Friday, September 10, 2010

Paul H. Sheely on YEC Dogma and Concordism

Alice C. Linsley

Paul H. Sheely is a member of the American Scientific Affiliation. He lives in Portland, Oregon. I agree with him on many points, especially his perceptive and sound arguments against Young-Earth Creationism.

Paul is a fine biblical anthropologist and I agree with most of what he has written. However, I want to respond to some things he says here.  My comments (in brown) follow what Sheely has written.

Sheely: With regard to the historicity of Genesis 1–11, we can learn something from creation science. It also claims to believe that the history in Genesis 1–11 is accurate history that agrees with the historical/ scientific facts. Most readers of this journal are well aware that the way creation science squares the biblical account with the historical/scientific facts is by rejecting the overwhelming consensus of the best-trained scientists in the relevant sciences and substituting in its place private interpretations of the scientific data. In addition it finds evidence in Scripture for items which Old Testament scholars do not find there, like multiple volcanoes exploding at the time of the flood.

Genesis 1-11 contains both myth and genealogical (kinship) information. These genres are so distinct that we can hardly consider chapters 1-11 as a unit. Old Testament scholars are largely influenced by rabbinic thought and are far from scientific in their approach to Genesis. Extrusive volcanism in the Bible is not mentioned in relation to Noah's flood. However, it is mentioned in reference to the production of land masses. The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth;by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew. (Proverbs 3:19, 20)

We can imagine a great sea with steam rising from deep underwater fissures in the earth. Now imagine volcanoes rising up from the sea. These are the "pillars of the earth" described in Job 9:6 which says, "Who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble." These are called God's pillars according to I Samuel 2:8 - "For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and he had set the world upon them."
The emergence of dry land from a cosmic sea is described in the oldest religious narratives. One of the oldest creation accounts is found among the ancient Egyptians. They envisioned the first place in the world as a mound emerging from the waters of a universal ocean. Here the first life form was seen as a lily, growing on the peak of the primeval mound. The emerging mound was named TaTJaNuN, a reference to TT (twin peaks) and nun (water). TTJNN likely means the "pillars of God in the water" and is a reference to volcanic peaks emerging from the universal ocean. I Samuel 2:8 states that these "pillars of the earth" belong to God. (Also see Psalm 75:2,3; and Job 9:6.)

Sumerian commercial records, the Egyptian Coffin Texts, and the Hebrew Scriptures all point to the belief of the ancient Afro-Asiatic peoples that the dry land earth emerged from a watery chaos. In the Coffin Texts we read these words from the Creator, "I was the one who began (everything), the dweller in the Primeval Waters. First Hahu emerged from me and then I began to move."

Ha-hu is the wind that separated the waters above from the waters below and caused the erosion of the dry land so that it spread out. In Hebrew the Spirit that moved over the water at the beginning (Genesis 1) is called ruach, and ruach also means breath or wind.

Sheely: Is concordism any different? Despite the honesty of the concordists with regard to the relevant sciences, concordism squares the biblical account with the historical/ scientific facts primarily by rejecting the overwhelming consensus of the best-trained Old Testament scholars and substituting in its place private interpretations of the biblical data. With regard to pre-Adamites, it finds evidence for them in Scripture in places where Old Testament scholars do not find them.

Adam appears to be the founder of the lines of archaic rulers who are listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36. Before Adam's time, humans had already widely dispersed out of Africa. Adam and Eve are representative first parents and must be understood as the literal first created humans.

Sheely: As for a local flood, which has become a standard staple of concordism, the overwhelming consensus of Old Testament biblical scholars is that the Bible is saying that the Flood was anthropologically universal and that during the Flood the entire earth was virtually returned to its pre-creation state described in Gen. 1:2.

Noah's flood was a large, yet local event in the region of Lake Chad during the Gurian Wet Period or the Aqualithic (500 years of monsoonal rains in the Sahara). From Noah's perspective in the region of Lake Chad, the flood waters covered the entire world and destroyed his civilization. Was his the only civilization on Earth at that time? No. By Noah's time the Rib peoples had dispersed into Anatolia, Bactria, Brittany, Northern Spain and the southern British Isles.

One need not take my word for it. Go to a good theological library and find twenty commentaries on Genesis by qualified Old Testament scholars. Carefully read the sections supposedly supporting pre-Adamites and the section on the flood. You will be lucky to find even two Old Testament scholars who think Scripture is speaking of pre-Adamites or a local flood. Concordism is not resting upon any firmer a foundation than is creation science. It simply prefers a private interpretation of the Bible to a private interpretation of science.

I agree that the assumptions of concordism are as dangerous as those of Young-Earth Creationism. Private interpretation is a problem, but that's not what we have in the case of either concordism or young Earth creationism. Both attempts to reconcile Genesis with science are examples of uninformed contemporary group-think.

Despite its sincerity, effort, and hopeful thinking, concordism’s Day-age, pre-Adamites, local flood, and local language at the Tower of Babel are rejections of the historical accuracy of Genesis 1–11. Concordism replaces the history offered in Genesis 1–11 with a different history based on private interpretations which are determined not by the context of Scripture, but by the findings of modern science.

Assumptions about what Genesis says are dangerous no matter who makes them. Assumptions, not science, are the problem. Young-Earth Creationists filter the Biblical information through their preconceived and racist template. They find dinosaurs under Neolithic rocks and make Adam and Eve white Europeans.

This does not mean that creation science gets off scotfree with reference to its interpretation of Scripture. For one thing, as Dick Fischer pointed out in his paper (PSCF 55 [Dec. 2003]: 222–31), the “fountains of the great Deep” (Gen. 7:11) are fresh water terrestrial fountains; and it is they along with rain that supplied the water for the flood.4.

The ocean, which is not fresh water, cannot be employed as a means of flooding the globe (or half the globe √† la Godfrey/Aardsma) without doing the same thing that concordists are doing: replacing the history in Genesis 1–11 with a private interpretation.

Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation, which I believe should be followed in principle, has a great advantage over creation science and concordism in that it allows both the Bible and the scientific data to freely say what they say. Concordism and creation science with their private interpretations have replaced the reality of Scripture and science with an illusion.
Calvin wasn't a scientist either. There is no conflict between Genesis and science when both are allowed to speak in their own languages. Anthropological research has demonstrated that Genesis presents an accurate and verifiable picture of Abraham's Nilotic ancestors to whom God made a promise that the Woman's Seed would be born of their ruler-priest lines (Gen. 3:15). The Bible is their story and it is foremost about the origin of Messianic expectation, not human origins.


1It would be just as misleading to say Genesis 1–11 is either “fiction” or “myth” as to say that the early geology books which explain the results of the Missoula floods as being due to glaciers were either fiction or myth. Genesis 1–11, like those early geology books, is the outmoded history/science of those times.

Geological evidence appears to be the obsesssion among both Young Earth Creationists and condordists. They make strange claims about dating of earth and moon rocks and about the age of the Grand Canyon. They tend to stay away from human origins because they cannot reconcile discoveries like that of 77,000 year old mattresses and 100,000 stone tools with their Young-Earth interpretations.

2The fact that New Testament writers accept Genesis 1–11 as historical only proves that modern history/science was not revealed to them any more than to the Old Testament writers.

New Testament writers accept as historical the promise made to Abraham's ancestors that the Son of God would be born of their ruler-priests lines. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ whose mother was the virgin daughter of a Hebrew ruler-priest, Joachim.

3My book, Inerrant Wisdom, develops this thesis. 4Cf. Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Fountains of the Great Deep,” Origins 1, no. 2 (1974): 67–72.

Paul H. Seely
Portland, OR

Related reading:  Dating Adam: Paul H. Sheely Proposes a solution; Haplogroups of Interest to Biblical Anthropologists; The Pillars of the Earth


Anonymous said...

I think he is saying that you cannot be a scientist AND a Christian (but it's hard to tell.)
Susan B.

Nathan said...

He's saying that creation science claims to find volcanoes and many other such things at the time of Noah's flood. (Exegetical support: Psalm 104:32?) Well, the problem is, there is a massive geological record that has to be explained, and the creationist has to cram all of it into a very small time window, ergo volcanoes must be in the bible. (It would have been helpful for him to cite a source here.)

You're right: too many people assume they know what's going on. Saying that Genesis represents history accurately does not tell us which parts of Genesis are actually history as we conceive it, nor which parts were intended to be seen as such.

Trying to fit geological evidence gathered by modern science into an ancient cosmological framework (or perhaps the other way around) is going to be an exercise in frustration for both sides. Concordism and "literalism" are starting to sound like two sides of a coin.

Overall, he seems to have complaints for both sides. Based on footnote 1, he also seems to see the Biblical account as being "outmoded science," but in doing so it seems he makes the same fundamental mistake as those he detracts: seeing any sort of (explanatory) scientific intent behind it at all.

gjm said...

He is saying that creationists are wrong because they disagree with scientific experts; concordists are wrong because they disagree with Old Testament experts; but he is right because he does not disagree with them (at least not in their area of expertise). This looks like a simple appeal to authority.

His position is "accomodation": divinely inspired scripture accomodates the ignorant views of those who originally received it. In this view, neither set of authorities is contradicted and the apparent disagreement between them vanishes as if by magic.

Alice C. Linsley said...

So Calvin's idea was that God accomodated Abraham's ancestors because they were ignorant? They knew more than we do today about the natural world. They knew about things like binary star systems and the precession of the equinoxes. The only people who know about things like this today are well-informed astronomers.

Mairnéalach said...

"For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to 'lisp' in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express what God is like [in himself] as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness." (Inst I:13:1).

This quote from Calvin's institutes is nothing more than an expression of divine condescension (not using this word in the pejorative sense). The entire incarnation expresses this idea.

Calvin in no way looked with a haughty eye on the ancients, and nobody who understands Calvin today does, either.

Yet, the fact remains- holy scripture itself says "knowledge will increase in the last days". Therefore, be careful about a nostalgic attitude toward our ancestors. Reverence and joyful surprise at their level of knowledge is one thing, but in no way can we maintain in honesty that we do not have a much more thorough understanding of creation than they did. The bible says otherwise.

Alice C. Linsley said...

A nostalgic attitude towards Abraham's ancestors is hardly the point of this blog. An anthropological understanding of them... that's an entirely different matter, and one with which Calvin didn't concern himself.

The divine condescension in the Incarnation, the Kenotic event of all time, is upheld at this blog. Let there be no doubt about that!

Anonymous said...

Q. Could you explain how there could be light on the first day of creation when the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day?

A. As explained in the last few answers, great destruction had occurred to the earth as pictured in Genesis 1:2. When God looked at the chaotic state before Him, He saw an atmosphere filled with thick clouds. If there had been a human being on the earth’s surface, he would have seen nothing—because no light penetrated the saturated atmosphere. God’s first act in recreating the earth’s surface was to thin the clouds enough to let light from the sun filter to earth.

Then, on the fourth day of creation, God cleared the clouds away so that the sun, moon and stars could be clearly viewed. Verse 16 tells us that God “made” the sun and moon. The Hebrew word for “made” is asah. It could be translated as “made,” “had made,” or “will have made.” Any of these renderings could be correct. But the exact one would have to be determined from the context. By looking at the context, it is evident that God already “had made” the sun, moon and stars long before and set them in the sky.

Note what one well-known Old Testament introduction says on the subject: “In explaining this phenomenon it must first be noted that the standpoint of the first chapter of Genesis is an ideal geocentric one, as though the writer were actually upon the earth at that time and in a position to record the developing phases of created life as he experiences them. From such a standpoint the heavenly bodies would only become visible when the dense cloud-covering of the earth had dispersed to a large extent” (R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 554).

Therefore, the sun, moon and stars were created long before the fourth day of creation. They were made visible again on the fourth day of the week of re-creation of the earth’s surface.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Genesis doesn't describe "a great destruction." Tehom means chaotic waters and Tehut overcame Tehom at the beginning. Tehut is the wisdom or sophia of God.

The light in Gen. 1:2 is what the Eastern Church refers to as "the Uncreated Light" of God's presence.