Hyers' Dinosaur Religion (was: HYAR'S...; Hyers' Article - Cods Wallop)

From: Peter Ruest <pruest@mail-ms.sunrise.ch>
Date: Sat Feb 21 2004 - 15:32:46 EST

Let me join Dick Fischer by poking into the same hornets' nest!

I read Hyers' "Dinosaur Religion: On Interpreting and Misinterpreting the
Creation Texts" in 1984, when it appeared in PSCF. And I reread it now. Now,
as then, I was not much impressed with his interpretation, which I consider
artificial and dogmatically one-sided. Nor was I convinced by his recent
book chapter in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.

I am now a "theistic evolutionist" or "evolutionary creationist", after
having criticized macroevolutionary and origin-of-life theories heavily for
many years (for lack of scientific evidence), but I never was a young earth
creationist (YEC), or under YEC influence (which I always opposed).
Therefore, I find it quite disconcerting that in the many recent posts
praising Hyers and condemning Fischer, lots of YEC stuff is thrown at Dick
Fischer, like canopy theory, etc. which have absolutely nothing to do with
his views (or mine or Glenn Morton's). Please be more rational and try to
understand before criticizing!

What struck me most about Hyers' approach were two things: (1) he assumed
that Genesis 1 was written by a "priestly" writer during or after the
Babylonian captivity of Judah in the 6th century BC, and (2) he assumed that
a theological meaning (or even agenda) in Genesis 1 prevents it from having
any historical-narrative basis, at the same time. Of course, this is the
usual dogma of liberal theology with its destructive source criticism
invented more than 200 years ago in Germany by "Enlightenment"

Hyers doesn't call them assumptions, but treats them as if they were
"assured results of scholarship". Similarly, many of the critics of Dick's
(and my and Glenn's) "concordism" (which I prefer to call harmonization)
write as if they had never really read any of this "concordist" literature.
Consequently, most of these criticisms are straw men. What struck me most in
many of these recent posts criticizing Dick's rejection of Hyers' views was
an air of dogmatism. This is only understandable if any kind of attempt at
harmonizing is thrown into the YEC pot. Of course, such irrationality is
inacceptable. Can we be so cock-sure as to what the writer of Genesis 1 must
have meant 2600, or 3400, or even 5200 years ago?!

The crucial thing to consider, I believe, is the meaning of divine
inspiration and its implications. Of course, a creation story can never be a
historical report or account, as there could not be any witnesses. Yes,
astronomers have discovered "witnesses" in the form of consequences of
creation, but this is another, modern story which could not be known in
biblical times. A biblical creation story, on the other hand, could very
well be a very much simplified account of what actually happened, revealed
by God to a prophet. An unprejudiced reading could very well understand
Genesis 1-2 as such a revealed account. For simple people (for whom, also,
the Bible was written) this appears to be the most natural approach to it,
no matter in which millenium or culture they live or lived.

The mode of inspiration, i.e. how it functioned, is not of primary concern
here - it would be silly to equate inspiration with red herrings like
mechanical dictation. What is important is that revelation implies the
communication of things unknown to the recipient (prophet). It may refer to
the present, the future, the past, or all times. In each case, it is a
supernatural "intrusion" into our world, a transmission of new
"information". Its reception by the prophet and (eventual) commission to
writing, clearly has human aspects, as well. It may or may not have been
error-prone. However, God's purpose in revealing himself clearly wasn't
aimed just at the prophet himself but, as the term "prophet"
("teller-forth") shows, a far larger audience in space and time. This
implies that God would certainly care about and watch over the written form
and its possible deficiencies if any, as well as its transmission,
preservation, and canonization.

In any case, God wouldn't be limited by what the prophet knew, or by what he
or his audience expected (the culture). Of course, he would adjust the form
of his revelation in such a way that the hearers and readers of that time
and culture could understand the central theological meaning he wants to
convey (and any later time and other culture, as well). But this would not
restrict him to any ancient worldview or "primitive" ethics and the like.
Language is flexible, and the human prophet's mind is flexible, and God
would see the best feasible way of accomplishing his purpose. And who is to
say that such a revelation of what happened in creation must necessarily
contain the then contemporary errors? Why couldn't it be both true to
reality and easily understandable by people of all times and cultures? This
implies, I agree, that we cannot learn any modern science from the biblical
text, and I have never claimed this, just that it may be _compatible_ with

If we see, e.g. in Genesis 1, a poetically phrased text, framed into
symmetrical structures, even suggesting symbolic meanings, and manifestly
proclaiming a theological message, who are we to dismiss its apparently
narrative form as a misunderstanding? If its ultimate source is God, rather
than humans only, a text may, without problems, have multiple dimensions. It
is not at all obvious that the apparent chronology is wrong - unless one
assumes certain interpretations beforehand, such as a heathen pantheon and
mythology, a solid "firmament", or that the heavenly bodies were "created"
on day 4. It seems to me not only premature, but even presumptuous, to _a
priori_ fix the text's scope to a one-dimensional polemic against pagan
gods. This may indeed have been a by-product, even intended by God, but to
dogmatically insist that this is _the_ meaning, and the only possible one,
clearly goes too far. I would be surprised if God would give us such a
sublime text, in a very prominent position in his revelation, for the sole
purpose of fending off such unimportant "nothings" as idols. The creation
itself is certainly much more important.


Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<pruest@dplanet.ch> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Sat Feb 21 15:30:41 2004

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Feb 21 2004 - 15:30:43 EST