samedi 4 mai 2013

If Genesis Chapter One is Not History, Then What?

Lawrence Krauss is menacing the freedom of Christian parents all over the English speaking and Western world by his words that "teaching children creationism is child abuse". [In the video of a TV debate from 18th of February 2013, ABC, Q&A, he modified the words to "mild child abuse", but he is currently often quoted without that qualification.]

I mean, if a father beats his one year old daughter with a stick for fun, I think he should be locked up and his daughter taken away from him. That is child abuse. But if a father tells his children that God created all there is, directly or indirectly (the man made is obviously made by a man made by God and from materials made by God, but that doesn't mean God himself decided how to put together the computer I am writing on) and that the sixty million years ago that T Rex is supposed to have lived was not so long ago, it is indeed folly to compare that even remotely to child abuse. But Lawrence Krauss is not comparing it remotely to child abuse, he is classifying it as such.

So were the people who decided I could not stay with my ma during school terms after grade eight. They did perhaps not say so in so many words, but ma is the person who comes closest to having taught me creationism and pro-life stances, creationism and pro-life stances is what I was being mobbed for in school, and the decision implied I had to get away from mother because she was having a bad influence on me. Never, ever will I agree they were right, they blighted my life for years to come.

However, Krauss is atheist, and on top of that a militant such, he can be counted on to say something stupid once in a while.* Let us see if he got a Christian co-debator who said something wise? Not quite this February on ABC, not quite. I am citing an article on Creation dot com which is citing the dialogue:**

And what was Dickson’s response to Krauss’s “child abuse” taunt? ABC Q&A presenter Tony Jones immediately offered Dickson the opportunity to respond:

TONY JONES: John Dickson?

JOHN DICKSON: Yeah. This is going to be an agree fest, I think.


JOHN DICKSON: I agree but for one thing that I think lowers the tone. On the science I totally agree and you’ll find that most mainstream Christians are very comfortable with science and with all of the discoveries of science, including that 13.72 billion years ago there was a bang and evolution by natural selection. This is standard. When you go to theological college you are taught how to read Genesis 1 and it’s quite clear that Genesis 1 is written in a style that is most unlike the historical prose we know from other parts of the Bible. The style is not quite poetry but it’s more in the direction of poetry. It uses number symbolism in a way that would blow your mind. The artistry of it is clear.

First off, if creationism were unduly taking Genesis 1 "as history," it would even so not be child abuse to teach it to children. Common and simpleminded misunderstandings do occur among people, and teaching your children what you believe yourself is not in itself child abuse.

One could argue it is child abuse to teach your children witches were women who were good at healing in a world were doctors were bad at it, and the Church only agreed to burn witches and burned so many of them because the Church men were afraid of healing and that the Church then for that reason burned so very, very many of them. Or that Luther was condemned because Leo X needed money from Indulgence sales for his personal luxuries. But that kind of misunderstanding, which is more evilminded than simpleminded, very seldom leads to children being taken away from parents, even if the children are baptised and have a supernatural faith on top of a natural life to loose. That is the kind of lies that kills the faith.

But mistaking the literary style of Genesis chapter 1 is hardly a reason to take children away from their parents. Unless of course the Church had centuries before decided that Genesis chapter 1 must not be taken as literal truth. Which is obviously not the case. So, as an answer to the child abuse taunt - I saw the comment above the dialogue just when copying - this is lame, close to treason against Christian liberties in Society. Or, rather, it is an act of treason.***

However, I am not John Dickson's judge, I am glad for that, and considering the ire that Lawrence Krauss' thinkalikes have provoked in me by action and John Dickson's thinkalikes by agree fests, I think John Dickson can be happy too that I am not his judge.***

I am writing this to give an answer to his arguments. Or to his one argument which in two phrases can be stated as "it is not accurate history but nearly poetry", and "it is too artistic with number symbolism to be accurate history".

The fact is that the word "history" has several meanings. The basic Greek word "historia" means "research", and Thucydides and Herodotus did that. Since the research does not always come to exactly one single version as the true one, it involves sometimes leaving undecided which version is true, either way it involves citing sources, and even if the author - either of the two or others like them - decides, either for an extant version or for a reconstruction of his own, he often uses words like "probably" or "dokei moi". Any school child can see that Genesis 1 is written very differently from that.

One can even go further, and say it is told as a story - which in Greek is "mythos".°

If you did not skip all the English words, like "research" and "story" and concentrate only on the Greek ones, like "historia" and "mythos", you will of course see, that this is not at all any kind of argument against taking Genesis 1 as literally true. A research may come to a flawed conclusion, a story can be told as simple as that and still be true. Taking differentiations about literary style for a yes-or-no difference about literal truth or even claim to such is simply stupid.

The other extreme meaning of the word "history" is "all of the events past, present and future". As events overall do not take sides between literary styles, Genesis 1 can certainly be quite historic on that account.

A narrowing down, from "all of the events past, present and future" to "all of the events known to man" is quite in keeping with either research or story giving us accurate history.

A further narrowing down means that most of Genesis 1 is not quite history. But that is because "history" is used for "events past that have been seen and remembered by men". Most of Genesis 1 was before man was there, as its story goes. Of course, most of "evolutionary history of life" was before man was there too. And Annunaki seeking a way to get slaves and doing genetic engineering on apemen to form man was also before man was there to observe and record and pass on anything.

Then, how do any of the three versions even claim to know which version is true?

Two of the versions are based on "research". In the "Cayce case" there is also an element of prophecy under hypnosis. I do not really trust hypnosis in prophetic connexions, any more than possessions or frenzies of Sibyls, such as the Greeks and Romans trusted. The Biblical version is based on Prophecy, but of another kind. Moses saw as a prophet what had happened before man was there and up to his being there. He also probably saw in more detail - probably in a second separate prophecy - how after man was created first male, man was then a few hours later extended to being both male and female by creation of Eve. But since that account begins basically with Adam being there and talking with his maker, it can be traditional collective memory from the events up to when Moses wrote it down. Now, Moses also walked the children of Israel out of Egypt dryshod over the Red Sea. Not quite what Cayce has managed while alive, as far as I know.

I think that can suffice for the literary style. I even added. Now, the perfect artistry. There is numeric symbolism in Genesis 1. There is gorgeous artistry in Genesis 1. Well, if God was acting and man was first of all not yet created and to the end of the chapter created but not yet sinful, what would you expect? If man is artful, why should Our Creator be artless? If He did great art then and it appeared with éclat, He can still do great art and it can still appear with éclat, insofar as we let Him into our lives and the lives of each other. But often we do not and that is why history later than Genesis 1 is so often either inaccurate or unartistic. Back then that was not yet an issue, and artistry and accurate fact met.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Mouffetard, Paris
St Monica's Feast

*Even non-militant atheists like Autumn Lauber have said something stupid once in a while. I think. What do you think about her Taco Cow video?

I prefer her latest one:


***I am not sure while writing this that this was the final answer to the child abuse charge, even if they were the words immediately after it. I just checked with John Dickson by writing him a mail over Facebook. Have not yet received answer, when I do I will either delete my words or get the parentheses off them and change this footnote.

Update: I checked by googling for the video with the conversation. The conversation goes on after the quote I gave, past an abusive namedropping which I comment on right next, and on to his answer about child abuse.

Philo Judaeus (purportedly, I have not read the passage), Origen (purportedly, I have not read the passage) and St Augustine (I have read another passage which may indicate that the position of non literal truth was not his final one, check with De Genesi ad Literam), were all YEC. They were in that partial agreement (were they were clearly minoritarian) not six day literalists, but they were not extending six days into six billion years or so, they were compressing them into one moment. Now whether you count together the Biblical chronology as 7200 years or as 6000 years (including the two thousand years after the Bible), compressing six days into one moment does not lengthen the chronology, but shorten it. Slightly. At least Origen and St Augustine, possibly Philo too, ridiculed Egyptian Pagans for creation durations like 40.000 years. "Poo, that is bragging about having an older tradition than you actually have" was their basic response. Remember that this was about Egyptians not reconstructing age of earth by quasi science, but claiming actually have had such a long tradition, actually having kept historic records of King Scorpion and a few more that lived like 10.000 years or even twice or three times as long. Similarily Babylonians and Chinese. In face of that tradition, keeping their own, these three men cited maintained it was their own one which was right. Now, would they not have laughed their arses off if they had heard about men using their names to say "sure, we need not take the Bible literally, we can accept earth is 6 billion years old or 4.5 billion years old" or whatever the age is!

Now, John Dickson did not want to want to call teaching creationism child abuse. He was uncomfortable with it for two reasons. That NOT teaching nor even allowing creationism to be taught would be the real child abuse, as it was in my case (I remember class room discussions were science teacher would call a halt precisely after the comment where I could have exposed his logic as bad, I found myself abused, socially, as he was recommending my class mates to find me "unscientific" and as such stupid: Lawrence Krauss thought having been taught creationism is handicapping, and so is having accepted any social identity which is very out of fashion, but that does not mean the state has a right to stop it), so that NOT teaching creationism would be the real child abuse was not one of his two reasons. Indeed, just before going into the two, he did say he thought authorities should look into the matter, I suppose he meant to shut down the rare voice of truth. Sorry, but the charge of treason stands. Whatever the good or benevolent or kind or kindhearted intentions behind it may have been.

°When Aristotle analyses the "mythos" of Aeschylus' Persae, he is not stating it is inaccurate as history, obviously, only that the story told in a few words is what Aeschylus takes from history and then elaborates to a drama. Note that it is not the dramatic embellishments, but the story-line as such, borrowed from recent events, that Aristotle calls "mythos".

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