Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Does Consensus Mean?

Let's just get the strict definition out of the way now.
Main Entry: con·sen·sus
Pronunciation: \kən-ˈsen(t)-səs\
Function: noun
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Latin, from consentire
Date: 1843

1 a : general agreement : unanimity b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned
2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief
There is a consensus among atheists that God does not exist.  Nor does any god or supernatural being exist.  Pretty simple.  There is a consensus among Christians (keeping it simple) that God exists.  Again, pretty simple.  So what's the point?

Beyond this simple understanding of positions, the question of consensus goes much deeper.  Let's go one level deeper.  There is a consensus among atheists that the Theory of Evolution is indeed fact (I can go into the meaning of 'theory' in this context some other time.).  There is a consensus among Christians that the Bible is the authoritative word of God.  The belief in creation can probably be implied from this broader statement.  Note to Joel, I'm sure I'm committing some logical fallacies in their strict interpretation here, but I'm taking license with that.  Again, pretty simple.  I'm not sure that there are many that would argue with what I have said at this point.

Let's go one level deeper still, then we may be able to see some differences.  A majority of evolutionary biologists are atheists, however, as is the case in many areas of scientific endeavors, there are disagreements over certain areas of biology.  At this point, the scientific method takes over and as the research continues to evolve (no pun intended), eventually a consensus will be reached on even these areas of disagreement.  That is how the process works and that is how the process has worked for a very long time.  It may not be the most efficient, but the path leads to the truth, which is the ultimate goal.  I believe it is safe to say that a majority of Christians are, well, Christians.  I know, that conclusion took a leap of faith on my part.  You have Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodoxy that disagree on numerous issues.  Then you have the whole Reformation thing that produced Anglicans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, etc.  You also have the LDS Church, wherever the heck that one came from.  At any rate, you have this vast differing of opinions on the interpretations of the Bible, even though, by consensus, it is the authoritative word of God.  What mechanism exists in Christianity to reconcile all of the differences?  There is none that I am aware of.  Although, the adaptation of some sort of scientific method for christian reconciliations would be the irony of ironies.

There are many branches of Christianity that accept some form of evolution (Catholicism being one of them) and yet many of the fundamentalists keep trying to attack atheistic evolution when they should probably turn their attention to their fellow Christians.  There are many branches of Christianity that believe in an old Earth, yet many of the fundamentalists keep trying to attack the geological/planetary sciences when they should be working toward reconciliation of the Christian faithful.

So, let's have a consensus.  All the Christians can off on their own and reconcile their beliefs and leave the scientists alone to work and teach.  In fact, I'll even make it easier on the Christians.  Just go off and devise a methodology by which you can even begin to reconcile your beliefs.  After that, you can start to work with the other Abrahamic religions.  Maybe then, us atheists can have some peace and quiet.


  1. (not really anonymous-just couldn't figure out how to comment using the other profiles)

    Karl, I hope that you aren’t asking Christians to achieve a consensus on an old earth just for the sake of making life more convenient for you! (LOL) Despite the fact that many Christians believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, as you recently pointed out in another post, it’s human nature to take something like God's Word and subvert it to what they want it to be-you stated it as, “they have created their own image of God based on the type of person they are.” Unfortunately, Christians with even with the best intentions do this (myself included, although I rarely have the best intentions!), and if we deny it we are simply not being honest with ourselves. So the consensus and the peace and quiet wish for will not likely come about any time soon.

    There is also another problem with it. I am not a Bible scholar and don't understand everything about the revealed Word of God that I wish I did. I also understand that the opinion of many is that there are an awful lot of inconsistencies in the Bible that totally shred its reliability. I believe, partly because of my own study and partly because I trust some who are more knowledgeable than I am, that those inconsistencies can largely be resolved by letting the Bible interpret itself. Using this principle, the Bible itself does not allow for an interpretation that each day of creation might represent long periods of time of evolution. To try to meld any creative act of God and evolution doesn’t recognize or chooses to ignore that the Hebrew word used to indicate each day of creation is consistently used in the Bible to represent a 24-hour period. In other situations where “a day” is used as an analogy for some other period of time (“a day is like a thousand years”), other language is used. So, the Bible itself asks us to believe in a literal “young earth,” and warns against believing alternative positions. So, in the face of what would seem to be overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, it easy to see how there would end up being such a range of non-consensus as people seek to justify their belief system in the context of science and society. But there really are only two alternatives here-either it is or it isn’t. Given that I believe that God loves to delight His children and gives us our ability and desire to investigate and learn everything we can about his creation, and I don’t believe he would do this only to “falsify” science in the end (“haha, Gotcha!”), I still don’t feel the need to "attack the geologic/planetary sciences." You know I believe that God just created a “mature” universe--one with all the features of being 14 billion years old, but was just created thousands of years ago. And if one is a Christian, would you really expect otherwise? It would be pretty hard to marvel at His glory if you had to wait around for it to evolve!


  2. Jay,

    I'm not asking Christians to achieve a consensus on an old earth. I'm just asking they achieve consensus period. There are dozens of mainstream Christian denominations and dozens more that are way off the beaten path. They must all use a different Bible because it has certainly interpreted itself very differently to a lot of Christians.

  3. Karl, I guess my attempt at humor failed! :) I think you already have a pretty good understanding as to why that consensus will never happen. The Bible is what it is, but even the most well meaning Christian is still human and whether they admit it or not, have their own special portions of it they choose to highlight or downplay or completely ignore in their life--their own spin that fits what they want. Not only do we have our own spin, it often changes depending on the circumstances. Not only that, but some get the message from somewhere, even though the Bible itself says, "this is the end-there will be no more revelation," that the Bible got it wrong, "what God really meant was this, this, this and this. . . ," and create additional authorities. How could we ever reach a consensus? Yet, the Bible remains, and unfortunately, all of the spin only serves to distract from the true focus of Christianity, the love and forgiveness we receive as a free gift, unmerited by anything we do, and are supposed to reflect to others as a response to the love shown to us.

  4. I think the attempt at humor failed because, quite frankly, I can't find a reasoned argument anywhere in your response. I swear I have read it word for word a dozen times and can't figure it out. If anything, you are supporting my point about God in man's image. You see only a God/Jesus of love and forgiveness. You see a literal interpretation of Genesis, although I can't be sure which of the two creation myths you take literally. Yet, you easily and willingly dismiss the parts you don't care for. You even used the word "spin." I guess I don't believe that I need to fear some sort of deistic retribution if I'm not a loving, caring, forgiving individual. I feel perfectly content to be all those things without having been told by a book. The bottom line is that you believe what you believe, and I know that no amount of logic, reason, or evidence, is going to change your belief in your personal view of your God. You are certainly not the one I am trying to convince anyway. Not that I am trying to convince anybody. I just put out my opinions and let others make the decision on their own, as I'm probably sure you do as well.

  5. Fortunately, it's not about how well I can or can't keep the moral code presented in the Bible. As much as I profess my Christianity, the Bible tells me, and I believe, that I can't live up to it. In my human sinfulness I do everything I can to not have to deal with aspects of the Bible I don't like. That doesn't mean I don't think God is serious about His rules, and I do believe in an ultimate retribution. What it is about, and this is woven all throughout even the old testament, is that God provides a way out. All I have to do is believe in the death and resurrection of His Son. When He looks at me He doesn't see my sin, all He sees is that His Son has taken all that away. Does that mean I have free license to sin at will or that I won't sin again? Of course not (you've seen me at my worst!)-still, my response should be to try to live in His will. But He knows that I will fail again and again and again, and He forgives me again and again and again. Yes, I am supporting your point about God in man's image-no one, Christian or otherwise-will ever view God the way He wants us to, even though He lays it all right out there for us. But He's willing to forgive me if I accept His free gift of salvation. And yes, like you, I am just putting this out there as well-God tells us that as Christians, we don't have to do the convincing-He will take care of that