What Do We Do With Creation?

(Spectrumbot) #1

Every discourse on Origins is necessarily indirect and a posteriori. And in order to appear believable it paradoxically needs to be both partial and inclusive. Consequently we need to integrate the various existing perspectives on Origins if we want to have a meaningful reflection on this topic. Creation has both a Biblical and scientific-naturalistic approach. But these are only two expressions of a more universal quest. This quest, whatever forms of expression it takes – rational or mythological – is legitimate, noble and, as such, deserves our attention. It represents the anthropological need to say and describe, even with its own limits, a founding and an ontological precedence. Since no one can speak exclusively in rational terms about Origins (cosmology) and, since we humans are condemned to articulate only indirectly about it, this fundamental quest takes rather the profile of a cosmogony, i.e. a symbolic description of how the world, life and humans happened to be. In this sense even the naturalistic narrative of today's science about Origins is, at a deeper level, also a cosmogony –de facto. And the same label is applicable, for the same reason, to the historical-Biblical narrative on Origins.

Pre-modern cosmogonies never pretended to be exclusive and exhaustive. But the paradox today is that the two major cosmogonies, Biblical and scientific, even if often opposed, both share the same pretension – to be exclusive and exhaustive. Thus both are partakers of the typical Western contemporary obsession with completeness and mono-functionality. And the extreme, reductive and polarized expressions of which are: Scientism and Creationism. For this reason we Adventists need to develop an inclusive reflection on Origins – both extra and intra-Biblically. And this inclusiveness has nothing to do with a flat syncretism but with the intent to recover the fragmentariness, plurality and tension that a sound reflection on Origins should always preserve.

This is what Dr. Herold Weiss, professor emeritus of Religious Studies at Saint Mary's College, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, does in his book: Creation in Scripture. A Survey of All The Evidence (Energion Publications). Weiss's first achievement in this book is descriptive. He succeeds in identifying a differentiated intra-Biblical reading of Creation through elaboration of nine Biblical models of the Creation motive. He argues for the evident fact that we don't have, in the Bible, photographic evidence of how the world came to be but, more modestly, only various inspired interpretations of Creation that we need to consider together. None of them alone can pretend to express the total and heterogeneous meaning of Creation. These nine theological models are:

1. The historical understanding of Creation in the Prophetic Literature

2. The universal and existential understanding of Creation in the Wisdom Literature

3. The Anthropocentric understanding of Creation in Genesis 2:4b-4:26

4. The Theocentric understanding of Creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a

5. The paradoxical and ambivalent understanding of Creation in the Epistle to the Romans

6. The Neo-Platonic understanding of Creation in the Epistle to the Corinthians

7. The Christological-Pleromatic understanding of Creation in the Epistle to the Colossians

8. The Stoic understanding of Creation in the Epistle to the Hebrews

9. The Hebrew mythological understanding of Creation in Revelation

Beyond the number of models proposed (there could be nine, six or twelve) let's summarize, in four points, the updated and insightful contributions of Weiss’s inclusive reflection on Origins.

1. Plurality

These nine models are not only classifications. They are not just different expressions of the same paradigm. They actually represent different theological paradigms of Creation that, to a certain extent, are complementary. But they also coexist in an uncompromising and irreducible tension. According to Weiss, this is a synchronic plurality, both in the Old and New Testaments. It means that, in the same time and territory, the reflection on Creation was not monolithic but offered some alternatives in relation to the religious and cultural specificities of existing sub-groups.

2. Interpretation

Interpretations of Creation are not extra-Biblical phenomena, they already exist. All the Bible sections (Prophetic, Wisdom, Gospels, Epistles, etc.) re-take the Creation motive and interpret it, adding or taking away elements of the original document, according to their particular historical and cultural circumstances. Even the two Genesis-based documents are already themselves interpretations of the Origins. And, as with every interpretation, they are necessarily partial and provisional, while at the same time true.

3. Progression

The plurality in the Bible is not only synchronic, it's also diachronic. It means that reflections on Creation incorporate theological projects from various historical periods. For this reason they structure themselves not as all-comprehensive and definitive reflections but rather as fragmentary and open. They tried, on one hand, to connect themselves with what has been said before and, on the other hand, not to say too much in order not to prevent future generations from further exploration.

4. Cultural

But Weiss’s best argument on how the Bible deals with Creation is that a necessary cultural component is present in every Biblical theological reflection on Creation. There are no a-cultural theological projects. Not outside the Bible, not inside the Bible. All these nine models are culturally “contaminated”. They are not culturally “determined” but culturally “influenced”. This fact represents both their strength and limit. All these models work implicitly with scientific and cultural models that are also useful to know but are no longer ours. In this sense there cannot be today a reflection on Creation that limits itself to the Bible. In order to better read the Bible we need to also do it with the science of our time. We don't need to become anti-scientific but rather the opposite. If King David or the Apostle Paul could read the Biblical narrative on Creation conditioned by the limited and imperfect science of their time, it is also possible for us today. This is what the Bible teaches us. But, in addition, just as David's or Paul's science was not the last and perfect word on nature, our present science isn’t either.

Instead of correcting the reductive, theological and cultural Adventist models (characterized by obsession with exhaustiveness and exclusiveness), Institutional Adventism is planning, at the 2015 San Antonio GC meeting, to make them even more radical. Weiss’s book instead goes the other way and thus represents a valuable help. This approach to Biblical Creation encourages us to recover the fragmentariness, plurality and tension that a sound reflection on Origins should always have.

Two short critiques of the book:

1. Underestimation of Pre-modern Cosmogonies

Weiss writes: “In order to say this, the Wise and the Psalmists of Israel used a cosmological geography that can only be classified as “primitive”, and “outdated”...(they) cannot be taken seriously today as descriptions of Creation” (p. 28)

2. Over-evaluation of today’s scientific rationality

Weiss writes: “The secularization of nature is necessary to understand the God who transcends nature, and therefore is the only God worthy of adoration” (p. 44)

These complementary affirmations overturn and deny what Weiss has been trying to say about the necessity of alternative paradigms for thinking about Creation. If we are looking for real alternatives to todays reductive paradigms (Biblical or scientific) we can't find them within the same Western rationalistic tradition we want to correct, but should look elsewhere – particularly in the pre-modern and non-western cosmogonies Weiss is stigmatizing.

In fact, in the Western world today, we experience an embarrassing cultural paradox. On one hand Creation and nature have never been so thoroughly studied by science and the general population – and even strongly confessed by Christians as the work of God. But, on the other hand, there has never been a historical period in which nature has been so much in danger as now. And with the contribution of Christians who, unfortunately, are not always known by their ecologically friendly attitudes and behavior.

But this cultural paradox is also at the center of Western science itself. Modern science has had an ambivalent relationship with nature. It has obtained unprecedented knowledge but we can also legitimately ask if it is really a better one. Is the quantitative, exhaustive, modern scientific knowledge of nature necessarily better, in a broader perspective, than the fragmented, symbolic and partial knowledge of non-Western cosmogonies? What kind of cosmos do we have after modern science has explained it to us? The question is not superfluous at all. Because the strategies should not be assessed by the efforts made but by the results obtained. A “disenchanted Cosmos”, such as often is the final result of scientific enquiry, is a result that is not convincing at all. It represents a necessary but still an insufficient knowledge as to what nature, cosmos and Creation really are.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6688

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

Hanz sets the stage for an interesting discussion. Faith extends from origins to redemption. the evidence is compelling for need of redemption, design is compelling for origins. Denial of either is part of man’s cry for independence. Trust is the essential ingredient of both. neither are falsifiable, just as with any alternatives. Both science and much of theology is puffery when it comes to beginnings and endings. 2000 years later we are no further than Paul or John. debate settles nothing. Unfortunately, Ted’s efforts are off putting. I think that is the bottom line of Hans’ essay. Tom Z

(Pagophilus) #3

I find it interesting tedious reading Hans Gutierrez’ articles recently. He seems to be very verbose and use many words to say essentially not much. (And the book he is reviewing seems similar.

How about a plain reading of scripture as history written in plain language for all to read? Scripture is not written in code or cipher for only the select few enlightened ones to understand. True, prophecy requires the understanding of certain symbols but once one understands how the symbols work it is fairly straightforward. But the historical parts of the Bible are just that…history.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

What Hans is saying that man is unable to either fully explain or describe God. God reveals Himself in Nature and in the Christ event and leaves man to best order that degree of Revelation in the idiom of the day. So Scripture comes to us with both a Hebrew and a Greek flavor. That is why we have so many translations and paraphrases. That is why Christ advised us to consider the lily. To me seeing for the first time capillary blood flow in the interdigital membrane of a frog was a profound experience. It was akin to observing the planets of the sun through a backyard scope. To imagine there are more suns and planets that the sands of earth. To philosophically explain God cannot be accomplished, even with big words. So I have 30 inches of shelf space with different version of Scripture and an equal space for commentaries. Hans sees a problem with the past four years of Ted’s struggle as authoritarian without substance. In a few words the task is bigger than the man. Now I agree with you, scholarship is plagued with egotism. Tom Z

(le vieux) #5

You mean the Bible was written for the common man, not just “scholars” and theologians? I’m shocked, shocked! Is is possible that Tyndale may have been right when he said to the priest “I shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you do!”?

Methinks things haven’t changed much in 500 years, my esteemed friend…

(k_Lutz) #6

Actually it is the plain reading of the epistles that give us various perspectives on a number of fundamental Christian beliefs, including the Atonement, the Mission of the Holy Spirit, the Christian walk, etc. It seems that God through Paul recognises that the Gospel is not One size fits all. That singularity accords more with the Luciferian plan to create automatons, robots, rather than the God-fancied variety that we find throughout the natural world.

Trust the Process.

(Rheticus) #7

Anyone who thinks that the cosmos that science is discovering is “disenchanted” simply doesn’t understand the descriptions that science is giving us.

A universe which has the number of particles that science describes, interacting with the complexity that science describes, is much more mystical than the trivial simple world that the ancients and most moderns imagine.

Now, whether that helps most people live their lives is a different question - obviously it makes many people feel worse, rather than better.

People would rather believe a simple lie than accept a complex truth.

(le vieux) #8

Or could it be that most people would rather believe a complex lie, than accept the simple truth as outlined in Scripture?


How long did it take for Jesus to make extra bread and fish?

(Andrew) #10

The creation story was written by Jews. We read in a Hellenistic manner. Literal interpretation is inappropriate. Science gives us a perspective based on the best evidence available. The bible is not a science manual. The two a separate disciplines, not comparable.

(George Tichy) #11

Nobody has the answer to this question. They didn’t even have clocks or watches. And best, they were not even worried about such irrelevant details. They were amazed with His miracle and just observed his actions.

This can be applied for today as well. But…, it seems that the clocks and watches are distracting us from His acts in our favor…

(Aage Rendalen) #12

Weiss’s book first appeared, chapter by chapter, on this blog, and from the reaction of some his critics on this string, they never read it. What Weiss did, brilliantly, was to show, from the Bible, that there is no ONE creation account in the Bible. The most fundamental error that conservatives do when they approach the 66 texts collated into this one volume is to assume that all of these texts refract Jewish and Christian beliefs through the same lens. The Bible is a library; it’s the work of a number of different writers and editors and if conservatives had read these texts as carefully as Dr Weiss and Biblical scholars in general, they would, as Guitierrez points out, have recognized this.

Conservative Christians–i.e. educated fundamentalists–focus on dogmatics, not exegesis. The only exegetical work the SdA church has published, for instance, is, as far as I know, the SDABC issued in the 1950s. Conservatives impose their views on Scripture. If they can’t make sense of Leviathian’s role in creation, they just ignore it. You see it on this blog: whenever Spectrum puts up an article that focuses on exegesis, interest flags. Conservatives are not interested in what the Bible writers say; what’s important to them is to defend their dogmas by pitching fast-ball Bible verses at those who insist on a careful reading of these texts.

(Elaine Nelson) #13

This is the method used by those who decided upon the doctrines: searching for texts to support them. Context has been ignored and one verse from the OT is combined with another from the NT to establish a doctrine. Studies in “Bible Doctrines” teach this as the way to convince converts, most who are practically Biblically illiterate.

(jeremy) #14

for me, the sheer complexity of the universe, from the 200 billion estimated galaxies on down, is one of the biggest evidences in favor of the god of the bible, literally understood…i see and experience nothing that suggests complexity arises out of chance, or that non-life generates life…when it comes to origins, we can’t have one process - the very beginning of things - that’s so at odds with how we actually observe the way things work…

(le vieux) #15

So was most of the rest of the OT. Is literal interpretation inappropriate for everything after Gen. 11? How about the NT? Much of it was also written by Jews. Shall we abandon a literal interpretation of the Incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ? Where do we draw the line? Is science the final arbiter of truth? Do we let it define what we accept as truth from the Bible?

“The best evidence available” may not be the best criterion for believing something. The unknown variables in the study of origins makes it impossible to be dogmatic about the mechanisms, yet that’s exactly what infidel scientists do. I’ll stick with the plain, and easily understood statements of Scripture regarding origins.

(Elmer Cupino) #16

There is no line to be drawn. Like the “Heinz Dilemma,” it is not what Heinz should have done but the form of response others thought Heinz should have done. If you use your “line” to underscore your devotion to “perfectness and fidelity” to the word of God, that’s your choice but if you use your “line” to separate you from those infidels, as the Pharisees insisted on maintaining their relationship to God with strict adherence to a legalistic set of rules, then that shows more about your version of christianity than the infidels. And on, and on, and on…

(George Tichy) #17

I don’t believe we can say that the writers of the NT were Jews at the time they wrote it. They were actually Christians for a few years. They were no longer following, teaching, or writing Judaism.


I will also continue to honor the beliefs taught in the Scriptures about so many facets of life.
Veritas Vincit

(jeremy) #19

the bible writers were the true jews…they were where all israel would have been had they kept pace with god’s leading through his prophets…

(Rheticus) #20

Yes - of God.

But not the literal interpretation that leads to YEC or YLC.

If God exists, then He is incredibly powerful - much more powerful than the ancients understood. That is what science has taught us.