[Appended 4 July 2008: Since writing the article below, I have changed my thinking on certain aspects of it. Please read the associated comments for a fuller picture.]
I used to believe in the six-day creation account, in the Garden of Eden, in Adam and Eve, the serpent, the eating of fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Having read the Bible carefully, I was pretty sure that the original writer of Genesis intended the work to understood in a literal, historical fashion. That much is clear by the manner in which it’s written. Genesis is, after all, the history of man, and it starts with the first man, Adam, who I’m clearly supposed to believe was a real person. This view is further supported by the fact that the rest of the Bible puts on display several genealogies that go right back to Adam.
But I had a problem. And that problem was the pressure of scientific thought. The Bible says man wasn’t subject to death until after the Fall. Can you imagine what would have happened if man hadn’t fallen. Can you imagine man, an immortal being, making babies (who make further babies) ad infinitum, in the confined space of the Earth? And that’s just problem 1. The concept of death hasn’t been invented, but you have physical beings dependent on air to breathe, so what happens if you hold your head under the lake? Why does a lion have such big claws, if not to tear up his prey? Why does a hedgehog possess the ability to curl into a ball and project protective spines? Why does a sporpion have a sting? What would happen if a scorpion stung an immortal human? Christian scientists have made attempts to marry the first chapters of Genesis with what we know to be true from science, but the results aren’t convincing.
So, as a Christian, what did I do? I compromised. I said, “I know it couldn’t really have happened like this, so I’ll say it’s some kind of allegory. Something (I don’t know exactly what) happened. Mankind fell from grace. Death and sin resulted. The world is the way it is today because of that.” At the time, this seemed like an honest reasoning process. But is it? No! It’s a prime example of exactly the kind of attitude that I’ve been arguing against in all my recent posts.
Here’s the underlying truth of what really went on in my mind: I read the creation account and I interpreted it in a way that seemed correct (that I was reading historical narrative). I then came to a scientific understanding of the matter, and I found the two “realities” to be incongruous. I then said, “The literal interpretation must be wrong, so I’ll change it to allegory.”
Do you see what I did? I did exactly what I cautioned myself against doing in the previous post (regarding the interpretation of the “sons of God”). I applied a rigid set of existing beliefs (scientific ones this time) to the interpretation of Genesis and I allowed those beliefs to change the meaning of something that was perfectly clear and plain. I’m only now starting to see the intellectual dishonesty of this kind of thinking.
We all have beliefs of one kind or another. And when we encounter new information that conflicts with those beliefs, the solution is not to twist the new information into submission. The solution is to examine both the new information and the existing beliefs and determine which needs to change. The big problem arises when a belief becomes more than a belief – when it becomes an unshakeable treasured possession that must never be tampered with. This is especially true of religious thinking (what with the importance of dogma), but is also true of the scientifically motivated (as has been evidenced by recent comments).
I now have a new-found respect for those Christians who doggedly hang onto the literal creation account, despite the pressure of scientific evidence. At least they’ve chosen their side. What I’m losing my respect for is the mentality (in myself) that is prepared to hang on to some watered-down version that tries to join two sides of an argument into an ill-fitting monstrosity. It’s like saying Frankenstein was handsome.
Now that I’m refusing to come at things with a personal agenda, I can see the matter more clearly. Genesis 1-3 says one thing, science is saying another, and ne’re the twain shall meet. Answer: Pick the one you think is true.
Now that leaves me in one hell of a predicament. Easier said than done. Because I do have a rigid belief system. And the side of the argument that is calling out to me is the side that threatens to put a major crack right up through the centre of those beliefs. This is where I reveal a little of the cowardice of “Reaction 2” from the previous post: “Maybe something’s missing from the way I’m looking at this. Why don’t I just shelve it for now. Good idea. Whew!” One thing’s for sure: a decision will not be put off indefinitely.
I’ve seen many example of personal agenda being brought to bear on Bible interpretation. More than I can remember. The one example that sticks out in my mind is when I heard someone preach on Genesis 1:16. In context:
 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;
 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.
I’ve heard the words “He made the stars also” interpreted to mean that the creation of the whole universe beyond Earth was like a mere afterthought in the mind of God. The intent is for us to marvel that God would do something so big and complex as a mere afterthought. But an additional side-effect of this interpretation is that we create the mindset that those 200 billion stars in each of those 200 billion galaxies are unimportant and irrelevant. A convenient way to unwittingly encourage the view of reality that says there is no life out there. When, oh when, will preachers stop inventing their own flowery interpretations of Scripture and actually start communicating what the Bible is saying instead of what they want it to say. Look out for this tendency to over-interpret next time you’re in church, because it’s everywhere. And it’s one of the main reasons I can’t stomach church anymore. It’s the subtle difference between “Look what I can make it say” and “Here is what it says.”
In your own quest for truth, learn to drop your personal agendas and let a thing say what it’s trying to say.