Monday, 4 August 2014

What if Eden Was a Fable?

Introduction:  Who I'm Writing For

This article is meant to be only for arguments sake.  It's for the people who are struggling to reconcile evolution and the Genesis account of creation.  If you have yet to be convinced of the plausibility of evolution, and you have no problem taking the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden at face value, this article isn't for you.

My goal is to engage the people who are convinced evolution is true, and thus the Christian Bible must be outdated and false.  I hope to show that a God-guided evolution could possibly be true without making the Bible any less so.

I will fully admit that the ideas I will present are full of guess work and conjecture.  However, in regards to the timeframe we are dealing with, this is predominantly what other people are going on as well; the uncertainty of the far past means that any arguments against these ideas are likely another person's guess work.  In the very least, I hope that what I say can be seen as something that doesn't seem to go against the evidence that we do have.

For a while now, I have been saying that the bible isn't a book of science.  One cannot make scientific discoveries that would render anything the bible invalid (as one might do with other historic or religious texts).  God isn't as concerned about how we believe his creation works as he is concerned that he is the one that allows it to work.

I do not believe evolution is true, but I am not fully against the idea.  This is because even if evolution is true, I do not see how this would make my faith in God and His Word is any less valid.  Some of you may be confounded how I could say this, just as my past self may be had I heard this statement back then.  After all, evolution seems to completely contradict the account of creation in the Bible.

The "Contradictions"

Genesis states that God made the world in 6 days, yet evolution requires billions of years for our formation.  But it isn't only Genesis that claims creation took six days - moral laws of the ancient (as well as some modern) Jews are built on this fact.  Look at the commandment regarding the Sabbath:

Exodus 20 (NIV): 8“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The figure of Adam is paramount in the account of Creation and Eden, as he was said to be the first man to live.  The Jews saw him as a real person, and he is included in the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:21-38).

Adam's name pops up throughout the New Testament as the one who facilitated the entry of death into the world (1 Corinthians 15:22).

If death entered through Adam, there seems to be a conflict between his story and evolution, as with evolution death was happening long before Adam came around.

But "contradictions" is in quotation marks in purpose in front of this section.  Before we start exploring these contradictions, let us set up the parameters by which we can study them. 

The "How" in What You Read
It is very apparent that different parts of the Bible are to be read in different ways.  Psalms are to be read as songs and prayers.  Proverbs are wise sayings to live by that may not hold to be true one hundred percent of the time.  In addition to history, the Bible is full of songs, prayers, prophecy, and parables.

How are we supposed to read the first portion of Genesis?

"Oh, now you're going to tell us it's okay to read the first part of Genesis like it's a metaphor, because it's convenient, but we need to take the rest of the Bible at face value," the critic says, cynically.

Yes, but only in a sense.  I believe the Bible to be the word of God.  I also believe he used men to write his words, and allowed their own writing styles to be evident.  The further back in history we go, the more we are in the dark about the writing style of historical authors.

The story of Eden did take place, but the style of writing allowed the details of what happened to be less important as the meaning behind it.

Truth Without Specifics 

Let us say that I told you that Telus gave me a free phone.  Would you believe me?  Of course you would.  Chances are you were also offered a new phone upon the signing of a contract with them.

Yet I left out the details.  I failed to mention that it was someone who worked for Telus who gave me a free phone.  Although it may have been part of his (or her) job to give me a new phone, he had a choice whether to follow those rules.  So I could say that it was this man, not Telus, who gave me this phone.

But what is Telus?  Is it not a company full of people?  Would it be accurate to say that every single person involved in this company had a hand in giving me this phone?  No.  The ones who adjusted the company's system to allow for phones to be given away for free don't themselves know who I am or that their actions led to my new device.

Yet I still say, without being feeling any guilt of being dishonest, that it was Telus that gave me this phone.  I know that not only was the one who gave me a phone representing Telus and so I can use their name, but also that I am not actually getting the phone for free, as it came on the condition that I remain a loyal Telus customer.  I told my story - that I "got my phone from Telus" - in such a way that I got the main point of what I was trying to say across to you in a simple fashion so that you would be able to understand it.

When Genesis that God created the heavens and the earth, it doesn't exclude the possibility that he did it through evolution.  The narrative was told in such a way that the listeners could understand the main meaning behind the story without getting distracted or confused by the details.

In Six Days

We do not know how literally the historical people would have taken the account of creation.  Evidence seems to lead me to believe, however, that they weren't concerned about the literal meaning.  Ancient literature seems to freely intertwine mythology with reality, and its readers and listeners would understand that the details were not put in place so much as a historical guide but to guide the meaning of the narrative.

Let us suppose then, that the listeners of the creation account would listen to "God created the world in six days" and extract the meaning from it "God created everything, and in a relatively short amount of time."  No I can't prove this one way or another.  My point is that the critic cannot argue convincingly against the bible either.

It cannot be a lie if the speaker knows the listener will not take it as a literal truth.
When a story is known to have elements of mythology in it, as time goes by does it usually trend more towards legend or history?  The bible is an example of how a legend may be treated as history, but we cannot assume the Israelites had the same mindset.  When God gave them the commandment about the Sabbath, there's a good chance they had in their heads that the account of creation wasn't a literal historical account.

Exodus 20:11 - For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Opposition will use this verse to show that God Himself claimed to make the world in six days, in a place of scripture that was undoubtedly meant to be read as literal, historical facts.  Certainly this instance of God speaking these words would erase any doubt in the minds of the Israelites about the nature of his creation.
I have two arguments against this.

My first point involves looking in the verse itself for an answer.  It says that God rested on the seventh day.  Rested from what, exactly?  The account of Genesis says that God spoke short phrases and the world came into existence.  If this is to be taken literally, even the Israelites would not be so naive to believe that God was tired after merely speaking once per day for six days straight.  God telling them that he rested on the seventh day could very possibly do more to support their figurative translation of the creation than go against it.

Secondly, let us say that God wanted to give a more accurate account of what happened to a more advanced and intelligent group of humans, how would he do it?  Revealing an additional small bit of information, such as "I formed you out of the dust of the earth by way of monkeys," would have a huge impact.  The main point of the story of God's creation would be interfered with.  Monkeys would be revered and treated in a way that God did not intend.  (I'm very far from claiming that we needed to have come from monkeys even if evolution happened.  See my example in the next section.)

Not only this, but a literal injection of "how" the earth was made would cause the Israelites to go into a frenzy trying to discover other "hows" the earth was made.  Whatever God didn't supply (and God couldn't supply everything as there's too much to know) they would search for and make up along the way.   "What's wrong with them becoming more scientific?  It would help."  It would help them in this physical existence, yes.  But it wouldn't help them in the case of our next destination after we die.  God didn't want to put in place anything that would distract people from seeking Him, because He was what mattered most in the end.

How Many First Men Were There?  Adam Up and Get the Total

I'm not an expert on the way evolution works, but it seems to me that if evolution were true, no one individual could be set apart as "the first human."  If one was set apart, that would mean that scientists had a solid standard and specific set of guidelines of what it meant to be human (this is a whole big fun topic in itself.  If scientists have such guidelines, I'd really like to see it).

But Adam was said to have been the first human according to the Bible.  The fact that he exists in genealogies supports the fact that he was a real, literal person.  Does this go against what evolution is telling us?  

(Although there are arguments that suggest that even Adam and Eve were made up characters in the tale of Eden and that this doesn't need to be in conflict with the Bible, I will continue as if they weren't made up, as this will make my article shorter for there will be less need for me to address the scriptures that seem to support their literal existence).

I'm going to delve further into the realm of speculation at this point, I admit.  Just a reminder that I don't actually hold this to be true; this article is for arguments' sake. 

Any number of possibilities arise when one sees the story of Eden as consisting of fable aspects.  This one for instance...

For millions of years God guided evolution.  From single celled organisms to hairy mammals, God artfully decorated the world with life.

Creatures lived and they died, and it was good.  After all, death could not be bad if life was not eternal and it fit nicely into the cycle of nature.

After a time, God decided that it was time to populate the world with an additional species that would be able to show his glory in a completely new way.  He would call this species mankind.

Mankind was special.  They weren't special because of their intelligence - other organisms were intelligent in their own way that allowed them to survive and flourish.  They weren't special because of their physical appearance or any strength or aptitude to complete tasks, as the rest of the species could perform the tasks set out for them as well.  Mankind was special because God decreed it.  God also decreed that they would have souls and free will.

Adam was the name of the first of his race.  Although physically he was not unlike monkeys, the species fell short in their ability to provide him with a companion:  a female.

The two people were happy for their gift of free will.  It was an incredible gift, giving humans a greater capacity to love, something that God supplied in abundance.  Yet free will also meant that they had the ability to disobey God.

But Adam and Eve had no desire to disobey God.  What for?  They were perfect, and so was God, and so they could see him as he walked in the garden with them.

Unbeknownst to them, there was a rebellion in Heaven, and as a result there was an enemy in their midst:  Satan.  He tricked Eve into disobeying God, and it was not hard for her to convince her husband to disobey God as well.

Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and now there was a division between them and God.  No more could they walk freely in his presence.  They deserved death, a spiritual death that had infinite more significance than the mere passing of physical bodies already happening.  They needed a saviour.

According to my Bible, "Adam" also means "the man."  The theist evolutionist could argue that it didn't matter who it was or how it came about, the fact that mankind brought sin into the world was the main point of the story of the fall. 

More on Death

In the last section I mentioned how it wasn't physical death that was significant.  I want to briefly touch on this point.  This is merely my own thoughts that you might find interesting.

Bacteria, millions of living organisms, live within us.  Is it possible that none of these small creatures died before Adam sinned?

When the fruit was plucked off the tree, would it be considered dead?

Or are the deaths of animals and plants not significant - at least in comparison to the deaths of humans?

Eden and Cain

There seems to be evidence for both sides of the Eden argument.

For instance, the literalist can point out that not only was Adam a real person as evident by the genealogies that he was in, but Eden must have been a real, physical place as evident by the fact that at least a couple of the rivers that ran through it can be identified as real rivers on a modern map.

The evolutionist could hold his viewpoint as a solution to the Cain problem.   After Cain killed Abel, he was afraid for the people that would be coming after him (Genesis 4:14), even though he reportedly killed the only other person besides his parents.  Or were there really more people around at that point?  Genesis 4:17 shows Cain having a wife, and building a city.  I'm no expert, but it seems to me if the scriptures are to be read completely literally it would be hard to find a wife and build a city when the only other people around are the ones that your parents are popping out.

This whole topic is humongous and full of controversy.  Yet the lack of clarity on this topic was exactly what I was aiming for.  I didn't want evolutionists to have an excuse to reject the Bible.  I also don't want the Christian to reject any scientific information that comes up simply because it seems to go against what the Bible says.  The message of the Bible is clear, but the details of its events are not.

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