition of a story that is “Metaphorically false” is a story that contains metaphor(s) that are false.

    Now, take for example the adam/eve/eden story. It contains many metaphors/lessons/(moral of the story)’s. Some are true(humans are imperfect), some are false (women are the devil’s gateway).

    So, this story is both metaphorically false and metaphorically true.

  38. Boz

    Or, maybe you could make the definitions:

    “Metaphorically true” is a story that ONLY contains metaphor(s) that are true.
    “Metaphorically false” is a story that ONLY contains metaphor(s) that are false.

    in this case, the adam/eve/eden story is neither metaphorically true nor metaphorically false.

  39. @ Boz
    And to keep with out previous clarification, you must say:
    “Metaphorically true” is a story that ONLY contains metaphor(s) that are subjectively true.

    Or do you mean objectively true?
    You see, we must, as Ian nails down, must use the word subjective or objective now to tell what sort of truth we are talking about. Unless someone thinks they have a post-modern version that undoes all this?

  40. Boz

    The definition would have to inculde ‘Objectively true’. (“Metaphorically true” is a story that ONLY contains metaphor(s) that are objectively true)

    Anything can be said to be subjectively true.

    Every claim is subjectively true. You just need to find the right subject(person).

  41. I agree, Boz. “Anything can be said to be subjectively true.” That is my primary objection to Luke. He uses the post-modernists’ tweek on the definition of truth so that he feels comfortable taking his tribe’s sacred tales and attaching the word “truth” to them.

    I get how “subjective truth” works, and I get how subjective all of us are in our pursuit of knowledge, but I don’t want to let them get away, without objection, with just calling his “subjective truth” outright “truth” (without modifiers).

  42. i question “objectively true” and what that exactly means. if this means ’empirically true’ like you can reproduce results, then yes… if it means ‘it involves no intepretation’ then that’s false. we all have a subjective understanding of ‘objective truths’ that is my claim. we all have baises, correct? they color our worldview and how we interpret information.

    can myths have objective truths in them? i would argue yes. why? take Genesh for example,what’s objectively true there? well, how about that ppl over-react (Shiva kills Ganesh) and then goes for a quick fix (elephant head? okie, you could have just found the old one, being an avatar and all). or Genesis: there is suffering in the world (despite the claim of how it entered the world).

    for me, objective and subjective truth or metaphorical and emperical truth are all ways to get at Absolute Truth, which is what we’re really after. i recognize that my “tribe’s sacred tales” are one method of getting at ‘T’ruth just as the scientific method is another way. problem with the sacred tale method is that everyone has a take on it, and this is vague and nebulous. the problem with the scientific method is it can only involve what we can measure and repeat; implimenting order in a chaotic world. both have their limitations.

    i’m not trying to “get away without objection” but trying to raise questions and objections to both understandings of truth. even the question of is there Absolute Truth? can we get at it? will it always be elusive and contextual?

  43. Ian

    @Luke – the subjectivity and interpretation thing is a well known fallacy (I’m sure I’ve said that before to you! :))

    Because one cannot ever reach some goal, doesn’t mean that all attainable states are equally desirable. Nor that we can’t tell which is better.

    Because we cannot ever have entirely objective fact (or final empirical knowledge, for example). Doesn’t mean that some truth isn’t more objective than others. Nor that we can’t identify how objective a truth is. Or how likely an empirical result is to be objectively true.

    This confusion is quite common among pomoers. A great thing pomo did was to help us understand the role of subjectivity, countering the excesses of modernistic demands for the objective assessment of everything. Its mistake is to act as if everything is subjective, demanding a subjective assessment of everything.

    Both extremes are untenable. Few modernists really believe we should try to access art in objective ways. Just as few postmodernists would want to board an airplane that made subjective sense to its designer.

    As for capital T truth…

    The problem with your identification of a capital-T truth is that you hide the rabbit in the hat by suggesting it exists at all and enumerating some of its characteristics. On what grounds do you think there is one, or that this is somehow to be identified with your religious sentiments? On what grounds do you suggest that myth and science are both ways to acquire it? Or that it is not inherently vague, or that it couldn’t be measured? Presumably because these ideas about the capital T resonate with your experience and internal narrative. In our distinction, capital-T Truth is a subjective truth for you.

    It is just another way of saying, unfortunately, that your personal favourite truth (i.e. subjective truth) gets to be top trump. Because it is the ‘deeper’ more foundational, capital T truth behind everything.

    Just another aside, I’ve heard a few comments recently about what can be measured. This I find odd. Anyone care to share something important to ‘truth’ that can’t, in principle, be measured? I mean, I can understand that it is impossible to measure the number of invisible pink unicorns on my spacebar, but I think people mean things like love, beauty, and so on. Those are most definitely measurable, in principle.

  44. “Because one cannot ever reach some goal, doesn’t mean that all attainable states are equally desirable. Nor that we can’t tell which is better.”

    not saying it isn’t, just play’n devil’s advocate.

    “that your personal favourite truth (i.e. subjective truth) gets to be top trump.”

    it’s not trump, just my favorite. big distinction here. where as you’re favorite is the other ideal, but is not the top trump either. good point on the airplane metaphor! you told an objective truth with parable! look! truth within myth!

    “but I think people mean things like love, beauty, and so on. Those are most definitely measurable, in principle.”

    you don’t want to measure art, but then state that it can?! wait wait! that doesn’t make any sense! what is your fav song or painting or poem? for me it changes daily depending on my feeling… i don’t think that we can measure these things and state “see here! this is the greatest song/poem/painting of all time.” doesn’t work that way. unless i misunderstand you.

  45. i guess my claim is that the objective and the subjective are in operation simultaneously and one should not be focused on to the detriment of the other. i may find some objective claim but my subjective feelings may color how i explain it to others. or something like that.

  46. dreadpiratescetis

    This be over my flea-infested head! DRINK RUM AND SPIN A GOOD YARN! Yar!

  47. Correct me if Im wrong, but seeing as no one human being has all the answers, wouldnt that make every idea somewhat subjective at all times?

  48. Ian

    @t4t – I don’t follow your logic. Seems to me to be quite the opposite.

    Objectivity is by definition not about one-person having all the answers. That’s subjectivity.

    Objectivity is the process of finding those things that are true, for everyone, at all times. It is inherently a communal process. And it is by the layering of so much, individually subjective, judgement, that we can differentiate between what is universal and what is personal. The more such data we have, the more we can be confident that our conclusions are objective.

    The worst case is having just one personal experience, where we have no way of knowing if that is objective or not.

  49. Steve Wiggins


    My response (much belated, too many classes) to your remark way up there about myths:

    I’m afraid that I’m guilty of using “truth” as shorthand for “believed to be true.” I agree completely with your assessment of the Bible as literature, that is the best way to make sense of it. The difference between the myths you propose and ancient myths is that, as far as we can tell, those who composed ancient myths believed them to contain truth. I do not think you intended to convey absolute truths in your example myths, and herein lies the difference. Ancient mythographers undoubtedly got many things wrong, but what they were recording was believed to be true at the time.

    I think we are nearly on the same page (at least in the same chapter), but the specifics differ a little. This is a great topic, and I envy your web traffic!

  50. @ Steve Wiggins
    Thanx for stoppin’ in. Yeah, it is funny all the various ways people can use that word. One thing for sure. It is loaded with emotion. Unlike, say, “spoon” or “swam”.

  51. Ancient mythographers undoubtedly got many things wrong, but what they were recording was believed to be true at the time.
    — Steve Wiggins

    I am uncomfortable with such general statements.
    I doubt that the Exodus myth, the Eden myth, The Tower of Babel Myth and many, many more were made with any intent of the mythographers to relate historical truths. They were just trying to give an impression, not spell out facts. They thought they were persuading, not educating. That would be my guess. I guess I give them more credit that you do. Smile.

  52. Ian

    @sabio (+steve)

    This is a good summary of an interesting debate that is still playing itself out in theology.

    My $.02: I think our modern understanding of historicity shouldn’t be put back on the biblical authors. They didn’t have the tools to determine what happened, weren’t concerned to try, and didn’t take care to not say (or to qualify) what they couldn’t be sure of.

    But I don’t think you can say they didn’t think they were telling the story of what actually happened.

    I think in that sense they are much like most of the population now, who don’t care much about historicity when they describe things in the past. They believe (unless they are lying – another possibility in the bible account, of course) they are giving you what actually happened.

  53. @ Ian (+steve)

    Yeah, well, if this debate is already argued in theology circles (professional mythographers), then we aren’t going to solve it. It is in good hands.

    Seriously, though, I would like to examine your phrase (and used by many), “I think our modern understanding of historicity shouldn’t be put back on the biblical authors.”

    It implies that any modern writer of history has the same “modern understanding of historicity”. The obviously don’t. And many people still tell stories like the old days. So the old days are still with us. And, as you say, the common person, and even the uncommon person in their sloppy moments uses history in non-factual ways.

    A similar analysis could be made of science — there are a huge number of ways of doing it — some like the old days and some more modern.

    Anyway, I still contend that they didn’t think they were tell the story of what actually happened. Cause, heck, I can take the “they weren’t modern” argument and say, “Indeed, they weren’t modern so they didn’t have a notion of what was accurate and factual and so couldn’t have written that way.”

    But actually, I think that even among historians at that time, some were more factual (by intent) than others just as today. I would grant that a far lesser number were factual-by-intent but I don’t think the ability did not exist.

    Likewise, I give them more credit than you or Steve and think they may have been very conscious of their persuasion efforts — the careful redacting and structure of the stories makes it obvious that they were not oblivious to their art.

    Well, I guess the debate could proceed, but I am going to disagree with Ian and Steve that the writers of Myths thought they were actually recording history in the sense that us moderns mean it today.

  54. Ian

    Cool, we disagree! I was beginning to wonder if I was a sock-puppet! 🙂

  55. Well, sometimes those damn sock-puppets are just plain ole mischievous. LOL !

  56. Oh, BTW, in my model, those ancient mythographers probably did not value factual-accuracy as much as we did probably because they had few readers who did either. Just like when I tell a group of kids a story around a campfire, I change it a little if there are a significant amount of adults present — I make it just a little more believable.

  57. Steve Wiggins

    To clarify my position: I don’t think ancient writers (biblical or otherwise) were writing history as we know or intend it. They were trying to convey what they believed to be true. It seems to me we have to surgically separate truth and history; that is nearly impossible to do since modern thought basically equates the two. From what I can tell, Sabio, we are pretty much saying the same thing in different ways. Ian makes an excellent point that ancients didn’t have the tools (or even the concepts!) to write history as we understand it. They wrote myths because they believed them to be true (not historical) and they are a lot more fun to read than court annals!

  58. @ Steve

    I think we always need to use adjectives (it seems) before the word “true” so as to avoid the fallacy of “Equivocation“. Otherwise, I would have to disagree with your statement that,
    “They were trying to convey what they believed to be true.”

    I think that modern academic thought probably does proclaim that it values historical accuracy.

    I still can’t tell if we are saying the same thing or if you and Ian are truly deluded ;-).

    If you mean (I will put the adjectives in) that:

    “They wrote myths because they believed them to be [metaphorically] true …”

    Then maybe we agree if you mean, they wrote them to try and capture what they valued and wanted to persuade others to believe, then I could agree. But it sounds like you feel that they also totally believed whatever that metaphorical truth is. Why couldn’t they just have really wanted that to be the case. Again, I think you and Ian are underestimating the ancients and expecting way too big of a difference between them and us.

    It seems we agree that they don’t put a huge emphasis on recording accurate historical truth, or at least the majority did not. But we I still think the word “Truth” , no matter what adjective is attached to it is deceptive and depending on the Equivocation fallacy to imply far more that the writer is claiming that they are trying to imply. Almost like anyone today who writes of the “Truths” of the mythographers is doing a play with words much like those sneaky ancients did? See , you underestimate them, for you may be more like them than you imagine.

    🙂 This is fun !

  59. Steve Wiggins

    I try to steer away from the question of what the ancients actually believed, since we simply can’t know it. The word “truth” is the real hurdle here. I once gave an academic paper arguing that perceptions of reality had changed over the millennia (it was more than that, but this was one of the components to the paper), and I received dirty stares for the rest of the conference. I am sure I even heard my name taken in vain — not a problem since I am in no way divine — because it would challenge so much of what we claim to know about the ancients.

    They expended considerable effort on the writing and preservation of their myths, so the truth factor, whether metaphorical or not, seems to have kicked in. Otherwise those scribes were having a great time pulling one over on the plebes outside!

  60. @ Steve

    You know, you sound like N.T. Wright in the video I linked, who tries to play the modern role of claiming that we certainly need to take many Hebrew Bible stories as myths which are not historically true, but who still want them to be mythically true. So, like you, he sounds like he does not want to claim he knows what the ancients were saying, but he certainly wants them speaking some version of the truth — as do you, it seems.

    So while I agree that trying to know what the ancients, or ANY author intends, scores of believers are busy trying to make whatever the bible writers said “true” in some manner. The believers buy into modern thinking (whatever that is) to various degrees — usually to the degree that they feel they have struck a good enough compromise between preserving their investment in the modern world and their investment in their scriptures.

  61. Tim Arnold

    OMG— all of the intellectual acrobatics here are giving me a stiff neck. IMHO, The Bible (OT and NT) whether allegory, literal, or complete fable, is a collection of 66 works of literature written by roughly 40 different authors spanning well over one thousand years creating a bipartite volume expressing the nature and will of God. Take Him or leave Him. Good LORD!

  62. @ Tim
    Brilliant analysis. I am much clearer now. Hope you feel better too.

  63. Amy

    It is all RELATIVE to the in divi dual.

  64. Nick

    Hey Sabio. I realize I am 2 years too late for this thread, but the more I read this article, the more I can’t resist commenting. So at the risk of annoying you, here it goes.

    I think there is a great value to metaphoric truth, and metaphoric readings of all texts. I contend that all truth is metaphoric truth, because language itself is metaphoric. Saying the sky is blue is not true. Sky and blue are two different concepts and one is not the other. Saying the sky is blue in color is not true, because color is a property more of perception than of anything else (as per your hour of monkey post). Saying that I perceive the sky as blue is a statement of subjectivity- how I perceive and what I define my perceptions as in language. So factually, it is assumed that the sky is blue, but any attempt to describe that fact is metaphoric rather than literal. And the fact is not a fact, but a definition. We agree it is blue, making it blue. I don’t see that it is blue in any objective sense. Certainly it has optic qualities and refracts light in a unique way. But such an event as light refraction made by the atmosphere can barely be a fact (if a fact is meant to be something cognitively grasped by humanity). Certainly the “sky” does things physically, but those happen independent of the mind, and when the mind tries to grasp it, it does so metaphorically or symbolically. I understand the color of the sky by mental images of waves which produce sensory data. But these are symbols. Are they accurate? Well, just as accurate as anything else. If instead of imagining squiggly lines as light waves, I imagined rectangles, I would not necessarily be misinformed. The wave analogy preserves certain properties in my mind. But rectangles might preserve photon properties. Either way, it’s not the symbol or thought that gets at accuracy, it’s the meaning or meta thought (as you term it). And the meaning ascribed to the word is formed by experience and by thought.

    Let me clarify. You have described truth as objective. If I interpret correctly, you mean that you care about statements that reflect physical states, because the higher correlation between statements and a physical statement makes it more factual or truthful. I object to this. A physical state cannot be true. To paraphrase CS Lewis, there is nothing true or false about wind blowing through the trees. Truth does not exist objectively (whatever objective means- the most I can figure out is physically), but is a language device. Truth happens when symbolic language is said to correlate well to reality. This truth is a way of assessing metaphors. I am merely trying to prove that all truth is metaphoric here. The symbols themselves are not true, any more so than the physical state. They merely are what they are. Truth is a valuation of intentionality. Truth is a word that correlate to whether or not a statement (combination of language symbols) has the meaning it was intended to have or claims to have. Does the perceived meaning correlate to the intended meaning? Is the question of truth, or more accurately, Does the percieved meaning correlate to defined meanings within the language framework? Thus a history book reporting that the fall of Rome happened in 512 is untrue because the language framework indicates that 512 means 512 years into the common calendar. The framework also defines that the number 512 cannot correlate to the 476th year, which is when the framework rests the definition of “Rome’s fall” So all statements are subjective. They are subject to the language framework.

    What I have said so far seems to allow for someone to define reality in any way they want, but that is not my intention. I mean that a person may choose any symbol they like to correlate to any physical state they like. You might say that Rome is not defined to fall in 476 but instead, given the definition of CE, it fell in 476 and the physical state determined the definition, rather than the human mind, making it objective. But that is not the case because Rome never existed. Civilization is a construct of the human mind (just like your post on religion not existing). History is subjective. Certainly, we can learn things about the physical states by adopting the framework, but we cannot make truth judgments about the framework. All language is metaphoric, and the “reality” of the metaphor can only be assessed once one adopts the framework.

    So it is with myth. I do not understand your criticism of NT Wright. I dont think he believes in Adam or eve, merely that humanity at some point in the past became separated from God. His evidence for that is the definition of separation from God within his assumed framework, which correlates to the present human state. He doesn’t say any more than that on the subject, so I can’t very well construct any more of his beliefs or justifications. Myths are true. Myths help to define the language framework, and therefore make truth. If you hear a myth, an the message of untrustworthy women is appropriated and believed, then you will alter your framework, causing you to never ascribe trust to females. The myth creates the reality. If you don’t believe the apparent message, the myth is interpreted along other lines, either informing you of the perceived disposition of the author, or the story is ignored and no attempt to learn is made. Any way you parse it, the creation of truth lies within you and your use, rather than in some ‘objective’ sense. I am not saying that reality is subjective. Reality will do whatever it does, however you define it. You spoke of belief being tested against reality. This is the scientific method. Turn out language metaphors into conditional statements which make predictions. Combine two objections with two other objects and predict four. The framework is not altered I you define correctly. If you define incorrectly, and mean what we call 5 when you say 4, and something will be altered. But the framework will be true. That is, some other word will be replaced, or the previous word will change meaning. Whatever it takes to maintain the usability of the framework. What theologians are saying is that the pliability of the language we use is not a flaw to the language, but to our use. The reason we can switch use is because it is metaphoric. And all language, after all is metaphoric.

  65. Juliette

    “the abyss of rationistic, individualist theological liberalism.”

    What on Earth does rationistic mean??? If the author meant rationalistic, I would argue that theological conservatism (or literalism) can be rationalistic, but not theological liberalism, for the reasons outlined in Jesse Galef’s article. The “metaphorical truth” approach simply lacks evidence for the “truths” being asserted metaphorically. Taking the Bible as “metaphorically true” is, in itself, theological liberalism and is not rationalistic. Any further theological liberalism, as far as I can figure what this author means, would perhaps involve picking and choosing what to believe or, as the author states, a sort of “this story means this to me” mentality. None of what I just stated is rationalistic.
    The other option is to throw the Bible out altogether as a source of knowledge that impacts our daily lives. If we are not to do this, then the only other rationalistic option is to accept the Bible as literal truth. (Of course, it still must be determined if a more literal interpretation of the Bible is, in fact, rationalistic).

    The Christians who are trying to pass off parts of the Bible as myth but yet still true are a disgrace to intellectual rigor and to the Christian faith. If something that, at first glance, seems to be contradictory (consider the Bible and science), the easy and lazy thing to do is to say that one source (the Bible) is incorrect. The cowardly thing to do is to use “tricks”, as the author implies, to try and make the two sources congruous or at least make the source in question still valuable or true in some way. The arrogant thing to do is to say that the clearly verifiable source (science) is wrong. The fearless thing to do, one that requires an open mind, strong faith, and intellectual rigor would be to examine how the words written in the Bible can be true (and not just in a metaphorical “big picture”, “moral of the story” sort of way) and can also be in line with what science says. If you truly believe and have faith that the words of the Bible are true (and not just metaphorically), and you aren’t so arrogant to discount everything science says, than this is the only logical resolution. Of course, if this proves impossible, then further evidential exploration and reasoning must be applied to determine for oneself which source (the Bible or science) is to believed.

    And to anticipate some “scientific” objections to the idea that it’s even remotely possible to reconcile the words of the Bible with science:
    Genesis 1 takes the form of ancient Jewish poetry, with 6 parts followed by a concluding, final 7th part. Here, there is good reason to believe (because it is the literary form poetry) that what is stated is not necessarily true in the literal meaning or that what is stated is the only things that are true. In a poem I could state that trees are green. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have brown bark or that they don’t have leaves or roots or branches. Also, the Hebrew word that is commonly translated as “day” in Genesis 1 has multiple translations, one which means a long but finite period of time.
    Also, Jesse Galef is wrong when he asserts that the Bible isn’t historically supported. First of all, a lack of evidence does not mean evidence to the negative. So basically if there is no evidence one way or the other, that does not mean that what was trying to be verified is false. Second of all, if Jesse Galef believes that the Bible isn’t historically supported, then he is basing his beliefs off of historical evidence that is 50 or more years out of date. Now, is every single occurrence in the Bible corroborated? No. But there is a growing body of evidence that corroborates enough of the Bible to suggest that it is a reliable source as a historical document. Of course, just because it may be a valid historical document doesn’t mean that it’s assertions about religion are true. But just because the Bible talks about religious things doesn’t mean that all the things the Bible contains are myths, either. Ancient texts recording military conquests and such while also praising and attributing the conquests to whatever gods does not make that piece of historical evidence a myth. Finally, there is increasingly little evidence that the Bible was written as mainly fiction or myth, making things up for propaganda or other purposes and adding a few historical details to make it appear true.

    Nick, this article is indeed too interesting and provoking to resist commenting on, however belated.
    I do have some questions for you, Nick, however. You said:
    “Any way you parse it, the creation of truth lies within you and your use, rather than in some ‘objective’ sense. I am not saying that reality is subjective. Reality will do whatever it does, however you define it.”
    So do you mean that truth and reality are not the same?
    Do you believe we can know what reality is?
    Is truth just our subjective view on reality?
    What if my subjective view on reality, or my “truth” differs from the physical state? And I am ascribing words to the physical state that correlates with my truth but differs from the physical?

    You also said:
    “I do not understand your criticism of NT Wright. I dont think he believes in Adam or eve, merely that humanity at some point in the past became separated from God. His evidence for that is the definition of separation from God within his assumed framework, which correlates to the present human state.”
    So you’re saying that he believes humanity became separated from God, and his evidence is that Christianity (his assumed framework) defines separation from God as separation from God through sin and Christianity believes that the present human state is fallen? So basically he believes humanity became separated from God because Christianity believes that?
    And I think the fact that NT Wright doesn’t believe in Adam or Eve but believes in fallen human nature is the problem. What evidence does he have to support that fact that human nature is fallen, other than Christians believe that? If he has no other evidence, then why does he believe that human nature is fallen? If it is because of the “myth” of Adam and Eve, then why should he believe human nature is fallen since Adam and Eve are just false and lies? If it is because other parts of the Bible allude to the fallen nature of humanity, why should he believe those parts of the Bible over the Adam and Eve parts of the Bible?

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