Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically inconsistent?

From: David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
Date: Mon Sep 01 2008 - 15:43:48 EDT

Merv said: What's wrong with taking the fall as a figurative story
illustrating a real state of mankind?

I respond: Hmmm.. Here's a place where I honestly get hung up. I have
heard it argued that a literal Fall of some sort is essential to orthdoxy,
in which case the consequence of denying a literal Fall are significant.
But then I've heard it argued that a literal Fall is not essential to
orthodoxy. I'm personally still working on how to suss this out. Any
theologians here have a thought on that?

On Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 3:36 PM, Merv <mrb22667@kansas.net> wrote:

> And I would even take it farther than David O. --and say that I don't see
> too much difficulty in teasing out figurative or literal here (which may be
> the "blessing" of comparative ignorance on my part since I'm not as
> knowledgeable on ANE mythologies or related subjects and can happily proceed
> to oversimplification in glorious ignorance of all the nuances.) What's
> wrong with taking the fall as a figurative story illustrating a real state
> of mankind? In this case the referent is a quite real thing (our historical
> and present sinful state), but the reference to it and how it started is a
> figurative story given to help us understand. Although if you were to press
> me on exactly *what* that story helps us understand beyond the bare fact
> that we fell into sin --I would be at loss. Indeed it has been badly abused
> to justify poor treatment of women ("first sinners", after all). So it
> would seem to me that at least some of any intended message in that passage
> miscarried in regard to our present culture.
>
> But I do know this: "figurative" does not necessarily equal "false".
> God is my "rock" or my "fortress", and just because those symbols (the
> references) aren't literally true in the sense of God being a rock
> somewhere, doesn't make the referent (God) any less literally real. The
> metaphors are supposed to be for our benefit although that benefit seems to
> be lost on many modern people who are perhaps more inclined scientifically
> than towards literary understanding.
>
> I do agree with David O. that separating out the figurative from literal
> (as well as discerning the substantial overlap of the two) is a messy and
> hard business as we proceed on through the Scriptures. I don't think there
> are any easy formulas for that. ---Theological and intellectual sweat;
> and in the end: God's grace to cover for our inevitable misunderstandings
> and misapplications. That's as close as I would propose for a formula for
> building understanding. (Maybe I had better listen up regarding those ANE
> cultures.)
>
> --Merv
>
>
> David Opderbeck wrote:
>
> Bernie said: My original question is how could people take "the making
> of man by forming dust" figurative and then the immediately following story
> of the fall literally (real talking serpent, real tree of life, etc.).
> Isn't it inconsistent to take one literal and the other figurative?
>
> I respond: that's what I thought your question was originally. No, I
> don't see why this is inconsistent at all. It is not a simple type of
> literature that is either "literal" or "figurative" in a binary fashion. I
> think it's incredibly difficult to tease out what is to be taken each way.
>
> Again, I give an example from sports: "Yankees slaughtered the Tigers
> today." Did the Yankees literally kill the Tigers? No, that is a
> figurative expression. Was there a real historical game to which that
> figure refers? Yes. It is not necessarily either-or.
>
> In a similar way, the fact that the Fall story doesn't appear to be a
> simple, straightforwardly "literal" account doesn't necessarily mean it has
> no historical referent.
>
> On Mon, Sep 1, 2008 at 2:37 PM, Dehler, Bernie <bernie.dehler@intel.com>wrote:
>
>> So Merv- I think you are saying Gen. 2 and 3 are both figurative. My
>> original question is how could people take "the making of man by forming
>> dust" figurative and then the immediately following story of the fall
>> literally (real talking serpent, real tree of life, etc.). Isn't it
>> inconsistent to take one literal and the other figurative? Sounds like you
>> take them both figurative, so it is not an issue for you. Seems to me if
>> the first is taken figuratively, then it is even that much easier to take
>> the fall story figurative because it is more obvious a departure from real
>> life.
>>
>> Is the story of the fall literal or figurative? It seems to me that the
>> vast majority of Christians go agnostic on that question, because it is so
>> difficult to deal with the ramifications. For example, I don't think I
>> found any definite answers from Hugh Ross' ministry (Reasons to Believe- Old
>> Earth Creationist) on it (I didn't do a thorough search, so if someone knows
>> his take, you can share).
>>
>> ...Bernie
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Merv [mailto:mrb22667@kansas.net]
>> Sent: Monday, September 01, 2008 9:51 AM
>> To: Dehler, Bernie; asa@calvin.edu
>> Subject: Re: [asa] biological evolution and a literal Adam- logically
>> inconsistent?
>>
>> Dehler, Bernie wrote:
>> > . . . . . . . .
>> > I don't get that response. If God made man from dust, and it is
>> literally true, that means he really scooped up real dust. If God didn't
>> really scoop up real dust, then it is a figurative saying.
>> >
>> > When the Bible says we are all made of dust (Gen. 18:27 and
>> > Psalm 103:14), maybe it is referring to the ancient science when they
>> thought Adam really was literally made from real dust?
>> >
>> > Today we may say our bodies are made of stardust (considering
>> cosmological evolution), but there's no way they could have had that idea, I
>> think.
>> >
>> > ...Bernie
>> >
>> Bernie, I think you're anthropomorphizing God by imagining that the only
>> way the claim [He made us from dust] can be true is if God (looking like
>> a human with hands) literally appeared, and began shaping Adam from some
>> handy dirt much like a child playing in a sandbox. In this sense I
>> think most would agree that the passage is 100% figurative. Where else
>> in the Bible does God ever assume human form (except at Bethlehem) and
>> do things in that way? Very rarely --yes I know there are the
>> human-looking visitors Abraham & a couple others which carry the label
>> "Angel of the Lord". But almost always God is still given 100% credit
>> for doing things in a mediated sense by influencing people's hearts
>> (pharaoh, Moses,...) or by using natural things to bring about events (a
>> wind drying up the red sea or bringing the locusts into Egypt, knitting
>> us together in our mothers' wombs...). Surely you don't dispute those
>> passages because of the absence of an actual figure with knitting
>> needles failing to appear on any sonograms? (I know you don't, and yet
>> I think this very illustrative of the point I'm attempting to make.)
>> Even the O.T. authors don't insist that the only work that can qualify
>> as being God's is work he did while looking and working like a human
>> with human hands. And it is Scripturally unwarranted to insist on such
>> a thing for this passage (which also makes no claim about *how* God
>> formed the dust, but only that he did). So if you are uncomfortable
>> with accepting both literal and figurative in this case --fine: ditch
>> the literal. It was 100% figurative --and also 100% true. It also
>> happens to correspond with what evolutionary theory teaches (the "made
>> with dust" part) so any who are troubled by wanting to have their truth
>> "only in literal form, please" can actually still have it in this case
>> and save their head scratching for other passages where truth doesn't
>> easily accommodate modern literalist form. The prophets of old had no
>> problems with metaphor (e.g. that God is a potter and we are the clay);
>> so we probably shouldn't either --nor should we relegate it down to
>> "second-class truth" because of its non-literal status.
>>
>> --Merv
>>
>>
>

-- 
David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Mon Sep 1 15:45:25 2008

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