Paul Copen wrote an article titled “Creation and Evolution: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing” that is worth reading, but the best part was one the comments. Let me reproduce it here (from here):
Can you imagine God telling Moses:
God: “Now Mo, I want you to pass on the following information to the uneducated, polytheistic slaves ok? Then they will understand that I am the Lord their God ok? Ahem, so. In the beginning, about twelve billion years ago, was an infinite singularity. In it was all the matter in the universe see?”
Moses: “Whats a universe?”
God: “Ok, right now Moses, I’m trying to work with you here. Even if you don’t understand, just write this down. Thousands of years from now some people who call themselves ‘scientists’ will ask this question and the answer will have been written down by you ok? I can’t go into that now though it’s too complicated.
Where were we? Now, this infinite singularity sort of well exploded and..”
Moses: “Whats a singularity?”
God: “Moses, son of Amram! Please listen! Please don’t interrupt and try not to ask endless questions, just write! Ok?”
Moses: “Yeah sorry. Errm ok.”
God: “So this infinite singularity exploded, and within a few billionths of a second, the groundwork for the laws of physics started to be laid down as all this matter expanded at a speed near that of light see? As the matter cooled down, subatomic elementary particles started to form such as quarks and gauge bosons.”
God: “Yesss what is it now?”
Moses: “Is there a simpler version?”
God: “Sigh. Yes. In the beginning I created the heavens and the earth…”
This was one of the major paradigms shifts that occurred for me when I read Peter Enn’s Inspiration and Incarnation a few years ago: God’s inspiration is not divorced from the language and concepts of the humans authors. Another way of thinking of it is as Christian Smith emphasizes in The Bible Made Impossible, we must understand the Bible we have as the Word of God by acknowledging that it is the Bible we have. In other words, let’s be careful not to make it into something it is not. We cannot be Docetic about Scripture.
This is cute, but the idea that god speaks to people in their language has a lot of problems.
The biggest is all the evidence that the stories and ideas were borrowed from other ANE cultues. The details of creation and the heavens, the idea that god was sated by blood, the flood, the idea that a tribe’s success was due to the strength of it’s tribal deity, and so many other motifs are just variations on ancient themes. Pete’s theory of inspiration would be easier to believe if the Hebrews were more unique.
Plus, while god didn’t have to give scientific details, he could have done something to explain why things are the way they are and not feed ancient misperceptions.
Thanks for posting this. Although this might be “cute” as Bondboy has said, it is also very pointed and telling, and I really wish more of us would consider this particular perspective of Scripture.
Maybe the parallels with other ancient cultures helpfully shows that God does come into our context and accommodates when He communicates. Kind of like why Jesus makes complete sense within a first-century, second-temple, Roman-ruled, Jewish context. That was his setting.
the fact that the same themes occur in other contemporary cultures does not discount the Bible. in fact, it shows that these common ideas were ways that God communicated in people’s own language. how else would they understand?
Thanks for posting this! I have taken it, tidied it up a little and expanded on it a bit over on my blog
After doing so, I had someone point out a short story by Isaac Asimov that presents another slant on the composition of Genesis 1…
There are parallels to be sure, but it rubs me the wrong way when people say that the Genesis 1 story is “just” a borrowed version of older Babylonians myths, to an extent that is true but in a similar way it isn’t. If we were to image the motiffs of the creation narratives as a “popular” song, then it would seem to me that the changes that the Israelites made to it are important. They made it their own, so to speak. If you were to compare the various versions of creation back then, you would be able to see the worldview of the storyteller reflected in it. So in the end, the creation narrative is a wonderful piece of theology not just a story for romantics.
As for the main article itself, I found it funny, but disagree. Even though I think that God speaks to us on our own terms, I would think that if he were to simplify it, he would at least do so in a more consistant and accurate way. The various stories of creation as narrated in the Hebrew Bible, to me, seem more like the various ways the Israelites tried to articulate the divine presense they felt in their own words rather than God articulating his own actions in various ways. Though if you wanted to “harmonize” all this in a humorous way, you can say that the conflicting creation narratives are really God’s actions in parallel universes or something.
Brian, yes, I was generalizing about a bunch of things and not trying to be too specific about any one point. And I’m not an expert on any of this, to be sure.
But with respect to the creation, I would say that generally implicit in the Gensis account are ideas such as the forming of things out of chaos, the neat divisions of the layers of the heavens and so on that we know to be wrong scientifically but were the consensus of the world at the time.
If God dictated a creation account so it would be understood by an unsophisticated audience, yet would also stand the test of time for readers in later millenia, there are ways to do that and also be completely accurate. But that’s not what happened, based on what we read. The Israelites developed their own take on the creation account against the backdrop of the same general world view as the rest of the world. And we see the same thing happened with the later writings on other issues.
The last bit is pretty much exactly what I said, but I don’t see why we labor so needlessly on the above points. Since it is obvious that in ANE myth, there were many reoccuring motifs, as we saw with the creation narratives. The point is that, in the end, the Israelites took a common “song” and made it there own. In it we can see the things that mattered to them.
To expand your last line, Brian, I think this is where the Genesis account becomes valuable. It is not scientific, and it is based on mythological language, but it makes theological claims worth noting. The sun, moon, and stars are not gods, but servants of God. Israel’s God is the one controlling God who gave creation purpose and assigned roles to the elements. These are the aspects of the creation story that stand out to me. The theological truths of Israel’s version of the creation song of their day.
Exactly. What they made of the language they inherited is what matters. If we were to conjure up the spirit of the author of Genesis 1, (s)he would probably be a bit puzzled that some of our coreligious [and some who are not] are so focused on the question of historicity and scientific accuracy that we fail to see the over all message. Now, in some cases we should be a bit skeptical of the theological message, especially if it’s morally questionable. But in the end, it’s what we have and inherited. Let us make the best use of them.
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