Biblical Scholars Fighting Creationism

Biblical Scholars Fighting Creationism July 22, 2015

Hector Avalos has a new article in The Bible and Interpretation about the need for Biblical scholars to be involved in fighting creationism. Here’s a sample:

Scientists are not trained to recognize how creationists are distorting biblical texts. Thus, Jerry Coyne’s Faith v. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible (2015) does an excellent job of explaining scientific theory and methods, but one will not find any discussion of how most creationists are misreading Genesis 1-3.

Creationists in the pews tend to shrug off arguments about DNA, radioactive dating, and other technical subjects because they are not familiar with them. But one need not even go into these scientific intricacies if the Bible does not even say what creationists claim.

For example, most Bible readers today don’t realize that the Bible speaks of a heaven made of a solid material or a dome in Genesis 1. English translations often obscure that fact. Therefore, it will take a biblical scholar to explain that the Hebrew version of Genesis has a sky that is made of a metallic or solid material.

Click through to read the rest.

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  • Eric Schramm

    As someone who has studied the Hebrew interpretation of these truly Hebrew books, the old Catholic belief of the flat earth being a Jewish mindset is, actually, insulting.
    Check out Chabad dot org for in-depth analysis of ancient Jewish arguments about Bible vs science.
    There are also many resources online about the Talmud. This states that Hebrew scholars had four beliefs – two about flat earth that were in the minority since they translate their word as sphere, not circle.
    Two others were of a round earth.
    The majority were of “earth floating on nothingness” since one scripture verse says so.
    The other was of earth like a piece of pumice and floating on water.
    Some of those believed that the sun rode the bottom of the metal bowl we called the heavens so we could see it and have day, then rode the top of the metal bowl so we could have night.
    Others believed the sun rode the whole day on the inside and warmed the waters when it passed through them under us.
    To say that they all believed this was a disk resting on pillars is – well – insulting.
    http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_shape.html

    • David Evans

      I am not impressed by chabad.org. Let me present his arguments why the fossil record is consistent with the world being 5722 years old.

      “(a) In view of the unknown conditions which existed in prehistoric times, conditions of atmospheric pressures, temperatures, radioactivity, unknown catalyzers, etc., etc. as already mentioned, conditions that is, which could have caused reactions and changes of an entirely different nature and tempo from those known under the present-day orderly processes of nature, one cannot exclude the possibility that dinosaurs existed 5722 years ago, and became fossilized under terrific natural cataclysms in the course of a few years rather than in millions of years; since we have no conceivable measurements or criteria of calculations under those unknown conditions.”

      My comment: according to the Torah the earth was inhabited by humans for all but the first few days of those 5722 years. How did they manage to survive such fearsome conditions? It doesn’t take much radioactivity or variation of temperature and pressure to kill us.

      “(b) Even assuming that the period of time which the Torah allows for the age of the world is definitely too short for fossilization (although I do not see how one can be so categorical), we can still readily accept the possibility that G-d created ready fossils, bones or skeletons (for reasons best known to him)”

      My comment: of course, saying that means abandoning all claim to be actually reconciling the Torah with science. Whatever evidence the scientist (or indeed the historian or anyone else) comes up with, God could have planted it there for his inscrutable reasons.

      • Eric Schramm

        Have you seen this picture of a horse that died and was fossilized before it’s fetus inside rotted? How many thousands of years did it take? How did the tissues not rot from within? The gut is the first to rot since there is a lot of air in the intestines.
        there must be a rapid fossilization method. And yes, I believe in Evolution. 4.5 Billion year history and all. However, I try to fight pre-conceived notions wherever possible.
        http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/tiny-horse-fossil-47-million-years-ago-discovered-preserved-foetus-still-inside-1473524

    • David Evans

      I notice that the commentators in your second link mostly date from centuries after Eratosthenes, who actually measured the size of the round Earth before 200 BCE. They had ample evidence to guide them in their interpretations. This does not tell us what the authors of Genesis believed.

  • arcseconds

    Amazing! Biblical scholars can be put to useful work after all!

    I liked the article, and I think Avalos is correct when he says that actually the Bible is the better target. What’s at stake on the science side isn’t only the science but philosophy of science, and, well, it all ends up being a bit difficult (or in the more colourful words of an acquaintance of mine (an ocker bloke with relevant credentials) when I mentioned this “you’re probably right, but it’s like pushing shit up a hill with a stick, innit?”).

    It’s too easy for someone with no real connection with this sort of thing and no incentive to get it right to do this really badly. Even people who actually (in some cases I suspect it’s more ‘ostensibly’) care about this stuff aren’t always that great at it.

    I enjoyed the other link, the one that’s part of an ongoing debate, where he explains about raqi’a, a lot more though.

    I’d have to say I still find Genesis 1 works as a poetic expression of a powerful, rational agent creating the cosmos that we know through science. ‘Let there be light’ isn’t bad at evoking the big bang, or even the creation of physical laws (creating through words also suggests a discursive operation here in a way that the hand-work of Genesis 2 does not) And the order of creation, from fundamental things through life of increasing complexity, is roughly right, too. It’s certainly a much better fit than carving up a primordial giant.

    I know, I know, the original writers didn’t intend this, but as I keep saying, it’s not a simple matter to reason about the intentions of the presumably several people involved in the creation of Genesis.

    Anyway, I’ve done my research, and I know that the intentions of the author is not definitive for the meaning of a work. In fact appealing to such is dreadfully passé!

    • Andrew Dowling

      I think it comes down to personal preference. Like all poetry/fictional literature/song lyrics etc., there is the endless debate about whether the author’s intention is paramount or whether the work takes a life of its own and the author’s original objectives can be overridden. Personally I think final authority lies with the creator’s intentions but I understand both points of view.

      • arcseconds

        “I think final authority lies with the creator’s intentions” is a somewhat odd way of phrasing something you think is a personal preference.

        And by saying it’s a personal preference, haven’t you in fact conceded that the author’s intentions are not authoritative? You can pay attention to them if you want to, and I can ignore them if I wish, which doesn’t sound like they are very authoritative at all on your view. It’s probably less authority than I’d give them, as I don’t think they should (in most cases) be ignored altogether!

        I put my final point somewhat facetiously, partly as a way of forestalling any supposition I might be, but it is a perspective I’m prepared to defend. Maybe I’ll do so in a later post.

        But first I want to return to the point that I think it’s problematic to talk of the authorial intentions that give Genesis its meaning.

        There’s the general point that firstly we have very little to go on as far as the intentions of works like Genesis: we don’t know who the authors were, or anything about them, and even their cultural context is a matter of supposition. Secondly I think it’s actually quite difficult for us to understand what the intentions of a myth-creator are at the point they create a myth, partly because we tend to think in terms of ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’, and I’m really not sure that myth creation in a traditional culture really fits into either.

        But let’s put aside those difficulties. Let’s say we know that the Genesis 1 material was written to express the utter created power and rational will of an almighty God in contradistinction to the rather arbitrary-seeming and random creation stories, and was understood by the author to be fiction in the sense that it wasn’t meant to describe actual events, but was meant to express something about God. And let’s say Genesis 2 was written with the same mindset we can attribute to Rudyard Kipling with his ‘Just-So stories’: a relatively light-hearted, non-serious aetiology of marriage, possibly with children particularly in mind. And then let us suppose that one redactor lived several generations later, and may have been vaguely sceptical of the two different creation stories as they aren’t compatible with one another, but wanted to preserve the traditional material, and also needed a backdrop for the Abrahamic material, which he took seriously, but consciously made up some of the figures linking Abraham to Adam and Eve. And let’s say the final redactor believed all of it but inserted the Joseph story (which they also believed) to set up a backdrop for Exodus.

        Under these circumstances, what is the meaning of the first two chapters of Genesis? Are they intended literally? Well, the final redactor thought they were true, but the initial authors didn’t, and the redactors’ intentions were more about preserving traditional material and setting up backdrops for the stories they thought were important, rather than telling the truth about the beginning of the universe. Is the intention largely to provide a backdrop for Exodus and the then-contemporary nation of Israel? The last redactor thought so, but the initial authors had no knowledge of this.

        Given that the real situation is likely to be around this complex, and also keeping in mind the first two points, it seems to me that if we’re to stick with authorial intent, the only thing to say is we’ve got no idea what Genesis means.

  • ashleyhr

    Have you seen? https://theologyarchaeology.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/a-few-comments-2/ “We consider the source– secular science which is blind, deceived, corrupted fallible or God who is holy, incorruptible, knew what he did and is not deceived.” I’ve heard it all before. Religiously motivated pushing of pseudo-science.

    • Jim

      Well, God is just testing people to see if they are honest, faithful and can see through those evil, deceptive, Satanic quantum mechanics calculations. Until secular science starts producing the truth and giving real answers, there is no need to take any of their annually published millions of pages of hard data seriously. So I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with the 1600 pages or so in the King Jimmy that has all of the answers.

      • Dave Again

        Secular science giving real answers? Do you mean the ones you want to hear?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Meaning having repeated observations and testing those observations under various conditions. It’s this wonderful thing called the scientific method.

          • Jim

            Great concise summary. Also, I would like to add that science doesn’t always provide the answers that [we] want to hear contrary to Dave’s assessment. As you indicate, the scientific method is based on reproducible observations whether we as observers like the outcome(s) or not.

    • Wow, someone actually reads David Tee’s blog?! 🙂

  • Darach Conneely

    What strange magic keep the waters above the firmament from flowing around outside the firmament, into the oceans, and then up through the fountains of the deep? Are we *cough* Hermetically sealed?

  • arcseconds

    I watched the debate that prompted this article. Left my reaction on the post which announced the debate.

    TL;DR (and it is a bit on the long side): Avalos had a great starting-point, but should have stuck to his guns. If he had done that, he would have won the debate convincingly and made a deeper impression on the audience. Instead he allowed himself to get dragged into side-issues, like making the case for his brand of atheism (which wasn’t what the debate was about, and was unlikely to convince anyone).