New Here Genesis: Textbook or storybook?

Hi Everyone –
I came here because BioLogos was mentioned in a New York Times article a few days ago. I have long-running (24 years) project which is essentially a mathematical and scientific analysis of the stories in Genesis. I hope I haven’t wandered into yet another apologetics organization, but so far it doesn’t look like I did. I spent about three years jousting with Reasons to Believe for my theological position: There is or was a Special Phenomenon of some kind at play either in the actual appearing of a universe, my second choice, or in the writing down of the biblical cosmogony at some point between 900 BCE (date of the Assyrian Fragment) to 100 CE (the Essenes) with such cosmogony not literal by design, my first choice. I will give you all a small example of my exegetical and academic style, which is to start with the big picture and drill down from there.
The Universe is widely believed to have started just shy of 14 billion years ago. There are six days of creation, each one lasting 2.33 billion years. On Day 1, we see a universe with space, matter, energy and time, and that day being dark (evening) before it was light (morning). This is a poetic story in Hebrew and it just happens to be true. Or is it? Just for the record, I’ll mention that in 1951, Pope Pious XII just up and decided that the Big Bang - this is a direct quote - validated Roman Catholicism. Georges LeMaitre, an astronomer priest, who proposed the Big Bang theory, called the Pope and told him to sit in the big chair, wear the funny hat, and let the scientists do the sciencing
Day two of creation comes with matter solid enough to have geological features, presumably a planet, somewhere in the universe, maybe ours, maybe not, between 11.5 and 8 billion years ago. Feel free to check the NASA exoplanet database, the European exoplanet database, and the open catalogue, my last check showed no solid planets before 11.5 billion years ago. Gleisse 581 and its planetary system was actually moved back in age to be inside the day 2 time period. Now here’s a big ticket item, and yes, I’ve started drilling down, the planet or planets is/are described as having a firmament separating this water below from that other water above. There is no word in biblical Hebrew for plasma, but plasma is certainly a fluid stuff. According to the Voyager 1 & 2 probes, the bow shock/Heliopause of our particular solar system separates our paltry loose plasma inside (“below”) the Heliopause from the interstellar plasma (“above”), which is 50 times the density of our local brew, and if not for this firmament, none of us would ever be here.

Day three, 9.2 to 6.9 billion years ago dawns with autotrophic life, just like in the TV show Big Bang theme song. Nitrogen is necessary for life. Today, there’s plenty of nitrogen in the universe, but it wasn’t always so. First, there had to be generations of Population 3 stars, mainly hydrogen and helium, which would super-nova after about 50 million years. the ejecta from these super-novas attracted gravitationally captured hydrogen and became population 2 stars. Then those stars, stars of medium mass, via fusion over a hot carbon shell, allowed for nucleosynthesis of nitrogen and consequently, life somewhere in the universe, maybe here. Based on what we observe on our own planet, autotrophic life began within a billion years of liquid water. This is an open question which may be answered when we get instruments with greater range and resolution.

Drilling down again to our local neighborhood: day 4. sees the construction of our local solar system. Question: How did someone writing in the First Millennium BCE place the beginning of our solar system in the correct chronological slot between the beginning of time without help from somewhere or someone?

Day five: Animals. By 4.6 to 2.3 billion years ago, we see fossil evidence of this life on our planet. At this point in the life of the universe, nucleosynthesis gifts us with enough nitrogen (animal life needs 10 times as much nitrogen as autotrophic life), magnesium, selinium, and other elements to support vertebrate life. This is also an open question.

We show up on Day 6, unlike many other cosmogonies which have people first. So. of six creation days, Genesis is accurate on four and two are subject to verification.

And now I get to ask you: Is Genesis more like a textbook or more like a storybook?

Welcome to the forum. We have a pretty big tent here, so am optimistic that you will find a place. Take a few minutes to review the FAQs including the rules of gracious dialogue, as it will make things a lot easier on all of us.
Unlike RTB and Hugh Ross, many if not most in the EC camp are non-concordist in their understanding of early Genesis.I would describe your summary as concordist in structure, though sharing the old earth view of EC. By the way, despite our differences, RTB is respected by most here, it seems.
Again, welcome, and we look forward to hearing your voice.

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Storybook. Most people here do not try to make the six days of creation “concord” with natural history as you do.

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How many different ways can Moby Dick be read? Personally I think it is a pretty good whaling story. Same applies to Genesis so it is a storybook.

Thanks, Phil, Eppor se muove. Not sure what EC stands for. As a moderator, might you spend an hour or so on wikipedia and google and see if any of my facts are off, just for giggles, and would that make a difference? And if a concordist chops down a tree in the forest, does a literalist hear it?

Interpretations of Bible passages don’t equal “facts.” Interpretations are interpretations. Some are better than others.

EC stands for evolutionary creation.

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Sorry about using unfamiliar acronyms. Some you might run into here in addition are TE (Theologic Evolutionist- sort of an old term for EC) OEC (old earth creationist, one form of which RTB or Reasons to Believe is), YEC (Young Earth Creationist).

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As per your rules of civil discourse, I see that I have been less than gracious when discussing RTB. There is a bright star in that sky, Dr. Fazzal Rana, who has a moral sideline, and gathers information about survivability of disasters relative to the degree of graft in any given territory.

Hokie Dokie. This was a sample of my style; in my project as a whole, I refer to things as being alluded to, and I never monkey with the original text. For example, when three men show up at Abraham’s tent and he has Sara organize lunch for everyone, milk is on the menu. So there is a name, a place, and a date (after a fashion) that a stranger could be offered milk without worrying that the guest could get sick. So. This episode is very clearly an allusion to a time and place where lactase persistence/adult lactose tolerance exists, and thanks to the incredibly painstaking genetics work of N. S. Ennetah of the Saudi department of agriculture, we know that lactose tolerance existed in a place where Abraham was, if there was an Abraham, and at about what time that was. As I’m sure you know, Lactase persistence is trotted out whenever there is a question of whether or not we are as-is, as we were when humans started, or we are still evolving.

But you are still treating the text as if it is recording scientific details and not a narrative of primarily theological import, and approach we call concordism.

Lactase persistence is estimated to have arisen in central Europe between central Europe around 2400-2100 BCE. Abraham is traditionally said to have lived around 2100-1800. But people without the lactase persistence mutation can still consume milk, so I’m having a hard time understanding what you think is relevant and significant here. The mention of milk doesn’t “scientifically prove” anything.

I don’t know what you are arguing here. Lactase persistence is a mutation. Mutations are part of evolution. No population of organisms with genetic diversity exposed to selective pressure stays “as is,” since the frequency of alleles in that population will fluctuate and change over time. Do you think whether humans are currently evolving is a pressing theological question or something? Do you accept that humans as a species are the result of evolutionary processes?

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Not so much, sorry if my comment was taken as criticism, when really just meant to be informational.

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I’m curious.

You mentioned you hoped you did not end up in a other apologetics organization but then it seems like what you’re asking is the typical OEC apologetics.

Christy laid it out pretty good. Concordism is when modern people read current scientific understandings into older texts that carried a different scientific worldview.

I think in genesis there are multiple genres. But none of those genres is scientific textbook. It’s helping to set up biblical patterns. I really like the Tim Mackie quote of “ it’s meditation literature”.

One question I have is how do you handle genesis 2 versus genesis 1. Is it the same account? Is it a second creation account?

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Welcome!
As to your question: neither.
I read both creation accounts as theological statements, first spoken and then written down at times when forms of argument, exposition, expression were vastly different than they are today. The two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 and then description of the fall in Genesis 3 give us important theological information, unaware of our current understanding of forms of theological writing, or even that such stories would be written down at all, as these eventually were.

Here are a few things that I believe are explained in these chapters: * What God is like, * God has a spirit, * God brings order to chaos, * God operates in an orderly way, * God is all-powerful, and brings things about by his very word, * God is responsible for what we know exists, including our marking of time, * God exists and operates outside of His creation, * God “owns” and has authority over his creation, * God is really pleased with his work, which we see later in Jesus’s work as well, *God is generous and creative, * God created people differently from the rest of what is, and for a different relationship with them, Etc, Etc.

If we look at Genesis 1-3 as theological treatises, developed long before the academic writing we know today, we see rich and elegantly-expressed very early statements of the nature of God, his work, his relationship to his world and more.

When we read Genesis in such a way, we can understand our own observations of God’s creation through the tools God has allowed us humans to delvelop, as ever-growing evidence of the awesomeness of God’s greatness and power, of the vastness of His mind.

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Interesting search you’re on. But you’ve made a fundamental interpretative mistake, one shared, ironically, by Young Earth Creationists. You’ve assumed that day one begins in Genesis 1:1. It doesn’t. Each day begins with “and God said.” So day one begins in 1:3. That means that what is described in 1:1-2 is at some undisclosed time prior to day one. Planet earth obviously exists in 1:2 as it is acted upon by God, prior to day one that begins in 1:3 with the refrain demarcating each day.
For more, see this recently published, peer-reviewed academic article, highly recommended by Hugh Ross:
"The Beginning of Days”, Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (beginning on slide 71, p. 153): https://jbtsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/JBTS-6.1Part-2.pdf

There aren’t kinds of truth: theological vs scientific. There’s only true truth and falsehood. See Francis Schaeffer.

Ah! Such a good question you would trade for an answer?
Some or much of my answer to you is predicated on the complete paper, of which I have started to dribble here. Feel free to ask for clarifications.

This has fallen out of favor, but Gen 2 as occasionally been referred to as “Deuterogenesis.” or, the Second Creation. There’s some interplay between Book of E and Book of J for people who are Documentary Hypothesis fans.

In my paradigm. Order of Creation comes first and is subject to mathematical and scientific examination. Gen 2 and onward is “looser” and doesn’t have any math involved. However, it tells a more or less accurate depiction starting with settled farmers displacing nomadic herdsmen, (Cain & Abel), building cities, being bullies, and eventually developing culture. We can see that Deuterogenesis, largely the story of Cain and his descendants runs parallel. There’s an Enosh through Cain and one through Seth, there’s a Methuselah from the line of Seth and a MethusaEL from the line of Cain, and they both wind up with a Lamech, The line, of course, ends at the flood. Presumably, and this is a guess, civilization is saved by Shem, Ham, and Yaphet marrying Tubal’s Jubal’s and Tubal-Cain’s daughters.

I made the mistake of buying Schaeffer’s collected works. Read the first page and realised what a complete waste it was.

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Ah, the ancient gap theory rears its head again.

Hugh Ross, bless his mathematical soul. Ironic that you mention the pre-creation period. Space.com put up an article last month about the String Theory folks having a path to what was before the Big Bang/Creation. This would allow Frijof Capra’s Tao of Physics and the Hindu cosmogony cyclic worlds.

There are different kinds of knowledge, including scientific and theological knowledge, and there are different ways of acquiring knowledge and discerning truth in different domains. I think it is a mistake to conflate truth with fact, as truth is a more expansive concept than fact. Most of the Bible is not communicating facts. A command is not a fact. A lament is not a fact. A prophesy is not a fact. A parable is not fact. Symbolic imagery is not fact. All of those could express truth though.

Falsehood connotes lying and is not always the opposite of truth, since one can sincerely believe one knows things that are not indeed true.

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“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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