Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Religious epistemology: what to believe

The New York Times reports:
A documentary by the Discovery Channel claims to provide evidence that a crypt unearthed 27 years ago in Jerusalem contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth.

Moreover, it asserts that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that the couple had a son, named Judah, and that all three were buried together.

The claims were met with skepticism by several archaeologists and New Testament scholars, as well as outrage by some Christian leaders. The contention that Jesus was married, had a child and left behind his bones — suggesting he was not bodily resurrected — contradicts core Christian doctrine.
In an earlier post I asked how religious adherents decide which statements in their religious literature to believe. After all, very few people, even the most religious, believe everything they read in their religious literature. So would it matter (and I'm not passing judgement on this particular claim) whether this or some future archaeological find is determined to be the bones of Jesus?

Certainly physical resurrection is a core Christian doctrine. But Christians have given up many beliefs. I suspect that no one believes that the story of the Garden of Eden is literally true. Pardon my Biblical scholarship, but here is one version of Genesis, chapter 2.
2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

2:21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
It might be harder to back away from a belief in physical resurrection than from the Garden of Eden. But would it destroy the faith of the faithful? Should it? The bigger question is: how do people decide which religious beliefs to accept?

It had always seemed to me that the term religious epistemology was an oxymoron. But clearly it isn't. There seem to be serious religious epistemological questions. I have no idea how they are dealt with or if anyone has even raised this question before.

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