Monday, May 7, 2012

SOME THOUGHTS ON CREATION

In a recent e-mail, a reader named Chris asked the following question and made some interesting observations:
“Do you think it's possible for a Christian to view Genesis more as metaphor than fact?  Just as the Bible was written in a different language(s), the words and understanding were entirely different.  Imagine for argument that the current science is correct, Genesis could read, ‘In the beginning there was a singularity of infinite density.  It was touched by the hand of God and exploded into a multidimensional space time continuum...’
 That would have made absolutely no sense 1,000 years ago.”

My response was:

“(or 3,500 years ago when Genesis was written.)  Interesting insight.   I agree.  See:  A CHRISTMAS THOUGHT.  I plan on writing more on this in the near future.”

So here I am.  I have many thoughts on this matter; many are a bit scattered, so this is an opportunity for me to assemble them.  Pardon me if I seem to ramble.

First of all, a few thoughts on the Creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis.  There are, I believe, actually three accounts in these chapters:
·        Genesis 1:1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  This sums up all of creation.
·        Genesis 1:2-2:3.  The six days of creation and the day of rest.  This account basically describes the same creation as 1:1, but views the creation in greater detail and describes it from the perspective of the earth.  Even the heavenly bodies are described as they would be observed from the earth.
·        Genesis 2:4-25:  “…the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, on the day the LORD God made earth and heavens.”  This account is concerned with the creation of man.  All of the rest of creation is seen from the human perspective.  In the previous two accounts, God is referred to by His “generic” name, Elohim; in this account, His personal, covenant name Yahweh is used and paired with Elohim, “The LORD God.”

There have been many attempts at somehow reconciling the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 with current scientific views.  More than we could count.  Though some are pretty far-fetched, I believe that for the most part these are sincere efforts.  If we believe that all truth is God’s truth, then there should be no contradiction between God’s truth as revealed in Scripture and God’s truth as revealed in nature (i.e., scientific truth).

We should, however, beware of two extremes:  first granting too much authority to our own personal “biblical’ interpretations; and, second, granting too much authority to current scientific views.  Both are subject to change.

For instance, it wasn’t too long ago (within my lifetime) that the “Big Bang” model for the origins of the universe was considered something akin to heresy for many in the scientific community.  The “Steady State” was the accepted doctrine of most.  (Scientists are as conservative and dogmatic as theologians.  It takes a lot of evidence to convince them to revise their beliefs.)

In fact, as the “Big Bang” was gaining ascendancy in the scientific community, Pope Pius XII jumped on the bandwagon on November 22, 1951 with an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences entitled:  “The Proofs for the Existence of God in the Light of Modern Natural Science,” in which he endorsed the Big Bang model.

According to Simon Singh in his book, Big Bang; The Origin of the Universe “…the Papal endorsement…became an embarrassment for the Big Bang proponents, … the British physicist William Bonner, for example, suggested that the Big Bang theory was part of a conspiracy aimed at shoring up Christianity…” (pages 360, 361).

I’ll not spend much time discussing the various views of biblical apologists in which they attempt to reconcile a literal six day creation with scientific views.  Except for one matter that I find ironic – that many 6-day Creationists anathematize the Big Bang theory, which itself was originally anathematized by scientists as being too “Creationist.”

So back to your suggestion:

I agree that, accepting the Big Bang as valid, there would have been no way to explain this to a pre-scientific person.  The Bible is not a scientific textbook and was not intended to be.  It’s a revelation of the Person and work of God and has been accepted as such for over 3,000 years.  The six day creation account was adequate for its readers for most of that period.  And I believe it’s adequate for 21st century readers – not to satisfy us with the details of creation but to give us a satisfactory picture of the Creator.

As far as interpreting the Genesis account ”more as a metaphor than fact,” this makes sense as long as we recognize that a metaphor is not meant to contradict fact, but to explain fact.  So I’d rephrase the question something like:  “Is it possible to understand the Genesis account as a metaphor explaining the fact of creation?”  I’d say that the answer is Yes.

The Bible, like most literature, is full of figures of speech:  similes, metaphors, hyperboles, etc.  One of the important aspects of interpretation is to recognize these and distinguish them from simple statements of fact.  The various creation accounts present us with some of these problem areas.

There are other creation accounts in the Bible besides those in the first two chapters of Genesis, which if taken literally (or literalistically) would seem to contradict the Genesis account as well as science.  In fact, Genesis 2:4 speaks of “…the day the LORD God made earth and heaven,” while chapter 1 speaks of six days of creation.

One of my favorites is Job 38:4-7, where, in some of His most cutting sarcasm, the LORD tears into Job:
            “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
            Tell me if you have understanding!
            Who set its dimensions?  Because you know!
            Or who measured it with a line?
            On what were its bases sunk?
            Or who set its cornerstone,
            When the morning stars sang together,
            And all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

Here the LORD pictures the creation of the earth as though it were a building.  In fact, some of the language is reminiscent of the passages on the construction of the Temple.

There are many more:  Job 26:7; Psalm 104:5-9; Proverbs 8:29, Isaiah 51:13; Zachariah 12:1.

We accept these accounts as metaphors because they are found in poetic sections of the Bible, as well as the fact that we know that the LORD didn’t construct the earth as an architect constructs a building.  In these cases, we who believe the Bible accept the findings of science as true and the words of the Bible as metaphorical.

So why can we not do the same with Genesis 1 and 2?  To do so would not be to deny that “God created the heavens and the earth.”  It would simply be to accept the details of the creation presented in Genesis as metaphors for the basic truths of God’s creation.

Though I lean strongly toward this explanation, I hesitate to dogmatize.  Whatever our views of the origins of the universe as described in Genesis, all of us have to admit that we weren’t there at the time, nor was any other human being.  There was only one Eyewitness who was present at creation.

See:
            OUR COUSIN, THE FISHAPOD?
            A CHRISTMAS THOUGHT
            JOB, GODAND SUFFERING, 7

17 comments:

Canadian Atheist said...

It's an interesting question by Chris. I actually just posted my own God hypothesis using a scientific viewpoint. I invite you, Chris and anyone else who wants to read it over for a look-see.

I think we have to face the fact, Chris, that the Bible was written at a time where the most learned of men knew less than our average high schooler. Many, many religions have a creation myth that try to explain our origins. Christians are coming to the realization that their creation myth is as flawed and myth laden as the rest of them and so they try to say it's a metaphor instead of the literal truth. The early church taught it as literal truth but now they want to change the goal posts to keep their belief intact.

Bill Ball said...

CA; Interesting comments. I just read your post about the "multiverse hypothesis."
Hmmm! Hypothesis? Myth? Can you imagine a day when it might be said "learned men in the 21st century knew less than our average high schooler and invented myths like the multiverse to explain our origins"?

Canadian Atheist said...

Could well be, Bill. The difference is that I don't profess to know anything. I just thought it was an interesting thought. :)

John Kulp said...

I agree with Chris, but it will take a bit to get there.

First, science has nothing to do with truth. Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan has a reasonably good simple definition of science. "Scientists build models; they construct abstractions from observed phenomena (i.e., data). Mathematics is typically the language in which those models are expressed".

These models are dynamic and changing. A real scientist is ready to abandon older models in a heartbeat based on new observations. The models have only relative validity; and that validity is determined by how accurately the model approximates future events.

As a scientist, having some expertise in computer modeling of "scientific laws", I have come to understand that none of the scientific "laws" I learned in college wrere truely "laws". Each has been modified or abandoned with time, and that dynamic pursuit will always continue.

The core issue in Genesis is communication, not science or "truth". All communication must be presented in terms understood by the listener to have any value. Speakers today speak in terms of 2012 scientific understanding. Our pastor talks about the "DNA" of our church. A future reader might view that as silly, but here and now it is an appropriate reasonable communication of a concept.

I think God, through Moses, did exactly the same thing. He condensed a descrption of His creation of the universe into a page and a half which could be understood by people living in 1400BC.

To try to expand that page and a half and build it into a rigid static view of science is probably silly. To guess at the actual events described in that way in that description, and call them myths (untrue), is even more silly.

I believe that Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, created the Universe and the world we live in. I believe that He stepped into that creation to create a path to eternal life and a relationship with Him by simply believing Him to be who He claimed to be. I believe these things to be truth, by faith.

I don't expect to understand how He accomplished the task of creation of the universe until I sit at his feet in heaven.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks John.

Canadian Atheist said...

First, science has nothing to do with truth. Elliot Soloway of the University of Michigan has a reasonably good simple definition of science. "Scientists build models; they construct abstractions from observed phenomena (i.e., data). Mathematics is typically the language in which those models are expressed".----> I invite you to move out of your house, grow your own food, stop writing or communicating on the Internet, never see a doctor and live in a cave because science has provided you with all of your modern amenities. It's the search for the truth. Instead of using the fruits of science (and it's untruthfulness that can be subbed in with religious beliefs which are obviously more truth based) just pray for everything and hope it comes to you. But remember, sometimes God says no.

These models are dynamic and changing. A real scientist is ready to abandon older models in a heartbeat based on new observations.---> That is its strength. It isn't built on a rigid, unchanging dogma. It doesn't pretend to know things it obviously does not unlike religion. If they are wrong, they admit it and revise or throw out a theory. This is something you are obviously unwilling to do because you cling to faith even when the evidence points the other way.

I think God, through Moses, did exactly the same thing. He condensed a descrption of His creation of the universe into a page and a half which could be understood by people living in 1400BC---> Yes, God told them to write nonsense so that people then could understand the nonsense. Kind of like the ancient Chinese creation myth that said we were born from an egg.

I believe that He stepped into that creation to create a path to eternal life and a relationship with Him by simply believing Him to be who He claimed to be. I believe these things to be truth, by faith.---> You might as well say you're happy with being intellectually lazy.

Bill Ball said...

This is getting interesting guys. :^)

Uni said...

I must say, this is beginning to make me chuckle! ;~)

John Kulp said...

Response to Canadian Athiest.

Before retiring I was a scientist participating at the forefront of the advances in technology you mentioned. I hold patents for concepts to build transistors smaller than the wavelength of light. The circuit density that enabled became the foundation for the rapid advance of computer and internet technology.

None of it, nothing in science and technology is as important as relationship. The only real joy in life is in relationship. Relationship with my wife, my family, my friends, and for me a relationship with the creator of the universe.

My path to faith began as an agnostic. I read deeply on every religion I could find. In my conclusion, none came nearly as close to satisfying my scientific mind as Christianity. Still, I could not take the step of faith to believe it. The evidence was not sufficient. I simply prayed the agnostics prayer. "God, if you are out there, please reveal yourself to me". This was not intellectual laziness. For me it was a scary difficult opening of myself to a pursuit of real truth.

He did reveal himself to me. He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.

Anonymous said...

Interesting insights and discussion by all. One of the arguments I have heard for accepting the Genesis account exactly as written is that if we don't believe chapter 1, then how can we believe any other chapters? As an engineer, I rely on science to do my job. When I read things that appear to directly contradict science, I throw up suspicion everywhere. While I leave open the possibility of a talking snake, I really don't believe in it.

For me, the issues surrounding the origin of the universe are mainly a form of mild intellectual curiosity to be pondered on my long runs. Whether all was created in 6 days, or created through a big bang followed by evolution really doesn't make a whole lot of difference. I would rather see all these great minds focused on more pressing issues.

Chris

Canadian Atheist said...

None of it, nothing in science and technology is as important as relationship. The only real joy in life is in relationship. Relationship with my wife, my family, my friends, and for me a relationship with the creator of the universe.---> I'm with you. Nothing in science matches the love for my family either.

Still, I could not take the step of faith to believe it. The evidence was not sufficient. I simply prayed the agnostics prayer.----> Was this after you retired? If you don't mind me asking, how old were you when this happened?

He did reveal himself to me. He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.----> Now you went and did it! LOL. You made me curious. How did this revealing take place?

Canadian Atheist said...

And one other thing, John - if you studied all of these religions, did you ever run across Mithra?

Mithra was an ancient Persian God that pre-dates Jesus. They are remarkably alike.

-Mithra was born Dec 25 in a manger or maybe a cave.

-He was said to be Good and the light of the world

-He was a traveling teacher

-He had 12 disciples

-He was called 'the good shepherd'

-ceremonies contained a baptism to remove sins, consecrated wine and sacred bread

-He was buried in a tomb and after three days he rose again. His resurrection was celebrated every year.

-Because he was a sun God, his sacred day was Sunday

-"I am a star which goes with thee and shines out of the depths." - Mithraic saying

"I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star." - Jesus, (Rev. 22:16)

Coincidence? Hmmmm...maybe your scientific mind will look into it and realize that Christianity is built on older myths and Jesus is built on Mithras. Perhaps your old skepticism will resurface.

There isn't anything unique or special about Christianity. They are old ideas recycled. It's comforting to believe in them but any honest search will find that they are myths.

I'm also interested in knowing how a talking snake, 6 day creation, angels, demons, Noah's ark and all the other nonsense (sorry religious readers) can possibly best fit your scientific mind over something like Jainism or Buddhism.

With all due respect, I very much doubt it.

John Kulp said...

Response to Canadian Athiest.

Billions of people on this earth have come to a faith belief in Jesus Christ, and each has their own story. Mine is only one of many.

President Obama was an atheist, the son of atheist parents. He says that he came to believe in Jesus because of what he saw as a community organizer in South Chicago. He says he saw something distinctly different in the Christians in that community. They showed love, they were the first to join community projects to help the poor and build others up. He says that what he saw in them was how God revealed Himself to him.

Dr. Hugh Ross was a (Canadian) atheist cosmologist. What he saw in the universe drove him to consider the possibility of a creator. As with me, he investigated the religions of the world and saw Christianity stand out as the most compatible with his scientific knowledge. After becoming a Christian, he has formed a group focused on the correlation of science with Christian faith, and he frequently debates atheists on college campuses. He is an old earth creationist. He believes that the Hebrew word “yowm” which is translated “day” in the Genesis creation account is most likely a reference to a longer period of time, or an “age” because the same word is clearly used in the second way on the following page in Genesis 2:4. He sees the creation days (yowm) of Genesis 1 as ages of creation. What Dr. Ross saw in the cosmos is how God revealed himself to him.

Bill's story is very well articulated in his previous post.

You asked to hear my story, so here it is. I was in college in the 1960’s, having prayed the agnostics prayer for about a year. One night I couldn’t sleep. I got up and went for a run in the silence of a warm Spring night. At the point where I would have normally headed back to my dorm, I couldn’t stop running. I kept running compulsively toward a small town a few miles away. As I ran through the town park along a stream I yelled “why can’t I stop running?”. In response, the voice of God audible in my head, answered back “why can’t you stop running away from me?”. At that voice I fell to my knees alone in that park in the middle of the night and began a relationship with Him which has been at the core of who I am for almost 50 years.

Bill Ball said...

CA, I don't know where you found all your "facts" about Mithra, but you are sure being dogmatic concerning matters that scholars debate about.

As far as I can determine, Mithra was as you say, an ancient Persian deity. There is a vast and often contradictory mythology concerning him. Mithraism along with other mystery religions made its way into Rome sometime arund the 1st century. These mystery religions were extremely eclectic and borrowed their claims from one another.

Though I don't know the source of the claims you make concerning beliefs about Mithra, it is more likely that these beliefs were borrowed from Christianity than vise-versa.

Much of the data on Mithra is found in 2nd to 4th century documents. It's interesting to me that you accept these as accurate reporting but refuse to accept the 1st century origins of the New Testament. But of course, you have made a faith commitment.

Canadian Atheist said...

Though I don't know the source of the claims you make concerning beliefs about Mithra, it is more likely that these beliefs were borrowed from Christianity than vise-versa.--->Books. Lots can be found on the Internet about him as well.

Much of the data on Mithra is found in 2nd to 4th century documents. It's interesting to me that you accept these as accurate reporting but refuse to accept the 1st century origins of the New Testament. But of course, you have made a faith commitment.--->Mithra predates Christianity by 600 years, Bill. You make me laugh with the 'faith claim'. I'm always amazed when people of faith say something along those lines because it just isn't true. It takes no faith not to believe in stories made up by people living thousands of years ago. It's merely a lack of belief. Sort of like you lack belief in Zeus or Apollo or Mithra.

Mithraism along with other mystery religions made its way into Rome sometime arund the 1st century. These mystery religions were extremely eclectic and borrowed their claims from one another.--->That's exactly my point. Religions borrow ideas from other religions. Christianity is no different and borrows heavily from older religions. Mormonism is a very good example of how this happens and how easily people are duped into believing ridiculous claims. We can see firsthand how that happened yet still...people believe. It's also the fastest growing Christian sect.

In response, the voice of God audible in my head, answered back “why can’t you stop running away from me?”. At that voice I fell to my knees alone in that park in the middle of the night and began a relationship with Him which has been at the core of who I am for almost 50 years.--->That's an extremely interesting story, John. Thanks for sharing.

Canadian Atheist said...

He says he saw something distinctly different in the Christians in that community. They showed love, they were the first to join community projects to help the poor and build others up. He says that what he saw in them was how God revealed Himself to him.--->Like the love they showed same-sex couples in North Carolina? Interestingly enough, a study showed that atheists and agnostics can be more compassionate than their religious brethren.

“This research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” study co-author and social psychologist Robb Willer said in a statement."

http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-05-04/news/31560611_1_religious-people-atheists-show-generosity

Sherry said...

John, thanks for sharing your personal story. I often hear from athiests that we only believe because we're indoctrinated as if there isn't a single case of someone coming to a religion from another religion or none at all ~ you are evidence that this is not the case. As is my husband. And my father. Not a dummy in the group either.

Dad, like you I came to the conclusion that Genesis 1&2 is a way of explaining God as creator to a pre-scientific community. When I read Genesis 1, it looks an awful lot like a poem to me. Like 1 Corintians 13. Just because someone usually writes prose doesn't mean they can't write a beautiful poem once in awhile.