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Friday, February 03, 2006

Dick Fischer on taking Genesis literally

I occasionally comment on articles in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the periodical of the American Scientific Affiliation. The journal is published quarterly, and articles are posted on-line, free for anyone, about 18 months later. (Warning -- the server is a little slow sometimes)

Dick Fischer has an article, "Young-Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake," (in .PDF format) wherein he claims, with scriptural evidence, that it is not necessary to take the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24-hour periods. He also presents scriptural evidence that the earth is more than a few thousand years old. He argues, again from scripture, that the flood was not universal, and that there were some survivors besides Noah's family. In sum, he claims that Young-Earth Creationism, while claiming to take scripture literally, actually misinterprets it seriously. Furthermore, by arguing that the Bible teaches a cosmology that is radically at odds with the best scientific evidence, Young-Earth Creationism casts doubt on the validity of the most important claims of scripture, about sin and its cure.

I'll just mention one of Fischer's arguments, and, I suspect, not the best one. Numbers 13:33 apparently refers to descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4, as being in existence long after the flood. How is this possible, if the flood really destroyed all living things except those in the ark? Anyone interested in the rest of Fischer's claims should read the article.

Note added March 16, 2010. The above claim is weak enough that I should not have mentioned it. The NIV Reference Bible suggests that the spies sent out by Moses were deliberately exaggerating the size of the people that they saw, so that it is quite possible that these were not Nephilim at all, and that possibility must be considered. Fischer didn't, probably because he didn't think of it. There are other claims in the Fischer article that seem more substantial.

I'm not a Bible scholar, but it appears to me that Fischer presents some arguments that need to be examined by anyone who takes a serious interest in origins. I have not read some of these arguments before. The response to this article must have been interesting. (It's not on-line yet.)

The article is several pages long, with documentation, but is clear and understandable.

Thanks for reading.


Adam said...

You know I'll read it...

I always like hearing other perspectives on Creation.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Adam. Let me know what you think, please.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I gave it a quick speed-read. It's a mixed bag. As much as I agree with his conclusion that you can read Genesis 1-11 in a way that doesn't require the 6-day view, I think he way overstates his case even when his arguments are good. At most, the evidence shows that you can read it in a way consistent with our best science. There's nothing in the text that truly rules out the 6-day reading. I think the 6-day view can respond to pretty much all arguments to the contrary with a little work. The question is not whether you can rule out that view via the text. The question is whether it's the more obvious view given both the information in the text and the information God has given us in the universe to study with the minds he's given us.

Some of the arguments in this paper are downright fallacious both exegetically and logically. The evidence he presents doesn't support his conclusion, or he offers a reading that doesn't at all fit the text.

For example, the "these are the generations" heading is for the following section, Gen 2:4 through ch.3, and it means the following is the account of those who descend from the heavens and the earth, in particular humanity in its descent from the dust of the earth. A close look at the structure of the book will show that that's how these headings work. The last one is the generations of Jacob, which leads to his generations -- his sons, most notably Joseph. The Abraham sections starts with the generations of Abraham's father, one of the most minor figures in the book and not suitable for a heading if these sayings refer to the previous sections.

Some of his claims are right, however, and the good evangelical commentaries on Genesis (e.g. Gordon Wenham, Victor Hamilton, Kenneth Matthews, Bruce Waltke) would be a good help at sorting through which of his arguments are in which category. My current study has only gone through Gen 2:7 so far, so I can't comment on any of the flood stuff, but he is right that the mist of the beginning of ch.2 can also be translated as springs. I don't know of its relevance for the flood, but it changes how you read the stuff at the beginning of ch.2 about plants (which might actually help the 6-day creation view, if you really work through its implications for the beginning of ch.2).

I hope to type up some thoughts on this stuff when I get the time. Since I'm not through 2:3, which is the first section of the book, that post could happen whenever I get the time. I'm not going to deal with stuff I haven't studied yet, though, so I don't expect just to go through his article evaluating each claim.

Kenny Pearce said...

Thank you for pointing to the article. I have recently been re-evaluating my own views on this subject, and have posed my thoughts on my blog here

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, gentlemen. I especially thank Jeremy, who is a bible scholar, as I am not. I rather suspected that Fischer was using a wide-gauge shotgun with this, hitting more than he should have, perhaps.

Ed Darrell said...

Fischer's analysis has the ring of truth to it, to me. I think one must pay particular attention to the oomphalos argument -- young-earth creationists have God making major deceptions in every part of creation. That view is completely at odds with Christian theology.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Ed.

Journey said...

Just came across this blog - If you reject the 6ld creation how do you deal with the federal headship of Adam? Also with losing the federal headship of Adam do you also set aside the substitutionary atonement? So I guess my main question is can you believe in the federal headship of Adam & Christ and not believe in a 6ld creation?

Thanks for replying

Martin LaBar said...

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what "federal headship" means. Whatever it means, the whole point of the New Testament is that Christ came to give substitutionary atonement.

The whole point of the Old Testament is hardly that there was a six day creation, in fact, as Fischer, and many others, have pointed out, it's not even clear that the OT teaches a six day creation, although many have so interpreted it.

Therefore, whatever federal headship is, I believe in a substitutionary atonement, because scripture teaches it. I'm not sure whether or not I believe in federal headship.

Thanks for commenting.

henry said...

Yes Martin. I have read Fishers' book and so far it is the only valid explanation and interpretation of scripture that makes any sense of Genesis, particularly the supposed universal flood and the usual evangelical hang-up that Cain supposedly married his sister.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Henry!

I looked back at the post (it's been a while) and checked Numbers 13:33 in the NIV Reference Bible. That book suggests that the claim that the 12 spies saw Nephilim was an exaggeration on their part -- they wanted to make everything sound large and difficult to overcome. Maybe so. If true, that answers one of Fischer's arguments.

Ned - the Origins Activist (NOA) said...

You may like my piece on the latest CT cover story on the historical Adam:
Feedback welcome ±

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Ned. I read your post.