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Monday, August 11, 2008

Not a Science Book…Not

Our neo-orthodox friends puff on about Genesis 1 giving us ‘religious’ information but denying that it has either historical or physical information, or if there is, it is at best accidental and is unimportant and surely not part of the scriptural communication of Paul’s 2 Tim 3:16.

We are told, insistently, that Genesis (1, particularly) is not a “scientific text book”, to presumably imply that it has nothing to say to the natural world, or us in it; that God’s intention is not to teach us “how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven”. It seems that God’s physical creation has nothing to do with his relationship with his people…strange!

But the very point of God telling us about his physical creation is to give us information that is important. It is how we understand our life, our relationships, our position before God and our connection with the whole created order.

The glib assertions quoted above are simply wrong! They both come, not from the Bible, but from a way of thinking that is alien to it. They represent pagan beliefs being read back into the Bible to remove it from the real and into the ‘unreal’; to where it can do no ‘harm’ to pagan practices or thinking.

Adopting pagan practices and beliefs has lead to problems in the past which have been left at the Bible’s doorstep. For instance, the erroneous belief that life forms were fixed at the species level, rather than at the ‘kind’ level: Aristotelian ideas were conflated with the Bible. Darwin, and indeed the Christian (‘creationist’) Edward Blyth some time before him showed that natural selection operated. With this helpful correction to an unbiblical view, Darwin undertook a wild extrapolation, and said that organisms were infinitely mutable at and above the ‘kind’ level. This, of course, has never been shown, only assumed, but used to throw Genesis 1 out of the scientific ring.

IRONY 1: Genesis 1 is claimed to be not scientific because of an unscientific mistake where a pagan idea was read back into it, despite its words aligning with observations that organisms do reproduce after their kind!

The rejection of Genesis as anything but the vaguely defined ‘religious’ or ‘theological’ must assume that there is some kind of fissure between the everyday and the sacred that rejects the biblical doctrine of creation. But no! Genesis teaches us that the world in its physical fullness is God’s very good creation; this fact must therefore be significant for our occupation of that world. And this points to the possible purpose of Genesis 1 ff, as not merely religious, but providing the basis for our understanding of the world.

The restriction of the application of Genesis 1 seems to be more like a move of Platonic deception where idealism regards the mere appearance as less important than the imagined ‘form’ behind it; or the Gnostic framework where material is bad, spiritual is good; to the extent that the material world was created in Gnostic fantasy by a lesser god, a ‘demiurge’. Either way, this represents non-biblical thinking being used to restrict the application of the Bible. That is, taking a pagan philosophical frame and applying it retroactively to the Bible, instead of using the Bible to interrogate pagan philosophical frames.

IRONY 2: The SAD in suppressing Genesis 1 is doing today exactly what the Roman church did to Galileo when it applied an Aristotelian frame to the Bible.

That is, the neo-orthodox view of Genesis and its vast body of commentary is fatally infected with and radically biased against the ‘world-frame’ of Genesis on the basis, not of biblical data, but on the remnant of idealistic thinking, of pagan influence on the neo-orthodox (and today’s most prevalent) reading of scripture. It takes a branch of pagan philosophy and reads it back into the Bible, to make the Bible silent where it would disrupt commitment to a materialist frame of understanding!

God is by this restricted contrary to the Bible, and it fails to admit the comprehensive historical footing of the biblical revelation, the primal goodness of the creation and the radical brokenness introduced by sin, a brokenness that is not something inherent in the creation or consistent with the God who is love and therefore our saviour.

From the Bible’s perspective, the comprehensive truth of Genesis 1 is necessary because we live in a physical creation in which we participate spiritually. It is simply puerile to suggest that the words are mere decoration to convince us, in the face of their alleged errors of detail, that God is an orderly creator! This assertion of course fails if the details are denied (see my earlier post). It can only be sustained on the assumption that Genesis 1 contains no concrete truth aligned with actual events; but it uses this very assumption to claim that Genesis is void of concrete fact: a classic circular argument!

The points of necessity are threefold, in my view.

1. Adam was instructed to ‘look after’ the creation. To do this properly, he needed information about the general arrangements in creation that would not be available to observation. That is, what God had done, as the basis for Adam’s exploration of and understanding of the creation. Adam’s first act under this charter was on day 6, when he gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field as God brought them before him (Gen 2:c.20): a great demonstration of creator and creature joined to advance the creature (Adam’s) understanding (note Adam did not name all organisms, only a subset of the animal kingdom, namely, livestock, and possibly, game animals, as well as birds).

2. God made a unified creation where our thoughts will have real outcomes, with physical effect in many cases, and he revealed this in Genesis 1. So it provides us confidence that our thoughts and actions will be congruent with and meaningful within that creation (for philosophers, it gives us a noetic structure in both ontological and epistemological terms; which, as Darwin rightly concluded, leads only to uncertainty if material is all there is). The incarnation underwrites this.

It provides us with an historical setting; in this connection a quote from Marx and Engels’ “The German Ideology” is interesting:
“The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature….The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of man.”

I don’t agree with their historical materialism, but they put their finger on the material circumscription of our historical circumstance, particularly writ large in God’s covenants.

3. The practical outcome of (2) is that the instruction in Genesis 1, is beneficial. A classic example of this is that modern natural science flowered through the thinking of many scientists who were convinced ‘creationists’ as we would say today. These people started with a firm belief in the creator’s work over 6 days; this told them that creation was available for examination, and that such examination would bear fruit. See Harrison, for example. Stanley Jaki (also here) and others insist that without this level of certainty other cultures, those without the Biblical revelation, have seen natural science still born and wither to ineffectiveness.

DOUBLE IRONY: those who deride the facticity of Genesis 1 on the basis of ‘modern’ science can only do so because of that very modern science which came into existence by the work of thinkers who delved into the created order on the basis of God’s revelation in Genesis 1. Thus taking Genesis 1 at face value has been vastly productive and beneficial for all of mankind.

In short, the Bible has been successfully used as textbook of natural science by Adam (named animals), by Jesus (from the beginning human sexual reproduction was operative), Moses (in the Decalogue) and the early modern natural philosophers, giving rise to modern natural science!

On the other hand, consistent Darwinist naturalism has lead either directly or indirectly to the murder of hundreds of millions of people by their governments, eugenic suppression of people’s right to reproduce, injustice on a grand scale on the basis of skin colour, subjecting countless children to unnecessary, painful and sometimes fatal surgery to rid them of so-called ‘vestigial’ organs and abortions in staggering numbers (either directly or indirectly).

So, I contend, that the Bible can be used, in this sense, as a ‘scientific text book’ and I would ask those who say that it cannot be not to explain why. Mostly, they will have to explain away the Bible to keep oxygen up to their materialist preferences; but we know where materialism leads: death and deprivation! Or they will have to sever what God has not severed: the creation, and the covenantal history that plays out in it.

I am reminded to two Bible verses in this connection:

Romans 12:1-2: "Therefore, I encourage you brothers to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your appropriate worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you can demonstrate the will of God--the good and pleasing and complete will of God."


Col. 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

And while we are on philosophy, two articles are worth a look:

Philosophical Naturalism and the Age of the Earth, by Mortenson

Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars by Norman Geisler

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