Thursday, September 14, 2006

Historical Versus Scientific

My OT professor is constantly harping on the fact that Genesis is not scientific. He points to many things about ancient Hebrew cosmology and how it is totally incompatible with science. For instance, he points out that the Hebrews probably thought of the sky as a literal dome into which the stars were more-or-less pasted on. I'm not going to argue with whether or not Israel had such a cosmology (though I do think he exaggerated a bit -- both on the epistemelogical side [how much we can know about ancient Israeli cosmology] and on the facts [much in the OT gives a much better view of cosmology than he was giving them credit for]). I have no ideological problems with believing that the Bible was written by people who had a cosmology that was incompatible with the facts. What I do have a problem with is his using this idea to argue against the idea that the creation story is history.

You see, he wanted to argue against Genesis' historicity by arguing against it's science. But not even Young-Earth Creationists generally argue for Genesis being a science textbook, but rather a book of history.

Look at it this way. Let's say I was living several centuries ago, and was describing events I saw in the sky. What if I said, "the meteor came in out of the ether and glowed for several minutes until it's phlogiston ran out." Note that the science in this statement is completely false, though that is irrelevant to whether or not it is describing a historical event.

You see, we always speak in categories. Our categories are very conditioned. So the fact that ancient Israelites used a set of categories which are not scientifically true is irrelevant. We still talk about sunrise and sunset. Whether or not ancient Israelites believed something bizzarre about the universe, and were describing creation in terms of the categories relative to their cosmology is irrelevant to whether or not it is historically true.

In fact, I'm sure that future generations will view our cosmology as similarly quaint. Does that mean that they should consider all of our statements about history as allegorical or mythical?

I am personally of the opinion that there are no "right" set of categories. In fact, you might say that ANY category is necessarily "wrong," because life is too messy to be put completely into well-defined categories. We must use categories to communicate, but all of them are going to be approximations of the world, not realities themselves.

There are other things about Genesis that I'll get to when I have more time.


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