How can I believe in Genesis and not feel naive?

Discussions on creation beliefs within Christianity, and topics related to creation.

I believe Genesis:

Is a literally true, historically accurate account of human creation.
25
56%
Contains truth, but is not to be taken literally
11
24%
Is a made up fairy tale, not true at all
9
20%
 
Total votes: 45

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How can I believe in Genesis and not feel naive?

#1

Post by Athiest2Christian » Tue Sep 28, 2004 5:56 pm

As someone who has recently come to Christianity, I have found many things I really like about the Bible. The wisdom it contains has been truly comforting and guiding and generally helpful in my life. One thing I have been having a hard time swallowing is the creation story in Genesis as an accurate historical account of how humans came to exist on this planet. Please don't confuse this with me saying that it isn't accurate, or that I look down on people who believe it, because I have many friends who do believe it and I have nothing but respect for them. But for me, it's really not something I have been able to convince myself is true, so I am coming to you, the Christian experts, for insights into this matter.

In Genesis, God created Adam. There were no humans, then God created the very first one. But if we look at the physical evidence that is out there, we see that there were other human species in existence before homo sapiens. In fact, we can find evidence of human existence back from about 4 million years ago. I mean, we have skulls, bones, and other pieces of prehistoric people that seem to contradict that Genesis account. So with this evidence so strong to the contrary, how can I believe in the Genesis account of creation without feeling like I am being naive? It seems like I have to ignore the rational, logical mind in order to believe it. And I can't possibly see why God would give me a logical, rational mind if he didn't want me to use it.

So maybe you guys can help me out with this. Do you believe Genesis is the true story of creation, and that it is to be taken literally? If so how do you resolve the evidence which seems to point to the contrary? Thanks for your thoughts.

Chris L.

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#2

Post by Jac3510 » Tue Sep 28, 2004 8:19 pm

I'm sure everyone has a take on this, and I imagine we'd all pretty much be able to come to a common consensus on it, but, before going into details, let me just ask you two questions:

1) What do you mean by "literal"?
2) What interpretations of Genesis 1-2 are you aware of?

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#3

Post by Athiest2Christian » Tue Sep 28, 2004 10:43 pm

Hmm, I didn't realize there was more than one way to interpret literal. Oh wait, maybe if an announcer on Monday night football uses it, "He literally knocked him 20 feet in the air." But usually my built-in jibberish translator automatically hears "figuratively" in that scenario.

I'll defer to dictionary.com as to what I mean by literal:
Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words.
Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation.
Avoiding exaggeration, metaphor, or embellishment; factual; prosaic: a literal description; a literal mind.
Consisting of, using, or expressed by letters: literal notation.
Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.
Interpretations, well, it is a pretty clear story. If you take it literally I'm not sure how subject to interpretation it really is. God created Adam, plants, animals, Eve and things in 6 days, then he rested one day.

So far the only way I have found to resolve the discrepencies in my own head is to say that, yes, it is still the word of God, but it's a story for our benefit. Not a true story of what happened, but a way for God to explain creation that people could understand way back when. Today we've got a higher level of sophistication and can understand complex theories of genetic mutation and natural selection that would have been way outside the capacity of people in the BC era. So maybe God used these mechanisms to evolve humans from Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens, but realizing that people would not understand it, He gave them the Genesis creation story instead.

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#4

Post by Kurieuo » Wed Sep 29, 2004 7:00 am

Athiest2Christian wrote:Hmm, I didn't realize there was more than one way to interpret literal. Oh wait, maybe if an announcer on Monday night football uses it, "He literally knocked him 20 feet in the air." But usually my built-in jibberish translator automatically hears "figuratively" in that scenario.
Perhaps... but I think Jac may mean more than that. Like what was literally "meant" rather than what was literally "written" word by word.

I had a discussion with ttoews about this some time ago as we run into a disagreement when discussing the literalism associated with certain passages, which just so happened to be in Genesis ;). Our main disagreement came down to our different understanding of "literal," so this is a really important question I think Jac has raised. I advocated the looser form of literalism which was what was literally "meant," while ttoews went strictly literal word by word. I recommend reading over http://mb-soft.com/believe/txn/literali.htm to be clearer about the different understandings of literalism.

To explain further, I saw the serpent in Genesis as allegorical of Satan, but then when one takes into account other Scripture (Rev 20:2; Rev 12:12-13; 2 Cor 11:3) the "serpent" becomes representative of Satan who is as sly and cunning as a serpent. So I claimed that the literal "meaning" of the serpent in Genesis, which most if not all orthodox Christians would advocate, is that the serpent is Satan. Yet, ttoews pointed out such associations become rather subjective and aren't really literal, which I disagreed with because if one lets Scripture expound Scripture then the literal meaning is exposed using an objective methodology.

As time went by I found my understanding of literalism did not seem very literal. What got me stuck, is that say Genesis was entirely allegorical, yet the author literally meant such and such by his allegory, then it seemed I could call something non-literal and literal at the same time. Even if in different senses, this seemed absurd but I wasn't ready to admit it as such ;). Eventually ttoews perspective of "literal" began to wear on me, and I did find it much less confusing and clearcut. I think my main problem was I associated "correctness" and "true meaning" with "literal." This seems to be a contemporary evolvement in meaning. Yet, then as ttoews introduced the possibility that "literal" need not mean a "true" or "correct" interpretation, the connotations I associated with "literal" began to change.

Anyway, just thought I'd share since this important point came up.

Kurieuo.
Last edited by Kurieuo on Wed Sep 29, 2004 8:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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#5

Post by Kurieuo » Wed Sep 29, 2004 7:18 am

Athiest2Christian wrote:Interpretations, well, it is a pretty clear story. If you take it literally I'm not sure how subject to interpretation it really is. God created Adam, plants, animals, Eve and things in 6 days, then he rested one day.
Just on this point... if one is to take it literally, then one "has" to refer to the original language. When one does they will see that the Hebrew word for day, yome, has three different literal translations. One is from sunrise to sunset (12 hours), the other is sunset to sunset (24 hours), and the other is figuratively as an unspecified amount of time. A relevant page to do with this topic of what is meant by "day" can be found on this website at http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/genesis.html. In addition, you may be interested to familiarise yourself with another literal interpretation besides the Young-Earth view (if you haven't), which can be read at another page on this site entitled The Literal Interpretation of the Genesis One Creation Account.

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#6

Post by Jac3510 » Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:00 am

Hey, let me continue to harp on the "literal" issue some more ;). K exactly nailed where I was going with it, so let me just lay out some of the more specific problems with the term.

As you noted the definition for "literal" is: "in accordance with, involving or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words, not figurative or metaphorical."

OK, so look at this closely. Literal has to do with meaning. We say, "The word literally means . . ." and the idea is to state a non-figurative meaning. When the football announcer says, "He was running like the wind," well, we know this is not literal for two reasons--first, the wind doesn't run, and second, we have the word "like" in the sentence which immediately tells us that this is a simile.

I'm taking Intro to Greek right now, and this is a subject we've spent some serious time on. William Mounce, the chief editor for the ESV (GREAT translation, btw... I highly recommend), said this concerning what it means to be "literal":
. . . if you say, "I want a literal translation," what you're saying is that you want a translation that means the same as what the author meant. We call this "authorial intent," reproducing the intention of the author. I want to hear what was meant for me to hear, not what the translator may want me to hear. When I am reading Matthew, I want to hear Matthew. And yet many people think of "literal" in terms of form, of a word-for-word equivalence. (Greek for the Rest of US, p.23, italics author's)
To show how this is important, let's think of the Greek word sarx. What does the word literally mean? Well, it literally means sarx. The problem is that there is no English equivalent. We translate variously as illness, flesh, human effort, ordinary way, that nature, outwardly, no one, man, sinful nature, etc. The truth is that sarx has all these connotations and more. Another good example is the English word "love." You'd have a heck of a time translating that into Greek. There is no exact equivalent. You'd have to choose between agape, eros, and philo every time, and you'd always be "leaving something out."

One last example should really drive this home as to how this is important in Genesis. Let's take John 10:24. The RSV renders this, "So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.'"

OK, simple enough, right? Wrong. Let's look at the phrase, "How long will you keep us in suspense?" Transliterated, the Greek here reads:

"Eos, pote ten psuchen emon aireis?"

The exact "literal" translation of this would be:

"Until when the soul of us will you lift up?"

Hmm, doesn't make much sense, does it? ;). Now, the NASB, which is the most word-for-word translation renders this the same way as the RSV. You'll note that not a single word except "you" is shared between the two (and the "you" isn't even in the Greek--it is implied in the verb aireis). But, this IS a "literal" translation. Why? Because, for something to be literal is must convey the same meaning and not some figurative one.

If that's clear, then, you should start to see that, "a literal interpretation of Genesis" doesn't just mean reading it as the story says in English! It means finding out what the authorial intent was in the Hebrew. I would argue that the YEC interpretation is not literal at all, because it imposes on the language ideas that weren't present at the time of writing. Further, it ignores the frame of reference set up within the account itself! (the days and actions of creation should be viewed from the perspective of the earth, not universal, Gen. 1:2).

So, I'd say that a literal reading brings us to something along the lines that Rich Deem has put together here, which K has linked in his reply.

Let me also just add that part of "literal" would mean "not reading too much into it." If I tell you, "I built my computer," (I didn't :(), then the true literal meaning would be that I either put it together or had it put together at certain specifications. A false "literal" interpretation of that statement would be that I melted down the plastic and molded it into a case, soldered the mother board together, actually built the hard drive, sound cards, RAM, etc. . . . clearly, that's not what I meant. Ah, but the "literal" meaning of "built" would imply just that! No it wouldn't, and you and I know better. Remember that words are our servants. We use them to convey ideas. So, don't take the Genesis text further that it is supposed to go. It was written to give the Exodus generation an account of where they came from and to show that God was in control. It is completely factual so far as it goes, but it says nothing on subjects like quantum physics! I personally think we can rule out evolution because the account pretty clearly states that mankind is a special creation made from dust. If Moses had said that "the earth brought forth man, and God breathed life into him," which he certainly could have, I would be the strongest evolutionist on this board. But it doesn't, and I let the Scriptures dictate my beliefs in these areas.

Hope that helps.

God bless

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ok, but missing the point...

#7

Post by Athiest2Christian » Wed Sep 29, 2004 3:16 pm

No pun intended, but you're taking me a little too literally here. I'm not saying that the translation from ancient manuscripts to english are to be literally interpreted word for word. What I'm saying is that, assuming a reliable and accurate translation, the story contained therein is meant to be a historical account of what really happened when God created the earth. That is the main thing I meant by literal, and really it was not getting at the heart of the subject of my original message.

My subject is more about reconciling the physical evidence we see, fossil evidence of early humans dating back about 4 million years. We see 8 or 9 different species of humans. Now, all the discussion of what is literal aside, I can't imagine the meaning of that story is stretched so far that what was really meant was, God created one kind of man, that didn't work out, so he made another, then another and another, until he arrived at Adam and so on and so forth. So I don't see how to reconcile the differences between people telling me the bible is completely true and historically accurate and the physical evidence we see to the contrary.

I haven't read the articles Kurieuo posted though, so hopefully those will help.

Thanks.

Chris L.

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#8

Post by Kurieuo » Wed Sep 29, 2004 8:02 pm

Ahh... those articles won't touch on human evolution. However, there was an article Rich Deem wrote with two other scientists, Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, which responded to a Time article "Up From the Apes..." I would recommend reading the quite lengthly article, which is A Scientific and Biblical Response to "Up from the Apes. Remarkable New Evidence Is Filling in the Story of How We Became Human."

Just shortly here however, there really aren't 8 or 9 different "human" species, but rather several species categorised under the same "homo" genus. The confusion that has developed is that all these difference species under this homo genus are often simply referred to by paleoanthropologists as homo sapiens. However, modern humans are their own species, and are often categorised in scientific terms as homo sapiens sapiens.

To get back to a literal reading of Genesis 1. I personally would say that I take the Genesis creation literally, yet at the same time I don't believe that macroevolution is true as you do. If I were in your position, believing we really did evolve, I'd perhaps examine all the evidence again and be more open to both sides of the argument. There are some good articles Rich has written here on this website, which really do cause some problems for macroevolution. You may be convinced of evolution, and I don't expect it is reasonable to ask someone who becomes a Christian (as you did I believe not too long ago?) to simply drop all their beliefs because the Bible says otherwise. You may simply have the hold the two in contention for a bit, until you find your own solution to the issue. However, I do think a re-examining of your previously held beliefs would be in order, especially now you're more open to the possibility everything did not happen by a "natural" means.

Kind regards,
Kurieuo.
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Evolution aside...

#9

Post by Athiest2Christian » Thu Sep 30, 2004 11:40 am

Okay, forget about macro-evolution. Let's say for the moment that it is a false hypothesis and just look at the evidence. We see physical evidence for the following species through carbon dating and archeological digs:

Ardipithicus ramidus 5 to 4 million years ago
Australopithecus anamensis 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago
Australopithecus afarensis 4 to 2.7 million years ago
Australopithecus africanus 3 to 2 million years ago
Australopithecus robustus 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
Homo habilis 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
Homo erectus 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago
Homo sapiens archaic 400 to 200 thousand years ago
Homo sapiens neandertalensis 200 to 30 thousand years ago
Homo sapiens sapiens 200 thousand years ago to present

Evolution aside, how can one rectify the evidence we see on earth with the account in Genesis?

Chris L.

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Re: Evolution aside...

#10

Post by Kurieuo » Thu Sep 30, 2004 5:26 pm

Athiest2Christian wrote:Evolution aside, how can one rectify the evidence we see on earth with the account in Genesis?
Hi Chris,

You'll have to bear with me, as your question is assuming it is obvious that natural revelation somehow flies in the face of the creation accounting in Genesis, and I do not see this. Where exactly do you see a problem?

Kurieuo.

PS. What did you think of the pages I linked to - specifically the Day-Age literal interpretation of Genesis, and the response to the "Up From The Apes" Times article?
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Re: Evolution aside...

#11

Post by Kurieuo » Sat Oct 02, 2004 6:54 am

Athiest2Christian wrote:Homo erectus 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago
Just thought you might be interested to know that new data which emerged on homo erectus have made scientists reconsider it being apart of the homind tree (refer to Growth Study Of Wild Chimpanzees Challenges Assumptions About Early Humans - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 090708.htm).

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#12

Post by Kurieuo » Sat Oct 02, 2004 7:26 am

A2C wrote:Homo habilis 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
I had written on this some time ago during discussions, and was able to refind the content so thought I'd also add it here.

Homo rudolfensis was not too long ago decided by some to be placed back within the group H. habilis (http://www.biomedcentral.com/news/20030221/04). The reshuffling of the tree seems to be a constant re-occurrence. The H. erectus I also just brought up in my last message in no exception, and I'm sure there will be much more reshuffling to come. Whether or not it matters, for me such appears to highlight that data is being made to fit with a scientific theory, rather than the other way around...

Yet, things also aren't as secure for apparently the oldest member of the Homo genus. H. habilis. Not all paleontologists think H. habilis belongs to the Homo genus at all, but think it was Australopithecus habilis (see http://www.modernhumanorigins.com/habilis.html). Even H. rudolfensis was classified by some scientists as Kenyanthropus rudolfensis, while others ignore the Kenyanthropus genus altogether placing rudolfensis (and other K. specimens such as platyops) into the Australopithecus genus (refer to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/human ... ind/e.html and http://www.modernhumanorigins.com/rudolfensis.html).

My point in all this is to highlight that the trees drawn are in no way as stable as they may be portrayed, and our hominid tree is no exception! There appears to be no real consensus amongst scientists about how they should be drawn. So flimsy and uncertain is our tree, that one discovery can cause the hominid tree (and often others) to be redrawn. So... although I'm not entirely sure how you see these species as being inconsistent with the Genesis account, if it is something to do with our "hominid tree" then I'm not sure how much credit such uncertainty could be given.

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#13

Post by RGeeB » Fri Oct 15, 2004 4:36 am

I have read that the first three chapters in Genesis are the easiest to understand and translate into any language of the world. God kept the story of our origins simple enough for a child to understand.

Reading between the lines and linking anthropology, geology etc to this account is a worthwhile pursuit. However, for many people in third world countries who are not literate, their approach to God is from a different angle. Usually, a manifestation of God's miraculous powers is enough for them.

My grandmother grew up in a village where there was no electricity ot education. She was involved in a mass evangelical crusade by English missionaries. The only thing she can read is the Bible in her language! Not even newspapers! - That itself is a miracle, provided no one taught her to!

Now, thousands of folk like her have no problems believing the creation account. Compared to other religions like hinduism etc, the Chrisitan account of our origins is the only one which is not absurd and not absolutely disproven by proven scientific methods.

God reveals himself to people in different ways - I guess for intellectuals, intense study might lead to Him.

The fundamental assumption of the Bible is that God exists (Gen 1:1)

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#14

Post by Jac3510 » Fri Oct 15, 2004 11:15 am

Lot's of good points in there, RGeeB.

I just wanted to note this:
My grandmother grew up in a village where there was no electricity ot education. She was involved in a mass evangelical crusade by English missionaries. The only thing she can read is the Bible in her language! Not even newspapers! - That itself is a miracle, provided no one taught her to!
I absolutely believe this, because my great-grandfather Herman Guthrie experienced the exact same thing. He was a farmer in Alabama who was very . . . forcefully . . . called by God into this ministry. He was illiterate. He couldn't even sign his name, but he found that he could read absolutely every word of the Bible.

God is 8) (hope that doesn't sound irreverent, hehe)

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#15

Post by Anonymous » Mon Dec 20, 2004 9:38 am

These are the three main beliefs that I find most interesting:

1)The belief that the seven days are not days of creation but days of revelation. They are thus seen as being a comment of the writer as he describes his series of visions. 'The evening and the morning was ---' being an indication of the day in which he had each vision. The problem with this view is that it does not naturally arise out of the way the words are used in the text. There is no preliminary explanation to suggest that a series of visions are in mind. Nor does it solve the problem as to why the seventh day does not end in this way.
2). The belief that the 'days' of creation are intended to be read as literal earth days but are not to be taken as factual but rather simply as a mythical presentation. This view is usually held by those who do not see the Bible as God's inerrantly inspired word, although there are those who do hold the latter but see the creation account as a parable of creation rather than as a factual account. The difficulty with this view for the latter is that there really are no grounds for differentiating this account from later accounts in this way. At what point, and how, do we differentiate between parable and history?
3). The belief that the writer did not intend his words to be read as restricting days to twenty-four hours, but as representing a working week of God with the time scale being read accordingly. Thus they are to be seen as 'days of God', to Whom a thousand years are but as yesterday, and to Whom a few billion years are but a tick of His clock. This position has been argued in detail in the introduction and we will not add anything further at this stage. It is a view held by many of all persuasions.
Many of those who hold this view do consider it remarkable that the writer expressed the centrality of electro-magnetic waves (light) to the basis of the universe, that he differentiated between 'creation', when God specifically stepped in with something new (the universe, animal life, the human spirit) and 'making' or 'bringing forth', which suggest a process of adaptation. Some even argue for evolution or adaptation as Scriptural on this basis.
In Christ,
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