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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Genesis Chs. 1-5 and 10-11: Everything but the flood

Since I’m reading the Bible from start to finish, I unfortunately have to start with one of the most controversial things, from a certain viewpoint anyway, that I hope I’ll wind up saying. At Chapter 12, the book abruptly shifts in scope, tone, detail and pretty much every other way possible—it begins to cover the history of Abraham and his next few generations. In other words, it settles into a whole different literary genre.

The genre into which the first 11 chapters fall is folklore, and pretty clearly.

To refresh, these chapters cover creation (1-2), the fall (3), the first murder and interstitial genealogy (4-5), the flood (6-9), and more genealogy followed by the tower of Babel (10-11).

These stories resemble the oral tradition of pretty much any ancient society. Any group of people with decent stability will concoct a story of where the world came from; in this case the story, written by Jews, naturally connects those people with the creator of the universe. What better endorsement is there?

This is the story that Abraham would have told a precocious young Isaac when he asked, as children do—not necessarily even because he believed it, but because that was the best he had to offer; it’s what he would have been told when he asked his father, Terah.

It’s unfortunate that we’ll never be able to confront the OT writers with the mountains of evidence supporting evolution theory, to see if the story would change. Nonetheless, we know that they didn’t have access to that information, and the credibility of a 144-hour creation process is necessarily weakened because of this.

For another interesting take, read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, which posits that the Judeo-Christian creation story was originally written not by the Jews, but by a hunting-gathering people vanquished by the early farmers.

Anyway, my definition of folklore basically implies a series of implausible events that explains how something came to be. It is passed down orally over many generations until the identity of the writers is unknown, and it becomes true not because it was ever actually true, but just because everyone knows it to be.

The creation, fall, first murder and Tower of Babel stories are well enough known that I won’t recount them here—I’ll just say that they fit well within that definition of folklore and leave it at that. These same passages are the only ones in the Bible that mention people living nearly a millennium, led by Methuselah, who evidently made it to 969.

The flood is a little trickier, so I’ll leave it for the next entry.

My wife read this installment and said that I’ve already failed in my stated goal of objectivity. The thing is, I don’t think that’s what I meant. I’m reading the book to see what it says to me, and that’s my overwhelming impression. When all is done, I hope to come to a knowledge of two wonderful and widespread world religions that doesn’t require the complete abandonment of my understanding of how the world works—and I would imagine there are plenty of others who would like that as well.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Chuck said...

Believe it or not, you've already brought a good point to light for me. As I didn't post earlier, I figured I'd quickly note that I, too, started with a religious background - being baptized and even attending a private Baptist school. Over the next dozen years, I attended at least six different churches with friends and was able to gather the minute differences. Generally, my outlook nowadays is that organized religion is a business industry. It advertises and sells hope to the public for a small tithe.

In any case, to be more relevant to your current posting, I really like the folklore point. As opposed to the hard line "this all really happened" vs. "it's all made up bs", it at least gives good backing to the bs. Yes, it was made up, but only as much as the Greeks and Romans created their origin stories. I wonder why there's not a gathering of people who still think those are fully factual as well....

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Response Part I: Genesis 1-2

The first two chapters of Genesis are definitely of a literary form- but it is a specific literary form, that of a creation narrative-and there is more nuance to it than merely folklore. This is not to deny a mythological aspect to the creation account- I am not arguing for a literal 7 day creation at all- but it is important to recognize that Myth is, at its core, the story in which a people lives, not the story of how things work. Ontology, not epistemology, is the central focus of this chapter. The primary question to pre-scientific people is *not* "how do things work and how did the world come to be this way" but "who are we and what are we for?" Genesis begins this answer with the construction of a world view- a way of understanding who we are and why what we are for.

The first two chapters really need their own consideration- because to compare them to the rest of the book immediately is to miss their own unique context. They exist as part of their own genre- as an ultimate origin story- but they are written with a more subtle purpose than most modern readers realize.

The primary answer of Genesis 1- the primary point- is that creation- which has its source in a single, all powerful intention- is intended to be GOOD. The world- and existence itself- is, at its core, GOOD according to the plan of a Creator who did not create from any apparent personal need- but merely from the intention of increasing goodness, of sharing existence with other beings. And mankind has an important place in this creation- one that gives every subsequent member of the human race important blessings (and corresponding responsibilities) over the whole of creation.

In many ways, the greatest beauty of Genesis 1 (and 2) really comes out by comparing it to OTHER creation stories of the period, most notably the Babylonian account known as the Enuma Elish, against which the Genesis account appears to originially have been written as a polemic. Whenever I teach Genesis 1, I explain it in the context of the Enuma Elish- which is the context it would have had to its earliest readers.

In the first Genesis creation account, two things are primarily important: 1) God is seen as a power beyond human concerns and pettiness and 2) mankind is placed as a crown to creation. In the earlier Babylonian account (Enuma Elish), the gods fight amongst themselves for dominance of the universe, destroying the chaotic abyss (Tiamat/Tehom) out of which they erupted. The tyrannical victor, Marduk, creates mankind out of blood of a defeated general- and the quality of what it means to be human is denigrated as human beings are essentially considered to be worthless servants of Marduk, with no true relationship to his own greatness, and with Marduk showing no real concern for what he has made. The myth, the worldview, that the Enuma Elish creates is that human beings have no intrinsic value and that the creating powers care nothing for them.

In Genesis 1, the Spirit of God hovers over the abyss (Tehom) but there is no question of struggle (although other biblical literature, from Job to psalms, retain references to YHWH defeating the great sea monster Leviathan, Rahab, etc.) for this God merely creates from a word; his power is effective without struggle. And this God brings forth human beings from himself- in his image and likeness, both male and female created- and so blesses them with an aspect of his Being. A God of complete transcendence is shown, without loss or weakness- who nevertheless orders things toward a proper good, with the finale of his work being a creature to whom he bestows an aspect of his own goodness. And then this God rests in himself, as does the whole of the Creation.

In the second chapter, the intimate (immanent) nature of this seemingly entirely transcendant God also becomes apparent- as he seems to take mankind and breathe his own life into him. Most modern scholars argue that this is a J account (Yawhist), due to the use of the term "Lord (YHWH) God" whereas the first chapter is from either the P source (Priestly) or E (Elohist, for "Elohim") source and that the two are placed side by side due to the strength of parallel traditions. This may be true- but it is more interesting to me that the second chapter narrates a different aspect of the relationship between Creator and creature, showing a God who is intimately concerned for the happiness of his creation. He gives mankind a specific responsibility but finds the man situated in loneliness. But the LORD God genuinely cares for his creation- and so this God acts to create a balance where his creation can be pleased- so that things can be VERY GOOD for this creation. He creates a partner for his creature- out of that own creature- that makes of the woman ultimately the true finale of the entire creative process, as the one without which it is incomplete.

One way to read the first two chapters of Genesis- and perhaps one of the most ancient ways to read it- is as a parable for what the LORD God wants for his people: Happiness and blessing. Admittedly, chapter 3 changes the situation in garden- and that may also be part of the parable. Although there may be brief moments in our own lives when we occupy a sort of ideal garden- when everything seems perfect- we never get to stay in the garden forever, and we are usually at least partly to blame for that. So the Genesis creation accounts can also act as both a cautionary tale toward our own stupidity and a reminder that even the best things don't last forever.

In the end, or "in the begining," the point of the narrative is the world view. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God- and so what they do to each other matters. And what they do to the rest of the creation matters. And the Creator gave them life as a blessing- and life is good. These are the foundational aspects of these two chapters- upon which everything that comes after builds.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Response Part II- Genesis 3-4 in brief

Since I am at the library today and it is about to close in five minutes (I'm home for the rest of the month and we don't have internet access- so I only check about twice a week right now) this will be very quick. No editing or anything.

The Fall in chapter 3 does have some different mythic elements to it than the original creation story. It contains a serpent- reminiscent of later great seamonsters (and even the devil in Revelation), a bad choice, and an expulsion from paradise. As a Catholic, I tend to think of it is the great disobedience of God that is later healed by the great submission (many stain glass windows have been painted with Adam and Eve next to a fruit on a tree, followed by John and Mary at the cross, with the fruit of her womb on the tree- showing how the knot of disobedience of the First Eve is untied by the Obedience of the New Eve), when the Seed of the Woman by the Cross stamps the head of the serpent obeyed by the Woman of the Garden. As a historian of Christian thought, I marvel over Origen's analysis that this is when spiritual beings receive bodies- that the "animal skins" that God gave to man were really the flesh and blood bodies we have now- that we were originally spiritual beings. As scholar, I see the mythic elements and notice that the story is told so that all men are common heirs to this story- that it is not merely the Abraham and his family who began in this priviledged position but the common ancestors of all human beings who started off this way- that we all began in this exalted state and have together been cast out and we are still together out here.

The tale of Cain and Abel, as you hinted at, is often seen as a hunter vs. farmer parable- or even as a "city-dweller" vs. "country dweller" parable- or as a racial memory of Cro-Magnon Man killing off Neanderthal Man- or as a recognition that Abel realized that a sacrifice would need to be made and Cain being unaware of it- many possibilities. The two most interesting aspects of this story, in my opinion, is that of Cain questioning God, "Am I my brother's keeper" and God's own refusal to kill Cain (or even to allow Cain to be killed). The first of these is, in old Rabbinic Judaism, the key to the Bible- it is the first question a human being asks of God, and God responds (in life and in the Bible) with an emphatic "Yes, you ARE your brother's keeper." In the second part, God gives a value to human life that prevents it being killed- man is not to kill man. This later contrasts with the convenant with Noah, with the decision that human blood should be shed when human blood is shed. The first appears as an act of peace- and the second as a recognition of violence. I believe that Christians need to seek the peace of the garden- the peace that allows Cain to live- rather than the subsequent search for justice through death.

All I have time for. Look forward to reading the rest of your reflections.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

It is somewhat unfortunate that we have to begin with Genesis, because I'm sure there is enough conflict brewing in just the first few chapters to keep us going for a while. I'd also like to apologize in advance for this post; I'm not intentionally aiming for the jugular, but I think the story of Creation introduces a pretty serious chink in the Bible's armor, and I'd like to address (but not exploit) that weakness, if I may. Of course, your comments are welcomed.


I had the pleasure recently of hearing a Christian scientist (that is, a woman who was both a Christian and employed as a scientist) debating a pastor on the radio regarding a literal 7-day creation versus a metaphoric 7 "periods of time" creation. I was struck by how far the scientist seemed willing to bend to allow for her two worldviews to coincide, and also by how completely unyielding and literal the pastor was. I wonder if there are any members of our group who truly believe in a literal, Seven day creation of the world. And if so, I wonder if they believe in dinosaurs?


According to my version of the bible (which is annotated for study), it is "widely accepted" that Genesis was written by Moses. Clearly, I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I'm going to forge ahead along this track regardless, and will happily hear corrections when I'm done. If Moses is the author of Genesis, then I assume that while he was picking up the Ten-some Commandments, he was also granted a sit-down, no-holds-barred interview with God re: How It All Began. Alternatively, Moses (or some other author of Genesis) could have been filled with the Holy Spirit and told the story of Creation in this way. The final alternative is that the whole thing was manufactured by human minds, but that definitely shoots holes in the "Bible as the Word of God" mentality, so we'll leave it aside.

Reading back over what I've just written, I see this thought will take longer to lay out than anyone will probably care to read, so let me cut to the chase. I don't mean to be argumentative right up front, but there are about 777 ways that the Creation myth presented in Genesis is demonstrably false. It is possible to believe in Genesis as the literal truth by forsaking science, but that certainly isn't something I'm willing to do. If we don't cast aside evolutionary theory, etc., etc., then how are we left to process Genesis? Is it a man-made myth? As Chris suggsets, folklore? Did God, in His infinite wisdom, tell Moses a little fib rather than blow his mind with all of the complicated science? Matt, I find your point about the "moral" of Genesis very interesting, but are you saying that the story of how it all came to be is just a fable?

If Genesis is not the literal truth about the world as told to us by God, then it is either a man-made lie or, more chillingly, a God-made lie. And if we debunk Genesis, doesn't that sort of blow the credibility of the whole rest of the Good Book? If you think the story presented in Genesis isn't how it really happened, then how do you take the rest of the Bible seriously? And if you think the story in Genesis IS how it really happened, then, pardon me, but how am I supposed to take you seriously?

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Hey Joe (and company),

The problem that I have with your critique, Joe, is simply that the way we look at the world (and read Genesis) is not the way people looked at the world 4,000 years ago... but we can't really fathom how different it is (I tried to allude to this in my earliesr post, but I was rushed for time). In our society, we have developed what is often called a "technological consciousness" (influenced by the stories we tell ourselves about the world- which, due to the "story" of the Enlightenment, we don't think are stories) that shapes our understanding and expectations (and even our standards/conception of what we mean by "literal truth"). We aren't born with this technological consciousness- some humans today in far off countries still don't have one- but everything in our society influences us to think technologically- so we think people through out all of time have asked the same kind of questions that we ask about the world. But that isn't exactly right. The dialectical understanding of truth that we have (with the world divided into "fiction" and "non-fiction") is a relatively new way of looking at things- and is, actually, as boring as it is black and white.

People through out all of time have told stories about the way the world is... but they have not applied to kind of criteria of "litearlism" to those stories that we do. And these types of non-literal stories were understood to be "myths" but, despite the popular conception of myth as a fake story about the world that un-Enlightened people in ages past took to be true, the real point of a "myth" is to shape a world view in a particular way- to convey a way of understanding reality- not to impart scientific knowledge. (As an aside, modern science does not like to think that it has myths- but our modern science has a host of myths- such as the story that *we* now "understand" gravity whereas Aristotle and Archimedes were confused about it).

Let me give you an example of a myth that Chris created in this post, in the traditional way that myths have always been used: Chris told a story about how a young Isaac asked Abraham about the way the world came to be, and this is the answer Abraham gave. This is a way that Chris conveyed certain information to us- but this information was his world view, his way of interpreting the text, not a historical account. Chris is not claiming to have historical knowledge that Abraham did this; he is constructing a worldview, a myth, a story that helps us understand where he is coming from when he reads the passage. But the problem with Chris' myth- the problem with why it is historically untenable even though it serves the proper function of a myth- is that it really reflects our kind of question about we reality, not Isaacs. From childhood, WE want to know what causes what- we want to know how things work and fit together and develop- and the way that the world is explained to us as children causes us to ask these kinds of questions about the world. But, contrary to our own beliefs, these are not the questions that non-technological people ask.

We think scientifically, and look for answers about how things work and fit together in myths. So when we read Genesis, we think that it is trying to answer these kinds of (epistemological/scientific) questions. But these aren't really the kinds of questions that are being asked when Genesis is written- and these are not the kind of questions that Genesis is answering for its original audience- and these are not the kinds of answers we should be trying to get from it.

Genesis is a narrative, the begining of a story of a people, and it is answering (ontological) questions- about what kind of place human beings have in the world, about the value of the world, about the way that God cares about human beings, and about the way that God interacts with the entire world for the sake of human beings. And it begins the story through which the people of Israel will begin to use to understand their own relationship with God- the Exodus account- the narrative of who they are and what they are about.

Let me close with this: In Catholicism, one of the important aspects of the Incarnation (God becoming Man in Jesus Christ) is that Jesus shows us WHAT God is LIKE. And so, Jesus tells Parables to people so that they understand his vision of the world-such as the Parable of the Sower or the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, it would be possible to read that parable and to ask "So, was there literally a sower whom Jesus is referring to?" or "So, historically, what was the name of the Samaritan?"

But the thing is- to read these parables that way is to misread them. It is to think it is trying to talk about something very different from what it is really talking about. But the fact that Jesus teaches in this way is a clue- an important clue!- that God also teaches in the same way.

Finally, in case anyone is interested and is still reading this, most scholars do *not* think Moses wrote the Torah/Penteuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Honestly, many scholars are uncertain if Moses even existed- although others argue that his name (MSES) is likely enough Egyptian in origin (although missing an object- Ramses, for example means "born of Ra" RA-MSES) to make an existence credible. When a Bible notation says something like "it is widely accepted," that is a trickey term- widely accepted by whom? Scholars? Believers? The editors of this Bible translation?

The commonly accepted scholarly opinion is that the first five books are edited together into material originally written in four different traditions: E (Elohist), J (Yahwehist), P (Priest) and D (Deuteronomist). Although there are scholars who maintain single authorship (and even Mosaic authorship), they are in a very small minority within the world of academic biblical scholarship. But, lest this be a tremendous problem for literalists- the Bible does not explicitly state anywhere that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch- and, in fact, the death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy would seem to imply that he was not the author of that part, at least.

Sorry to write so much, again.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

I’m glad you are studying the Word of God, although I must say I believe your premise is completely wrong. You see, either the Book is God’s Word and is absolute truth, or it’s not. A person couldn’t have faith in a Book where you couldn’t determine which part is fiction, which part is, as you call it, folklore, and which part is Truth. So I believe the bottom line is, at some point you will have to conclude that it either the Scriptures are absolute truth, or they are not. There cannot not be an “easy”, makes a person feel good, everyone can be right in-between conclusion. However, I have no doubt that if you were to incorporate historical accounts from the early times and absolute proven science you will see that it corresponds with Scriptures.

I leave you with some verses for your consideration (before you get to them….and no I don’t think they are taken out of context….but go ahead and study the chapters around them if you wish):

II Tim 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God is Truth…..as is His Word. In John 14:6, Jesus calls himself the Truth. David proclaimed in Psalm 119:160 “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.”

So, my son…..Study your heart out!

5:41 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Matt, please don't apologize for writing so much. I'm really interested to hear everything you have to offer, and anyone who isn't can just page down, right?
Before I offer the meat of my comment, I should correct my earlier post by saying that the Bible I'm reading from says Moses' authorship of Genesis is "commonly accepted," not "widely accepted," although that may be splitting hairs. It was also published in Indianapolis, IN in 1967 (and was given to me as a gift on the occassion of my confirmation); maybe we've learned better about Moses in the past 40 years.
I don't want to point fingers or get personal, but the post just underneath yours - from "mom" - reflects much more the understanding of the Bible as it has always been presented to me. The Bible, I was taught, is the Word of God, filtered, perhaps, through human hands, but still the Word and undeniably true. What you have to offer is thoughtful and rational, but not at all the same. Because when you say, "It can't be seen as black or white," you must also be saying, "It can't be seen as 'true,' anymore than it can be seen as 'false.'" I understand the difference between a biography and a parable, and I see that, for example, the Psalms aren't meant to be interpreted literally, but I'm also having trouble understanding how the Bible can be such a cornerstone of one's faith when it seems to have so much fine print.

THIS IS THE BIBLE, AND IT IS THE 100% TRUE WORD OF GOD AS GIVEN TO US BY THE POWER AND GRACE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.*


*Except for Genesis, Ecclesiastes through Lamentations, Galatians, I and III but not II John, and some parts of Revelations. Offer not valid in Utah.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Hey Joe (and Chris, and Company),

Thanks for your response. I was worried that I was babbling on too much (as I can sometimes do). I appreciate the reassurance. The library is about to close, so this must be quick.

I think I understand a little better now. Basically, the Bible was always presented to you (and Chris) a certain way growing up... as either literally true in every place (like a newspaper is supposed to be) or a lie- and when that first choice proved to be intellectually unsatisfying, the second option naturally presented itself as the obvious response.

If I am indeed understanding correctly, that actually makes a lot of sense- but I want to argue that that such a way of reading the Bible (as if it were in the newspaper genre) is actually relatively new- and is based on as aspect of the Enlightenment which I think of as the "myth of objectivity."

In our world, newspaper articles are written to present the appearance of objectivity- heavy on "objective facts" and eyewitness reactions- while actually remaining biased- because human beings are creatures of subjectivity, not objectivity. This particular format takes "objective" Newtonian science as the standard of truth, rather than recognizing that we are formed within narrative stories that shape our understanding of who we are and our receptivity to the world. But although this newspaper format is a useful modern way to write (and to read), it decidedly not the way the Bible is written (or intended to be read). And I guess part of my point is that it was never my experience- I do not read the Bible that way, was not taught to read it that way, and I do not believe it is supposed to be read that way.

Part of my point is that ancient Jewish and Christian readers- even the New Testament authors themselves- do not have that kind of "Enlightenment" standard of objectivity with regard to their scriptures- they don't have that literal True/False view. I've already given the example of Jesus telling parables and Genesis. Let me give an even better example:

In Galatians, the apostle Paul refers to events in Genesis (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar) as allegory (Galatians 4:21-27). Now, for us, allegory tends to mean that it isn't literally true- that it merely "represents" something. But for Paul (and ancient peoples) to say that this Genesis passage is an allegory does not touch on its historical truth at all- Paul is not asking that kind of question or breaking reality into the "fiction/nonfiction" dicotomy. For Paul, the true meaning of that passage concerns freedom for Christians from the Law- THAT is what that passage in Genesis was always really about and THAT is what is TRUE. So, when he uses the term allegory he is not meaning (as some might think) that it is not historically true- but he is also not meaning that it is historically true.

So, in the Bible, genre is important. For example, Job, Ester, and Jonah were never taken literally by the Hebrew people. They were never taken to be reports of anything literal. They were tales that told other Truths. Not fiction, though... they aren't dividing the world into fiction and nonfiction. Those books were True- but the Jewish people didn't have the illusion that newspapers provide us- they understood truth in a different way.

Nevertheless, I do believe that the Bible is inspired by God and says exactly what God intended it to say... it is, in other words, wholly True. But it's a complex book (or collection of books). Although I like to quote them, I don't think that the sacred scriptures can just be picked up and fully "understood" properly- as the eunuch said to Phillip, guidance is necessary (Acts 8:30-31). Also, I believe that the sacred scriptures were always intended to be read liturgically- first in the synagogue (the one and only place in the Bible where we find Jesus *reading* the scriptures- Luke 4:16-17) and later within the context of the sacred liturgy of the Church.

The Bible is the Word of God- but so is the Tradition of the Church- and both have been entrusted to the successors of the apostles. Basically, for my views (and the official Catholic position, see Dei Verbum: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html (particularly chapter 3, subsection 12 for the small section on genre/literary forms).

4:55 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Matt-

See, now I think that Christopher's Bible blog can close up shop and go home. This is hands down the most fascinating thing I can imagine coming out of this entire project, and the world hasn't even flooded yet! My particular worldview didn't come about like dominos (Genesis can't be true, so the Bible can't be true, so God can't be true, so I'm an atheist); it was a lot more complicated than that. Still, I find your view of the Bible very refreshing, as both a literal-minded non-believer and a former devotee. Thank you for sharing.
I'm going to end my discussion on this particular matter for now. If you and I aren't careful, we're going to hijack this whole page with everyone else on board!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jen H. said...

I did read all of the commentary, but at the moment have only two quick thoughts to share about creationism versus science; one on the age of the earth and the other on evolution.

Age of the Earth:
I do believe in the literal seven day creation... and for Joe, I'm not sure whether dinosaurs ever actually lived (the Bible does refer to mammoth beasts, which may or may not have been dinosaurs). One of the biggest problems scientists have with the Christian creation story is in the timing; that artifacts "proven" to be millions or billions of years old support a 4.6 billion year old earth that is "impossible" according to creationism.

This "science" is not a problem for me as a believer. In fact, I think it's asinine to think that when Almighty God created the world only a few thousand years ago that he would have been so uncreative as to palette an "infant" world, as opposed to a 4.6 billion year-old planet. That is, I think he created it only thousands of years ago in a timeless ancient manner, having been through all of the geological and biological eras supported by science (e.g. mesozoic era or glacial melting), and filled with ancient artifacts, which could have included dinosaur fossils and the like. Anything less than exhaustive attention to even minute details would be uncharacteristic of the Bible's Yahweh, who numbers the hairs on our heads.

Evolution:
I believe evolution to be just as biased from a (predominantly) athiest viewpoint as creationism is from a Christian one. There are as many holes in the General Theory of Evolution as there are valid points. This is not unrelated to the fact that Origins Science - the study of how things came into being (as opposed to Operational Science - the study of how things work in the world as it exists now) is impossible to prove experimentally, and therefore does not follow the same rules as most things we consider to be scientific (i.e. according to our 6th grade understanding of the scientific method for proving theories).

Whether you believe in evolution or creationism, at some point, an element of faith surfaces, and it's a matter of who you choose to believe. For every scientific article that supposedly proves some missing link to the evolutionary theory, there is an opposing article (maybe written by a dissenting scientist, maybe a biblical scholar) raising substantial doubt to the methods used, evidence obtained, and or conclusions drawn.

A person's decision to belive in evolutionary theory is just that, a decision, as it is a Christian's decision to believe in creationism. Each theory is equally absurd to the other party, and all the research in the world exists to support either decision.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Hey Joe (and Company)

Good call... we probably should let our little thread die. But it was a good discussion. And yeah, I did realize that I was almost certainly being overly simplistic with regard to your own history- but I was mostly just trying to construct a basic trajectory-type of model. And it helped me think of it in a new way, at least.

With regard to the evolution thing-I do actually suspect that the theory of evolution will undergo some dramatic revision in the coming centuries. Because, yes, there are some holes- and because the current form that is taught seems to me to be suspiciously close to our own "survival of the fittest" economic style. But as for the age of the earth being a few thousand years old- this is a case for where the literalist biblical position seems, to me, to run into its own propaganda.

If, on the one hand, a person is going to "examine all historical and scientific evidence and compare it to a literal interpretation of the Bible in order to discover that a literal interpretation of the Bible is always correct with regard to historical and scientific evidence" then this challenge should be taken seriously. But if it is the case that, whenever a historical or scientific fact should flatly contract a literally understood fact, it is explained away as "scientific faith," then the challenge ceases to be serious.

Let me give an example: I am not a Mormon. I will never be a Mormon. The main reason is that I do not believe that Joseph Smith is a Prophet. And one of the many reasons that I do not believe this is that the Book of Mormon- the primary proof of his prophetic ministry- chronicles many things (such as animals like horses and sheep existing in what is today the United States in 100 AD, when they simply did not exist in that area at that period according to all archeological evidence) that are not true and can be demonstrated to be untrue. Now, a Mormon could respond that, after the Book of Mormon was written, God simply removed all evidence that would prove it to be true- along with the Golden Plates which Joseph Smith translated- from the earth. And they could argue that, the fact that no archeological evidence exists to support the Book of Mormon, then I am simply choosing to have faith in archeology instead of faith in Joseph Smith. But, if they do that, then they cannot then argue that science and history validate the Book of Mormon on every point (although different Mormons do, at times, argue both positions). It seems to me that to argue that God constructed a world with dinosaur bones already there is comparable.

I had hoped to talk a little bit about the Tower of Babel. Let me instead just confine myself to the traditional Catholic comment that the coming of the Holy Spirit Pentecost, in the New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles, is Babel in reverse. What was sundered at Babel- humanity in one community, in one place, with one language- is restored at Pentecost. Although it is through a variety of languages- God maintains the diversity of humanity even while communication is restored between people of various backgrounds, for the sake of worship of God. Whatever you think of Babel, Christianity says that babbling has been undone.

Hope to hear more from Chris soon, about Noah, and Isaac, and Abraham, and how wives can be sisters when Pharoah is around and how daughters can really love their fathers when no one else is around.

My monopolozing of the board ends: NOW.

5:02 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

Good gracious. Let me start off by saying that the front page has been telling me "0 comments" all week, and I've been getting discouraged. I'm glad to see such rich discussion now that I've clicked on the zero, and I'll play with the settings until the front page works correctly (hopefully).

Anyway, this thread has been exactly what I'm looking for. I'm glad to have such an intellectually curious person as Minix looking out for me; had I known he was my one-stop shop for biblical context, I would have just chatted him up for his phone number and not bothered blogging. (:

Mom, as I think I've said, I'm not trying to change minds here, but like Matt, I really think that there's more to the Bible than that view. How could we have such a diversity of Christian thought if those were our only choices--not to mention the other Christian philosophies that were lost with the emergence of the holy and catholic? I think part of what makes the Bible so accessible is the simplicity of its message. If I may contradict myself for a moment by quoting out of context, I've always understood that a precis of the entire New Testament can be created from one verse, Acts 16:31. I hope you're not saying that someone who believes in Jesus but not the creation is hellbound? If so, I think you and Paul would disagree on this point.

Anyway, I do believe that one can have faith in God and Jesus without reading every word of (especially the Hebrew) Bible as literally true. Clearly, if I come out of this believing in a risen Christ, one of us is going to get a lot of hazing in heaven ("Dude, I can't believe you thought the creation was folklore! That is whack!").

Jennifer, your support of creation theory is interesting, and I can't find anything logically wrong with it at the moment, but it does seriously smack of backformation. Before Darwin, and before fossils started leaping out of the ground with alarming rapidity, did anyone think that God had created a mature earth? I know there wasn't any good reason to think on those terms at the time, but reactionary logic always seems highly suspect to me--kinda like face planting from a skateboard and saying "I meant to do that."

7:24 PM  

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