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Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Is Genesis 1-11 Historical? Many Evolutionary Creationists say Yes

Creationists of all stripes (young earth, old earth, gap theory, progressive, and evolutionary) agree that the first part of Genesis (chapters 1-11) contains profound theological ideas. There is unanimous agreement that they teach essential truths about God, humanity, and the relationship between them. However, there is disagreement on whether these chapters are historical in nature, ie. that the events they report correspond to “real” history. Some evangelicals believe that these chapters are no more historical than Jesus’ parables and that the actual historicity of the events is inessential to the Christian message. Other evangelicals feel very strongly that these chapters are historical, and that denying their historical nature is tantamount to denying the Word of God.

It is often thought that all Evolutionary Creationists (EC) reject the historicity of Genesis and thus faith in God’s Word. This is not really a fair assessment for two reasons: First, many evangelicals believe there are sound biblical reasons why Genesis 1-11 should not be read historically. See for example, Denis Lamoureux’s essay Evolutionary Creationism or the last part of Paul Seely’s critique of Hugh Ross's concordism where he briefly outlines the “divine accommodation” interpretation of scripture. Secondly, many ECs agree that the record of events in Genesis 1-11 corresponds to real historical events. Some would continue to describe these accounts as “literal history” and strongly defend “the inerrancy of all scripture” including the Genesis narratives.

A single post could not do justice to all the diverse interpretative positions of ECs, but I think it is worthwhile pointing to some resources that identify how various ECs reconcile biological evolution and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.

Some ECs accept that all of Genesis is historical, including Genesis 1. Glenn Morton, a former YEC apologist for ICR, takes this view. See his articles Why I believe Genesis is Historically Accurate, The Plain Reading of Genesis 1, The Days of Proclamation: A New Way to Interpret Genesis 1, and Why I believe the Bible Teaches Evolution. Morton is a maverick (for example, to have Adam be the father of all humanity, he places him in the very, very ancient past) , but a maverick that is passionate about the truth of scripture. Anyone who is seriously investigating origins from an Evangelical point of view should at least be aware of Morton’s arguments.

A second example is Dick Fischer and his Genesis Proclaimed organization. Fischer contends that a literal interpretation of scripture will lead to the conclusion that the earth is old not young (See: "Young Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake"). Unlike Morton, he takes great pains to identify Adam in the Neolithic time period of Ancient Near East history (see “In Search of the Historical Adam: Part1 and Part2).

Unlike Morton and Fischer, many ECs view Genesis 1 as figurative. The framework theory of Genesis is one example of how the opening chapter is interpreted. However, (unlike Lamoureux and others) these ECs still insist on interpreting Gen 2-11 historically. They argue that while it is easy to read Genesis 1 as a type of poetry, the following chapters read more "naturally" as history.

On the theological issues surrounding Adam, John McIntyre provides an interesting perspective in The Historical Adam and The Real Adam. He maintains that the historical Adam of scripture and the historical Adam of science can be reconciled, if one but corrects misinterpretations of scripture by various theologians (eg. Augustine, and some of the reformers).

Many other Evangelicals would consider Gen 1-11 to be history as defined by the people of the time, but not necessarily history as we define it in the 21st century. Carol Hill has a very good article describing what she calls “The Worldview Approach” (Unfortunately the article, which appeared in the June 2007 edition of PSCF, is not yet online). She states that:

The basic premise of the worldview approach is that the Bible in its original text accurately records historical events if considered from the worldview of the biblical authors.
And later:
Thus to really understand the Bible (specifically in this discussion, Genesis), one must try and understand the mindset of the people that wrote it.

The theological position of the worldview approach is that God has interacted with humans throughout real history, allowing them to write down his revelation according to their own literary style and from their own cultural and worldview perspective. That is, it considers that the pre-scientific knowledge base of the biblical authors is a prime factor to be considered when literally interpreting the bible.
The point is that there is much diversity in how Evolutionary Creationists interpret the Genesis creation accounts. Certainly the acceptance of the science of biological evolution does not necessitate a non-historical interpretation of Genesis.

7 comments:

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

Thank you for all the fascinating links. You have given me much to chew on. Your point (that there are a great variety of ways EC's deal with early Genesis) is an excellent one. I will be directing some of my friends to your post.

~ Cliff

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

My son pointed me to a website "The Word in Focus" by Larry Taylor with this article,

http://thewordinfocus.typepad.com/the_word_in_focus/2007/07/evolution-revis.html#comments

"Evolution Revisited". I was getting ready to send it to you to add the list of articles in your post. And as I scanned down through the comments, there you were at the bottom. So you've been there, done that. But if any other readers of this post have not, this article is certainly worth the read!

~ Cliff

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Yes, Larry's post was very good .. I was actually planning of doing a post of my referring to this but got distracted with life & never got to it. I have no clue how some bloggers manage to generate so much output!

BTW, just saw you've started your own blog at http://cliff-martin.blogspot.com/. Good stuff!

Shane said...

Steve, for me there is a preliminary question. What is history? Surely, at the least, history requires some sort of documented witness to events? If so, it seems to me this rules out Genesis 1-11 as being, in any way, a historical record. I.e. who are the witnesses and where are there records? The answer of creationists, that the record is given by inspiration (presumably by God to moses), is of itself a concession to the fact that the text is not historical.

Anyway, enjoyed your post.

Shane

Cliff Martin said...

Shane,

Interesting comment. Never thought of it in that way. What I understand you to be saying is that, even if Genesis 1 is historically correct, it still does not fit the definition of history. It would be supernatural revelation.

In a sense, it doesn't change the argument much. But we should all be more careful about how we use words.

Shane said...

Dear Cliff

Good summary of what i am saying cliff, altough i think recognising that genesis 1-11 is not history actually does change the argument somewhat. Let me see if i can explain why.

While i am not an evangelical - i understand that most evangelicals understand that the bible is different to the Koran (which is supposedly dictated to Mohammad) precisely because it is written by humans (whose writing is nevertheless inspired). For this reason, evangelicals have valued historical study in the process of their hermeneutic - with the underlying question, who wrote this text, when and why? As soon as these questions are applied to the text, most evangelical scholars then concede that the author was not Moses (except for the 10 commandments), but some much later compiler/redactor of various sources. Having made this conclusion, then one is generally inclined to recognise that what we have in genesis 1-11 (and probably a fair bit of genesis thereafter) is community "myth" - and i use this term not as "untrue" - but certainly, neither is it (or was it ever) historical. Its truth is not in its literal scientific detail, but in its message for the community in which it was compiled (God created -not the gods; humanity is valuable, made in his image - not a plaything of the gods - humankind has sinned and is in need of redemption, Israel is God's chosen people, his vehicle of this redemption. Etc). These are all theological conclusions. What we cannot claim is that the text gives us access to history prior to their writing/compiling.

By the way, evangelicals who want to hold onto some sort of historicity of the text must be honest with the flood narrative. This is so obviously myth (again, not untrue, but story with meaning, even told in an almost poetic fashion - not history) that to hold it literally/historically is laughable (i have always wondered how the kangaroos got from Australia over to the middle east - and how the millions of species fitted on the ark - particularly those species that can only survive in either extreme cold, or extreme heat, or underground, or the fish that can only live in salt water/or fresh water - the list of questions is endless). And that is why scientists can do little more than shake their heads at the illogical position of six day creationists (and i refuse to elevate them by adding the nomenclature "scientists").

Anyway - such is my thoughts on the matter (sorry they are a bit long winded). Clearly, my view is that knowing what history is does change the situation (and i too have been a literal six day creationist - prepared to honestly examine its assumptions).

Regards, Shane

Steve Martin said...

Good comments shane. The views you are expressing re: myth /history are actually being discussed by Evangelicals now - see Peter Enns "Inpiration and Incarnation". On the topic of the flood, pretty well everyone outside of YEC's interprets it as a local Mesopotamian flood. And its pretty clear that the Genesis account was based on other culture's stories - stories that themselves were probably based on a real flood.
.
I would agree that the Gen 1-11 text is not meant to be historical (certainly not by our definitions of history) & that the central meaning is theological, but I don't think I'd say the text cannot give us access to history. I like Wenham's term of "proto-history".