Rethinking Adam? (part 2)

I’m sure Pete Enns knew what he was getting into when he published The Evolution of Adam last month. As Scot McKnight said in his endorsement, this is a guy who’s earned his “battle scars.” (Enns was let go from Westminster Theological Seminary for his previous book, Inspiration and Incarnation.) 

Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler has already promised a response to Enns’ book. (I gather there’s not much chance of him endorsing it.) Ken Ham, president of the young-earth advocacy group Answers in Genesis, beat Mohler to the punch with a scathing review in which he accuses Enns (and his publisher) of heresy. Citing 2 Peter 3:5, Ham charges that Enns is “willfully ignorant.” (Though speaking of willful ignorance, it should be noted that 2 Peter 3:5 is a rebuke to those who deny the second coming of Christ, not those who question how God brought the universe into being. Context matters.)

There’s a reason The Evolution of Adam is generating a lot of heat. It’s not so much a book about evolution and creation, or science and the Bible, as it is about this foundational question:

What kind of book do we think the Bible is?

For many believers, questioning the “traditional” view of creation (Enns will argue it’s not as traditional as we think) is to question our view of the whole Bible, its divine inspiration, and its very reliability.

A friend of mine framed the discussion like this: do we let the “science story” drive our reading of the Bible, or the other way around?

It’s a fair question. But is it the right one?

Most evangelicals accept the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Still, it’s commonly argued that Scripture, to the extent it addresses natural phenomena, is scientifically accurate.

But what if the Bible depicts a flat, motionless earth? What if its human writers held pretty much the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient Near East — namely, that the earth is a flat, circular disc covered by a dome of sky, the whole thing surrounded by water? What if the Bible assumes the sun rotates around the earth?

In fact, this is precisely how the biblical writers understood the cosmos. Exhibit A: two articles by Paul Seely, published in the Westminster Theological Journal (hardly a bastion of liberalism). One is The Geographical Meaning of “Earth” and “Seas” in Genesis 1:10, and the other is The Firmament and the Water Above.

Or you could just read passages like Daniel 4:10, which describe a large tree that is “visible to the ends of the earth.” Even as hyperbole, this statement doesn’t make any sense if the author understood the earth is a sphere. Or how about Psalm 104:5, which speaks of an immovable earth?

Or what about the day “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10?

Galileo Before the Holy Office (Robert-Fleury)

When science began to question geocentric cosmology in the 16th century, the Church saw it as an assault on the integrity of the Bible. Galileo was put under house arrest. Kepler’s books were banned.

Even today, you can find flat-earthers and fixed-earthers who say they’re just being faithful to the Bible — to a literal reading of the Bible, that is. They maintain we shouldn’t let science (“so-called science,” they might say) shape our reading of holy Scripture.

Following a period of painful adjustment, however, the vast majority of Christians came to accept what science was telling us — namely, the earth is a sphere that rotates around the sun, not the other way around.

Ask a believer today how they reconcile Joshua’s claim that “the sun stood still” with scientific fact, and they might tell you the Bible is speaking idiomatically about God’s intervention on Israel’s behalf. Or that it was simply putting things in language that made sense to an ancient audience. Most would accept that whatever else Joshua 10 means, it’s not trying to make a scientific point.

To which I say: EXACTLY.

Given that the biblical writers held the same cosmology as everyone else in the ancient world, if we were to submit their descriptions of the earth to scientific scrutiny, we would be forced to conclude they got some things wrong.

But if they weren’t trying to make a scientific point, then it’s no use judging the merit or the inspiration of what they wrote on the basis of its scientific accuracy.

To ask which story — science or the Bible’s — ought to drive our worldview is asking the wrong question, because they are two different stories about two different things.

So as we turn to the issue of Adam and the origins of the universe, the million-dollar question is this: if we accept that passages like Joshua 10 and Psalm 104 should not be read scientifically (even though it took a couple hundred years for us to get there), why should we insist on a scientific reading of Genesis 1? 

4 thoughts on “Rethinking Adam? (part 2)

  1. I don’t see how anyone would have difficulty with these verses unless they were trying very hard not to understand the obvious meaning: Sometimes, when one tries to be too “smart” it wraps around too far and looks rather “dumb” (yes, I know that “dumb” literally means unable to speak rather than having to do with intelligence…)

    Re: Silly Objection One

    Psa 104:5 KJV
    (5) Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.

    Has anyone removed the foundations of the earth yet? You cannot get rid of it, and you’re not going to be able to push it away. Get a bulldozer and take your best shot, I will wait. Even if one was going to be absurd and claim that this was really speaking in the context of the orbital pathways of celestial objects, motion is entirely relative. That is why collisions compare relative velocity instead of literal speed.

    When a police officer asks you “how fast you were going” do you reply back with “I was flying along at 1070 miles per hour?” (the rotational speed at the earth’s surface) or “I was going 64200 miles per hour!” (accounting for the planets orbital speed?) You wouldn’t do that, because he was asking how fast you were going with respect to your surroundings (relative velocity.)

    Re: Silly Objection Two

    Dan 4:10 KJV
    (10) Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great.

    Seriously, what is the problem here? If someone were to show you a gigantic stretch of earth, this tree would be in the midst of it. Were you imagining a “hollow world” or the like? Imagine yourself being picked up so you can look at the earth from the sky (like a bird, not like a space shuttle) and in this vision you see a big tree in its midst. How is this absurd?

    You can do the same thing with “Google Earth” today if you use the “Zoom” function.

    Re: Silly Objection Three

    Jos 10:12-14 KJV
    (12) Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
    (13) And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
    (14) And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.

    By the way, I can think of multiple ways in which God could have done this. If this simply seems impossible to you, you should think a little harder, then perhaps investigate some of the historical reports that lend credibility to this account.

    http://www.geocentricity.com/astronomy_of_bible/jld/index.html

    But like the earlier illustration with the police officer, the concern is that the sun stayed still with respect to its position in the sky, because the entire purpose of this miracle was to provide light. Perhaps this method seems a little excessive to you… but apparently God has power to burn, and wanted something a little more dramatic than providing night-lights.

    Likewise, people all over the world still speak of the sun with respect to its position in the sky, and even the most scientific of folks will still speak of the “sunset” and the “sunrise” even though they know that this is because the earth turns.

    This reminds me of when I heard complaints from people about how the Bible was so “unscientific” because of the references to the “four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1). Again, this is another well understood expression, because a map of the world has four corners and four points on the compass rose. These people were trying really hard to be “too smart” (or “too dumb?”)

    Isa 40:21-22 KJV
    (21) Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
    (22) It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

    When the earth is spoken of as having four corners, it is being viewed as a map. When it is spoken of as a circle, it is being viewed as a globe from the heavens. No, it does not need to say “sphere” because everyone knows what is meant by “circle” (I have heard that dumb argument before also…)

    Concerning Your Genesis Question

    So as we turn to the issue of Adam and the origins of the universe, the million-dollar question is this: if we accept that passages like Joshua 10 and Psalm 104 should not be read scientifically (even though it took a couple hundred years for us to get there), why should we insist on a scientific reading of Genesis 1?

    Simply because that is the way the passage is written. This is obvious from a few examples:

    1. The six days of creation are spoken of as literal days, not merely “epochs” or “ages.” Although “day” can sometimes have this meaning, it is defined clearly with the words “the evening and the morning were the first day” (that is, one complete cycle of dark and light.)

    2. The order of the creation is such that would defy any longer period of time. These days cannot be ages because some of the plants actually require assistance for their pollination. People have started to realize that some species (like bees) might even be vital to our existence on the planet. These plants could survive for a day without pollination, but not for an age or two.

    3. The six day creation is not simply in the first chapters of Genesis. It is also repeated in the fourth commandment, and this was to be drilled into the very Hebrew consciousness every seventh day to make sure they never forgot it. It does not mean “remember the Sabbath AGE and keep it holy, for in six AGES the Lord made heaven and earth…”

    Exo 20:8-11 KJV
    (8) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    (9) Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
    (10) But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
    (11) For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

    Perhaps let’s put this another way. Why should we not believe in the literal reading of Genesis? I think this is about how we view the Bible. We should allow the bible to speak literally except when it is clear that it must be speaking metaphorically. Anything else will lead to absurd private interpretations without end.

    I do not accept religious dogma without subjecting it to testing, so why should I accept unproven (and disproved) atheist dogma? Calling one’s religion science does not make it so. True science considers all angles and examines the evidence.

    • If you want to believe these are silly objections, that’s your prerogative. But these are the very same objections, based on the same passages of Scripture, that the great reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin raised in response to the heliocentric view. I may not agree with Luther and Calvin on everything, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to accuse them of making “dumb arguments.”

      Re. Joshua 10, I’m not prepared to take seriously any explanation put forward by a website devoted to advancing a long discredited view of the solar system.

      Re. your statement that “we should allow the Bible to speak literally except when it is clear that it must be speaking metaphorically.” OK, but by whose standard? Who gets to decide – and by what criteria – when the Bible is “clearly” speaking metaphorically? It seems to me that we often turn to a metaphorical interpretation (that’s not the right term for it, but let’s not get sidetracked) only when we’ve run out of other options…as was the case with Joshua 10. It was interpreted literally (i.e. the sun temporarily stopped rotating around the earth) for centuries, until it became impossible to do so any longer. Seems to me a far better approach is to look at the literary structure, genre, and origins of a text to determine how best to read it.

      • First, I think it would be helpful if you defined what you think you mean by the terms “geocentric” and “heliocentric.” It does not seem that you understand what I was saying concerning relative speed and perspective. Motion can only be defined from a fixed point, and that fixed point is chosen for convenience. If you attempt to define your terms, you might realize how pointless the distinction is.

        Second, I would be so bold as to accuse Martin Luther and John Calvin for making dumb arguments. Stupid is as stupid does. Arguments should be judged by their merits, not the relative popularity of their authors. Besides, have you ever read Psychopannachia? John Calvin has a history of making dumb arguments, and I do not owe loyalty to Martin Luther.

        Third, your refusal to consider historical evidence (as presented by a web site) demonstrates that you are not coming at this question with a pure scientific approach. That display of prejudice reveals a type of bigotry. If you are too lazy to do the objective research yourself, you should be willing to review what someone else has compiled for you, even if you think you might disagree with their conclusions.

        Fourth, the only reason I offered the web site was in reference to the various historical records supporting the actual historical event of Joshua’s Long Day. There was no need to consult (or reject) the site unless you were denying that the miracle actually occurred. Are you suggesting that it did not happen?

        For example, when you say…

        It seems to me that we often turn to a metaphorical interpretation (that’s not the right term for it, but let’s not get sidetracked) only when we’ve run out of other options…as was the case with Joshua 10.

        For clarification, if you had an electronic stopwatch during that day, and started timing how long the sun was in the sky that day, what are you suggesting would be the result? Twelve hours (like normal) or much longer (like twenty-two hours?)

        Continuing with your conclusion:

        It was interpreted literally (i.e. the sun temporarily stopped rotating around the earth) for centuries, until it became impossible to do so any longer.

        1. Whether the sun moves about the earth, or the earth moves about the sun is merely a matter of perspective. It is a similar problem of whether my fist smashes into someone’s face or their face smashes into my first. The end result is the same regardless of which point in the fabric of space is designated as “fixed.” Relative motion is all that matters.

        2. Read the actual verse and stop being so quick to apply your own filter to the passage.

        Jos 10:13 KJV
        (13) And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

        The sun stood still … in the midst of heaven. The passage describes the position of the sun and the moon with respect to the sky. It is not describing their relative speeds with regards to the center of the local galaxy, or calculated against whatever point our galaxy might be said to revolve about.

        2Sa 18:29-30 KJV
        (29) And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Ahimaaz answered, When Joab sent the king’s servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.
        (30) And the king said unto him, Turn aside, and stand here. And he turned aside, and stood still.

        You might as well take this passage (above) from 2 Samuel and laugh about how ignorant the others were because of their “geocentric” viewpoint. After all, if the earth is orbiting the sun, and the sun orbits around the galactic core, and the galactic core orbits around who knows what, then there is no such thing as “standing still.”

        Your argument becomes absurd when taken to its logical conclusion, and thus you have not given any good reason why we should not be expected to interpret Genesis literally.

        Regarding your conclusion,

        Seems to me a far better approach is to look at the literary structure, genre, and origins of a text to determine how best to read it.

        It seems to me what you really meant was that you would rather accept evolutionist dogma than challenge it on factual and scientific grounds. But that would be lazy, sloppy, and inconsistent, and the reason I am objecting is that I think you are better than that.

        If you have personal reasons why you do not feel that you can accept the bible in a literal fashion and accept that God can work miracles, then please state them openly so they can be discussed. For example,

        1. Do you accept the Genesis account of a literal six day creation?
        2. Do you accept that God created man male and female approximately 6000 years ago?
        3. Do you accept that there was a literal worldwide flood approximately 4400 years ago, where eight people were saved along with representatives of all land animals?
        4. Do you accept that God parted the Red Sea to allow Israel to pass through on dry land?
        5. Do you accept that God supernaturally prolonged the day during the time of Joshua?
        6. Do you accept that Gideon found the fleece wet on the first day, but then found the same fleece dry during the heavy dew on the following day? (per Judges 6)

        7.If you accept any of these miracles but doubt (or reject) others, can you please explain the apparent inconsistency and show what you have accepted as evidence, and why?

        Mat 19:4 KJV
        (4) And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

        2Pe 3:3-6 KJV
        (3) Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
        (4) And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
        (5) For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
        (6) Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:

        We can discuss this by email if you like, but I don’t ask questions simply for the sake of taking up space. If we follow these arguments back to their root, we should eventually expect to find a logical resolution.

  2. Pingback: A line in the sand? « Ben Irwin's blog

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