Friday, 7 March 2014

Critically engaging with resources is not cherry picking

In response to one of my recent posts linking to Denis Lamoureux's series of lectures on biblical genealogies, Mark Taunton, a fundamentalist Christadelphian has made the ludicrous assertion that by citing him positively on this subject, I am obliged to accept Lamoureux's trinitarian Christology. Furthermore, he has claimed that I am guilty of cherry picking for not doing this. Unfortunately, I am not making this up. 

Taunton's comment is reproduced below:
"Dennis Lamoureux ... speaks with a unique blend of authority..." Notice what is said on his university web page ( This view of origins is known as Evolutionary Creation. Concisely stated, it claims that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained, and design--reflecting evolutionary process. I take it that because of his "unique blend of authority" - theology and science combined - we must accept all of this statement, not just about the creation process but also who performed it. He is after all a "professional theologian", much better equipped to explain the Bible than mere amateurs like me. If he believes in the Trinity, I suppose Christadelphians are obliged to, also. No?…this is blatant cherry picking on your part. You identify yourself with "Evolutionary Creation(ism)". Why aren't you then a trinitarian?
Taunton's argument is easily turned back on him. Doubtless, he would consult lexicons, Bible dictionaries and commentaries written by non-Christadelphians. Given his evolution denialism, it is quite likely that he cites with approval material by young earth creationists. Therefore, Taunton also is obliged to accept their non-Christadelphian theology. The fact that he does not shows that he too is guilty of cherry picking. Needless to say, there is no need to press the argument any further given that the intellectual incoherence of Taunton's position is plainly evident. 

Ironically, it is Taunton, and other fundamentalists who cherry pick the Bible when they claim to read the creation narratives literally. Genesis 1:6-8 refers to a solid firmament which separates waters above from waters below, in which are set the stars and across which the birds fly. None of this is controversial in mainstream Old Testament scholarship as OT scholar and evangelical Christian Peter Enns notes:
Let me summarize some of the general arguments for why raqia is understood by contemporary biblical scholars as a solid structure:

  1. The other cosmologies from the ancient world depict some solid structure in the sky. The most natural explanation of the raqia is that it also reflects this understanding. There is no indication that Genesis is a novel description of the sky;
  2. Virtually every description of raqia from antiquity to the Renaissance depicts it as solid. The non-solid interpretation of raqia is a novelty;
  3. According to the flood story in Gen 7:11 and 8:2, the waters above were held back only to be released through the “floodgates of the heavens” (literally, “lattice windows”);
  4. Other Old Testament passages are consistent with the raqia being solid (Ezekiel1:22; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4);
  5. According to Gen 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia;
  6. The noun raqia is derived form the verb that means to beat out or stamp out, as in hammering metal into thin plates (Exodus 39:3). This suggests that the noun form is likewise related to something solid;
  7. Speaking of the sky as being stretched out like a canopy/tent (Isaiah 40:22) or that it will roll up like a scroll (34:4) are clearly similes and do not support the view that raqia in Genesis 1 is non-solid.

The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another.
If he was consistent in his literalism, Taunton would insist on a literal firmament separating waters above from waters below; his failure to recognise the clear teaching of Gen 1 on this point (as Enns notes, there is a solid consensus among OT scholars on this so this is hardly a fringe view) shows that he is guilty of cherry picking.

Taunton of course has failed to recognise what every undergraduate student quickly realises after getting a failing mark on a term paper which was simply an uncritical regurgitation of other opinions: one needs to critically engage with resources, and not assume that a person's competence in one area transfers to all areas. 

With respect to Lamoureux, I am recommending his series of posts on Biblical genealogies as Lamoureux's competence in the socio-historical context of Genesis means he is likely to be speaking with authority on this question. This does not mean blanket endorsement of everything he says; I part company with him on the literality of Adam (I accept a historical Adam, but as the first person with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, not as the sole, recent ancestor of the entire human race) but in general, his expertise in the socio-historical context of Genesis provides useful information which can be used to get a more nuanced understanding of Genesis.

It takes little research to see that Lamoureux is hardly advancing novel theses with his assertion that Genesis reflects a pre-scientific world view. In his book "I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution" Lamoureux reminds his readers that Genesis 1 reflects an ancient cosmology which saw the Earth as flat, and covered with a solid firmament:
The root of this noun is the verb rāqa‘ which means to flatten, stamp down, spread out, and hammer out. That is, this Hebrew verb carries a sense of flattening something solid rather than opening a broad empty space. Exodus 39:3 and Isa 40:19 use rāqa‘ for pounding metals into thin plates, and Num 16:38 employs the related word riqqûa‘ (broad plate) in a similar context. The verb rāqa‘ is even found in a passage referring to the creation of the sky, which is understood to be a firm surface like a metal. Job 37:18 asks, “Can you join God in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” (cf., Exod 24:10; Job 22:14; Ezek 1:22). [1]
Paul Seely's well-regarded monograph likewise points out that the use of raqia' in Ezekiel 1 provides valuable intertextual evidence with which to interpret its use in Genesis 1 and states:
We ought then on both biblical and hermeneutical grounds to interpret the nature of the raqia' in Genesis 1 by the clear definition of raqia' which we have in Ezekiel 1, and all the more so since the language of Genesis 1 suggests solidity in the first place and no usage of raqia' anywhere states or even implies that it was not a solid object. This latter point bears repeating: there is not a single piece of evidence in the OT to support the conservative belief that the raqia' was not solid. The historical meaning of raqia', so far from being overthrown by the grammatical evidence, is confirmed by it.  The historical-grammatical meaning of raqia' in Gen 1:6-8 is very clearly a literally solid firmament. [2]
Lamoureux would appear to be advancing a view well within the mainstream of OT scholarship on the ancient Near Eastern background to the creation narratives.

Lamoureux is a Trinitarian, so irrespective of his views on how God created, he would frame it within a trinitarian context, which makes his statement about Father, Son and Spirit creating the universe exactly the sort of broad statement that any Trinitarian would say about creation. Certainly, the YEC organisation Answers in Genesis explicitly links Jesus as creator with its views on special creation:
The scientific aspects of creation are important but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
Given this, Taunton's claims of cherry picking on this subject come across as a feeble attempt to manufacture a problem. However, it is useful to note that Lamoureux's  Trinitarian views have less than solid Biblical support, and have no explicit Biblical support, but represent the product of post-apostolic theological speculation:
One does not find in the NT the trinitarian paradox of the coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit within a divine unity, the mystery of the three in one, yet one does find there the data that serve as the foundation of this later dogmatic formulation. [3]

For almost 300 years after Jesus’ death on the cross, a variety of Trinitarian or proto-Trinitarian views were put forward, but none was systematically articulated, and there was no formal consensus or clearly formed church doctrine [4]
In other words, critical engagement with Lamoureux shows that his views on the socio-historical context of Genesis are sound, whereas his Trinitarianism is on far less solid ground. More to the point, given the lack of any link between an evolutionary view of creation and the nature of the Godhead, Taunton's objection is feeble and represents unfortunately the depths to which fundamentalist Christadelphian 'scholarship' has sunk.


1. Lamoureux D I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution (2009: Wipf and Stock)
2. Seely P.H. "The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia' in Gen 1:6-8" Westminster Theological Journal (1991) 53:227-40
3. Bassler, Jouette M. “God: God in the NT.” Edited by David Noel Freedman. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. p 1055
4. Rolnick, Philip A., and John F. Hoffmeyer. “Trinity.” The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 2008. p 541