Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A man in our Bible study, an engineer at Lucent in Holmdel (therefore, a sympathic character to me!) asked whether he could make a presentation on what's called Young Earth Creationism during our discussion on Job.

His claim is that the creatures Behemoth and Leviathan are really dinosaurs.

The study leader asked my opinion of opening up discussion on this topic.

Here's my reply to him:

It’s your gig, so talk about “young earth” creationism if you wish. However, most people are bored by a scientific discussion in which they are unprepared to participate, especially if they do not themselves ponder the earth’s age and do not doubt the authenticity, trustworthiness or integrity of Scripture. The discussion may quickly evolve into a monologue or worse.

Certainly, the footnotes in NIV / NAB Study Bibles do not suggest dinosaur but rather hippopotamus or elephant for behemoth and crocodile for leviathan. The NKJV footnote reads honestly “a large animal, exact identity unknown.”

Myself, I would decline also on the grounds that the Book of Job, as wisdom literature, does not purport to convey data about the origin of human life. Asserting that the Book of Job records facts about creation is analogous to claiming information about the Boston Tea Party in Chapter VII of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Not only are the references to God’s creation in Job 40 & 41 tangential, but also a creationism digression detracts from the theological import of Job.

If a discussion of “young earth” creationism leads to a consideration of Scriptural authority, inerrancy, etc., I would offer these four quotations:
  • Humani Generis, paragraph 38 reads in part:

  • the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking are not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people.
In the above quotation, the understanding of the word “popular” may provide the solution. I think that a Literalistic understanding of Genesis is permitted but not mandated.
  • Dei Verbum, paragraph 11 reads as follows:

  • Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.
In this quotation, “for the sake of salvation” is usually cited by those with a more nuanced understanding of inspiration and inerrancy as some kind of intellectualism loophole.
  • In the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, we read the following (the italics are mine, my own clarifications appear within brackets):

  • Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details.

    As the 20th century comes to an end, this kind of interpretation [i.e., fundamentalist] is winning more and more adherents, in religious groups and sects, as also among Catholics.

    It [the fundamentalist approach] refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language and that this word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit.

    Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.

    It [fundamentalism] accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible
There is here no “slippery slope."
  • From C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, page 184:

  • Perhaps a modern man can understand the Christian idea [of sanctification] best if he takes it in connection with Evolution. Everyone now knows about Evolution (though, of course, some educated people disbelieve it): everyone has been told that man has evolved from lower types of life. Consequently, people often wonder "What is the next step? When is the thing beyond man going to appear?"
Lewis goes on to state that the Christian is the next step in human evolution.

Paragraph 289 in the Catechism is vague but may list the sort of theological truth that we may hope to glean from the first three chapters in Genesis: creation’s origin and end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and the drama of sin and the hope of salvation.

Ken Ham’s ministry on Christian radio advocates the idea that dinosaurs co-existed with humankind and are mentioned in the Bible. My three-year old is going to be a dragon / dinosaur for Halloween. Shall I bring him on Thursday evening in his costume to spark the conversation?!

I hope that you find something of value in the above thoughts.