Friday, January 6, 2012

Response to Dinosaur Comments

A few months ago, I posted here and on VIMEO a response to a question at church (during our Redux service) about the Bible and dinosaurs. On the Redux VIMEO page, I received two comments (from a Nate Tinner). Here's the first:
I should think that adding up the years of Bible characters (given the extensive genealogies provided in Scripture) would give a moderately accurate creation date. Sounds pretty explicit to me. The dinosaur issue is really a no-brainer, if dinosaurs are indeed animals created with the all the others...
In a previous post here, I tackled in depth the misconception among modern Christians about the Hebrew genealogies, and explained why Nate's claim here is naive and demonstrably false.

As for the "dinosaurs are indeed animals created with all the others," he seems to be misreading (he would say reading literally whereas I would say reading superficially) the relevant creation accounts. Genesis 1 does not portray all animals created at once (in a Narnian fashion) but rather carefully details a chronology of creative events. Moreover, that chronology--while specifically mentioning groups of modern animals--does not tell us even the chronology much less the timing of the creation of dinosaurs, and that for good reason. But perhaps here would be a good place to insert Nate's other comment:
And the Leviathan mentioned in the OT is quite simply a dinosaur (in the sense of "terrible lizard"), given its descriptions in Job (?and elsewhere?)...

I didn't really see that this guy even answered the question. He simply said the Bible doesn't teach about it (no scriptural support given, and his only argument implies that he is an evolutionist and the Bible can't speak to such a modern issue), despite the fact that a literal Genesis interpretation (I don't know or care who his 14 "scholars" are, Judaism has always aligned with a Young-Earth view as far as I know) speaks to the contrary on all points.

That leviathan is "quite simply a dinosaur" is news to me, and to virtually every other Bible commentator today or at any time in church (or Jewish) history. The interpretation of leviathan as referring to dinosaurs is a very modern form of eisegesis, a reading into the Bible a meaning that is not found there. And the reason no Bible reader (prior to the late 1800's) would have been guilty of this hermeneutic faux pas is because prior to that time no reader would have even had a notion of 'dinosaur' to wrongly insert here. Of the 35 centuries since the Hebrew word for leviathan first appeared in what we call the book of Job, only people living in the last two of those centuries (and not even all people living in those two centuries) were aware of the existence of such creatures. Because (and I hate to tear down Nate's little fantasy world here, but) dinosaurs and humans never coexisted; all that humans know of dinosaurs is of their fossil remains.

So readers of Job throughout roughly 93% of the time since Job was written would have had a couple of legitimate options... either leviathan is a largely symbolic creature (the literalness of its description, after all, breaks down at some point) or it refers to the crocodile, an animal that terrorized the people of Old Testament times (as it does to this day). I prefer the latter option, but am not dogmatic about this. What ought to be clear, however, is that the reason that no Bible commentator until recently interpreted leviathan as simplistically as does Nate is because dinosaurs were neither an explicit part of the creation account nor a part of the reality of Job's intended readership.

Nate's other comments are easily addressed. He clearly didn't listen well. I did not refer to 14 'scholars,' but rather to 14 interpretations of Genesis 1 that are held or have been held by Christians committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Nate's young-earth creationism is just one of these 14 views, and one of only two views that lead to a young creation. All of the other 12 allow for or mandate an understanding in line with the evidence from creation itself (of a universe and Earth billions of years old).

I am not an evolutionist at all. Having studied biology all my life, it is plain that evolution is not supported by the evidence. Indeed, I would go so far as saying that the only thing evolutionism has going for it is the straw man option that Nate seems to believe. That is, if the only other option (for explaining the diversity of life on Earth) is the idea that God created everything essentially as it is a few thousands years ago and over the course of a six-day period, then suddenly evolution's intractable evidential problems seem somewhat insignificant. Everything about this universe and Earth testifies to much greater age than a few thousand years, and there is not one half acre of this planet whose geology is explained by a global flood a few thousand years ago.

Fortunately, young-earth creationism of the sort to which Nate ascribes is not a part of true Christianity. This flawed interpretive scheme arose only in the 17th century, and should long ago have been discarded by any serious student of the Bible.

The reliable record of nature reveals a God so much bigger than the puny idol created by young-earth creationism. The true and living God who tells us that "The heavens [reliably] declare His glory" created a marvelous universe that has been unfolding and being prepared for His crowning creation--human beings--for billions of years. He has throughout that time (though not Himself confined by time of any sort) been interacting with that creation, creating new life forms millions of times, even fashioning many of them to participate in the forming of Earth as a suitable place for humankind, which He created as a single pair, Adam and Eve, about 40-60,000 years ago. The Bible is miraculously accurate in its description of creation, even anticipating by millenia the scientific discoveries of the 20th century--including the basic fundamentals of big-bang cosmology, the transcendent beginning (out of nothing) and ongoing expansion of the universe and the discoveries of modern genetics (that all living humans are descended from a single male and a single female from the region of the Middle East).

The great thing about biblical Christianity is that it provides the uniquely accurate portrayal of the world in which we actually live. It is not merely a cultural myth or an evidence-and-reason-free belief system. It is the true understanding of reality, and passes every test of reason and evidence.

Unfortunately, many like Nate are being taught a lot of nonsense about how to interpret the early pages of Scripture. And far too many young people have confused young-earth creationism with what the Bible really teaches. When they come face to face with the varied, independent, and overwhelming evidence and reasons contrary to a thousands-of-years-old universe and a global flood, many of them throw out Christianity rather than merely discarding these modern caricatures of Christianity.

And hence the need for blogs like this one and VIMEOs like the one to which Nate responded.

I Thessalonians 5:21.