8 August 2017

Genre

You've probably been in a discussion in a Bible study group, where one of the sage ones, patiently explains that understanding Genesis 1 starts with its 'genre'. A fancy word for literary type. Why they don't say 'type' I don't know.

But what is the 'genre' of Genesis 1?

It's not peotry...we can look at the psalms and see what Hebrew poetry is.

It's not symbolic...we get that lesson in Ezekiel...and a bit more in  Revelation.

It's not quite history either: compare to the later pentateuch or Acts...a little different.

What are we left with?

Chronicle!

That is, a time-ordered list of events.

The writer has driven the point of 'time' and 'sequence' home in every possible way while retaining literary elegance.

Time markers are prominent:

We start with 'in the beginning', then after a set of events: set with chronoligical grammar (the 'waw' consecutive: 'then this happened' recurs through out the creation passage.

Each day is numbered and delineated so that we know what type of day is meant: an evening-morning type day, of course!

Numbers 7 has a similar structure, and it is clearly a chronicle as well.

Compare this with a snippet from Enuma Elish; a pagan theogony that some have the gall to compare to Genesis 1.

Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being...
Ages increased,...
Then Ansar and Kisar were created, and over them....
Long were the days, then there came forth.....
 Here and throughout EE uses the chronological imprecession of pagan myth: time markers are not important to myth, in fact, not having them is the important thing to de-historicise the myth and place it beyond enquiry.

Quite the opposite to Genesis 1.

3 August 2017

The Gumbel Error

My previous post on Nikki Gumbel's removal of 'when' from history and giving it to science (he means, of course physical science, as history is a 'science' in that it seeks knowledge) left a gap: the gap was about time itself and its place in the Genesis narrative. I've already dealt with this from one perspective, but there is another I want to bring here.

The presumption that the time markers in Genesis are not germane to the revelation derives from an implicit physicalism: an ontological error that parts company with both the dualism of the Bible, and its concrete realism. Because it presumes that time is a 'given' its action within creation is not recognised and thus the error also parts company with time's existential dependence: that 'word' has priority. Moreover, 'word' strictly in the John 1:1-3 sense. Not a logos of the Greek kind, but the word as going out from the love of God as triune communion of unified will.

Time is integral to the revelation as a created thing, and the markers of time in the creation passage show not only that God orders within time, but uses time to bring order; he using time as the domain of fellowship within the creation (I don't know how the new creation will work in this connection...we'll have to wait and see) where it provides a shared constraint-space definitional of event sequence. Time forms the event-space in which we can join in relationship. Indeed, in which we are shown that the event-space is God's and is where he joins us in relationship.

To put this to one side is firstly a hermeneutical arrogance, then it treats time as an 'accident' of material, almost putting it behind God and not an essential part of the revelation. If God use the time markers as simply symbolic of something else ('what' is never canvassed), one would have to wonder at the specificity of the markers, the deliberation of the pace of creation, the connection formed by his people Israel reflecting his creation and use of time having their life pattern reflect God's.

But, time has to be signficant, and more than symbolic theologically (because the language denies a symbolic role and requires a concrete role for it), as time is our universal constraint: it dominates everything that we do and think; it is inescapable.

Physicalism evacuates time of its theological significance. The proponents fall back to the implicit materialism. Their reference to a paganised framework of understanding (that there are universal givens apart from God) this entails is a theological embarrasment.


Alpha boob

I saw the second video of the new Alpha course where Gumbel tells us that Jesus is the creator walking on earth. Good. Then, opps, 'I've mentioned creation, I'd better hose down that one straight away'. So he moves onto science and assets its non-connection with history (the Bible).

He tells us that science is about how and when, but the Bible tells us about who and why. He gives us the analogy of a birthday cake.

Now, when did 'when' slip into the domain of science? I don't remember that happening!

Nikki clearly wants to offset any recourse to the timing of early history in Genesis 1-11, and let us slip comfortably into the idea that Genesis' timing is something to do with 'who and why' isolated from science and its 'how and when'. Thus letting science appear to take the lead when it comes to the understanding of time in ancient texts, Genesis in particular.

But 'when' is always history, my friend, and in early Genesis (1-11) reaches far more into our relationship with God, and God's relationship with his creation than a bare 'scientific' fact. It carries profound implications for who God is in relation to us, and how the Bible positions itself as revelation.

Gumbel fails to tease out the ontological issues that Genesis 1-11 deals with and the setting that God thereby delineates for his fellowship with us, his creation-in-his-image.

Gumbel also fails to deal with the evidence in the text (a fail for an ex-barrister, let alone a theologian): its form of language (consecutive narrative), its time references (natural days delineated in two ways, just to make sure we follow), its style (unadorned fact), its reference by other parts of Scripture (Exodus 20:11, for example, and note God's direct speech in this passage), its parallel with other passages of historical narrative (Numbers 7 springs to mind), and its 'first philosophy' of word, not matter (John 1:1-3, Hebrews 11:3).

So Alpha carefully places the train of developing belief on tracks that lead through the dark tunnel of pagan confusion before it ends at the precipice of materialism's emptiness.

Thus The Gumbel Error.

26 July 2017

How to start a conversation.

Many years ago in a Bible study I was asked for my thoughts on Genesis 1. I gave the direct non-pagan view, which seemed to evoke some surprise.

Now I would start in one of two ways:

In an essay on Wittgenstein, the writer points out the split in Wittgenstein's work of the use of langauge to talk about a chair: a brute fact; and a subjective 'event'. He has to say that these are different; but cannot live as though they are...

Or

In a wonderful essay by Richard Rorty, he approvingly quotes Yates' yearning to be able to capture reality and justice in a single vision. He cannot. He cannot see how to, he cannot integrate his delight in the beauty of orchids with his desire for justice. His world, which he experiences as an integral continuity, fails his own explanatory program...

The only place these seemingly disparate (but only because of entrenched philosophical mistakes endemic in modern thought) elements of the world are brought together is in Genesis 1, and its elaboration in John 1:1.

I leave the rest to you, dear reader.

22 July 2017

The eye!

Dick Dawkins is well known in some circles for his story of the evolution of sight, or 'the eye'. It starts with a light sensitive spot on a worm, and goes from there.
His story is what I call a Victorian gross morphology fantasy. It considers only the macroscopic anatomy, has some vague inferences about underlying bio-chemical processes, and that's it.

Now let's think about the human eye and its orchestration of quasi independent sub-systems that all had to come together to give us what we have today.

Let's start with the eye itself.

Its shape, various membranes, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, chemical supplies (to maintain light sensitivity) and differentiated rods and cones all had to come together to work together. Any single element by itself would have been eliminated as biologically useless.

The eye-brain system would have to be functional. Nervous connections to the appropraite part of the brain would have to form in step with the formation of the eye as an anatomical component. The 'software' would have to keep step with the 'hardware'. All the eye does is create an image optically on the retina. This then gets decomposed into electric impulses that go to a part of the brain that then assembles these impulses into something that is mentally meaningful for the organism (us). Each step requires substantial 'evolution': optical accuracy and control, translation to electrical impulses, transmission to the brain, some form of re-coding, formation of the mental impression of an image, and then this impression's meaningfulness to us! The orchestrated systems then keep track of the images as they change, smoothing them into a stable continuous image of the scene around us. None of this complex processesing, no use for the eye. No eye.

Now this system has to coordinate information that comes from the eye muscles, that point the eye, and those that focus it. They also have to coordinate with the amount of light coming in as the pupil changes size due to movement of the iris.

This enables the eye-brain system to maintain its stability of orientation, focus and illumination as it assembles moving images.

The body also moves on its axes. The eye-brain-ocular feedback system needs to coordinate with the balance mechanism and its whole system: detection organs and a processing centre in the brain. This helps to maintain a stable image as we move, lean over, turn around...

While the eye as a sense organ is 'evolving' its controlling muscles, blood supply and ancilliary nervous network need to keep up with it.

The eye's housing and accessories need to 'evolve' in line with this: facial bone structure, eye socket, skin, and surrounding (non-occular) muscles and their control system have to keep in step. The external apparatus, and eye lubricant system needs to be there: tear ducts, detector and triggering  mechanisms, eyebrows, eye lashes, the lids and blinking system have to happen.

This doesn't even touch on the complexity of the eye's internal anatomy and its fine visual control features.

Then there's hand-eye, foot-eye coordination where major systems of systems interact to enable us to write, play tennis, produce sculptures and do the washing.

I've not mentioned the integration of the eye's lubrication system with another meta-system: emotions. The connection between feelings of supreme joy or suffering, or pain (physical or emotional) and the production of tears!

Genetic information drives all this, and not a simple change in DNA 'letters' here and there, randomly. Because the genetic information system is multiplexed several 'letters' have to change in concord. And groups of multiplexed letter sets need to change in 'super-concord' to bring chemical, nervous, interpretive facility and musculo-skeletal anatomy to the party.

As Dawkins might assert: 'simple'!

7 July 2017

Time is the hero

‘Time is in fact the hero of the plot … given so much time the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable and the probably virtually certainly certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs miracles.'

Wald, G., The origin of life; in: Physics and Chemistry of Life, p. 12, 1955

Of course, this is nonsense, and Wald probably knew it. Stochastic chemistry does not make the impossible possible. That which is impossible will not happen. All it does is allow the less likely to occur. No matter how long we wait, people will not grow younger and water will not flow up hill.

However, this view does up the ante for Theistic-evolution. Time is given agency, and Wald gives it the honour of creating, in effect.

Contrast this with Paul in Colossians: 1:6 For by him [Christ] all things were created...2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

Time as agent could well be one of those principles.

And consider this in the light of Hebrews 11:3:

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.

The primacy of word and not time, ‘chance’ or ‘the “impossible” becoming possible! What are theistic evolutionists doing? Implicitly they are placing the material outcome prior to the creating word of God who is love!

The timing of creation in Genesis 1, etc. obstructs pagan conceptualisations of ‘creation’ or ‘origins’ more generally. There is inevitably a timelessness to these conceptualisations, with what Eliade (in The Myth of the Eternal Return) refers to as a sacralised, or mythologised use of time, to disconnect us and the world of gods; time here is vague, allusive, cannot be pinned down...read Enuma Elish carefully. Its time references avoid being pinned down, and are unclear...like a liar in a police interview, attempting to make a case by being unclear. Of course, it does not and cannot work. We see through it immediately.

In the creation account, many things are being done theologically that don’t often get explored. One of them is that the use of concrete time references brings the creation into the existential frame that we occupy. God in making concrete time the one that he acts in, sharing his domain of action with us: he forms fellowship between us and himself, and starts the long process of establishing his credential for being worshipped by his successive acts in history (in the history that defines our worship of him). Denials that mutate the timing of Genesis 1 into something other than concrete timing that we understand destroys this: symbolic time, a 'framework' of events, the general theistic evolutionary reconfigurations of creation destroy the primary credential that God presents to us: that he created, and in terms that are congruent with our experience of time, space and 'extension'. What 'god' then does this leave us with? How is his action giving sense to our experiental engagement with history?

In this context it is critical to note that the Jewish sense of time was different from the symbolic or mythically indeterminate time, or the ‘sacred’ time of paganism that has to keep its ‘gods’ away from the real world, because they in fact have no place there. Theistic evolution takes us to this empty room. But for Jews time was unilinear rather than pagan cyclical. Even the repeated lapses of Israel into idolatry did not dispel belief in God’s overall movement with and orchestration in events. Had he not led his people to the promised land, and saved them repeatedly?

The Jewish God expressed himself in time. Nothing would ever be the same as before. That was the nature of time, and it starts with God embarking on creation by working in the flow of history as we do: forming a common experience, a common existential ground in the common days of working then rest. It is the start of God’s tabernacling with those he created in his image...in concrete acts that occurred in real time with real extension, as the word as prime went out to form the material world, the setting of our fellowship with our creator.

If we reject this: that the word was God and with God...etc, then we are left with Wald's time that can do anything...and an unworshipable ‘god’ who has left us for a vague untimed ‘sacred’ world...the world we are not in and cannot be in, the world where we have no fellowship with our creator.

20 May 2017

6 days...really?

In The Economist:

  1. In the beginning they destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground and knocked out the planes of Jordan, Iraq and Syria. That was Monday.
  2. Then they broke Egypt’s massive defences in Sinai. That was Tuesday.
  3. Next, they took the old city of Jerusalem and prayed. That was Wednesday.
  4. Then they reached the Suez Canal. That was Thursday.
  5. They ascended the Golan Heights. That was Friday.
  6. Then they took the peaks overlooking the plain of Damascus. In the evening the world declared a ceasefire. That was Saturday.
  7. And on the seventh day the soldiers of Israel rested.
Now, I'm not sure what this refers to. Perhaps it is a framework about something we don't know, to teach us the capability of the Israeli Defense Force.

Or, perhaps it is a counter-story to rebut the stories of Islamic supremacy that abound in the Islamic fairy story, the Koran

No, perhaps it is a type of the Temple Theology that points to Jewish wishful thinking for the old days...

Or, perhaps it is the account of something that happened.

If I believe an Israeli solder about this, I believe God about his 6-day story.

Doing so I can resist the pressure around me to start with a materially framed reality and proceed with a God-first ontology.

30 April 2017

Could have...

I love the way people claim that God 'could have' 'used' evolution.

I don't know what 'used' is supposed to mean;do we posit a mechanism, and what is it; how are the links made in absence of God telling us...but what are we to do with 'could have'?

He either did or didn't; if he 'could have' show us how; give us an argument that understands evolution's historic contempt for the idea of a relating god from Epicurus onwards; let's see how the modern development of the idea intersects with a concrete actual God in a concrete actual world...'could have'?

I could have bought out BHP...if I had the money...I could have swum naked to Chile...if I could have...this phrase is an embarrasment of absence in argument and stands for nothing but an intellectual black hole: everything enters, and nothing comes out.

If this is merely a logical 'could have' it gets us nowhere, particularly as it pretends that the logic is patent, which it is not, and leaves it to the listener to imagine what the proponent's logic is and insert it. Its a bluff; God could not have used evolution, because he told us that he didn't. God doesn't deal in hypotheticals.

But there's more to it:

God 'could have' used evolution, but only if we rob both of their meaning. An easy error that is made is to think that 'evolution' is a real thing in the world; it is not! It is a theory that exists in the human mind. It was made up expressly to eliminate God. So 'evolution' and 'creation' (or 'design') are only 'compatible' if we talk about two things that didn't happen, two things that seem to float in an ill-considered make believe.

In the real world Evolution = not by God; creation = by God. So to put them together is to claim that  God used 'not by God' to create, celebrating Epicurus' separation of the 'gods' and the world in a most peculiar fashion.

Why would we follow a pagan?

Moreover, the small changes have to be 'evolutions' small changes from ooze to humans; there is no way this has been, or seemingly could be, explained in the real world (not the imagination of materialists who seem to think that it could have happened...).

So God could not have 'used' 'not by God' as the idea evaporates in a puff of meaninglessness.