Sunday, 8 September 2013

How to avoid reading Genesis 1-2 like a fundamentalist

I've seen a number of people ask how those who accept an ancient earth and evolution read the creation narratives. I've recently answered that question, and given the perennial nature of this subject, posting it here would not go astray.

I've gone from YEC to OEC to a BioLogos / Evolutionary Creationist view of reconciling Bible and Science. The strong concordist idea that Genesis 1-2 literally describes a recent creation in six days is unsustainable for a number of reasons:

1. When read literally, the order of creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. This was noted ages ago by thoroughly conservative Reformed scholars such as Meredith Kline. [1]

2. Genesis 1 teaches that the firmament is solid, separates waters above from waters below, and has the sun, moon and stars embedded in it. [2-3] Just as God accommodated the primitive views of those who believed demon possession caused disease, he also accommodated pre-scientific views on cosmology. As OT scholar John Walton (very much a theological conservative!) said:
Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel  a  science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity.' [4]
3. The order of creation in Genesis one is not congruent with the geological record. Therefore, a strong concordist OEC view is ultimately untenable. [5]

I read Genesis in its ancient Near Eastern context, and read it as a polemic against ANE mythology, myths which threatened the orthodoxy of the ancient Hebrew faith in Yahweh. More importantly, as John Walton notes, the ancient world defined existence more in terms of function. Walton is instructive here:
"...people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system. Here I do not refer to an ordered system in scientific terms, but an ordered system in human terms, that is, in relation to society and culture. In this sort of functional ontology, the sun does not exist by virtue of its material properties, or even by its function as a burning ball of gas. Rather it exists by virtue of the role that it has in its sphere of existence, particularly in the way that it functions for humankind and human society. In theory, this way of thinking could result in something being included in the "existent" category in a material way, but still considered in the "nonexistent" category in functional terms (see the illustration of the restaurant mentioned above). In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not "exist" if it has not become functional." [6]
Once we read Genesis 1-2 with ancient eyes, and see what God was really meaning, then the evolution-creation debate wil fade into irrelevance. I find it fascinating to realie that 100 years ago, bro. CC.Walker thought in these terms:
"Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history." [7] 
Returning to the critical thinking and intelligent engagement with contemporary scholarship which characterised the early Christadelphians is something we all need to do.


1. Kline M "Because It Had Not Rained"  Westminster Theological Journal (1958) 20:146-57. 

2. Seely P.H. "The Firmament and the Waters Above. Part 1: The Meaning of raqia' in Gen 1:6-8" The Westminster Theological Journal (1991) 53:227-40 

3. Enns P "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That's Not The Point" Science and the Sacred Jan 14 2010 

4. Seely P.H. "The First Four Days of Genesis in Concordist Theory and in Biblical Context" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (1997) 49: 85-95 

5. John H. Walton. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Kindle Locations 152-154). Kindle Edition.

6. Walton, ibid  (Kindle Locations 226-232). Kindle Edition. 

7. Walker C.C. "Is it 'Wrong' to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadephian (1913) 50:348