Know Your Preconceptions

When I was working on getting my bachelors degree in math, one of the courses I took was geometry.  This was a little bit different from high school geometry.  Instead of the basic axioms based on the work of Euclid, we did NOT assume the parallel postulate.  We looked at variations on it, like, “There are no parallel lines,” and “Given a line, and a point not on the line, there are infinitely many lines through the point that are parallel to the line.”  These new assumptions had some interesting impacts on the knowledge that people in this class had come to rely on for years.  The second version, for example, results in the following being true: “The sum of the angles in a triangle is less than 180 degrees.”  Whenever we reached a conclusion like this, you could almost hear brains splatting against the wall and ceiling.

When you go to read anything, including a science book, the Bible, or the Qu’ran, the same thing can happen.  You are going in with certain things you “know”.  In this geometry class, most of the students “knew” the sum of the angles in a triangle is exactly 180 degrees.  They couldn’t let go of that to deal with the new assumptions.

For me, my assumptions when I read the Bible were something along the lines of, “There is no God.  Jesus probably never actually lived.  This is no different from Greek mythology.”  I would then start reading, usually in John, because I had a friend who insisted I should start there.  With those preconceptions firmly in mind, I proceeded to read a bunch of nonsense about “miracles”, an arrogant guy who thought he was God, and ended up deciding this was nonsense at best.

I read what I expected to find.  Now, when I read the Bible, I have assumptions along the lines of, “God is real.  God intervenes in the form of both Jesus and miracles (even today).  I can know God.”  As I read, I now see a kind, loving God who has been reaching out to humanity for thousands of years.  I read about the kinds of miracles God wants to perform today.  I read about a God that is completely different from anything in Greek mythology, Indian mythology, Buddhism, etc.

When I read anything in the Qu’ran, however, I see something that I do not believe represents truth.  Of course, a Muslim  will have almost the exact reverse experience.  For a Muslim, the Qu’ran is truth, and the Bible is non-truth.  For an atheist, neither is true.

So what would I like you to do as you read any of these books?  First, know how your preconceptions are impacting your interpretation of what you read.  I know why I don’t accept the Qu’ran as truth, because as a Christian, it directly contradicts my beliefs.  My goal as I read it is to know WHY I don’t accept it.  Similarly, for many years, I did not believe parts of the Bible because they violated my preconceptions.  I didn’t believe that miracles are for today, and I didn’t believe that God created the world in six days.  That was because I was raised in a church that didn’t talk about miracles happening any more.  Also, I still believed that evolution was true.

As I have looked at my preconceptions, and allowed them to be challenged, rather than the basis of determining truth, my views have changed.  My understanding of what the Bible teaches about miracles has changed.  My understanding of the truth of evolution has changed.  I ask that you be prepared to question what you believe.  If you don’t know why you believe what you believe, how can you be secure in your beliefs?  My goal is to know both.


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