Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Conversing on Genesis part 4

Sorry about the delay in posting this final report from the recent symposium on Genesis, sponsored by the Bryan Institute for Critical Thought and Practice. Immediately after the symposium, I came down with a nasty cold, and that knocked me out for at least a week. But enough excuses, what did I really think about the symposium? (For those catching up, here are parts one, two, and three of my report.)

Did I learn anything? I was asked this question as soon as the symposium was finished, and now that I've given it a lot of thought, I'd have to say that I didn't learn very much. I was familiar with Walton's and Collins's positions from their books, and there weren't very many surprises there. I wasn't a bit surprised by any of the arguments put forward by Beall or Averbeck. The only mild surprise I had was from Longman. OK, "mild surprise" is putting it mildly. I was actually kind of flabbergasted that anyone would give any credibility to the arguments that he was using. I know that sounds derogatory, but I don't mean it to be. Look at it this way: Judging from his presentation, I think he would be equally flabbergasted at my "obvious" interpretation of Genesis as straightforward history of real events. After all, if the text is so "obviously" NOT a literal history, then how could anyone take it any other way, right? Likewise for me, if the text is so "obviously" a historical account, how could anyone seriously take it any other way? That's the sort of reaction that was going on in my head as I listened to his presentation. I hope that makes sense and isn't "obviously" insulting.

And I really don't want to be insulting, because I think it was important for me to meet and interact with Longman. You see, I've heard his position before, but in the past it's been from folks who treat me and my fellow creationists with smug contempt. The attitude I get is that "the text is OBVIOUSLY not meant to be interpreted literally, and only idiots would read it as historical." With Longman, though, I didn't detect any of that arrogance. I never even got the "vibe" that he might be looking down on me. Quite the opposite, in fact. He practically begged the audience for alternative ways to understand science from a non-evolutionary point of view. So in that respect, he's become an inspiration to me. I'm definitely giving some thought now to a formal response to Venema's PSCF paper on the human genome. (Look out, Dennis!) And I don't think I would have ever bothered to do that if I hadn't met Tremper Longman.

But what about his position on Genesis? Well, I'm not sure what to say. Seriously. At least before, when it was just smug jerks making those arguments, I could just shrug them off as rubbish coming from smug jerks. With Longman, though, he's such a decent fellow, I'm genuinely not sure what to say. I guess my response is that what is clear to him about Genesis is not so clear to a lot of fellow Evangelicals. I hate just dismissing him off as an "extreme minority," though, because that's not fair to his claims. At the same time, I hate to nitpick through his specific arguments, since the foundation of his position is definitely far deeper than whether the days of Genesis are "literal" days or not. So even if I could convince him that specific claims he made were bogus, I don't think he would really change his view.

That's true of me too. As I listened to each presentation, I found myself giving my whole view of Genesis and creationism some serious critical thought. Despite all of that self-examination, I still find myself unconvinced that young-age creationism is an incorrect interpretation. My position is not based on a single verse or a single passage. My position is based on a whole lot more than just Genesis 1. Here's what I wrote about this last year (and don't forget the followup):
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.
Nothing I heard at the symposium was "really big." In fact, what I observed was five well qualified Old Testament scholars disagreeing on some amazingly fundamental issues regarding the interpretation of Genesis. So I can't even fall back on relying on a consensus of scholarly opinion. There wasn't one.

I still have more to say (big surprise), but this post is already too long.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.