Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Search the Scriptures

After my post on the rete and dogma-driven science, a reader wrote,
... when you say you are "reexamining your interpretations" of Genesis, what do you mean? You can't mean that you are looking at Genesis chapter 1? I thought as young earthers you believe "God said it, I believe it, that settles it"!
Yes, when God speaks, that most assuredly settles it, but I am not so naive or arrogant to assert that I always have a perfect understanding of what God said. I believe it's crucially important to constantly evaluate assumptions, which is why I do not accept the "strategy" of hiding creationist assumptions or beliefs under the pretense of doing science. Assumptions need to come out in the open where they can be scrutinized, and those that are wrong must be discarded. For example, my position on min (according to its "kind" in Genesis 1) has changed significantly over the years. So my willingness to examine everything does - and must - apply to Genesis 1.

Having said that, I also do not believe in skepticism for skepticism's sake. If the Bible speaks plainly (as in Genesis), then that is definitely what I believe. Just because Genesis contains obscure words (like min) or weird stories (like the Nephilim) does not mean I just throw up my hands in despair of understanding any of it. Much of Genesis is comprehensible to just about anyone, and as much as I can understand, I ought to believe.

My self-critical philosophy manifests as a willingness to examine alternative interpretations. It would be terrible to smugly refuse to even listen to other ideas, especially those coming from fellow Christians. For example, I've looked at Sailhamer's Genesis Unbound and Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One. I've gained important insights from both. Sailhamer reminds us to think of the primordial history of Genesis in a Jewish context, not as a separate passage divorced from the rest of the Pentateuch. Walton's study of bara is worthy of consideration, and his ideas about the cosmic temple are intriguing.

Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that Walton's or Sailhamer's ideas negate a biblical belief in a young cosmos/earth, if for no other reason than this weird obsession with Genesis 1. I'll be blunt: If Genesis 1 was not part of Genesis at all, I would still be something very similar to a young-age creationist. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 would still imply a young age of human beings, and the account of the creation of the Garden of Eden would imply a recent origin of at least some land animals and all birds. Special creation of humans, land animals, and birds would be inconsistent with acceptance of universal common descent, which in turn would call into question the fossil record, which seems to show a much more ancient origin of birds. I think one could even make a case for no death before the Fall, but it would be weakened without the herbivory statements of Gen. 1:29-30. No death before human sin would then require a reinterpretation of most of the fossil record. Also adding to a need to reinterpret the fossil record is the global nature of the Flood. I don't know that I'd have to accept a young cosmos without Genesis 1, but I think I'd still reject universal common descent and an ancient interpretation of the fossil record.

Now please, please, please don't consider this an invitation to send me information on your favorite non-creationist interpretation of Genesis. Seems like I get emails at least once a month asking me if I've considered day-age or local flood or blah blah blah. I'll just tell you now: OF COURSE I'VE HEARD OF THESE INTERPRETATIONS, I'VE CAREFULLY CONSIDERED THEM, AND I'VE REJECTED THEM! I would be a sorry excuse for a creationist research director if I was unaware of these alternatives. If you've got something truly new (like Walton's book), then I'm happy to be made aware of it. Otherwise... I probably already know about it.

In the end, I do not believe that a young-age interpretation relies on any one word or even passage. It's woven into the entire book of Genesis, and through the Fall and need for redemption, it undergirds the doctrine of salvation. So you're welcome to propose novel interpretations of Genesis, and I will seriously consider them (and I might even change my mind about some things). But it would have to be something really big to get me to change my mind on young-age creationism altogether.