Monday, 9 March 2015

Critiquing Bruce Gurd's attack on Evolutionary Creationism - 3

This is Part 3 of my critique of Bruce Gurd's recent lecture on evolutionary creationism. Part 2 can be found here.

Gurd's entire lecture exudes a spirit which is impossible to reconcile with the test of humility he makes his third point. This is clearly seen in his patronising comments about the alleged youth of those accepting or accommodating evolutionary creationism,[1] and his reference to the ‘disease of EC’. Any pretence at humility vanishes when he resorts to ad hominem attacks:
I don’t want to, you know the humility factor, I don’t want to sort of, I’m sort of poking fun at the Evolutionary Creationists, I really hope I can poke fun at their ideas without ridiculing brethren, as I have said, the brethren caught up in this are typically incredibly capable and intelligent people - right.
It stands as an indictment of the anti-intellectualism Gurd champions when being “incredibly capable and intelligent” is turned into an insult.

Gurd asserts that his third point is themed around the “humility test” but there is little evidence of this theme as he continues on an unstructured, rambling attack on evolutionary creationism. He begins with an assault on the belief that God reveals himself in two books of revelation, namely the natural world and the written word:
What do we believe? 
That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth….. 
The bible is the ONLY source of knowledge, because the Evolutionary Creationists brethren talk about this other book of nature, and you should go and study science and understand the book of nature and then you will understand more, but we believe that the bible is the only source of knowledge concerning God and his purposes.
Here, Gurd misrepresents evolutionary creationists who freely acknowledge that the Bible is the only source of knowledge about God’s purpose with humanity. However, that is not the point they are making when they refer to the natural world which is a reliable witness to its origins, a completely different issue. 

ECs do not insist that we should study science to understand more”, but they do argue: (a) it is important to take into account any verifiable facts which might be relevant to our conclusions about creation, and (b) qualified professionals are best placed to advise us on the nature of these facts. In passing, the Bible itself reminds us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and are constantly revealing knowledge (e.g. Psalm 19).

Gurd’s peremptory dismissal of the ‘two books’ view of divine revelation is one that stands in in stark contrast to the original Christadelphian position that freely recognised this fact. As long ago as 1837, John Thomas recognised that God had revealed himself in two books:
‘The Advocate: For the Testimony of God as it is Written in the Books of Nature and Revelation CONDUCTED BY JOHN THOMAS, M.D. The invisible attributes of God, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, are very evident; being known by his works…The grand divisions of this testimony are twofold —first the evidence he has given of his Eternal Power, and Divinity in what is termed Nature; and, secondly, that which is contained in the Historical Books and the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Apostolic Writings…THE ADVOCATE will, therefore, exercise himself to the best of his ability and judgment, in setting forth the manifold wisdom of God as inscribed on the brilliant pages of those two interesting volumes .’[2]
W.D. Jardine, writing over 150 years ago noted that:
‘Every thing in art and science are but copies of the workings of God’s spirit in nature. And it is by the study of nature and by meditation, on the discoveries which have been made as communicated to him through books, that man acquires his knowledge in the science of life, and so inhales this inspiration of God’s spirit.’[3]
He echoed this point the following year with his explicit reference to the two books of revelation:
Coming now to man himself, we find in him a subject common to both revelations an object in nature  subject to her and a subject of scripture inseparable from it.’.[4]
Equally explicit references to Christadelphians freely turning to science for illumination on the age and duration of creation are easy to find:
Geology teaches us much; it speaks of a time and creation on this earth when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face, and this must have existed many thousands of years; and during the whole of that long period, the earth was undergoing wonderful and necessary changes to fit it for a creation of a higher order, and evidently with the creature man in view.

There are evidences to show that when this early period had done its work, it was replaced by a creation of a higher order, when animal and vegetable forms of a far more wonderful structure were brought into existence and most admirably adopted to the atmosphere, climate, and peculiarities of that creation; and this, again, must have lasted for many thousands of years, and in its turn been swept away, and a grander creation built on its ruins. And so on, stage after stage.[5]
It is both amusing and painful to behold the contortions of the so-called “clergy” over the discoveries of geological and paleontological research in the crust repositories of old mother earth. They seem to have a pious dread of science contradicting the Bible; and, finally, believing that it has, they are busy heaping their maledictions upon science, or else twisting the Bible-teaching into a supposed harmony with science, in either event very much hampering the geologist in his search after Nature’s truth’s. Their pious dread, however, comes from their needless gross ignorance of the Bible. Old mother earth will reveal no secrets that will hurt the Bible, for the same God is the author of both, and He is no liar, if the “clergy” are, in their intemperate pious zeal in behalf of the Bible as against science.[6]
In fact, no less a figure than Robert Roberts also acknowledged the existence of two modes of divine revelation:
That the earth had a history anterior to the six days’ work, is certain, from both scripture and nature. Geology proves the existence of forms of life long before the Mosaic creation ; and the Bible tacitly affirms a pre-Adamite order of things,’,[7]
Interested Stranger.—No doubt the earth has gone through changes. Christadelphian. — Have not these changes been in the nature of progress—an advance from a crude to a more perfect state?
Interested Stranger.—It has doubtless been so.

Christadelphian.—From what sort of a state did this process make its start? Interested Stranger.—That, I think, we cannot ascertain.

Christadelphian. — Not in an exact sense perhaps; but are we not justified in saying that if we go far enough back in the record of the earth’s physical history, as written in the rocks, we come to a time when the earth was a molten mass, incapable of sustaining life, either vegetable or animal? Interested Stranger.—That is believed by the geologist; and I do not see that any thing can be said against it.’[8]
Given this explicit endorsement of the two books of divine revelation by many early Christadelphians, Gurd’s attempt to deny its legitimacy shows an appalling ignorance of our community’s history and comes across as feeble at best.

The poor structure of Gurd’s address makes it hard to tell when his third point on humility ends; after his poorly informed attempt to wave away the concept that God revealed himself in two books of divine revelation, he tried to attack the entirely uncontroversial fact (among professional Old Testament scholars) that the Bible reflects a pre-modern cosmogeography with a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below:
Now, when you go to Evolutionary Creationists they teach things that seem really bizarre. So here is there model of the way they believe the Hebrews saw Genesis one,

And they saw it as a flat earth and a dome which is called the raqia or the firmament, this is taken out of Hastings bible dictionary and below the earth is Sheol, Hades or Abaddon

And they say the firmament in Genesis chapter 1 is a solid dome, they keep repeating this, it’s a solid dome, it’s a solid dome. it’s a solid dome by the time they have said it 100 times, they believe it.

But is that really the way that you or I read Genesis chapter 1, when you read, let’s go back there – here’s my simplicity test. God said in verse 6 of Genesis 1, let there be a firmament and margin in my bible says expansion and many bibles put skies, let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, let it divide the waters from the waters and God made the firmament, the expanse which divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament and it was so. God called the firmament heaven.

Ok, and in Verse 14 he put lights in the firmament, so they come up with this argument that the firmament was a solid dome, what it was made out of I am not sure, and the stars, can you see the stars the moon and sun are like…stuck to the top of the dome and there’s windows in it, and above there is some more water. So you see, I don’t read the bible that way at all.

I read about the firmament, an expanse of sky and water was put up into the sky in clouds and there is water below in the sea, that’s what I was taught in Sunday school, I think you could teach most kids in the kindy that, but teaching about this solid dome with stars stuck on it, it’s not
Gurd’s comment is littered with errors. The first is his implication that when evolutionary creationists (and some OECs – this is not an evolution-specific issue) state that the ancient Hebrews believed the sky to be solid, they are pushing a fringe idea. Old Testament scholar Peter Enns shows why Gurd is greatly mistaken:
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);

5According to Gen 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia;
6The 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;
7Speaking 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.[9]
This is not a fringe idea uncritically taken from an outdated work of scholarship such as Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, but rather a robust scholarly consensus, which unlike Gurd’s assertion goes beyond a superficial reading of the English version, takes the lexical data into account, and factors in the ancient Near Eastern context of the Bible.

The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament provides the lexical context of raqia’:
רָקִיעַ: רקע, Bauer-L. Heb. 470n; SamP. arqi; MHeb. DSS (Kuhn Konkordanz 208), Sam., JArm., Syr., Mnd. rqiha sky, firmament (Drower-M. Dictionary 437b): cs. רְקִיעַ: the beaten metal plate, or bow; firmament, the firm vault of heaven: Sept. στερέωμα, Vulg. firmamentum; by רָקִיעַ 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 (see von Rad TWNT 5:501); for bibliography see further Eichrodt Theol. 2/3:57, 130; Westermann BK 1/1:162f; Zimmerli Ezechiel 55; O. Keel Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst 250-255; Reicke-R. Hw. 719.[10]
Context of course is important, and as Enns notes, the Biblical context in which raqia’ is used is consistent with it being solid – an expanse does not separate waters above from waters below, nor are the stars set in the atmosphere. Furthermore, Ezekiel 1 clearly refers to a solid structure above which YHWH was enthroned – this corresponds neatly with Psa 150:1 with its praise to YHWH in his mighty firmament.

Crucially, when we look at how Jews and early Christians understood the firmament, we see that they believed the firmament was solid:
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it be separating between the upper waters and the lower waters.” Targ. Pseu. Jon. Gen 1:6 
Then God made the firmament (its thickness three finger breadths), between the sides of the heavens and the waters of the ocean. And He separated between the waters that were below the firmament and between the waters that were above, in the canopy of the firmament. And it was so. Targ Pseu. Jon. Gen 1:7  

“Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, the middle layer of water solidified,and the nether heavens and the uppermost heavens were formed. Rab said: [God's] handiwork [the heavens] was in fluid form, and on the second day it congealed; thus Let there be a firmament means ‘Let the firmament be made strong*. R. Judah b. R. Simon said: Let a lining be made for the firmament, as you read, And they did beat the gold into thin plates…R. Simon said: The fire came forth from above and burnished the face of the firmament.”  Gen. Rab. 4:2  

“R. Phinehas said in R. Oshaya’s name: As there is a void between the earth and the firmament, so is there a void between the firmament and the upper waters, as it is written, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, meaning, midway between them. R. Tanhuma said: I will state the proof. If it said, And God made the firmament, and He divided between the waters . . . which are upon the firmament, I would say that the water lies directly upon the firmament itself.” Gen. Rab. 4:3  

“…when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits. And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying, Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron.”  3 Apoc. Bar. 7  

“But after that he makes the firmament, that is, the corporeal heaven. For every corporeal object is, without doubt, firm and solid; and it is this which “divides the water which is above heaven from the water which is below heaven.”  Origen. Homily on Genesis 

“If the nature of the elements is taken into consideration, how it is possible for the firmament to be stable between the waters? The one is liquid, the other solid; one is active, the other, passive.” Ambrose. Hexameron. Bk II Ch 2.48  

“…’And he called the firmament, heaven.’ In a general way, He would seem to have said above that heaven was made in the beginning so as to take in the entire fabric of celestial creation, and that here the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant.”  ibid. 2.62  

“This firmament cannot be broken, you see, without a noise. It also is called a firmament because it is not weak nor without resistance…the firmament is called because of its firmness or because it has been made firm by divine power,..” ibid. 2.62  

“They must certainly bear in mind that the term “firmament” does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven: we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below.”  Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis, BkII Ch.10
It is telling that Gurd tells his audience “I don’t read the bible that way at all”, as we’ve seen that Gurd’s interpretation is markedly at variance both with the lexical and contextual meaning (not to mention the interpretation of many early Jews and Christians). Gurd’s reading is nothing more than his interpretation, and hardly normative for our community.

Gurd’s remark comes to the heart of the problem with the fundamentalist exegesis Gurd champions, which is a failure to recognise that the Bible was not originally written to us, but to an ancient audience separated from us by time and culture, and that we need to avoid reading into modern science, modern historiography, and modern concerns. C.C. Walker put it well:
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.[11]
Furthermore, not only does Gurd completely fail to grasp this central point, he misrepresents those who do recognise this point and factor it into their exegesis by accusing them of ‘relativism’:
How far the dome is, I don't know you have to read Babylonian mythology and then you will understand. So I think what is creeping in is relativism, the Bible is not a book of truth, it’s sort of a group of ideas from the people of the time, you know which is very common in the world around us.
Not only does this grossly misrepresent what evolutionary creationists believe, it is nothing more than scaremongering. Accommodating deep-seated, culturally based beliefs in order to inculcate timeless divine truths is not relativism. 

The New Testament references to demon possession are so plain as to give many mainstream Christians ample proof-texts for their belief in the reality both of the existence of demons, and their role in causing disease. Yet, no Christadelphian would ever read them literally, but rather, would recognise them as an accommodation of deep-seated cultural beliefs in order to achieve a higher goal. 

The same principle applies in principle to the OT accommodation of ancient cosmogeography in order to teach, as C.C. Walker pointed out, that YHWH, and not Marduk or Baal was the creator.


[1] Gurd’s claim is incorrect. Firstly. anecdotal evidence suggests most of those who have accepted evolutionary creationism or agreed to accommodate it, are above 35 years old. The present writer is close to 50, while he is aware of some who are in their mid-60s. Secondly, dismissing EC because of the age of many endorsing it is just an ad hominem fallacy.

[2] Thomas J The Apostolic Advocate (1837) 3:260-261

[3] Jardine W.D. ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age, (1864) 1: 93-94

[4] Jardine W.D. ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age, (1865) 2: 115

[5] Simons, ‘Why Man was not at once made Perfect’, The Christadelphian (1884) 21:177

[6] Welch “Knowledge. No., 12 Geology” The Christadelphian (1891) 28:344.

[7] Roberts R ‘Were There Human Beings Before Adam?’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age, (1868) 5: 172

[8] Roberts R. ‘A Page for the Interested Stranger -  No. 2’, The Christadelphian (1885) 22: 405

[9] Enns P “The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s not the Point” BioLogos Blog Jan 14 2010

[10] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1290.

[11] Walker C.C. “Is it ‘Wrong’ to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913), 50:348.