I’m resuming my dialogue with JD Walters, which was interrupted by some other controversies.
About comment iii): Perhaps I should have made this clearer, but my hermeneutical method is to derive a theme or motif from Scripture, where I am dealing with it primarily as a literary text (in line with recent discussions by Sailhamer and Goldingay). The way I see it, the Bible tells various stories about God and how he acts. Some of these are historical, that is, the writers meant us to believe they actually took place in the past, whereas others are more parabolic in nature. But all, whether historical or parabolic, do give us truth about God. So I can read the stories of Genesis and attempt to extract their point about the nature of God, without taking them literally as things that actually happened. For example, I don't think that the creation of the woman happened just as Genesis 2 describes. Rather, I see that the point of the story was to show that God is committed to working through his creation step by step rather than directly bring about the perfect outcome. __Thus there is no inconsistency between the two hermeneutics. I can accept the truth conveyed by the Genesis stories without accepting them as a literal account of creation, just as I can accept the truth conveyed by the story of the prodigal son without assuming that somewhere at sometime it actually happened.
Assuming we accept that for the sake of argument, what you’re describing is really a 3-step process rather than a 2-step process. If you think Genesis is more parabolic than literal, then you can’t jump straight from your parabolic interpretation of Genesis to God’s “commitment” to creation. Rather, there’s an intervening step in which you must translate the parabolic depiction into literal terms. What does the parable literally stand for?
For your thesis of divine “commitment” to creation turns on the details. But which details are parabolic window-dressing, and which details correspond to how God actually relates to his creation?
Let me see if I can articulate my objection to Omphalism a little better, drawing upon my discussion of the Genesis and other texts: over and over in the Genesis creation accounts I see God refusing to make his creation exactly as he wanted it from the start. Rather than speaking the ordered world of the climax of Genesis 1 directly into existence, God first creates the primordial waters without form and with darkness on the face of the deep. He then works with and through that material to bring about the world of land, sea and sky that he wanted. __What this tells me is that the impression of development and accumulation that the world presents is no illusion. And here is where I find the Omphalist position troubling: the geological evidence presents a narrative, not merely of great age, but of development. We see layers of stratification in rock, with older layers on the bottom and younger layers on the top. We see landmasses that bear the marks of erosion due to wind and water, processes we know take a very, very long time. We see evidence from the tectonic plates that there was a time when the continents were squished together, and only separated over the course of millions of years.
i) Keep in mind that I’m not defending Omphalism, per se. I use that as a limiting-case.
ii) A basic problem with your objection is that it tacitly rests on a non-Omphalist interpretation of the text (or the event). For Gosse could easily say the apparent development you describe is simply the prochronic backstory. So I don’t see that you have really gotten around the Omphalist interpretation, for that’s all consistent with the Omphalist interpretation.
Like Berkeleyan idealism, Omphalism is a self-contained, self-consistent global explanation of the world. So it’s hard for you to point to any empirical evidence that falls outside the parameters of the explanation.
iii) Moreover, isn’t there a sense in which a thoroughgoing Omphalist interpretation is every bit as parabolic as your parabolic alternative interpretation? So doesn’t that come down to competing parabolic interpretations?
Now what is the Omphalist's answer to this? That a landmass which bears the marks of erosion did not actually exist for the millions of years which would be required for the air and sand to eat away at it, but instead sprang into existence fully formed and already eroded? If so, then the evidence of the natural world is indeed quite misleading. It is like the difference between a house which actually deteriorated over 100 years, and a ruin of a house put together in a few days on a movie set. The builders of the set might have taken exquisite care to make the illusion convincing: they could coat the walls with layers of patina which would actually accumulate over the decades. They could oxidize the copper plumbing just as if it was really 100 years old. And to the casual eye there may be no difference. He or she would conclude that both houses were 100 years old. But in only one case do appearances tell the truth about the house's development.
i) But what’s “misleading” is context-dependent. The period stage set isn’t misleading to the stagehands. Or the actors. Or the director. Or the audience. They know a stage set is just a stage set.
ii) Likewise, “evidence” is value-laden. Babies are ordinarily evidence that a man and woman had sexual intercourse. But in the case of a miraculous conception, that would not be evidence of normal procreation.
So an effect is only evidence of a particular cause if, in fact, that was the cause–rather than some other cause. “Evidence” takes for granted a certain type of process. That’s a presupposition of the evidence. Not something that’s given in the evidence itself, but a framework for understanding the evidence.
iii) What about optical illusion?. Mountains appear smaller at a distance. Is that misleading? Is that an argument for naïve realism?
So we have biblical reasons to take the appearance of the development we find in nature quite seriously as evidence that it actually did develop as it appears to have done. God did not start creation 'in medias res'.
If you take the appearance of development literally in Gen 1 (i.e. creation over the span of 6 calendar days), then that would involve a genuine creative process. But since you don’t construe Gen 1 literally, I don’t see that your parabolic gloss gives us reason to take the appearance of development seriously.
If nature appears to tell the story of its development from the primordial quark-gluon plasma to the gradual emergence of distinct elements to the formation of stars and supernovas to the formation of planetary bodies, etc. then we have good reason to think that it happened that way, and that God didn't just make it seem that way because he wanted a more authentic stage for his salvific drama. If so, why would the Bible not just say about creation that God said, "Let there be a fully formed world with plants, animals, people (both man and woman created at the very same time), lights in the heavens, etc. and it was so"? Why doesn't the Bible show God creating exactly what he wanted directly and without intermediate steps?
Because, a Gossean might say, that’s not a good story-telling technique.
Now, what about that miraculous fish that looks just like an ordinary fish? Would that miraculous fish bear all the marks of the evolutionary history of its ancestor-fish? I think it would, but this is no reason to conclude that God created something ex nihilo. Remember, in my reading of Genesis, the potentiality of the primordial waters to produce dry land, and that of dry land to produce vegetation and land animals, was already inherent within it. It seems the Bible indicates that God created ex nihilo only the primordial raw material of creation, whatever that happens to be, and everything else after that results from the ordering and manipulating of that raw material. If that is the case, and if the fish that developed by the ordinary tempo of natural processes came from that raw material, there is no reason why the miraculous fish could not also as well, except at a much accelerated pace.
Well, that alternative is not without its oddities:
i) You seem to be suggesting that whenever God performs a miracle like the multiplication of fish, he recapitulates the entire history of the universe in miniature. To multiply a fish, he reenacts the big bang, cosmic expansion, galactic evolution, primordial soup, &c. From goo to you. And he does that with each miraculous fish.
But isn’t that explanation every bit as exotic as Omphalism?
ii) Likewise, isn’t that at least as exotic as mature creation? And isn’t the YEC interpretation of Gen 1 largely a case of accelerated development? What would normally take more time to replicate “after one’s kind” is speeded up?
Now you will ask, if the miraculous fish could develop at such an accelerated pace, why not the rest of the natural world? Because as you have noted, God generally works according to the slow, steady rhythm we observe and which science studies. The miraculous fish are the exception which proves the rule.
I think Scripture teaches a doctrine of general providence. But that also presupposes the initial set-up.
But the real question might be, if someone were to examine the miraculous fish without knowledge of its miraculous origin, would that someone conclude that it had been conceived and developed according to the natural processes of fish reproduction, and at the ordinary pace? I would say yes, but notice that this inference presupposes that most other things actually do develop at the natural pace. If that were not so, the person would be in no position to say anything at all about where this fish came from and how long it took to get here. Unless the world does by and large develop by the rates which we observe now (we know it takes 9 months for a human baby to develop, etc.) knowledge of nature would be impossible.
i) A difference between you and me is that I don’t feel your need to nail down what nature is like. I seem to be more open to the ambiguities of experience than you are.
ii) To recur to my prior example, suppose you have a sick friend. You take him to the hospital. But you also pray for him.
Maybe he’s healed by conventional means. Or maybe he’s healed miraculously, in answer to your prayers. The outward effect may be the same in both cases.
Does this mean medical science is pointless? No. Does this mean prayer is pointless? No. Sometimes (many times) medicine will do things prayer will not, but at other times prayer will do things that medicine will not. I don’t feel the need to pin down one modality rather than another.