There’s that word again…”literal.” While I am not qualified to talk about science with any authority, I can talk about the Bible. And I cringe every time someone uses the word “literal” to describe the way they interpret a set of documents that are at minimum 2,000 years old (quite a bit more than that for Genesis, as it were).
When we start using words like “literal,” “metaphorical,” or “allegorical,” we are unwittingly imposing modern categories on ancient texts. Ancient writers simply didn’t think in those terms, and herein lies my biggest concern: when we assume the Bible possesses a modern, post-Enlightenment worldview, we inevitably force the texts to say things they never intended. And that’s a problem.
We can see that Joseph Mastropaolo is making this exact mistake because he is seeking to argue that Genesis 1 (the creation narrative of 6 days) is the most “scientific” explanation of origins. But assuming that Genesis 1, along with the rest of the Bible, made sense in its original, ancient context, why would we want to apply a thoroughly modern category like “scientific” to something that came to its final form well before even the pre-modern era?
People don’t read the Bible for instruction in anatomy and physiology (e.g., they believed our thoughts came from our intestines) or geography (they thought the Earth was a disc or “chug”), so why do we assume that the Bible is fine for other scientific questions?
This isn’t an attack on the Biblical Narrative (as anyone who knows me will attest, I take it very, very seriously), but it is a short plea to stop and evaluate what the Bible is and isn’t trying to tell us.
Ultimately, I think we have lost our ability to read these ancient writings with historical empathy. In our narcissistic minds, we assume that the ancient writers perceived and talked about reality much in the same way as we do today. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it doesn’t take much effort to see it – though we must be willing to look.
If this peaks your interest, I will be co-hosting a seminar on faith and science at Redeemer Lutheran Church on April 14th, 6:30pm. We will look at some of these issues in much more depth… but there won’t be any $10,000 prizes, unless you are feeling generous.