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What We Lose in the Debate

I would assume many of you who follow or read this blog know about the debate that took place Tuesday night between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the Museum for Creation Science in Petersburg, Kentucky. The event was well attended and live-streamed on the Internet. Bill Nye represented a side that said the earth came into being through a multi-billion year process, whereas Ken Ham argued that the earth came into being through a six-day creative process invoked by the God of “The Bible.” Both sides outlined their viewpoint, articulated their evidence (as they saw it), and probably didn’t convince anyone listening of anything new. I would guess that most people watching were already set on how they felt.

I suspect most Unitarian Universalists went to bed feeling that Bill Nye articulated well the right view and probably won the debate, as I suspect evangelical Christians went to bed feeling the same thing toward Ken Ham.

That doesn’t mean the debate was fruitless. Both debaters acted civilly toward one another and articulated clearly their views. It is necessary to model communication without name-calling and fighting.

But I got something else out of the debate. My questions for Ham would have come from the realm of theology not science, in fact it didn’t sound as if Ham was conversant with the Hebrew text, and when converting theology to science you might as well start with the original text. But the problem is when anyone tries to fit theological text into a scientific mold, we lose something very important–soul. In fact turning Genesis into a scientific text waters down the great theology that can be derived.

Genesis 1 and 2 is a piece of beautifully crafted literature. The words were not chosen simply or quickly. There was redaction and obvious work done to weave the beauty of humanity, ethics, and morality into the world. Humanity is created in this story and placed into an important role–that of steward. We were made, planted onto this earth to care for it, the world was good, we were good, and when we are good, good things happen. But the flood teaches us that the world will reflect our work–even when the work is not so good.

The first chapter of the creation story actually tells a wonderful story about the conversion of chaos into beauty. When I first read the story in Hebrew, it reminded me of something Michelangelo had said about sculpting marble. He didn’t add things, he just removed the parts that weren’t supposed to be there. In the creation story, life is art. I will never forget the first time I read the creation story in Hebrew–it completely changed my understanding.

It wasn’t about days, it was about hearts; it wasn’t about structures, it was about majesty; it wasn’t about science, it was about soul. I can theologically argue why I think this text is being misused, but I fear if I do that I become part of the problem.

In Genesis, God breathes into our nostrils, into our souls, makes us special, pointing out that the spirit of life is our spirit, and the poetry of our days remind us that all good things require work. That is just fine for someone like me.



Comments on: "What We Lose in the Debate" (5)

  1. Great post, Justin!

  2. Before you read this, please know that I am genuinely asking questions, I am not trying to patronise. I say this because I know how easily text can be interpreted the wrong way.
    I would like to thank you first of all for pointing out the mistake that god and the bible can be proven scientifically. However, you appear to be doing what a lot of christians are doing nowadays, and that is turning it into metaphor. I think this is a better way to look at religious texts in general, but it more or less makes them redundant if applied to the whole narrative. I am curious as to where the line is drawn on the ‘soul’ that is put into it. I’m sure you know that there are some pretty disgusting things in the old testament; how do these factor into a metaphorical interpretation? Do you remove those – as though they weren’t supposed to be there? Is this not saying that you know better than God?

    • I don’t care for the term metaphor in this instance, I prefer allegory. I don’t say that to be obstinate to Christians, or to disprove anyone of anything, I just think it is important to interpret any writing within the context of its genre. The first chapter can be broken down to a very specific outline. The first verse has 7 words the second has 14(in Hebrew). There is no creation from nothing in the text, so I never felt that I had to prove that. The story of creation itself aligns days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. I am not making this up it was acknowledged a long time ago in Jewish interpretation. For further information check out Nahum Sarna’s commentaries on Genesis.

      Having said that I don’t remove anything from the text, the terrible things in Genesis are terrible things regardless but they don’t stop there. But then the world is full of people who do terrible things, but I am off track when I interpret this chapter I read as I believe it was meant to be read, as an allegory. It tracks too close to a few other creation stories to be dealt with differently. It is a story about the character of God weaving morality into the cosmos.

      I would encourage you to look into Jewish interpretations, they had the text long before the Christian’s did, and they actually understand the language and culture.

  3. I really don’t understand where the morality in regulating slavery as opposed to abolishing it lies. Nor the morality in being happy dashing your children against the rocks, or committing to killing your son for god. I cannot comprehend as to where this fits into the allegory. People do terrible things true enough, but a lot of them are due to a belief in a divine warrant to do them. As Plato said: Is it good because god chose it? Or did god choose it because it was good? It is surely clear. It is written in the bible because it was morally good before god.

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