Genesis 1 science or story: Responding to Criticism 1

Yesterday I wrote a small observation that the construct of Genesis 1 and 2 seems to imply a non scientific origins story that may not be taken with strict literalism. This is a short response to some friendly criticism of that post. To start off, I will try my best to not be be forceful or argumentative, but rather ask very hard questions, with a desire to follow the truth, wherever it leads. So I am glad if hard questions are asked of me as well. If I am genuinely convinced I was wrong, I would surely repent and apologize, though I would still note that this is all confusing enough to bring about the huge variety of opinions amongst very seasoned and intelligent Old Testament Professors.

Please check out the original post to see the context for this response and addendum.

With that said, I will be responding to one of the more intelligent comments regarding all of this. I am very thankful to Alex for commenting and want to start off by saying this is not a “big debate” in which I am attempting to ridicule these points or ideas. They are perhaps valid, but I want to analyze them to see if alternatives are possible and even more plausible. Basically I will be saying “that is one way of thinking through these issues, yet here is why I take an alternative.” The questions are in blue, my responses in black.

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“Interesting analysis, some very good points. But what about the aspects of evolution and old age theories that seem to be in direct contradiction with the Bible?”

I agree they are in contradiction with a rigid literalist approach, but I would argue that it is a contextually ignorant hermeneutic that makes this the case, not the text itself. I find that the best approach to the Bible and Science is this: If science affirms something the Bible is certain on, I check two things, first the science, then my Biblical interpretation. For too often we say “the Bible says” when we really mean “I interpret the Bible to say.” Thus I think there is no contraction between Genesis and evolution. The fact that some of the greatest Christian minds and Biblical scholars have been able to reconcile the two tells me that at least it should be an option to explore without claims of heresy.

 

“For example, if you accept evolution and old age theories, then you have to accept the reasons for their beliefs like the geological record representing millions of years.”

Regarding the geological record, my commitment is to simply follow the science as it is self-correcting, if a mistake is made today, it will be corrected tomorrow. So in some sense, yes I do “trust” the scientists, but only in the same way you trust a medical doctor to heal you, or an astronomer to teach you about stars. All of that said, if you are honest with the data available, there is a nearly insurmountable amount of fossil evidence for an old earth and some form of progressive/evolutionary creation. There are a few creation ministries that spend every day repeating that this is all not true, yet each day thousands of paleontologists find bundles of evidence that it is. The ratio between the former who seek out, study, and publish on this evidence vs the latter who sit in chairs and hypothesize that it doesn’t exist, is vast. Like 99.9% to 0.01% (many of those % being Christians). Thus we would have to believe in the world’s largest conspiracy theory to say the fossil evidence is not there. The only explanation is that 99% of scientists who spend their lives studying nature are wrong, which leads us to ask, why? Is it because God designed the earth to look like it’s old? Did he purposefully deceive? That would be confusing, why would he do that?

 

“And if you accept the geological record as representing millions of years, then you also assume that the fossilized thorns and bones were before Adam (since you can’t trace the genealogies back millions of years), when the Bible is clear that thorns and death came after the fall through adam.”

Regarding the Biblical component of it, there is at least a couple of caveats that should make us think. Biology has a very strict definition of “life” that does not include something with merely organic components, like a virus. According to the criteria both plants and animals are very clearly alive. Why some plants are even predatory, like the Venus Fly Trap, which has a “mouth” and eats flies. To say anything otherwise shows a fundamental misunderstanding of “life.” Yet plant life was clearly consumed in the Garden, meaning there was, without doubt, some death.

Furthermore, we would find ourselves asking all manner of questions about the life today, like “why do so many animals seem to be built to be predators.” There are thousands of examples, from the tiger (which has teeth built for great bites and a digestion system that can’t break down plants) to the crocodile which has no means of eating anything but other animals. In essence, to truly say that all animal death is the result of the fall would have to mean there was a second creation, where animals were completely redesigned from the inside out. This second creation where anatomy and physiology is radically transformed completely redefined is not mentioned in Scripture. Instead we see thousands of different and unique animals, all very adapted to their environments. The giraffes have long necks that enable them to reach the highest leaves, while the Brazilian wandering spider has a complex poisonous venom system that allows it to paralyze and kill its prey. How could this intricate system of venom spring up immediately out of nowhere at the fall, all by itself? Either God made it in  a second creation, which poses unique questions about God’s character, or else it existed before, though for what reason it was used besides killing is an unanswerable enigma.

And finally I think taking this “death” concept introduced by God to have been strictly or purely physical negates one huge idea; that of spiritual death. Almost every single Christian theologian and apologist has answered a particular question in a very relevant way to this discussion. The question is, “God said Adam and Eve would surely die when the ate the fruit, so why did they continue to live for such a long time?” And the response always given is that primarily this passage speaks of spiritual death, which instantly happened. Following that exact line of logic, I would venture to say that trying to push this idea of death at the fall being purely physical would really obscure the deeper, and more meaningful, reality of spiritual death as separation between man and God. It is my strong opinion that the concepts of morality and spirituality are far more in focus than biology when it comes to the Genesis accounts.

 

“I also don’t know what your take is on the global flood, but what Christian old earth theorists had to do was to reinterpret the Bible to say it was a local flood, not a global one. If you accept old age theories, then again, the geological record like the Grand Canyon cannot be the result of a global flood, so the global flood in the Bible was then only a local flood, meaning God promised to never send a local flood, which is not the case with all of the local floods that occur. The geological record would either represents millions of years of deposition, or a grave yard from the global flood with all the animals that were buried. Also, how could a local flood rise 15 cubits above the highest mountains?”

I think a global flood is outside of the scope of this discussion. But I shall make very brief comments. First off, there is a vast difference between a tiny local flood, a “geologically local” flood that wipes away a few civilizations, and a literally “global flood” that covers every continent. I think the comparisons that many critics make is the 1st vs the 3rd, and that, in my humble opinion makes the issues even more obtuse. Firstly I am not a geologist, but a comparison of the presentations I have read from both sides are no match. I have come away with the strong impression that the young earth creationists are not only outgunned and outclassed, but they really are out-scienced on this one.

I find that the background for this issue is what should be center stage here. At one point virtually all geologists believed in a literally global flood, however, over almost two centuries of labor and geologic study, their observations of nature forced them to make adjustments to their expectations. Many struggled crises of faith when the real world, ceaselessly proved different than they anticipated based on flood geology. There have always been a few anomalies, but some shocking number like 99% of all the data contradicted a worldwide flood. Then eventually the science of geology, which was largely a Christian dominated discipline, as a whole had to admit that a worldwide flood could not have happened. Thousands of Christian Geologists, many of whom were clergymen themselves, studying, writing, thinking, and experimenting for large amounts of time changed their mind from saying there was a worldwide flood to a civilization ending local flood. It wasn’t the modern atheist movement who made this up, it was mainstream science in a Christian culture, dominated by Christian ideas and Christian expectations. Much later in time, a little over a hundred years ago, a seventh day Adventist/amateur geologist, George McCready Price, “invented” the modern creationist flood geology. Later, Dr. Henry Morris of ICR wrote a book that popularized and modified Price’s ideas and invigorated the debate. Throughout the years much of this evidence has been refuted but it still remains in the most recent editions.

Many theologians and groups (for example those who have written for Reasons.org and Biologos.org) have postulated multiple ideas and theories about the local flood. But the simple idea is this: if a flood covered thousands of square miles and ended multiple civilizations in the whole geographic region, it would be consistent to say it was of “the world” because this would encompass the known world of that particular culture. We see this in the New Testament, where Christ’s parents are called to go to Bethlehem, because the “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” (Luke 2:1). Clearly the Chinese and the Native Americans did not take part. Clearly all the world wasn’t included, yet the Bible says literally that. Is this a contradiction? No, this is culture centered language. The known (Roman) world did get registered, in fact some translations literally add the word “Roman” (not found in Greek) to clarify this to confused readers. We can assume the descriptions of the flood uses a similar culturally centered language of all the world. For those living in that civilization, their whole world was indeed flooded and wiped out. Yet the Chinese and Indians were not, because there is massive piles of archeological evidence that their culture has been going on for thousands of years with no drastic interruptions in history, progress, and most importantly recorded generational lineages. Either these cultures completely lied on all of their records, or else Noah’s flood wiped out the civilizations in Noah’s world, but did not affect other regions. Personally, I could go either, way, but deep down, I just want to know the truth.

 

“Also the “the day” (what “literalists” claim is a time period, not a specific creation day as you claimed) used in Genesis 2 doesn’t have the same context as the day’s used in Genesis 1 where it combines it with phrases like “then there was evening and morning” or including specific numbers. That’s how “literalists” claim the days used in Genesis 1 were literal days. The assumption that Genesis 2 was used in the same way and also referred to a 24 hr day was behind a few of your arguments.”

I agree that the context is slightly different (in fact both accounts are written with very different linguistic styles), however, not enough to invalidate the argument. The only reason the issues of context are brought forth by literalists is because their natural reading of one is not at all reconcilable with the natural reading of two. If the second account had said “in the days the Lord created” then they  would be quick to say both uses of “day” are chronologically specific. However, because it does not match up, they are quick to work out work out a reason to invalidate the second in order to take the first literally. This approach, to me, seems a bit unfair or dishonest.

Literalists are very strict about using the words literally. If “day” can be literal in the first part of the same story, and not literal in the second part, it shows a large flaw in the push to be strictly as literal as possible. Furthermore, if we were to give the second creation account to thousands of people who had never read or heard of the Biblical origins accounts, and they would read without any prejudice, we would be sure that virtually all of them would read “in the day the Lord created” to refer to one particular time period, not six separate periods. This is because that is the purest reading of the text. If the original human author really and truly meant days, it could have been very simply written as “in the days the Lord created” which would have told a different story, yet for some strange reason is does not. Yet, whether or not “day” in the second creation account means anything or nothing, the second story still shows everything as happening in one discreet “scene” whereas the first shows six creative “scenes.”

Finally, if “day” is allowed to be both literal as well as figurative, then perhaps the same logic can apply to morning and evening. All three are chronological descriptions? Yet all three words can be used to speak of non-literal time periods. The day to come. The dawn of a new era. The eve of civilization and so forth.

 

“In terms of the vegetation, you mentioned the same hebrew word was used for both, but what about the context? They had different descriptors to refer to the different plants. http://www.answersingenesis.or…”

I have definitely read the AnswersinGenesis answer. I also definitely think it avoids the issue by categorizing things into two different kinds of plants. This can be seen as follows. First, the text says that no shrub or plant of the field had been created yet; then it shows the creation of plants and fruit trees, from which people would eat. While it has been argued that the words “shrub or plant” relate to agriculture, the creation of fruit trees in that same account strongly implies this is what it refers to. If I tell a story saying “first there were no personal computers, and then I created the Macintosh” the two parts would be understood as the same in this sentence structure, even though later someone could come along and argue that a Mac is not really a PC and these are two separate categories of things that are not related in this sentence. In the first account fruit trees are made with the rest of the plants on day 3, in the second account this happens in “the day” or day 6, whichever is the preferred term.

From the biology side of things, all plant life is plant life, there are no categories except those that we make up to help us think about plants. In fact many of the current agricultural staples and crop plants, were once “wild” plants that were simply cultivated by humans, rather than being a completely separate category of plant.

 

“In addition, you did not mention the argument from “literalists” that God did not create the animals after man, but he was talking about bringing already created animals to him, as the wording suggests in pluperfect tense in the Tyndale, that predates the KJV. http://www.answersingenesis.or…”

The NIV and ESV are two of the few translations that has the addition of the pluperfect word “had” into the passage. However, a survey of some of the most literal translations (Youngs Literal, English Revised, American Standard, HCSB, KJV, and of course on of the best in my opinion, the NASB) shows the absence of “had.” This is partly a translation issue, in insofar as that, we can see that the consensus of Bible scholarship does not think the Hebrew word for “formed” really means “had formed.” My feelings is that the only reason the NIV/ESV do add it, is because that would reconcile this discrepancy, and I commend that approach but am wary of being dishonest to the text by retranslating it like that.

However, adding the word “had” to say “And out of the ground the LORD God (had) formed every beast” doesn’t adequately deal with the issue. In part this is also about the flow of logic in the story. The verse before (18) sees God saying that it is not good for Adam to be alone, and then speaking in the future tense “I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Right at the end of that line, the transition states “and God formed” the animals; there is no transition that this was in two separate creation days before. Next it simply states that they are brought are brought to Adam, and a “helper suitable for him” is not found. There is again no transition to the present, simply a statement that as a result of that first failure to find a “helper suitable for him,” God tries a second time, making Eve.

The purest logic of the story is:

(A.) He said “I will make X in the future,  (the future tense decree)

(B.) He made X but it did not work (the first attempt to carry out the decree, and a failure)

(C.) He made X and it did work (the second attempt to carry out the decree, and a success)

A natural reading says these follow that exact order: the future tense statement, the first attempt, then the second attempt. Its logically structured, as well as simply written out in that order. Saying that B is actually pluperfect “had formed” would mean that God first does B without mention, only then God says A, then mentions B from the past, and then does C. While with God anything is possible, this goes against the natural order of the narrative here. This goes against the pattern of creation, in which God first decrees and then makes (Let there be light, and there was light). This pluperfect reading would mean that God first did it, then later said “I will do it” (ie. There was light, and then God said let there be light). It also interrupts the natural progression from attempt 1 to attempt 2 and punctuates it with God’s decree to do something he is already doing.

The main point being is that while its surely possible, and we could really stretch our hermeneutics to just barely give an explanation, this is not at all a natural reading, and in my opinion its more eisegesis than exegesis.

 

“Also, if you assume there were less varieties of animals, it’s more possible to name them all in a day. It just depends on how you categorize the animals. I don’t want to get in a big debate, I just felt compelled to bring up some of these points, but it would be nice to see what you think about the flood and death before Adam.  A lot of what you said makes sense theoretically, but these more concrete pieces of evidence that seem to contradict the Bible, like the first 2 points, are what sway me to the young earth side.”

I believe I wrote in the original that this is plausible, given that God is supernatural, but seems to show a huge gap between the creation of man and woman in the second account that is not in the first account. So I repeat, sure, it’s possible. Yet one unique comment that creationists often bring up about this is the idea of “type’s” of animals. They say that there was a small amount of “types” originally created, but these types have led to the proliferation of multiple sub-species. The horse type formed everything from the donkey and pony to the mustang  This seems to be the point mentioned here. Yet the biodiversity on the earth is startling, there are estimated to be over 8.7 million different species of living things. The creationist idea that such immense biodiversity evolved via micro evolution in just a few thousand years from major categories or “types” of animals is a really hard to swallow. Especially when they deny macro-evolution exists, in light of such speedy and transformative microevolution. Honestly this would be greater evidence for the theory of evolution, than against it. If ten thousand years can produce such radical changes in our biodiversity, what will happen in 100,000 thousand years?

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