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.

  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

    Well played.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    It is odd that given a choice of many possible readings of the text, fundamentalists prefer to choose as definitive readings that contradict reality.

    One expects the opposite: to try to twist the meaning of the text to be in line with reality, rather than to say, well we could interpret in a way that’s in line with reality already but instead we’ll read it in this other way that flatly contradicts reality and attempt to reshape people’s understanding of reality to be in line with our arbitrarily chosen reality-contradicting reading of the text.

  • Carstonio

    Excellent comparison. The two ideas are really variations of humanocentrism. The universe isn’t about us as individuals or as a species.

  • http://twitter.com/mattketchum Matthew Ketchum

     excellent point on the humanocentrism!

  • Hexep

    I once had a friend, and say I had him once because he probably no longer regards himself as my friend, though I would still regard myself as his, and by all accounts, one day he went utterly insane or something, and abandoned his laissez-faire Protestant upbringing to become a hyper-fundamentalist Catholic, writing long internet screeds about how all non-Catholics should be rounded up and put in death camps, and posting gloating pictures of the book-burnings he and some of his companeros had thrown on the grounds of their university.*

    When once I cornered him on this exact subject, his response was a little different from either of these. Rather than say something on the lines of, ‘you’re right, the astronomy doesn’t allow this explanation, let’s revise,’ nor rather than say ‘I don’t care, the astronomy must be wrong,’ he pulled the thing option. His answer, and I paraphrase, was something like…

    ‘What is evidence? What is truth? Who can say whether telescopes are correct? Who can say how old the earth is, or what happened a thousand years ago, or what happened ten years ago or ten hours ago? How can we trust our own memory, or our own reasoning? The only thing to do in creation is drive towards salvation; nothing else matters and everything else is dangerous. There is no truth outside the Truth; no way outside the Way; no light outside the Light. Does the Earth revolve around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth? We never will know; we never can know. But if we choose to believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which in turn revolves around some other place, which in turn revolves around yet something else, then this makes our position in the Heavens small and insignificant, and causes mankind to lose faith in God. If, instead, we choose to believe that Earth is the fixed and unmoving center of all Creation, then this will cause mankind to believe that they are blessed in the sight of God, the very center of his attention, and thus prevent the human race from straying from the light.”

    In his mad pursuit of truth, he abolished the very notion of truth.

    To this day, it is a great shame of my life, that nothing I could say could deter him from this course. Was there something that could be said, some perfect argument, some pure crystal of knowledge, that could bring him back to the real world? If there was, I never found it.

    *To my knowledge, there are very few people who have done this; if you know who I’m talking about, then yes, it’s that guy. He and I were once intimates.

  • Arimus72

    One might suggest that a common thread underneath these discussions is narcissism. Oh not the clinical variety. The evolved narcissism that The Last Psychiatrist often harps on. (http://thelastpsychiatrist.com)

    The illusion disease. The perception illness. The over valuing of appearances  over actions. The idea then, that one is taking a biblical stand against modernism (gay rights, evolution, etc.) appears better EVEN if you are unsure of what that requires, what it means and who it hurts. Appearance trumps action. And since believing something like fundamentalism requires ZERO action, just a constant pointing towards the imagined boogyman, well then, count most in.

    You might call it the Geocentrist disease. Its not that the earth must be the orbital center of the cosmos but that *I* must be. And what better way to make a lackluster and meager life suddenly adventurous than to pretend to be taking a stand against the powers that be. 

    Which has the added benefit of avoiding the nagging (Kierkegaard might call it the despairing) feeling that we ourselves are the powers that be.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    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.

    Reading the comments in the link from people who prefer the historical-Adam reading gave me a sad.  There was the one guy who was talking science and whatnot and the other people who were just running the standard, “But were you there?” lines of questioning.

    Sadly, they seemed to require many, many, MANY words to basically say, “I don’t believe science, so neener neener neener.”

  • Kaylakaze

    I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve. Without the characters in the book thinking that they are in fact historical, most of it makes even less sense than it does otherwise. And if the characters in the book are incorrect, the whole religion is demonstrated to be a farce.

    You’d might as well have a religion based on a book by a science fiction auth… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the word of a con artist claiming he was reading magic stones in a ha… oh, wait. Well, you’d might as well have a religion based on the ramblings of a desert dwelling pedophil… oh, wait. Screw it, if we’re just making up religions, I’ll go with the magic friendship ponies. At least they make sense.

  • AnonymousSam

    I recall someone trying to prove that the geocentric model of the universe was the correct one by hovering a remote-controlled helicopter above the ground. He argued that because the helicopter wasn’t drifting into the distance, the Earth was not rotating and the reason we saw the sun as doing so is because it was the one orbiting the Earth.

    Telescopes aren’t enough to deter a willful mind.

  • Madhabmatics

     Man trust me, you wouldn’t want to get your friend into crystals either

    ;)

  • SisterCoyote

    I think it goes back to the All-or-Nothing problem. If you’re brought up never to question, to believe that the Bible, esp. the King James, is The Only Truth, and all of it is equally and literally unassailable, then your faith is built on the idea that if there is even a minor problem with anything the Bible says, then God does not exist and life has no meaning.

    The more science pokes at the universe, the more complicated it is. I think that gives life more meaning, not less.

    Either God created two humans, and set up all the universe to revolve around them, or God created the entire universe, and watches and loves the life that grows and thrives and questions in it, from the several-thousand humanoidish apeish dudes who started leaning towards language and culture, to whatever life systems did, are doing, will do, the same sort of thing, untold lightyears away from here.

    I dunno, but the latter idea is rather more beautiful, as far as I can see. Why do we try so hard to recast God in our own image?

  • SisterCoyote

    God, that is utterly terrifying. I’m so sorry for you, and for your friend.

  • http://comic.truefork.org/ Silly

    The more unbelievable the doctrine, the greater faith one demonstrates by believing it in defiance of all evidence, and the more one is distinguished from the unbelievers and confirmed in one’s identity. At least that seems to me why people prefer insane interpretations.

  • Eamon Knight

    Yes, but: How do we know which way the text is intended, and by whom? What did the person(s) who originally told the stories, or wrote them down, or redacted them, understand them to mean? Or can we just ignore that, and read the text in whatever way lets us have our cake and eat it too? Granted, texts can have meanings beyond that consciously intended by the writer, but surely a specifically *religious* use of the Bible requires accepting a particular reading as authoritative — that’s what *God* means by it. Otherwise, though it may be a collection of inspiring moral maxims, it’s no more uniquely significant than Aesop’s Fables.
    [/obnoxious_atheist]

  • Madhabmatics

     have you ever read Teilhard de Chardin?

  • SisterCoyote

     I have not! He looks incredibly interesting, though, I’ll have to remedy that. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • P J Evans

     That’s about the same argument the Greeks had for a non-rotating world.

  • LoneWolf343

    “I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve.”

    Well, yeah, if you read all parts of the Bible absolutely literally, including the parables.

  • Eamon Knight

    I’m reading some history-of-science at the moment, and one book pointed out that getting past this objection requires a coherent concept of inertia, which is non-obvious, and wasn’t really developed until the 17th century. Without that, our natural intuition tells us that we should *feel* ourselves to be in motion, that thrown objects should be left behind, etc. Some people, apparently, haven’t gotten the message (presumably, they learned high school physics well enough to regurgitate the correct answers on the exam, without really understanding it).

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yeah, it’s a pity when an otherwise-useful mind goes down this road.

    “What is truth? [...] if we choose to believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun,[...]  causes mankind to lose faith in God. If, instead, we choose to believe that Earth is the fixed and unmoving center of all Creation, [...] thus prevent the human race from straying from the light.”

    I am always tempted to respond to this sort of thing with “Oh? You think that’s true, do you?”

    But of course doing so does no good.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Was there something that could be said, some perfect argument, some pure crystal of knowledge, that could bring him back to the real world? If there was, I never found it.

    Man, it sounds like that guy is trying to dig his way into the deepest corner of Plato’s Cave he possibly can.  

    You have been outside the Cave, and when you try to alert the prisoner in it to his own prison, he reacts with hostility to the very idea.  

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I’ve gotten the impression that those who insist on so-called “literalism” actually have a conception of God that is very small, so the bigger and older the universe is revealed to be, the smaller their God seems by comparison. I think that fits in well with the discussion in this thread about narcissism. Narcissists don’t need a God big enough to fit the universe, they just need a God big enough to make them more special than others.

    It’s difficult for humans to think big.

  • vsm

    Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else, like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness? Getting rid of it completely would probably be a bit difficult.

  • arcseconds

     Telescopes aren’t in fact enough to resolve the issue at all, and didn’t resolve the issue at the time.

    You can show using a telescope that Venus orbits the Sun (because of the phases).  So that means Ptolemy’s model isn’t correct.  However, Tycho Brahe proposed a model where the Sun orbits the Earth, and everything else orbits the Sun.

    If you imagine one of those mechanical models of the solar system (an orrery), and imagine fixing the Earth, rather than the sun, to the ground.  Then you’ll have the Tychonian model. 

    Given that all you have to do to a model which replicates the motions is change what is fixed, then there’s actually no observation (certainly none made from the surface of the Earth) that can tell you whether the Tychonian or the Keplerian model is true.

  • The_L1985

    And let me guess: you’re not a Christian.

    Well, given that most Christians throughout the world today are NOT young-earth creationists, I’d say that reality proves you false.

  • The_L1985

    It wouldn’t surprise me.  The degree of willful stupidity displayed by a small percentage of very vocal Christians has created a gleeful readiness by certain young atheists to belive that all Christians are that stupid.

    I’ve basically started reading such instances of Christians and atheists neeping at each other as “I’m right, you’re wrong, neener neener neener!” because it’s about as intelligent and mature as that.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    According to Cold War mythology, when the U.S. space program was attempting to send probes to Saturn, they used the geocentric model instead of the heliocentric; both models accurately predicted the location of the planets relative to earth, but the calculations for a central, stable earth were easier.

    The purpose of this myth (true or not) is that a model does not need to 100% accurately model every aspect of the thing it’s modeling. It only needs to convey information accurate to the query. Most physical models of the solar system have horribly inaccurate scales for distance and size, but correctly show the sun at the center and the correct order* of the planets**.

    The model of Adam & Eve doesn’t need to be 100% accurate; it only needs to be accurate for the purpose of what it’s trying to teach, or for the purpose it is being utilized for. A historical Adam & Eve could be a strong teaching tool against racism, or for compassion for your fellow humans who are really just distant family. 

    The trouble is that the Historical Adam & Eve model is used to teach ignorance, bigotry, and denialism. And that’s not so good.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else, like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness?

    Not a Christian, but that’s my take on it. “original sin” seems to represent an awareness of good and evil, a moral awakening to concepts of “right” and “wrong”. Before that point, Adam & Eve were child-like: not embarrassed by their own nudity, trusting of strangers, discovering the names of all the things in their world. After that point (from which there is no return, thanks to angry angels with flaming swords) there’s pain and childbirth and other adult things. 

  • Carstonio

    I remember Fred arguing that a talking serpent should be the tipoff that the Eden account wasn’t written as literal history. But without the preconceptions about the book that influence people outside Judaism and Christianity, I might get the same tipoff from an all-powerful being that can create life. I don’t see a basis for distinguishing between the two types of magical elements in the story.

  • Jim Roberts

    Why do you need original sin? I haven’t believed in it for, oh, ten years or so now, and it’s not impacted me at all. I have plenty of unoriginal sin for God to hold me to account for without it.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The purpose of this myth (true or not) is that a model does not need to 100% accurately model every aspect of the thing it’s modeling. It only needs to convey information accurate to the query.

    This seems to be something people who use the “science has been wrong before” or “science cannot explain everything” arguments seem to forget (creationists are particularly fond of the “evolution has gaps in the theory therefor God exists” version.)  The fact is, a scientific model does not need to make a complete description of something universal, it just has to work as a reliable predictor long enough to be displaced by a more complete model.  

    For example, Newtonian physics is an incomplete physical model.  Relativity and quantum mechanics were created precisely because there were elements of the model which could not account for the things that these new theories could describe.  Yet the Newtonian is hardly obsolete, and for quite a wide variety of common circumstances it is still quite “right” and reliably predictive, hence why we still teach it in schools and still use it in all kinds of science and engineering.  

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I disagree. You have to jump through many hoops to read the Bible as NOT claiming a historical Adam and Eve.

    Could you elaborate?  I can see how an argument might be made that, say, the Bible teaches that there was a historical Noah, but Adam and Eve not so much.  It instead seems that one has to jump through hoops to believe it posits a historical Adam and Eve.

    What hoops do you see as having to be jumped through?

  • Not

    Given that we have *nigh-certain historical knowledge* from a plethora of other sources that geocentrism was the view of nearly all thinkers on the subject prior to the Renaissance…. I would say that any heuristic that does NOT lead you to conclude that the geocentric reading of the Bible passages is the correct understanding of what the authors have in mind….

    …. is horrifically flawed.

    And yes, I know the post is not really about geocentrism. the other side of the analogy has to hold up, however, for the overall point to work.

  • Foelhe

    … Unless, of course, discussions of the physical state of the universe were not actually the point of the story, and the bible passages are about the nature of God. That might be a bit of a stretch for a religious text, but I figured I’d throw the idea out there.

  • Leum

    I think Paul’s writings are the major scriptural challenge to disbelieving in a historical Adam, inasmuch as the parallel’s between Adam and Jesus seem a bit…weird if one of them is metaphorical and one is literal. Why would you need a literal death on a cross to atone for a metaphorical expulsion from Eden? I’m not saying it can’t work, but Paul really really stresses the Adam/Jesus parallel, so I think you have to account for it at the very least.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     The creationists make a fine argument that science is not a kind of religion promising absolute truth to the faithful.

    The problem of course is that the people making the claim that science *is* doing that sort of thing… Aren’t scientists. (I won’t say “nobody is making that claim”, since a lot of hack hollywood writers make it all the time)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Which it does. Try replacing “the bible” with “The Tale of Genji” or “Beowulf” in what you just said.

    It makes exactly as much sense to say that “It is correct to read the bible as teaching geocentrism” as it does to say “It is correct to read Beowulf as teaching geocentrism,” and it only makes slightly less sense to say “It is correct to read the TV Guide as teaching geocentrism.”

    Because the TV guide is not about the motion of the planets, and neither is beowulf, and neither is the Bible, and I can find books written *this year* that refer to “the four corners of the earth” and they aren’t teaching flat-eartherism either.

  • MaryKaye

    There is an essay by Lewis Thomas in which he describes putting the tip of his pencil on the paper and then, by an effort of will, making the entire universe revolve around that point:  the Earth, the Sun and planets, the fixed stars of the Milky Way, even the distant galaxies.  It complicates the math to describe the movements, but there’s no logical impossibility.

    In some sense geocentrism isn’t even false.  The Universe has no center, or is all center.  You can measure the cosmic background radiation at any point and you are measuring the fading glow of the Big Bang, when it was all one point.  (I think this is really cool, personally.)  So if you want Earth to be the center, well, the Milky Way is kind of lopsided then, but that’s just an artistic objection.

    In one of its occasional flights of philosophical fantasy, my martial arts tradition says that the one-point in the lower abdomen is the center of the universe.  Your one-point, mine, anyone’s.  The (to my mind wrong) corollary is “And because they are all the center of the universe, and all one, your aikido should fundamentally look like my aikido.”  (If you want to find the center of the universe, by the way, tighten your stomach muscles and feel below your navel for the point at which you can no longer detect that tightening–usually around 2 inches below the navel.  There it is.)

    I don’t think there’s an equally true interpretation of special creation.  Adam and Eve in the sense of common ancestry, yes.  But the denial of our kinship with other life is a lot more “wrong” than geocentrism, or at least it seems so to me–admittedly I’m a biologist.  You can do the math to get a probe to Saturn without heliocentrism.  You can’t figure out what genes are doing, I don’t think, without acknowledging the causal connection between my HLA allele and a chimpanzee’s.  (My allele is quite likely to be more similar to the chimp’s than it is to yours.  And that’s not an aspersion on our ancestry on either side.)

  • Madhabmatics

    geo-existentialism

  • Patrick

    Using what is true to help interpret the Bible begins with the assumption that the Bible is connected to truth.

    Which is, of course, EXACTLY the same error you’re accusing literalists of when you say this:

    “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.”

  • Carstonio

     It’s possible that the original authors of Genesis intended the story as both more or less literal history and parable. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Similarly, the ancient Greeks may have subscribed to a similar dual reading of the the Pandora story.

    A third option is that all three people may have existed and the stories grew into legend and myth over time, just as King Arthur may have originally been a Saxon chieftain. Several legends at Snopes reappear with different celebrities in the roles, and the fact that each version has the same (questionable) moral doesn’t negate the actual existence of the celebrities.  Joseph Campbell might have had something to say about that.

  • arcseconds

    Without the characters in the book thinking that they are in fact
    historical, most of it makes even less sense than it does otherwise. 

    Really?

    I don’t think Adam and Eve are mentioned very often at all.  In fact, I can’t offhand think of a single passage that depends on a historical interpretation of Genesis (apart from of course the genealogy given in Genesis itself).   That’s not to say there isn’t one: my Bible knowledge isn’t very comprehensive.   But I don’t think the text is as riddled with this assumption as you make out.

    If most of the Bible makes less sense with a non-historical reading of Genesis, then I should be able to go to any chapter and have a good possibility of finding dependence on historical Adam and Eve.

    So maybe you could explain how these passages, chosen with Random Bible Verse, make significantly less sense without a historical Adam or Eve?

    Proverbs 19

    1 Kings 8

    Matthew 5

    1 Peter 3

    1 John 2

    Also, I’d be interested in any passage outside Genesis which depends strongly on the historical existence of Adam.   Particularly, given that Fred is Christian, in the New Testament.

    At the moment it’s looking to me rather like in your anti-religion enthusiasm you’ve stooped to making stuff up that’s convenient to the story you want to tell.    That’s the kind of tactic we expect from a religious demagogue, not a rationalist.

    It’s not hard to make fun of the Bible without exaggerating or making stuff up about it, but it might require a modicum of effort to actually becoming familiar with its contents (reading it, for example, but there are easier options) rather than making convenient assumptions.

  • Foelhe

    Arguing about whether something is true or not isn’t the same as arguing whether it’s literal or metaphoric. If I say someone sings like a bird, you can disagree and say the person is a lousy singer. That’s a perfectly valid counter-opinion. You can’t say, “Oh, you mean they make high-pitched tweeting noises?” without looking like a damned idiot.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Actually, what do Christians who don’t believe in Adam and Eve’s
    historicity do with the original sin? Decide it’s about something else,
    like when humans achieved a certain level of self-awareness? Getting rid
    of it completely would probably be a bit difficult.

    I can’t speak for anybody else, but I briefly went with a modified riff based on Martin Buber’s I and Thou and the mythological concept of the World Tree/World Navel.  Basically, eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden represented the sundering of the relation between self and the divine.  At the other end of the axis, then, the cross was an equal and opposite World Navel wherein the connection was re-established.

    I thought it was pretty neat.  I still kind of do.  But I know that it would have given literalists a fit.  Hell, I think it would have given Paul Tillich a fit, since the model didn’t actually require the divine to break through and touch reality at all.

  • Not

    The question is whether the Bible says X. The Bible clearly does says X. If you want to argue that “Yes,  but the story is clearly only saying X by-the-way, and its main goal is to say Y” then that *constitutes an acceptance on your part that the Bible does actually say X* because its authors did actually think X.

    What that implies – well, it might imply that the Bible is not divinely inspired, or that it is divinely inspired but God only intervened to ensure accuracy with regards to “the main point of the story”. Take your pick. What it can’t possibly imply is what you want it to imply which is “the Bible seems to say X but does not really say X”.

  • Leum

     My Catholic NT professor takes the view that the Bible is only inspired with respect to matters that impact salvation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    When Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, via Seth, Enos, Cainan et al. and down to Joseph, which of those individuals do you think he believes to be real human beings? If the answer is not “all of them”, how do you justify your answer? 

  • Not

    Which is more or less my point. If you have that kind of understanding of divine inspiration - which, I am given to understand, most non-fundamentalists do – then it’s quite possible and uncontroversial for Bible authors to have gotten it wrong on things like the position of the earth. That being the case, why do people like Fred and many commenters see the need to get tied up in rhetorical knots on things like “the point of the story” to avoid admitting that various Bible authors do in fact get it wrong on the position of the earth?

  • briddle

    The perceived difficulties come from passages like the following:

    1 Cor. 15:20-22:    20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

    Rom. 5:12, 14-19: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

    15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

    18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    Basically, Paul’s soteriology seems to indicate that Adam was a type of Christ; he brought death to the whole world through his actions, while Christ brings life to everyone, if that makes sense.  It’s also the basis for original sin (Adam was the stand-in for the entire human race in the garden of eden), and when he sinned essentially all of the humans ever to be born sinned as well, and we are all going to die at some point and we all need salvation because of Adam’s actions.  Christ is the means by which we gain forgiveness for the sin of Adam. 

    I do think it’s a fair point that these verses (and, by extension, soteriology) become more difficult when you ditch the idea of a historical Adam.  It would be like saying that Christ’s purpose was to undo the damage of the prodigal son, which I suppose can be said, but it’s odd to say a metaphorical/mythical person is directly responsible for anything in the real world, let alone the reason that all men need salvation.

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    I’ve read that the general view of scholars who study such things is that the two stories of creation in Genesis (yes, there are two different and contradictory ones) were never meant to be taken as an actual, factual account, and in fact were not taken as such at the time when they were collected into the Torah. The story of prehistory (which includes both the creation story and the flood story), like must such stories, were myths, and weren’t thought to be literally true any more than the ancient Greeks believed that the Greek myths were literally true, and any more than the listeners believed that the story of the Prodigal Son was meant to be taken as literally true. At least, that’s what the people I’ve been reading seem to think. YMMV.

    I’ve always liked Harold Kushner’s (and presumably others’) interpretation of the story of the forbidden fruit, which is that it describes what makes humans different from every other animal in creation: we alone are moral agents, and we suffer stress and anxiety in a way that animals don’t. (I mean, animals suffer stress and anxiety, but take my cats — once the Cat-Eating Vacuum of DOOM! is back in the closet, life is good again and they stop worrying. They don’t worry about the future or feel guilt or regret about the past. If they weren’t spayed they’d have kittens, and they would experience labor pain and taking care of the kittens would be work, but they wouldn’t worry about the kittens the way a human parent does about their children. )

    At any rate, it’s not indisputably a story about how Original Sin came to be passed down through sex like some sort of religious STD – after all, neither Jews nor Muslims, nor many Christian denominations, take it that way. Rather, it’s a story about the human condition and the fact that something is clearly not right, in our lives and in the world, and what are we to make of that?


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