Re: [asa] RE: Demythologizing miracles

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Fri Mar 23 2007 - 10:30:36 EDT

Jon, to me it seems that the biggest problem with simply calling something
like the flood a "miracle" is a hermeneutical one. Is the text presenting
it as a string of extraordinary miracles? It doesn't seem to do that.
OTOH, most of us would agree that the text is stylized and seems to
constitute a literary genre in line with the Babylonian flood stories --
though some will see this as evidence of a common source in historical
records and others as more of a common literary convention. If the
presentation of the text does represent a sort of literary convention, I'd
agree that we shouldn't rule out the possibility that it presents through
that form an event that is simply beyond ordinary description and therefore
in a sense miraculous.

It is interesting that the flood account is used in the NT as a picture of
the judgement and subsequent new creation coming at the parousia. I wonder
sometimes, when we are living in that new creation, what sorts of
observeable continuity will it have with the old creation? When 2 Peter
3:10 says *"The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be
destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" *and
Rev. 6:14 says *"The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every
mountain and island was removed from its place*," these are clearly figures
of speech, and we shouldn't read cosmology or physics into them. But still,
it's intriguing to read them in light of some of the stranger ideas of
modern cosmology and information theory. Will God hold our "souls" in a
sort of memory buffer for a bit while he wipes everything out and creates
from scratch? Or will there be some sort of "bounce" or collision of
"branes" or transfiguration to parallell universes? Or, will these events
be completely inexplicable from our (re-created) human perspectives in the
new creation?

Obviously, no one knows, and the Biblical texts give us no clue, presumably
intentionally. But the thought experiment perhaps makes room
for speculating about the judgement of the flood in the same way. Maybe
there was something miraculous in it, in the sense that our current
knowledge of cosmology and theoretical physics isn't yet big enough to
understand it. Who knows? But OTOH, the more straightforward and
parsimonious explanation for now seems to be that the Biblical flood story
is a mytho-poetic narrative, in the tradition of the Babylonian flood
accounts, with roots in some local history that may in many ways be lost to
us, and that is used in scripture as a type or prefiguring of something
bigger that is yet to come (as scripture often does, as with Melchizidek and
Christ, Moses' brass serpent and the cross, etc.).

Merv -- I think you're basically right, though I would say that, even though
we shouldn't underestimate the native capacities and basic intelligence of
ancient peoples, we also shouldn't underestimate the huge chasm yawning
between our modern rationalistic scientific culture and their very different
understanding of things. Here you and I are, communicating with electrons
over a distance most ancient people would not have traveled in a lifetime,
tapping instantaneously into an ephemeral global network of information, and
storing on our local hard drives more data than was available in the scroll
rooms of most ancient kings. Ancient people like the Babylonians were
resourceful and smart, and created beautiful and terrible cultures, but the
distance between them and us in many ways remains uncrossable.

On 3/22/07, Merv <> wrote:
> I've been thinking over this too, and I don't think we are really that
> different from ancient peoples (at least not as much as some apparently wish
> to believe). We have this "far-sidish" image of cave men in all their silly
> scenarios or Monty Python's crowds credulously chasing around after any
> prophet type person. But I think these are reflective of our own modern
> wishful thinking that our intelligence ought to (in our own estimate)
> compare favorably with that of the ancients. Those in Bible times
> recognized the constancy of natural laws well enough for the prophets to
> find it useful as an analogy for God's faithfulness. (When the sun stops
> rising ... then you will know that I have broken my covenant with Israel.)
> Miracles are by definition rare and special events -- even in the estimate
> of the observing writers. Otherwise they would be useless as signs.
> I think our tendency to seek rational explanation is potentially founded
> on more than a mere (potential) deficiency of faith. Most "miracles" that
> might seriously or facetiously lay claim to the term today are performances
> whether for entertainment purposes or otherwise. So we are rightfully
> incredulous of such things. If we accepted them all then we cheapen the
> real event whenever it might actually occur. In the same way tabloids and
> entertainment have cheapened the concept of aliens landing from space to the
> point where nobody accepts such a thing as respectable news. Any real
> events that might actually happen are buried beneath a mountain of similar
> falsehood. But if it is that we are just rejecting miracles out of hand
> because we disbelieve them, then that would be a faith problem for a
> Christian.
> --Merv
> Jon Tandy wrote:
> On the other hand, I also recognize that Glenn, and I, and many of us with
> a modern scientific mindset are looking for many things to be explained on
> the basis of emprical evidence which were once believed by faith. Why is it
> that we find it incredible that God could do something if we can't find
> empirical evidence for it? Why do we find such satisfaction at finding
> there is a "logical" explanation that, for instance, Napolean actually cross
> the Red Sea on dry land at a certain point, which could turn out to be a
> "rational" explanation for Moses' crossing? Why do we find it necessary to
> "demythologize" the burning bush as a fire plant of the Sinai Peninsula?
> We can take this further, and note that some theologians demythologize
> Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes. They suggest that maybe it wasn't
> a *ex nihilo* creation of new loaves and fishes -- maybe people had really
> brought their lunches with them, but were unwilling to share, and through the
> influence of Jesus' love and compassion on the multitude or shame that the
> young boy was willing to give freely, people secretly pulled their lunches
> out and filled the baskets as they were passed around, so the increase that
> was left was more than the boy provided at first. While this is perhaps a
> possibility, why do some even consider it seriously as opposed to the clear
> statement in the Gospels that Jesus simply multiplied the loaves and
> fishes?
> I believe even YECists are willing to demythologize miracles to an
> extent, as long as it's not perceived that God is excluded by such a natural
> explanation. Without spending time finding lots of examples, I'm sure
> I've read some of the above and others like them (fire plant = evidence of
> burning bush, etc.) from conservative, global-flood-believing Christian
> literature.
> Why does it have to always be a rational explanation, fully explained by
> scientific evidence, rather than simply admitting a miracle? I suggest that
> we post-Enlightenment readers are predisposed to thinking that everything
> must be fully explained by rationalist description. This ultrarationalist
> view is perhaps as much a deficient cultural perception as ancient cultures'
> supernaturalist belief that everything happened at the whim of the gods.
> Many of you have made the point that the truth doesn't have to be either/or,
> but both. But why do we still lean so strongly in the rationalist
> direction, going so far as saying that miracles are probably "rare" (I've
> read that in some TE literature recently)?
> Here I am questioning my own bias, while at the same time recognizing that
> there is nothing inherently wrong with rational explanations that also
> recognize God's providence and timing, etc. So what if the Red Sea
> sometimes pulls back at certain times, under certain conditions at a given
> point, allowing an army to walk across -- why did it happen at just that
> moment when Moses needed it? It was still a miracle of timing even if it
> was a scientifically explanable occurrence. Even if DNA can now be seen to
> have the potential to create innovative new forms, how really did natural
> processes end up creating sentient, rational beings who could ponder their
> own origins and destiny? It had to be a grand miracle, even if it were
> accomplished through scientifically observable events.
> Jon Tandy

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Mar 23 10:30:46 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Mar 23 2007 - 10:30:46 EDT