Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Genesis 1 Fact or Allegory?
I've been reading The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief and I started my reading through the Bible as a New Year's resolution, I'm on page 197, fairly near the end and I like the book in general, but I have a few reservations.
Let's look at the text. Yes, it uses (Strong's Dictionary # h3117) the Hebrew word "יוֹם" [yom] for the word 'day,' which could also be translated as 'age' 'period,' etc. To be honest, after rereading it (again) and considering that the sun/moon/stars weren't created until day four, which begs the question how long is a day if there isn't any sun/moon, I'm more comfortable with a less literal understanding of the first chapter and that it might not have been exactly a twenty-four hour day as we understand days. However, given that plant life was made on day three before the sun, it's obvious God was providing some kind of light source for plants. IF we assume some allegorical reading of the text, why would he (Moses) write it completely out of order? The point was to record how God showed him the creation of the universe, it'd be important to at least get logical organization correct. That lends to a more literal reading of that particular part.
Then on to chapter 2, is this also allegorical? If it is then there's no reason to have grace, law, forgiveness even the basic foundational idea of sin is described in Genesis 2. So, what Bible do you believe? Jesus quoted from Genesis 2 many other New Testament writers referenced Genesis, including these first few chapters. If they treat this as fact why would we assume otherwise? One of Collins' points to say this is allegorical comes from chapter 2 verse 5 "Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground." (NASB) He says that the fact that chapter 2 seems to regress when chapter 1 has already told us that plants were created, indicates that this is an allegorical story to illustrate God's creative work through evolution. The problem with that idea is that it's not looking deep enough into the text. It's not saying there were no plants, it's saying there was no agriculture, that no man had yet plowed or planted a field. The word field is taken from Hebrew, (Str. Dic. # h7704) "שָׂדֶה" [sadeh] translated as: 'field, land, agricultural etc.'
One other major point this reading of Genesis 1, 2 misses completely, is that one of the ways to determine if a text is allegorical or not is the use of proper names. Look at Jesus' teaching using parables, most of them have no names. However, in the story of Lazarus, He specifically uses his name, and of course it's true, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Genesis 2, proper names: Gihon, Cush, Tigris, Assyria, Euphrates, Eden, and of course Adam and Eve. Why/how could Moses write with such specific detail using names that still are used to refer to these places and expect it to be taken any other way but literal?
First of all he started with several references from C.S. Lewis, my favorite apologist. So, right away I really liked what he had to say and pretty much agreed with everything in the first couple chapters. Then he went into a deep (deeper than my understanding) analysis of genetic coding and how genetics has very strong evidence for Darwinian evolution. It was interesting to me that he brought up my primary counter to this evidence. The way my roommate and best friend put it when he and I were discussing it was well put, the evidence wasn't for a common ancestor but rather a common Creator. The way he puts it in the book is something like, (Young Earth or literal interpretation) creationist/scientists say the reason we have so much in common genetically with other mammals is God reused similar methods to make multiple creatures. Collins' response to that was that IF God literally created the earth in seven (six not counting the rest day) days then he must have been trying to trick us or play games with scientific study, because in genetics, life obviously resulted from evolution.
After the first couple chapters of offering evidence and logical proofs for God (using Lewis and others' arguments), and setting up how genetics offers strong evidence for evolution, he starts tearing apart other beliefs concerning creation; first, he tears apart atheism (some more) and shows how it's science trumping faith, then Creationism, how it's faith trumping science, then Intelligent Design, when science needs divine help. The last chapter in this section, which I haven't read yet is BioLogos, faith and science in harmony. In the chapter about Creationism he brushes aside all the typical objections, microevolution not macroevolution (which he dismisses as a fallacy, that there's no actual difference between micro/macroevolution), he denies that the flood could cause the stratification and fossilization of animals as we find today, and the lack of "missing links." He claims that several so called "missing links" have been discovered in fossil records in the "past few years."
My disagreements... I'm not going to try to challenge Collins' knowledge of genetics, that'd be stupid, he's a world-class genetic researcher in charge of the Human Genome Project, of course I can't compete with his knowledge. Most of my objections are from my study of the scriptures. First off, on Genesis being an allegorical story about evolution and how Moses perceived evolution and wrote about the different stages and types of evolution. This doesn't fit with the text at all. One of the methods of Bible study I've learned about over the years starts out with figuring out if a text is allegorical (parables), factual (genealogies), predictive (prophesies), or some combination thereof.
Last but not least, no matter how one reads Genesis 1, 2, it's obvious that mankind is special. Genesis 1 mentions that mankind is made on day 6, but then Genesis 2 goes into specific details about how and why man and woman were different than all the other animals. IF mankind is just a higher evolutionary level of chimp or other primate, why would God, through Moses, put so much effort into detailing our creation and offering us a chance to disobey and then offering grace and salvation when we fail? We're just higher on the evolutionary chain so there's nothing special about mankind, but God seems to think so, he makes Adam special and separate, and Eve even more so. She's the only created being that comes from another created being. Also, chapter 3 gives specific details on the fall and first sin, this doesn't fit with the idea that Mankind had been around for hundreds maybe thousands of years evolving before this very specific story takes place.
I know I already said "last," but I actually have a couple other things to say about this... Genesis is an extremely important foundation on which the rest of the Bible is built upon, if we can't trust these accounts of creation, then we cannot trust the rest of the Bible. One who says so, is deceiving his or herself. Sorry for the non sequitur but Job mentions Leviathan, and it's described as only a dinosaur could be described, how does that fit with an evolution theory/Genesis interpretation? It seems that Collins is putting his faith in his own understanding rather than God's power. Do I understand how Genesis fits with scientific observation and testing? No. Do I think I, or anyone else, ever will? Probably not. Do I trust that God meant it to be written as it is and understood as a mostly literal description of His power in creating the whole universe ex nihilo? Yes. If God can do that, he could easily make things appear old or with characteristics that appear consistent with evolutionary theory, that doesn't mean He used the evolutionary process to create life.