googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Answering the 10 Theological Questions That No Young-earth Creationist Can Answer: Part 4

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Answering the 10 Theological Questions That No Young-earth Creationist Can Answer: Part 4

7. Can you name any other piece of literature in which the existence of a talking snake and trees with magical powers would suggest to you that it was meant to be taken literally?

I've always been a little confused about the “talking snake” caricature people use to describe the Serpent in Genesis 3. Most people understand this is Satan, right? I mean, it wasn't just a garden variety snake talking to Eve – it was Lucifer. I'm not even sure he was in the form of a snake; he is merely being called a “serpent.” He is similarly described in Revelation 12:9, where he is again called that old “serpent”:

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

I'm entirely aware that most artistic renderings of Eve and the Serpent show a snake in a tree so maybe I'm at odds with many Christians. I just don't believe Satan appeared to Eve in the form of a “talking snake.”

Let's put all that aside for a moment. The question was, are there any other examples where talking animals are meant to be believed as real. Of course there are. In Norse mythology, Fenrir, the wolf, could talk. In Greek mythology, Arion, was a talking horse. In Hindu tradition, there was a man named, Kindama, who could assume animal form. There are also myriad examples of satyrs, fawns, and other woodland creatures which possessed varying degrees of human attributes but it always included speech. Of course, we know now that all of these creatures were mythical but they were believed to be real.

I'm sure the author was aware of these other examples because he says he, “just completed a survey of 6,842 stories that feature talking animals.” He follows up his point by saying, “none of them were history,” which, I believe, makes his point entirely non sequitur. What exactly is proved by his point? Is it that because Aesop wrote about talking animals, there can't really be talking animals? One doesn't necessarily follow the other. I could similarly say that Jesus didn't really turn water into wine because similar, miraculous feats (like King Midas turning anything he touched into gold) are all mythical. You can see how that doesn't really work.

Francke's entire premise in asking this question is a sort of argument of incredulity. He's trying to say that since these things might sound far fetched, they can't be true. I wonder if he would try the same thing with other “incredible” accounts from the Bible – like the Resurrection?

8. Why do Genesis 1 and 2 contradict?

The short answer is that Genesis 1 and 2 don't contradict each other. They are talking about different things. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the universe in six days and God's rest on the 7th day. This initial chronology – described in the King James as, “the generations of the heavens and the earth” - ends at Genesis 2:4. Genesis 2:5 begins an elaborate description of the creation of Adam and the Garden which occurred on day 6.

Now in Francke's defense, a lot of Christians don't get this – even some young-earth creationists. Why? I believe the passage if extremely clear. In fact, I cannot see how anybody doesn't get it. Yet, the confusion persists. It's very curious. I have a theory about why people miss what should be obvious. I believe the confusion exists precisely because people like Francke and other, old-earth Christians write commentaries that seek to “reconcile Genesis with science.” Worse yet, some theistic evolutionists, like Francke, probably understand the difference and intentionally hype the alleged contradictions in order to bolster their claim that the entire creation account is allegory.

In his criticism, Francke links to a article that explains the seeming contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2. In that article, we find this quote:

It should be evident that chapter 2 is not just ‘another’ account of creation because chapter 2 says nothing about the creation of the heavens and the earth, the atmosphere, the seas, the land, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sea creatures, etc. Chapter 2 mentions only things directly relevant to the creation of Adam and Eve and their life in the garden God prepared specially for them.”

Francke has either not read the article to which he linked, has read it but doesn't understand it, or has read it but thinks that what calls, “evident,” isn't really that evident. Of course, there is still the other possibility that he understands perfect well but is just flat out lying and continues to claim the chapters are contradictory in order to make a literal interpretation seem impossible.

Read the entire series:


Steven J. said...

"Flat-out lying" is not, I think, a possibility, simply because the wording of the second creation account is ambiguous. It at least permits the possibility that the nonhuman animals (and, indeed, plants of all kinds) were created after Adam, as a first attempt to provide Adam with a companion, before God resorted to the more drastic alternative of making a companion from Adam himself. Perhaps Franke is too biased against the reading that you and CRI prefer, but I do not see how he can know that your preferred reading is the correct one.

Note that quite a few creation myths start with a pre-existing Earth, so the absence of any account of the creation of the Earth and sky themselves in the second creation account does not prove that this was not originally intended as a complete account of creation.

Nothing in the book of Genesis suggests that the serpent was Satan (indeed, I do not recall any explicit declaration or necessary implication of this anywhere in the Bible). No mention is made of any spirit or other agent using the serpent, or taking the form of a serpent. Satan is called "the old serpent," but that does not mean that every old serpent is Satan. Nor does the widespread interpretation of the serpent in this sense show that this is the original intent of the text.

Rather, there are three sinners in the story in Genesis 3, and each one (along with his or her descendants) is punished. Adam, and every man descended from him, is condemned to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, in an uncooperative environment teeming with weeds and thorns. Eve, and every woman descended from her, is condemned to give birth in pain and to be subordinate to her husband. The serpent is condemned, along with all its descendants, to crawl on its belly and "eat dust." The serpent seems in every respect to be as literally a serpent as Adam and Eve are literally a man and a woman; the story as a whole is an etiological story about the human and ophidian condition.

It seems to me that interpreting the serpent as Satan is, itself, an attempt to reconcile the story, perhaps with science (e.g. the whole problem of snakes lacking vocal cords), perhaps with the more evolved theology of later in the Bible (which has no room for sapient nonhuman beasts with their own agenda). You're specifically avoiding the plain, "literal," meaning of the text in favor of one that suits the New Testament (and very late Old Testament) view of the cosmos as a battleground for the souls of men between God and Satan.

It does little good to complain that old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists compromise the "plain meaning" of the Bible, since Calvin and Luther would surely say that same (very rightly, in my opinion) about your own acceptance of the heliocentric solar system, and Lactantius Firmianus and Theophilus of Antioch would say that same (again, quite properly, in my perhaps insufficiently humble opinion) about your acceptance of the spherical Earth (that particular compromise was, of course, widespread among Christians as early as Lactantius' own time in the early 4th century).

Of course, given that you have a story about forbidden fruit and a snake with a mind of its own that gets a girl in trouble, maybe the Victorians who thought that the entire story was a metaphor about sex had a point.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. I'm sorry I've not had time to respond to your comment on my last post and not to this one until now.

You said, “"Flat-out lying" is not, I think, a possibility, simply because the wording of the second creation account is ambiguous.”

I think lying is the most likely possibility. It's not simply that Francke doesn't seem to agree that Genesis 2 is a description of the events on Day 6; instead, he flat out ignores that explanation and pretends it doesn't exist. If he at least discussed why he rejects it as an interpretation, I might agree with you. He doesn't. He doesn't offer a single word to explain why he thinks it's not a description of Day 6. Of course he's biased, but I can't imagine he's so biased that he's completely blinded by his bias and can't at least see what people like me have said. I suspect it's more likely the case that he can see it's a plausible explanation so he ignores it and continues hyping the differences in hopes of preying on people who haven't heard my side.

You said, “Nothing in the book of Genesis suggests that the serpent was Satan.”

“Nothing”? Really? What about the protoevangelium where God prophesied that the “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent? I suppose you disagree with the majority of Christian commentaries that see this directly as a reference to the Christ and Satan. Paul mentions it again in Romans 16:20, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

You said, “Of course, given that you have a story about forbidden fruit and a snake with a mind of its own that gets a girl in trouble, maybe the Victorians who thought that the entire story was a metaphor about sex had a point.”

That's the problem when you begin to say it's a metaphor rather than history. You could suddenly start making it mean anything. And if I begin ascribing “metaphor” to historical events of the Bible, where does it end? If Adam was a metaphor, maybe Jesus was a metaphor? I can see how someone would reject the Bible if he believes it doesn't really ever mean anything it says.

Thanks again for visiting. I may circle back to your other comment later.

God bless!!


Steven J. said...

First, I concede that I missed the statement in Romans, which certainly implies that Paul identified the serpent in Eden with Satan. But I don't see that implication in Genesis itself, where the serpent biting the heel of the woman's seed, and the woman's seed crushing its head, is more readily read simply as a prediction of, and explanation for. the animosity between humans in general and snakes in general. Snakes do, indeed, bite humans on the lower extremities; humans do, indeed, smash snakes. What point to imposing a curse on snakes in general if the snake in the story wasn't really a snake? The protoevangelium is something read into the text, not out of it, even if this eisegesis was already being done in the New Testament.

I wasn't actually endorsing the Victorian view, just noting it. Still, it points out that it's not always obvious even whether a reading is metaphorical or not; if you're not even sure that Satan appeared to Eve in the actual, physical form of a snake, then you're engaged in your own figurative or metaphorical reading. The problem of which parts of the Bible mean what they say and which are figurative has been around for a long time, at least since Augustine and most other educated Christians in the fourth century decided that, e.g. references to "removing our sins as far as the east is from the west" (implying a flat Earth where east and west didn't meet) and the "corners of the earth" were figurative rather than literal language. It only got worse when most Christians decided, in the wake of Kepler and Newton, that, e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:5 is not meant literally either. It won't go away by replacing Franke's preferred metaphor with your preferred metaphor.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

I've noticed that you haven't voiced your particular view as to whether you believe Genesis 2 is a description of Day 6. What is your opinion? Can you at least see how the text can be understood that way? I suspect you can – even if you disagree. I also suspect Francke can see it. I do not doubt that he has heard this explanation which thoroughly dispels any “contradiction” between Genesis 1 & 2 yet he continues hyping the “contradictions” as though creationists are struck dumb by them. Haven't you noticed how he does that? Don't you believe he's being a little insincere? Up until now, you seem to be defending him.

Oh well. You and I could continue going back and forth about the identity of the Serpent but I'm sure there'll be plenty of other things to disagree about in my future blog posts so I'll put this one to bed. I do want to make one final point that you might find interesting:

I read a commentary (it was in a book rather than online – otherwise, I'd link to it for you) about Genesis 4:1: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD” (KJV). This particular commentator discussed the translation of the clause “a man from the LORD” and explained how it might be better translated as “I have begotten a man – the LORD.” His point being that Eve believed she had given birth to the Messiah promised in Genesis 3, the one who crush the head of the Serpent. It turned out to be Cain, of course, so she was very wrong.

My Hebrew studies never got far enough that I can comment about the translation of the verse. I did read it in Greek and it says, “I have begotten a man from God.” Actually, “from” could be translated as “through” (dia), which could mean Eve believed she was in a similar circumstance as Mary, who did give birth to the Messiah.

Oh well, now I'm rambling. I need to wrap this series up. Stay tuned for my next post soon. Thanks for your comments.

God bless!!


Steven J. said...

I take the view that Biblical theology changed over time -- that the views of God expressed in, say, the Noah's flood account and the story of Jesus refusing to call down fire on inhospitable Samaritan towns are not just hard to reconcile but in fact represent different ideas about the nature of God. This applies also to how later readers read earlier stories: even if the stories themselves were left unredacted, their interpretation changed to fit later ideas -- they didn't mean, to later readers, what they meant to their earlier readers. I think that the stylistic differences between Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that they were originally simply different origin stories, not intended to be complementary. But once Genesis was compiled from earlier texts and traditions, then yes, reading the second account as an enlargement of the day six account of the first was an obvious and probably inevitable development. So the account in Genesis 2 acquired a meaning that wasn't part of the original story.

On the other hand, a fairly consistent idea throughout the Bible is that God plays a part in every human birth -- "you shaped me in my mother's womb" and all that. "I have gotten a man from the LORD," "I have begotten a man through the LORD," or "The LORD has given me a son," express at most only subtle differences (hence the emphasis in Matthew and Luke on Mary's virginity prior to the birth of Jesus, and the explicit statement that he is the promised Messiah -- just stating that God played a role in his birth would not have distinguished him from Herod, much less John the Baptist). Now, obviously, it would have made a difference if Eve thought that she was giving birth to God incarnate, but that strikes me as something of a stretch (even Mary's psalm of praise at learning that she is pregnant with the Messiah falls short of explicitly calling her son God) (which is not to deny that later passages in the gospels do make such an identification).