Saturday, April 27, 2013

A just-so story for Genesis 1-3

Consider this argument:

  1. If Christianity is right, every assertion of rightly interpreted Scripture is true.
  2. Genesis 1-3 is rightly interpreted literalistically.
  3. The approximate truth of our best relevant science contradicts the assertions of Genesis 1-3 when these texts are interpreted literalistically.
  4. Our best relevant science is approximately true.
  5. So, Christianity is not right.
Liberal Christians reject (1), and often (2) as well. Young Earth Creationists either engage in revisionary science and deny (3), or they simply deny (4).

The right way out of the argument is, of course, to reject (2). But in this post I want to undercut the argument in a very different way. Basically, I will argue against (3) by offering a just-so story that is compatible with both our best science and a literalistic reading of Genesis 1-3, without scientific revisionism, scientific irrealism, or invocations of divine or demonic deception.

I am not claiming the story is true. In fact, I think it's false. It is in tension with the Thomistic view of the soul which I hold (but I think it may be logically compatible with it—but that's a longish story). As I said, the right way out is to deny (2).

The story is simple. First, everything happens exactly as it is described in Genesis 1-3 interpreted literalistically. Everything, including a light-studded dome ("firmament"), with waters above and below, creation in six days, vegetation without any sun or moon. Eve is literally taken from Adam's side, and so on. Then Adam and Eve sin, exactly as described in Genesis 3. All this happens in a universe ("Paradise") where all of this is possible by the laws of nature.

God then kicks them out of this universe. In the process, he destroys their bodies and puts their souls in stasis. But in Paradise, there was a law of nature that when the forbidden fruit is eaten, a Big Bang will occur (or this could be a miracle), initiating a 14 billion year process leading to some pretty clever apes in a universe better suited to sinners like Adam and Eve. God then takes the matter of two of these clever apes (if animals have souls, he de-souls them first, or perhaps he simply miraculously ensures that these two don't get souls) and instills Adam and Eve's souls in this matter.

And so all the science as to what has happened in the material universe since the Big Bang is right. Of course, science doesn't talk about souls.

A materialist Christian could also run a variant of this story of Adam and Eve being asleep for fourteen billion years, but it would involve some miracles in the physical world and maybe disagreement with science at one point. (Maybe Adam and Eve's brains are put in the bodies of some apes. Or maybe God is capable of so guiding indeterministic processes that there develop two apes that are just like Adam and Eve, and God can replace them with Adam and Eve.)

Of course, I don't believe these stories. But they do show that premise (3) of the anti-Christianity argument is false.


Anonymous said...

I have thought about this before, especially because the writings of St. Macrina the younger seem to support a similar reading, and the Qur'an might as well. However, I think one problem this might present is that the body and soul are not so closely connected that the soul must be spoken of as the form of the body (this is probably what you had in mind when you expressed having a Thomistic reservation). Also, apes wouldn't necessarily have to be de-souled, so long as their souls don't subsist (which, as far as I can tell, is Thomas' position).

Then again, maybe one could say that the human soul is the subsistent substantial-form of the human body which inherits some accidental features of substantial-form from the animal soul (which, not being subsistent, is subsumed into the human soul's substantial form).

My problem with this, really, is just that it seems platonic to a fault, since it implies that the materiality of Adam and Eve is a result of the fall.

Anonymous said...

I think there's an even simpler account that doesn't require denying anything about science: note that the (literal) creation story is a miraculous event, and not a scientific one. Accepting that Jesus walked on water does not contradict anything about physics or chemistry; it simply denies that they are applicable to that particular event because it was a miracle. So if science doesn't come into play until (more or less) the seventh day, then there can't be a conflict.

I like your story, though (although I too am not inclined to think it true — the playing with souls "feels" too convoluted). It seems like a variant on my favourite way of accommodating a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, namely that at the Fall the laws of nature changed. After all, Scripture indicates that "all creation groans" since the Fall, which suggests an interpretation beyond merely affecting human nature.

Of course, there are reasons to suppose that Genesis 1 is not intended literally apart from the implications of modern science. Augustine didn't have contemporary cosmology or evolutionary biology! But I wouldn't be disturbed or even surprised if it turns out that a literal interpretation somehow is the right one.

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. The body can take in new matter and the soul can come to inform it. It could even be that all of the matter in a body is exchanged. Normally this happens gradually. But miraculously it could happen all at once. There would be a real change in the matter as a result, but it need not be empirically observable.

2. Sure, one can take creation to be a miraculous event, but if one takes the miraculous event to have happened exactly as described in Genesis on a literalistic interpretation, that seems to be in conflict with what we get from the fossil record.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I notice that in the original version of the post I screwed up and said that it is the apes' bodies that were ensouled. I meant: their matter was ensouled. I fixed this.

Kevin Megill said...

Can't Genesis 1-3 be read to suggest that God created things intact with evidence of the history they never experienced? For instance, stars would presumably would have been created simultaneously with beams of light streaming all the way to the earth, *as though* the stars had been there millions of years before to emit the light. Adam and Eve would have been created as adults, *as though* they had grown up from an infancy they never had.

The scientific model would be recreating this history, which never actually existed. The Genesis account would be describing a miracle in which the whole system was suddenly brought into existence in the middle of its "history".

Even if implausible, isn't this a case in which the science would be "approximately right" and yet compatible with a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1-3?

Alexander R Pruss said...

This would be something like the "scientific revisionism, scientific irrealism, or invocations of divine or demonic deception" that I am trying to avoid.

Leonardo said...

According to thomism is it possible for a being to be materially Homo Sapiens but without a rational soul?

Edward Feser wrote three posts trying to reconcile modern biology with monogenism and original sin:

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, it's presumably possible for a bunch off particles not in any human to be arranged just as they are in a human.

Mark said...

This gambit wouldn't work with Islam. In fact, a really strong argument can be made against Islam along these lines:

1. If Islam is true, then the Qur'an is inerrant and the correctly interpreted Hadith is true.
2. Qur'an and Hadith imply a literalistic interpretation of the Adam and Eve story.
3. A literal interpretation of the Islamic version Adam and Eve story contradicts evolution.
4. Evolution is true.
5. So, Islam is false.

Let's consider (4) to be true (your version of this premise is better).

(1) is a main Islamic premise. If just one proposition in the Qur'an was false, Islam would be false. This is uncontested among Muslims, because saying otherwise would be kufr. (Things are less stringent with Hadith, but nevertheless, Hadith is taken very seriously).

(2) The Qur'an compares Adam to Jesus in that they have no (biological) parent, and that God created them directly from his hands and not through an intermediate. Hadith elaborates further, making it obvious that the story is taking Adam pretty seriously apart from the story. Also, muslims generally consider Adam to be a prophet (and so he definitely existed as a person, not a fictional character).

(3) You attacked this premise, but your (implausible) story doesn't work with Islam. Islam is a bit more physicalist than Christianity. Al-Ghazali once claimed that denial of the bodily resurrection in the afterlife is kufr. More importantly, Hadith mentions that Adam is physically incompatible with evolution (he was extremely tall, etc.).

Unknown said...

Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet but if one is to take a literal interpretation seriously, then doesn't that also entail taking the genealogy of the Bible literally as well? This would show that one could not accept an old universe unless maybe one accepts that Adam and Eve were just recent ancestors rather than humans who lived 14 billion (or more) years ago. Maybe I'm just missing a subtle point or maybe I'm missing an obvious one but I just don't see how you can get around the 6-10 thousand year (whatever they say it is) lineage if one is to adopt a literal interpretation of the creation story.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Sergeant Slaughter:

I only advertised this as a just-so story for a literalistic reading of Genesis 1-3. :-)

That said, I don't think there is strong textual reason to think the genealogies that generate a 6-10K year lineage are to be taken as complete. "Father of" could easily just mean "(male) ancestor of".