Thursday, 27 November 2008

"Creation or Evolution" - Chapter 7 - "What about Genesis?"

This chapter will make the discerning reader want to take a step back. There are even larger issues raised by this chapter and its role within the book than the subject of the book itself. The larger issues point to an ongoing "downgrade" in the world of evangelical theology which are part of the reason why much of the evangelical world is willing to come to an easy compromise with Darwinian thought.

We have now reached chapter 7, and Dr. Alexander has set out what he claims are proven and certain facts about the history of the world, its age, and the manner in which life developed. After settling all those issues, we now come to chapter 7, to ask - what does the word of God have to say about these things? Perhaps sensing that someone reading the book might have an uncomfortable feeling about the orthodoxy of his methodology, DA begins with a page of disclaimers to protest his submission to the Word of God as his final authority. He doth protest too much. Authentically evangelical methodology means that the Scriptures come first, and set the parameters of the debate. We do not ask fallen men for their best conclusions from their own investigations first, and then see whether we can harmonise it with Scripture afterwards - which is just what DA does, despite the protest that he wouldn't dream of such a thing.

DA's general approach to the early chapters of Genesis is to set up a false dichotomy (which is never formally stated, but is continually implied) between the historical reality of the Genesis account, and the theological truths which that history teaches. A first necessity is to ask what kind of literature Genesis is. Most of the ink is, as in a previous chapter, spent on refuting the suggestion that nobody makes - that Genesis is to be treated like a modern scientific treatise. But, in amongst this, we do get one - yes, a whole one and not just a half - sentence to discuss the idea of whether Genesis records not modern science but accurate historical narrative (whether with or without poetic elements in the presentation). Here it is
It is describing creative events that occurred before anuyone was around to describe them, so it cannot be history in any normal use of that term.
And that's it. What DA means by "normal use" of the term "history", we are not told. Whether God himself, inspiring Moses, might be an even better historian than the normal human ones who weren't around and therefore whether we don't need to worry about their absence, doesn't seem to be worth discussing. Nope - if it happened before any men were here, then even if God himself records it it just can't count as "history" in a meaningful way and there's nothing left even worth dicussing. This kind of "clever" word-game, by which DA entirely side-steps the central and relevant issues in order to swiftly proceed on to some display of intelligence on some other side-issue is what makes this book a deeply frustrating one for anyone looking for an informed critique of young earth creationism.

Another such gem of schoolboy logic is the old chestnut that as the sun and moon weren't created until the fourth day, therefore the days can't be of the 24-hour kind because there was nothing there to mark them. This absurd argument wrongly assumes that the passing of time and the marking of the passing of time are the same thing. But does not even an infant know that time has passed long before mum or dad tells them what it is or how to count it?

There are several other such glaring logical howlers in the chapter, and more besides with historical misrepresentations, and hand-waving-smoke-blowing-strawman-destroying of possible objections, but I won't bore you with them. Such things can easily be detected by a critical reader who goes off to any of the big creationist websites to search for discussion of the common arguments. The big issue raised by the chapter is that of principles of interpretation and the place of the Word of God in forrming our theology and world-view. It's not enough to say that you abide by the Bible's authority. DA seeks to harmonise Genesis with evolution, but the Bible is not just one book alongside others; it must rule them all, and that in evident practice and not just in theory and disclaimer. DA makes a continual false dichotomy, urging us to not focus on Genesis' historical details and then to miss their theological import for us. Fine, but DA makes the opposite error; he divorces the two, aiming to give us the theological fruits but without the real-world, time-and-space events that actually give rise to them. This is trying to eat your cake without having ever had it to begin with.

No comments: