Showing posts with label myth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label myth. Show all posts

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Questions:

  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

03 February 2013

Adam and Eve in Genesis

Adam and Eve appear in Genesis 2, but there's a different account of creation in chapter 1. Does it make sense to take the first man and woman literally? Is there some other way of reading these chapters? What is the underlying message? What is Genesis telling us?

Adam and Eve
Some believers (Jews, those who follow Jesus, and Muslims) take the early chapters of Genesis literally and therefore hold that Adam and Eve were real people, created at the same time as the world itself, the stars and planets, and other forms of life. There are, however, many others who hold that the creation stories are not intended as history but have some deeper purpose.

An overwhelming majority of scientists on the other hand see Adam and Eve as mythical figures. But sometimes we hear them speak of 'Mitochondrial Eve' and 'Y-chromosomal Adam'. What do they mean by those terms? Is there scientific evidence for a first man and a first woman?

We will try to understand the story of Adam and Eve from the beginning. We'll look at the views of faith in this post and science in a later one and we'll see if they can be reconciled in some way.

Two accounts - This is based mainly on the Hebrew writings known as the Tanakh, what Christians call the Old Testament. The main place where origins are mentioned is in the early part of the book of Genesis. There are many references to Adam and Eve elsewhere in both Old and New Testaments and those generally support what we find in Genesis.

Genesis describes the creation of the universe as known at the time of writing, it includes the origin of the stars, the sun and moon, the earth itself, all living things, and the first man and woman. This article ignores much of that and focusses solely on Adam and Eve.

There are two passages that deal with the first people, Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:7-25.

In the first account plants are created first (Genesis 1:11-13), then the Sun, Moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-19), birds and fish (Genesis 1:20-23),  land animals (Genesis 1:24-25) and finally mankind (Genesis 1:26-28). There is no mention of Adam and Eve here, instead the collective word for mankind is used, people are created but the number is unspecified.

In the second account the order is significantly different. This time Adam is created first (Genesis 2:7), then the trees (Genesis 2:8-17), then the land animals and birds (Genesis 2:19-20) and finally Eve (Genesis 2:21-22). This time there are only two people.

Since the two accounts follow different sequences it is a logical necessity that they cannot both be historically correct. Either of them might be correct, or neither, but both is not possible. Therefore the only conclusion that can be defended is that either or both of these accounts were written for some purpose other than history.

The real purpose - What might that other purpose be?

I would strongly suggest that the purpose of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is exactly the same as that of the rest of the Bible.

  • It is to reveal something of the nature of the power behind the universe.
  • It explains our broken relationship with him.
  • And it points to the reconnection that became possible in Christ.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us there's a creator who brought the universe into being. This creating power is not part of the universe.

Relationship, not history - The original intention was that we should have freedom of will and freedom of action to use in honouring the Creator, but instead we abused our freedom. Initially we had a close relationship with our Maker (walking together in the garden with our Father). Our significance, worth, security and identity were found in our love relationship with him. But after our revolt for independence we found ourselves... independent! And it was not a good place.

Woman now looked to man for her significance, worth, security and identity. And man looked to the ground to provide these things, through the work of his hands raising crops. This remains true today; women tend to look to a relationship, men to their own ability. That's a generalisation but it contains the essence of a deep truth.

In Christ we have the relationship restored and with it the opportunity to walk again with the Creator in the garden and find our significance, worth, security and identity in the right place once more.

This is the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 in a nutshell. It is far, far more significant and important than any element of history that might be contained in those chapters. The order in which things were made is of no significance at all. We sometimes miss the wood for the trees! We build up the importance of the unimportant and run the risk of overlooking the real nuggets of gold placed here for our benefit.

Adam and Eve represent the first humans (and indeed all of us), of that there is no doubt. But that is as far as I'm able to go. Others will, of course, hold different views and that is fine by me. We can share an understanding of the spiritual truth without agreeing on the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2.


Questions:

  • How do you reconcile the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2?
  • Does the sequence of creation make any difference to the underlying spiritual truth?
  • Can we love one another despite our sometimes wide diversities of understanding?

See also:

05 March 2010

Climate change - An update

There is really no room for doubt that we are affecting the world's climate in a wide variety of harmful ways. BBC news item on the Met Offfice reportA new report from the Met Office finds the evidence has stacked up even more strongly since the IPCC report in 2007. Read the BBC's news item on the Met Office report.

There's more Met Office information on their climate change page. Well worth a look if you want to know more.

(This update is intended to add new information to my earrlier blog 'Climate change - Truth or deception?')

01 March 2010

Climate change - Truth or deception?

Most scientists are agreed, we have a serious problem on our hands. A typical glacierPossibly less severe than we fear but just as possibly more severe than we fear. Meanwhile there are plenty of sceptics who claim the data has been fixed or incorrectly analysed.

It's no good speculating and it's no good just crossing our fingers. We need to know whether the science is sound or not. It makes a difference. Do we need to stop releasing CO2 and methane or can we safely continue as we've been going?

Whichever side of the debate you are on, I strongly urge you to take a good look at Dan Satterfield's latest blog post. He has no doubt which side he is on. I agree with him and I really want to encourage everyone to read his post and its two main references and draw their own conclusions. This is one of the best posts on this topic that I have seen.

26 August 2008

How many times?

How many times can you repeatedly fold a sheet of paper in half? It's widely accepted that about six or seven times is the maximum possible, and a quick experiment with a piece of writing paper, a sheet of newspaper, or any normal paper you can find around the home will prove that this is correct. Or will it? What does 'correct' mean? What does 'proof' mean?

A mathematician will tell you that however many times you do the experiment and find you can't fold the paper a seventh time, that is not proof. You cannot prove something to be impossible, only that something is possible. Folding a piece of paper six times and failing to fold it seven proves that six is possible, but not that seven is impossible.

Remarkably, someone has managed to fold a piece of paper twelve times! Was there something special about this piece of paper? Yes and no.

The paper was a long roll of toilet paper. The relevant attribute of this paper was not that it was especially thin (try folding a single sheet of toilet paper yourself) but that it was especially long.

Britney Gallivan, a high-school student from California, was not prepared to take 'no' for an answer. She began by developing some mathematics for paper folding, and this showed her that a piece of paper that is long enough can be folded many more times along its width than a shorter piece. Armed with this knowledge she did the experiment - and managed to fold it twelve times.

There are several lessons to be learned from this.

What seems to be impossible may, in fact, be perfectly possible if we go about it in the right way. Technology has shown this to be true over and over again. Here are a few things that were once thought to be completely impossible - travelling to the moon, ships made of iron, building a flying machine, sailing round the world, the earth moving, continents moving, orbiting a satellite.

Common sense often lets us down. It would be a wonderful thing to learn the value of not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. But we are designed to assume and conclude, this serves us well most of the time and enables us to deal relatively simply with a very complex world.

Britney Gallivan's paper folding achievements are described online. I encourage everyone to read them, if mathematics is not your forte you can skip that part, but please understand that it was the mathematics that led her to a simple, elegant, but entirely unexpected conclusion. With hindsight it seems obvious, but nobody had thought of it before Britney. Clever young lady!

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics