The Moon Made of Green Cheese Analogy

by Nils Jansma and John Clayton

We believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Some think that we should have this belief without question or reasoning. This kind of belief is called dogmatic, authoritative, revealed, or faith-based belief. Those who promote this kind of acceptance of the Bible do not rely on reason as a part of such belief. Their beliefs are based upon traditional understanding said to be beyond the power of reason to explain or understand. A conflict between reason and dogmatic belief can arise when the two forms of knowledge appear to disagree. Often we find this sort of conflict due to bad reasoning or bad dogmatic assertions. This is not a disagreement between science and religion. Instead, we have a disagreement between two people, one specializing in maintaining a traditional understanding of a language translation and the other specializing in observing and experimenting with nature. So the question really is "which of these two people should we believe when they disagree and how might God feel about such matters?"

To illustrate this concept, imagine that someone translates a verse in the Bible that the moon was made of green cheese and shows from the Hebrew that it literally says "the moon has green cheese." As long as there was never any reason to challenge this belief, there would not have been any conflicts on this issue between contemporary knowledge and the traditional understanding of the Holy Book. This, however, would have changed when actual moon rocks were returned to earth and examined. The examination revealed that the moon was not green cheese after all, but consisted of two different types of rock, one of which was a gray-green basalt also found on earth. Now we have conflict. This new scientific evidence would challenge the prevailing dogmatic belief regarding the moon's composition. What would be an appropriate response for the religious community to make? Naturally, the validity of such scientific claims should be honestly investigated by qualified parties. If the claims are verified with reasonable certainty, then an honest reexamination of the linguistic basis for believing the moon is made of green cheese should be made. The words in question may have alternate meanings because the original Holy Book was written with only 8,000 or so different words. The following is a fictional account of this examination:

After careful scholastic consideration, it turns out that what had been translated green had also been rendered gray-green in other passages. Also, the word that had been translated cheese did not always refer to a dairy product directly. The word could also describe the surface texture associated with congealed or curdled milk. Because of this reexamination, it was found that the term green cheese could also be translated gray-green rough surface. This resolves the faith/science issue for those of us who believe that the Bible and science are friends and cannot conflict. The traditionalist, however, argued that everywhere else in the Holy Book, whenever the combined term green cheese was used, it always referred to a dairy product. This was countered with the argument that this is the only incident in the Holy Book that the context was related to a heavenly object and so there was no valid translational precedent in the Holy writings. All other uses of the word combination green cheese were made within the context of human activity. Both sides of the argument believe that they are taking the Bible literally. How would the traditionalist justify his position?

One way would be to say that the rocks are not real. It is an evil conspiracy by the Devil and by scientists just to confuse us and test our faith in the Holy Writings. (Note: None of these issues would be a test of our faith in the truth of the Holy Writings. Instead, the issues would be a test of our faith in the traditionalists who translated and interpreted the Holy Writings for us.) A second way would be to assert that the tests on the rocks are wrong despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary. We could say that the moon is still green cheese, but the scientists do not want us to know or are mistaken in their tests. They are either too stupid or too proud to admit their mistake. A third way would be to dogmatically say that God made green cheese to look and feel just like rocks as a means of testing our faith in the interpretation of His Word. We might go so far as to turn this belief into a salvation issue because some of the scientists may be of our own religious tradition. They would claim that, if we reject the traditional interpretation and accept scientifically-proven facts, God is going to severely punish us. Consequently, many would be afraid to accept anything scientific that disagrees with the traditionalist interpretation no matter how unreasonable it is. If it turns out that these so-called traditionalists are wrong and that God has chosen to work within the laws of nature that He established, what reaction might He have toward those who dogmatically make Him look foolish by saying that He intentionally created green cheese to look, feel, and test to be just like rock and then punishing those who are confused by what He did. What do you think?

This analogy is exactly what is happening today as many denominational traditionalists force their teachings on the Word of God. We know how we feel when someone distorts something we have taught so that we look foolish. We would not want to produce such feelings in God.

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