Friday, December 29, 2006

Picking up the pieces

I continue to pick up the pieces in Touchstone's latest response to my original post on theistic evolution.

To follow the thread, first go here. Then here, here, here, and here for Touchstone's four part piece. And lastly here for my first follow-up to Touchstone's four parter.

In the materials I’ve read (which is a good bit on this question), the border is not identified by literary form between chapters 11 and 12, but by the contemporary nature of the story from Chapter 12 onward. Chapters 1-11 are considered the “primeval period”, the story of man’s development up until the were reified as a functioning tribe of Hebrews.

But on what basis does Touchstone draw the line between chapters 11 and 12? He says the divide is "not identified by literary form between chapters 11 and 12, but by the contemporary nature of the story from Chapter 12 onward." Okay, so what does Touchstone mean by "the contemporary nature of the story"? On what grounds does he categorize Gen. 1-11 as "the primeval period" while the rest of Genesis is not? Again, where is his argument?

That is, the story of the Hebrew people as Hebrews begins in Chapter 12.

1. Good to know Touchstone is familiar with the story of Abraham. But all this proves is that the story now shifts its focus to Abraham and his family. It doesn't prove that everything before Abraham is therefore to be considered part of some "primeval" past.

2. In fact, Abraham's story actually begins at the close of chapter 11 with his father Terah. And, as chapter 11 relates, Terah is part of a chain that stretches back to Shem (who arguably could've been alive in Abraham's own day, and whom orthodox Jews argue, although I don't necessarily agree, is Melchizedek). Which one of Shem's descendants from Arpachshad to Terah would Touchstone consider non-historical, but part of his nebulous, undefined "primeval period"?

Clearly, the genealogy in Chapter 5 is a stark contrast with the form of Chapter 1, for example.

Well, perhaps because Gen. 1 is primarily an ancient Israelite cosmogony while Gen. 5 is primarily an ancient Israelite genealogy. How is this saying anything of consequence to the issue at hand?

Which, BTW, Touchstone would do well to keep in his sights:

5. Furthermore, notice the TE might argue that only the first few chapters of Genesis (usually Gen. 1-3 or 1-11) are to be read as allegorical myth or mythical allegory. That is, Moses wrote Gen. 1-3 or 1-11 as allegorical myth, but the rest of the book as historical narrative. But how does the TE account for the non-apparent shift in genres? What reason(s) does he give for the shift?

Moving on:

Rather, the border is placed there as a divider between “historic” narratives about the Hebrews and “primeval”, or “prehistoric” narratives.

Granted, Touchstone is not talking about literary style, but he is talking about a significant shift in the narrative from "primeval" or "prehistoric" to "historic." He is still talking about reading Gen. 1-11 differently than the rest of Genesis.

But what's his definition of primeval or prehistoric? And what's his definition of historic? Why can't people and events in Touchstone's alleged "primeval" or "prehistoric" category be considered historic? Where's his argument?

Again, the question is, how does the TE account for the shift? Whether he wants to claim it's a literary shift or not is at present besides the point. Touchstone claims there should be a marked divide between Gen. 1-11 and the rest of Genesis. That Gen. 1-11 should be considered "primeval" or "prehistoric" while Gen. 12-50 should be considered "historic." Why?

So here, in 2:7, we have a picture of God with nostrils, breathing life into man. Unless we are to suppose that God has a corporeal existence here, then the 'breath' and the 'nostrils' would be figurative device pointing to whatever the process God used to effect the end result — man as nephesh, a living, independent soul. If that’s the case — and it is the case in any Orthodox understanding of God (God is spirit) — then I see absolutely no trouble in understanding the 'formed...of dust' part ofthis to be similarly figurative. It’s a pointer to whatever process a sovereign Creator, who is spirit, used to effect the formation of man as a biological creature. A literal reading — a 'face value' interpretation — of either 'formed' or 'breathed' is a problem, as it anthropomorphizes God; it atriutes a physical body to Him, using His hands to form Adam, and his nostrils to animate him.

1. The first problem is that Touchstone is adding details to the creation account in Gen. 2 which are not actually in the creation account in Gen. 2. Touchstone says, "we have a picture of God with nostrils." Um, excuse me, but where does it say that God has nostrils -- even figuratively -- here in Gen. 2:7? It says man has nostrils. But it doesn't say that about God.

2. What's more, after adding his own details to the creation account, Touchstone then uses his added details to establish anthropomorphism.

3. Touchstone also disregards the role theophanic angelophanies where God does simulate human form.

For my part, I read the “Adam’s rib” to mean that God did not simply pick a nice female proto-human to be elevated as Eve, but took whatever genetic and physiological changes He deployed in the elevation of Adam, and used Adam’s “improvements” as the basis for the upgrade of Eve. This makes Eve biologically/genetically derivative of Eve in a
way that simple selection of some random female would not be. That’s all purely speculative, of course. The details are hidden behind the figurative language, just as they are for “breathed” and “formed” in 2:7. The bottom line here would be that God used Adam’s biology/genetics in the process of elevating Eve...somehow. That’s what the “rib” points to.

1. Yes, it's speculative. Which is not necesssarily a problem, since speculation in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. The problem is that Touchstone is not merely speculating. He's smuggling modern scientific concepts (biology, genetics) into the text in order to harmonize Gen. 2 with evolutionary theory.

2. But is that how an ancient Israelite would've understood the passage? No, as one scholar puts it, an ancient Israelite would've understood that the woman was taken out of the man's side in order to be by his side. To complement one another and serve God together. That's the main point.

3. Actually, why should "breathed" and "formed" be considered figuratively? Especially since Touchstone's above argument for a figurative reading of Gen. 2:7 was an argument based on details which were not in the text.

Once again, an allegorical reading does not deny the underlying historicity or factual basis for the allegory. The serpent in the garden may be an allegorical representation, for example, but that does not imply that no temptation and transgression actually took place. And here, while Gen 1-3 does read best as highly allegorical, particularly with respect to the story of the Fall, I have no trouble affirming a dual role for Adam and Eve, as both historical, real individuals and as symbols and types. There’s nothing complicated about being both historical and allegorical at the same time. Paul points to just such a case in his “two covenants” allegory in Galatians 4.

1. In my original post, I was not speaking solely to Touchstone. There are other TE who would allegorize without historicizing Adam and Eve and the events of Gen. 1-11. Such as liberal Christian scholars like John Dominic Crossan.

2. Of course, it doesn't seem Touchstone actually understands what an allegory is. In the past, Touchstone has floundered around with terms such as "allegory," "symbolism," "myth," Biblical typology, etc. I've had to correct him on these.

3. Otherwise, if all he is claiming is that Adam and Eve are real, historic individuals as well as Biblical symbols or types, then we'd have no beef.

4. Regarding Paul's "two covenants" allegory in Gal. 4, it's true "there's nothing complicated about being both historical and allegorical [by which I suppose Touchstone means symbolism] at the same time." But that's because I've corrected Touchstone on the point in a previous exchange:

[Touchstone:] With Paul speaking on this very subject in Gal. 4:

22For, it is written that Abraham had two sons, one from his handmaid and one from his freewoman. 23But whereas the one from the handmaid was born according to the flesh, the one from the freewoman through a promise; 24these things are said allegorically. For these women are two covenants...

So now you have a problem: either a) Paul is wrong in identifying a story allegory cannot be simultaneously literally true and also allegorical, or b) Paul is trying to tell us that the Sarah/Isaac-Hagar/Ishmael story in Genesis isn't literally true.

So Patrick, which is it?

To which I responded:

a. I've never denied the Bible could be allegorical or symbolic in certain parts.

b. When you talk about allegory and symbolism, you're equivocating. You're treating symbolism as allegory and allegory as symbolism. But the two are not the same. As I've noted in my above post and comment.

c. What's more, you've not merely been arguing for understanding certain elements of Scripture as allegory (or symbols), but you're taking it one step further and arguing for understanding the entire text itself (e.g. Gen. 1-3) as allegory.

d. For the sake of elucidation, let me contrast the term "allegoroumena" (often translated "allegory") in Gal. 4:24 with another Greek word in the NT: "pornia." Literally, "pornia" might be translated "porn" or "pornography." When we think of pornography today, however, we mean something very specific. But the actual meaning of the Greek word itself is not so restricted as our modern definition. The Greek word "Pornia" could refer to any illicit sexual intercourse (e.g. adultery, homosexuality, bestiality). Or it could be a metaphor for idolatry. Similarly with the term "allegoroumena." As we would understand it today, the term "allegoroumena" could mean to speak allegorically or symbolically (figuratively, typologically; cf. the NIV translation).

e. Finally, here is scholar Moises Silva on the topic: Much discussion has surrounded the meaning of v 24, "These things may be taken figuratively." Paul uses the Greek term "allegoroumena," and so a more literal translation might be, "These things are written allegorically," or "These things may be interpreted allegorically." Paul certainly is not making use of the allegorical method made famous by Philo of Alexandria, which strongly downplayed (or even denied) the historical character of the OT narrative and which served as the vehicle for formulating complex philosophical systems. In view of the somewhat specialized meaning that the term allegory has today in the minds of many (the corresponding Greek term could be used in several, more general, ways), it is probably misleading to use it in describing what Paul is doing in the passage. ... Some scholars prefer to use the term typology (rather than allegory) to describe Paul's method here.


Figurative language isn’t any less true by its nature than literal descriptions — in fact in some ways it can be more true than factual accounts.

Although it's true figurative language and literal descriptions can both be true, that's not the argument, is it? The argument is why Touchstone thinks Genesis should be read primarily as allegory rather than primarily as historical narrative which features symoblism or typology?

An allegory is a story which consistently uses symbolism throughout and which itself is symbolic. Such as The Pilgrim's Progress or Animal Farm. It doesn't mean there aren't true people and events behind the symbolism in, say, Animal Farm (e.g. Napoleon = Stalin and/or Stalin-like tyrants). But Animal Farm is fictitious. That was George Orwell's intention. Is Touchstone arguing that Genesis is fictitious but that real people and events lie behind its fiction? If so, where's his argument?

Jesus expressed profound truths as parables — fictional accounts. They are just as “true” as any of the factual events that surround them.

So is Touchstone arguing that the Genesis creation account is akin to a parable?

Moving onto part 3:

I think that Augustine is giving sage advice here. It’s interesting that Patrick would invoke St. Augustine here, as Augustine felt quite comfortable dismissing the days of creation as solar days, and favored a reading of Genesis that viewed it as a logical framework rather than a chronological, historical account. Moreover, St. Augustine underscores and affirms the basic challenges and complexities in reading Genesis, and famously cautioned Christians that they should be willing to adapt their interpretations of Genesis as new facts and knowledge became available. Here’s a quote that is commonly invoked from St. Augustine in these discussions, and another bit of wisdom that Patrick and the rest of us are well advised to take heed of...

If I cite a quotation from someone, does this then mean that I agree with everything else he believes?

As for Jesus’s genealogy, apart from possible chronological conflicts with other genealogies, I don’t see any reason — literary or otherwise — for Joseph being allegorical, or even symbolic.

1. Sadly, Touchstone appears to have difficulty keeping track of arguments. I wasn't originally arguing for whether Joseph was allegorical. Here's what I originally asked:

9. Moreover, what would it mean for Luke’s account of Christ’s genealogy, "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli...the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:23, 38)? Are we to take certain parts of this allegorically such as the bit that says Adam, and maybe the bit that says Seth, too, at the same time that we take the part that says Joseph literally? Is Christ descended from an allegorical or mythical character rather than a literal person? As an early church father once said, "If you believe in what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

My point was that some TE read Adam and Seth as purely symbolic, but then believe Joseph was a real, historical person. And so I asked, why?

As far as Touchstone is concerned on this point, and as I've noted above, he simply doesn't understand what an allegory is. He doesn't understand why an allegory isn't, for instance, an historical account of peoples and events. He doesn't understand what symbolism entails. Rather he equivocates by using the terms "allegory" and "symbolism" interchangeably. And so on.

2. BTW, in the unlikelihood that it's not already been in evidence throughout his four part response, I should note at this point that Touchstone has a bad habit of making assertions without arguments. Note that I made an argument against TE. But rather than responding with a counter-argument against my argument, he just asserts that he doesn't "see any reason - literary or otherwise - for Joseph being allegorical, or even symbolic."

Not only is this not a counter-argument, but an assertion, but stating that he does not regard Joseph as an allegory is not even relevant to the original point I brought up! It just recapitulates what I've already stated.

But I suppose this is the sort of poor argumentation we've sadly come to expect from Touchstone -- against our best hopes to the contrary. Sigh.

Man and apes share a common ancestor, but there’s no such thing as an “ape-man”. That’s a term that I only see as a matter of ignorance — not knowing any better about what the scientific understanding is — or some kind of polemical hostility. Sort of a riff on the “monkey’s uncle” line from the Scopes trial days.

1. Odd that this is the first time Touchstone has raised the objection given that we've been using this term for at least a month if not longer now in our back-and-forth exchanges with Touchstone.

2. Would Touchstone prefer the term "man-ape" instead? Since that's what he himself originally employed in his debates with us:

...In fact, common ancestors would put man and gorilla together. He clearly believes Gorillas have the minimum resources for survival -- they are offered as the example of what man is not. If we superimpose common ancestry on the picture, then Steve's point becomes hopelessly confused: you have a man-ape creature to assess for survivability. Was the man-ape ancestor a viable species? How do we know? Steve is keeping his magic formula to himself, so we can't say on our own.

3. So why would Touchstone introduce the term "man-ape" to our discussions if he doesn't sanction the term in the first place? After all, as far as I can find, the term doesn't turn up in our discussions until he himself introduces it. We're just using his term.

4. And even if he didn't introduce the term, Touchstone himself nevertheless appears to be using the term here as a matter of fact. Not as "a matter of ignorance" or as "some kind of polemical hostility." Why can't others do the same?

But I don’t identify any problems with shorter arms or much taller frames, or whatever other changes might take place. A soul is a soul, and temptation and sin are still temptation and sin.

Yes, but theoretically speaking, it's possible for man to evolve into something far different than he is today, isn't it? I'm not talking merely about short or long arms or short or tall bodies. But what if future humans were no longer sexually attracted to those of the opposite gender (even though it would seem to go against our survival as a species, it's theoretically plausible, isn't it)? Or what if future humans manage to eliminate or submerge the gene for alcoholism? Or the gene for covetousness or greed such that future humans were no longer tempted by wealth or power? What if the gene for adultery was discovered and future humans were genetically altered such that they would be incapable of adultery? Or of lying? Or what if future humans discovered the gene which controls aging, or developed bodies which never wore down at the cellular level, but which would be constantly renewed, such that death by aging was no longer possible? Isn't the premise of a movie like Gattaca or perhaps even 2001: A Space Odyssey possible according to evolutionary theory?

But the point is that Christ Himself could not relate to future humans in His incarnation as a human being. Not fully, anyway.

Evolutionary changes don’t affect the sinful nature of man — sin is not a trait coded for genetically, so far as I’m aware.

How does Touchstone know that evolutionary changes "don't affect the sinful nature of man"? According to evolution, it's theoretically possible, isn't it? After all, some scientists claim to have discovered a gene governing sexual behavior. What if it's possible to recode that gene, so to speak, to turn off sexual attraction for whatever reason (e.g. overpopulation threatening our species)? Or to make adulterous men faithful to their wives (e.g. Bill Clinton, who claimed he had a sexual addiction)? Or what if the gene for anger (and violence) was discovered and recoded among humans to never rise above a certain level?

In any case, it’s a moot point, as evolution has effectively stopped for humans, at least as so far as it is theorized for biological life as a whole.

Is this Touchstone's assertion or is this the majority consensus of evolutionists?

The selection process has ceased to be a natural according to Darwin's description and is now straddling the gap between natural and artificial selection; a human need not compete on the inherent strength of its allele anymore. Individuals and populations can be conserved and propagated technologically, without respect for the allele-performance relationship. Evolution will continue as long as there is reproduction based on heritable traits, but for humans, it's increasingly divorced from the kind of evolution we've generally been considering. At the rate of technological development right now, it's a non-starter to worry about "fitness" in the classic sense. Way before enough time could elapse to effect significant morphological changes in humans via "classic evolution", man's technological prowess will have introduced a completely new and governing dynamic for man's propagation. A woman doesn't need a mate to conceive a child any more, for example.

And how does this negate my point? Actually, doesn't it serve to lend further support to my argument -- and at the genetic level to boot? After all, it's theoretically possible to recode our genes, isn't it, as I've noted above? Thus, it's still possible to "evolve," whether by natural selection or by human and technological tampering.

1 comment:

  1. In Galatians, Paul does not interpret the *entire narrative* of that section of Genesis as an allegory. Rather, he lifts out certain elements and treats them as allegory, and he does so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Touchstone, without inspiration, is taking an entire narrative and treating it as an allegory from beginning to end.

    So, in that case, in detail, what *exactly* do these alleged symbols in the text of the creation and fall accounts, and, for that matter the section up to the end of the Antediluvian era actually represent? Is Eve an allegory of the Ark of the Covenant and Mary? That's a typical allegorical interpretation of Eve. Would he agree to this? If not, why not? That's the problem with allegorical interpretation apart from Scripture; you can make it say just about anything. Touchstone would be at home with the Quadriga in the Middle Ages, but we all know that offends his scientific sensibilities.

    I've asked this before, and received no real answer. What *in this text* signals that this text is to be taken as an "allegory." Where is the literary warrant? What constitutes the form of an "allegory" in Hebrew writing? Where are those elements present in *this* text?

    Scripture interprets Scripture. Where does *Scripture* treat the text as an allegory? For that matter, Paul wrote Galatians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Touchstone is many things, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is certainly not one of them. There is a marked difference between *Paul* and thus *Scripture* interpreting *elements* of a *particular* narrative as allegory and treating an *entire section* of Genesis as an allegory *without Scriptural warrant* and *apart from* inspiration. This tells us far more about Touchstone's view of Scripture than it does the text he is attempting to interpret.