Reading the Bible Plain and Simple, Part 2

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February 21, 2010 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Brian Godawa. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Reading the Bible Plain and Simple, Part 2

In my previous post, I explained my original involvement for most of my life with a young-earth six-literal day creationism. As an Evangelical believer, God’s Word is my ultimate authority. I must believe what God says, not what my fallen sinful culture tells me to believe – which is why I am no longer a young-earth six-literal day creationist.

The goal of proper biblical hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible) is to understand the text through the eyes of its original writers and readers. If we are to believe that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,” we must believe what God means by that proposition within their cultural context, not what it means to us within our cultural context.

As a Western Christian addressing the varying interpretations of the Bible I had been claiming, “I just believe what the Bible says, plain and simple.” But I eventually came to discover that this hermeneutic is actually an egregious usurpation of God’s Word. The “plain and simple” of my modern Western perspective is not the “plain and simple” of the ancient Near Eastern perspective of the Bible.

It was plain and simple to the ancient Near Eastern mind that the naming of things exerts covenantal authority over them (Gen. 2:19). It is plain and simple to my modern mind that names are merely taxonomic references for things. It was plain and simple to the ancient Near Eastern mind that creation accounts are about deity giving order, purpose and function to the world. It is plain and simple to my modern mind that a creation account should be about how material substance came into existence. Plain and simple is not so plain and simple after all.

The biggest example of this cultural imperialism was in my attempt to read Genesis 1 as a scientific chronological description of the creation of the material universe. Interpreting the words of Genesis to concord with the Big Bang theory or modern physics, the creation days as 24 hours or long ages, the chronology to match the geologic column: All these attempts assumed that God was privileging modern 20th century post-Enlightened science over the paradigms of the people to whom and through whom he originally wrote. This is the unwitting arrogance of cultural imperialism – plain and simple.

As I researched further, I had to be honest and admit that the Scriptures do in fact contain common ancient Near Eastern cosmological notions that do not comport with modern scientific paradigms: “earth” as an immovable (Psa 104:5) flat circular disk of land (Isa 40:22) on foundational pillars (2Sam 2:8) surrounded by a circle of water (Prov 8:27) that goes to the edge of a solid dome sky (Job 37:18, 22:14) that holds back waters above (Psa 104:2, 148:8) with floodgates to release rain (Gen 7:11) with God’s throne above those waters (Psa 104:2), and all in a three-tiered universe of heavens, earth and Sheol (Phil 2:10). And this model isn’t just vaguely referenced in a couple of obscure passages, it is woven through the entire text of both Old and New Testaments! It is not that the Bible teaches this model as absolute reality, but rather that the writers assumed the model in their understanding, and God chose not to “correct” their view.

Does this mean the Bible is “errant,” or untrustworthy? Not if its purpose is to teach truth about God, faith and life as opposed to modern scientific theories. The point would be that God is to be glorified for creation no matter what model of images we use to describe it, Mesopotamian, Ptolemaic, Newtonian, Copernican, Einsteinian, Quantum, ad infinitum. And let’s be doubly honest here. To presume our 21st century scientific models are the absolute truth is sheer ignorance and cultural imperialism as well. It is no less a model that will be overthrown in 500 years than that of the ancient Near Eastern model. As Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”

I would have to face the fact that the ancient Near Eastern conceptual worldview had nothing in common with the modern scientific worldview. It was pre-scientific, and could not have possibly addressed origins in the way that we would today. Reading science into the text of Genesis – whether young earth or old earth, fiat or evolution, Big Bang or not -- is imposing a modern prejudice upon the text with the violence of a cultural Jihadist.

When I came to realize that Scripture does not intend to communicate about science as we understand it, I was freed from the dichotomy that shadows many Christians’ lives; a false dichotomy of choice between creation or evolution, God’s word or man’s science. The Bible is claiming the theological meaning and purpose of creation, not the scientific method of material processes. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, the Bible is “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” not of scientific theory. Because I believe that I must change my beliefs to be in accord with what the Bible says, I am no longer a young-earth six-literal day creationist because I no longer believe that the Bible is addressing such modern scientific issues at all. See my paper, “Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat, and Covenant” on the BioLogos website for a detailed examination of the ancient genre of creation accounts.


Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of To End All Wars and other feature films. He has written and directed documentaries on church-state relations, stem cell research and higher education politics. He is the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) and Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of fantasy novels about Biblical heroes within their ancient Near Eastern mythological context. He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at godawa.com/movieblog/.

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Joe Francis - #5590

March 1st 2010

Paul,

Paelontologist Kurt Wise is working on this problem.  He wrote a paper in one of the CORE monographs.  The monograph is entitled Genesis Kinds.  He makes a claim that the mammalian fossil record is fairly complete and it shows some interesting bottlenecks near the flood/post flood boundry.  Based on this evidence I have no problem with the possibility of a “legged whale ancestor” that might represent an Ark-kind.  Get the monograph…its cool.  Plus you get a free paper that I wrote on endosymbiosis.


Paul - #5593

March 1st 2010

Could you provide a link to Kurt Wise’s paper?


Joe Francis - #5594

March 1st 2010

Paul,

At this time it is only available in the monograph format.

Contact me by email for more info.

Look up my email address at masters.edu


Joe Francis - #5595

March 1st 2010

It is available at Wipf and Stock publishers.


Paul - #5596

March 1st 2010

I’ve sent you an e-mail. Include the relevant links in your response.

Thanks.


Paul - #5607

March 1st 2010

Joe, do you mind if I ask you what your ultimate ambition is as a creation scientist? Do you and your colleagues ultimately expect to be able to develop a model that will compete with secular science?


Gregory Arago - #5611

March 1st 2010

Paul,

Not sure what you mean by ‘secular science.’ Have you read Cdn Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” (2007) or UK David Martin’s writings on ‘secularisation’? They offer alternatives to what was thought about the meaning of ‘secular’ 20 or 30 years ago.

It is not a common topic for ‘natural-physical scientists’ to speak about ‘secularism’ or ‘secularisation’ so I imagine that your question may be unclear to Joe who is a biologist. What is ‘secular science’ in your home field(s)?

For you to contrast ‘creation science’ with ‘secular science’ might set up an unhelpful dichtomy, since religious scientists living in a ‘secular age’ may nonetheless study God’s creation.

Gregory


Paul - #5613

March 1st 2010

Well by ‘secular’ I mean essentially ‘mainstream’ science, science as it is reported in the top research journals; Science, Nature etc. You won’t find any research in those journals that would claim to support the literal Genesis account which is what Joe believes. Many religious scientists working in mainstream science may very well “study God’s creation” but they nonetheless agree with their non-believing colleagues that methodological naturalism is an important and useful aspect of modern science and so don’t include God in their scientific research. It is in that sense that it is ‘secular’.


Joe Francis - #5616

March 1st 2010

Paul,

My first response to your question about competing with secular science is that “I don’t really care that much”  but that might not be the most honest response if I think through what your saying.  Perhaps its better to say that a science based on biblical principles will be a more complete and thorough science or a science which is complementary to today’s science.  For instance, creationism predicts a more tranquil peaceful disease free world before the Fall.  Thus we can predict that there might be a remnant of that “different” world in our world.  For instance in microbiology, I would predict that most microbes are not harmful to humans because they were not meant to cause disease in the first place….and that is exactly what we find in nature.  And because all things lived harmoniously before the Fall, it is predicted that we might find beneficial bacteria living on the human body and we do ...in great abundance.  So this theoretical framework may indeed lead to discoveries that a non-biblical based science may not readily predict.


Gregory Arago - #5655

March 2nd 2010

Paul,

The term ‘secular science’ is sticky and I don’t think appropriate to contrast with ‘creation science’.

First, the term ‘creation science’ is a bit oxymoronic.

I like Joe’s answer in #5339. He said he doesn’t like the term ‘creation science’: “I am a Christian believer who studies God’s creation.”

So your question to him in #5607 seems to miss the mark.

Why don’t I like the term ‘secular science’? It sounds like you mean ‘natural(istic) sciences’ rather than that all sciences are inevitably ‘secular’ or ‘non-religious’ by character or in content. E.g. one simply cannot *do* cultural anthropology without involving religion.

When you say ‘mainstream science’ to a sociologist of science, there’s *lots* of explaining to do. Who defines the mainstream? Which mainstream(s)? Which journals, conferences, inst-s? Etc.

You write: “methodological naturalism is an important and useful aspect of modern science…”

Whereas I think MN is a weak, even faulty, philosophy of science.

“...don’t include God in their scientific research.” - Paul

This isn’t ‘secular science,’ it is just what ‘science’ means, even for religious ‘scientists’.


Gregory Arago - #5656

March 2nd 2010

Please note, Paul, that in *no* way am I endorsing Joe’s acceptance, based not on a scientific ‘consensus’ (another controversial term), but rather on his personal literalist reading of Scripture, of a ‘young earth’ of some 1000s of years. The ‘science’ goes heavily against him, even science that is done by religious persons.

If an Orthodox Priest can accept this, why not an American Protestant? To ‘I don’t care much’ to a priest who accepts biological evolution and geological time would be dismissive.

It is unclear for me, e.g. when Joe says:
“creationism predicts a more tranquil peaceful disease free world before the Fall.”

How can one ‘predict’ something that has already happened? Retrodict?

It seems to me that one can base one’s life on biblical principles and do good science, if one happens to be a scientist, without making their science scripture-centric.


Joe Francis - #5684

March 2nd 2010

Gregory,

It is unclear for me, e.g. when Joe says:
“creationism predicts a more tranquil peaceful disease free world before the Fall.”

Poor choice of words on my part.  Better to have said creationism “assumes” a more tranquil peaceful disease free world before the Fall. 

And then one can “predict” that perhaps remnants of that world are evident in this one.


Gregory Arago - #5688

March 2nd 2010

O.k. thanks for the linguistic clarity, Joe.

So, can I also clarify?

Since you don’t like the term ‘creation science,’ would you say, openly and in public, that you are *not* a ‘creation scientist’?

Respectfully,
Gregory


Joe Francis - #5693

March 2nd 2010

Gregory,


In think it is best to say:

“I am a Christian believer who studies God’s creation.”

I don’t like the term creation scientist but I have many friends who are called creation scientists and I don’t want to alienate my friends or get into long unnecessary explanations for why I don’t like the term…keeping peace in the family is a good thing to strive for..so I prefer not to make any dramatic statements.

On another topic, you implied in one of your posts that YEC may only go back 100 years or so, yet I find that people like Descartes and Basil expressed YEC sentiments hundreds of years ago.

 


Joe


Gregory Arago - #5722

March 3rd 2010

Thanks for that, Joe.

Quick note to say that of course Descartes knew nothing of ‘gravity’ either, having died when Newton was a lad. Descartes was *not* a ‘creationist’ in the sense you and I and others use that term today. ‘Creationism,’ tied with a ‘young earth’ view (i.e. YEC), is indeed a 20th century phenomenon, that addresses or tries to involve ‘science’ above Descartes’ and St. Basil’s eras.


Mike Warren - #72265

August 29th 2012

Godawa falls for the typical liberal fallacy of a hasty generalization from metaphorical language used sometimes in the Bible to the conclusion that all language in the Bible has no historical/material reference.  Scripture uses the metaphor of a house to describe the earth at times (pillars, foundations, windows, four corners), but that does not mean it can’t speak in non-metaphorical language about the physical world.


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