Saturday, January 29, 2005

Questions about Creation

For some years, I've had some misgivings about Genesis literalism. These don't stem from some closeted belief in Darwinism, but from a respect for the catholicity of the Christian faith among not only contemporary Christian movements, but the entire Christian tradition through history.

In response to religious liberalism, conservatism has tended to grow rigid. Many of the sensitive people have been pulled away from classical Christianity by the seeming appeal of non-specific religion, leaving behind many of the curmudgeons to defend the faith. It's good that these people are ready to fight for the faith. It's also bad.

It's come to the point where some Christians regard literal Genesis interpretation as the essense of the faith. I've seen churches split over this. It wasn't always like this. Church history exhibits a rather broad variety of creation concepts. Augustine believed in a generally instantaneous creation. This view was largely rejected by the Reformers, but I have a hard time viewing it as heretical.

My own view is that Genesis 1-3 does not provide a cookbook description of how God created the universe. I think it a bit importune to inquire of the details of exactly how God accomplished creation. After all, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4a) Rather, I see it as an epic poem depicting God as not maker of only one part of the world, but of every part of it. In contrast to localized pagan gods of ancient times, the Judeo-Christian God is universal.

Genesis appears to contain two creation accounts, with the second one beginning in 2:4. The first account is the familiar "six days" account, the second account is less structural and more concrete.

The six days of creation seem to me to be topical, rather than chronological. There are two groups of three days, each of the three days corresponding to a domain of the world: the sky, the sea, and the earth. The first group of three days pertains to those things which are static (eternal light, sea, fixed land), the second group of three days describes things that move or change (day/night cycles, fish, animals). This interpretation seems within the conceptual framework of a primitive people, and also contains beautiful literary symmetry.

Calvin argues that God actually created the world in this categorical fashion as a lesson to man, but I see a parallel with other metaphors concerning the earth that no one interprets literally. (Ps. 75:3 "When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.")

Literalism seems to work against plain meaning in Gen. 1:6-8, where some fundamentalists form fanciful speculations about what the "waters above the firmament" might be. Some have gone as far as to suggest a massive "water canopy" above the earth is implied here, which conveniently supplies the water for Noah's flood. It seems much simpler to suggest that the expanse of "sky" merely separates the sea ("waters below") from the clouds ("waters above"). The stratification of cloud layers caused by wind currents aloft gives the impression of a "firmanent."

The second creation account is introduced by the words, "This is the account of..." which is typically employed in Genesis at the beginning of narratives quoted from other sources. It describes the "day" (singular) of the creation of the earth and the heavens, which does not correspond to any single day of the six from the first account (and seems to negate the claim of some that the Hebrew "yom" always means 24 hours). Further, the second account begins by saying no plants yet had grown, effectively back-tracking over the activity of Day Six from the first account. Some try to "harmonize" the two accounts and claim the second follows the first sequentially, but I don't think that follows from letting the text speak for itself.

So, this makes me wonder, am I that far outside the conservative mainstream? Are my views "heretical"?

Some evolutionists try to reconcile Darwinism to Genesis by claiming Genesis as a broad "metaphor" for the beginning of Earth. This is clearly not tenable. Metaphors are validated through their resemblance of their antecedents. The Genesis account, with its speaking/thinking deity, does not in any sense resemble the unguided incrementalism of natural forces operating blindly over vast stretches of time. Thinking of Genesis 1 as "six categories" of creation does not open the narrative up to an infinite variety of "interpretations."

I wonder if my views would be less threatening to some if theistic evolutionists weren't abusing so badly the concept of metaphor.


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