Genesis and inspiration (was: The forgotten verses)

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Thu Jun 19 2003 - 00:50:13 EDT

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    Don, I appreciate your detailed comments. I'll intersperse my answers to
    most of the points you raise.

    Don Winterstein (DW) wrote in part:
      Peter Ruest wrote in part:
    >The "further words" you ask for are not needed:
      apparently God didn't feel they were.
    DW: I agree they weren't needed, but for a reason different from yours:
    Scriptural inspiration is not a pipeline kind of thing, where God
    dictates and someone writes it down. Inspiration is much looser than
    that. By way of this looseness God is leading us to see that he's a
    different kind of authority figure than many Christians have thought.

    PR: Are you assuming that I go for the "mechanical dictation" view? I
    have repeatedly repudiated it, as I have done in the post you are
    answering. "Genesis reconsidered" (GR, see below) describes a much more
    reasonable interpretation of inspiration. There certainly is some
    "looseness", but how much is a question of serious interpretation, not
    arbitrary impressions. Otherwise, not only any understanding of
    inspiration would be lost, but its substance, as well. In serious
    interpretation, the default option is not looseness, but careful study
    and often a deferral of a definite decision. In linguistics, there is
    "looseness" in that every word and expression has a certain greater or
    lesser range of meanings, but if you want to formulate a given idea very
    carefully, you usually end up with quite a precise selection among all
    the possibilities considered.

    My conviction that God does not use either creation or scripture to
    "prove" his existence in a logically irrefutable way, can already be
    found in my PSCF 44/2 paper (1992), and more specifically in GR and PSCF
    53/3 (2001). He "hides his footsteps" and uses "hidden options" in his
    creative work, in order to guard the personal dignity and freedom he has
    given all humans, and similar considerations apply to inspiration. There
    is no place here for a "pipeline kind of thing" or "mechanical
    >In A. Held & P. Rüst, "Genesis reconsidered", PSCF 51/4 (Dec.
      1999), 231-243;,
      showed that there are quite reasonable harmonizing interpretations
      take both the biblical text and modern science seriously. The "utter
      irreconcilability with huge volumes of scientific evidence" is bogus -
      suggested by the mythologizers, cf. below.
    DW: You make many good points, and I agree with much of what you say
    in your paper. Unfortunately, I regard the overall thrust as just
    another desperate (pardon the word) attempt to make the first two
    chapters of Genesis compatible in detail with the scientific view of the

    PR: I won't again discuss the view that _any_ kind of harmonization
    attempt with science is in principle ill-conceived, as several on this
    list maintain.

    DW: Your logic overall is good but, in my opinion, contorted; and there
    are still a few glaring loose ends.

    PR: I don't consider an attempt at harmonization to be a failure if it
    leaves loose ends. Our understanding of both biblical and scientific
    matters remains rather incomplete, so loose ends are natural. There will
    be a continuous need to update the harmonization model, as indicated in
    GR. The crucial point is the absence of _proven_, unavoidable conflicts.
    DW: Your making "day" mean "age," of course, removes to first order the
    "utter irreconcilability" of the Genesis creation accounts with the
    scientific evidence. But I suspect none of the original audience
    interpreted "day" as anything other than the usual 24 h thing. And what
    would be a reasonable meaning of "evening" and "morning" for an
    age-day? How would you distinguish one such "day" from the next?

    PR: These questions are discussed in GR (cf. footnotes 28, 29). As can
    be seen from many other OT passages, the ancient Hebrews were quite used
    to the fact that "day" can stand for a long period of time. Similarly,
    "evening" and "morning" can be used in a figurative way as "transition"
    and "dawning", respectively, which are easily applicable to eras. There
    definitely is quite some looseness (!) in natural languages, and
    especially also in ancient Hebrew, in the sense that the same word may
    be used in several different meanings. Of course, this doesn't imply
    that "anything goes", but that an interpretation which suits the context
    and can be confirmed by other OT contexts must be found. I have also
    expressed my view that even an overlap of creation days would be quite
    natural and easily understood by the first readers, as whatever
    characterizes a given creation day will, of course, continue into future
    days (particularly if God's "making" implies evolution).
    DW: Initial darkness: The cloud cover was so thick there was _no_ light
    even with the sun out there? If the darkness was so complete, I'd guess
    it would have resulted from dust clouds (from meteor impacts, say), not
    water clouds; and in such case there would probably be no waters on
    Earth at that time for the Spirit to hover over.

    PR: Here are some indications from my enlarged and updated version of GR
    in German: P. Rüst & A. Held, "Der Genesisbericht und die Evolution"
    (2003), (GE,
    translated from German; in addition, the early composition of the
    atmosphere, containing N2, CO2, and some CH4 and NH3, would probably
    have added to make an impenetrable haze):

    This description fits the scientific views of the early earth. The earth
    was formed 4.56 billion years ago through the accretion of smaller
    masses, so-called planetesimals. When it had attained a certain size,
    planetesimals hitting it, in combination with heating due to the decay
    of short-lived radioisotopes, melted it, and the original atmosphere
    escaped into space. In the molten state, the earth separated into a
    light silicate mantle and a heavy iron core. The moon was formed about
    50 million years later by the impact of a mars-sized body. [1] Later,
    the earth acquired a secondary gas envelope on the basis of volcanic
    emissions and planetesimal impacts. The water of today's earth appears
    to be mainly derived from a few later impacts of large bodies which
    again melted the earth's crust, producing a thick atmosphere of dust and
    volatiles over a probably global magma ocean. One assumes that after
    solidification of the magma surface and further cooling, the temperature
    hovered around 100°C during about 2 million years, while a water ocean
    was raining out. [2] As yet, no light penetrated through the thick steam

    [1] Ida, S. et al. (1997), "Lunar accretion from an impact-generated
    disk", Nature 389, 353-357; Lee, D.C. et al. (1997), "Age and origin of
    the moon", Science 278, 1098-1103; Wiechert, U., Halliday, A.N., Lee,
    D.C., Snyder, G.A., Taylor, L.A. & Rumble, D. (2001), "Oxygen isotopes
    and the moon-forming giant impact", Science 294, 345-348; Canup, R.M. &
    Asphaug, E. (2001), "Origin of the moon in a giant impact near the end
    of the Earth's formation", Nature 412, 708-712.
    [2] Gaffey, M.J. (1997), "The early solar system", Orig.Life
    Evol.Biosph. 27, 185-203; Whittet, D.C.B. (1997), "Is extraterrestrial
    organic matter relevant to the origin of life on Earth?" Orig.Life
    Evol.Biosph. 27, 249-262; Halliday, A.N. (2001), "In the beginning...",
    Nature 409, 144-145; Wilde, S.A., Valley, J.W., Peck, W.H. & Graham,
    C.M. (2001), "Evidence from detrital zircons for the existence of
    continental crust and oceans on the Earth 4.4 Gyr ago", Nature 409,
    175-178; Nisbet, E.G. & Sleep, N.H. (2001), "The habitat and nature of
    early life", Nature 409, 1083-1091; Sleep, N.H., Zahnle, K. & Neuhoff,
    P.S. (2001), "Initiation of clement surface conditions on the earliest
    Earth", Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci. USA 98, 3666-3672; Robert, F. (2001), "The
    origin of water on Earth", Science 293, 1056-1058.

    DW: Fruit- and seed-bearing plants (day 3) existed on land before the
    water "teemed with living creatures" (day 5)?

    PR: In GR, it is argued that life in the ocean began very early
    (Gen.1:2) and evolved since then. None of the microscopic life (or
    invisible for other reasons), however, gets explicit mention in the
    bible, as it deals with nature in a phenomenological language. Even the
    multicellular animals of the late Precambrian and Cambrian would be all
    but invisible from a viewpoint on the mainland. Furthermore, as is also
    argued in GR, "lower" animals like the slowly moving ones, are not
    considered "living souls" in the bible, but Gen.1:20ff deal with fast
    moving ones, which must be endowed with a minimal nervous system, a
    circulatory system, and a certain amount of conscious goal-directedness,
    which we would date starting with the Devonian, as you indicate.

    DW: Fish and land plants emerged in quantity in the Devonian, but even
    then the plants weren't seed- or fruit-bearers. My (admittedly weak)
    references indicate the earliest seed plants were ferns that arose in
    the Pennsylvanian (late Carboniferous to you Europeans), and fruiting
    plants didn't arrive until the Mesozoic.

    PR: There is no need to insist on seed- and fruit-bearing plants from
    the beginning. If each "day" is a long epoch, the origins of different
    plant taxa would have occurred at very different times, and continued
    into later creation "days". From GE (this would begin on day 3):

    Fossils of macroscopic marine algae date from about 1.8 billion years
    ago.[1] The first terrestrial microfossils are 1.2 billion years old.[2]
    After about 500 million years ago, the atmospheric composition had
    sufficiently stabilized,[3] so that the dry land could be colonized by
    "real", macroscopically visible plants about 475 million years ago.[4]

    [1] Edwards, D. et al. (1993), "'Algae'", in: The Fossil Record 2, ed.
    Benton, M.J. (Chapman & Hall, London), 15-40.
    [2] Horodyski, R.J. & Knauth, L.P. (1994), "Life on land in the
    precambrian", Science 263, 494-498.
    [3] Des Marais, D.J. et al. (1992), "Carbon isotope evidence for the
    stepwise oxidation of the proterozoic environment", Nature 359, 605-609;
    Logan, G.A. et al. (1995), "Terminal proterozoic reorganization of
    biogeochemical cycles", Nature 376, 53-56; Knoll, A.H. (1996),
    "Breathing room for early animals", Nature 382, 111-112; Canfield, D.E.
    & Teske, A. (1996), "Late proterozoic rise in atmospheric oxygen
    concentration inferred from phylogenetic and sulphur-isotope studies",
    Nature 382, 127-132; Van Cappellen, P. & Ingall, E.D. (1996), "Redox
    stabilization of the atmosphere and oceans by phosphorus-limited marine
    productivity", Science 271, 493-496.
    [4] Edwards, D. (1993), "Bryophyta", in: The Fossil Record 2, ed.
    Benton, M.J. (Chapman & Hall, London), 775-778; Kenrick, P. & Crane,
    P.R. (1997), "The origin and early evolution of plants on land", Nature
    389, 33-39.
    DW: Sun, moon, stars just "appeared," weren't made, on day 4? That's
    not a big stretch, but it assumes all kinds of things that aren't stated
    in scripture and, I suspect, have questionable scientific basis; and no
    reader of Moses' (or Josiah's) time would likely have made that

    PR: This interpretation is primarily based on the Hebrew text. The
    scientific parallels are admittedly tentative, and GR states this. The
    main point here is the reasonableness of the interpretation of the
    Hebrew text. And this is quite in line with the entire context. I think
    the overall picture could have been understood by the earliest readers.
    DW: The "birds" of Gen. 1:20 were actually flying insects? That's a
    stretch, because the Hebrew /oph/ in almost all other OT instances
    refers to birds of one sort or another; and the text reads,
    "........._every_ winged /oph/........." (emphasis mine).

    PR: No, that is no stretch at all. Lev.11:20-23; Deut.14:11-20 clearly
    designate insects and bats, in addition to birds, as "^oph". And the
    corresponding verb, "^ooph", to fly, is written with exactly the same
    consonants. Thus, any kind of flying animal would be a "^oph", even
    pterosaurs and possibly flying fish. Your emphasis on _every_ winged
    /oph/ touches on the same problem we had before: a creation day isn't a
    24-hour day but a long epoch, and it extends into all later creation
    days, so that new flyers may originate much later but still be included
    in v.21, where the first ones are mentioned. We don't have the relevant
    fossil evidence, as is indicated in GR, but it seems reasonable to
    assume that amphibia (day 6, easily fossilized) colonized the land only
    after the insects (day 5, difficult to fossilize, easy to lose).
    DW: God formed Adam separately from all the other humans of the time by
    way of some special miracle? That strikes me as a really inelegant
    solution to a very important problem. If Adam hadn't sinned and instead
    tasted of the Tree of Life and lived forever, what would God have done
    with all the other mortal humans? Would an immortal Adam or his
    immortal offspring have mated with mortals? The logic is basically OK,
    but the picture is contorted.

    PR: God did not shape Adam as a potter forms the clay, but formed him in
    his mother's womb and then called him as an adult and filled him with
    his spirit for a specific assignment among the preadamites. As explained
    in GR (and proposed by others earlier), Adam was the federal
    representative of all humans (in the biblical sense, i.e. created in
    God's image), of all those who sinned, both those before and those after
    his time, just as Jesus is the federal head and representative of all of
    new, redeemed humanity, both BC and AD. No believer is a biological
    descendant of Jesus, and not all fallen humans are biological
    descendants of Adam (neither sin nor salvation can be inherited). Adam's
    fall is typical of that of _all_ humans created in God's image,
    including the preadamites. If Adam hadn't sinned, what would God have
    done? I think this is an inappropriate and useless question; the bible
    never considers it. The only place where it considers immortality is
    Gen.3:22, where God intimates that immortality would be a terrible
    catastrophy for fallen humans. It does consider, however, the
    sinlessness of Jesus - the only human who was ever sinless - and his
    resurrection which could not be avoided (Acts 2:24). The bible
    emphasizes resurrection, never immortality, regarding both Jesus and the
    DW: Like other "solutions" to the Genesis problem I've seen, yours gets
    a passing grade on logic but fails on grounds of forcing unlikely
    meanings onto a simple narrative.

    PR: The judgment, "forcing unlikely meanings onto a simple narrative",
    seems to be primarily occasioned by the traditional translations, and
    particularly their traditional understanding, which are biased toward a
    somewhat short-time and exclusively miraculous creation. Such a biased
    view of the creation story was not damaging or even lethal to sound
    theology - as long as science hadn't been sufficiently developed. But,
    as indicated in GR, the bible gives several cases where there were quite
    legitimate reinterpretations of even theological questions, occasioned
    by new insights.

    DW: It's vastly more intellectually satisfying to me to interpret these
    creation accounts as local myths modified by inspired writers to be
    compatible with what God wanted people at the time to know. Spiritually
    this mythological interpretation is compatible with God as I see him
    according to my new paradigm, where his primary role in the world is
    husband rather than father (cf. Is. 54:5; Jer. 2:2; 2:32-3:14; 31:32;
    Ezek. 16, 23; Hos. 1-3).
    PR: The great problem I see with considering them modified myths is how
    to distinguish gold from straw. What is inspired, what is not? As all of
    the bible is inseparably imbedded in history, there is no conceivable
    way of weeding out what is non-theological from what is theologically
    important or at least edifying for the "faith of the saints".

    And don't forget, the myths were pagan! Now, wherever the bible deals
    explicitely with pagan teaching and practice, it consistently warns from
    conforming to it. Do you really think it more likely that a perverted
    myth was "improved" by God, rather than a text inspired by God being
    corrupted with time by pagans?

    I see basically three possibilities of dealing with the creation story:
    (1) The YEC way, which today is scientifically falsified and
    theologically very awkward and questionable. It summarily dismisses much
    of the scientific evidence.
    (2) The source-critical views pioneered by German theological liberals,
    who started with the assumption that modern science is incompatible with
    any kind of miracles. It ended up destroying the major part of Israel's
    history and making much of the OT teaching irrelevant. It summarily
    dismisses much of the biblical evidence. Many of its arguments are based
    on arbitrary or otherwise questionable assumptions, while alternative
    interpretations which take the text (and inspiration - at least of some
    kind) seriously are ignored. Many of its "assured results" have been
    falsified by archeology. Adopting "local myths" as a source for Genesis
    is linked with source fragmentation and very late dating of the biblical
    (3) Taking both the biblical text and scientific findings seriously,
    based on the conviction that God is the primary Author of both (in
    different ways). This implies some kind of harmonization. To me, of all
    three methods, it leaves to the interpreter the most liberty to follow
    the leading of the data, because it does not discard _any_ of the
    evidence. It is the most difficult, and the most challenging in the
    search for the best answers, whereas the others choose the easy way out
    by question-begging.

    A crucial point in all of this is: how do we understand inspiration? I
    consider this much more important than "inerrancy" - although I still
    think inerrancy (not of a mechanical-dictation type) is still the most
    reasonable assumption.

    The OT does sometimes picture God as husband (or father) to Israel, but
    in the NT, it's Jesus who is the bridegroom to the Church as his bride,
    whereas God is consistently referred to as our Father.


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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