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Friday, August 1, 2008

“seriously but not literally”

This is a phrase that could be applied to the common approach taken within Christendom to the opening chapter of Genesis. It could also be applicable in some theological traditions to many other parts of the Bible. Of course, for those who sit outside the Christian church, Genesis 1 is not taken seriously at all, irrespective of its literalness.

It is typically held by contemporary theologians, and graduates of MTC, that while Genesis 1 is not, and does not even purport to be factual, or even representative of events, except in the most extenuated sense, that it should be taken seriously. It is said that, nevertheless, it teaches us a number of things: that God created, that he did so in an orderly manner, and that he did so with intention. Thus it is to be taken seriously because it teaches us about God; as Paul himself instructs, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

But this raises a rather obvious question: what does it mean in any real sense to take a text seriously if at the lexical and grammatical level its direct meaning is denied and therefore its connection with the world, while putatively central to the text, is severed, or not taken seriously! If no detail of Genesis 1 is objectively true to events that occurred, then how can the text as a whole be taken seriously, because the text only exists in its detail? This is real ‘newspeak’ of the most disingenuous variety, in my view.

Genesis 1, as it stands makes a number of assertions. The facticity of them all being rejected in preference to the claims of the naturalistic history of the world. The rejection starts with the time span of events, and goes on to include their order, the mechanism giving rise to the results described, and the outcome of a number of events. Thus, on the basis of naturalistic physicalism the world we experience was not made by direct fiat by God over six days, in the order given in Genesis such that organisms reproduce ‘after their kind’.

With this breadth of rejection, it is hard to see how any good can come from reading Genesis 1, what it would teach, or what it would correct; and indeed how it could ‘train in righteousness’, when at every point, every detail is denied.

Despite this, it is widely held that Genesis does teach those things I listed earlier.

But, does it?

How can a passage teach anything ‘in general’ when the basis of that generality is provided only by virtue of the very detail that is rejected! This is at the lunatic fringe of idealism at best; which itself is an obdurate philosophical rejection of biblical concrete realism (and gives us a philosphy that rejects the Bible being used to deny its teaching…no surprise there).

God’s orderliness in creating was that he stepped through the work in 6 days, doing a succession of making then dividing acts: that’s the order. If that didn’t really happen, then God did not in fact make in an orderly manner.

God’s authorship of creation is described in detail. God spoke, it happened, and God described it as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. But if this did not really happen, if something completely different would have been observed, then the words are worse than meaningless, they are deceptive and we can’t rely on a God who makes up self-serving stories to teach what did not occur. This doesn’t do anything for identifying the creator; but attempts like Aboriginal dream-time tales, to give the weak something to cling to in the face of the relentless dance of material.

Creation’s systematic nature is demonstrated in organisms being distinct and reproducing ‘after their kind’. But this is not what is believed today. It is believed that organisms do not reproduce after their kind, but after any old kind, ultimately. Thus, what God teaches about the products of creation cannot be correct, as what ‘really’ happened is entirely different.

The order that is presented in Genesis 1 is an order which defies naturalistic parallels: for instance, light bearers being made after plants: how would the plants survive (which for a day is no problem, but what if millions of years?). Counter-intuitively, light is made before anything else (and, ironically, how ‘modern’). But, and I border on the tedious, if this is not what actually happened, then it teaches nothing at all about God to assert that what did not happen is contrariwise what did happen.

According to the ‘world’ which appears to provide the SAD benchmark (in so many other things too…but there’s only so much heresy one blog can deal with) the origin of the world has a completely other explanation from that given in Genesis 1, but that origin does not result in the worship of God; rather, in Richard Dawkins words, it paves the way for an “intellectually fulfilling atheism”. On this ground alone, one would have to question the reliability of the SAD support for the story of Genesis 1 as not factual, as we know ‘factual’ but factual in some other way, presumably, that has nothing to do with facts, but nevertheless are purported to teach something desite the facts being not there. What they teach is the very opposite of what the ‘real events’ (according to them: evolution) results in. The disparity is so vast one has to question the soundness of the approach that regards Genesis 1 as something to be taken seriously but not literally, because, if not literal, there is no basis for seriousness! If not taken as it stands, proponents of the modern view seem to be subjects of Numbers 12:8. But then, if you’ve started off ignoring Jesus, Moses, and the voice of God, why stop?!

Then again, we can only know that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally (Dixon's paperette notwithstanding) if we have reliable knowledge of what 'really' happened. We don't of course, we only have the suppositions of materialism dressed up as 'science' and brought to us as 'evolution'. But what credibility should be given to a story based on a world view that takes as its starting point that if God exists at all (which is typically denied by materailists), he is not involved with our world (deism, not Christian faith). Seems to have nothing to do with the Bible or Christian faith!

BTW, I got the phrase of the title from this paper on philosophy of science. I know its in an SDA journal, but let’s not commit the genetic fallacy.

Interesting occurance of the phrase on another Christian-run website.