Re: The Tower of Babel - Less Confusing

From: Michael Roberts (
Date: Sat May 17 2003 - 15:56:02 EDT

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    Well said Paul! I remember many years ago in the JASA journal there was a rewrite of Genesis using contemporary science. I couldnt accept it as I did not agree with its gradualistic evolution rather than Punc Eq.

    But then does anyone insist on a flat earth from Genesis 1, 6-8, Exodus 20. 4 and Isaiah 40. 22. (I am well aware that some misinterpret those as being Copernican texts but that is nonsense)

    It has been clear teaching about the Bible is that God 'accommodated' his thoughts to ours - it comes out very strongly in Calvin and many writers from then (and before) I f we dont see that accommodation we get into the morass of literalsim which YEC has done and also Jim eisele and to a lesser extent Dick Fischer.

    Genesis One was to teach Creation in ways people could understand, as Galileo put it "how to go to heaven and not how the heavens go".

      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Saturday, May 17, 2003 7:03 AM
      Subject: Re: The Tower of Babel - Less Confusing

      In a message dated 05/16/2003 5:23:51 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

        Again, I don't challenge your scholarship. I have found it
        right on target. I probably wasn't specific enough in my
        post. Part of that is that your reasoning on Genesis seems
        so odd to me that I have a difficult time stating your

        You want to say God provided inaccurate information to
        the Hebrews because they couldn't handle accurate information.

        I really can't justify such a position. As for reason,
        I find it keeps me from error.

      Well, my reasoning (and George's, though slightly different) seemed odd to Glenn Morton. He kept saying the same thing you are saying here. I believe this inability to understand comes from being deeply ingrained with a paradigm, so deeply ingrained that it is very difficult to get out of the box. The paradigm says, If God spoke Genesis, then everything he said, science as well as lessons on faith and morals, would have to be accurate, true. It could not be any other way.

      This assumption, paradigm, is rooted in reason. It is not that one should not be reasonable or jettison reason, but that reason is an inadequate and often misleading SOURCE of true knowledge. That is Rationalism, using reason as a source, is the error. The Greeks were famous for distrusting empirical data. They wanted absolute truths, and the only way they felt they could get them was to go from observations to reason. Not to experiments with the physical world, but to abstract reason. The loved math. It is that love of rationalism that gave us the dictum that if one dropped a heavy weight from a high location and a light weight at exactly the same time, the heavy weight would hit the ground first. This is a perfect example of rationalism. Human reason is quite satisfied that, of course the heavy weight would hit the ground first. I have even posed this question to college graduates who majored in some liberal art, but had little scientific training, and they are very skeptical when I tell them that both weights will hit the ground at the same time. I especially remember one gal who graduated from UC Berkeley. When I told her the weights would hit the ground at the same time, she said very emphatically with strong doubt in her voice, "Are you sure?"

      Similarly the perfectly reasonable assumption that God would not say anything which was not true is from Reason. As a rule of thumb for the revelation which God intended to make in Scripture, I accept his word as true, but it is not an absolute: it is not true for everything found there. My position is not that "God provided inaccurate information to the Hebrews because they couldn't handle accurate information." God did not provide the cosmological ideas in Gen 1 or even the Flood story. Those ideas were already present in the culture when he decided to speak through the writer of Genesis. They were apparently inherited from the patriarchs. In any case they were already there, just as the right to divorce a wife for any reason was already there. In the latter case the hardness of heart of the Israelites prevented God from supplying the pure truth. At least that is what Jesus thought, and I agree. In the case of the stories in Gen 1-11, I think providing a truer account would have at least made the communication of the theological truths more difficult. I think the Israelites would have been forced to stumble if they had been asked implicitly to set aside their old ingrained prehistory. Also, it seems clear to me both from Gen 1:26-28 and the history of mankind, that God has delegated the discovery of scientific truth to humankind. Accordingly, he does not reveal his knowledge of scientific truth. He does not provide accurate information in that realm even to his chosen people, and my study of Scripture shows me that all science in the Bible from Gen 1 to Rev 21 is the science of the times.

      As the OT shows, God had his hands full just trying to communicate monotheism, holiness, etc. to the Israelites It would have been counterproductive to add trying to teach them science, and there was no need for it. In fact, Gen 1-11 is implicitly a polemic against the theology of the times. It the basic prehistory had been set aside, the polemic and witness to the true God would also have been undermined. It was written in the thinking of the times because that is the way it would speak most forcibly to people.

      So, instead of relying on Rationalism to tell me what God must do or must have done, I just look at the empirical facts. They tell me he has not corrected their ingrained prescientific prehistory, and it is equally clear to me that the prehistory comes essentially from the Mesopotamians. In that part of the world it is the science of the day. For the readers it was scientifically up to date.

      So, God did not provide inaccurate information. Nor is he of such a rationalistic frame of mind that he feels compelled to correct all they believed. He implanted curiosity in humankind and gave them the task of correcting the science---which we have done and are continuing to do. God is a father and a teacher, and the OT is a tutor, Paul says, for the people of God in their youth. God adapted his revelation of true theology to the ingrained prescientific mentality of the times. For example, they believed the sky was a solid dome, and the Babylonians said it had been put up by Marduk after a terrific battle with the sea-goddess Tiamat. In order to correct the bad theology, God takes up the concept of a solid sky, but reveals that the Creator did not have to battle any goddess or anyone else to make the sky. Indeed, the sky is presented as a completely natural part of the universe, not attached or ruled by any god except the God who created it. You want to see the divine revelation here? It is in the setting forth of the sky as a completely natural part of the universe. No other peoples at that time could even think like that. There is more revelation than that, of course. But, I am just illustrating that God did communicate true revelation to the Israelites, but via their preexisting ingrained scientific understanding.

      If I write anymore I will have a book here. So, I hope you can see my approach to Genesis is perfectly reasonable but at the same time perfectly honest. I don't have to distort the Bible or the sciences, and the recognition that the science in Gen is ancient is based on the empirical evidence showing that it is found in the ancient Near Eastern writings. The recognition that the theology is indeed a divine revelation is based on the witness of the Holy Spirit , yes, but also on the fact that the theology stands in strong contrast, indeed in some places apparently purposeful contrast to the theology of the times; and it is superior to that ancient theology.

      Think about this. It is a different paradigm, just as reasonable as the old rationalistic one, but it flows from the data, not lording it over the data.


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