Category Archives: Theology
One of those arguments that seems intuitively wrong, but is hard actually to refute, is the claim that the probability of something that comes to exist in nature, particularly something that seems designed, is impossible to calculate. The fact that something exists, they say, makes its probability 100%, and so it cannot be judged unlikely in advance. Thinking mathematically, since any set of values is as rare as any other, for example in the case of parameters in cosmic fine tuning or the DNA sequence of some astonishing creature, there’s really nothing to wonder about in their existence, as opposed to anything else existing instead.
Joshua Swamidass has concentrated attention at BioLogos on the idea that the biblical Adam, as one common ancestor of the present human race, is scientifically viable, irrespective of genetics. That has focused my attention on the genealogies originating from Adam not only in Genesis, but in 1 Chronicles and in Luke’s gospel. The issue concerning me today is not directly how these support, or otherwise, the “Most Recent Common Ancestor” framework, but their purpose.
The recurrent pattern of the slowly ongoing discussion on Hebrew cosmology at Biologos is interesting. An allusion to Seely, or to some other secondary source, is adduced to assert that such and such a nation believed without exception in a solid firmament and a celestial ocean “just like Israel”. I refute this from primary sources or specialist literature. Rather than being withdrawn, the claim then gets transferred to another nation, a bit further downstream from ancient Israel, and round we go again.
In my last post on plausibility and credibility I had reason to quote N T Wright on how Deism first divorced God from nature back in the eighteenth century. But I didn’t mention the event commonly identified as the trigger for this radical rejection of the immanence of divine action, a rejection which persists (as I tried to show) until this day. That event was the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
This post is an occasional (and I feel necessary) return to the concept, fielded by Christian sociologist Peter Berger, of the difference between the “credible” and the “plausible”, sociologically speaking. I can illustrate this from my recent recollection of Bishop John Robinson’s book, Honest to God.
One of the common practices in building dubious Hebrew cosmologies is to take an elaborate concept from some non-Hebrew ancient source, and apply it wholesale to sparse references in the Bible. One example would be the Babylonian Apsu, the subterranean watery realm, which is pretty well described in cuneiform texts, and which is mapped uncritically to the Hebrew tehom, which usually means the seas, and sometimes the depths from which freshwater springs come, in order to construct an infinite abyssal ocean never mentioned in Scripture, as in this “Hebrew Cosmology”:
There is debate nowadays as to whether Genesis 1 teaches ex nihilo creation, or whether it implies that God used pre-existing materials to create. To some extant the answer hinges on whether v1 is a first act of creation, making a formless heaven and earth which he then organises; or whether v1 is a summary, like the subsequent toledot introductions to sections of the book, and that the formless earth is the material he begins to work on. The two interpretations of this verse have been contested (amiably) since at least the time of St Basil, though the question of creation from something pre-existent seems only to have arisen with … Continue reading
Last year Joshua Swamidass, an Evolutionary Creationist who believes in a historic Adam, set a challenge called The 100 Year Old Tree to examine the question of the implications of a specially-created Adam. This was predicated on the fact that human beings appear to have a genetic history reaching back long before the young earth time frame for an Adam who is the first progenitor of humanity. Most ECs, of course, also argue that man has genetic footprints revealing his animal ancestry.
The main burden of today’s post has to do with the firmament and the cosmic ocean, since these are the controversial assumptions in the “normal” (goldfish-bowl) view of Hebrew cosmology, to some extent based on the evidence that the Septuagint Greek translators, who knew a thing or two, insisted that the Hebrew raqia meant something very solid, a στερεωμα (translated into Latin as “firmamentum”). But before I go there, let’s look at what St Basil says about the creation of light on Day 2 of the creation account, before the sun.
I thought I’d about wrapped up writing on ANE “cosmology” for now, with a three part series on Wayne Horowitz’s magnum opus in the can. But I got into e-mail conversation with Eddie about a remark I’d made in reply to a BioLogos comment. The comment had suggested that accommodation of the Genesis creation story to everyday knowledge only became necessary with the insights gained through modern science. I had replied that the Church Fathers, mainly raised in a Greek Ptolemaic kind of worldview with a round earth surrounded by crystal spheres, would have maybe had to do plenty of work to harmonize that and Scripture. My discussion with Eddie … Continue reading