Jerry Coyne on Pete Enns and biologos

Thanks! Augustine vision seems perfectly consistent with EC in that specific matter of creation ex nihilo. That is why I find these claims that the church only began to adress these issues when it became “embarassing” in the light of science a little unfair.

I mean, either these passages were not meant to be taken literally or the authors who “fabricated” the story were really incompetent in tying the loose ends of their story. I tend to favor the first hypothesis.

As long as one doesn’t take your claim and extend it too far trying to make Augustine into an “old-earth” proponent or some such thing (and I know you aren’t doing that), you are perfectly right. The notion that we only recently started “wrestling with scriptures”, and only because of science … is demonstrably false.

I started skimming through the second link I sent you above (on the two-book approach) and see that it may be more about gnosticism / Marcionism and how they handled it (at least in the first few parts); so perhaps that might not cover your specific areas of interest, unless it does in some of the later parts.

I think I recall (probably Bishop Barron) hearing that Augustine (or maybe it was Origen or Justin Martyr) actually took old testament accounts of God telling the Israelites to “put the ban” on this or that enemy tribe (meaning to wipe them out utterly and completely) and saw that as an allegory for God showing us how to deal with sin in our own lives.

… Okay so I found it, and it was Bishop Barron (speaking of Origen as it turns out); you’ll like this. It’s Barron explaining how some early church fathers read the early violent passages allegorically way back then. Anti-theists today stay away from all such analysis, so enshrined is their dogma of a cruel god as one of the sacred centerpieces of their reason for turning away. Their skepticism evaporates or is checked at the door before approaching this shrine. They seemingly will not entertain the consideration that they could be wrong about this. And yet here we have it: interpretive development so early in church history that shows how critical development of scriptural understanding was unfolding even then. YECs tend to stay away from these historical observations too, and their reasons for doing so are only partially different.

[edits have happened for clarity and to take some (no doubt not all) of the abrasive edge out.]

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Coyne claims that Richard Dawkins is ‘destroying’ the times religion editor on this issue. How true is this?

I still need help with the notion that God could have made genesis so cryptic to those without knowledge of the ANE

Reggie, my opinion is that it is really not that cryptic unless someone insist on making it literal. Then, the cognitive dissonance gets injected and we get confused as to what it means to us spiritually when we get focused on making it about physical matters. The meaning as to showing us the nature and relationship of God to creation and ourselves is pretty obvious, if you just let it speak to you. Now, to understand it as literature does require a lot of knowledge of ANE, since it is ANE literature, and that knowledge may certainly help us have a deeper understanding. However, there is a great deal of meaning we can get from it without knowing much about ANE.

What about the people living before the discovery of this stuff, could God have not made it easier?

Reggie, you should read this of Jon’s if you haven’t already.

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This isn’t necessarily about it being scientific, it’s about it being easy to understand. Why not make it clear to all people across the ages that it is so?

It is easy to understand if you are not trying to understand it in modern terms. The entire message is summarized in Genesis 1:1. It is clear that God created everything except Himself. How is not addressed nor should it have been.

It’s precisely because we come from different ages, cultures, and the like that it is often difficult to understand.

Why not make it easy to understand for all cultures though?

Even being in the same culture/time doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Peter found some of Paul’s teachings hard to understand. And in the patristic age the fathers struggled hundreds of years to understand the person of Christ. So don’t expect most things to be easy.

There is good evidence that early Jews and Christians recognised John Walton’s Cosmic Temple imagery in Genesis. They took it literally, but only because they had a functionalist worldview to begin with.

I’m still not entirely convinced, however, why not make a story which could be held consistently throughout the ages? Even in the examples you gave?

Never heard of that ‘issue’.

I’m still not entirely convinced, however, why not make a story which could be held consistently throughout the ages? Even in the examples you gave?

Why would a later misunderstanding have anything to do with the original meaning? Do you think Jesus isn’t an apocalyptic prophet because the hypothesis that he was only came up in the beginning of the 20th century and wasn’t exactly held consistently throughout the ages?

Had it been made clear for the benefit of later ages using their jargon and culturally accepted understandings, then it would have been gobbledygook to the original audience. Your expectation that a communication can be made that connects with all ages and all times would be like somebody saying “I’m going to write a book in a language that is universal to the whole world so that no translation is needed.” No such language exists. But between our culture and an ancient culture that we can at least study, I’m betting that ours has the better chance of getting what we spiritually need from those ancient writings than the chance that they would have gotten what they need had God written a modern book for us and given it to them.

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man pleading with Abraham, the rich man essentially asks if Lazarus can return from the dead to warn his brothers. He thinks his brothers will understand if God would just allow an “updated communication to impress his brothers with”. Abraham replies though that what they’ve learned from Moses and the prophets is enough. If they refused to listen to that, then no amount of “updated communications” is going to change their hearts either. This reminds me of that.


Have a go at it. See what you can come up with.

The problem isn’t the text of Genesis. The problem is the traditions we’ve inherited that teach us to override our instincts and read the text differently.

The text begins with two stories of creation which, taken literally, fit together poorly. The first story includes a rigid structure with repeated lines and other cues suggesting its author valued pleasing symmetry higher than historical documentation. For instance, God makes a light source to separate day and night three days after God separates day and night.

The second story includes a talking snake, trees with magical properties, plenty of wordplays and meaningful names. One doesn’t need to be a modern to know that animals don’t talk. In the first God’s speech makes things happen while in the second it’s merely deliberative (God creates all birds by speaking in the first but sculpts them from dirt after musing about the human’s aloneness in the second). If it wasn’t for our traditions, we wouldn’t try to mash the two stories into one or rationalize the fantastical details in the second story.

Our traditions lead us to readings that conflict with science. If we approached the text with at least as much care as we approach other enduring works of literature, we might reconsider the wisdom of some of those traditions.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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