Posted By MSH on September 12, 2012
I appreciated this post from James McGrath, whose short essay was stimulated by Robin Parry’s post, to whom James directs his readers. The issue is how “literal creationists” are actually only selective literalists (or, as I would call them, “inconsistent literalists”). If one was truly consistent in interpreting the creation description in Genesis 1 at face value (along with other creation descriptions in both testaments), you’d come out with a round, flat earth, complete with solid dome over the earth, and earth supported by pillars, with Sheol underneath, etc. But creationists who claim the literal mantel don’t do that, since the results are clearly non-scientific. My view, as readers know, is that we ought to simply let the text say what it says, and let it be what it is. It was God’s choice to prompt people living millennia ago to produce this thing we call the Bible, and so we dishonor it when we impose our own interpretive context on it. Our modern evangelical contexts are alien to the Bible. Frankly, any context other than the context in which the biblical writers were moved to write is foreign to the Bible.
So, who’s the literalist now?
I’ve pointed out this inconsistency before in, for example, my online lecture about Genesis and it’s pre-scientific cosmology. What Genesis describes is consistent with all other ancient Near Eastern creation models, and shares the vocabulary and motifs of those other pre-scientific cosmologies. Not a surprise, given God’s own choices about when to produce the material and who would do that. If God’s point had been to give us scientific precision, he would have done so (and we’d probably not understand it, unless we want to presume our own knowledge of the created world has pretty much solved everything and answered all the questions — in which case you must be doing your science reading in popular magazines). The point is no one alive today could handle all the detail known to the mind of God — and the same goes for the second millennium B.C. writer. But the fact that we don’t have this sort of indecipherable item informs us that such wasn’t the goal of inspiration, and so the “scientific details” cannot be viewed as the truth claim/assertion God meant to be communicated to posterity. As such, it is unreasonable to define inerrancy / errancy by such criteria. That would be like deciding if a new house was constructed to code based on whether you liked its color scheme. And poking fun at the Bible’s cosmology makes about as much sense as getting mad at your cat for not being a dog — why get irritated at something for not being what it was never intended to be? Where’s the intellectual integrity in that? (And does that have any greater intellectual integrity than inconsistent literalism?) The point is that the trustworthiness of Scripture ought to be based on the coherence of its truth claims — the points of intention God had in mind when he moved human writers to write it in the first place.