Monday, July 23, 2007

Adam & Eve & Lewis & Collins

I am continuing here the discussion with Terri in the comments of The Great Stumbling Block, because many folks don't follow threads once they've read the entry once, and the subject deserves its references. I confess that this is not recently researched by me, just writing off the top of my head (Hmm... off the top of one's head. I'll have to look up where that phrase comes from).

Never worry about "taking over" a thread here, so long as you're on topic.

Lewis's most apposite comments are in The Problem of Pain. I warn you in advance that though that particular book is short, it can be tough sledding. While Lewis did not consider himself a professional in philosophy, he clearly had much more training than most of us. Lewis's short books on topics - Miracles, The Four Loves, The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity are each an education on the topics in themselves. I would type the key paragraphs here, but I'm too lazy. There is a nice summary of Lewis's view of scripture and revelation by Duncan Sprague in the Mars Hill Review, reprinted here. However, I like the way Lewis put it himself better.

Collins's view is less detailed, but similar. His comments on the topic begin on page 206 of The Language of God, if you are thumbing through it in your local Christian bookstore.

As to Augustine, I imagine starting with the Wikipedia article is as good as anywhere else to start. That will connect you on to more detailed info. Two points I bring up on my own. Origen, one of the most important church fathers (2nd Century), thought it was heretical to take a literal view of Genesis, because focusing on historical details would destroy the understanding of the real truth. Exactly what was going to be understood as orthodox and what was to be heretical was still being wrestled out in the church in his time (this was before any of the familiar creeds), so Origen's ideas must be carried lightly. Not all of what he thought became church teaching, but he was the first expositor of much that we consider second nature today.

Martin Luther was a great admirer of Augustine, and believed that most Reformation theology could be found in his works - which is part of why Luther considered that it was the Roman Catholic Church that was leaving him, and not the other way around. At times in the early arguments before the split he "longed" to quote Augustine to the church authorities to prove his points, but wanted to maintain the principle that scripture alone should be enough for all doctrinal understanding.


terri said...

I read your links. The article about Lewis was good, but the author expressed the same dissatisfaction that I feel with Lewis' depiction of the Old Testament as largely mythical.

Why are we unwilling to accept a literal Adam and Eve? It is because science, DNA, evolution all seem so plausible and intricate. It is because we don't believe that the wind isn't ruled by a sky god seeking sacrifices, but by temperature, climate and the rotation of the earth. We understand "how" things happen so much more than those scraggly, bearded prophets.

So, when we are confronted with a very strange story about a tree, some fruit, and a serpent, it seems very plausible to see it as symbolic and representational. IT doesn't ring true to our sensibilites and scientifically seems trifling.

In the face of the cosmos, where much of what we "know" is based on data, theory, and inference from the evidence before us we are willing to abandon the story of the Fall. It is only in the last few centuries that scientific knowledge has provided an alternative to creation.

In contrast, every sex-educated 12-year-old knows that, barring in-vitro fertilization, virgins don't conceive. Even a six-year-old knows that death is final. People don't spring back into life after three days, or even four, as in the case of Lazarus. People didn't need science to detail the joining of a sperm and egg and the combination of DNA to know that virgin birth is ludicrous. People didn't need science to tell them that after three days cells are breaking down and decaying, causing a foul odor.

If the standard, for disregarding what other Scriptures in the New Testament assert, is based on what we know scientifically, then we are in poor shape.

I am not advocating a six, 24-hour-day creation, exactly. It is important to note that man was God's last creation and is the only one expounded upon in detail. All the rest of the Universe gets a sentence or two for each aspect while the story of Man is given special attention.

Is it all about the Fruit?...I don't know....That could represent something else such as an internalization of sin. That sort of particular I care less about. However, I can't escape the fact that Scripture teaches that there was some man and woman, who did something which they knew they shouldn't, that impacted all of humankind.

It is hard to imagine how that could happen in evolution. What if there were 100 humans? Half succumbed to temptation, half didn't. Then we would have concurrent races of humans...some of which were perfect and others which were fallen. That would make an interesting story, but would send us up a creek without a paddle doctrinally.

Why can we suspend our scientific belief for Jesus, but not for Adam?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would say first the scriptures don't seem to require it. I read Psalms differently than Luke, because it is immediately obvious to me that they intend something different when I read them. I don't read the Revelation to John in the same way that I read Deuteronomy, because they are clearly different forms of literature. The first fourteen chapters of Genesis, especially the first three, "read differently" than the gospel accounts. The synoptic gospels state explicitly that they are eyewitness accounts. That claim is not anywhere made for Genesis 1-14. The OT accounts are overwhelming tied to specific times: "In the 13th year of the reign..." but this is not the case for say, Noah. I don't like to assume claims for scripture that it doesn't make for itself.

I do want to note that I see what your objection is: "Since by a man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead" and similar specific tie-ins of our lot with Adam's.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Addition: reading your first paragraph again, Lewis would not say that the OT was largely mythical. He said explicitly that it was largely historical, but that a few sections read differently. He would also use the term "mythical" in a different way than you do here, in what is called Socratic myth, not as a synonym for "wild, untrue story."

terri said...

I completely understand myth in the way Lewis is describing it, not as the wild, untrue story, but as a narrative and structure for belief systems, communicating larger strokes of truth even if the particulars are a little sketchy.

There are many types of Scripture, all requiring different ways of interpreting them. As I have gotten older I have drifted slightly from the "The Word of God is perfect and inerrant in every way" idea that is drilled into evangelical minds. That comes as a result of seeing people trying to do mental backflips and create illogical justifications to explain inconsistencies, that are usually minor in the scope of spiritual truth, within the Bible.

That being said, I get what Lewis is saying and agree somewhat with the concept of God using ideas that are already in existence to communicate with His people, which is why so many parables are about farming and not about internet usage.

I don't know that I believe that evolution and creation are really the stumbling block for most people. For scientists, yes...for the average man on the street, no.

I see religious scientists/intelligent design theorists trying to do the same mental backflips to make their theology fit the sciences. As far as people saying that God purposely put old bones in the ground, or backdated the universe to test our faith, that is simply ridiculous. Why would they want to serve such a devious, deceitful God? Preposterous.

At some point, we will hit a fork in the road where science, as we currently know it, and faith will part ways, simply as a result of bumping up against the unknowable. The question we face is one of what we do with the unknowable.

If someone is kept from faith by evolution, they will surely be kept from faith by Jesus' claims and existence. do I keep faith and love science at the same time? I remind myself that science is not always as solid and unshakable as it seems. Theories change and are adjusted constantly. Scientists are not unbiased, objectively pure people. They can be swayed this way and that by their own belief/disbelief.

I sit back, take a deep breath, and grasp the material truths of Christianity that I see lived out around me each day: people really are wicked in their hearts, forgiveness really does change lives, and the transformation of the individual from death to life is possible.

Not sure I could add much more to all that. Thanks for the conversation!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Well put. I doubt that we disagree much.

Anonymous said...

I’m going to toss in my two cents (because I can), but first the disclaimer: these comments are strictly and solely the ideas and opinions of cold pizza and do not in any way reflect the doctrines of any organized (or dis-organized) religious establishment, to include the Frisbeetarians™, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster™, or (in my case), the Ovenariums™ (followed by the sign of the spatula).

My understanding is what we know as the first five books (the Torah) were revealed to Moses and subsequently recorded. There is some discussion that the books that would come to be known as the Old Testament were written, compiled, sorted and canonized in Jewish theology around 1000 BC (give or take a couple hundred years). There is no historical evidence to support Moses, much less the origins of the Torah.

I believe in the symbolism, if not the history. I believe in inspiration from “on high.” I also believe the further one is removed from an event, the more distorted the event becomes, whether distant by miles or by time. Distortion happens. I lastly believe that it doesn’t matter whether A&E lived, whether Noah built an arc, or whether the landmasses were broken up during the time of Peleg.

We are each given a spark of the divine to help guide us through the fog of human existence, to help us determine good from evil, to give us strength to choose good and to endure tribulation. I believe in Christ because of the witnesses of the gospels and the witness I have received through answered prayers. It is not important for my salvation to believe in Adam, Enoch or Joshua, for it is in Christ that all men shall be made alive, both spiritually and eventually (through resurrection), physically. -cp

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would say that's at least 3 cents worth.

Anonymous said...

Only because I'm getting paid for by the word ;). -cp

terri said...

CP..I hope I didn't give the impression that believing in Adam and Eve is necessary for salvation. If "believing" all the right things were necessary for that, we would all be in a terrible for the belief about Jesus, his purpose and resurrection.

The idea that the further removed we are from events, the more they become distorted is a true and false one. Many non-believers and liberal scholars have used the very same argument to posit that Jesus never really existed as an actual, historical person. They claim that the gospels were compiled many years after the events in them and are really based on a document that they simply refer to as "Q". They further this belief by saying that the Epistles never really talk about Jesus' earthly life, his virgin birth, and where he lived, but focus instead on the Christology of Jesus. After that, they say that the very few refernces to Jesus by Josephus were added by Christians to bolster their beliefs. Of course, a lot of the argument is bunk, but it is true that the Canon of Scripture is not as iron-clad as some of us would like it to be.

So, why do I bring it up? Because it's all relative. 2,000 years is a heck of a lot closer in time and culture than the beginning of mankind. As a believer, 2,000 years is nothing to me. I have put my faith in Christ and believe in Him and his capability to communicate his truth through 2,000 years of history. To a non-believer, 2,000 years might as well be 2 million. They view the gospels in the same way that some might think about the creation story....a nice motif that began to be taken way too seriously by its followers.

Anyway....I thought I couldn't say more....but here I am again!

Another thought....Besides the refernces to Adam in the New Testament, there is one other thing I realized a year or two ago. Throughout Scripture we only ever see Satan directly interacting with a human twice; once is in the Garden of Eden, the other is during the temptation of Jesus.

He tempts an innocent created man in the Garden and the man fails. He tempts an innocent "created" man in the wilderness and the man is victorious. This tempting is no coincidence. Jesus is reliving the temptaion of Adam. He is succeeding where Adam failed. I think that says something about the importance of the message of the original "Son of God", as Adam is called in Jesus' geneaology, and the "Second" Son of God.

Just food for thought.

That's gotta at least be a dollar's worth of words! :-)