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Good Point.

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Posted by Hilbert Space on October 30, 2004 06:38:03 UTC

I think that if we go even further than that, the limitations of language play a crucial role in a broader understanding of the Genesis text.

If I were a religious person (and I am not), and I hoped to make a logical argument in defense of Genesis, I would probably argue -- as did your Orthodox colleague at MIT -- that Genesis is primarily an allegorical text which has some spiritual meaning that transcends the literal word. Even if God exists, and even if God did create the universe, a literal account of such creation would probably be impossible to make. Genesis asserts that God brought into existence not only space, matter and the laws governing nature, but also time. I doubt that any language drawn from human experience could possibly describe such an act, other than through approximate analogies. Without space, time, matter and natural laws, we only have the limiting idea that God is the reality without which nothing else could be, and any account of the universe's creation would necessarily be anthropomorphized to enable our comprehension of it.

However, as someone who is scientifically-minded, my own view is that the Genesis text is not good science or bad science -- it is no science at all. I don't think these scriptures are fundamentally concerned with how old the earth is, when sunlight first appeared, or in which order life forms made their respective debuts on the earth. Rather, I think the intent of the text is to supply a teleological (rather than chronological) account, and to teach the reader about God's purposes, and chiefly his purposes concerning Man's relationship to God.

Thus (for example), the notion that God created Adam "from dust" is less a description of an event as it is a comment on Adam's basic nature that he is made of the same stuff that everything else is made of, that he is mortal, and that fundamentally he is not, and can never be anything more than, a simple creature of God.

I think that the writer(s) of Genesis were simply conveying the idea that Man can never have any existence but what is granted him by God -- and I also think that the idea (that Man was made by God from dust and could be returned to dust) was in some sense a warning to the reader that maintaining the right relationship with God is not so much a choice that one could make in life as it is a most basic condition for it. This underscores my own view that the Old Testament was (among other things) a story that comprehensively laid out the rules governing how humans should live. Implicit in the notion of "rules" is the notion of enforcement, and since the greatest motivators of human behavior are reward and punishment, it makes sense to me that the idea of heaven and hell are intrinsically woven into the story.

Mind you, that's just my opinion!

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