Thursday, February 7, 2013

Literal creation?

A blog post by Peter Leithart got me thinking once more about creationism. Responding to a book entitled Darwin's Pious Idea, Leithart asks why some things can be taken literally while others can't:
"What makes the notion of “creation by speech” an un-literal interpretation and the notion of creation “in six days” literal? How does Cunningham know which is which? Perhaps evolutionary biology decides for him. Again, we have to guess, because he doesn’t say."
It's a funny question, because I honestly never thought "creation by speech" was literal. When God spoke the universe into being, did it make a sound? Clearly there's something more to speech than the literal action of speaking. What does "literal" mean, anyway?

To me Leithart's worry is a little strange, and indicative of a sort of interpretive panic on the part of evangelicals. Always the same question arises: if we can't take the creation story literally, then how can we take any historical account from the Bible, in particular the Resurrection, literally?

If I recall Luther's famous quote correctly, he insisted on both "Scripture and plain reason." I think plain reason tells us that when God spoke the universe into existence, it didn't literally make a sound. Before anything existed, there was no sound. Plain reason also tells us that plants can't live without the sun. And yet, plants come into being a day before the sun. Plain reason, finally, tells us that the narrator of Genesis does not intend the audience to think he was an eye witness to the event, nor that he personally knows any eye witnesses. The gospels, by contrast, read somewhat differently.

And modern scientific reasoning, while not so plain, really has reached a rather strong consensus on the age of the earth. I confess that it bugs me when Christians bring up "Darwinism" when the discussion seems to be about much more than Darwin. There's no point in discussing the evolution of life if you haven't come to grips with what modern geology and physics have told us about the age of the earth. It's clearly not "Darwinism" versus creationism. It's a much broader skepticism of modern science, based solely on the stubborn insistence that we read the Bible "literally."

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