One of the most challenging problems we face as SDA Christians in the 21st Century is the contradiction between our Creation model, the scientific data, and the secular evolutionist views regarding the origin of biological life. Our educated youth and adult members alike are leaving the church at an alarming rate due to this controversy in which they feel that our traditional concepts of Creation, as they were taught in church, are hopelessly wrong. Yet, the church leaders seem to ignore the problem and shift the attention toward evangelistic crusades and their successes in less educated areas of the world like Africa, South America, Eastern Asia and the like. For me, the evolution/creation debate is a serious issue that we cannot ignore any longer. During the past few years I have read extensively materials, books, science papers, apologetic remarks from the left and the right of the aisle, trying to understand better the strength or weaknesses of either side. Having the background of biology and microbiology courses I took in the few years of college I took here in the USA, I can say that I am used to the jargon of scientific literature. On one hand, studying the intricacies of biochemical mechanisms pertaining to living beings my faith in a Creator became stronger and I could say with the Psalmist “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. As such, I am opposing the materialistic worldview that matter and life exist outside any influence from an intelligent being and on my blog I uncover the vacuities of the Darwinian evolution presented in academia as “fact”. On the other hand, however, I noticed that every time evolutionists are cornered with questions to which they have no answer, they will divert and attack the creationists at the very foundation of their model, the Creation story of Genesis 1-2, and they win every time! Why? Because our Creation paradigm is poorly designed and cannot stand in the wake of the scientific discoveries of the last century or so. That is why I propose that a thorough investigation and revamping of our concept of Creation is needed, sooner the better. In what follows, I suggest a few things that may seem radical, even dangerous for the welfare of the church, but I believe that unless we take action now, there will be no church to care for tomorrow.
Where do we start?
The root of the problem has to do with our hermeneutics. We consider the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2 as being a factual, historical account of Creation, not because we can support it with scientific data (actually, the data speaks against our model), but because we assume the book of Genesis to be inspired by God, thus what it says it must be true. But what does the author of Genesis really say? And what does it mean that the Genesis is inspired? In which way is it inspired? These are open questions which should be addressed honestly by our scholars, not addressed in a blog post. Still, I see no compelling reason why “inspiration” should lead to “literalism”. As a matter of fact, SDA church has departed from the “literal, verbal inspiration” position which it used earlier in its history (the verbal inspiration is still used by other evangelical fundamentalist churches), possibly because they realized that there were errors and contradictions both within the books of the Bible as well as in the works by Ellen White. Today we speak of the “inspiration of the author”, allowing for language limitations or cultural and historical influences, therefore making adaptation for an “imperfect” wording of Scriptures while upholding the “inspiration of the message”. This is very confusing, because on one hand we say that the author and the message are inspired, but at the same time we say that the language used is imperfect and the author possibly made errors in writing the message. How many errors are there? How strong were the authors influenced by the culture and worldviews of their day? And how is it that the “inspiration” allowed error to creep up in the message written? What I notice is that the church is using double-play, pretending to be reasonable and realistic about the limitation of the authors, yet it is re-enforcing (at the San Antonio GC session in 2015) the 6th and the 8th Fundamental Beliefs with strong, specific language that is nothing short of a “verbal inspiration” approach to Genesis. I think it is somehow cowardly on our church’s policies to be ignoring the scientific data that contradicts the Genesis report, being afraid that without the imposition of a literal interpretation of Genesis we do not have any longer a good support for observing the Sabbath. I beg to disagree and I will try to show a different view of the matters. For now, we need to observe that the meaning of a text resides in the text itself, not on a pre-conceived idea of what it says or should say, neither should we look for meaning using texts written much later, like those of the apostles or of Ellen White. Regardless of whether the text was inspired or not and regardless of what, or how, it was inspired, we have nothing else to draw meaning from except the text itself. When we do this, we have to understand who is the author, when and where did the author live, what was the author’s background (ideologically, socially, politically, etc.), what did the author intend to accomplish by writing the text, who were the audience intended to read the text, how would the intended audience have understood the text, etc. The author of Genesis does not pretend that God or angels told him anything to write down. He does not mention any dream or vision he had before writing. Even when an author uses phrases like “the angel told me” or “God showed me” we ought to use our rationality and discern what is true or not. Otherwise, how do you distinguish whether it is truth or error when Mohammed pretends that an angel dictated to him the Coran and Joseph Smith pretends to have been a prophet who had prophetic dreams and visions? The Bible itself shows that there are false prophets along the true ones. Except our rationality, we have nothing else to make a distinction between truth and error, between good and evil. It is too bad that the doctrine of inspiration is used as a tool for claiming authority in the name of God by exactly the people who want to exercise authority over other people.
The way I see things
The author of Genesis, be it Moses or not, was a Jew who had a vast understanding of the previous literature and of the customs/mores of various people living in the Mesopotamian area. He must have been used to other works about the origins of the world and the flood, like The Epic of Gilgamesh or Enuma Elish.The first section of Genesis deals with a “primeval” era and consists of 11 chapters (which, by-the-way, is a later separation of the text – the author does not use chapters, titles, and subtitles but rather uses the concept of “generations”) which is more of a rhetorical reply toward the ideas, concepts, and perceptions of his time rather than an intent to describe historically and physically the making of the world. A bulleted list may help us organize a few ideas here.
- While the ancient Near Eastern accounts of origins (Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian) places the matter above everything else (even the gods are made from matter), Genesis shows a unique, never-made kind of God who is before and above everything else, the One Creator who created all things, matter and humans included. I would say this is quite a radical statement for his time, wouldn’t you?
- The gods of other traditions are said to have created humans so that the humans work for them, to feed them, etc. Genesis, however, shows that God created humans not to work and feed Him, but in order to continue the work of creation, to be His representatives, the rulers and administrators of the Earth. Critical to the understanding of Genesis is the concept of humans made “in God’s image”.
- The author describes the Creation being done in six days with God resting on the seventh day. There may be several reasons as to why he described the Creation in this way.
- First, the seven-day week was the actual custom, the actual model for work and rest used at that time not only by Hebrews, but also by other people in the area as it is documented in Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, or Hebrew traditions. For the passing of a day it was enough to observe the Sun and describe this short period as “an evening and a morning” but for a greater period they used the phases of the moon, mainly a period of 28 days divided in four periods of seven days. The Babylonians were actually as accurate as to realize a slight overage of time above the 28 days and made adjustments as to bring the first day of the month back to the new moon cycle.
- Then, it may be that the author intended to show that this model was used by God as an example of how humans were to work and rest because it is a very sound, healthy model. Since Genesis shows that God made humans “in His image”, it follows that humans were to continue the creation and to manage the Earth. The SDA church clings to a literalistic interpretation of Genesis in order to justify its observing of the Sabbath, but I suggest that this is not really a sound reason. It is suffice to say that Jesus observed the Sabbath and He recommended it for mankind, the Sabbath being made for man, “not man for the Sabbath”. For me, that is quite a very good and sufficient reason to observe the Sabbath, would you agree? Also, the narrative shows that after each day of work, God looked upon what He has made and “it was good”. This can be understood as an example of what it means to work and to rest. We are supposed to engage in “good work” every day, meaning a conscientious preoccupation to distinguish between good and evil and to choose to do good. Only after doing “good work” six days can we really enjoy the rest of the seventh day, the Sabbath.
- The Book of Genesis was not written in a scientific language. The author could not even hope to understand how God creates, even if God would have explained it to him. I believe that even we, humans of the 21st century, with our much greater understanding of the natural laws are still unable to understand how Creation took place. It helps nobody to hold a dogmatic presupposition of how God created the natural world based on the literal reading of Genesis.
- The Book of Genesis, at least the first 11 chapters, was not written in a historical language. History, as we understand it today, starts with Herodotus and the Greeks. As the author uses the “generations” concept again and again, it seems reasonable to think that the author is not concern with the linear course of history in time, as we do. He was concerned with providing an explanation as to why the world was the way it was, what were the causes of violence and suffering, and what was God’s ideal for the human beings. The author shows that the ideology of good and/or evil is something that is transmitted from generation to generation. Cain and his successors were men of violence and crime and the Genesis shows that violence ends up in destruction, not only of others, but also of themselves. And when Cain successors died in fighting and the “sons of God” (read “successors of Seth”) took their widows, “the daughters of men” as wives, the Genesis shows that those mothers educated their sons in the same spirit of violence, hence the Nephilim, their great warrior sons continued the work of violence and crime.
- The Book of Genesis does not tell us that the rocks have 6-7000 years, much less that the Cosmos as we know it is 6-10000 years old. We know that our closest star outside our solar system, the Proxima Centauri, is actually so distant from us that it takes 4.24 light-years to reach it, that is, travelling with the speed of light (186000 miles per second) it takes 4.24 years to reach the destination. This detail only is sufficient to show that the seven-day creation of Genesis must be saying something else than the literal reading would confer. Our own Geoscience Research Institute is not able to contradict the radiometric dating of the rocks. These sophisticated scientific methods show a much older age of the Earth. As the apologists of the literal reading have tried, a concept called “Gap Creationism” was submitted, where the Genesis 1,1 is shown to suggest that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” should be taken to express the possibility that the Earth was indeed much older, but life was recent as 6-7000 years. However, when it was discovered that there were fossils of living creatures in rocks as old as 3 billion years, that concept had no more use.
- The wording of Genesis suggests that what we read must be understood in a different “key” than the literal rendering. I will not take every verse and examine it because that would take quite some space. But I briefly mention here some of the ideas which merit our attention: God formed the man from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2,7), God had planted a garden in the east (Gen. 2,8), God made trees with fruit good for food, but also made the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which suggest they represent something else, so here we are faced with the question “what does it mean to eat from the tree of knowledge”? (Gen. 2,9), God took one of the man’s ribs to make him a helper (Gen. 2,21-22), a serpent speaks (Gen. 3,1), to be like God means to know good and evil (Gen. 3,5), the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden was “desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen. 3,6), God is walking in the garden in the cool of the day (God has feet and walks like a man?)(Gen. 3,8), etc. What all these texts mean? Could it be that the author is trying to describe why the world is the way it is, why the woman gives birth in pain, why the man goes into dust when buried, why being naked in public is shameful, etc.?
I will have to stop here for now because this article becomes too long and there are so many other things to be said. While preparing this article, I submitted a short commentary on Facebook and I asked my friends to share their ideas. My hope was to have attracted more people into the discussion, like pastors, leaders, and educators of the church, but only two or three of my friends dared to share their opinion. Would I be too wrong to deduce that the “officials” who draw a salary from the church would not freely comment for fear of bad repercussions? Could it be that the great majority of lay members are just too ignorant in science matters as to have an opinion? Either the case, I will come back and continue this talk, hoping that the freedom of speech is granted in our church as it is granted to all the inhabitants of the country by our Constitution.
(to be continued)