Barry Newman's Blog

November 25, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XVII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 9:33 pm

How did the author know what to write? & Christians and non-christians in disagreement

How did the author know about these things?   It might be helpful in answering this question, if we knew for sure who the author was.  We don’t.  But Moses wouldn’t be a bad guess even if he were only responsible for collecting earlier material, written or oral and had then acted as the final editor.  How would the author have acquired this information or how could he have known how to correctly edit any earlier material he worked from?   One possibility is that he could have received some direct revelation as Moses did on Mount Sinai.

Alternatively having learnt from God, by whatever means, what God was really like, working under the hand of God, he could have taken from the cultures, even his own culture, certain cosmological, geographical, biological and other understandings and moulded them into a correct account of God and his creation of the world.  Those “other understandings” might have included ideas concerning six or seven day events associated with the enthronement of the pagan gods, including the idea of the “rest” with which such matters were concluded.  This is not to deny that he would have been careful to dissociate himself from beliefs about those gods.  Another of his perspectives could have been the idea that the world was basically a functional entity.  Consequently functional characteristics, rather than causal explanations could have dominated his thinking on the issue of creation. His cosmological concepts could have included the view that in the beginning there was nothing of any consequence, simply a watery mass enshrouded in darkness and that the sky when it was created was solid with some water having been removed to the other side.   His geographical considerations could have entailed a view that the land formed a single continent and that all water ways were connected by some means or another.  His biological perspectives could have been shaped by those ones dominant in his world and perhaps in other creation accounts.  Furthermore he may have thought it helpful to idealise the account so that at the beginning of things death appeared to be absent or he may have simply believed this to be the case. The suggestion here is that the original author, making himself  available of whatever cosmological, geographical, biological etc. material he had at hand, shaped it, added to it and purified it with  a correct understanding of  the nature of God, his relationship with the world and mankind in particular.

It is not possible to prove this hypothesis beyond doubt but I think it is a likely one given how much of the Genesis account seems to reflect what can be found in nearby cultures, perhaps particularly the Babylonian culture.  What is not to be found in the literature of these other cultures is what the writer seems most intent upon portraying, matters such as: that the one and only God has created all things; that he has done so simply but with awesome power; that he has not created any other gods; that he has not had to overcome any gods or do battle with any powerful creatures; that he is completely distinct from creation though it is his creation; that of all of his creation, mankind is the most significant having been made in his image; that  creation has been set up in accordance with his kindness in a way that cares for mankind but ultimately in order for God to work out his purposes through mankind.

What is being suggested here is that by the power of God, in a manner that was disciplined by the author’s/editor’s correct understanding of God and God’s relationship with his world and mankind in particular, the author/editor working with raw material distilled from other cultures, constructed the creation account and connected it temporally with what he understood as the beginnings of mankind. Furthermore, the position assumed here is that he knew what he was doing and that others at the time knew what he was doing.  No one was deceived.  And everyone who read or heard and understood it was beneficially informed.  Furthermore, at the time, the account was understood as a completely acceptable account. The work having been inspired by God, it is proper to conclude that any ramifications or implications, for example, of the significance of the Sabbath day and the notion of “the word of God” flowing from the account into later theology, would be valid.  It could be argued that only later, with a loss of understanding of how the text came to be, and with a move that drifted from the importance of function and functionaries to an assumed importance of more relatively abstract notions, readers/hearers of the account assumed that explicit “how long”, “when”, and “how” matters were the main matters being affirmed.

Well then: How long did God really take to create the world? How did he really create it? When did he really create it?  These are questions which now fascinate us but the answers given to them at any time are not crucial for our salvation, our being forgiven and our justification. Nor does having incorrect answers to these questions prevent one’s redemption, being made God’s children and being sealed with the Holy Spirit.  However, my own view is that if we are interested in such questions, and the spirit of our age probably makes this a necessity, we are in a better position today to answer these questions than we have ever been in the past.  But you the reader will need to make up your own mind on such as various modern portrayals of biological evolutionary theory and cosmological claims and postulates.  For myself, I don’t think the Genesis account has anything to do with these types of theories. In my view it doesn’t endorse them (how could it?) or deny them.  However, many Christians today, not only recognise that the Genesis account does not endorse, for example, biological evolutionary theory; they will not ally themselves with it in any way. Walton, for example, strongly asserts that the Bible is opposed to biological evolutionary theory, claiming that, “the theology of the Bible leaves no room at all for such belief” (Genesis, p. 156).  Christians and even non-Christians disagree and often strongly disagree over such matters.

Let us now briefly examine some of the issues that underlie these disagreements. Undoubtedly, there are different viewpoints among Christians on notions such as “inerrancy”, “infallibility”, “inspiration” and what is understood by the phrase, “the word of God”.  Unfortunately, as pertinent as they are these matters are, they are too weighty to be dealt with in this blog series.  Matters such as “peer pressure” or the tendency we sometimes have to “oppose those who oppose us”, as significant as they can be in determining what Christians and non-Christians believe, will also be ignored.  Attention will simply be focussed upon two areas of modern scientific thought over which there is much contention especially between Christians and non-Christians: biological evolutionary theory and cosmological theory.


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