Friday, March 30, 2012

Between Biblical Literalism and Biblical Illiteracy

Alice C. Linsley

American physicist Stephen M. Barr has written, "There are two fundamentally different battles raging in the current debates about evolution. The first pits nearly the entire scientific community against creationists, who believe that they are upholding the veracity of Scripture by denying that evolution happened at all.

The second battle concerns not the fact of evolution but the standard neo-Darwinian explanation of it, and the issues at stake are primarily philosophical and scientific." (From here.)

In my view, the battle of legitimate science - which must include Biblical Anthropology - is between Biblical literalists and the Biblically illiterate. I have know the wrath of both through the thirty years that I have taught and written about Genesis. I have experienced ad hominen attacks from Biblical literalists and Biblical illiterates. Both groups have made their interpretations into idols and it has been difficult to have reasoned conversations with these people.

Those who do not read the Bible assume it is a compilation of myths, superstitions and religious laws, with little grounding in history. Strangely, they tend to dismiss the Bible more quickly than they would the Quran, the Hindu Shastras and the Buddhist Tipitaka. In fairness, they know as little about these writings as they do about the Bible. These are the secularists of our time who want nothing to do with religion in general and certainly less with Christianity. Their rather selective rejection of Christian religion suggests that it poses the greatest threat to their materialist worldview.

Biblical literalists can be equally defensive. They feel threatened when their assumptions about Genesis are questioned.  In my view, their Young-Earth position presents the greatest obstacles to understanding the book. Their false assumptions are, without doubt, the most pervasive cause of confusion. The righteous tone with which they assert their version of Genesis fools many into believing that Young-Earth Creationism is biblical. In fact, their doctrines are quite contrary to what Genesis reveals.

Perusal of their books and websites causes the educated and scientifically-minded to scratch their heads in wonder. The Earth is only 6000 years old? Humans and dinosaurs co-existed? God created the Grand Canyon with the appearance of great age?  These far-fetched conclusions contribute to prejudice against a scientific approach to Genesis, making my work as a Biblical Anthropologist more difficult. Many in the scientific and academic communities assume that all Christians think like Young-Earth literalists.

Young-Earth Creationism is declining in popularity among Evangelicals, especially those influenced by the BioLogos crowd.  However, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists alike tend to think that evolution is the only alternative to literalism, and that is not true. An anthropological approach to Genesis acknowledges Earth's great age and the milleniums of human existence without accepting the evolution theory of human origins, for which there is no substantial evidence. Biblical Anthropology, as scientific study of the text, requires setting aside both ideological templates in order to determine the meaning in cultural context. This is a labor to which I am fully committed.

In the next essay, I will demonstrate how the following assumptions of Young-Earth Creationism actually contradict Genesis.

Assumption 1: Genesis is history and should be read as a chronological account. (Response is here.)

Assumption 2: The Genesis “begats” list the first people living on Earth. (Response is here.)

Assumption 3: Bishop Ussher's timeline is reliable and can be used to calculate the age of the Earth. (Response is here.)

Assumption 4: All the peoples of the Earth came from Noah’s three sons. (Response is here.)

Assumption 5: Skin color and linguistic diversity are the result of God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel. (Response is here.)


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

All of these items you plan to demonstrate are of great interest to me. I can hardly wait!

Susan Burns said...

Are you saying that you do not agree with Darwin and his theory of origin of species?

Alice Linsley said...

Darwin's observations of the complexity, diversity and adaptability of species is very important. It applies to humans also. However, today it is difficult to sort fact from theory because conversations about human origins are filtered through evolutionist terminology which is laden with assumptions that should be questioned. For example: Neanderthals are pictured as hairy and ape like. That's bunk! And why must we called call robust archaic human populations "Neaderthal" as if somehow they originated in the Thal (valley) of Neader in Germany. This started in the 1920s when only a few skulls were found, but today robust archaic populations have been found from Africa to Asia. And we know that they were much more sophisticated than generally portrayed. In other words, forcing data about human origins into a Neo-Darwinian scheme is not helpful.

Susan Burns said...

We discover new extinct species all the time which revises our knowledge of life on earth. Neanderthals are now known to have contributed genes to non-African humans. Only a few years ago, it was thought that humans and Neanderthals never met. We are constantly re-evaluating when new information is discovered. My problem with the scientific community is that they disregard the contribution of any religious tradition when, in fact, that is what made us human. There is obviously a spiritual plan. My problem with fundamentalists is that they remain static in the face of profound evidence to the contrary. Legalists are the most irritating of all.

Alice Linsley said...

Darwin proposed that organic life develops and changes by 1) mutation; 2) adaptation; 3) natural selection, and 4) common ancestry of apes and humans. The first 2 are facts and the second 2 are theories. When we speak of evolution, we have to unpack these points with greater precision.