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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Creation Myth

The Creation of the Sun and Moon, Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo.
But who's that guy who lost his pants?  Seems kinda strange, don't it.  Click to enlarge.
Once upon a time when your Head Trucker was still too wet behind the ears to know any better, I got into a big, hairy religious argument discussion with a Bible-believing lady. I might a-knowed the conversation weren't goin' nowhere when she began by claiming the King James Bible was the only one to use because that's exactly how God wrote it - ever word, from front to back. In English, o'course.

I ain't makin' this up, fellers.  The Bible said it, and she believed it.  So that little talk we had was a waste of breath, for shore.  Now you have to understand, her motive was good; it was just her thinking that was all kinda sideways.  Poor woman just had no idee there was anything in the world to know about, besides her little church in her little town in her little world.

Well, we live and learn. Your Head Trucker, of course, has long since moved on from thinking that God created the universe, and Texas to boot, in just six 24-hour days. But a lot o'folks hasn't. In Texas and elsewheres. Which is why I'm putting a little chunk of this article by a fella named Carl Pinnock out here, so's maybe somebody somewhere, sometime, can read it and get a little clearer understanding of things. It's right int'restin'.  He called his piece "Climbing Out of a Swamp: The Evangelical Struggle to Understand the Creation Texts":
For even though the purpose of Genesis 1—11 is other than scientific, these texts are still talking about the real world and its history in their own way. After all, the creation of the world is the beginning of God's purposeful temporal activity in relation to history and the event of the world's coming into being. My point is more modest, that we should be guided in a general way by the macro-purpose of the Bible and the Book of Genesis and not unduly influenced by debates which have their meaning largely in the context of modern society.

This impression about the function of the Bible is reinforced by specific signals in the text itself which should alert us to it in other ways as well. The fact that God made the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day, not on the first, ought to tell us that this is not a scientific statement (Gen. 1:14—19). This one detail in the narrative suggests that concordism is not going to work well and that the agenda of the writer must have been something other than one of describing actual physical processes.
Continued after the jump . . .

Second, the original purpose of the writer of Genesis 1 is brought out rather forcefully in several ways. For one thing, there are numerous indications that he wanted to combat the errors contained in the creation myths of the ancient world such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish. When placed alongside this document, Genesis 1 reads like a strong polemic against the kind of pagan ideas we find there.[17] In general, it thoroughly demythologizes nature and sees it as the creation of the one true God. It presents the one God who created all things and who exists independently of nature. It says that there are no warring deities, and no monster goddess needing to be subdued and cut in half. It describes the separation of the primeval waters as a peaceful operation because the chaos is not a powerful force. Creation is by God's effortless word and requires no struggle at all. The text tells us that the heavenly bodies which the ancients worshipped and feared are just lights in the heavens (cf. Deut. 4:19) and that the great sea creatures are God's workmanship too and not mythical monsters. Most important of all, it teaches us that human beings are not a divine afterthought, created to do the dirty work of the gods. They were created to be lords of the world, because they are personal agents just like God is.[18]

The micro-purpose of Genesis 1 then is to counter false religious beliefs. The author wants to undermine the prevailing mythical cosmologies and call for a complete break with them. The chapter is not myth but antimyth. It is not history either in the modern sense, and it is mistaken to construe its interpretation in terms of the debate over Darwin. The text tells us all this, if we would only listen.

Third, the purpose of Genesis 1 is brought out rather plainly by evidences of literary artistry in its construction. In so many ways it shows itself to be a carefully composed and systematic essay. From one angle the text moves from what is farthest from God (v. 2) to what is nearest and dearest to him (v.26). It moves from the inanimate to the animate, from chaos to Sabbath rest.[19] There is also an impressive pattern running through the passage: the announcement of God speaking, the command to let something be, the report that it was so, the evaluation that it was good, and the temporal framework of evening and morning. Most impressive of all, however, is the parallelism between the first (1—3) and second triad of days (4—6). The author is using the Hebrew week as a literary framework for displaying the theology of creation. First God creates the spaces, and then he populates them with inhabitants. God deals with the challenge posed by the world being "without form and void" by providing first the form and then the fulness.[20]

To spell it out, the first problem God confronts is one of darkness, and he overcomes it by creating the light on day one and by making the sun, moon, and stars on day four. The second problem is posed by the watery chaos, and God deals with it by creating a firmament to divide the waters on day two and by making birds for the sky and fish for the seas on day five. The third problem is the formless earth, and God takes care of that by separating the waters a second time and forming dry land with vegetation on day three and then making the animals and human beings to dwell upon it on day six. The author is obviously a literary architect who has created a framework which serves magnificently for presenting the totality of creation at the hand of God.[21]

The antimythical agenda coupled with the strong suggestion of literary artifice leads to the conclusion that the logic of Genesis 1 is primarily theological rather than historical or scientific. It is the evidence of the text rather than the desire to avoid modern criticism from science which ought to move evangelicals away from misreading the creation account as a scientifically informative tract and burdening themselves with enormous and unnecessary difficulties. . . .
Hmm.  So you're sayin' the guy who wrote Genesis was a "literary architect" - that means a real good writer, huh? - and not just a newspaper reporter, standing there on the sidewalk and taking notes while God did all that Creatin' stuff?  Gosh a'mighty - what a concept.  Sure wish I'd knowed that way back when, I coulda told that Bible lady a thing or two . . . .

Honk to Science and Theology, via Paradoxy.

This here's what they call an ignudo that Michelangelo painted up there on the ceiling right alongside God and everbody.  Twenty of 'em, in fact.  He shore was a good painter, huh fellas?  Just throwin' this in to help improve your minds.  Look close, you might learn something - you don't want to be ignorant all your life, do ye?


Frank said...

And why is it that such simple logic escapes the closed-minded "Creationists" and "literalists"?

dave said...

Because for the simple minded (I don't mean stupid) the easiest way to live is to have all the answers to life in one book, esp one written by God in the language of a group of 17th century English bishops...

Takes all the thinking out of it - that would be too taxing.

Stan said...

Dave is right. It's much easier and simple for people to have these kind of beliefs that require less thinking. Think of all the shit Darwin took on his scientific findings.

Russ Manley said...

Alas, most people find thinking a great chore. One of the enduring flaws of the human race.

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