October 19, 2017

D.A. Carson on Genesis 1-2 and Science

One of the teachers I respect most in the Church is Dr. D.A. Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Don was one of my primary NT professors when I was in seminary and he spoke at my installation service when I became pastor of a church in Waukegan, IL. One of my most satisfying moments as a student in seminary was when I received back a paper from Dr. Carson with the comment, “Thoughtful and careful” written on it. For that is how I see his approach to Scripture, the faith, and life in the church. He is Reformed and a Baptist — two things I am not — and yet I find I keep coming back to his writings because of their insight, fairness, and propensity to focus on matters that are central, not peripheral.

Recently, Don Carson wrote a fine book designed to introduce the Great Story of the Bible, called, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. In the light of this morning’s discussion on John Polkinghorne’s view of the Genesis stories as “myth,” I want to share something with you from Dr. Carson. Now, mind you, you won’t find too many people more conservative and more committed to a rigorous Reformed theology. And yet, as you read the following summary of the genre of Genesis 1-2, you will see a thoughtful and careful recognition that this inspired material is more than a literal reporting of historical events. I’m sure Carson wouldn’t like the word “myth” because of some its associations, but what he says here comes very close to my own understanding of what “myth” (or “true myth,” to use Polkinghorne’s phrase) is, when speaking of the genre of certain Biblical texts.

But that is the subject of another post. For today, I would like you to consider what Dr. D.A. Carson says about the relationship of the Bible’s early chapters to science and the issue of genre.

Genesis 1-2 and Science
From The God Who Is There, D.A. Carson

Because much of twenty-first-century culture is convinced that contemporary scientific thought is fundamentally incompatible with the opening chapters of Genesis, I had better say something about the approach I adopt here….

…There is more ambiguity in the interpretation of these chapters than some Christians recognize. Some Christians are convinced, for example, that this pair of chapters, read responsibly, insists that the world is not more than four thousand years older than the coming of Jesus. Others insist that it is entirely compatible with vast ages. In particular, some think that each “day” represents an age. Others infer that there is an enormous gap between verse 1 and verse 2 of Genesis 1.

Still others see the seven-day week of Genesis 1 as a literary device: creation week is symbol-laden and focusing on other points of interest rather than describing a literal week.

Others devote their energy to comparing these two chapters with other creation accounts in the ancient world in which the book of Genesis was written. In the Babylonian era, for example, there was a document called the Enuma Elish, which describes the creation of the world. It has been argued that the biblical account is basically shaped along the lines of those Babylonian myths.

In short, there are significant differences of opinion among Christians, let alone among those who want to write the entire account off. What shall we do with this?

I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism. Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult.

Comments

  1. Yup, that book is getting added to my collection. Anyone who admits that something in the Bible is “difficult” instead of insisting that there is a particular, obvious understanding that any half-witted moron can see, as long as said moron weren’t specifically trying to warp scripture, blah, blah, blah ….

    Well, anyone who can firmly state that (and hold to it) gets bumped up to the top of my personal opinion ladder. I enjoy Carson’s writings in general, and this is the second or third high recommendation I’ve heard for this book.

    I’ll track it down.

    • Randy Windborne says:

      Since we’re talkin’ Torah here, four simultaneous interpretations exist in typical Jewish scriptural understanding:

      Pashat: Simple – literal meaning of the passage

      Remez – Hint, or implied meaning of the scripture

      Drash – Search, the root of midrash, equivalent to a sermon or homily.

      Sod (long “o”) – Hidden or mystic meaning of the text. Sod is the most intriguing, since the concept involves direct revelation from God. In reality, however, Sod is reserved for the intellectual elite, a.k.a. the Sages.

  2. The thing is, every time God acts in history, it is full of symbolism. That’s not limited to Genesis 1 and 2. For example, the laws given the Israelites were not arbitrary rules, they provided symbolic representations foreshadowing God’s forgiveness in Christ. Heck, all of Israel’s history symbolizes and foreshadows God’s calling and forgiveness for those who repeatedly reject him, as well as baptism and communion in the many washing and rebirth through water stories, or the many miracles associated with food and nourishment, etc. This is how Christ reads the OT, it symbolizes and points towards God’s ultimate act in him.

    With regard to Genesis 1, it show the power of God’s Word: what he declares to be real and true is so, which is great comfort in trusting his declaration of our righteousness in Christ. Genesis 2 shows the unique relationship between God and man that was destroyed by man’s rejection of God’s Word in the fall. That these explain nothing about the scientific processes that occurred in conjunction with God’s acts is beside the point. Scripture never explains the scientific processes that occur during miracles. There’s no more reason to write off these events as myth than any other miracle in Scripture. Creation of Adam from dust or the 10 plagues or the creation of old wine from water or the raising of Lazarus are all equally unscientific.

    • To show the difference, Boaz: Genesis 2 portrays God making man from the ground: “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (2:7).

      A literalist would say that is exactly what happened in space-time history. God took a pile of dirt and made a human being out of it.

      One who says that is “symbolic” (I don’t like that term, but since Carson used it, I will) would take a different view. The picture is that of a potter crafting a vessel — in this case a human body — then breathing into it and thus animating that body. God is the Potter. Human beings are both “from the earth” (mortal) and related to God (filled with his breath of life). The “potter” imagery is part of the “myth,” the story. God is not a Potter, he does not have hands, he did not dig a hole in the ground and scoop the dirt out, he does not breathe and did not blow air into the man’s body.

      The “truth” of this story is in its depiction of God taking special care to create human beings. The “symbolic” elements are anthropomorphisms — descriptions of inexpressible things phrased in the language of common human experience.

      The same may be said of Genesis 1, and here I would strongly recommend John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, where he argues that the text pictures God as a King building his cosmic Temple.

      In both cases, the author is describing something that happened in history: God created the universe, God created man. However, these historical truths are presented in the literary genre of “Story” (Carson’s “symbolism,” and Polkinghorne’s “true myth”).

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        but where do we draw the line between God’s ability to speak?

        without air & lungs & vocal chords & mouth & tongue? He ‘spoke’ everything into existence? or Him ‘walking’ in the Garden that Adam & Eve heard as they hid themselves? he had legs & was rustling thru the plants while looking for them???

        God sees? hears? forms things without hands?

        don’t writers of scripture make a difference between God knowing our thoughts or the intent of heart vs. hearing our cries/prayers/pleas?

        what then is the limitation? our feeble efforts at attributing to God personality & human abilities but at a far greater scope/scale?

        because it appears God violates some of the laws of science as we understand them in the Genesis account, does that mean He either did not adhere to the sequence or order of what science has determined happened, or did He simply trump it all with His own creative prerogative as divine Creator?

        i do believe He did it all very ‘creatively’, with or without the ‘need’ for a prerequisite set of natural laws that He had to ‘create’ beforehand or limit Himself to as He went about bringing everything seen & unseen into existence. could be He fine-tuned the known physical laws after-the-fact. and when i say God did not need to abide by scientific laws/principles to build the known universe, i mean that He did not intend such divine prerogrative to become the litmus test for deciding if the plan of salvation depended upon accepting a non-scientific creation account to be literal…

        anyway…the entire subject very interesting. not in its alternative understandings of Genesis 1-3, but in how individuals prioritize it & how they shape their theology and/or faith expression around it…

  3. D.A. Carson is one who has a voice with many in the more literal history camp. So for him to say something like this may remove some walls on this issue.

    • Yes, he is part of the Gospel Coalition. One might hope his thoughtful, irenic approach would have some influence there.

      • CM do you think he will be kicked out of the Gospel Coalition? I went to a Gospel Coalition Church and that was where YEC and the pre-trib rapture reared its ugly head. The Senior Pastor at the time taught that an orthodox Christian must believe in a pre-trib rapture. For me is was distressing. I dont know why some of this divise material has to be front and center. Thoughts CM?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        One might hope his thoughtful, irenic approach would have some influence there.

        Or get him turned into a pile of rocks.

        • A sick, twisted part of me would really like to see someone try that. Crucifying Carson is like only two steps below Jesus. He’s too big: Anyone with the gall to go after him, especially to question his orthodoxy over something as trivial as this, is more likely to slit their own throat in the process. Plus, Carson’s gentle rhetoric simply doesn’t put any ammo in a fundamentalist gun.

  4. While a lot of us respect Carson’s viewpoint, you’re still gonna find a lot of literalists whose dogmatic fixation on their favorite form of interpretation is gonna make them react, “Oh so that’s what he believes? Well, then I guess I have to write him off as another compromising liberal. You can’t trust any academics. Knowledge puffs up, and all that.” For such people, “thoughtful” is just another word for “subtle.”

    Been there myself. Needed the Holy Spirit to shake me out of it. Sometimes folks don’t need an intellectual defense; they need the Spirit to open up a can of whup—- on them.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just like Conspiracy Kool-Aid.

      The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

    • The fundagelical community is not forgiving to those it sees as “compromising” the gospel. What’s even sadder is that secondary issues are trumping primary issues. What matters is that one must be missional and reformed and then you can get away with whatever one wants…

    • I’ll try one more time to get my comment past the moderator:

      K.W. Leslie wrote, ‘…you’re still gonna find a lot of literalists whose dogmatic fixation on their favorite form of interpretation is gonna make them react, “Oh so that’s what he believes? Well, then I guess I have to write him off as another compromising liberal. You can’t trust any academics. Knowledge puffs up, and all that.”’

      This is known as a “straw man,” where you have assigned an execrable attitude to a class of Christians with whom you disagree. This type of argument is universally censured as disingenuous.

      How was that?

      • Better. That kind of approach is more conducive to stimulating conversation among contrasting viewpoints.

        BTW, the moderator is not obligated to disclose why comments may be retained, edited, or deleted. As Michael once wrote: “I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog.” This is not a place for people to say anything they wish. Like life, you may not think the rules are fair or get applied consistently all the time. And you’ll be right.

        • Randy Windborne says:

          That’s the problem with THE RULES – it always comes down to someone’s interpretation and what the legal profession dubs “prosecutorial discretion.” In the end, the guy with the biggest hammer creates, interprets, and enforces THE RULES.

          In The Once and Future King (T.H. White), Merlin trained Wart to abjure from “might makes right.” Of course, in the end, the king was betrayed and killed. Might Makes Right wins in the end, it seems.

          • Not exactly, Randy. It’s more like, when you are a guest in someone else’s home, you respect the house rules and show deference to your hosts. Someone started this blog and we have worked hard at it for 12 years now. It is our home and it is not a free for all. If you would like a certain kind of freedom that you don’t find here, you are more than welcome to start your own blog and run it as you wish.

          • Randy Windborne says:

            This story was just too good not to share:

            http://virtualjerusalem.com/judaism.php?Itemid=6045

      • The “straw man” I’m quoting is myself, 20 years ago, when I had that very attitude. I don’t have to speculate about what that class of Christians think; I was one.

        You might argue, with good reason, that you don’t think that way; that you don’t know anyone that thinks that way; ergo I’m slandering all good True Believers. No; I’m referring specifically to “a lot of literalists,” to quote myself, that think that way. Not all, not most, but a lot. I had a lot of allies 20 years ago. I still know quite a few of them. I can’t talk to them because whenever I try, they perform the intellectual equivalent of covering their ears and singing, “Na na na na I can’t hear you.”

        I’m surprised you’re not familiar with the liberal version.

  5. I’ve always appreciated Carson’s intellect and care with the scriptures. His little book, “Exegetical Fallacies” is one of the most useful treatments I’ve ever read. It’s really good to see him speak out on the issue. I have no doubt that some literalists will write him off for it, but I have to hope that more than a few will find it troublesome to simply dismiss someone with his credibility and credentials. I hope and pray that it will increase peace and unity in the body of believers.

  6. I am really weary of DA Carson…. I appreciate his words above but part of me is weary due to his links to the Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition seems to be really tolerating of a number of questionable neo-reformed pastors. I’ve read a while back Carson’s critque of McLaren’s books. I’ve wonderd if Carson is going to critique Driscoll’s book on marriage. So far he’s seemed silent on a number of questionable individuals. If he has rebuked or challenged Driscoll then I’ll take that back.

    But I never heard of the Gospel Coalition until it was talked about over at the Wartburg Watch awhile back. I was shocked to realize on the Gospel Coalition website that one of the churches I attended was involved in it. It was there where doubts were treated as an anathema. It was also where YEC and the pre-trib rapture was pushed. And it was the environment where one’s pain, suffering and tragedy was viewed as a “ministry and evangelism opportunity” The height of that for me was seeing a church member on local Washington, D.C. televison talking about a bitter and painful divorce that she was a going through where the husband drowned his three children in a hotel in Baltimore’s inner harbor. He did it to get back at his wife. A sick and sad story that was difficult to read. Yet the ex-wife was on TV with the senior pastor behind her talking about how God is in control, and good, etc.. It was one of the weirder things that I saw. I remember getting an email from some members from this church asking me to “pray that God can be gloirifed in this tragedy…”

    Okay…..why do some Christians have to be so weird. But to wrap this up I have many deep concerns about the Gospel Coalition.

    • The whole thing was founded by Carson and Keller. They tend to be the antithesis of power abusing Calvinstas in other areas of the reformed world, and handle their disputes and disagreements with class and grace. However, the coalition seems to be founded on broadly reformed doctrine, so most TULIP pounders are able to get in, regardless of methodology or demeanor. I don’t think they’re about to tell Al Mohler that he can’t come in because he’s not nice enough; they seem to be more concerned about theological orientation. Perhaps this is a perennial weakness in evangelicalism.

    • Pastor Tullian (over at The Gospel Coalition) has some excellent posts.

      I have been thrown off of Kevin De Young’s blog (Gospel Coalition), for the exact same comments I make on Tullian’s blog.

  7. Just last night in my OT Theology my professor painted a beautiful picture of Genesis 1, using the Hebrew, comparing with the Enuma Elish, showing how God was doing bigger and better things than how we see it from the literalist view, ending with God establishing worship in his temple (the earth). He gave us something to be convicted by and to preach.

    Yet, one person’s literal response: “I’m sticking with the gap theory.”

  8. It always makes me chuckle to hear people compare the Genesis account to contemporary creation mythology from Babylonian culture. Every time, this is cited as proof of mythological origin to argue against divine inspiration, as if the fact that there WERE contemporary stories proves the Genesis story must therefore necessarily have been derived from them. Why on earth is it not possible that the Genesis story of the Hebrew people was actually a powerful literary force in its own day, and possibly other ancient mythology was actually influenced by it? Instead of Genesis being stolen and modified to create Judaism, maybe Judaism actually predates some other ancient religions (it has certainly outlasted them). Oh, and though there are some similarities, the differences in the different creation stories far outweigh them, but you won’t usually hear the contrast analyzed.

    • Kenny Johnson says:

      “Every time, this is cited as proof of mythological origin to argue against divine inspiration”

      Not true… plenty of conservative Christians — even Evangelicals believe that other ANE stories could have influenced Genesis, but still believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.

      “Why on earth is it not possible that the Genesis story of the Hebrew people was actually a powerful literary force in its own day, and possibly other ancient mythology was actually influenced by it? ”

      I think its possible, but the evidence seems to suggest its the other way around.

      Why would it be so damaging to our faith to believe that human authors of the Bible were aware of other ANE creation stories and used some of it their own writing to tell an even more profound truth about the one true God?

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        and then one must consider Father Abraham’s background & what he was influenced by the culture of Ur & all the myths popular, or at least known, at that time…

        Abraham had to somehow ‘fit’ these myths into the framework of a God he came to know thru personal revelation+appearings…

        and Moses was educated in all the mythological stories of the known civilizations that Egypt must have catalogued at that time. and the Egyptian religious pantheon quite intricate+complicated. Moses would have winnowed out the pagan deity references & misunderstandings to better mirror the oral history of the Hebrews that would have had some extraneous elements to them…

        Moses simplified it all emphatically with the opening statement of Gen 1:1…”In the beginning, God…”

        the oral histories of many people groups prior to Abraham & Moses most probably contained similar elements as well as some truth in the telling. not sure if there were groups at that time that insisted the story of their liking had to be understood literally, but then human nature being what it is i am sure such people existed then as now… 😉

      • I suppose it’s possible to believe Genesis was partially borrowed yet still divinely inspired, but I’ve only ever heard that position coming from secularists, in my limited reading. If evidence suggests the influence likely goes only one direction, any writing on it I’ve seen seems to always assume that without demonstrating it. It just smells fishy to me. But you’re right, it doesn’t have to be faith destroying for other ANE stories to have influenced Genesis. It just seems it might be assumed that if this is indeed the case, then Genesis is an entirely human invention, but I suppose that does not necessarily have to be true. Good food for thought!

        • While some will make the “borrowed” theme their point, others will see in Genesis a “response,” an apologetic which addresses the pagan myths with the affirmation of the true God as Creator.

          • Good point.

          • Kenny Johnson says:

            Agreed. Good point.

          • Agreed. Other creation myths from the Egyptians to the Romans have the gods or father god who then produces the other gods arising out of the primordial chaos (the Egpytian benben mound which rose out of the waters, on which or from which Atum arose; the Orphic cosmology where the Divine Egg containig Eros is formed in the womb of chaos), whereas the Genesis account has God moving outside and above the mingled, chaotic elements.

            He does not arise out of or be formed by the void, but creates and forms the heavens and the earth. He is not a primordial father god who produces and is replaced by a generation of younger gods like the Titans overthrow Uranus and are overthrown in their turn by the Olympians, or the raw material for creation, as Tiamat is slain and used by Marduk or Ymir father of giants by the sons of Bor in Norse mythology.

        • C.S. Lewis takes the view that the similarities of mythology to Christianity actually prove the truth of Christianity, not disprove it. If something is true and the way the world was made, we would expect everyone to have some kind of inkling of it, even without revelation. So Dionysian myths of resurrection are echoes of God’s nature and plan, not the literary source of another fictional story.

          • Yes, if the Genesis writers were creating a foundational mythology, you would expect them to copy their neighbours by having Yahweh be a victorious hero fighting cosmic monsters and slaying them to use as the raw material of creation.

            Instead, there is the God outside and above, creating by His own power, with no equals and no offspring and – most importantly – no enemy to be overcome. He is not a rival of Baal or Marduk or Ea, He is the One.

          • Jack Heron says:

            More than that, Martha, is that they *did* copy the stories around them – but they knew when to stop. I think that’s more telling: they knew these stories perfectly well, were quite happy to draw on them for the trappings of their own stories, but knew what point to stop drawing inspiration from them and go their own way.

            Great Flood, for example. Everyone and their mums had a story of a flood that drowned the world except for one virtuous family and a boatload of animals. But then we get this talk at the end of a Covenant, some agreement about the wrath of God no longer being poised over the ‘Floodgate’ button. Most of the other stories I’ve encountered just involve the survivors brushing themselves off and hoping they don’t have to do it again. (Admittedly, Utnapishim and his wife got immortality as a reward, but that was almost a depressing ending, since it’s stated in the Epic of Gilgamesh that they will be the only people ever to get it).

          • Martha said, “…if the Genesis writers were creating a foundational mythology, you would expect them to copy their neighbours by having Yahweh be a victorious hero fighting cosmic monsters and slaying them to use as the raw material of creation.”

            Then again, we have that odd story of the Nephilim before the flood.

        • When it comes to scripture, we Christians have a tendency to think about them as existing in a divine vacuum or in some special reality, and we tend to be troubled by considerations of outside influences and factors not mentioned in the text itself. Of course, the everyday reality of life was just as complicated and convoluted in Biblical times as it is today.
          It’s kind of like the way some artists in the middle ages got in trouble for some of their biblical works. It wasn’t that what they created actually contradicted scripture, but rather that it didn’t line up with prevailing cultural ideas about scripture.

  9. The answer to the best riddles are obvious when revealed.

    • This is certainly how I felt when I read John Walton for the first time and was introduced to a non-concordist approach: Why did I never see it like this before? It seemed so obvious in retrospect.

      • Randy Windborne says:

        I haven’t read Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One. And I won’t.

        Here’s an article John Walton wrote on the subject:
        http://biologos.org/blog/john-walton-responds-to-vern-poythress

        Instead of Mad Magazine’s Spy vrs Spy, now we have Theologian vrs Theologian.

        It’s a real shame we can’t simply ask God when we have a question and hear the answer. But of course that’s just sick. Speaking to God is prayer. God speaking to us is schizophrenia.

        • Well, I’ve never met a well-balanced person who claimed that the Almighty spoke to him/her in an external voice. Have you?

          I’ve met people who claim that they hear the Almighty with an inner voice. In those cases, I tend to look at what they were told to determine the reasonableness of it. If it was something like, kill the neighbors, I tend to view it as a sign of illness. If it was weatherstrip that window in the attic, I might marvel at the practicality of their deity, if it was the flagella of a bacteria is like the hand of the Almighty, I’m going to get a headache trying to get my mind round the analogy, etc.

          • Randy Windborne says:

            cermak wrote, “Well, I’ve never met a well-balanced person who claimed that the Almighty spoke to him/her in an external voice. Have you?”

            I suppose that depends on your definition of “well-balanced.”

        • Joseph (the original) says:

          the problem of ‘hearing God’s voice’ or claiming a Holy Spirit nudge to do a certain thing, or proclaim a supposed ‘message’ from the Throne Room, occurs when the one receiving such divinely sourced revelation now makes it their business to inform others via words+deeds…

          so instead of keeping it to themselves, they are going to make sure somebody else recognizes their Golden Imprimatur & specialness to be the revelator of God’s mind+will+correction+hidden knowledge, meaning or purpose, etc.

          they can take on the mantle of prophet, or spiritual shaman/instructor, making efforts either subtle or obvious that they better understand what it is they claim to understand & they are going to enlighten, guide, cajole, remonstrate, share, divulge and/or bless those less fortunate than they with their spiritual perspectives…

          “you pedestrians just don’t get it, do you?” “it’s as simple/clear as the nose on your face!” “this is what Jesus said/meant & you are missing the obvious!” (or “not so obvious” depending on approach).

          yes, some use these claims to bolster their supposed standing before others. yet some really believe they are ‘anointed’ to be a John the Baptist type to this present generation/faith tradition/misinformed lot. just look at the popularity of the X-treme Prophetic types & the uber-Apostolic groups all clamoring for the pinnacle of God’s Holy Mountain so their message gets the best airplay with God’s seal-of-approval…

          yeah, i hear that ‘still, small voice’ everday, but it has nothing to do with the perceived log in other’s eyes…it has everything to do with am i being responsible to live out the level of faith i already know how to do…

        • Randy,
          I read the link you suggested and I’m honestly confused about what point you are trying to make. Certainly in any discussion of controversial ideas there is going to be some give and take between people with divergent views; why would we expect theology to be any different? A good dose of humility, civility, and charity seems commendable. At the same time, reviewing the ideas of others requires a commitment to representing their perspective as accurately as possible, as a matter of intellectual integrity. If a person feels that their ideas have been misrepresented (for what ever reason, intentional or no) shouldn’t they have the opportunity to set the record straight? Are you suggesting somehow that there is something absurd in the perfectly normal everyday experience of reading an author respond to a book review? And what does this have to do with prayer? And what riddle are you seeing here that has an obvious answer?

        • “Instead of Mad Magazine’s Spy vrs Spy, now we have Theologian vrs Theologian.”

          Awesome. I can see it now. How funny!

  10. The Genesis creation story suffers under the burden of too many absurd expectations.
    Heck, it’s a children’s poem written in such a way that Hebrew children living in the Bronze Age could easily understand it without any lengthy explanations or definitions for unfamiliar terms. And as one of the purposes of the poem was to teach Hebrew children to count to seven, it’s absurd to expect it to include the really big numbers involved in geologic time-frames. And there would be no reason for it to mention any extinct lifeforms, such as dinosaurs, that were not part of their everyday world.
    If the creation story was inspired by God (and I believe that it was) then I suspect His chief objective was to give the people living at that time an account of how their world and mankind came into being in a form that could be easily grasped, remembered, and passed on to future generations — an account that goes to the deeper truth of creation without burdening ancient readers or hearers with any concepts or information they couldn’t easily wrap their minds around.
    It’s only in our pride — and an unhealthy desire to either prove or disprove God according to human standards — that we treat the creation story as if the modern scientific or theological communities were His target audience.

    • First, I strenuously disagree that you are in any sense a humanslug, my brother.

      Second, I agree that the Genesis creation story has several layers of truth embedded, as does much of scripture. However, I see no obvious reason to discount the possibility that creation occurred literally as written.

      In space-time physics a paradox is a situation that seems contradictory but which is in fact true. In other words, “Nothing is as it seems, but everything is precisely as it appears.”

      • I don’t discount the possibility of a literal, seven day, God-spoke-it-so-poof-there-it-is creation. He did it like He did it, and none of us really have any say in the matter.
        But, as I see it, what the Bible has to say and what current secular science has to say regarding how our world came into being are a whole lot more compatible and reconcilable than most people tend to think — that is if we allow the Genesis creation poem to be what it is (a poem) and not an ancient science report.
        And I think we can maintain a belief in the truth and faithfulness of scripture and still cut both God’s Word and our own understanding of it some slack — rather than holding every chapter, verse, and preferred interpretation up to a long list of very human and very fallible criteria regarding what constitutes historical accuracy and inerrancy.
        I suspect what God intended for scripture to be and do and what we expect and want are often very different.

  11. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think one of our challenges as a Church is going to be reconciling a more “poetic”, “literary”, or “layered” view of Genesis 1-2 while still preserving a more “literal” view of Genesis 3. As many people (even on this site) have pointed out, the text in the first two chapters can very strongly argue for an interpretation that isn’t literal. On the other hand, the remainder of Scripture (especially Paul’s letters) does seem pretty insistent on a historical Adam and Eve. It’s going to be very difficult to consider the former while standing firm on the latter. I think one of our great temptations, even as we come to a new (and hopefully better) understanding of Genesis, is going to be the temptation to compromise on other, more fundamental doctrines; i.e, original sin, physical death as part of God’s curse, etc. We have to get to a place where we can let secondary points like the exact method of creation be secondary points, while still letting primary points (anything that leads us to Christ, His work, and our need of it) remain primary points.

  12. But literalists are not consistent, and they can’t be. The fourth day of creation describes sun, moon, and other celestial bodies being created and set in motion around the earth. Literally, this is a depiction of ptolomaic astronomy – with earth as the center of the universe and celestial bodies rotating around (or above) it. The YEC folks say, no, no, no; the sun and planets were already there and the earth was already in orbit around the sun, but then a shroud was lifted on the fourth day to reveal that they were already there. They have to read additional details into the text to make it become “literal”. Therefore, the text is not literal, but the interpretive abstraction layer they place on the text becomes “literal”. If the text must be treated as literal, then we are forced to challenge the studies of Keplar and Galileo as just more scientific “lies”.

    I think this explains why theologians have warned that turning the focus of scripture into defending its historical accuracy robs it of the meaning and power of the message it conveys. Rather than interpretation serving to reveal the message that scripture has for us, it is used to defend and rationalize its legitimacy next to or above science, which is not the reason it was written and therefore is an abuse of the text. This is not the way to treat a scripture as “sacred”.

    • In the same way, turning days into epochs is also not good interpretation. Read the text as-is and listen for what it is telling us, rather than trying to be its mouthpiece.

  13. I suspect that Carson’s words will gain little traction for one important reason. Those who insist on a literal interpretation of these verses have already smuggled modernist epistemology into their paradigm. The syllogism goes something like this:
    1) To be true a thing must be empirical/rational.
    2) God’s word is always true.
    3) QED, the events in these chapters are empirical/rational (i.e. literal).

    Now, the difficulties of anthropomorphisms notwithstanding, most Christians who believe in a necessarily “literal” interpretation will never be shaken, because (through lack of reflection or just plain old bad thinking) the epistemology of modernism is central to their worldview. It was actually Carson – ironically enough – who pointed this out, commenting wryly that conservatives and liberals seem to agree on this presupposition.