Saturday, May 16, 2015

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?

I recently read a new publication in the Counterpoints series: Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible's Earliest Chapters. Several snapshot observations:

i) Stan Gundry is the series editor. In that capacity I assume he picks the editor for each book in the series. If so, this book reflects his theological deterioration. What in the world possessed him to choose Charles Halton was the general editor? Halton is a flaming liberal. As general editor, he writes the introduction, conclusion, and picks the contributors. As such, the thumb is on the liberal side of the scales. 

ii) The three contributors are James Hoffmeier, Gordon Wenham, and Kenton Sparks. Presumably, the idea is that these three contributors span a spectrum: Hoffmeier (conservative), Wenham (moderate), Sparks (liberal). 

iii) Both Hoffmeier and Wenham have useful things to say. But even Hoffmeier's position is unsatisfactory. For instance, he says:

God possibly took a human or hominid (with genetic links to earlier forms of life) and made him the first true "man" (adam), made uniquely in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27; 5:1b-2; 9:6b), and thus a special creation. Such an approach does not militate against a historical Adam whose way of life is described as Neolithic (144-45).

Problem is, that's not how Gen 2 depicts the origin of Adam (or Eve). So that's not the historical Adam of Genesis. Rather, that begins with the theory of human evolution, lifts some Biblical language out of context, then grafts that onto a hominid.

However, he also scores some good points. Sparks' makes establishment science his standard of comparison. In response, Hoffmeier says:

Then one must ask, by what biological law or principle can the incarnation of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, and his death followed by his resurrection on the third day be explained? (142).

Clearly, some miracles transcend scientific explanation. But once you make allowance for that fact (or even possibility), then you can't preemptively exclude the historicity of other Biblical events on scientific grounds. To be consistent, Sparks would have to go all the way with Bultmann. So his position is ad hoc and unstable.

iv) Other than a few BioLogos articles, this is the only thing I've read by Sparks. Along with Enns, he's a prominent critic of inerrancy. So it was revealing to see how he makes his case. 

Much of his position is based on boilerplate comparative mythology, etymological fallacies, and source criticism of the Wellhausen variety. I won't comment on this, in part because Hoffmeier and Wenham critique it, and because he simply ignores other scholars–conservative, moderate, or even liberal–who scrutinize the type of source criticism, etymologies, and comparative mythology he resorts to. 

He says:

From where we stand, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, in a time when we've sequenced the Neanderthal genome and traced out the DNA our shared genetic heritage with primates and other mammals, it is no longer possible for informed readers to interpret the book of Genesis as straightforward history. There was no Edenic garden, nor trees of life and knowledge, nor a serpent that spoke, nor a worldwide flood in which all living things, save those on a giant boat, were killed by God (111). 

This paragraph bristles with difficulties:

i) To begin with, the second sentence is a non sequitur. It just doesn't follow from the first sentence. Even if we grant human evolution for the sake of argument, how would that falsify the existence of an Edenic garden, trees of life and knowledge, a talking snake, or global flood? Their possibility (or actuality) is logically independent of human evolution–even if that were true.

ii) What does he mean by "the Neanderthal genome"? Is there a single Neanderthal genome? From what I've read, this was sequenced from three fossils. At best, that's a tiny sample.

For instance, Christopher Hitchens had his genome mapped. That means there's a distinction between an individual human genome and the homo sapien genome. Same principle applies to Neanderthal. 

iii) Why does Sparks think the Neanderthal genome is significant? How does he related Neanderthal to Homo Sapiens? Does he think Neanderthals were human, or does he regard them as different hominids on a separate twig or branch that died out? Or does he regard them as a transitional species? What about possible evidence of interbreeding between Cromagnon and Neanderthal?

In my opinion, there's nothing in Biblical anthropology that precludes Neanderthals from being homo sapiens. Descendants of Adam and Eve.  

iv) How does shared DNA imply common derivation? Wouldn't we expect organisms that live in the same ecosystem to shame some common genetic structures? Doesn't that follow from carbon-based life forms? 

v) He simply disregards scientific criticisms of the alleged genetic evidence for universal common descent.

vi) He disregards the arguments of flood geologists for a global deluge. And he disregards the arguments of some scientists and exegetes for a local flood.

vii) He assumes the tempter was a snake, although the Hebrew word has multiple connotations.

viii) Another oddity is that elsewhere in the same book, he doesn't think the redactors even intended many of these depictions to be factual. He says:

He [the narrator] might (for instance) intend the serpent in Genesis as a symbol of temptation's origins rather than as a literal creature that once walked upright and, having erred, was sentenced to life as a mute and slithering snake (103). 
Given the level of creativity in the paradise/fall story, it is very doubtful that the author regarded his myth as historical in the strict sense of the word. It was a theological composition, steeped in allegory and symbol… (126). 
The Antiquarian knew that serpents do not talk…While it is unlikely that the Apologist believed in a literal six-day creation and even less likely that the Antiquarian believed in a literal garden with trees… (138-39).

But if, according to Sparks, that's the case, then science can't disprove an account that was never meant to be realistic in the first place. So why does he even invoke establishment science as his standard of comparison? By his own lights, that's a category mistake, inasmuch as these accounts were never intended to describe real-world events.  He's resorting to contradictory objections to attack inerrancy.

ix) Conversely, he says: 

I continue to suspect that the much-discussed "Black Sea deluge" is behind it. Such a catastrophe could have spawned the belief in a universal flood…By the time this story reached the biblical authors, the written flood traditions were already several millennia old (131). 
Everyone in antiquity seems to have believed that this deluge took place because they were not privy to the insights of modern geology and evolutionary biology (139).

So, by his own admission, Noah's flood has a factual basis. He thinks it overstates the scale of the event, but it wasn't fictional.


  1. Book:
    "Such a catastrophe could have spawned the belief in a universal flood..."
    "Everyone in antiquity seems to have believed..."

    "So, by his own admission, Noah's flood has a factual basis..."

    This is a standard religious process where a "belief" becomes a "fact".

    1. Jon Sorensen's conclusion: "This is a standard religious process where a 'belief' becomes a 'fact'."

      What Jon Sorensen missed: "I continue to suspect that the much-discussed 'Black Sea deluge' is behind it."

      Analysis: Jon Sorensen has difficulty with basic reading comprehension.

  2. Example #2

    "I continue to suspect that..."

    "So, by his own admission, Noah's flood has a factual basis..."

    Newton's Space Gun uses standard religious process where a "suspect" becomes a "fact"

    1. Jon Sorensen's conclusion: "Newton's Space Gun uses standard religious process where a 'suspect' becomes a 'fact'".

      Steve Hays said: "So, by his own admission, Noah's flood has a factual basis."

      Analysis #1: Jon Sorensen continues to demonstrate his difficulty with basic reading comprehension since "fact" is not equivalent to "a factual basis".

      Analysis #2: Jon Sorensen poisons the well by framing the problem in terms of "standard religious process" when it has nothing to do with "religious" (or irreligious). It's simply an issue of logic (or illogic).

  3. Steve, I've seen you refer positively before to the landmark work by William Green - Primeval Chronology.

    Are you aware of James Jordan's excellent interaction with this, from 1979:
    Part 1 -
    Part 2 -

    I don't think Green's work can any longer be appealed to in light of this.

    I came across this because it was in turn referred to in a couple of the premier creationist articles on the topic, e.g.:

    Freeman, T. R. (2004). A new look at the Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity problem. Andrews University Seminary Studies, 42, 259-286.

    A modified version of which was published in the Journal of Creation:
    Freeman, T.R., The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question, Journal of Creation 19(2):83–90, 2005;

    1. i) I mention Green's essay because that was a seminal study, and not because it's the definitive analysis. There's been a lot of additional study on the Genesis genealogies since then.

      ii) To suggest that the genealogies record the most significant ancestors is not unreasonable.

      iii) Green's argument has less explanatory power in the 21C than it did in the mid-19C. He was attempting to reconcile Genesis with scientific chronology for the age of the world and the age of man. But, of course, modern establishment science has greatly extended both, so that solution doesn't buy enough time.

      iv) There's considerable evidence that the genealogies are stylized to some degree. They are unrealistically symmetrical. Likewise, the ages are multiples of 5, sometimes with the addition of 7.

      That suggests an element of numerology. I think the ages are round numbers.

  4. Steve, have you read Jordan and/or Freeman's essays? Your answer seems to indicate that you are not familiar with either. The idea that Green successfully buys time gaps is extremely tenuous - refer to Jordan's excellent essay (Jordan is very knowledgeable regarding biblical chronology).

    In addition, the symmetry does not in fact exist - see Freeman's comments regarding that argument. It seems to me that evangelicals who keep appealing to Green for any gaps (regardless of length) need to reassess in the light of the key creationist responses noted above.

    I'd be interested to see your interaction with those essays (if you don't think they have successfully dispatched Green).

    Interestingly, Freeman is one of a few YACs who Kurt Wise recommends. As an aside - I've seen you comment positively on Walt Brown's work (the Hydro-plate theory) - however this is regarded by Wise as poor quality creationist literature. I think you would be helpfully informed by Kurt Wise's notes on 'How to Discern Quality' amongst creationist literature - see this science supplement:

    1. I've read Jordan's book on Creation in Six Days.

      I've said I don't rely on Green.

      I don't think the issue of open or closed genealogies is a key issue.