Geocentrism and a historical Adam

It is possible to read certain passages from the Bible in a way that suggests they “teach” a geocentric model of the universe.

It is also possible to read those same passages differently, which is to say to read them in a way that does not suggest that they “teach” a geocentric model of the universe.

The case for the geocentrist reading is not particularly strong. It requires, among other things, a disregard for genre and literary context in which the reader treats one kind of text as though it were another kind of text — much like if one were to read a novel as though it were a newspaper, or a newspaper as though it were a novel.

Lo, Io.

But never mind that for now. For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that both readings seem equally plausible. Let’s say that the case for a geocentric reading of those Bible passages is just exactly as strong as the case for a reading that does not teach geocentrism.

How then should a reader decide between two such equally plausible possible readings?

The answer is to put down the Bible and pick up a telescope, or an astronomy textbook. The text itself may allow for two possible readings, but the telescope and the astronomy textbook do not.

This is a fact: the geocentric model of the universe is not true.

That fact must inform our choice between the two possible readings of those biblical passages. Yes, one way to read those passages suggests a geocentrist teaching. But another way to read those passages does not. Given that geocentrism is, in fact, not true, it makes more sense to prefer the non-geocentrist reading.

To prefer the geocentrist reading despite the fact that we know geocentrism is false would be to create an unnecessary and artificial conflict between the Bible and reality, forcing readers to choose between the two.

To prefer the non-geocentrist reading allows readers to embrace both. And this choice does nothing to influence doctrine or the substance of Christian teaching — unless, that is, we have made some previous mistake in such teaching by building doctrine on top of a geocentrist foundation. If we have made such mistakes in the past, this is an opportunity to correct them and to rebuild such doctrines on a firmer foundation, one based on truth rather than on the quicksand of falsehood.

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It is possible to read certain passages from the Bible in a way that suggests they “teach” a historical Adam and Eve.

It is also possible to read those same passages differently, which is to say to read them in a way that does not suggest a historical Adam and Eve.

The case for the reading teaching a historical Adam and Eve is not particularly strong. It requires, among other things, a disregard for genre and literary context in which the reader treats one kind of text as though it were another kind of text — much like if one were to read a novel as though it were a newspaper, or a newspaper as though it were a novel.

But never mind that for now. For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that both readings seem equally plausible. Let’s say that the case for a historical-Adam reading of those Bible passages is just exactly as strong as the case for a reading that does not teach a historical Adam.

How then should a reader decide between two such equally plausible possible readings?

The answer is to put down the Bible and pick up a microscope, or a biology textbook. The text itself may allow for two possible readings, but the microscope and the biology textbook do not.

This is a fact: the idea of a historical Adam and Eve is not true.

That fact must inform our choice between the two possible readings of those biblical passages. Yes, one way to read those passages suggests a historical Adam and Eve. But another way to read those passages does not. Given that the idea of a historical Adam is, in fact, not true, it makes more sense to prefer the other reading.

To prefer the historical-Adam reading despite the fact that we know it is false would be to create an unnecessary and artificial conflict between the Bible and reality, forcing readers to choose between the two.

To prefer the non-historical Adam reading allows readers to embrace both. And this choice does nothing to influence doctrine or the substance of Christian teaching — unless, that is, we have made some previous mistake in such teaching by building doctrine on top of a foundation requiring the existence of a historical Adam. If we have made such mistakes in the past, this is an opportunity to correct them and to rebuild such doctrines on a firmer foundation, one based on truth rather than on the quicksand of falsehood.

  • arcseconds

    ‘vulgar’ originally just meant ‘common’.

      (You can see this usage in the name of the Vulgate bible, short for (and anglicised from) versio vulgata: the ‘common translation’.   Ironically it also means ‘non-Latin (and non-Greek)’ e.g. when talking about Renaissance and Early Modern authors deciding to write in their native languages, or the RC church liturgy not being done in latin)

    The shift in meaning to ‘crude, rude’ is a common sort of slide

     cf.
    -’pagan’ (from paganus, which used to mean ‘country person’)
    - ‘villain’ (from villanus, ‘farmhand’)
    - ‘boor’ (from Old French bovier – herdsman)
    - ‘churl’ (Old English ceorl ‘peasant, freeman’)

    Also contrast:
    - ‘civil’ – relating to a citizen, i.e. a townsman (civis)
    - ‘gentle’ – originally meaning ‘well-born’
    - ‘courteous’  – Old french curt – ‘court’
    - ‘urbane’ – I think this one’s obvious.

    There are other examples, but I can’t remember them. Other languages often show a similar pattern.

    The implication is obvious. Cityfolk and aristocrats are nice and good and well-behaved and speak awl proper-loike; countryfolk are nasty and bad and ill-behaved and poorly-spoken.

    Nietzsche goes on about this at some point, probably in Beyond Good and Evil.

  • arcseconds

    also:

    Mater tua cricetus erat et pater tuus olebat sambucum.
     

  • Carstonio

    Thanks. With any ancient language, including Old English, I suspect that the cultural assumptions behind many words did not come down to us, at least not completely.

  • arcseconds

     I’m not suggesting that anyone using ‘villain’ these days is in any way impugning rural people, not even as an unconscious undertone.  That use has been entirely forgotten except by those of us who follow etymology or history (the spelling ‘villein’ is still in use in historical discourse to describe a serf).

    However, this kind of semantic shift has occurred over a long period of time and in different cultures.   ‘Paganus’ has meant ‘non-Christian’ since Roman times (and English imported that meaning), whereas ‘villein’ still meant serf up until at least the 15th century (and kind of still does in historical discourse).  ‘Villain’ as in ‘bad guy’ only came into being in the 19th century.

    So I think it’s pretty clear that there has been a slope on the semantic energy surface where words that mean ‘rural’ often drift into meaning ‘crude’ or even ‘bad’ :]

    And I think this cultural attitude is still there.  While I can’t think of any recent examples of a word shifting from a non-value-judgement meaning of ‘rural’ to bad or crude, ‘yokel’ and ‘redneck’ are both fairly recent words, and they both pretty much started off with strong connotations of both rural and stupid/uncouth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    ‘Villain’ as in ‘bad guy’ only came into being in the 19th century.

    Don’t several of Shakespeare’s villains refer to themselves as such?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Don’t several of Shakespeare’s villains refer to themselves as such?

     

    And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

    To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

    I am determined to prove a villain

    And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

    Richard III, Act 1, Sc. 1

    So yes.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The black and grey colored areas on this map seem to suggest that Germanic and Slavic speaking peoples began inhabiting those areas, which would seem to indicate that the Roman Empire was the weakest in those areas.

    Indeed, it is of interest that the Latin influences on the base language of modern-day England and Wales are minimal, surviving only in the “-caster” of some English cities, and that the Romance influences on English come mainly from French and a conscious drive to pretty up the language in the 18th century.

  • AnonymousSam

    It’s funny, just last night, I was talking about how several languages have subtly sexist implications in the way certain words and professions have masculine and feminine spelling/pronunciations. Etymology has a way of pulling skeletons out of the closet, huh?

  • arcseconds

     I meant ‘bad guy’ as in the antagonist of (say) a play (see the OED).   Sorry, I was really unclear about that. Should have at least said ‘the bad guy’.

    ‘Villain’ has been used as an insult for almost as long as it’s been in use to mean the socially lowest kind of peasant, with overtones of uncouth and untrustworthy. 

    But over time it’s shifted from meaning a low-class sort of ratbag who might rough you up and take your purse to diabolical types who are masterminding world takeovers.  Villains speak with posh British accents these days :]

    I presume this change is related to its gradual detachment from the original rural context of the word.

    Shakespeare is a bit of a halfway house here.  It seems to me that in Shakespeare,  it’s got a considerable overlap with ‘rogue’, which  means roughly as it does now: someone who’s shady, and who might help themselves to your purse, but it’s also got a sort of chummy, cutesie use where it’s OK to call your friends ‘rogues’ as almost a term of endearment (Shakespeare uses ‘villain’ in this kind of way from time to time.)

    Note the contrast in the quote from Richard III with ‘lover’.  It’s quite possible that the contrast here has as much to do with churlishness, sullenness and impoliteness as moral badness.


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