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Text-Priority View of Creation

June 21, 2011

Let me establish something from the start. My position is a position about the text. Language, linguistics, exegesis, the realm of written and spoken human communication is the

Let me establish something from the start. My position is a position about the text. Language, linguistics, exegesis, the realm of written and spoken human communication is the background from which my “position” emerges. Christianity (also Judaism) is text-based. If it isn’t this is my first mistake, because I take it that way. The Scriptures are our only infallible rule for belief and behavior. They are self-revelation from our Creator, relating to us His plan, to which we do well to pay attention. Its center is Christ. However, the peripheries of revelation are also important, because they also lead to Christ.

Accordingly, I am now relating my “position” on the first chapter of Genesis. It is the beginning of the Scriptures, yes, but in a more immediate context, it was written, I suggest, as the beginning of the Law.

The Law, the Torah, the Pentateuch, is the foundational document for the one nation established directly by God, for His own purposes, above all others, for bringing the person of Jesus Christ to the world in the flesh. It is then the written expression of the Covenant that is constitution of the nation of Israel, the supreme Law of the land. The form of the ancient covenant, to oversimplify things, begins with a historical preamble before delving into the legislation per se. And at the beginning of this historical preamble is a self-introduction from the Sovereign.

Thus I wish to treat Genesis 1, not as an ancient folk tale tacked on to the real important stuff, not as an etiological story of the how-the-tiger-got-its-stripes vein. A cosmogony, yes, I suppose so, but one the details of which are dictated by the Person of the Creator and the Plan He is about to reveal. It spells Him out as Creator, King, Judge, Father/Provider. Key themes are light and separation. And through it all He establishes Himself as Lord of Time, setting His signature on the whole Plan by engraving the number seven on it.

This He certainly did not have to do. He did so-or at least He tells us He did so-deliberately, not out of necessity, since the whole could have been achieved instantaneously. We must understand, I think, that He did this symbolically and with significance. To ignore the stated timing dimension, or to downplay or ignore it, is a serious exercise in missing the point. The seven-day structure of the text is so salient that only willfully closing one’s eyes to it can one consider it of little importance.

Note that at this point, I am talking about the details of the narrative. This story is a story that takes place over the span of a week. I am not at the moment discussing “real” events outside the narrative, not the age of the earth, not how everything came to be, not astrophysics, not biology.

I will also stipulate that Genesis 1 is not a “science” text. Now be careful to understand what I mean. Ask me what I did over the weekend and I can tell you about my activities. This also would not be a science text, yet when I make reference to events and objects, I am intending them to be understood as real-world referents in time and space.

As I look at the text of Genesis, I take it that this text is also intended to be understood as narrating real-world referents in time and space. I see no evidence that it is intended to be understood as metaphor, or as myth. Indeed, I see evidence that it intended to be understood as history. To cite one bit of evidence outside of Genesis, Exodus 20:11 suggests that the chapter was intended to be understood as history. So if I am to understand it as intended (that exegesis-thing) I am to read it as history.

Note I haven’t said anything about believing it yet (though I do).

As a cosmogony, it actually tells us very little about the how. It tells us God spoke and was obeyed, things coming into being or into form by fiat, that King-thing.

Again, though, the few details it does give are, we should understand, the details God wishes us to understand in chief. The seven day aspect, six days of creation and one day of rest, is foundational to the whole thing.

It begins with “let there be light” and separation of light and darkness, day and night. Notice that it early defines “day”: “the light he called day.” “Day” is defined primarily as the light part of the light/dark cycle. The light phase is what you count. You have intervening periods of night (when no man can work) when God doesn’t work. Since there are intervening dark phases, the next day does not begin until the dark phase occurs. So there is evening and there is morning before day X ends and day Y begins.

However, a day is a light cycle. I don’t say 24-hours because it is rather anachronistic, as I don’t think the word hour occurs anywhere in the OT. I may be wrong about that.

So, at this point, jumping ahead logically a bit, make the “day” ages long if you really must, but it has to be a single light phase. Per the text, I think. How’s that work for you? In other words, I don’t think a Day-age approach is within light-years of validity (pun intended). Besides, despite popular myth, there is no use of yom that means period of indeterminate length (i.e. x number of light/dark cycles). This is regularly yamim, yom in the plural: “days.”

Notice also that I have not appealed to “what I already believe” about life, the universe, and everything in exegeting what the author of the text intended to convey. Call me crazy, call me irresponsible, but I think molding my interpretation of an ancient text to conform to my preexisting ideas about what is and how it came to be is an illegitimate procedure. I’m funny that way.

And I grant I could be doing this and just not seeing it. I’m trying not to, but I’m only human.

One other remark I seem to have to make over and over: this text is not poetry. Hebrew poetry has a definite structure, and Genesis 1 does not have that structure. This isn’t rocket surgery, folks. Genesis 1 is not poetry. This is too bad for the metaphor position, because Hebrew poetry predisposes to figurative language. If it were poetry I’d say this was good evidence in the pro-metaphor position. But it isn’t.

What is most closely resembles-what it in fact is, I submit-is a construction narrative, a procedural account. Compare the accounts of the building of the tabernacle and later the building of the temple. I think Genesis 1 is very similar to these in structure. And they have a stylized, repetitive structure just as Genesis 1 does, and it is this stylized nature that has led so many to call it poetry. But construction narrative is about the most concrete, non-figurative type of text you can imagine. If it says 3.75 inches, you better take that “literally.” Time and space references in such a text are generally not figurative.

Not that there is nothing figurative about it. The whole thing is written with anthropomorphism or anthropopatheia. But just about every reference to God in the OT is.

Okay now, as a text interpreter, this tells a bit how I interpret it. The forming of the cosmos is said to have taken place over the span of six days. Note that this still isn’t a statement about the age of the earth. For this you need the genealogies and such, but that’s another story. At any rate the six-day thing is, I take it, intended to be understood as happening over six days. This is sort of what I call the A-is-A approach. “Brocolli is green” says nothing about its environmental awareness. I think this is the correct way to read the text.

I think an objective reading yields this conclusion. At least any rational person has to agree that it is one possible reading of the text. This is putting it mildly. I think any intellectually honest person with requisite skills to render an opinion would have to say it is the most probable way to read the text. 51% probability at the very least.

If not, I think I have reasonable cause to question the purity of your interpretive technique. Smells of eisegesis, methinks, purpose-based interpretation.

Still, there are other possible reconstructions of the intended meaning. But why would I choose them? I can’t think of a reason. Hmm, science? More of that below.

Anyway, if I think the A-is-A reading is the way the author (both the divine one and the human one) intended me to take the text, and as the text is part of Sacred Scripture, I further understand that as a Christian believer, I think I am obliged to believe it. Hebrews 11:2 starts with “our” faith, as believing what the Scriptures tell us about creation.

So why wouldn’t I?

It’s only now that I come to the question of science. And this is a distant second (or third or fourth.) However, I am far from anti-science. I am quite pro-science. I believe in it. I am a medical provider. I better believe in it.

When you’re in it-professionally-you do get to understand that science is not science is not science. Much of what is treated as absolute fact will in the not too distant future be established as non-fact. Much of what is treated by convention as fact-in medicine at least-here’s a secret, some of us know better…

This is why I say that science is a wonderful method for controlling bias and other variables in order to provide a context for close observation and derive from the experience conclusion of higher and lesser probability. Great method the scientific method.

Most people, though, don’t carry out scientific inquiry themselves. They simply rely on reports from various scientific authorities. Actually they rely on media announcements of reports on various scientific authorities. Or they recall high school and college texts and instructors. Or they watch PBS.

(This is technically called “faith.:)

As a sociological phenomenon the received body of information about life, the universe, and everything shares a name with the above-referenced method. However, by the time it filters to one, we have abundant means for bias to be reintroduced. As a reader of the Scriptures, we also understand that man has a very potent anti-God bias. Read Romans 1. This bias is far, far from absent in the sociological phenomenon that gets called “science.”

Evolution is a prime example. It’s whole raison-d’être is to account for the phenomena of the biosphere without recourse to a creator. Writes Him out of the story. Darwin says this himself (somewhere). I recall many years ago hearing a former P.O.W. tell of his captivity. One of the things he did to keep his mind sharp was to go over the plots of Shakespeare. He said he never liked Lady Macbeth, so he wrote her out of his version of the play. Well, she provides certain motivation at certain points. So her place has to be accounted for otherwise.

This is analogous to evolution. We see a biosphere that is “obviously” engineered. Engineering implies engineer. But can we have engineering without an engineer? Right time, right place, Darwin had a reading public ready to accept his schema of engineering without an engineer. Among other advantages it downplayed that God-thing from “obvious” to “apparent.” Got the Old Man off our backs, so to speak.

Some people kind of miss Him though. So as white bread is made by adulterating the flour to remove any nutritional value, leaving only starch-then we can inject back in some synthetic vitamins to enrich it, so also Theological Evolution does God the favor of reinjecting Him down the assembly line after first removing him earlier in the process. Voting for Him after voting against Him.

So from the people that brought you evolution, we have pronouncements about the origin of the universe. Assuming God out, mind you, though feel free to slide Him back in later to your comfort level.

So what about science, then? Do I try to correlate my reading of scripture with the sociological phenomenon of “science.” You know sociological structures come with community standards, deviance from which carries sanctions. You might want to consider whether you want to be a deviant and face the sanctions. (Don’t want to be called a Fundy, you know.)

Well, I know that “science” as a sociological phenomenon not only has opportunity to reintroduce bias, but that it has done so-with a vengeance. The body of what I am supposed to accept as true, or else be a Neanderthal nincompoop is vast. So am I supposed to conform my understanding as a Christian believer to this? I think not. I call such a thing syncretism.

But still, I believe in science-the scientific method. Let’s consider my reading of Genesis 1 in terms of the scientific method.

I use the scientific method frequently (albeit indirectly) in the practice of medicine. One example is medication trials. These double blind studies are designed to eliminate bias and control variables so that we can reach highly probable conclusions regarding the effectiveness of medications. These can be done well or done poorly.

Let us take for example a hypothetical medication trial. Say it comes out supporting the efficacy of medication X. Only thing is, after the fact, we find out that unbeknownst to the folks running the thing, the study subjects were using herbal remedies and such at the same time. Someone forgot to tell them not to.

This is called failing to account for a variable. The results may have been due to the herbal remedy rather than medication X. Or may not. We don’t know. The point is we don’t know. No matter how many tablets were doled out, how many blood draws, how many test tubes involved, how many white coats, we have no scientific conclusion. Science was not done, though it may have felt “sciency.”

If you are an unscrupulous drug lord, you might suppress the facts and propel the study forward anyway. Money might or might not be an object. Just saying.

But if you don’t control all the relevant variables, you haven’t done science. Don’t kid yourself.

So let’s do science to evaluate the A-is-A reading of Genesis 1 vis-a-vis the “real world.”

How do you construct it?

First we have to take the A-is-A understanding of the created cosmos in six days (relatively recently-let’s kick the genealogies in at this point, just for fun), and decide what that would look like. Then we look at the observable cosmos and see if it looks like that.

Problem is, we don’t have anywhere near the knowledge to do the first part. What it would look like is-as one sage once expressed himself-above our pay grade. The text doesn’t tell us that much about the process, remember. And if we think we can say what a six-day recently created by divine fiat cosmos must look like, we are kidding ourselves, big time-hubris on steroids. It might in fact look identical to what we do in fact see. How the bleep should we know? And if we can’t know-know I mean-then how can we use science to evaluate our exegesis? I don’t think we can.

Put another way, given the text, if you take a time-line back there comes a point where regular, repeatable processes (read uniformitarianism) gives way to sheer, overt divine action. Miracle, supernatural. Or it might be so. If not you don’t know one way or the other. You hit a divinity barrier, beyond which is opaque to science.

This is where I bring in the analogy to the water-become-wine. In the time line of this substance there is a science-opaque barrier. No matter how many chemical analyses you carry out on this wine, you will not get an accurate age.

The same kind of barrier might exist in regard to the cosmos. I’m not saying it does absolutely, but it might. (I would say, probably does-but that’s just me.) Anyway, if you can’t control for the divinity barrier in projecting backward in time (and I defy you to) then you are failing to control all the variables. As sciency as you feel, this is not science.

So this is why I don’t feel any pressure to revise my reading of Genesis-nor my understanding of what is-based on “science.” Science as a sociological phenomenon is hopelessly biased. Science as a method is incompetent to speak to the issue (with one major variable impervious to elimination).

So this is the madness in my method. For lack of something better, call it Text Priority. I think this is significantly different from Young Earth Creationism, though I think that understanding creation as relatively recent, based on the Scriptural text is “good enough,” and the way the authors of Scripture intend us to understand it. It could be wrong, certainly, but in my humble opinion, science has nothing to trump it.

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