iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Hermeneutics

Articles about creationism

Articles about creationism (and to a less extent intelligent design) almost always misrepresent them for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Articles about creationism don’t quote or reference documents by creationists. Instead they explain what the author thinks creationism is. However, the author is wrong about what creationism is and ends up arguing against a position that is not that of creationists, particularly of contemporary creationists. Articles about creationism typically represent creationists by a position that is two centuries out-of-date from contemporary creationism.

(2) Articles about creationism focus on legal matters and state or imply that this is the main thrust of contemporary creationism. That is false. Leading creationists and creationist organizations have never been focused on legal matters, which are in any case irrelevant to scientific and historical arguments. Furthermore, the curiosities of U.S. legal history have no bearing on an international movement. Articles that focus on legal matters are committing the red herring fallacy.

(3) Articles about creationism misrepresent the hermeneutics of creationists. Since creationists include the Bible as a key historical source of information about the nature and history of creation, hermeneutics is relevant to the discussion. However, articles about creationism almost always state that creationists interpret the Bible literally. This is false. No one interprets the Bible literally. No one interprets the first chapter of Genesis literally. Everyone agrees there are metaphors in the Bible. Creationists have written much about the proper interpretation of Genesis. This is completely ignored by articles about creationism, even many articles written for Christians.

Some belligerent articles against creationism actually are better than many general articles about creationism because belligerent articles may engage an actual creationist argument. In general there is little two-way communication about creationism (ID is better at getting some dialogue). Commentators that attempt to describe creationism have a long way to go.

The real literalists

There is a kind of scholarship that starts with a very literalistic reading of a source text, finds contradictions in it, and concludes either that it is a combination of contradictory texts or that a very non-literal reading is justified. This is a method that seeks to justify one extreme by criticizing another extreme. No serious thought is given to the many options between these extremes, that the text is meant neither as a literal extreme nor a figurative extreme.

For example, Genesis 1:1 to 2:2 contrasted with Genesis 2:3 to 2:22 has differences that are asserted to be in conflict and hence represent contradictory traditions. The Documentary (Wellhausen) Hypothesis explains perceived inconsistencies in the Pentateuch by asserting it was written independently by four different authors and subsequently woven together by redactors. While the presence of various sources in the Bible is not a concern, the assertion that these contradict one another is.

This line of scholarship leads in two directions: (1) discerning every contradictory thread and inferring various factions, and (2) interpreting the whole text by inferring poetic license. So a whole panoply of figurative devices is promoted for hermeneutics and a playwright’s brew of characters is encouraged for historical studies.

There is an alternative to this game: reading the text not too literally and not too metaphorically. That is how people normally speak and it works rather well. People who are called biblical literalists usually do this and are able to reconcile supposed contradictions through a natural but close reading of the text. Those who are most opposed to literalism are the ones who follow the kind of scholarship I have outlined and end up with a one-two punch of a very literal reading (rejected) followed by an excessively metaphorical reading that knocks out the intended meaning.