Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

My initial post and further discussion of myths in Genesis has drawn more comments than anything else on my blog! This may have to become a recurring feature.

A newcomer, Cheeshead, recently posted a thoughtful response to my position, and I thought I'd blog again to extend the discussion. He began by pointing out the difference between empirical science and things which really are more historical by nature. Many genuine modern creation myths want the respectability of experimental study, but are little more than imaginative stories weaved in the language of science. We've seen in the past how quickly one theory is discarded for another, and things which supposedly disproved our faith have been themselves disproved.

He then honed in on the heart of the matter. He sees the modern story of origins as corrosive to the Christian faith, even if the spiritual meaning of Genesis 1-3 is taken on board:
The biggest hurdle I see when we force the Bible to fit with what our surrounding culture says must be true is the issue of death. If the geologic column is interpreted as an eons-long record of disease, death and dismemberment rather than an artifact of the judgement God visited on the world at the Flood we have some real fancy footwork to do in describing this creation as "good." One of the awkward places this leads us to is a pre-Fall world in which Adam and Eve and their descendents would live an endless, painfree life, uncorrupted by sin and thus immune from death. And yet they and the God who made them would be blissfully serene about the carnage, suffering and death taking place all around them. . . . Nature red in tooth and claw would be the natural order of creation, not a corruption of something which God made very good that has now fallen under a curse.
He concludes that this undermines the crucial idea that creation is groaning under the curse of man, for death upon death was endured by animals millions of years before his existence.

All in all, a very compelling theological argument. Before I respond, let me make two points to focus our discussion.

First, I think it is essential that we acknowledge the importance of the scientific enterprise for the Christian. If God's attributes can be seen from what has been made, we need to study what has been made, and study it with integrity. We must be open to the notion that all truth is God's truth, and that what we learn in science may shed light on what we see in scripture. However, we must not be naive about the materialist ideology of many scientists. Cheesehead's point on this is well taken.

Second, if Genesis is to be understood as mythology, it needs to read as such on its own terms. We absolutely can not be in the habit of throwing away doctrine just because it is being attacked at the moment! "Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens." I've been inspired by our discussion to study ancient mythology a little more deeply, in order to understand what our scripture has in common with, and in contrast to, other literature of that genre. Daniel Kirk over at Sibboleth has some great thoughts on this.

So, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that our scientific and historical studies lead us to believe that there were millions of years of animal death before the creation of man. Let's also assume that we understand Genesis to be written not as a blow-by-blow historical or scientific account of creation, but as a story to reveal the true relationship between God, man, and the world, in contrast to other ancient creation myths. Given this, can we reconcile death and decay existing before any human rebellion against God?

A few thoughts:
  • We are used to speaking of the garden as "paradise". The picture illustrating this post is from Gustave Dore's illustrations for Paradise Lost. I've heard pastors so often teach that, before the fall, everything was absolutely perfect. Yet, need something be perfect to be declared "good"? Can we not even now look at a beautiful mountain landscape, turning a blind eye to the harsh predation, and call it "good"?

  • We have another myth well-known in Christian tradition, though not explicitly spelled-out in scripture: that of the rebellion of Satan and his angels. If God's good creation included that vile serpent, what evil might he have worked already? Images come to mind of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, where the marring of Morgoth is mixed with the song of Illuvatar from the beginning.

  • No corruption of creation could have lasted long under the wise stewardship of paradisal man walking with God. This makes the fall of man even more tragic - the creation looked with joy at the arrival of the image of the Creator, only to see that image fall and bring not good but evil.

  • Though this is certainly getting into mystical and esoteric territory, could we be engaging in something akin to an "after this therefore because of this" fallacy? Need spiritual and lasting effects only work through prior causes? We know that now we live in the light of the future glory of Christ rocketing into our present life. Paul talks of things we see as future events happening in the here and now as well. Might not the fall have worked this way as well?
Those are my initial ponderings. What are yours?

The discussion of death before the Fall continues here.

Comments:
Ever since Cheesehead's initial posting, I've been pondering on and off about the idea of death and suffering in nature, and how that meshes with the notion of God's Creation being perfect.

I have two ideas, one of which you've already touched on, WFO, that is, that we can't say for certain that the spiritual and material consequences of the Fall did not extend back in time. Nor, for that matter, can we say definitively when the Fall happened.

But what about a much more radical idea? Why do we have to equate the death and suffering of the rest of Creation with the death and suffering of humans? Is that not placing us on the same plane when in actuality we are an entirely different order? Looking at things from a purely naturalistic framework, death is a necessity, not an evil, because without it, Earth would rapidly run out of space and resources. I only see death as an evil when it has eternal consequences for the soul of the person involved. So, I don't see any problem with having a perfect Creation with animals that live and die. It's a mystery that I have to accept by faith how humans could have been immortal on Earth at one time, and I'm sure God had a way of working that out. But, since the Fall happened, it's a moot point, isn't it?

That said, I wonder if the whole concern with animal death isn't a projection of our larger cultural trend toward equality of animals and humans?
 

WFO, thank you for your gracious response to my comments. I appreciate the way you framed your post, inasmuch as it reflects the points I was trying to make very fairly. This is not a very common skill in writing or discussion. Hopefully in my responses to you I can extend you the same favor.

I fully agree that a) sceintific and other recently developed (when looking at the broad sweep of history) methods of inquiry are important for the Christian to understand and interact with; b)that these methods will intersect on some levels with subject matter dealt with in Scripture. I thought your statement regarding modern myths whose creators want the aura of science attached to them was especially good.

"So lt's assume, for the sake of argument, that our scientific and historical studies lead us to believe that there were millions of years of animal death before the creation of man."

OK, I'll allow for this assumption on the understanding that it is for the sake of this argument, not that it is to be counted as a stolen base.

I submit that any developments that arise from the first assumption are borne of necessity if we are to salvage any truth content from the Bible at all. As such I would submit that the second assumption ("Let's also assume that we understand Genesis to be written not as a blow-by-blow historical or scientific account of creation, but as a story to reveal the true relationship between God, man, and the world...") could just as fairly be deemed a means to accomplish the goal of salvaging truth from Genesis, rather than a corrolary assumption to the first. In other words, the second proposition could have arisen as a response to the first assumption, although it could have also been an independent conclusion. In brief, when we start with Assumption #1, we are now in damage-control mode. The ship has bottomed out on a rock and we are manning the bilge pumps.

Let me interact a bit with each of your four bulleted thougts.

Your point about good not necessarily denoting perfect is well taken. However when God surveys the whole of His finished creation He pronounces it "very good". Still not the same word as "perfect", but I think it is a stretch to say that "good" includes death. After all in I Cor. 15 we are told that the last enemy to be defeated will be death. "Enemy" and "death" are not usually considered compatible concepts.

The destruction and corruption which may have occured pre-Fall as a result of Lucifer's fall makes for interesting speculation, but as you point out we can find little detail about it in Scripture, so we cannot make any doctrinal conclusions from this line of thought.

I do not understand the third point. God did not make a corrupted creation which He then placed man in to fix. He made a "very good" creation into which He placed man to dress, keep, and enjoy with Him.

On the fourth point, I do not think the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy can easily be brought into play here. The most obvious problem is that for it to be true that the carnage, disfigurement, death and dismemberment to be backward-reaching effects of the Fall (like a retroactive tax increase) would require that man have had no real choice about whether to rebel or not. After all, in this cosmology, mutation, death, and suffering are not mere effects of sin, but are indeed the very means by which God created. This same problem does not inhere to the effects of Christ's work of redemption going back in history or moving forward.

Once we have exhausted the discussion using Assuption #1, I would like to go back and question Assumption #1.

Chad: Actually I don't think your more radical idea is all that radical after all. It is presented in one form or another by almost everyone I have ever talked to who accepts any form of evolutionary cosmosology and is a Christian. I think it is virtually a necessary component of this position.

Nevertheless I do not think that it can be fairly said to be a modern, cultural, or sentimental artifact to attach a negative connotation to animal death or believe that it is not something which God would pronounce "good."

Isaiah 11 & 64 speak of a future time when the animals will be vegetarian and will not harm or destroy. Whether you believe that this will happen in the Millenium or in heaven, or whether you view these animals as figurative or literal, why would the lion eating straw like the ox be presented as a picture of the way God intends to restore our estate if not that the present order is not reflective of God's ideal.

The argument is commonly put forward that we should not seek to impose our creaturely sensibilities on God. On the other hand I think that our creation in the image of God, even though that creation is corrupted, means that our almost universal viseral revulsion with death, and especially with brutal and dismembering death, is refelctive of our innate knowledge that the world we live in is not the way God intended it to be. When our philosophical constructs are at odds with our visceral reactions, it is fair to at least question the validity of our philosophical constructs.
 

I don't want to add too much to the discussion, one that I have found myself battling for both sides of in times past. There is little that I feel that I can say very conclusively about the argument, but I do feel very strongly that we cannot approach the subject without a posture of great humility. If God wants to call creation "good," then creation is good, but I do not feel the freedom to define “good” for him, nor does he seem too interested in defining all his terms for me. Thus I do not approach the book with a set of pre-defined terms that I try to fit the text around. I’m not staking myself too firmly on either end of all the scientific debates, but if there does end up being reason to believe in an old earth in which animals had been around much longer than humans and therefore had been dying before the Fall, then I think a posture of humility would assume that there is a deeper truth that my childlike brain has not yet fully grasped, rather than holding to my understanding against all other odds.
 

Of course taking the position that death is good when it happens to animals then raises the question of why it should be any different for man. Why should it be viewed as the last enemy for man when it is the vehicle used for creation in the rest of God's earth? And what do we make of the aforementioned Isaiah passages in this context?

While the admonition to humility is always in order, I think it is treading on shaky ground to attribute the effects of the Curse to God's good creation. It has a faint analogy to the Pharisees attributing to Beelzebub the works of God that Jesus was doing. Hope this does not come across too harshly worded. I think this point expressed anyway is likely to come across a little harsh.
 

Oops! My bad. I reread my first comment and it says at one point,"'Enemy' and 'death' are not usually considered compatible concepts."

I meant to say:"Enemy" and "good" are not usually considered compatible concepts.

The great thing about having Alzheimer's is that every day I get to meet new people. ;)
 

Cheesehead,

I suppose, then, that my idea isn't all that radical. I hadn't read it anywhere before--came up with it on the spot ;-)

I don't think you have dealt adequately with the notion that animal death is different from human death. My suggestion would be that our revulsion is due to the physical similarity between us and animals, not any ontological similarity. Granted, we do not live as God would have us to live, and we rightly reject brutal death (even of animals), but that does not get to the heart of the matter.

Regarding Isaiah 11 & 64, I suppose it's a trite point I'm going to make, but it's late and I'm tired... Plants will continue to die, right? Isn't there more distinction between us and animals on an ontological level than between animals and plants? For that matter, what about an organism that is seemingly halfway between plant and animal, like a slime mold? It's hard to argue that death in some form won't occur, if the Earth itself isn't radically transformed in the End into something that scientific minds cannot comprehend. That's certainly possible...

I see two possibilities here. One is that Creation before the Fall was, and after the Second Coming will be, so utterly different from what we see today as to be indescribable by our meager scientific means. So, any discussion of the death we see in nature at this point is rather pointless. The other is that God's perfect Creation in some mysterious way does include animal, plant, fungal, bacterial, etc., death, in order to have a functioning, self-regulating ecosystem. How that interacts with the Fall I just don't know. At any rate, I'm quite happy to remain agnostic about the whole thing till I die or the Second Coming, whichever comes first ;-)

Sorry for rambling...if I read this tomorrow and realize it makes absolutely no sense, I'll rework it then!
 

Cheesehead,

This is turning into a rather involved discussion! That's OK - I asked for it, but realize that I may not be as quick as you with my responses. You may have to bookmark my blog, rather than just following the EO link... ;-) (Yes, it is scary that I know that).

I do think that you need to consider Chad's point a little closer (as he does yours). It is a problem to wrestle with even for the literal six-day creationist. When you say that there was no death in God's creation of the world, just how far do you take that? So much of what we understand about nature actually depends upon living things drawing their life from other living things.

Take seasons, which are mentioned on the fourth day. Autumn is, in my opinion, hands down the most beautiful time of the year. But so much of the beauty of the glorious leaves is actually caused by them dying, changing color, and falling to the earth to then decay - in order to then give life to other flora springing from the earth.

Or take the fish in the sea. Is there a single fish that you know of that isn't carnivorous? And yet should that prevent you or I today, upon going snorkeling in the ocean, from declaring the amazing life in the ocean "good", even "very good"?

Or take a proud fierce lion. Look at his strong muscles, sharp teeth, and deafening roar. Despite our understandable horror at predation, is there not something kingly and glorious in his pounce, subduing the antelope to feed his hungry cubs? I ask you - was this terrifying creature originally created to eat straw like an ox? Should he have been?

The point is that we can even now look upon creation that bears our curse with us and say that it is good, very good that it exists! And we can also look upon the horror of a wretched spider slowly sucking the life out of a still living grasshopper, and say that this is not good. Maybe even less good than for man to be alone, though not as bad as having that rotten serpent around.

It has a faint analogy to the Pharisees attributing to Beelzebub the works of God that Jesus was doing.

It's actually the reverse - attributing to God the works of Beelzebub. A far lesser offense, considering the sovereignty of God. Job does the same thing, and God is happy to take the blame/credit for Satan's actions. Again, I can't help but quote from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarilion:

Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.

Behold your Music! This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added. And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.

 

Em,

Tempting as your suggestion may be, I have to say I don't think we should take that route (at least not fully). We need to have the hubris to wrestle with God, and to do that, we need some conception of what is good (which ultimately comes from him, but the point is what he does with us along the way).
 

Hi Chad,

I think you understood that when I said your position was not all that radical I did not mean that as a put-down. I really do think that it is a virtual necessity of any theistic evolutionary cosmology. The fact that you came up with it on the spur of the moment just shows that you rapidly arrive at something that takes others a long time. ;)

I'll respond to your second paragraph in my response to WFO, as I think they are related.

On your last point, I agree that the world we see now is so different from the world before the Fall and after the final restoration that our present scientific understanding will no longer be operative then. A good example of this is thermodynamics. Our present world could not function without moving from high states of energy to low and from complex to random. This clearly cannot attain in an everlasting world unless there is a countervailing force put in place which reverses the normal flow of thermodynamics. With that said there are things which we can know about the world pre-Fall and post-Second Coming from studying Scripture, and death is one of them.

WFO,

You and Chad have both hit upon a key point in the discussion, namely that I have not (yet) adequately defined the similarities and differences between man, animals and plants and how this impacts on the discussion of death.

Although man alone was specially created in the image of God, and of man alone is it said that God breathed into him the breath of life, still man and vertibrate animals are the creatures the Bible speaks of as experiencing death. Plants are spoken of as "withering" or "fading", not dying. This is an important distinction. While modern scientists speak of any organism as eventually dying, the Bible does not teach this. I think it is appropriate to view the Bible as presenting insects, microbes and plants more as biological machines than as sentient creatures which experience suffering and death. So plants do not die. Even less so do leaves die. And even when God said in Gen 1:30 "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so,"this does not necessitate the total destruction of any plant which was being given for food.

Regarding the fish, I would like to introduce a small point of order: not all fish are carnivorous. Some eat algae and plankton. If there were not herbivorous sea creatures there would be no way to convert sunlight to energy to drive the ecosystem. Anyway, just as the Curse affects land animals, it also affects sea creatures. What we see now is not what was nor what shall be.

We have good warrant looking at Gen. 1:30 and Isa. 11 & 65 (not 64 as I erroneously wrote earlier) to believe that lions were not meant to be carnivorous, nor that they shall always be so. To answer your question, yes, the lion was originally created to eat every plant of the earth for his meat. The Bible explicitly teaches that for lions past and future.

I realize the reverse nature of the analogy I was trying to draw about attributing to God the works of Satan. That is why I characterized it as a faint analogy. I guess I didn't express that too well.

The main point in this discussion as far as it has gone remains that buying into Assumption #1 creates more problems for understanding Scripture than it solves.
 

Cheesehead,

Point well taken about plants being intended by God for food. I'm still not convinced that killing an insect, for example, is not "death," but I don't think it's a point worth quibbling over. We basically agree that Creation pre-Fall and post-eschaton was/will be utterly different and not approachable by science.

That said, I'd like to ruminate some more on the assumptions we're making in this debate. When I get some time during the day today in the lab, I'll do so.
 

Chad,

I sure am glad you posted this morning. I thought of a few more details I wanted to put in my post, so now it will look like I'm responding to you rather than putting up post after post like I'm just talking to myself.

I want to clarify that death is said in the Bible to occur to "nephesh chayyâh" which is applied to animals (usually translated "living creature") and to man (usually translated "living soul"). "Nephesh chayyâh" is never applied to invertibrates or plants. Of course microbes are not mentioned at all, but presumably they would fall into the category of creatures said to wither or fade.

Another point of interest in the Genesis narrative that bears on animal death before the Fall is the way that God Himself killed animals and provided their skins to Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. Read in the context of an Edenic state in which death and dismemberment were completely unknown this is a powerful feature of the story. Man has sinned and the Curse falls on him and on all of the creation had been placed under his authority and care. In a graphic and awful way man is brought face to face with the meaning of his sin--death to the creatures to cover his nakedness, death to all creatures as a matter of course, and finally death to himself. The skins of the animals being made clothing for him ties their death directly to the sin which he committed. Using leaves (which had been given for food) to try to cover his shame would not suffice. All of creation had been radically altered for the worse by that one act of disobedience.

Now contrast the implications of this part of the narrative going with Assumption #1. In this view there would be nothing shocking or out of the ordinary for the animals to be killed for Adam and Eve. Even if they had personally never witnessed one animal killing another it would have been going on all around them and for eons before they ever appeared on earth. And it would have been happening to homonids whose appearance would have been ever more similar to their own. Whether Adam and Eve were specially created from the dust of the ground in a literal sense or merely emerged from a population of slightly less developed homonids, death would have been a very familiar thing to creatures indistinguishable from them by outward appearance. In this context the killing of animals for Adam and Eve would be no shock at all. It would be a very common, workaday occurance that would not intrinsically impart any meaning to them apart from a didactic explanation that these particular animal deaths were unlike all the others by virtue of God investing them with a meaning He had not chosen to invest in the multiple billions of previous deaths for millions of years.

I submit that accepting Assumption #1 yields an understanding of Genesis which is far less elegant than a straighforward reading of the text.
 

It's interesting to think of the garments of skin linking Adam and Eve to their sin. But, a straightforward reading of the text wouldn't lead you to that point: garments of animal skin would be much more effective at covering their nakedness than fig leaves. That could have been God's only intention, for all we know.

But, even given the possibility of such a parallel, it doesn't make Assumption #1's solution any less elegant, when you take the whole of truth and not just Scripture. The elegance of such a straightforward literal reading of Genesis disappears when confronted with truths from other angles.

How do we explain the fossil record? How do we explain the genetic evidence that is most elegantly explained by common descent and selective advantages? Elegance of explanation is a powerful argument, yes, but consistency of truth is an even more compelling one. Genesis can be read figuratively or as myth without eliminating its truthfulness; a lot of scientific evidence cannot be read in ways to mesh with a literal reading of Genesis. So, in my mind, there are only two conclusions that can be made: either the physical evidence out there for scientists to examine was laid out by God to deceive prideful Man--and I refuse to ascribe deceit to God--or a literal reading of the text of Genesis is not a correct one.

I'm not a paleontologist, so I'd rather not go into the fossil record. But, molecular biology is another story. WFO and I have gone in circles for a long time about it, but I am happy to discuss how it fits (or doesn't fit) with Genesis.
 

Hi Chad,

The connection between Adam and Eve's sin and the slaying of animals to provide a covering for them has occured to many people throughout Christian (and Jewish) history. While the original text did not have an explanatory note to that effect attached to it (that we know of) it certainly flows throughout the Bible: without the shedding of blood there is no remission; and the shedding of an innocent's blood in the stead of the guilty can propitiate God's wrath. The animals who had done no wrong were a substitution for the sinner. It foreshadows Christ's death for us.

OTOH, if death had been going on for eons before this, it is indeed an odd thing that God would have to kill the animals to provide a covering for man. The act of killing animals for the utility of their carcasses would not have been a new idea for Adam and Eve, so why would the myth-maker bother putting this detail in there? How would it advance the narrative?

Mind you, for the sake of argument we have adopted Assumption #1. I am just trying to explore the significance of many details in the creation and fall narratives that have traditionally been understood in the context of no death before the Fall. So the two questions that occur to me at this point are:

*Why make such a point about God killing these animals to provide covering for Adam and Eve if animal death was already an established feature of the world pre-Fall?

*Why the statement in Gen. 1:30 that the green herbs of the field would be meat for the animals, when clearly some animals had been messily devouring others for millions of years?

*Why the statement of prohibition on eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil with the consequence that death would surely result when death was already an inevitable fact for all of the creatures about Adam and Eve, including many very human-like creatures that had been dying for quite some time already? Seems like there was no real choice for Adam and Eve in this situation--death was already an established feature of creation pre-Fall, and there is no reason to suppose that things would be any different for man. Death is a good and necessary part of creation, after all.

As to the scientific understandings of origins and what we are to do with them, I would prefer that we request Mr. Wonders to start a separate thread for those issues or at least that we explore all avenues of interest to us when we are adopting Assumption #1 for the sake of argument. As I said earlier I would like to question Assumption #1 at great length, but I think mixing the two discussions in together will result in too much confusion. IOW I don't multitask very well.
 

Cheesehead,

No problem--I'm happy with confining myself to the issues at hand in this thread, but I do think that we'd be well served to broaden our inquiry a bit. We'll see what WFO wants to do.

- I still don't quite understand the emphasis on the garments of skin. In my mind, they're just better coverings, but I'll grant that there may be some theological significance. I don't know that we're going to get anywhere discussing that issue.

- Genesis 1:30 is an interesting point, and one that I admit I can't find a neat way around without jumping firmly over to the figurative interpretation camp. I'm so perplexed by it as to have wasted an awful lot of time digging around on the topic today. I cannot reconcile God's intention that animals eat plants for food with the natural history of the world as posited by modern science. I don't think it's possible to do so, if you take Genesis literally. Either the Fall had super-temporal consequences, the result of which being that things before Adam and Eve's sin were altered, or modern science is simply wrong and/or is prevented from making statements about pre-Fall existence, or I can't take Genesis literally. If you have another way for me to conceptualize this, please let me know.

On this point and your last one, I think it's interesting to see what St. Augustine had to say on the matter, in "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis" (quotes cited here):

On animals killing and eating other animals:

"One might ask why brute beasts inflict injury on one another, for there is no sin in them for which they could be a punishment, and they cannot acquire any virtue by such a trial. The answer, of course, is that one animal is the nourishment of another. To wish that it were otherwise would not be reason- able. For all creatures, as long as they exist, have their own measure, number, and order."

On thorns and thistles in plants:

"We should not jump to the conclusion that it was only then that these plants came forth from the earth. For it could be that, in view of the many advantages found in different kinds of seeds, these plants had a place on earth without afflicting man in any way. But since they were growing in the fields in which man was now laboring in punishment for his sin, it is reasonable to suppose that they became one of the means of punishing him. For they might have grown elsewhere, for the nourishment of birds and beasts, or even for the use of man. Now this interpretation does not contradict what is said in the words, Thorns and thistler shall it bring forth to you if we understand that earth in producing them before the fall did not do so to afflict man but rather to provide proper nourishment for certain animals, since some animals find soft dry thistles a pleasant and nourishing food.... I do not mean that these plants once grew in other places and only afterwards in the fields where man planted and harvested his crops. They were in the same place before and after; formerly not for man, after- wards for man. And this is what is meant by the words to you."

On Adam and Eve's material bodies:

"He was mortal ... by the constitution of his natural body, and he was immortal by the gift of his Creator. For if it was a natural body he had, it was certainly mortal because it was able to die, at the same time immortal by reason of the fact that it was able not to die. Only a spiritual being is immortal by virtue of the fact that it cannot possibly die; and this condition is promised to us in the resurrection. Consequently, Adam's body, a natural and therefore mortal body, which by justification would become spiritual and therefore truly immortal, in reality by sin was made not mortal (because it was that already) but rather a dead thing, which it would have been able not to be if Adam had not sinned."

On science vs. Scripture:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.... Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by these who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion."

It's rather interesting that these statements were made by an early Christian, that to my knowledge they were never condemned by others of his time, and that they presuppose a more nuanced look at Genesis than a straightforward reading of the text.
 

I do agree with Cheesehead that it may be best to limit our discussion to assumption #1. After all, we are already assuming that you are right, Chad. Can't complain about that, can you? ;-)

Arguing the science is really not where I'm wanting to go - mostly because that horse is beaten so horribly in so many other sites and forums on the web by people much more knowledgable than myself. Of course I'm not going to censor y'all, but I just want to keep focuesed as best I can.

I have some things to add to this discussion - I'll comment more tonight. Don't leave me too far in the dust!
 

I'll keep quiet, then, WFO, till you comment tonight...
 

Oh, by the way, all this lively debate inspired me to resurrect my blog.
 

Oy! I just posted a masterful and booklength reply to Chad and the posting failed! Grrr!

Anyway WFO, just think of me as the guy you invited into your blog, and then when you stepped out for a little while I ate all your porridge, changed all the buttons on your stereo, moved out some of the furniture I didn't particularly care for, and drank all your beer, er, um...soda pop!
 

Short post for Chad & Mr. Wonders. I'll try to recreate the longer post later. I would be very interested in discussing the validity of Assumption #1 on its merits, so if either of you gentleman want to host that discussion on your blog, I'll gladly enter that phase of the discussion in either venue. Chad, with your specialization in molecular biology and my specialization in dairy chemistry and microbiology we should be able to have a good discussion. I would imagine you deal more in pure science while my studies have been more in applied science. You may have to type really slow so I can keep up with you, but I am at least conversant with the field.
 

"Oy! I just posted a masterful and booklength reply to Chad and the posting failed! Grrr!"

Ahhh! This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes! Er, I mean, so sorry...shame about your booklength reply. ;-) FYI, I always type my posts up in Word or something before posting, both for spellcheck and backup.

Chad has actually promised to post at length on this very topic, though he is starting to feel like Jephtha, I fear. If he wouldn't mind, I'd love to join y'all over there for that discussion. It just seems to fit better with the sort of themes he focuses on. Just so you know, he and I have debated origins quite a bit, me being much more sympathetic to the Intelligent Design movement that he is.

Beer, eh? Am I far from the mark in presuming you hail from a Dutch Reformed tradition, oh Cheesehead the total-depravity asserting Wisconsonian? I'm afraid we only have wine at my house. Preferably a British port, rather than that Italian stuff Chad goes for.

Oh yes, my reply! One moment...
 

"Ahhh! This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes! Er, I mean, so sorry...shame about your booklength reply."

Aha! The truth comes out, as I knew it would! ;)

As for background, you got the Wisconsin part right. As to the rest, I am a very odd mixture of theological traditions that could perhaps most easily be summarized as an Anglican fundamentalist exiled to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church with the demise of the Episcopal Church, who holds a degree from, and to this day can without reservation affirm the doctrinal statement of, Moody Bible Institute. The aforementioned doctrinal statement can be found here: http://re.moody.edu/GenMoody/default.asp?SectionID=0672F92C92D44545891F17D2A12EBBDB

I am going to try to repost on Chad's last comment, and then move over to the new thread.

Chad, RE: Gen. 1:30
"Either the Fall had super-temporal consequences, the result of which being that things before Adam and Eve's sin were altered..."
I submit that this is a possibility that won't stand up to scrutiny. If this were the case Adam and Eve would have had no real choice about whether to rebel or not to rebel, for their very existence and that of all the creatures about them would be contingent upon their rebellion. The only way to go with this line of thought is to take the position that man was created to rebel and had no choice in the matter.
"...or modern science is simply wrong and/or is prevented from making statements about pre-Fall existence..."
I submit that the second part of this statement is the correct position. Any science that is worthy of the name is rooted in empiricism and historical events are manifestly not empirically testable. There are other methodologies which can shed light on questions of the past, but they are not, strictly speaking, empirical science. Science intersects with the question of origins inasmuch as proposed mechanisms for evolution can be empirically tested and be shown to either be possible or not demonstrated as possible (e.g. spontaneous generation experiments), however this does not make origins inquires per se science.
"... or I can't take Genesis literally." I fully agree that modern secular origins models conflict with a literal understanding of Genesis, not merely in details, but also in overall presentation of understanding and ideas. More on that over on WFO's new thread.

OK, I want to respond to the four quotes from Augustine, and then briefly address his hermeneutics.

On animals eating animals: "The answer, of course, is that one animal is the nourishment of another. To wish that it were otherwise would not be reason- able."

The position Augustine argues against here is not the result of me or anyone else wishing for it. It comes straight from Gen. 1:30. So whether or not it is reasonable and whether you or I would wish for it or not, the Bible teaches that plants were the appointed food for animals in the beginning.

On thorns or thistles. I can't argue with Augustine here. I would amend his statement to say that along with the possibility that thorns and thistles may have existed as we know them pre-Fall, just not anywhere where they would be a nuisance, it is also possible that these plants existed pre-Fall, but were morphologically changed at the Fall to become noxious. I think the least likely explanation is that they were a special creation at the Fall.

On Adam & Eve's material bodies. I'm afraid I let Augustine leave me behind on the dock when he sets sail on this one. More on his hermeneutics in a bit, but let me point out that his thought founders when the example of Jesus is introduced into the picture. In His resurrected, immortal, but very real body Jesus both ate and drank, and did so on at least several occassions with His disciples to drive home the point that His body is real and corporeal. If Jesus's resurrected body and ours shall be capable of eating (Rev. 22 talks about the tree of life in heaven giving twelve different fruits, each in its season), an immortal first man and woman surely could eat and drink as well--just not other animals. ;)

On "science" vs. Scripture. This is a quote whose meaning in the context of the article you found it in I understand perfectly, yet I could just as easily put this one to work in just the opposite direction. Which is to say, thank God we do not have to limit our theological understandings to the state of "science" in 400 A.D. Virtually any "known fact" that contradicted Scripture in 400 A.D. is now known to be anything but a fact. God chose not to communicate in terminology of philogistan and ether just He chose not to fit into current cosmologies' categories. One hundred years from now our current cosmologies will be just as antiquated as separating matter into the four elements. I submit that at least part of the scandalon associated with the cross is when the Bible says things that are flat-out contradicted by current "known facts". As believers we are called blessed when we have not seen, yet have believed. This does not mean we are to bury our heads in the sand. Rather it means we are to be discerning about the limits of our ability to discover truth whether it be through science, history or theology and trust in God's revelation as trustworthy and sufficient.

Now a note about Augustine's hermeneutics. His methodology did not arise spontaneously from reading Scripture in isolation. I think the article you quoted was a bit disingenuous in not developing the key factors that led Augustine to his hermeneutics. Namely, Augustine found a great many things in pagan philosophy, particularly neo-Platonism to be well-nigh incontrovertible. Therefore he favored an allegorical reading of Scripture which blunted the force of those parts of Scripture which he felt were not reconcialable with verities found in his philosophical studies. (Protestations from the article you linked notwithstanding, Augustine's hermeneutics are the very epitome of allegorical method.) Far from appealing to Augustine as an authority to determine how we today should approach Scripture, and thus end the debate, Augustine represents an early proponent of the (at least) two conflicting views of how to view Scripture. I submit that Augustine's desire to reconcile Scripture with neo-Platonism led him to make unbiblical assertions like the two I objected to above. Now if this successfully posts I'll head over to the new thread and pick up there.
 

Let's move on to the other thread, folks, to keep things on the radar.
 

Ah, but you see, Cheeshead, I am a big fan of Augustine's hermeneutics, and much of Christian neo-Platonism ;-) . Truth is not restricted to Scripture alone...

But let's move on!
 

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