Friday, 3 June 2016

In The Beginning

The Slippery Dance Floor 

Historical debates over beginnings and origins have proved fascinating.  Since the nineteenth century it is safe to say that the overwhelming consensus of scholarship and opinion has been to favour the naturalistic (materialistic) world view.  This has led to a cosmology wherein dwells time, space, matter, and energy alone.  Nothing else.

With these assumptions, the world and the cosmos, had to come into being naturally.  In other words, there is no creator.  A prevailing characteristic of this world view is the need of vast amounts of time in order for "natural processes" to produce the breathtaking complexity and size of the cosmos--namely, billions and billions and billions of years.  What is the latest count?  Sixty-five billion years?  [At this point, we make a confident prediction: within ten years from now the "settled" naturalistic scientific consensus will be engaged in a febrifacient re-dating the cosmos to be a hundred billion years or more.  What's a few billion years amongst friends, eh?]

A curiosity amidst the surging rise of naturalism has been the way so many Christians--both Christian institutions and individual believers--have rushed to accept the prevailing, emergent world view of naturalism and the pseudo-science which attends it.  They have sought to re-interpret the scriptures to "fit in with" the brazen, allegedly undisputed facts of the naturalistic paradigm.

One expects that the reason for this curiosity is the widespread, uncritical acceptance amongst Christians of the prevailing theory of fact--namely, the idea that scientific knowledge is objective, proven, and indisputable.
 In a time when the naturalistic world view was painting all religions, all belief in gods, and all Christian doctrines as myths and vanities, Christians felt the need to gain and maintain cred.  It conceded that naturalistic science and its facts were brute, hard, and indisputable.  Therefore, Christians needed to embrace these "facts" and yet make room for faith.  Immanuel Kant could not have been more proud of the Church at this point.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis were the primary target.  Naturalism had been championed by Charles Darwin.  His idea of gradual evolution of life with millions of naturally occurring iterations leading eventually to the gradual emergence of human beings was welcomed by Unbelief because of its naturalism which fitted right in to the prevailing paradigms.   Darwin's naturalistic evolutionism was enthusiastically adopted by the dominant materialist paradigm.  Overnight the "science" became settled.

Many Christians rushed to concede the ground.  They wanted to be known as reasoned and objective.  They wanted to maintain public respect for the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord--wherein they believed was the heart and essence of the Christian faith.  To maintain public respect they conceded the naturalistic interpretation of the origins of matter and life, so the Church could rush straight to Jesus.  Thus began the onslaught of theological liberalism that decimated so much of the Church throughout the Western world, leaving the cathedrals empty and draughty.

Yet there were certain ironies in the galaxy as the debates raged.  The first was the bevy of Hebrew and Old Testament scholars who insisted that, whichever way you cut the textual cake, there is no doubt that the literary form of the first 11 chapters of Genesis sets forth [correctly or incorrectly] a description of  historical realities.   The text itself of the Bible's first 11 chapters is not styled as poetic, apocalyptic, or wisdom literature.  It is presented in the same, ordinary, everyday recounting of historical events such as David's slaying of Goliath.

Professor Marcus Dods of New College, Edinburgh--a prominent theological liberal--writing in the nineteenth century, for example:
All attempts to force its [Genesis 1 and 2] statements into accord are futile and mischievous . . . [and] to be condemned because they do violence to Scripture, foster a style of interpretation by which the text is forced to say whatever the interpreter desires, and prevent us from recognizing the real nature of these sacred writings. [Cited by Douglas Kelly, Creation and Change: Genesis 1.1--2.4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms (Fearn, Ross-Shire: Mentor/Christian Focus Publications, 1997), p. 45.]
Dod's was one who bought into the naturalistic world view and theories about the billions of years during which the material world came into existence and took shape and form.  Yet he was honest enough with the text to state:
 . . . if, for example, the word "day" in these chapters does not mean a period of twenty-four hours, the interpretation of Scripture is hopeless. [Ibid.]
Dod's conclusion was that first 11 chapters of Scripture were simply not telling the [scientific] truth.  They were erroneous in fact.  The Bible was doubtless full of errors, and this was one of them.  But to try to argue that the text was saying something else than six literal twenty-four hour days actually proved too much: it destroyed the very possibility of any truth being reliably communicated in Scripture whatsoever.

A more recent example of the same has been provided by James Barr, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University.  Barr comes from the traditional liberal perspective, rejecting supernaturalism in Christian faith and doctrine, and replacing it with a creed strictly in conformity with naturalism.  He writes:
. . . so far as I know there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writers of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the Biblical story; and (c) Noah's flood was understood to be world-wide and to have extinguished all human and land animal life except for those in the ark.

Or to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the "days" of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any professor, as far as I know.  [Ibid. p.45f.]
These pretty much universal views about the literary form, the structure, and the intent of the first 11 chapters of Genesis are also shared by Hebrew scholars who genuinely believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of the Living God.  The late, great Edward J. Young of Westminster Theological Seminary, writing in 1976 addressed the question, Is Genesis Poetry or Myth?:
To escape from the plain factual statements of Genesis some Evangelicals are saying that the early chapters of Genesis are poetry or myth, by which they mean that they are not to be taken as straightforward accounts, and that the acceptance of such a view removes the difficulties. . . . To adopt such a view, they say, removes all troubles with modern science . . . [But] Genesis is not poetry.

There are poetical accounts of creation in the Bible--Psalm 104, and certain chapters in Job--and they differ completely from the first chapter of Genesis.  Hebrew poetry had certain characteristics, and they are not found in the first chapter of Genesis.  So the claim that Genesis One is poetry is no solution to the question.  The man who says, "I believe that Genesis purports to be a historical account, but I do not believe that account", is a far better interpreter of the Bible than the man who says, "I believe that Genesis is profoundly true, but it is poetry."  [Edward J. Young, In the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 and the Authority of Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 18f.]
Immanuel Kant sought to reconcile the warring beasts of naturalistic science and religious faith.  He claimed to have "denied knowledge" and "made room for faith".  Those who attempt to evade the clear historical form of Genesis 1-11 are denying knowledge (to use Kant's phrase).  But their objective is well meant: they want to ensure that there is room for faith--genuinely Christian faith.

The problem with Kant's formulations is that he ended up destroying both science (reason) and  faith.  We believe the well-meant Christian apologists for a 65 billion year (and counting) naturalistic universe, who try to reconcile naturalism with Genesis 1-11, will fail as Kant failed.  They will end up destroying both reason and faith.

This has already happened to a significant extent.  Nigel Cameron writes:
. . . [C]onservative writers, in trying to make the Scripture acceptable to current scientific thought, have not only misinterpreted it in such a way which abandons the actual meaning of the text, but have succeeded only in coming to a mediating position supported neither by Scripture nor by science. . . . Liberal writers like [S.R.] Driver, who felt no compulsion to defend the truth of the accounts, were franker and much more faithful in their exegesis. . . . The middle ground, which evangelicals then as now desired to occupy, is untenable.  [Nigel M. De S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1983) p. 81.]
There are ironic elements in all of this, and this is one of the greatest: these debates are taking place at the very time that naturalistic presumptions and paradigms amongst Unbelievers are breaking down.  Naturalistic science is in a turmoil, amidst the throes of a scientific revolution, a Kuhnian Paradigm Shift.

If cutting edge science is increasingly uncomfortable with the naturalistic paradigm, why should we Christians feel compelled to "make room" for faith by twisting the plain meaning of the text of Scripture?

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