Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review of meeting about Genesis 1, part 4 of 4

Up until this point, I have primarily focused on a particular interpretation of Genesis 1, called the "day-age" view, espoused by an organization called Reasons to Believe. However, I don't think their point of view is the full story.

First, it is clear that the divine workweek, while perhaps not 144 hours as we would understand a six-day period to be, is at least analogous to our workweek. Six days of work, one day of Sabbath-rest (see Hebrews 4). Some have used this as an argument for a 24-hour day interpretation. However, besides a human work week, other things follow this pattern of six "somethings" of work, followed by one "something" of rest. For example, Exodus 23 instructs us to work the land for six years, and for the seventh let the land "rest". This pattern itself actually follows work six/rest one-Sabbath pattern: a "Sabbath of Sabbaths" shall occur every fifty years, in the year of Jubilee (see Lev 25)! In other words, perhaps God created in this particular pattern in order to provide us with analogy to our prescribed pattern. This is called the "analogical day view", and provides one answer to the question as to why God did not just create everything in a big "poof". (Delving deeply into this may be a topic for later discussion.)

Second, it is clear that Genesis 1 should be interpreted within a literary framework. The framework hypothesis, if I am portraying it correctly, states that each of the days should be taken as part of a literary whole. Note the parallelism in the passage. In the first three days, God creates "kingdoms". Day 1: day and night. Day 2: the waters and the sky. Day 3: the land. Then, in the next three days, God creates things to fill these kingdoms (the "rulers"). Day 4: sun and moon. Day 5: swarming creatures in the ocean, great big ocean beasts, and birds. Day 6: specialized land-dwelling creatures, and, of course, humans.

Taking these two positions together, in addition to what I've already described, answers a couple outstanding questions. Why does the text appear to say that God created the sun and moon on Day 4? Not only is that because they are first clearly seen on Day 4, but also because it fits the divinely-orchestrated creation psalm that we call Genesis 1. Why does God seem to create sea-dwelling mammals (Day 5) before land mammals (Day 6)? Because Genesis 1 is not telling the whole story, only the essential points, and doing it this way fits the literary framework. Perhaps God did create land mammals on Day 5 as well. But the specialized ones, such as horses, goats, etc, important for human culture, perhaps were created on Day 6. These are the ones that are highlighted. One many also ask why He created in this pattern at all? Because of the importance of analogy to our workweek.

Wow. I really must apologize for the long time it took to finish writing this. I hope it was clear. But hey, one of the reasons why I'm writing this thing is to hopefully stimulate some discussion among friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I'd really appreciate hearing what you have to say.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review of meeting about Genesis 1, part 3 of 4

The third point that I focused on in our discussion last Saturday was not a roadblock for non-believers so much as it was a positive case for Christianity.

The Genesis 1 creation account is primarily proclaiming that God is the one who creates. This can be seen in the way the sun and the moon are described in Creation Day 4 (ie, the "greater light" and the "lesser light"). Most scholars agree that this wording was chosen to help keep the Israelites from idolizing and worshiping these heavenly bodies the way many of their neighbors did.

But beyond that theological point, it also appears that the Genesis 1 creation narrative is a chronology. Now, many people object to this point of view, saying that "the bible isn't a science textbook". While that is true, it is also a mischaracterization of the problem. Even though the bible isn't a science textbook, it does speak the truth on matters that it discusses. You won't find descriptions of electrons, gravitational theory, or optics in the bible, but when it does speak of natural phenomena, it should be error-free (when interpreted correctly).

So, back to the chronology of Genesis 1. If we are so bold as to examine it as a chronology, we see remarkable accuracy. There are at least 11 major points discussed in the Genesis 1 account that are now known to be scientifically accurate in their statement or in their chronology:
  1. The universe is created from nothing, and time had a beginning.
  2. The primordial earth was dark (ie, blanketed with thick clouds).
  3. The primordial earth was unfit for life.
  4. The primordial earth earth was covered with water.
  5. Early on in earth's history, the thick cloud cover was exchanged for a thinner atmosphere.
  6. The water cycle began.
  7. Dry land appeared.
  8. Photosynthetic plant life appeared.
  9. The oceans swarmed with life (Cambrian Explosion).
  10. Advanced animals appeared.
  11. Humans appeared.
It's pretty remarkable that Moses, who knew nothing of these events, was able to describe them with enough detail that, with our knowledge today, we can recognize these events as happening the way Genesis 1 describes. But Moses had knowledge from the one who performed these acts. If God, who knew how these events took place, told Moses through the Spirit what to "write" and in what order, and from our vantage point today we find that these events, as recorded, are true, shall we say that it's a coincidence? Or should we affirm that the Genesis 1 chronology is a miraculously scripted history of earth and the universe?

One last thing. I am not saying that all the answers lie in Genesis 1. There are parts of this chronology that we don't understand, or, perhaps, seem to contradict what we have discovered through studying the natural world. However, there are other interpretations of the text, and I think it would be instructive to peruse these as well, in particular the "framework hypothesis" and the "analogical day view", which we'll get to in the next posting.

But for now:
Comments are welcome!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review of meeting about Genesis 1, part 2 of 4

Continuing on with my previous post summarizing our discussion group, I'd like to discuss the second common roadblock that non-believers have with interpreting Genesis 1.

This second roadblock is that many skeptics object to the idea that the sun, moon, and stars are allegedly created on Day 4, after not only the earth has been created, but also the first plants have been created as well. First of all, this makes no physical sense, and second, we know for a fact that many stars (and galaxies) are far older than the earth. But Genesis 1:16 says, in the middle of the Creation Day Four account:
God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars (NIV).
What are we to make of this? The common misconception here hinges on a subtle shift in point of view. In verse 1:2, the text tells us:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
This implies that it was dark on the surface of the earth (but not necessarily because the sun didn't exist). Then, in Creation Day One, "God said 'Let there be light,' and there was light (v. 1:3)." Does this mean that the light here in verse 1:3 is different from sunlight? Some have proposed it is God's shenikah glory, as will be true of the new creation (Rev 21:23). However, it doesn't have to be that mystical. I contend that it was dark on earth's surface because of thick cloud cover, and not due to the lack of a sun. When God said "Let there be light," He was not creating light, but allowing light to pass. (The Hebrew verb here, haya, can be translated "come to pass".) In fact, our best planetary formation models predict that the primordial earth was covered in thick clouds, much like Venus is today, and only because of a miraculous collision event with another planet-sized body (which, by the way, is the same event that formed the moon and a topic for another discussion) did the cloud cover become thin enough to allow light to impinge upon the surface of the earth.

So what then do we do with Creation Day Four? It seems that in verse 1:16, the Bible is clearly teaching that the sun, moon, and stars were created that day. Well, the answer is that the Hebrew verb tense translated as "made" could also be translated as "had made." In other words, verses 1:16-18 were, in a sense, parenthetical notes.

But Creation Day Four still talks about the sun and the moon appearing for the first time. God said "Let there be" lights in the sky, which as we saw before, means "let it come to pass that lights would be in the sky." We should interpret this to mean that, in this creation epoch, this is the first time that an observer on the surface of the earth can see and distinguish these heavenly bodies. Previously, the cloud cover that allowed light to penetrate was still scattering enough to obscure the sun and moon as distinct objects. Kind of like a haze. If you read further in Day Four, the text even tells you why it is important for the heavenly bodies to become distinguishable: to mark the days, seasons, and years. This was not previously possible.

So that's roadblock #2. I know it was kinda wordy, but hopefully understandable. Of course, if you didn't understand it or if you have questions/criticisms...

Comments are welcome!

Review of meeting about Genesis 1, part 1 of 4

Hi folks!
Yesterday, we had another "Two Books" discussion meeting at my place. My original intention was to discuss Genesis 1 and 2, as these chapters seem to contain a high concentration of stumbling blocks that skeptics have regarding Christianity. Indeed, one of my stated goals for this discussion group and this blog is to talk about thoughtful responses to common objections that skeptics raise. We had a good time discussing Genesis 1, but did not have enough time to get to Genesis 2. Next time!

We read Genesis 1:1-2:4. (Note that many Bibles place verse 2:4 with the chapter 2 creation narrative, while some place it with the chapter 1 narrative. Some, such as the NIV, even divide the verse into two parts.) In particular, we focused on three points.

First, many skeptics object to the Genesis 1 creation account because of the common view that it teaches that the earth and the universe are less than 10,000 years old. This comes from the divine work-week structure of the creation narrative. However, the Hebrew word translated as "day" (yom) can be interpreted in several different ways. Indeed, there are at least two uses of the word "yom" in the very same text that unequivocally mean something other than a 24-hour period. The first is in vv 1:5, 16, and 18 (here "day" means the roughly 12-hour period of daylight). The second is in verse 2:4. In fact, this appearance of the word "yom" is not even translated as "day" very often (the NIV does not even have a clear translation of this word), but this verse is referring to an ambiguously long period of time, greater than 24 hours.

The punchline is that "yom" can possibly refer to an unspecified, long (but finite) period of time, and if that's true, why would we be compelled to accept the days of the creation week as 24 hours? (And by the way, there are many scriptural reasons for regarding these "days" as long, unspecified periods of time, which are far beyond the scope of this particular post.)

So that's major roadblock #1. The other two will be to come in the next few days. As usual:

Comments are welcome!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Saturday

Dear all,
We're going to have our second meeting this Saturday at my place, aka, "The Green Rhino". I'll be sending individual email reminders around. Also, please spread the word by word of mouth. We'll meet at noon.

I'm planning to start at the beginning: Genesis 1 and 2. We'll go through these two chapters and discuss how Christians have interpreted them, especially in recent years in light of what we know through the study of General Revelation.

Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can we test it?

I have always argued that we can test whether God exists or not. But can we?

Here's the problem. Some scientists (both atheistic and Christian) contend that using God as an explanation anywhere, under any circumstances, undermines the scientific enterprise. After all, if you allow God as an explanation for natural phenomena, then what's to stop you from invoking God to explain a chemical reaction? Or when studying a topic such as cell division?

Another related argument is often called the "God of the gaps" fallacy. This term refers to saying, "It was an act of God," as a causal explanation for something we don't understand. In other words, if there is a gap in our understanding, then we just say, "God did it." The problem is, further investigation may provide a perfectly naturalistic explanation. In ancient times, people would invoke God as an explanation for all sorts of phenomena that we now understand to be completely explainable by the forces of nature. That is, people used to be superstitious. In this line of thinking, then creationism is also tantamount to superstition.

So I ask the question: can we ever plausibly lift up God as an explanation for phenomena without sacrificing our academic or scientific integrity? I'll put it another way: is God ever an appropriate and convincing cause of something?

Perhaps more to come. AND...

Comments are welcome!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Thank God for Evolution"!

The Skeptics Society, which has, in the past, been quite hostile towards Christianity, is hosting a lecture by Reverend Michael Dowd regarding his recent book, "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World" at 2pm this Sunday, June 7th. The lecture will be in Baxter Hall on Caltech campus (Ramo auditorium in building #77).

I am quite interested in hearing what Rev Dowd has to say about his book. Unfortunately, I won't be in town this weekend, so I encourage anyone who is interested to attend. I'd love to hear any comments about the lecture, so...

Comments are welcome!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A high purpose

The "anthropic principle". It is an accepted idea in the scientific community. It basically says that, based on our studies of the natural world (mostly physics and astronomy), it sure seems like the universe was designed for the benefit of our existence.

The evidence for design is so powerful, it has caused even atheistic scientists to make remarks such as, "The universe in some sense knew we were coming (Freeman Dyson, physicist)."

If such design is so evident to those who study the universe, what does that mean for us? I think it means that God clearly had some very high purpose for our existence.

Atheists will commonly say things like, "How can you think that the universe was designed for us? We are so small and insignificant. There's so much more out there in the universe." Some would even go so far as to say this idea is the height of arrogance. But is it?

Think about it. One of the discoveries that gave rise to the anthropic principle is that all of the rest of the universe had to be there, in just the right way, for just the right amount of time (yes, even the age of the universe is important), in order for us to exist here on earth. So clearly, we are not cosmically insignificant. In fact, the opposite is true. The universe was designed for us to be here.

In other words, God has a purpose for us.

Comments are welcome!