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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Language of God, Chapter 6

In chapter 6 of his The Language of God, "Genesis, Galileo, and Darwin," Francis Collins reflects on the Galileo controversy and the Genesis controversy. Why, when the evidence for evolution by descent is so compelling, do so many reject it, in the name of their faith? (Here's a link to my previous post on this important book.)

As Collins says, probably the main reason is that the Bible seems to contradict an ancient earth (and if the earth is only a few thousand years old, clearly evolution can't have had a lot to do with the current state of living things) and any development of complexity in living things. However, as he says, this is just one way to interpret the Bible, and careful interpreters, who hold scripture in high regard, and believe it to be inspired, have and do interpret it in other ways.

Here's part of what he writes about interpreting Genesis in other ways:
. . . in Genesis 1 vegetation appears three days before humans are created, whereas in Genesis 2 it seems that God creates Adam from the dust of the earth before any shrub or plant had yet appeared. In Genesis 2:7, it is interesting to note, the Hebrew phrase that we translate "living being" is applied to Adam in exactly the same way it was previously applied to fish, birds, and land animals in Genesis 1:20 and 1:24. (p. 150-151)

Collins is not the first to say these things, of course. But the fact that they have been said often, independently, makes them even more important.

Why Galileo? Galileo proposed, perhaps a bit prematurely, but correctly, that the earth might not be fixed at the center of the universe. Some of the leaders of the church of his time believed that this was contrary to scripture. Finally, almost a century after his death, he was officially rehabilitated by the Roman Catholic Church, and, during the twentieth century, Pope John Paul II stated that the church had been mistaken in its handling of Galileo. Perhaps future generations of conservative protestant church leaders will come to accept evolution as a God-designed mechanism. (Both Pope John Paul II and Pius XII, speaking officially, have already said that evolution is not contrary to the faith for Catholics. As Collins points out, some conservative protestant church leaders of the past did the same.)

Thanks for reading. Here's a link to the next post in the series.

5 comments:

elbogz said...

He most importantly points out that it took almost 300 years after Galileo for the church to finally except the fact that the earth is not the center of the universe. My problem lately has been, once you accept the fact that the earth is just an obscure planet, in some minor little galaxy around a unspectacular sun, traveling through the Universe with a combined speed of almost a 1,000,000 miles per hour, then any reading of Genesis has to be something other than a literal account of creation.

So what is Genesis, a nice poem? Mankind’s fall from grace is just a poem? Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of mankind, but yet those sins only occurred in a poem? I finished reading his book, and sometimes I feel like I am standing at the edge of a cliff, trying to decide to throw everything off the edge or just jump myself.

In my child, growing up in a Methodist church, the bible was taught as nice stories that taught us about God, and taught us how to how a relationship with God. It was in that light I could grow up to be a scientist and not find conflict, between faith and religion

But the attack of the fundamentalist, demanding we must take the bible word for word, has made me doubt the whole damn thing. Listen to Christian radio. They devote hours and hours to people that will lie about science in the name of Jesus. How small their God must be if he can’t even stand up to one geology book written by man.

Martin LaBar said...

Sorry. I don't have all the answers, and neither does Collins, I'm sure.

I would say that Genesis tells us at least the following:
1) Who did the creating, and that it imposed order where there was none, or not so much
2) The importance of humans in creation.
3) That sin entered the world. (I don't care how literal, or not, one's interpretation is, I don't think we can really understand all that went on in that situation (and a lot of others in the Bible).
4) That some people chose to follow God, although many didn't, especially Abram/Abraham and Joseph. Also Noah. (All three of these did some bad things. Perhaps there was an excuse for Joseph, because he was young, but the others weren't, but God still accepted them, so He can accept me, a sinner.) Abraham's steward, who went to get a wife for Isaac, might also belong in this list.
5) That God can't abide sin.

Thanks for reading.

Martin LaBar said...

As to "just" a poem, great truth can be, and often is, conveyed by poetry, figures of speech, parables, and other not-exactly-literal language. I'm not expert enough to know how literally to take various parts of Genesis. Much of it seems to be straightforward history. I'm not so sure about the first two chapters, especially, and I'm not alone in this. As Collins points out, there are indications in these two chapters themselves that they are something other than straightforward narrative.

elbogz said...

I agree with you. Your comments are right on. I’m just torn by those I love that bible is the literal history of the earth and my heart that says, God gave us senses to observe his world for a reason. I remember something from my college days, but i don't remember the source. If, there is absolute, black…the blackest of all blacks, (ok) and then, if there is absolute white...the whitest purest of all whites..(seems reasonable) then, there must be absolute gray.

But somehow faith doesn’t work in gray. It is very easy to stand at the pulpit and say; you must believe a day is a day. It is very easy to say that there is no God. But it’s hard to say, based upon the religious teachings, and what we know of the universe, there is a God, who evolved the t-rex into a chicken and sent us hurling though space at (whatever the actual speed is) that it all makes sense.

I suppose the closest sermon I’ve heard on the subject was Jesus, who said, don’t be concerned with things of this earth. Worry about two things only, God’s kingdom, and your place in it.

I have to drag myself back to that point otherwise it’s too tempting to throw it all off the cliff.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, elbogz. Hang in there.