Genealogy and Darwin

September 19, 2015    By: Jeff G @ 12:38 pm   Category: Before Abraham

This is basically a repost of a comment I left over at SteveP’s site, but thought that it would be more than a little inappropriate to discuss there any further:

I think the concept of genealogy helpfully illustrates some of the problems that many might have with Darwinian thinking. Originally, genealogy was a means by which people established and legitimized their social roles within society (especially nobility) in that people inherited their stations from their ancestors.  This is very intertwined with the idea of birthrights.

This same thing in found throughout the Bible in that the Hebrews think it extraordinarily important that they are the descendants of Abraham and thus the inheritors of his covenants (and land, I might add). Mormonism (especially 19th century Mormonism) is by no means a strong departure from this tradition: genealogies within our expanded canon establish lines of priesthood authority, by performing vicarious ordinances we bring our ancestors within our individual priesthood lines, our patriarchal priesthood and blessings establishes which tribe we belong to, etc.

Placing non-human organisms within this same genealogical framework is very subversive to this entire tradition of legitimizing social standing, covenants, stewards, land, etc. through inheritance…. for better or worse. It suggest that these lines of inheritance do not go back to some divine act or promise of God which might legitimize what I do now. Indeed, it suggests the exact opposite.

There are two potential ways of framing this:

  1. The more modern way is to say that any kind of genealogical reasoning is, in fact, a genetic fallacy such that describing the origins of something carries with it not intrinsic moral valence.  This says that the very fact that Abraham is one’s ancestor (through biological or priesthood lines) is totally irrelevant to the authority which you claim to have.  The scriptures clearly reject this.  Who my authority can be traced back to is VERY important.
  2. The other, closely related approach is to say that our values could have evolved in that they merely emerged out of a nihilistic past.  But this poses another problem in that it implies that, over time, Abraham’s descendants gradually cease to inherit his covenants, authority and birthright… or that over time other people with no biological relation to Abraham can come to acquire his covenants, authority and birthright.  While we do accept some form of this, the process of spiritual adoption is itself mediated through a different, non-biological line of authority, covenant and birthright.  At this point, the argument simply repeats itself.

In summary, the legitimizing value of genealogy seems to be 1) non-negotiable within the Abrahamic tradition and 2) unacceptable with the Darwinian tradition.  Adam and Eve is the most obvious point of contradiction here since they are the point at which our genealogies are morally grounded (we inherit both the fall and the promises of redemption from them).  It is difficult to see how the two perspectives could ever be fully harmonized.



  1. “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”

    So there.

    Comment by Owen — September 19, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

  2. That is a good pull, but it still runs face first into my (2). The alternative to inheritance through birth is inheritance through ordination (out some other ordinance) and it is unclear why the argument can’t simply repeat at this level. The problem isn’t birth, but inheritance as such.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 19, 2015 @ 4:47 pm

  3. Owen,

    I think you’re just being playful. But even so, the children *are* raised up unto Abraham. That is a genealogical connection of sorts.


    Yeah, I agree with Nibley when he says (in so many words) that the book of nature and the book of scripture differ when Adam enters the scene because it is then that we have a story, a narrative. And that difference — whatever Adam’s biological origin — involves the binding properties of covenants which ultimately transcend biology.

    Comment by Jack — September 19, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

  4. What do you say to those scientists and mathematicians who say that if Abraham has any living descendants today, that everyone is a descendant of Abraham?

    Comment by DavidH — September 20, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

  5. DavidH, I would say read the Book of Mormon. It might actually tend to agree with them, with a caveat that birthright has been replaced by faith in the Atonement and Priesthood ordination.

    Comment by Jettboy — September 20, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

  6. I’m having a hard time understanding the contradiction you see.

    Let’s assume:
    1) God planned and guided the evolution of all species, that all mortal tabernacles have a common origin, and that humans are the final and supreme species in this chain – in the image of God.
    2) At some point in time Adam and Eve entered the scene, and were the first to obtain the fullness of the priesthood, ordained by God.
    3) All authority and keys ultimately stem from or at the very least are governed by this source, whether by birthright or ordination.

    Where are you seeing a contradiction?

    Comment by Steve S — September 20, 2015 @ 4:22 pm

  7. Posts like this make me think that religious ways of talking are meaningless or at least describe so little of our situation as to be insignificant. Just ask the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.

    Comment by Martin James — September 21, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

  8. Steve S expressed my thoughts exactly. And no, I wasn’t only being funny with my previous post. I think that is exactly what Jesus would say in response to this blog post. Since, you know, he already did in response to *exactly* the same sort of argument. The details are different, the self-congratulatory navel gazing the same.

    Comment by Owen — September 21, 2015 @ 3:29 pm

  9. Steve S,

    I thought about that a bit as well. I guess the main contradiction is that inheritance is meant to signal a justification from the past that is higher than anything that we do or say in the here and now. This is clearly contrary to Darwinian thinking with regards to biological inheritance.

    On the other hand, it’s not totally clear to me that the contradiction remains with respect to inheriting specific ordinations or promises. In this aspect, I think you might be right.

    Still, I think the idea of inheritance is exactly the sticking point with regards to many people acceptance of Darwin. Consider the famous debate between John Locke and Robert Filmer. Filmer defended the divine right of kings such that kings have inherited their nobility and property from Adam by way of the right of the first born. Locke, on the other hand, argued that humanity as a whole inherited it from Adam, thus making all humans equally entitled to life, liberty and property. What Darwin says, however, is that humanity and the rest of biological life inherited their genes… and that’s about it. Clearly the idea that our rights and human natures came up from below rather than down from above is extremely subversive to the positions of both Locke and Filmer.

    With that in mind, I think that there definitely is an idea of birthright that is to be found within Mormonism. Of course, we can say that it isn’t really the birth as such that confers such blessings and responsibilities, but an ordinance of some kind…. but this just is to subvert the idea of birthrights. What contemporary Darwinian reasoning says is that the fact that you are born to some ancestor rather than another is totally irrelevant your moral worth, responsibilities or blessings…. And I think this runs counter to a lot of the Abrahamic tradition.


    What makes you think that religious traditions like this are meant to neutrally describe anything or, more importantly, that we are only supposed to believe it to the extent that it does so describe things? I don’t read this anywhere in the scriptures…. Although I do find it in the modern thinking epitomized by Hume and, later, the logical postivists.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 22, 2015 @ 10:04 am

  10. My point isn’t that religion should be that way, just that there is no point in talking about religion. I’m not saying religion is pointless just that talking about religion is pointless.

    Comment by Martin James — September 22, 2015 @ 11:57 am

  11. Okay… where did you get that idea then? Clearly the scriptures say that we should talk about religion A LOT!

    Comment by Jeff G — September 22, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

  12. My ideas come from the same place yours do – brain processes.

    Comment by Martin James — September 22, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

  13. I should be more specific. Talking about religion non-religiously is pointless. The scriptures don’t call for theology.

    Comment by Martin James — September 22, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

  14. When did theology become non-religious? It seems to me there are some terms where we need to unpack their meaning. I’m honestly not sure what Martin means by religion or religious.

    Comment by Clark — September 22, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

  15. Martin,

    Oh, that makes a little more sense, even if I disagree with you. I think the new atheists are very right to want to discuss the social relevance of traditional religion…. I just think their perspective on the issue is both biased and naive.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 22, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

  16. Clark,

    I don’t think the study of God via theology is religious in the way that the worship of God or the keeping of commandments is. It is not necessarily anti-religious but I don’t the the attitude one adopts in doing theology is a religious attitude strictly speaking. I think I could be an Islamic theologian for example without following Islam and I don’t think I would be being religious in the process

    Comment by Martin James — September 22, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

  17. I would agree with that, Martin. Indeed, I think it’s actually a little bit worse in that theologians pretend like they are systematically “uncovering” the teachings and doctrine that is already there when in fact they are actually transforming those teachings and doctrines by systematizing them. I think your point is that systematizing beliefs is very different from actually living by those beliefs, and with that I fully agree.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 22, 2015 @ 5:05 pm

  18. Darwinian evolution is not compatible with the gospel. We may never truly understand and accept that fact.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 23, 2015 @ 11:36 am

  19. Rob,

    I don’t personally believe that at all…. but I don’t think they cleanly or easily fit together either. There definitely are tensions, but I don’t think either side of the compatibility question is the knock down winner.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

  20. Rob (18) What do you mean by “Darwinian evolution?” After all evolution as understood in contemporary academics is different from what Darwin believed in the 1850s. Our understanding of cell function and molecular biology at a minimum have significantly shifted our understanding. I think in the big picture Darwin was generally right. But it’s hardly complete.

    Martin (16) I confess I don’t see how to separate them. If I’m trying to understand the divine economy that seems inherently religious to me. Likewise if I’m studying to better understand what to do that matters. Certainly one can do theology in a non-religious way. But then one can adopt the commandments in a non-religious way. (i.e. out of social pressure for example rather than belief)

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  21. (Not to get drug into an evolution debate but…) I’d say evolution is largely orthogonal to the gospel in the same way that learning about gravity is orthogonal. I assume those saying it’s incompatible want a certain history to be incompatible.

    It’s true Darwin became far more skeptical of say the Bible as accurate history and by the end of his life had moved from theism of an unitarian sort to agnosticism. I’m not sure that has much bearing on evolution as science though.

    Typically those seeing a conflict between evolution and religion do so because of a particular way of reading Genesis (i.e. no death before the fall) that is incompatible with most of the history science has found. A lesser position is the idea that science claims God isn’t interventionist but that seems odd since I don’t think science could tell much about intervention. How could it tell, for instance, whether an asteroid collision or other events were intervention?

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

  22. “I assume those saying it’s incompatible want a certain history to be incompatible.”

    Okay, so it’s not fully orthogonal then, right?

    “I’m not sure that has much bearing on evolution as science though.”

    If the ways in which his science effected his faith is irrelevant, then what in the world would be relevant? What is this “science” that exists totally independent of its practicioners?

    “Typically those seeing a conflict between evolution and religion do so because of a particular way of reading Genesis (i.e. no death before the fall) that is incompatible with most of the history science has found. A lesser position is the idea that science claims God isn’t interventionist… “

    Right, and my post elaborates yet another tension that doesn’t fall into either of those categories. Darwinian evolution dramatically alters our views surrounding several sources of legitimacy: inheritance, authorship and expertise to name a few. To reduce these moral issues to Biblical inerrancy or God’s interventionism is to utterly trivialize the matter.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

  23. …with that I fully agree.

    Yes, we have enough sources of agreement that the differences are interesting to me. I think we have the least disagreements that non-religious authority has no standing to challenge religious authority.

    My understanding of your approach is that you think non-, or anti-religious people try to change the world and terms of discourse and living in ways that undermine religious authority. I think that you also believe that that recognizing this difference in authority and in origin of ideas and practices helps LDS members be righteous and strong in their beliefs. I am willing to admit that you may be entirely correct about this.

    I have concerns with how much work this approach is really able to do. Most of these are intuitions or vague objections that I can’t completely express but I keep trying different approaches because I think you addressing an important area.

    The first source of concern has to do with the scope of various approaches to the world. I am much more skeptical than you that we can categorize various authorities, and vocabularies and ways of being into discrete units that don’t interact and interfere with one another.

    This combines with a second concern that the flow of time only goes one way and that it is foolhardy to look to the past for ways of being because they are unrecoverable. Now, I realize that I am open to the charge that the restoration is about restoring something that existed in the past. But the question is at what level of detail and specificity things are recovered from the past. It is one thing to recover a general concept and it is quite another to recover very specific historical practices and beliefs.

    In terms too simple to be completely accurate, you seem to think that there was a historical movement away from religious authority brought about by people who wanted to improve their authority compared to the religious authorities. Furthermore, you seem to think that once we recognize that fact, we can undo the effect of that historical change and recover a better understanding of religious authority. Again, maybe but I think that it isn’t easy to either separate different ways of thinking in different areas of one’s life nor is it easy to recover a past way of determining authority. Yes, religious authority is still religious authority but what it means in practical terms to how one is treated by being an authority I think is pretty much hopelessly lost. My intuition is that I’m not giving enough evidence of this but intuition is all I have at this point.

    Comment by Martin James — September 23, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

  24. ” Darwinian evolution dramatically alters our views surrounding several sources of legitimacy: inheritance, authorship and expertise to name a few.”

    And to the extent that evolution is an accurate view of the world, then it is an accurate view of God’s creation and it’s discovery is bringing us closer to the mind of God.

    Comment by Martin James — September 23, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  25. Jeff,

    I’ve been studying this for decades and the fact remains that evolutionary theory of species coming from a common ancestor and our gospel of the creation, Adam and Eve, the fall, etc, directly oppose each other. That is a fact. Whether one is right and the other is wrong doesn’t matter, the fact remains that the two teachings refute each other. The problem is that very few want to accept that fact.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 23, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

  26. Clark,

    I mean evolution of all species coming from one common ancestor in the past.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 23, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

  27. Clark,

    Let me throw out a couple analogies. Does theology to religion play a role like economics to business? I would say that explaining business is very different from doing business.

    Or how about this one. Are you saying doing theology is religious like one might consider studying mathematics is inherently mathematical.

    Altering the analogy on mathematics, I was arguing that being religious is equivalent to actually to believing certain tenets of a theology but that one do theology like a mathematician that worked out the consequences of postulates that one didn’t believe to be true.

    What name would you give to the practice of studying the divinities of various religions? How, if at all, is it different if it is one’s own religion?

    Comment by Martin James — September 23, 2015 @ 2:23 pm

  28. Martin (27), as a small business owner I can guarantee I pay attention to how the economy is doing and that economics matters. While you can run a business being totally ignorant of economics, just as you can be religious being totally ignorant of theology, in general knowing a bit of basic economics will be very helpful.

    Not sure what you mean to your later points.

    Rob (26), not sure what you mean by one common ancestor. I don’t think contemporary evolution really does well at explaining earliest life prior to the formation of cells (say around 3.8 billion years ago)

    With regards to the origin of cells I doubt there was only a single ancestor.

    But again I think this is a place where one has to define ones terms. I think our usual categories break down at this point of RNA molecules and communities of RNA sharing communities that also share various other molecules.

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

  29. To add Rob (25) when Adam and Eve are placed in the garden in the Gen 2 account, there already is life there. Likewise a strong reading of Genesis 2 is that the whole earth didn’t fall but rather Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden into an already existing world. Not everyone reads it that way of course. Thus the “no death before the fall” theologies. However the narrative itself has the garden still being there with an angel guarding it so Adam and Eve can’t return. Reconciling this to a pre-existing telestial world that’s separate from the garden is quite easy. Maybe not all GAs believed that, but if we’re going by the text itself that’s a pretty straightforward reading of Moses 4.

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

  30. “My understanding of your approach is that you think non-, or anti-religious people try to change the world and terms of discourse and living in ways that undermine religious authority. I think that you also believe that that recognizing this difference in authority and in origin of ideas and practices helps LDS members be righteous and strong in their beliefs. I am willing to admit that you may be entirely correct about this.”

    That’s a fantastic way of summarizing my approach, Martin. Thank you.

    “it is foolhardy to look to the past for ways of being because they are unrecoverable.”

    I wouldn’t put it this way. Rather, my point is that the past literally does not exist anymore. All we have is the present and what lies ahead of us in the future, and it is only in terms of the present and past that we can ever legitimize any appeal to the past. Dan and Clark are absolutely right about us not having any kind of unproblematic access to the dead authors of the Bible. Where they go wrong is in assuming that this is what we or the literalists are supposed to be doing. What they are trying to do is loosen up any and all kinds of dogmatism that we might bring to our readings of the scriptures and I am resisting this – we are still supposed to be dogmatic about the reading that living authorities bring to the scriptures. (This is the ever present problem of post-modern strategies in general is that they erode everything, even themselves.)

    “you seem to think that there was a historical movement away from religious authority brought about by people who wanted to improve their authority compared to the religious authorities. Furthermore, you seem to think that once we recognize that fact, we can undo the effect of that historical change and recover a better understanding of religious authority.”

    You’re right in the first part, but not in the second. As you say, my goal is to articulate the interests and power struggles that motivated the rise and entrenchment of modern values. By articulating these now sublimated and repressed power struggles, I hope to give my readers the ability to second guess the “naturalness” of the doubts and values that stand in opposition to their faith. I have no delusions that we can go back, and I’m not sure that I would want to anyways. Rather, me being the strong Feyerabendian that I am, I want to tear down the hegemony of modern intellectualism in order to present my readers with a conscious choice that they are free to make on their own.

    If you’ve never read Feyerabend, I would strongly recommend it! His basic contention is that a pluralistic mix of falsehoods, truths and everything in between is preferable to a monolithic and thus hegemonic truth.

    “And to the extent that evolution is an accurate view of the world, then it is an accurate view of God’s creation and it’s discovery is bringing us closer to the mind of God.”

    You assume that “accuracy” is (1) unmediated by a set of standards that have been invented by some interested group and (2) the source of our moral obligation to accept, defend and/or repeat such a description. I reject both of these assumptions.


    “The problem is that very few want to accept that fact.”

    I totally agree with your diagnosis here, if only because it applies to me as well. Unfortunately, you haven’t really articulated the incentives for why people don’t want to reject one or the other nor have you articulated the obligations that say we must do so.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 2:51 pm

  31. Here’s a really nice rundown of Feyerabend. The overlap between his position and mine should be pretty obvious:

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 3:18 pm

  32. Isn’t the very notion of authority anathema to Feyerabend? It seems like you want to use the critique of Feyerabend to more stable meanings yet reject what he sees as the implication of this (which is a thoroughgoing pluralism)

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

  33. Feyerabend is against uncontested authority, but not authority as such. I think he would agree with me that authority arises whether we like it or not, which is why we must stay on guard against authorities that resist their own articulation – i.e. science.

    Given that I fully reject the compulsory acceptance of any authority, religious or not, I am fully on board with the pluralism that Feyerabend defends. While I think a pluralistic mind within an individual is nice, I don’t think that Feyerabend or myself are wedded to such a thing. We thus settle for a pluralistic society.

    For the record, while I’m not on board with Feyerabend’s use of the word “truth”, I think his thinking is much closer to my own than Rorty’s.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 3:31 pm

  34. But your concept of authority is his uncontested authority. He’s fine with more natural authority that is pluralistic. I don’t see how you can have contemporary authorities determine scriptural meaning and trump any other reading and say you embrace pluralism.

    That’s helpful btw about truth.

    Comment by Clark — September 23, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

  35. Because there are plenty of people who do not accept our church authorities as binding. So long as we are the minority, the best we can hope for is pluralism.

    Yeah, I think Feyerabend gives too much away by reifying the modern, correspondence notion of truth. Thus, when he talks about his willingness to abandon truth, I agree with what he means, but I wouldn’t put it that way.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 3:36 pm

  36. JeffG,

    I think why I didn’t understand your not wanting to return to history is that you have often said that authority used to mean something different and truth meant something different in the past, and made other references to pre-modern authority structures. I assumed that the point of this was to attempt a reconstruction of that type of authority. Am I OK to just simplify your approach to modern religious authority is not subject to modern standards of critique and ignore all of the historical reasons because they aren’t that important to me since I already accept that? Your arguments for something I already agree with are getting in the way.

    Now, on to the payoff. I think you are saying that because of the influence of modernness on my ways of thinking and my tacit assumptions about the standard of rationality (accuracy, goals of reason, etc.) call it “ideology” but just for convenience and to make it a bit suspect, that I misplace what really is a moral obligation and what creates it.

    My response is that I admit to this ideology not because I’m not aware of this assumption but because I think it is nearly impossible to extract oneself from it. Some simple examples: A gas gauge may have been put in my car showing E and F for empty and full and I don’t question these assumptions, but I can’t figure out a way to not believe that my car won’t run if i don’t put more gas in as in approaches empty. I don’t have any way of not assuming the accuracy of the gauge because it fits the rest of my (admittedly ideological) existence.

    Now you may say that morals are not so easily gauged as gas tanks but what I’m saying is that your arguments and positions still don’t lead me out of any of the troubles that accuracy gives me. You can say “Nobody ever promised you a Kolob garden” or “dead prophets don’t matter as much as living ones” but the entire framework of what modern prophets say is so completely embedded in a what past prophets and scriptures and current prophets say that it is just of no practical use. So, to use one of my favorite examples, if a neighbor or child asks me about the literal gathering of Israel means, I don’t know what I access to answer the question. What does Israel mean? In your view it means whatever today’s authorities say it means, but they don’t go around issuing “today’s definitions”. I can say “I don’t know but it doesn’t matter because I don’t have to take any action based on what it means but that just seems unsatisfying on so many levels. After all why did I memorize these things at 12 if they weren’t important and meaningful.

    We have so many embedded ideologies that it is extremely sticky understand anything. Often mormons feel like they are held to a different standard of having to prove consistency and accuracy or whatever. You can say understanding what things mean is not the proper standard but I don’t know anyway of not trying to understand what things mean.

    Comment by Martin James — September 23, 2015 @ 5:16 pm

  37. Martin,

    Your two problems are related: my historical approach is specifically aimed at helping people imagine and thus learn different ways of speaking about truth, etc. It is meant to show that 1) the modern conception of truth is not the “natural” or “timeless” one and 2) my alternative conception is by no means an ad hoc contrivance that I’m pulling out of thin air.

    My historical approach, then, is both a problematization of the present (in a Foucaultian sense) as well as a counter-inductive theorization (in a Feyerabendian sense) which is aimed at both the critical distance from and the reflective understanding that comes from multi-linguality. Simply put, we will never understand the present as well as we would if we also understood the past in the exact same way that paleontology informs modern biology.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 23, 2015 @ 5:28 pm

  38. Clark, the whole “RNA world” that evolutionists speak of is science fiction. At best it’s a mere guess in a full pool of make believe.

    When properly reading Genesis coupled with Moses in the PoGP it is clear that up through the sixth day there is no life happening on earth because God has not yet caused it to rain. It’s not until after the start of the seventh day and the sanctifying of the earth that God causes it to rain. After it rains plants begin to grow, Adam is formed, then the animals are formed.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 23, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

  39. Boy would I love to see Dan McClellan try to convince Rob Osborn the scriptural literalism is a myth.

    Comment by Martin James — September 24, 2015 @ 8:24 am

  40. JeffG,

    I see the Foucaultian aspect in your approach but I’m not seeing much Feyerbendian payoff in it.

    After all, he is against method and you seem to have a very particular method in mind for what truth is (authority plus individual witness).

    I’m trying to understand your point of view but I think you keep seeing me as a defender of science. What I am a defender of in a very Feyerbendian way is figuring out whatever we can however we can. The closest I come to defending science is that I think appeals to experience are one part of what needs to make sense and that predictions are one way to test theories.

    What I really want to pin you down on is what gets to “count” in your worldview as a pragmatic test of truth. You think description and prediction aren’t the right tests. What are the right tests then? (I don’t think “following authority” counts because we still would need some method of determining whether we are following authority correctly.)

    Comment by Martin James — September 24, 2015 @ 8:33 am

  41. Martin,

    Who is Dan McClellen?

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 24, 2015 @ 11:08 am

  42. Martin,

    I just lost a nice juicy comment for some reason. Let me give you the jist:

    Feyerabend is attacking those (like Bacon, Descartes and Popper) who would justify the monolithic hegemony of science with an appeal to *THE* scientific method. Since I do not do this, the issue isn’t all that relevant.

    Feyerabend has two end-goals for bringing alternative theories, even false ones, into the mix: 1) alternatives are the only protection against ideological domination and 2) learning a 2nd theory helps us understand our 1st theory better in the same way that Einstein helped us understand the assumptions that underpinned Newton better.

    (I don’t think “following authority” counts because we still would need some method of determining whether we are following authority correctly.)

    Okay, but there isn’t a single rule in the world that can pass that test since the only way to measure adherence to a rule is the invention of yet another rule. The question, then, boils down to whether we will justify our following abstract principles by appeals to authority figures or the other way around. This is an absolutely free choice that we can make.

    In fact, my point is actually a little stronger than this. Different communities will respond to our choice differently in that while most societies have morally required justifying following principles by appeals to persons (divine or not), others have morally forbidden such appeals, insisting instead on justifying following people by appeals to principles (modernity). My argument, following Rorty, is that this moral feedback of praise/punishment from different communities is the ONLY source of moral obligation. But this just is to say that the modern strategy is incoherent!

    In other words, your objection to “following authority” is actually the reason why we have no choice but to follow an authority figure of some kind! We can only know if we are following any rule correctly (morally speaking) based in an appeal to the judgement of a community of moral enforcement. This authoritative community might be one person, three people, majority rule, total unanimity, a 51% shareholder, etc. Whichever one of these principles or rules is supposed to decide the issue is itself determined by the community in question – and there is no reason to assume that this happens in a fully conscious, let alone a fully democratic sense. At no point does this social process bottom out in some abstract, impersonal rule.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 24, 2015 @ 11:34 am

  43. Rob (38), the Moses account of Genesis 1 has it as a purely spiritual creation, likely echoing the view contemporary with Jesus that it was an organizational or “platonic” creation with Genesis 2 being the physical creation. Thus, if you follow Moses you have to deal with verse 5.

    “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air;”

    That pretty well invalidates your reading.

    Martin (41), Dan and my argument is that this type of interpretation isn’t literalist at all and the term is misapplied. Note how to make his reading Rob has to discount the straightforward reading of Moses 3:5. My argument is that what’s really going on is an appeal to a very limited semantic context – often at odds with the original setting(s) – and that theological priors count more than the text. In this case the theological prior of a certain view of creation. So to call this literalism when it demands discounting the straightforward reading is very misleading.

    Comment by Clark — September 24, 2015 @ 12:42 pm

  44. Perhaps a clearer way of distinguishing my position from that of Clark and Dan is as follows:

    Let’s consider JS’s new translation of the Bible. According to secular standards, JS erred in the form of anachronisms that violate the original context, etc. (Apologetics actually follow this tac by trying to find evidence that such cases are not, in fact, anachronistic. Clark and Adam roughly follows this same line of thought in viewing any trangression of the original context/mean as an error on JS’s part.

    With this I completely disagree. Since JS was himself the living authority, it was his interpretation that both the literary theorists, historians and perhaps the original text violated! Put differently, JS’s translation was a restoration of divine authority to the text, something that no scholar, dead prophet or any other attempt to recover the texts original authority could ever do.

    Only those who try to extract divine authority from a book alone (Protestants) would place much importance in an indirect “recovery” of its original meaning rather than a unilateral “restoration” of its authority through a new translation.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 24, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

  45. Clark,

    No, it actually validates my position showing that the previous six days of creation was not the actual placement of physical life on earth.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — September 24, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

  46. OK, I misunderstood what you were arguing. Sorry.

    Comment by Clark — September 24, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

  47. Jeff, I don’t think these uses of scripture or more midrasnic creations are errors. I just don’t think we should necessarily interpret them as restoring the original text. But as I said earlier I have no trouble with quotations as involving new uses and new meanings. So I suspect, for instance, the Book of Mormon translation involves both transmitting meanings fairly close to the meaning of the original text in its setting, but sometimes expansions or commentary on that text. Indeed I think that is a common use of scripture.

    That is why fundamentally I don’t have a problem with the Documentary Hypothesis – the Book of Mormon on its terms seems to be a similar process. Just that we think Joseph Smith was inspired whereas according the Book of Mormon the compilers of the Old Testament at key times were not.

    Comment by Clark — September 24, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

  48. Where we disagree, then, is that I feel no obligation whatsoever to recover the original meaning. At all. Sure, it might be nice and if somebody wants to do it, that’s fine. But when people start complaining because the religious studies curriculum is dropping all this historical fluff, I think they are seriously missing the point. The way that living prophets interpret the scriptures is morally binding. The way that historians and literary theorists do so is not.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 25, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

  49. That’s fine. I don’t mind the whole “how can we use these texts contextually to push these ideas.” When that’s all that is done (as is sadly the case with most CES classes) I think we lose a lot of the power of scriptures.

    The reason seems straightforward. If I want to know what the authorities want I just read the Conference Reports. If scripture just becomes an other way do Conference Report without reading the talks I guess I wonder what the point of reading the scriptures at all is. There’s a shorter and easier path.

    I’d add that a deeper problem is some CES using speculations or even outright teachings of past authorities of favored doctrines. That is under the guise of teaching scripture its really teaching a particular set of theories of dead figures. However I think you’d say those aren’t authorities any more and CES shouldn’t be doing that when its at odds with contemporary authorities. It just gets trickier when it appears contemporary authorities don’t want to say anything on the topic but don’t clamp down on these actions with past words. Or even trickier when there’s disagreement. But that seems all separate from what you are after.

    Comment by Clark — September 25, 2015 @ 1:11 pm