Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Biblical 13 Billion-Year-Old Earth

      The Pope -- the highest ranking official in the Catholic denomination -- has lead the catholic church down the road to reject Genesis in explaining creationism (the article is further down the page).  This is not breaking news, it happened a while ago.

      Just about the time I could literally interpret the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 as allowing for a 13.5 billion-year-old planet as the basis for the future earth, the Pope declares that he considers it to be an "allegory".  Does it being an allegory rule out that it is also literally true?  I don't believe it does. I believe that the Spirit of God came to a 13.5 billion-year-old planet roughly 12 thousand years ago, and in a week's time, indeed, made a whole new creation.  The Genesis creation account is sparse enough in details to appear to be an allegory.  Perhaps looking at the creation account in Genesis as a sort of 'literal allegory' helps. Except that "literal allegory" may be oxymoron. But, what is wrong with a literal description of a past account using some symbolism, for the sake of explaining some complicated event for which we do not need to know every detail?  Can you bear with me here?  Perhaps creation was one such event, that requires one such  explanation?    

      About three years ago, when I began reading Genesis in the German language (this Pope is German), I first saw the 13 billion-year-old planet of ours being given form in Genesis 1:3-4 and becoming the earth. It had nothing to do with the German, but rather in at last seeing "heaven" and "earth" being created on the second and third day (Gen. 1:6-10), instead of all at once on the first day ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a title sentence" - he had not yet created the heavens or the earth. He does that in Gen. 1:6-10).  Yet, in all of that, I can still teach creationism --  the belief that God created the world in six days, as described in the Bible.   But... the Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism.  Poor them.  The Pope describes the creation account in Genesis as an "allegory".  And it seems like an apt label.  Allegories are used throughout the bible to express important truths.  So what kind of allegory is the account of creation?  One based on truth, or one being reassembled into symbolism to the point where it is no longer true? It is one that can be understood as literally true.  An allegory would be a 'true symbolic generalization', or a 'true symbolic representation' of the actual event, would it not?  Jesus uses both parables and allegories to explain truth.    

 Definition of ALLEGORY
1: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
2: a symbolic representation : emblem 2

     That fits.  'Parable' and 'allegory' are synonyms.  They illustrate truth.  They remain symbolically true to that which they are being used to explain.  I have a college logic class coming up in about 4 months.  I think I'm going to wait to dissect the actual mechanics of allegory until then.

     The Genesis account of creation, I believe, serves to treat a complex literal event in allegory form.  I have to admit this is the first time I've felt comfortable claiming to have the same position as the Pope in most anything. God uses the stylistic tool to provide an accurate account of an event while still reserving the privilege to be vague on details which He chooses to keep to Himself.  And as a vague outline, the Genesis account is literally true.

      Here is what is hard about the Genesis account.  An atheist person says the account in Genesis 'chapter two' conflicts with the account in 'chapter one'. "Things", he says, "were created in a different order in separate accounts".  And he is proud of himself because now he believes he has found a contradiction in our infallible word of God.  But he hasn't.  The two accounts describe the same event from different angles.  He has only found a contradiction in the way it is often approached by certain Christians;  because there was already something there in chapter one, and it is the same thing that is there in chapter two - a mist covered orb (planet).  God took what was already there and made a whole new creation out of it.  No contradictions involved.  And it can be understood when looked at literally as well.  The only hard part left for some folks is, "He made the stars also".  Well, exactly when, and which ones?  Does that mean all of the stars in the universe?  Did eternity, then, begin 6-12 thousand years ago?   We need to let the context be a part of the meaning.  If everything else was made out of things that were already there, then so were the stars. Reading it as an allegory, if need be, fits. If it is not an allegory, then the first two chapters of Genesis have to answer for several contradictions.

      I believe when He says,"He made the stars also", He's making them what they needed to be for His new creation.  You then have a consistent allegory, in my view, from start to finish.  All through the rest of the bible the Lord speaks to us at length in both parables and allegories. Why could this not be treated as one?

      But starting at the beginning, this is how I understand the passage...

      Genesis 1:1 is the title sentence.
       In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth

      The heavens themselves were not yet created until day two (or so it says).  He has not yet created what he refers to as, 'earth', until verse 10 of day three.  On day one, first mentioned, is this vast planet being visited by the Spirit of its creator.  The sort of place without intelligent life --  neither minds created in the image of the Creator, nor, hitherto, God's Spirit itself.  It had neither modern animals nor flora. Without those things it would be described as formless, void, and dark - not non-existent.  But something that 'was here' did have shape, substance and depth.  There was something here.  What?  Just another planet?  Why not?  Probably one out of the quintillions of planets known to exist.  A planet without God's personal presence, without God's Spirit, yet with the ingredients for whatever God ordained.  He arrives during 1:1, and His creative presence gives off its own light. The entire solar system was not yet set in its perfect position until day four;  but still, on day one, creation had morning and evening -- day and night -- with no sun.

Genesis 1:7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse ; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. 9 Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear "; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas ; and God saw that it was good.

      The above describes a heaven and the earth made on days two and three of the creation account.  Why are these called "heaven" and "earth"?  Because they are heaven and earth.

      Paul speaks of three heavens in particular.  I think it is safe to say that there are many parts to heaven.  None of them are a physical place, but rather places where nothing exists accept God's Spirit. His own sovereign creative substance. And it is everywhere as well -- I believe;  and somewhere in the heavens is God's throne.

      We look around us and we see a 13.5 billion-year-old Earth -- give or take a few billion, I suppose.  Have we been given eyes that deceive us?
             "The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made both of them". Proverbs 20:12

      He created and made available perfect words, perfect mechanisms-of-knowing (eyes, ears, etc.) , perfect tools and methods for both understanding and explaining His infallible revelation as well as understanding and explaining the elemental things of His creation.  From an infallible God we received infallible tools science (often used too speculatively).  It is God's Science.  We rely on it to make even our bible (the science of Literary Criticism).  Without science we would have a very different bible;  one put together by mere men which, without God's provision of sound scientific methods, would fall short.

       Without referring to the bible, science cannot explain what happened to man at some point around 12 thousand years ago when he changed from a barely higher form of animal life to a person (man-male and female).  Science can document and test but cannot explain that period. It can theorize as to what actually happened during that period but those theories do not satisfy even many atheistic scientists.  We know all about the progression of creatures for billions of years but the one closest to the surface of the ground, a mere few thousand years ago, does not explain what many wish it would explain.  Only God's creative intervention is available as an explanation.  Yes, God created agriculture at the same time he created the 'person'.  But the complex intelligence did not evolve, per se, but rather, it appeared suddenly, along with the highly complex languages, technologies, and civilizations, at God's timely prompting.

      And even none of that matters to the Christian.  Christ was here, and said, "I tell you these things now, so that when I am gone, you will believe that I am He".  That He is who?  God on His earth.  God, having come in Jesus -- in the flesh -- to reconcile the world to Himself (2Co 5:19) .  To call His creation back to Himself. That is all we need to know.  It was Him!  God proves this for our benefit  by raising him from the dead, and allowing him to continue to teach and be here for 40 days after he was publically executed.  That makes the rest much easier.  And Jesus affirmed the Genesis account of creation in the Bible.  And unlike other parables and allegories which He did explain, He thought it was sufficient not to explain more of the beginnings of creation, and instead, explain to us that He and the Father are one, and he Himself will raise us up on the last day.

          In my view -- by a literal reading of our book of Genesis -- the Lord came to His planet earth 6-12 thousand years ago and in 7 days, one literal week, made a whole new miraculous creation, on a 13.5 billion-year-old planet.  A whole new creation -- Man (male and female) the "person", now in His own image, His attributes, able to share in His divine nature, and be led by the free gift of His Spirit.

        As Christians, we accept that man, "the person", was created as Adam, and then Eve, with the rest of creation in the beginning.  The details of all of that we have not been given.  All that matters is that our simple understanding matches the simple literal portrayal given to us in Genesis.

      Now for some more pontification.     

God was behind Big Bang, universe no accident: Pope

Pope Benedict XVI delivers a Christmas Day message from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, December 25, 2010. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY | Thu Jan 6, 2011 10:05am EST
(Reuters) - God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday.
"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.
"Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God," he said in a sermon to some 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the feast day.
While the pope has spoken before about evolution, he has rarely delved back in time to discuss specific concepts such as the Big Bang, which scientists believe led to the formation of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.
Researchers at CERN, the nuclear research center in Geneva, have been smashing protons together at near the speed of light to simulate conditions that they believe brought into existence the primordial universe from which stars, planets and life on earth -- and perhaps elsewhere -- eventually emerged.
Some atheists say science can prove that God does not exist, but Benedict said that some scientific theories were "mind limiting" because "they only arrive at a certain point ... and do not manage to explain the ultimate sense of reality ..."
He said scientific theories on the origin and development of the universe and humans, while not in conflict with faith, left many questions unanswered.
"In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its greatness and in its rationality ... we can only let ourselves be guided toward God, creator of heaven and earth," he said.
Benedict and his predecessor John Paul have been trying to shed the Church's image of being anti-science, a label that stuck when it condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, challenging the words of the Bible.
Galileo was rehabilitated and the Church now also accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species.
The Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism -- the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world.
But it objects to using evolution to back an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation. It also objects to using Genesis as a scientific text.

Reuters 1/6/2011

1 comment:

usernametodd said...

Since our God has always existed, why would beginning to look back through an observable 13.5 billion year part of the history of His incredible universe be out of the ordinary. And soon, through His astrological science, perhaps be glimpsing a miniscule hundreds of billions of years back into the past of His eternal creation. What a splendid gift.