a trip to the museum: follow up

There are few times when something that I write is solidified for me the very next day, but some friends of mine posted this link on Facebook that gets at the exact point I made yesterday. It seems that the scientists that claimed they were able to coax a certain bacteria into taking up arsenic into their DNA (instead of phosphorous) were a bit sloppy with their methods. It certainly didn’t help that NASA used the media to garner unwarranted attention for this study. Now that this idea is out in the public, however, other labs can run their own experiments and we’ll eventually know the truth. This is the beauty of the science and the scientific method. Claims are testable and falsifiable. Bias can be avoided, and, if not, it can be overcome.

UPDATE: This is basically what the author of the original paper said in a statement.

Often, it can take years to figure out the truth. I’m currently reading a book about how science came to understand the origins of the universe (Big Bang by Simon Singh). One of the things they first had to figure out was whether all the stars we see are in our own galaxy or outside of it. It seems so simple and obvious now, but there was a big debate about it back in the early 1920s and it took half of the decade to figure it out at that time. They (Edwin Hubble, specifically) simply used the evidence that they gathered through better telescopes and a relatively new technology called photography to come to the truth.

Theological truth, though, cannot be tested. How are you to know if you believe correctly about the Bible? About atonement? About trinitarianism? Back when I was a believer, I know that I changed my beliefs a lot. Calvinism v. Arminianism, Penal Substitution Atonement Theory v. other atonement theories, Social Gospel v. Evangelicalism. And so on. The Bible both supports and contradicts each of these, yet supporters of each think they have it “right.” Their claims cannot be tested, though. They cannot be proved right or wrong.

And so, I shed it all. I am free to find the truth.


  Thurston wrote @

“Penal Substitution Atonement Theory” sounds very painful. I’m glad I’m a long-time atheist.

  Josh S wrote @

I don’t buy your last paragraph. Let’s dispense with the Bible for a moment. The hypothesis that it even teaches a consistent thing is based on religious faith-assumptions. But I think it’s reasonable to assume Paul had a fairly consistent set of beliefs. He seems to have been a thoughtful guy, and his writing tends to be fairly consistent, certainly within a single letter.

But even when just focusing on one letter, say, Romans, you have biblical scholars disagreeing on what it means. And not just believing scholars, either–there are plenty of biblical scholars who don’t believe in the Christian faith at all, and they disagree among themselves.

So even without religion, how do you find the truth of what some guy in the 1st century believed, assuming you care?

Of course, if you’re not religious, you very likely don’t care (non-religious biblical scholars care because their tenure is based on caring). But you probably care about a lot of other texts. Turns out this problem of interpretation isn’t limited to religious texts. How about the Constitution? What does the fundamental law of the USA *really* say? Obviously, that’s something that matters a lot to both of us, since we’re both Americans. Turns out there’s lots of disagreement on that, too, and how you interpret it obviously has little to do with your religious alignment. You can’t scientifically test whether or not the Constitution really grants Congress the authority to give the President power over an agency that gets to decide what kind of shower head you can use. Of course, the Supreme Court has the power to decide what the text says, but is the power to enforce an interpretation the same thing as correct interpretation?

That’s more analogous to the theological problem, and I don’t see how you’re any more free to find the truth about a given text as an atheist than as a Christian. And since texts matter, I think it’s an important question.

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