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File:ParisCafeDiscussion.png*

Francis and Ken haven’t seen each other in quite some time and have decided to catch up over some drinks at a coffee shop. After asking about each other’s families, Ken queries Francis about where the kids are going to school.

Francis:  They’re both at Ridgeland Public School, doing very well, I might add.

Ken:  But aren’t you worried about sending your children to public school?

Francis:  What do you mean?

K:  I mean aren’t you worried about what they’re being taught there?

F:  Not at all. The school system is one of the best in the country.

K:  That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean, aren’t you worried about the kinds of things that they are being taught there? Like science, for instance.

F:  What’s wrong with what they are being taught in science?

K:  Oh, come on. You know what I’m talking about. They teach kids evolution in public school.

F:  Yes, I thought that’s what you meant. I don’t really have a problem with that, though, Ken.

K:  Because you’re teaching them how to respond to it at home?

F:  No, because I believe in it.

K:  Are you kidding me?

F:  No, I’m serious.

K:  Are you not a Christian anymore, then?

F:  No, no. I’m still a Christian. Why would you think otherwise?

K:  Forgive me, Francis, but this is all coming as quite a shock to me. You have always been such a strong Christian.

F:  I hope that hasn’t changed.

K:  But how can you call yourself a Christian and still believe in evolution?

F;  Come now, Ken. I call myself a Christian because I still believe in and follow Christ. What you believe about the age of the universe and the particular method that God used to create life are perepheral issues.

K:  I don’t think that they are perepheral issues at all, but I grant that you can still  be a Christian. You can’t be a very faithful Christian, though, if you don’t believe what the Bible says.

F:  And what does the Bible say?

K:  That God created the world in six days and that he made man out of the dust of the ground.

F:  I guess I no longer interpret the Genesis creation account as literally as I once did.

K:  And why is that, Francis?

F:  Well, I have always been uneasy about the conflict between biology and the Bible, so I finally started reading for myself about why scientists think what they do concerning the age of the earth and evolution.

K:  That’s where you went wrong.

F:  What do you mean?

K:  You tried to understand issues of origin based on what man says rather than what God says. There’s nothing wrong with science, per se, but whenever there’s a conflict with what fallable man discovers (or thinks he has discovered) and what God says is true, then you know that man has made a mistake in his understanding.

F:  But, Ken, don’t you believe that God has spoken in two ways:  through the scriptures and through nature? Both must be interpreted by fallible man, and a conflict between the two could indicate a mistake in understanding the Bible.

K:  The Bible is crystal clear on this issue, Francis. It says six times,  “And there was evening and there was morning.” A plain reading of Genesis 1 rules out the possiblitiy of an old earth and evolution. How could you interpret it any differently?

F:  I think it’s far from plain that Genesis 1 must be taken literally.

K:  Okay, but why do you think that? I bet you anything that you didn’t come to that realization by just studying the Bible.

F:  Well, no, although I am sure that some people have. Like I said, I looked into the scientific evidence and found it very compelling. That’s when I decided to take a second look at Genesis 1.

K:  And you think that’s okay?

F:  I don’t understand you.

K:  What I mean is that it is not legitimate to interpret the Bible based on what fallible science says is true. You should interpret science based on what the infallible word of God says is true.

F:  I disagree. Even you, Ken, allow science to inform the way you read the Bible.

K:  I do not, but go on and tell me what you mean.

F:  Well, the most obvious example is Galileo. Everyone thought the Bible taught that the earth was at the center of the universe. Then Galileo’s observations showed otherwise. Now no Christian thinks the Bible teaches that.

K:  That doesn’t prove your point. The Bible never taught that the earth was the center of the universe. Ptolemy taught that and the Catholiic church embraced it.

F:  What about the passages that talk about the sun stopping in the sky and the foundations of the earth being forever fixed?

K:  Even today we talk about the sun rising and setting. God stopped the earth, not the sun. And as for the earth being forever fixed in place and never being moved, that’s just a poetic way of saying that the earth is securely in its orbit or that the laws of nature are fixed.

F:  Even if I grant that those passages were intended to be figurative, how did you know to interpret the Bible in that way? Isn’t your understanding of the way the universe works informed by science? And isn’t it that understanding which tells you not to read the passages I mentioned literally?

K:  I think that it is the mistaken opinions of man about the universe that have been imposed on the Bible.

F:  What do you mean?

K:  I mean that the writers of the Bible knew the truth about the universe, and people have read it through the ages through the lens of their own mistaken view of how the universe works.

F:  Come on, Ken. You don’t really believe that, do you?

K:  I do.

F:  So what you are telling me is that Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all understood that the earth was round, that it revolved around the sun, and that it had a molten center?

K:  Well, maybe they didn’t know about the molten center of the earth, but I think they knew the other two things.

F:  Then tell me, Ken, why I never read indications of these things in the Bible.

K:  You do. Let me get my Bible out. I downloaded it on my phone recently, and it’s very easy to search. I know that the passage is in Job somewhere. Ah. Here it is.  Job 26:7:  “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.”**

F:  I’m not sure that verse means what you think it means.

K:  Francis, it’s as clear as day. It shows that the earth is an orb in space.

F:  I didn’t hear anything about an orb there. How do you know that it’s not talking about a flat disc suspended over nothing? I have the Bible on my reader here. Let me take a look at that chapter. Hmm. Notice that verse 5 reads, “The dead are in deep anguish, those beneath the waters and all that live in them.” Do you believe the spirits of the dead go to a place underneath the waters?

K:  Who knows where the dead go?

F:  So you’re telling me that when someone dies, his soul goes under the waters?

K:  Not the souls of Christians.

F:  Fine. The souls of unbelievers, then. These souls go under-not the earth, mind you-but the waters?

K:  I am not sure what is being referred to there. The passage may be poetic, Francis. It is in verse, after all.

F:  So the passage is poetic in verse 5 in its description of the earth, but not in verse 7? What about verse 11, where it says, “The pillars of the heavens quake,
aghast at his rebuke”? Do you believe that pillars hold up the heavens?

K:  The passage is clearly being poetic at this point. I’m not so sure about verse 5, but it has to be poetic expression in verse 11.

F:  I wonder how you are able to understand what is should be understood poetically and what literally. Isn’t this a clear example where your understanding of science is informing your understanding of scripture? See, Ken, I think the passage makes a lot more sense when read in the light of other ancient views of the cosmos. If I recall correctly, many of the ancients believed that the primeival substance was a chaotic water, from which God made the universe. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that the lands rest on the water. Perhaps, then, the souls were believed to descend under the earth and then under the waters. In fact, I think that verses 12-13 refer to God subduing the waters, like Marduk does when he kills Tiamat.

K:  Who are Marduk and Tiamat?

F:  Babylonian deities. Tiamat symbolized the sea. Marduk killed her and built the world from her body. I think the story sheds light on verses 12-13: “By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.”

K:  I’m not sure I follow you, Francis, but it sounds like what you are doing is dangerous. In any case, we’re getting a little off topic. I have another verse for you. Isaiah 40:22:  “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” A clear indication that scripture teaches the earth is round.

F:  Round, but not necessarily spherical. Again, I think you’re reading modern science into the text. If you look at the surrounding mythologies, I would be willing to bet that you would find a belief about the earth being a flat disc surrounded by water.

K:  There you go again, Francis, talking about mythologies of surrounding cultures. What has that to do with the Israelites?

F:  It has everything to do with them. The Israelites did not live in a vacuum. They lived in a cultural landscape with its own accepted traditions and even cosmologies. If everyone around Israel believed in a particular model of the universe, then I think it pretty likely that Israel did, too. They certainly did not have a modern understanding of the universe, from what I can tell. Keeping that in mind can bring light to all kinds of scriptures.

K:  So you are saying that scripture teaches a false view of the world?

F:  No, I’m saying that scripture speaks in terms of the ancient world’s perception of the universe.

K:  What’s the difference?

F:  It’s like this. If God wanted to speak his truth to the Israelites, would he feel the need to first correct all their scientific errors? Or would he speak spiritual truth using their current scientific understanding?

K:  I think that’s a false dichotomy. God might not need to explain the minutiae of science, but he would never say something that was false.

F:  (smiling) You mean like a parable?

K:  That’s different. Jesus’ audience knew that he was telling a story.  Your scenario has the audience not understanding that the details of science are in fact erroneous.

F:  Well, I grant you that, but I don’t have the same problem accepting the possibility of God speaking in terms of an ancient cosmology.

K:  Why don’t we go about this in an orderly way, Francis? Let’s look at Genesis together systematically and see which view is more faithful?

F:  Great idea. Next time?

K:  Next time.

* Image from wikipedia.

** NIV translation.

I think Job provides insight in how the ancients understood the firmament.

“Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?”  Job 37:18.

It sounds like Job thinks the firmament is a hard structure.

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