Friday, 10 January 2014

Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 2

Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology, not Modern Science

I referred earlier to Genesis 1 being ancient cosmology and not modern science in my opening paragraph, and this is the fundamental reason why literalism / strong concordism are false. YECs claim that they are faithful to the literal word of the text. They are not.

Gen 1:6-8 refers to the creation of a firmament separating waters above from waters below. It also refers to the stars being set in the firmament and birds flying across the face of the firmament. The firmament cannot be the atmosphere as stars are not in our atmosphere. It cannot be outer space as birds tend not to survive in a vacuum. The word raqia’ translated as firmament is used in Ezekiel 1 to refer to the solid dome below which the living creatures flew, and above which was a throne on which a heavenly being sat. The lexical data also supports the idea: one of the leading Hebrew lexicons notes that “by [raqia’] was understood the gigantic heavenly dome which was the source of the light that brooded over the heavenly ocean and of which the dome arched above the earthly globe.”[1] YECs who claim to read the creation narratives literally are not consistent in their literalism, otherwise they would teach that the sky was actually solid. Such exegetical inconsistency makes a mockery of YEC claims for strict literalism. As Susan Piggott, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the Logsdon School of Theology notes:
Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally. If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth.[2]
This is why I refer to Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology and not modern science. God accommodated the worldview of the day, rather than trying to teach a pre-scientific audience a modern scientific view that they would not be able to comprehend.[3] The concept of divine accommodation is hardly new – Calvin recognised that the concept of waters above the heavens was hard to comprehend, but recognised that Genesis accommodated a pre-modern worldview:

Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned[4]

Genesis 1 reflects the cosmological world view (note, not the mythology!) of the ancient world, where the Earth was regarded as flat, with a solid dome overhead separating waters above from waters below, in which the stars were set. Significantly, God was quite happy to accommodate that worldview. As CC Walker, the second editor of The Christadelphian notes:

Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history.[5]

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1290.
[2] Piggott S  “Reading Genesis 1  ‘Literally’ ” Scribalishess Jan 3 2014
[3] Evangelical scholar Paul Seely, in his widely-cited paper on the firmament of Genesis 1  notes that “…around AD 200 a school of thought arose in China that posited that the sky was empty space. This is to my knowledge the first and only time that anyone in the ancient Eastern world thought of the sky as  not being solid. So novel was this idea even to the West that as late as the sixteenth century a Jesuit missionary to China wrote home saying the idea that the sky is not solid is "one of the absurdities of the Chinese"!” If 16th century Europeans regarded the solidity of the sky as self-evidently true, it hardly needs to be pointed out that pre-scientific Hebrews would have likewise found a modern cosmology impossible to comprehend. See Paul H. Seely “The Firmament and the Water Above Part I: The Meaning of Raqia’ in Gen 1:6-8” The Westminster Theological Journal (1991) 53:227-40
[4] John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (vol. 1; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79–80.
[5] Walker CC “Is it Wrong to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913), 50:348.