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Creation as Divine Might

The first Biblical model of creation Mark Smith explores in The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 [1] is creation as divine might, which looks at how creation emerges as a result of God’s victory of cosmic enemies. Smith notes that the best example of this model of creation is found in Psa 74:12-17 [2]
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth.
You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams.
Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.
Also of relevance is the narrative in Psa 89:8-13
O LORD God of hosts, who is as mighty as you, O LORD? Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
The north and the south—you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. 

A missing beginning in Gen 1? Further differences between the creation narratives

Two things are readily apparent when we look at these creation narratives. The first is that these narratives being with God subduing a violent ocean and destroying sea-creatures such as dragons, Leviathan, and Rahab. This opening is conspicuous by its absence in the two creation narratives in Genesis, and definitely requires an explanation. The fundamentalist belief that there is only one creation narrative in the Bible, already under considerable strain from the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 in length, duration and order of creation events is stretched to breaking point by the need to explain the profound difference in opening between the Genesis and Psalms creation narratives.

The second is that as Smith notes, creation “in this context hardly uses verbs of making, and it does so only at the very end, in verse 17. Instead, the focus falls on God's power.” [3] Differences such as this are hardly trivial as they indicate the main theological significance the writer intended to convey in the creation narrative. Differences such as these are of far more significance than the acknowledged differences in creation order, length, and duration as seen in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

Smith also notes [4] that this motif of divine power over the sea and its inhabitants such as the mysterious Rahab is widespread in the Old Testament:
Job 9:8 “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea”
Job 26:12-13 “ By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.”
Job 38:8-11 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
Psa 104:6-9 “You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.”
Jer 31:35 “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name:”
The pervasiveness of this motif of creation being associated with divine mastery of a turbulent ocean and destruction of sea-dwelling entities not only shows that the model of creation by divine power was the best-known model in ancient Israel, but also quite likely the oldest. Understanding both why these two creation narratives in Psalms begin with YHWH subduing the seas and destroying mysterious sea creatures, and the pervasiveness of this motif in the Bible requires identifying who these mysterious sea creatures were.

Who were the cosmic sea monsters?

Critical to understanding this conflict and destruction motif is recognising that the entities being destroyed are mythological or cosmic in their scope. This should not be surprising given that Job 41:18-21 refers to Leviathan as a beast that is clearly mythological:
Its sneezes flash forth light, and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
From its mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap out.
Out of its nostrils comes smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
Its breath kindles coals, and a flame comes out of its mouth.
Leviathan is the Hebrew version of a mythological monster associated with the sea, well known in ancient Near Eastern mythology. John Day notes that Leviathan is “[t]he name of a mythological sea serpent or dragon, personifying the chaos waters, mentioned in the Ugaritic texts, in the OT, and in later Jewish literature. Etymologically the name means “twisting one,” as befits a serpent.” [5]

In ancient Near Eastern texts, it is significant that the deities there also smite Leviathan. Day notes how:
Mot alludes to Baal’s defeat of Lı̄tān as follows, “Because you smote Lı̄tān the twisting serpent, (and) made an end of the crooked serpent, the tyrant with seven heads, the skies will become hot (and) will shine.” In the Baal epic we also find the goddess Anat (Baal’s consort) claiming to have defeated Lı̄tān (though he is not mentioned by name), amongst other mythological creatures: “Surely I lifted up the dragon, I … [and] smote the crooked serpent, the tyrant with the seven heads” (KTU 1.3.III.40–42 = CTA 3.III.D.37–39). This event seems to be described briefly in KTU 1.83.3–10 (= UT 1003.3–10) and KTU 1.82.1–3 (= UT 1001.1–3), the former passage ascribing the defeat of the dragon to Anat and the latter to Baal. [6]
The word dragon in Psa 74:12 is the Hebrew tannin, which apart from referring to snakes (Ex 7:9,10,12; Deut 32:33; Psa 91:13) possibly crocodiles (Exek 29:3; Exek 32:2 [7]) and possible generic sea-creatures (Gen 1:21 [8]) refers to entities that resist classification as aquatic creatures known to humans:
Job 7:12 “Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me?
Psa 74:13 “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters.”
Isa 27:1 “On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.”
Isa 51:9 “Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?
Jer 51:34 “King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel, he has swallowed me like a monster”
Ps 148:7 “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps”
Turning to the ancient Near Eastern literature, we find that tannin likewise features in its mythology. G.C. Heier notes:
“tnn is found eight times in the Ugaritic corpus (R. E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugaritic Literature [Cambridge 1972] 619). Twice it is apparently part of a personal name (KTU 4.35:13 and 4.103:42). The other occurrences are in mythological texts. Three link Tunnanu with the great sea monster(s) defeated by →Anat (KTU 1.3 iii:40 and 1.83:8) or, apparently, →Baal (KTU 1.82:1), while the remaining three are in fragmentary contexts (KTU 1.16 v:31, 32, where tnn is apparently mentioned in connection with something created by →El to assist the ailing King Keret) or subject to disputed interpretation (KTU 1.6 vi:51, where J. C. L. Gibson would read “In the sea are Arsh and the dragon” [Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh 1977) 81], while K. Aartun has “On the day of the kindling and the ascension of the smoke” [UF 17 (1986) 38–39]). As for the monster’s appearance, KTU 1.83:8 may suggest that Tunnanu had a double tail, while the syllabary text indicates an equation with the ideogram for “snake” (muš = ṣēru).”[9]
Unlike Leviathan and Tannin, no extra-Biblical reference to date for Rahab has been found, but given both the association of Rahab with Leviathan and Tannin, two mythological beasts with clear ancient Near Eastern parallels, there is no doubt that it too has a mythological referent. As K. Spronk points out:
“The reference to Rahab in the OT should be read against the background of ancient Near Eastern mythology describing creation as based on victory over the powers of chaos, viz. the primordial oceans. These powers are represented as monsters. The best known example is the Babylonian myth Enūma eliš describing →Marduk’s creation of the kosmos by defeating the chaos monster Tiamat with her helpers. In the Ugaritic myth of →Baal there are references to a primordial battle between Baal or his consort Anat against the god of the Sea Yam and other chaos monsters (KTU2 1.2 iv; 1.3 iii; 1.5 i). The same myth tells us that this battle did not stop with the creation of the world: the powers of chaos remain a threat which has to be confronted again and again. A ritual text (KTU2 1.82) describes how these forces can afflict human life and how they can be exorcized.” [10]
“In the OT texts relating Rahab to the sea its original character of chaos monster is preserved. They also point to a conception of a battle between →Yahweh and →chaos preceding the creation of →heaven and →earth. Job 26 describes the steadfast order of the universe preserved by God after having struck down Rahab (cf. also Ps 89:7–13). Job 9:13 mentions Rahab’s helpers. This has a parallel in the army of monsters siding with Tiamat according to Enūma eliš I 125ff and also in ‘the Big Ones’, monsters supporting the sea god Yam, the adversary of Baal and Anat in KTU2 1.3 iii:38ff. the ritual text KTU2 1.109:21 mentions helper-gods among a number of gods residing in the netherworld (TUAT II/3, 317). [11]
Rahab in the singular occurs six times in the Bible, of which four refer to the motif of conflict:
Job 9:13 “God will not turn back his anger; the helpers of Rahab bowed beneath him.”
Job 26:12 “By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab.”
Psa 89:10 “You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.”
Isa 51:9 “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?
The other two have a geopolitical referent, with Psa 87:4 likely referring to Egypt:
Psa 87:4 “Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia— “This one was born there,” they say.
Isa 30:7 “For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her, “Rahab who sits still.”
The Egyptian reference arguably has the earlier creation via power / conflict with divine enemies motif in its background. Isaiah 59:10 clearly alludes to the deliverance from Egypt, “was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over?” suggesting that the author was linking the deliverance of a new nation out of bondage with the creation narratives in which taming the ocean and smiting the sea-monsters preceded the creation of the universe. The fact the author of Ezekiel would compare Pharaoh with the Tannin-dragon (suggesting this equation was well-known in ancient Israel)
Ezek 29:3 “I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon sprawling in the midst of its channels”
Ezek 32:2 “You consider yourself a lion among the nations, but you are like a dragon in the seas”
underlines both the parallel between creation and the Exodus deliverance, and the cosmic significance of the Rahab name for Egypt.

The Hebrew word for sea – yam – also has cosmological parallels in the ancient Near Eastern literature as Yam is a sea god who is a representation of chaos as well as the enemy of Baal. F Stoltz notes:
In mythical contexts (KTU 1.1–6), the sea is represented by the anthropomorphically shaped Yam, the enemy of →Baal. Obviously Yam is not only the deity of the sea, but also of the rivers (he is often called zbl ym ṯpṭ nhr, ‘prince Sea, ruler River’). In this context, the rivers are to be construed as destructive powers. Yam is closely connected with Il (‘son of Il, beloved of Il’); but, whereas Il represents the cosmic aspect of the primeval water, Yam reflects its chaotic aspect…Various monsters occur together with Yam (and were possibly sometimes identified with him): Lotan (→Leviathan), a seven-headed serpent; Tunnanu (→Tannin); Arishu and ʿAtiqu. The conflict between Yam and Baal is complex. A crucial question is which of the two should be allowed to have a ‘house’. This might reflect a historical conflation of the cults of two different gods (Baal seems to be a newcomer in Ugarit), with Yam representing the ousted deity. Furthermore, Yam represents the power of chaos which appears in the sea and the rivers. [12]
Keeping this this ancient Near Eastern background in mind helps place the battle between YHWH and the Sea in its original context:
In cultic literature, the cosmogony is clearly depicted as a fight between →Yahweh and the personified power of the sea…It is difficult to know whether at an early time the cosmological battle was conveyed in a tale (a myth in a restricted sense of the word) or whether it was even enacted in a cultic drama. In the tradition as preserved, the battle concept is only a complex of mythological elements within the context of hymns, prayers, etc. The most detailed accounts of the fight can be found in Ps 74:13–14; Ps 89:10; Ps 18:16; Nah 1:4). Yahweh ‘rebukes’ the sea (possibly an anthropomorphic interpretation of the thunder emanating from the weather god); he smites the heads of the enemy; he delimits the realm of the sea or makes the water dry.) [13]
What we can clearly see here is that the references in the Psalms creation narratives to YHWH taming the sea and destroying Rahab, Tannin, and Leviathan before creating the earth are participating in an ancient Near Eastern motif of the deity smiting the Sea, the force of chaos and the cosmological enemies that dwell in it before creating the universe.

A shared wordview rather than copying

One of the best-known examples of an ancient Near Eastern story that employs this motif is Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth. In this story, the goddess Tiamat (identified with the cosmic waters) seeks to avenge the murder of her consort Apsu by the younger gods. Fearing Tiamat, the younger gods meet and choose the warrior-god Marduk as their champion. Marduk eventually prevails against Tiamat, carves her body into two pieces from which he makes the universe. The centre of the newly-created world becomes his palace and temple on Earth.

Claims that the Israelite creation narrative was merely a demythologised version of Enuma Elish can be readily dismissed, if only because there are many creation narratives, and it is hard to imagine why the various authors of those creation narratives in Genesis and the Wisdom Literature changed an original source text to arrive at their differing versions. Enuma Elish was written quite likely in the late 2nd millennium BCE to legitimate the promotion of Marduk to the position of supreme deity by Nebuchadnezzar I. [14] While this is early enough to theoretically influence the creation texts in the Old Testament, one would plausibly need to show how Enuma Elish would reach ancient Hebrew scribes and their motivation for modifying that text into the multiplicity of creation texts and references that we see in the Old Testament. It is far more likely that all these creation texts in the ancient Near East drew on similar motifs, and that we have national variations on the same underlying motifs of conflict by the deity with the ocean (a primal force of chaos), and the mythological sea-monsters dwelling in them, followed by creation.

Strengthening this assumption is the fact that as Smith points out [15], similar use of the cosmic conflict motif is seen in texts in the Levantine world (Mari, Ugarit, Egyptian Canaan). In particular, in the Levantine world, it was the storm-god (Baal being the classic example here) who was promoted as the one who battled Sea and Death. A writer to Zimri-Lim, a king of the ancient Semitic city-state of Mari located in eastern modern Syria notes how he “I brought you back to the throne of your father and I handed you the weapons with which I battled Sea” The Amarna Letters, a collection of correspondence dating from the 14th century BCE between the Egyptian vassal-kings of Canaan and Egypt compare Pharaoh with “Baal in the Heavens”. The kings of the Ugarit, a Canaanite state located in what is now north-west Syria sponsored the Baal Cycle, with Baal’s enemies (Sea, Death, Leviathan) mirrored those of the king.

Smith notes that another aspect of these ancient Near Eastern creation myths is that apart from praising and exalting the deity who was able to vanquish Sea and its resident monsters and create the universe, they also served to advance the status of the king who patronised the deity:
“On these two levels, the god and the king mirror one another in status and power, and both face hostile enemies who threaten the kingdom.”[16]
This comparison of the king with his patron deity went well beyond a figure of speech, but deliberately linked the power of the king with the power of the god.

We’ve seen that the creation texts in the Old Testament draw on the basic motif of the deity vanquishing Sea and the Sea Monsters then creating the universe. Specifically, the conflict between storm god and the primal enemies also became part of the cosmological worldview that shaped Israel. Smith notes that
The political use made of the conflict between storm god and cosmic enemies passed into Israelite tradition. The biblical God is not only generally similar to Baal as a storm god, but God inherited the names of Baal's cosmic enemies, with names such as Leviathan, Sea, Death, and Tanninim (see Ps. 74:13-14; Job 3:8, 26:12-13, 41:1; Is. 25:8, 27:1). Baal's home on Mount Saphon is identified with Zion in Psalm 48:3. God's titles, "Rider in the heavens" and "Rider of the Steppe" (for example, Ps. 68.4) are also echoes of Baal's own title, "Rider of the Clouds.”[17]
Given the intense rivalry between Baal and YHWH that appears in the OT, this can also been seen to be a polemic stab at Baal, where YHWH is seen to be the Rider of the Clouds and the true defeater of the Sea and the sea monsters.

Creation through Divine Might and a Royal Theology

Also passing into the theological language of Israel were the ANE parallels between human and divine rulers. Smith cites Psalm 89 as an example of an Israelite version of this ‘royal theology.’ [18] Verses 5-18 outline God’s victorious power, with an explicit allusion to creation and the destruction of cosmic enemies in verse 10-13:
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them. The north and the south—you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.
while verses 19-37 outline the favour extended to the king, including an assurance that human enemies of the king will be crushed just like the divine enemies of the deity as verses 22-23 state:
The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.
A little further, in verse 25 God invests the king with power over the sea and rivers (the cosmological nature of Sea and River is clearly apparent given the earlier references in this Psalm to the destruction of the cosmic enemy Rahab), which shows God’s power over his cosmic enemies is likewise extended to the king. As with the examples seen in extra-Biblical literature, this association of YHWH with his anointed was not just a mere figure of speech, but was clearly a linking of the power of YHWH with the king. Sea and River, the ancient enemies of YHWH were also the enemies of the king who likewise had the mastery of them.

Smith notes that this mirroring of divine and earthly enemies not only is found in other OT texts but extends this cosmic imagery to describe not just regal enemies, but enemies of the righteous, [19] with the wicked compared with a personified underworld, complete with al all-devouring mouth, an image which likewise is part of the cultural inheritance Israel acquired from the ANE. This image echoes Mot, the insatiable god of death of Ugaritic myth that has a mouth extending from Heaven to Earth:
“The main characteristic of Mot is that he is a voracious consumer of gods and men. He has an enormous mouth and an appetite to match. His gullet and appetite are frequently mentioned. At one point he defends himself against Anat thus: “My appetite lacked humans, my appetite lacked the multitudes of the earth” (KTU 1.6 ii:17–19). KTU 1.5 ii:2–4 pictures his mouth: “A lip to the earth, a lip to the heavens, … a tongue to the stars! Baal must enter his stomach, Go down into his mouth.” It is dangerous to get too near to him, “lest he make you like a lamb in his mouth, and like a kid you be crushed in the crushing of his jaws” (KTU 1.4 viii:17–20).” [20]
Passages which demonstrate the extension of to enemies of the righteous as well as those of the kign, as well as employing the motif of all-devouring Death common to the Levantine world include:
Ps 124:2-3 “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us”.
Hab 2:5 “[The arrogant] open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough.
Prov 1:12 “like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit”
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Most would be aware that there are two creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 which if read literally differ in the length, order, and duration of creation events, not to mention the nature of God’s involvement in creation as either transcendent or immanent, even if that awareness derives from an awareness that fundamentalist Christians vehemently deny this fact and have spent no little energy in patently unconvincing attempts to explain away this problem. [1] Fewer though would be aware of the existence of other creation narratives in the Bible, which while sharing motifs and themes [2] likewise differ from each other. The idea of a single unified creation text in the Bible is one that is not supported by the evidence. There are many creation narratives in the Bible, which share common themes but also differ thematically, and to insist on a single Biblical teaching on creation runs the risk of muting these voices in order to force the polyvalent Biblical teachings on creation both to conform to a fundamentalist concept of inerrancy as well as to function as a crude anti-evolution polemic. The science denialism of contemporary fundamentalists should never be the hermeneutic by which we read the creation narratives.

A few years ago, I ran across Mark Smith’s The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1. [3] Smith’s stature as a leading authority on the development of ancient Israelite religion was reason enough for me to obtain his book, but given the size of my to-read pile, it languished for some time until recently when I found the time to read it. Smith’s goal in writing was to understand how the priestly author [4] expressed his vision of creation. As Smith notes, Genesis 1 is only one of many parts of the Bible that discuss creation, and comparing them with Gen 1 allows the reader to see both the differing concerns and worldviews of the other creation narratives, and the particular views of the priestly tradition behind Genesis 1. [5]

I have attempted a review of The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 but it very quickly turned into a summary of its themes which then became an attempt to blog my way through the book. When I realised that it would blow out into something completely unwieldy, I stopped just after working my way through the prelude. There is of course no claim for originality as the ideas and order are completely indebted to Smith. Having said that, there’s enough original content, even of by way of response to Smith’s excellent argument, for me to turn the result into a multi-part series. With a nod to one of the original aims of this exercise, namely as book review, I would unreservedly recommend anyone who wants to understand what the Biblical writers thought about creation (as opposed to what modern fundamentalists want it to say).

Allusions to creation story

The volume of references and allusions to creation in the Bible suggests that the story held great significance for ancient Israel, but when these references and allusions (not to mention the extra-Genesis creation narratives in the wisdom literature) are analysed, we can see that as Smith notes “[i]n ancient Israel, people told the creation story in different ways, as we see in various biblical books.”[6]
Jer 10:12 It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens

Amos 4:13 For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Amos 9:6 [The Lord, God of hosts] who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.

Zec 12:1 The word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus says the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the human spirit within

Prov 8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Job 26:7-13 He stretches out Zaphon over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing. He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not torn open by them. He covers the face of the full moon, and spreads over it his cloud. He has described a circle on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

Job 38:1-11 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
In passing, the reference to 'striking down Rahab' and the 'piercing serpent' in Job 26 alone should remind us that we are not dealing with creation narratives that were meant to be interpreted as historically and scientifically accurate. The allusion to cosmic enemies such as Rahab the chaos-monster [7] reminds us that these texts are participating an ancient world and had far more important issues to discuss than inform people of the age of the universe and the exact mechanism by which it was made.

The importance of the creation stories to ancient Israel can be seen in their liturgical use, as the following texts from Psalms indicate:
Psa 74:12-17 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth. You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. You cut openings for springs and torrents; you dried up ever-flowing streams. Yours is the day, yours also the night; you established the luminaries and the sun. You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter.

Psa 89:11-13 The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it—you have founded them. The north and the south—you created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.

Psa 148  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Just these allusions alone show that, to quote Smith again, “in ancient Israel many different creation accounts existed, not just one single creation story. In fact, these passages indicate that there were various ways of telling the creation story.”[8]

At the beginning of this article, I noted how the two creation narratives in Genesis differed in the length, duration, and sequence of creation events. There are other ways in which creation narratives can differ, and arguably these are more significant. Smith points out that one can identify three major models of creation in the OT, namely creation by divine power, creation by divine wisdom and creation by divine presence. Arguably, thematic differences are more important than differences in creation event length, duration, and order, which differ at a secondary narrative level, rather than a primary thematic one. This makes examining them not just important in showing why the fundamentalist urge to reduce and harmonise the creation narratives and allusions to a single account is fundamentally misguided, but in order to see the different voices on creation that occur in the Biblical text. Different traditions in the Bible saw creation in different ways, and a forced harmonisation must not be allowed to obliterate these voices.

As Smith remarks, these three models (power, wisdom, presence) are not exhaustive, and they are not mutually exclusive given that a creation narrative can draw on one or more of these models.

Creation by Divine Power

The first model, creation via divine power sees creation emerging as a result of God’s victory of cosmic foes. Psa 74:12-17 and Psa 89:11-13 are the best-known examples of this model. God here is a warrior-king marching from his palace temple, vanquishing his cosmic foes (usually either sea monsters or the cosmic waters personified), with God creating the universe from the cosmic waters. For those who worshipped God, the appropriate response was to venerate the warrior-king through approved cultic activities. Just as God had destroyed his cosmic enemies, he would likewise destroy his human enemies with power.

An important aspect of this model was that it helped legitimate royal theology, where the human king acted as a mediator between the people and the deity. The human king as mediator obtained his power from the heavenly king, with passages such as Psa 90:25 “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers” in which the human king is given power over tbe old cosmic enemies of Sea and River highlighting this fact.

Creation by Divine Wisdom

In this model, best known from Psa 104 and Job 38:1-11, creation is achieved through divine wisdom, with God acting as the divine architect, engineer, and builder. Isa 40:12-14 describes God as the master craftsman of creation, deliberately contrasting with the human craftsmen who as 40:18-20 show create idols.

Whereas in the first model of creation through power, the appropriate response was to venerate God through approved cult, with the divinely-appointed human king acting as mediator, here wisdom – encoded in the world itself – mediates between God and man. This requires humans to learn God’s wisdom either in the world or through the wisdom literature (for example Prov 1-9). Whereas in the first model, the wicked are directly destroyed, here they primarily through lack of wisdom.

Creation by Divine Presence

Creation via the divine presence shares with the first model a view of the universe as God’s presence and draws on a palace-temple motif, but differs in that it emphasises God’s holy temple. Sometimes, power and holiness are emphasised together (Psa 150:1 where the firmament is not just fortress but temple; “Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!”

Key to this model is the universe as a palace-temple. The divine name, the divine word, light, and holiness are aspects of the divine presence in the temple, and this contrasts with creation by power in the first model.

Psalm 8, which is one of the main texts illustrating creation through the divine presence (or name) refers to creation, then discusses the divine name in the universe. The appropriate human response involves serving God in the proper manner, with acknowledging God’s presence through praise.

Each of these creation models warrants more examination which I will cover in the next few posts.


1.See for example Meredith G, Kline “Because It Had Not RainedWestminster Theological Journal 20 (1958):146-157 which shows the impossibility of reconciling a literal reading of Gen 1 and Gen 2 given that such a reading creates contradictory orders of creation.
2. That these motifs are also common to other ancient Near Eastern literature shows that the biblical creation accounts participate in a shared cognitive environment, as well as played off each other, or in the case of Genesis 1 were designed as commentary and correction.
3. Mark Smith The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (2010: Fortress Press)
4. While there remains active discussion and disagreement about the precise details of the composition of the Pentateuch (documentary hypothesis, supplementary hypothesis, or fragmentary hypothesis), there is little real disagreement about the existence of a Priestly source or tradition, whose authors were responsible for the creation of Genesis 1).
5. Smith, op cit, p 1
6. ibid, p 11
7. "In the OT texts relating Rahab to the sea its original character of chaos monster is preserved. They also point to a conception of a battle between →Yahweh and →chaos preceding the creation of →heaven and →earth. Job 26 describes the steadfast order of the universe preserved by God after having struck down Rahab (cf. also Ps 89:7–13). Job 9:13 mentions Rahab’s helpers. This has a parallel in the army of monsters siding with Tiamat according to Enūma eliš I 125ff and also in ‘the Big Ones’, monsters supporting the sea god Yam, the adversary of Baal and Anat in KTU2 1.3 iii:38ff. And the ritual text KTU2 1.109:21 mentions helper-gods among a number of gods residing in the netherworld (TUAT II/3, 317)." K. Spronk, “Rahab,” ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 685.
7. Smith, op cit. p 11
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The two or three people who still read the blog will of course be aware that posting frequency has dropped considerably over the past few years. The main factor behind this is the fact that after a while, pretty well everything that one can say on the issue from a scientific and theological point of view has already been said, and further posts run the risk of being repetitive. Given this, I have been striving for quality rather than quantity.
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In 2001, the Discovery Institute, an advocate of the pseudoscience of intelligent design released A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism to which a small number of people of varying professional backgrounds had given their assent. [1] The statement, which professed scepticism of the ability of random mutation and natural selection was widely criticised in the mainstream scientific community on many points including its misleading phrasing, designed to make the layperson think criticism of a subject implied wholesale rejection, as well as its straw man presentation of modern evolutionary theory as simply random mutation and natural selection. Recently, this statement has been popping up across the Christian world due to the fact that this list has now managed to garner 1000 signatories. Despite the fact it has been ably demolished, [2] another ritual flogging would not go astray.

While there are many problems with this list as mentioned in the opening paragraph, the fundamental problem with it is that it is yet another creationist argument from authority. The truth of a scientific proposition is however not determined by who has the bigger list of names (though if the overwhelming majority of relevant professionals in a discipline attest to the truth of something germane to that subject then it is reasonable to take what they say seriously). To illustrate this point, the National Center for Science Education maintains Project Steve, a parody of such lists which maintains a list of scientists whose first name is Steve. The statement asserts
Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools. [3]
Currently, the list has 1438 signatories, which is greater than the 1049 who have signed the Dissent From Darwinism list. If truth is determined by numbers, then clearly evolution has won. Add to that the fact approximately 1% of scientists are named Steve, and the numbers become even greater. In 2010, historian of science Ronald Numbers noted
After more than a decade of effort the Discovery Institute proudly announced in 2007 that it had got some 700 doctoral-level scientists and engineers to sign “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.” Though the number may have struck some observers as rather large, it represented less than 0.023 percent of the world’s scientists. On the scientific front of the much ballyhooed “Evolution Wars,” the Darwinists were winning handily. The ideological struggle between (methodological) naturalism and supernaturalism continued largely in the fantasies of the faithful and the hyperbole of the press. [4]
Again, this is not how scientific truth is determined, but is is not unreasonable to point out that those who signed do not even represent 0.1% of scientists worldwide. For the fundamentalist who touts the Dissent From Darwin list, it is reasonable to ask them why the Project Steve list is wrong, particularly when the fundamentalist does not have the scientific background to determine purely on scientific principles which side is right.

Leaving the issue of numbers aside, other fundamental problems with the list include the fact that it is deliberately constructed to mislead, misrepresents evolutionary biology, and includes scientists who are simply not in a position to offer an informed opinion on the subject. Given that the Discovery Institute is an advocacy group dedicated to promoting pseudoscience, this is hardly surprising.

The wording of the statement is carefully designed to be unremarkable on the surface:
“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
The idea of "careful examination of the evidence' is hardly controversial, and some of those who have signed do in fact accept evolution. These include ID advocate Michael Behe who while rejecting the modern synthetic theory of evolution accepts common descent, including human-ape common ancestry. Other signatories did so because of the separate but related issue of abiogenesis or other unrelated reasons. [5] However, this will not be noted by the fundamentalist Christian who touts this list, thinking that it is a list of over 1000 "well-credentialed" scientists who reject evolution. If the list was constructed as an honest exercise, it would have made this point clear. However, as it is fundamentally a propaganda piece, this omission sadly is not unexpected.

The list becomes even more misleading with its implication that evolutionary biologists believe random mutation and natural selection alone are sufficient to explain the emergence of the diversity of life. This is to put it bluntly a straw man misrepresentation of modern evolutionary theory, which ignores the fact that at the molecular level, non-adaptive mechanisms are recognised as a major driving force for evolution, a point evolutionary biologist T.R. Gregory makes:
Modern evolutionary theory represents a multifaceted set of explanations for patterns observed both in contemporary populations and in deep time as revealed by the fossil record. Natural selection is considered by many to be the prime component of evolutionary theory and is the only workable mechanism ever proposed that is capable of accounting for the adaptive features of organisms. At the molecular level, nonadaptive mechanisms are recognized as highly significant, and there is also an increasing emphasis on changes due to processes such as genetic drift that differ from natural selection by being due to chance. [6]
Gregory continues by pointing out that evolution very much remains a subject of lively debate and ongoing research [7], demonstrating that contrary to what the Dissent From Darwinism statement implies, careful examination of the evidence is pretty well much a given.

Finally, the reference to 'Darwinism' demonstrates a typical creationist tactic of trying to turn evolution into an ideology. While the terms has currency as a synonym for evolution via natural selection (though the reference to neo-Darwinism as a synonym for the modern synthetic theory of evolution that fused population genetics and insights from other branches of science with natural selection shows that strictly speaking it is a dated term), creationist usage of it is invariably pejorative. That aside, the reference to Darwinism betrays (whether by design or accident) a creationist ignorance of how far evolutionary theory has advanced in the ~160 years since Darwin's book was published.  As biochemist Larry Moran remarks:
I am not a Darwinist, just as most of my colleagues in the Department of Physics are not Newtonists, and most of my friends who study genetics are not Mendelists. All three of these terms refer to the ideas of famous men (Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel) who made enormous contributions to science. But in all three cases, the modern sciences have advanced well beyond anything envisaged by their founders. [8]

Even more distortions and misrepresentation of intent appear when you examine the list and the circumstances around its formation. At least one person who thought the Discovery Institute's intentions were noble changed their mind on further examination. One case in point is Bob Davidson, a Christian and former professor of nephrology at the University of Washington’s medical school who initially thought the Discovery Institute’s intentions were above board:
It was these twin devotions to science and religion that first attracted him to Seattle's Discovery Institute. That's the think tank that this summer has pushed "intelligent design" — a replacement theory for evolution — all the way to the lips of President Bush and into the national conversation.

Davidson says he was seeking a place where people "believe in a Creator and also believe in science. "I thought it was refreshing," he says.

Not anymore. He's concluded the institute is an affront to both science and religion. "When I joined I didn't think they were about bashing evolution. It's pseudo-science, at best ... What they're doing is instigating a conflict between science and religion."

Davidson, at 78 a UW professor emeritus, says he shouldn't be on the list because he believes "the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming....I'm kind of embarrassed that I ever got involved with this," Davidson says.

He was shocked, he says, when he saw the Discovery Institute was calling evolution a "theory in crisis."

"It's laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution," he says. "There's always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there's no real scientific controversy about it." [9]
That alone is enough to flash a huge warning light about the credibility of the Discovery Institute and the integrity of the project.

Finally, the list of ~1000 includes those whose area of expertise or terminal degree is in areas not directly related to evolution such as engineering, medicine, organic chemistry, or philosophy. [10] When those are excluded, the list is much less impressive, dropping from 1047 to only 277, meaning that only ~26% of the signatories are potentially in a position to offer an informed, authoritative comment on evolutionary biology. This also included now-deceased signatories as well as emeritus scientists who are hardly at the cutting edge of science. When these are excluded, the numbers drop to 244 (around 23%), meaning that not even one quarter of the signatories are active researchers in areas directly of relevance to the subject in question. Fully three quarters of the signatories are simply not in a position either to provide an authoritative opinion, or one that is informed by cutting-edge research. Although a few years old, this video by "DonExodus" combs through an earlier version of the Dissent from Darwinism list and comes to the same conclusion.

List of Scientists Rejecting Evolution- Do they really? - YouTube


The Dissent from Darwinism list was exposed years ago as yet another creationist argument from authority; its appearance yet again in the more fundamentalist parts of the Christian internet is simply due to the fact that the list has exceeded the symbolic 1000 mark. However, as I have pointed out, the list is misleading given that  just under 25% of the signatories have a background in the life sciences, and that some of these include those who accept the fact of common descent. Its reference to "Darwinism" is misleading given that evolutionary theory has progressed considerably since Darwin's time, and is misleading in that it encourages the perception that the signatories are opposed to evolution despite the fact that not all of the life scientists on the list are hard-core creationists. Those who continue to peddle this list should cease doing so if only to avoid bringing Christianity into even more disrepute.


1. https://dissentfromdarwin.org/about/
2. The Wikipedia entry is an excellent summary of the reasons why the statement can be safely ignored.
3. https://ncse.com/project-steve
4. Ronald Numbers "Creationism, intelligent design, and modern biology" in Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins (Eds D.R. Alexander and R.L Numbers) (2010: University of Chicago Press), p 328
5. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/A_Scientific_Dissent_From_Darwinism
6. T.R. Gregory "Evolution as Fact, Theory and Path" Evo Edu Outreach (2008) 1:46-52
7."Is evolution always gradual, or can it follow a more punctuated pattern? Are chance mechanisms such as genetic drift ever as important as the nonrandom process of natural selection? Does natural selection operate only among organisms (or genes) within populations, or can it occur at other levels such as among groups or species? Did mammals diversify as a consequence of the extinction of dinosaurs? Is the primary divide among groups of organisms between those with and those without nuclei, or are there deeper splits? Are wholescale genome duplications common in evolution, and if so, are they associated with major evolutionary changes? Can complex features ever be regained once they have been lost from a lineage? Is a substantial fraction of noncoding DNA functional, or is most of it simply “junk” or “parasitic”?" ibid, p 51
8. Larry Moran "Why I'm Not a Darwinist" Sandwalk Nov 17 2006
9. Seattle Times Staff "Evolving opinion of one man" Seattle Times Aug 24 2005
10. My list included disciplines that directly contribute to evolutionary theory such as cell and molecular biology, genetics, physiology, genetics, developmental biology, and palaeontology. I excluded medicine and veterinary science as I am including scientists only. If there was any ambiguity about the signatory's background then they were excluded.
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Outside of the extremes of fundamentalist Christianity, there is a strong consensus that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two separate creation accounts which when read literally differ significantly in terms of the duration of creation, order of events, and the nature of God as revealed in how he is described as creating. [1] One common fundamentalist attempt to argue away this problem an appeal to Mark 10:6-8, where Jesus quotes from both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Their argument is that by quoting from Gen 1 and Gen 2, Jesus is showing that he believed the accounts were not in tension. This is of course patently unconvincing if only because the differences between the creation narratives are not resolved simply by appealing to the NT passage. Context is also important as the point being argued was divorce rather than creation.

The differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not trivial, with the former asserting creation occurred in six days while the latter declares it happened on one day. Other differences include the order of creation, with the latter declaring Adam was created first, then the garden, land animals, and finally Eve. This order is markedly different to that of Genesis 1 which en passant notes that many humans were created. The scale of these differences [2] can readily be seen in the diagram below:

As Peter Enns aptly notes
These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there...It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation. [3]
Of course, given that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 come from two different literary sources (P and J, respectively), none of this should really be surprising. [4] What we have here are two different accounts of creation from two different traditions, which later were edited into a literary unit. The OT scholar Mark Smith argues persuasively in  The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 that Genesis 1 (a later text) is a commentary on the earlier creation text in Genesis 2. He notes:
It has often been argued that the two creation accounts were connected by means of an editorial link between the story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and the story in 2:4b and following. In this respect, the two halves of Genesis 2:4, that is verse 4a and verse 4b, serve as a kind of editorial hinge. This requires a little explanation. Genesis 2:4a contains a genealogical heading ("generations," toledot), as we also see in Genesis 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:19, and 37:2. This would suggest that 2:4a is designed to serve as the first of these other genealogical headings," and that it is itself the first of these. In other words, Genesis 2:4a now stands as the head text of the generations of creation. To establish a frame for the whole story of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, verse 2:4a adopts the order of "heaven and earth" found in 1:1. To connect 1:1-2:4a with the story of verse 2:4b and following, verse 2:4a refers to creation as the "generations (toledot) of heaven and earth." In this respect, verse 2:4a indicates that what came before serves as prologue to what comes after. As a result, Genesis 1:1-2:3 conveys the meaning of the order of creation of "heaven and earth" in 2:4b and serves as its prologue. The implied commentary is that the generations of later genealogies are integrally related to the generations of heaven and earth in 1:1-2:4a. Since toledot is a priestly term, the choice of this particular word shows a priestly hand at work in Genesis 2:4a. This priestly compiler and editor added Genesis 2:4a to link the two creation stories of Genesis 1-2, and in turn both narratives are linked to the rest of Genesis in characterizing it as "generations," a term woven into the fabric of the rest of the book.
The role of commentary is not confined to the editorial addition of Genesis 2:4a. The text of 1:1-2:3 also functions as commentary. The verbal affinities between the so-called "two creation accounts" noted by a number of scholars point to commentary being made by Genesis 1:1-2:3 on Genesis 2:4b and following. [5]
Of course, if Genesis 1 serves as a commentary on Genesis 2, and Genesis 2:4 has been crafted to connect two narratives, then any apparent unity is not authorial but rather editorial, a point Smith ably makes when he notes how "we have in Genesis 1-2 what Luis Alonso Schokel has called 'secondary unity'. 'A later writer could take already completed pieces and bring them together skillfully to form a new and complex unity.'" [6] Given that some fundamentalists still appeal to compositional patterns (real or imagined) such as chiasmus as 'proof' of unity of authorship, recognition of the existence of redaction in the Bible is helpful if only to avoid continuing to make the mistake of ignoring the existence of two sources in the first two chapters of Genesis.

Appealing to Mark 10 Doesn't Work

In Mark 10:1-12, the writer provides his version of Jesus' teaching on divorce which for context and completeness I have reproduced below:
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Emphasis mine)
The emphasised parts are quotations from Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24; the fundamentalist argument is that given Jesus is reported as quoting from Gen 1 and Gen 2, he must have regarded Gen 1 and Gen 2 not as two different creation accounts, but as part of a single unity.

The biggest flaw with this argument is of course the fact that it makes no attempt to cope with the considerable evidence that Gen 1 and Gen 2 represent two different creation accounts that cannot be harmonised without doing harm to both narratives. It simply appeals to the fact two quotations from these chapters are concatenated, assumes this implies Jesus held the same views as the fundamentalists on the authorial unity of the two chapters, then imports the authority of Jesus into the fundamentalist interpretation of the chapters. Given that Jesus readily accommodated beliefs about demons, any attempt to proof-text this passage without keeping in mind the fact Jesus could be accommodating contemporary interpretations and assumptions about a passage for rhetorical purposes is at best risky. [7]

The argument also ignores the context of Mark 10. Jesus is making a point about divorce, and is appealing to a passage that his critics regarded as authoritative to make his point, rather than making a denial-in-advance of evolution. Failing to grasp both the context and the fact Jesus can - and did - cite extant interpretations of Scripture not to validate those interpretations but for rhetorical effect leads to the fundamentalist error. As always, if you bring out from scripture what you read in, you have committed eisegesis.

1. While there is no shortage of attempts by fundamentalist amateurs to explain away this problem, the fact that these attempts do not appear in the mainstream scholarly literature and therefore have not been subject to scholarly review prior to publication means they can be seen not as serious contributions to the literature but rather apologetics designed to reassure nervous fellow-fundamentalists that all is well. Given their provenance, these attempted explanations can be readily dismissed out of hand.
2. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.
3. ibid
4. "The generally acknowledged conclusion that Gen 2–3 is to be attributed to a different literary source (J) from Gen 1 (P) is presupposed. All of the many studies of Gen 2–3 make this clear. Today there are only a very few exegetes who think that Gen 1–3 was from the beginning a unified account of creation." Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 186.
5. Mark S. Smith. The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010) 129-130
6. ibid, p 131 
7. An excellent example is found in John 10:34-36 where Jesus quotes Psa 82:6. However, as scholars note, Psalm 82:6 in its original context is referring to the gods of the nations whom YHWH is sentencing to 'die like men', something that would be redundant if the subjects of verse 6 were humans. Again, what we have here is Jesus using contemporary interpretations of a passage to make a rhetorical point rather than affirming as normative that interpretation. Hossfeld and Zenger note that "This Johannine way of dealing with the literal sense of a biblical text, which seems unusual from a present–day perspective, can in no way be evaluated as if John here intended to give an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 82. In our opinion that is absolutely never the case when a text of Israel’s “scripture” is quoted in the NT; “scripture” here has the function of legitimating and explicating Johannine Christology." Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, ed. Klaus Baltzer, trans. Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 337.

Thom Stark likewise argues that "[t]he standard interpretation of that passage in Jesus’ day was that the ones who are called “gods” are the Israelites at Sinai. Jesus assumes this interpretation when he says, “those to whom the word of God came.” In other words, when Israel was given the law at Sinai, according to this interpretation of the psalm, they were called “gods.” This meant either that they were God’s representatives on earth, or that they were rendered immortal at that time, until they later sinned again (as some Rabbis concluded). Regardless, in order to defend his application of the term “son of God” to himself, Jesus appeals to the fact that Israelites are all called “gods” at Sinai. What Jesus is doing is using his opponents’ own scriptures against them." Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 51-52
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One common theme in deconversion stories is the loss of faith when the former believer discovered that contrary to what their faith community had dogmatically asserted, the evidence for evolution was in fact overwhelming. Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons behind the perception that evolution and Christianity are utterly incompatible is the doctrine of Original Sin, in both its Reformed and Catholic forms. The fundamental problem here is of course the fact Original Sin requires every single human being to be exclusively descended from two people in order for the physical change in human nature that adherents of Original Sin believe happened as a result of Adam's sin to be genetically transmitted to the entire human race. Given what we know of the origins of the human race, this is of course impossible as the size of the human population has never been lower than a few thousand people, while humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor that lived around six million years ago. Original Sin demands a view of human origins that cannot be reconciled with hard facts.

In a recent article [1] at the Recovering from Religion blog Ex-Communications, Suze Ambs writes on how discovering the truth about evolution helped erode her faith. While she states that there were many reasons for her deconversion, in this article she points out how the scientific evidence for human evolution was the "nail in the coffin" for her belief because it directly undermined Original Sin and the atonement theory based on it. Ambs' observation is hardly isolated, with other ex-Christians also pointing out how evolution destroys the anthropology of Original Sin and any atonement theory based on it. As such, it is worth looking at her article in some detail, if only to show just how dangerous to faith evolution denialism and Original Sin are.

By her own admission Ambs knew little about evolution when she was a Christian, something which certainly holds true in our own community:
I was never very educated about evolution. I thought it was simply the scientific guesswork that humans came from apes because we have similarities.
This ignorance about evolution in general is something of a two-edged sword for fundamentalist Christianity. While it means that the anti-evolution leadership in fundamentalist communities invariably get no pushback from members when they use long-debunked anti-evolution arguments, it also means that if some of those members take the time to actually read up on the subject and find out that the evidence for evolution is no longer in dispute, they end up feeling betrayed by their church for not being honest with the facts, a point Ambs makes in a post at her blog:
I prayed for months for spiritual protection from the deceiving enemy who was out to get me as I began to read things – for the first time – that argued against what I believed. I would pray for God’s leading before, during and after I read. Shockingly, I was reading new, important information. Why hadn’t I been told these facts? Much of what I read resonated deeply, and confirmed the doubts I had were not foolish, evil tricks or without simple explanations.  Emphasis mine [2]
No relationship can survive when one party feels betrayed and deceived by the other, which is why deconversion often follows in such situations.

As I noted in my introduction, Ambs regards the overwhelming evidence for human evolution as the 'nail in the coffin' for her faith.
Here is the crux of it: No Adam means Adam could not commit the original sin, separating us from the Judeo-Christian God. No ‘one man’ Adam separating us means no need for ‘one man’ Jesus to reconcile us to the Judeo-Christian God.

When we put these things together, the very premise of Christianity comes crashing down like a domino effect. And this is by tangible proof we can hold in our hands, not by debates in subjective, human reasoning. Creationist fundamentalists know this is the achilles heel of their faith and they refuse to accept evolution. Their faith is ultimately more important to them than evidence.
Ambs is hardly alone in believing that evolution undermines the core of Christian faith. Mike Aus, a former Lutheran pastor likewise has argued that the fact of human evolution completely guts Christian theology.
Which core doctrines of Christianity does evolution challenge? Well, basically all of them. The doctrine of original sin is a prime example. If my rudimentary grasp of the science is accurate, then Darwin’s theory tells us that because new species only emerge extremely gradually, there really is no “first” prototype or model of any species at all—no “first” dog or “first” giraffe and certainly no “first” homo sapiens created instantaneously. The transition from predecessor hominid species was almost imperceptible. So, if there was no “first” human, there was clearly no original couple through whom the contagion of “sin” could be transmitted to the entire human race....Really, without a doctrine of original sin there is not much left for the Christian program. If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. [3]
The real tragedy here is that this loss of faith is due not to any fundamental clash between Bible and science. Rather, the problem stems from the doctrine of Original Sin, one that was unknown in the Christian church for its first few centuries of existence and which in the form known to Western Christianity is absent from Eastern Orthodoxy, one of the main branches of Christianity. The problem owes everything to dogma and nothing to the Bible.

Original Sin - The Evolution of a Dogma

In the Didache, a handbook on Christian doctrine and praxis dating from the late 1st to early 2nd centuries CE assumes adult baptism, a significant point given that part of the justification for infant baptism was the belief that it was needed to 'cleanse the stain' of Original Sin. Clement of Rome, writing at approximately the same time (late 1st century) in his Letter to the Corinthians assumes the universality both of sin and the need for redemption. However, he does not explain either, Ignatius of Antioch, who died around 108 CE assumed the universality of sin without explicitly stating that it was an inherited condition. In The Shepherd of Hermas, which dates from the first half of the second century CE, we see an echoing of ancient Judaism in asserting that sin leads to death. In particular, personal sin arose from individual choice. Infants therefore, as they were not able to choose between good and evil had no personal sin. The absence of any explicit reference to a fully-formed Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin in the earliest post-NT Christian writings is hard to reconcile with the belief that it represented original Christian teaching.

It is impossible to fully appreciate the evolution of Original Sin without an understanding of Gnosticism, a pessimistic worldview obsessed with evil. Some Christian Gnostics argued that the sin of Genesis 2 was cosmic in dimension, and that once trapped in the material world, humans were inevitable sinners. Therefore, they needed liberation from this world through an esoteric saving knowledge. Clement of Alexandria (150CE to 215 CE) argued that Gnostics made the concept of moral responsibility meaningless. His idea of human freedom was rooted in a view similar to the Hebrew idea of the good desire and the bad desire. Ultimately, humans had the freedom to sin, or not to sin. Clement of Alexandra proposed that humans inherited from Adam a bad example, and saw in Adam's sin a refusal to be educated by God. The late second century Christian Irenaeus of Lyon rejected the Gnostic reading of Genesis 3 as a cosmic fall. He regarded sin as inevitable, but believed humans were responsible for their sin. Irenaeus differentiated between the 'image of God' and the 'likeness of God', The former he argued referred to the human capacity for moral reasoning and, he argued, remained with Adam after his sin. The latter, Irenaeus claimed referred to Adam's spiritual similarity to God, which he believed was lost after sin.

Justin Martyr (100-160 CE) apart from arguing that infants needed baptism because they were born with 'wayward inclinations' regarded the sin of Adam as a 'template' for human sin. He asserted that while Adam's sin weakened human freedom, it did not eradicate it. Therefore, humans were without excuse if they failed. The link between the sin of Adam and that common to all humans therefore is best seen as a doctrine of human corruption rather than human sin. The key difference is how the universality of sin is explained, and the need to appeal to any mechanism of genetic inheritance. The fact supporters of Pelagius in opposing Augustine appealed to Justin Martyr is definitely significant.

Tertullian (160CE to 225CE) rejected the Gnostic 'cosmic fall' theory of Genesis three, and saw two consequences of Adam's sin:
  • alienation of human beings from God (historical)
  • change of human state from blessedness to wretchedness (human nature).
Tertullian advocated a traducianist theory of the origin of soul which argued that an individual's immortal soul (a concept that I reject of course) was inherited from his or her parents. Humanity was therefore linked to Adam as all souls were therefore linked with those of Adam by generation. This marks the start of the idea of human solidarity in sin with Adam. Tertullian also argued that Adam's sin introduced an irrational element into human nature biasing humans towards sin, but which in itself was not a sin.

Origen (185CE - 254 CE) was the first to coin the term 'original sin'. He explicitly argued for infant baptism given his belief that everyone was tainted with original sin, and cited Genesis 3 and Psalm 51:5 as justification. Baptism he asserted removed this defilement. Interestingly, Origin still believed humans retained the ability to choose between good and evil even with the defilement of Original Sin, a position definitely at variance with the classic view of Original Sin. Furthermore, his view on Original Sin was not contingent on human solidarity in Adan. Instead, he argued that defilement of the soul was as a result of poor choices made in the transcendent realm, prior to the fall to the historical realm. Origen argued that the personal sin of humanity was due to following Adam's poor example.

At this point, it is easy to see the trends that would result in the evolution of the classic doctrine of Original Sin:
  • A belief that the practice of infant baptism began because babies were believed to have been born with sin
  • A belief that Adam’s sin was transmitted to the next generation at the moment of conception
  • An idiosyncratic reading of Romans 5:12
While Original Sin as we know it was first formulated by Augustine, one can see the ideas on which Augustine drew developing in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.

Cyprian (200-258CE) asserted that Adam;s sin was inherited by each person at conception, and saw it as a form of contagion. As everyone was born with Adam's sin he argued, they all needed forgiveness. Baptism both cleansed the stain of contagion and gave forgiveness. Conversely, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 CE) while regarding Adam's sin as the beginning of sin and death in the human race explicitly rejected Original Sin, claiming that only human nature could be inherited, not sin. Theodore's views have been seen as a theology of Original Death.

The seminal event leading to the doctrine of Original Sin arguably can be found in the writings of the 4th century theologian Ambrosiaster, His mistake was in using the flawed Latin reading of Romans 5v12, a reading which can be seen in the Douay-Rheims, (The NRSV is used as a reference to show the error in the Latin version to which Ambrosiater appealed):
  • NRSV: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.
  • Douay-Rheims: Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
Ambrosiaster argued physical death and a tendency to sin were the two principal consequences of Adam’s sin. Therefore, for Ambrosiaster, Christ was the remedy for Original Sin. As even medieval scholars realised, the Old Latin reading of Romans 5v12 was demonstrably flawed. Ambrosiater based his theology largely on a flawed translation of a single verse.

Before looking at Augustine, it is helpful to compare the views of early and later Christianity on this subject. As we've seen, a doctrine of Original sin was unknown to the early church for its first two centuries. Furthermore, the doctrine evolved over time. Even concepts such as the Origin of Sin, the Fall, and the Inheritance of Sin were defined in significantly different ways by the church over time,

Origin of Sin
  • Later church: refers to the cause of the universality of human sinfulness, for which the answers were unity in Adam, or the physical transmission of Adam’s sin.
  • Early writers: were more concerned about the origin of death. Why would God create humans only to have them die? By making human sin the cause of death, the blame was placed on humans. Death is the punishment for sin.
The Fall
  • Later church: this refers both to a change in human nature, making it inferior to its pre-fall state, and expulsion from paradise.
  • Early church: writers disagreed about the location of the fall. Origen placed it in the transcendent realm. Irenaeus located it in history, but did not see it as representing a change in human nature, but a gradual spread of evil through the world due to the inevitability of sin.
Inheritance of Sin 
  • Early Church: were not in agreement about what this meant, with views such as humans inheriting a warped world (much as we say our children will inherit our mistakes) or humans inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve, but not their sin being prevalent/
  • Later church: original sin and its effects genetically inherited.
Augustine (354 - 430 CE) argued that moral and spiritual purity were impossible for a human to achieve. Even after the removal of Original Sin through baptism, Augustine asserted that a permanent warp towards sin still existed. Major influences on Augustine were
  •  Cyprian: Adam’s sin was a contagion inherited by each person at conception.
  • Ambrose of Milan: Adam’s sin was transmitted biologically to his descendants
  • Jerome: also argued in favour of a biological theory of inheritance. Jerome was influenced by
  • Didymus the Blind: argued that infants were born with a sin transmitted through conception.
  • Ambrosiaster: interpretation of Romans 5v12 provided significant theological support.
No discussion of Original Sin and Augustine is complete without referring to Pelagius (354-418 CE). Pelagius pointed out that  Augustine’s view on human nature made sin inevitable. Moral responsibility therefore would vanish. He argued that the tendency to do evil, predicated on bad habits, could be reversed with effort and reconditioning. God’s primary gift of grace, Pelagius argued was moral nature (bonum naturae). The image of God in humans is the capacity for moral choice and performance, and was given so that we know what is right, and choose to do this. The existence of human freedom, Pelagius stated that the existence of human freedom was was proof that we could do either good or bad. If we did not have the potential to avoid doing good, then how could one be held morally responsible? Only if one had the freedom to do good or evil could one be held morally responsible. Pelagius argued that God provided natural and revealed law to guide human behaviour. n He believed that God offered three forms of grace to help people avoid sin (1) natural and revealed law (2) the teachings and example of Christ and (3)  the forgiveness of sins through the church.

In 418CE, the Council of Carthage debated Pelagius' views. It identified the following teachings of his follower Celestius as being at odds with those of Augustine:
  • Adam was created mortal and would have died irrespective of whether he had sinned
  • The whole human race did not have to die because of Adam’s sin
  • Adam’s sin was not transmitted to his descendants
  • Infants are born in the same state as Adam prior to his sin
  • The Law was as sufficient for salvation as the gospel
The first canon of the Council of Carthage stated that Adam had been given immortality, but lost it through sin. Its second canon focused on the state in which humans were born. It inferred from the practice of infant baptism the existence of original sin, and made the belief that babies are born with Adam’s sin Christian orthodoxy. Original Sin had become de facto Western Christian orthodoxy.

I deliberately emphasised Western Christian because the doctrine of Original Sin as we know it is largely absent from Eastern Christianity. Theologian George Kalantzis reminds us that:

“Unlike Augustine and much of the Western tradition, for Theodore, Chrysostom, and Theodoret, the Fall neither introduced mortality as an ontological change to the human γένος, nor removed freedom of choice, προαίρεσις, from our post-lapsarian condition.” [4]
In other words, these leading figures in the Eastern church did not believe that Adam became mortal after his sin or that as a result of it he was biased towards sin, being unable to choose freely. Needless to say, this is radically different to both the Catholic and (in particular) the Reformed views on Original Sin, Kalantzis continues:
“Mortality is at once the consequence of sin and an aspect of humanity’s original state. The mere fact that Scripture tells us God made Adam “from the dust of the earth” should make clear to everyone that his body was mortal by nature, from the very beginning. Adam is mortal for no other reason than that he has a body.

“From the moment of his creation Adam was bound to the consequences of what God had foreseen he would freely choose to do. Mortality, then is not of one kind in two modes (now as a natural condition, now as a penalty) but there are two distinct genera of mortality: the natural mortality whose origin is in the “dust of the earth,” and a different type, a penal mortality, the punishment for actual sin.[6] Emphasis mine
Kalantzis' point about 'two different types of mortality', namely the death that is a function of human bodies eventually wearing out and dying, and death as a punishment for sin is one that is important to keep in mind, as conflation of death and mortality lies at the heart of Western Christian misunderstanding of the issue, a point that can be readily appreciated by looking at Rom 6v23 - "the wages of sin is death" and realising how this Pauline statement collapses into incoherence if mortality is substituted for death. Continuing:
“If, then, Adam and Eve’s post-lapsarian mortality was not the result of an ontological change that took place at the moment of their lapse, and if death is the just punishment for sin, one is left to wonder about the overwhelming force of sin and death in the experience of the rest of the human race—their children.

“The answer, of course, would be found in Romans 5. Theodoret is the most concise on this point: “Since Adam had sinned and death had occurred through sin, both spread to the race: death spread to all human beings for the reason that all sinned. In other words…it is not because of the sin of the first parent but because of their own that each person is liable to the norm of death.” Like all the Greek Fathers before him, Theodoret finds the etiology for our deaths in our own sin, not that of our first parents. [7] Emphasis mine
I cannot put it any better. We are mortal because we are made from the dust of the ground. Adam's sin set an example to follow, but our sin stems from our own poor choices, not from any mythical inherited sin, or inherited 'fallen nature' that warps us towards evil. What Christ offers then is an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21) rather than a reversal of any mythical Original Sin. Given this,  evolution ceases to be the 'nail in the coffin' of Christianity. At most, it shows that the Reformed and Catholic views on Original Sin are untenable and need to be modified.

It is interesting to see that some Catholic theologians readily concede this. Catholic theologian Jack Mahoney notes that
The formal teaching of the Council of Trent, then, is that Adam’s original sin is inherited by everyone through procreation and that its guilt is forgiven by the conferring of baptism, yet something of its results remains even in the baptized, experienced as concupiscence or sinful desires, fomenting or fueling sin in each of us. On this several comments can be offered, the first crucially relating to where it all starts, namely, to what Paul meant in Romans 5:12 when he used the Greek phrase eph’ hō relating to Adam’s action. Augustine and others, including the council fathers at Trent, relying on the Old Latin translation, took this to mean in Latin in quo, or “in whom,” with the clear implication that everyone had sinned in Adam. Most exegetes today understand this phrase as using the common Greek preposition epi to imply succession rather than inclusion, thus giving the meaning “since when” all have sinned rather than “in whom” all have sinned. We must conclude that if this is the original Pauline meaning, it removes from divine revelation any reference to Adam’s descendants being incorporated in solidarity “in him” (in quo), and as a result it dispenses with the conclusion that the whole of succeeding humanity has been condemned en masse as a sort of “condemned mass in Adam,” as Augustine and others explained. J. N. D. Kelly delivers his considered verdict in explaining how the Old Latin version of the New Testament (which had influence only in the West) gave “an exegesis of Rom 5, 12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin.”
As a consequence of this reflection, it follows that there is now no need for theology to find a method by which to explain how all Adam’s offspring inherit his original sin. Trent’s insistence that Adam’s original sin was transmitted among all subsequent human beings by propagation, or by generation, rather than simply by imitation (which Pelagius was considered to have maintained) was clearly due more to the theological polemic of Saint Augustine against Pelagius and his supporters than to Paul’s writing centuries earlier. [8] Emphasis mine
While it is reasonable to assume that Paul believed that Adam was the first human being, as Mahoney, Kalantzis, and others note, his theology is not contingent on this, and as a result, is unaffected by evolution. It is a tragedy that conservative Protestant sects fail to recognise this.


1, Suze Ambs "
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Flat earthers it seems are everywhere at the moment. A movement that one would imagine would have not survived the launch of space probes has not only managed to survive but thrive. One thing that many overlook however is that most flat earthers are united by their adherence to Biblical literalism. For them, the literal word of the Bible is the ultimate authority, and they are convinced that a literal reading of the Bible teaches a flat earth covered by a solid firmament. One may regard their denial of the last 2500 years of science as beyond insane, but they at least deserve credit for being consistent in their literalism. Conventional YECs and even geocentrists, both of whom also claim to take the literal word of the Bible as their ultimate authority in reality reject a literal reading of the Bible when it conflicts with their belief in a spherical Earth, leaving them rightly open to the charge of selective literalism.

Back to our flat Earthers. Recently, Josiah Hessein writing in The Guardian reported on the link between them and fundamentalist Christianity. The article opened with a report on a flat earth conference at Denver, Colorado:
The hotel is hosting the second annual Flat Earth International Conference – an event that Davidson himself founded and organized. 
“I’d first heard it in the Bible and thought ‘this can’t be true,’” he recalled, speaking with rapid excitement. “I mean, I believed everything else, that the Earth was created in six literal days, but what about all this other stuff [about a flat Earth]? To be consistent as a biblical literalist, I can’t pick and choose.” [1]
Well, quite. If you claim you're a Biblical literalist then you've got to take all the Biblical references referring to the nature and origin of the Earth literally. Unsurprisingly, given this emphasis on consistently interpreting the Bible literally, evangelical Christians represent one of the main group of flat earthers. Hessein again:

But perhaps the most common thread is the Bible, and the conviction of its fundamental truth. That makes evangelical Christians one of largest and most enthusiastic groups who embrace the theory, but they are also one of the least reported on and one that causes immense controversy in their own community. [2]
Unsurprisingly, the non-fundamentalist parts of the evangelical community are less than impressed by the spectacle of their fundamentalist wing finding yet another way to bring the name 'evangelical' into disrepute. Evangelical Christian and OT scholar Michael Heiser, who is currently Academic Editor for Logos Bible Software has written extensively on how ancient Hebrews - like others in the ancient Near East - did not believe the Earth was a sphere orbiting the sun but rather believed it was flat, and covered by a solid firmament in which the sun, moon, and stars were set. Heiser, as Hessein notes, is quite frustrated by the fact that flat earthers are taking his work (and that of other OT scholars who have documented the ancient Hebrew cosmogeography) out of context and using it as proof' that the Biblical references to a flat earth are prescriptive as well as descriptive:
“In Genesis, you have an Earth that is round but flat, with a solid dome over it,” says Heiser. “In Proverbs, there are references to the seas being held in place where light meets darkness, which is the horizon, where the dome covers and seals the Earth. You have references to the Earth being set upon a foundation, known as the pillars of the Earth. You have waters beneath the Earth, which is the realm of the dead.

“All of this is standard vocabulary for how people of this time and place viewed the world. They didn’t know about Antarctica or New Zealand. The Bible is an ancient Mediterranean-centered document, written by people who are describing their world through their experiences. The mountains are described as holding the dome of the sky in place, but there was no REI store nearby where they could buy mountain climbing gear and scale these peaks to see what was going on.”

Heiser is a Christian himself, albeit one who prefers to view the Bible in its historical context. [3]
Historical context is the all-important fact here, and it is where both standard YECs and flat-earthers fall down. The former, acknowledging just enough science to accept that the Earth is indeed spherical and orbits the sun while rejecting the rest of contemporary science when it comes to the age of the universe have to explain away the clear references to a solid firmament [4] while still pretending that they take the entire Bible literally in its description of the earth. The latter, while entirely consistent in their literalism have failed to recognise that the references to a flat earth and a solid firmament reflect divine accommodation, a point recognised long ago by John Calvin, who while (vainly) trying to argue for firmament as expanse acknowledged the difficulties in consistent literalism:
 Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. [5]
Incredible is an understatement, particularly if one is simultaneously trying to deny the existence of a solid firmament while believing that the waters above the heaven are literal. Calvin continues:
For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here   V 1, p 80  the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. [6]
This principle, that God accommodates the finite perspective of His audience even if that means accommodating a belief in a flat earth topped by a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below, in which are set the sun, moon, and stars, is one that solves the problem by recognising that the Bible does reflect a flat earth cosmogeography without endorsing it or requiring its acceptance as a first principle, as Heiser remarks
My position is straightforward. The biblical writers do indeed describe a flat round earth...They wrote about the world this way because they lived at a time before knowledge of the natural world was sufficient to demonstrate otherwise. But I don’t believe the earth is really flat “because the Bible tells me so.” The knowledge the biblical writers had of their physical surroundings isn’t a truth proposition for biblical theology. Anyone who uses my work to prop up this idea without providing a disclaimer that I reject modern flat earth thinking is unprincipled and deliberately dishonest. [7]
The YEC analogue to the flat earther who takes the scholarly consensus on the ANE view of the world as proof the earth really is flat is arguably the position which seeks to read into the OT a modern cosmology, creating in the process a biblical-modern cosmogeography which violates both scripture and science. I was reminded of this yesterday when I encountered this slide from a fundamentalist presentation attempting to debunk the scholarly consensus on the firmament:

Of course the fundamental error behind this attempt at a biblical-modern cosmogeography is that it assumes without any justification that the Bible is going to reflect a modern concept of the world. Given that passages such as Job 26v11 "the pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at his rebuke" [8] when read literally teach a non-modern cosmology, any attempt to create a biblical-modern cosmology is dead in the water.

What strikes any disinterested reader when they see this slide is that the author has started with the conclusion - that the Bible must reflect a modern cosmology - and cherry-picked verses across the Bible that have no obvious relationship with each other and are taken out of context (the verses on the right come from prayer and wisdom literature so their use to construct a biblical-modern cosmology immediately suggests that the creator of the slide has committed eisegesis). It is entirely reasonable to expect that if the author wants to give us a coherent, consistent Biblical justification for his model, then the author would need to confine his supportive verses to a single passage or at the very least passages from a prose-narrative genre where the Biblical author is referring to a description of the earth.

Even the verses on the left, which come from the same passage betray evidence of considerable massaging in order to fit the conclusion. The author, without any justification invents two firmaments, a firmament called heaven (Gen 1:8) and a firmament of the heavens (Gen 1:18). The reason behind this multiplication of firmaments is to evade the fact that if one misinterprets raqia' as 'expanse' (the Hebrew word translated firmament in the AV which the CEB and NRSV correctly render as 'dome') then there is a huge problem in that as Gen 1:15 states, the sun, moon, and stars are in the firmament:
14 God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. 15 They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. 16 God made the stars and two great lights: the larger light to rule over the day and the smaller light to rule over the night. 17 God put them in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. (Emphasis mine) [9]
Keep in mind that Gen 1:6-8 informs us that the firmament separated waters above from waters below:
6 God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters to separate the waters from each other.” 7 God made the dome and separated the waters under the dome from the waters above the dome. And it happened in that way. 8 God named the dome Sky [10]
If this firmament was actually an atmospheric expanse separating clouds from ocean, then Gen 1:14-18 would teach that the sun, moon, and stars were in the atmosphere, something which even YECs acknowledge is impossible. In order to avoid this fatal blow to the biblical-modern cosmogeograpy, without any justification, a second firmament is created in Gen 1. As one can see from reading modern translations such as the CEB, the translators did not think there were two firmaments, but simply referred to the dome. (Gen 1:14 refers to the dome of the sky for the simply reason that in the preceding verse 8, the dome was named sky). Here, the mainstream view that the firmament is a solid entity separating waters above from waters below, in which were set the sun, moon, and stars is by far the more coherent explanation for the data.

Finally, if there were two firmaments, then we would expect to see clear reference to this in Ezekiel 1 which explicitly refers to the raqia':
22 The shape above the heads of the creatures was a dome; it was like glittering ice stretched out over their heads. 23 Just below the dome, their outstretched wings touched each other. They each also had two wings to cover their bodies. 24 Then I heard the sound of their wings when they moved forward. It was like the sound of mighty waters, like the sound of the Almighty,f like the sound of tumult or the sound of an army camp. When they stood still, their wings came to rest. 25 Then there was a sound from above the dome over their heads. They stood still, and their wings came to rest.
 26 Above the dome over their heads, there appeared something like lapis lazuli in the form of a throne. Above the form of the throne there was a form that looked like a human being. 27 Above what looked like his waist, I saw something like gleaming amber, something like fire enclosing it all around. Below what looked like his waist, I saw something that appeared to be fire. Its brightness shone all around. 28 Just as a rainbow lights up a cloud on a rainy day, so its brightness shone all around. This was how the form of the LORD’s glory appeared. When I saw it, I fell on my face. I heard the sound of someone speaking. [11]
Apart from the fact that the solidity of the firmament is clearly attested here, the absence of a second firmament neatly refutes the assertion that two firmaments exist in Gen 1. The model thus fails on Biblical grounds, and is clearly an example of distorting the Biblical data to salvage an attempt to read a modern conception of the Earth into the Bible.

Finally, the model fails on meteorological grounds. The 'firmament called heaven' according to this model exists to separate waters above (the clouds) from waters below (the ocean). As anyone with a nodding familiarity with meteorology would realise, clouds don't exist in a neatly defined layer, but extend from ground level (fog) to polar stratospheric clouds which are in the stratosphere approximately 20 km above ground level. In fact cumulonimbus clouds can extend from 200m to as high as 10km, occasionally even reaching 20,000 km.

Given that ground level clouds such as ocean fog are hovering over the ocean, the 'firmament called heaven' would appear not only to be doing a poor job of separating waters above from waters below but in this case be compressed out of existence altogether. When a model fails both biblical and scientific examination, it is fair to say that the only intellectually honest approach is to abandon it, stop trying to read science into the Bible, and read what the text in sociocultural context is actually saying.


Flat earthers, despite being utterly, irredeemably wrong have one thing over the class of YEC who try to read modern concepts of the world into an ancient text in that they are consistent with their literalism. Of course, their problem is that they think the biblical cosmogeography is prescriptive as well as descriptive, a view that places them in conflict with observed reality. YECs get the worst of both worlds in that they maintain their literalism selectively, asserting that despite the evidence, evolution is false and the earth young, but then abandoning their hermeneutic and insisting that despite what a plain reading of the Bible says, the Earth is spherical and has no solid sky. Needless to say, the special pleading and cherry-picking of the Biblical evidence required to defend the YEC view is considerable and undermines the integrity of their entire worldview.

Recognising that the Bible accommodates pre-modern cosmogeography without endorsing it, for the simple reason that it is more concerned with telling us who created the world, rather than when and how. Once more, the Bible teaches a theology of creation, not a science of creation.


1. Josiah Hessein "Flat Earthers keep the faith at Denver conference" The Guardian Sun 18th November 2018
2. ibid 
3. ibid
4. I have written extensively on this subject so will not repeat myself. It is fair to say that outside a tiny fundamentalist / confessional minority, OT scholarship recognises that the ancient Near Eastern concept of the world was radically different from ours, with belief in a solid sky (of varying geometries) normative. As OT scholar Peter Enns notes, "The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another". See "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point" BioLogos Blog Jan 14 2010. (I am aware that a few Christadelphians have recently written against the scholarly consensus on the cosmogeography of the OT and ANE. As these authors are amateurs with zero professional training in the relevant scholarly disciplines, have self-published their works and have not submitted them as far as I am aware for professional peer review, these books can be dismissed without further examination.)5. John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79.
6. ibid, p 79-80
7. Michael Heiser "Christians Who Believe the Earth is Really Flat — Does It Get Any Dumber Than This?" Naked Bible Feb 18 2016
8. Fundamentalists invariably appeal to Job 26v7 "He...hangs the earth upon nothing" to prove that the Bible was ahead of its time in describing the Earth suspended in space. Curiously, they fail to include verse 11 in their Biblical cosmogeography. This is yet another example of fundamentalist inconsistency in literalism.
9. Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Ge 1:14–18.
10. Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Ge 1:6–8.
11. Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), Eze 1:22–28.
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"How is evolutionary creationism consistent with the Bible?" is a question one hears from people who accept the fact of evolution, but wonder how the Biblical statements on creation can be harmonised with the modern scientific understanding on how the diversity of life appeared on this planet over its 4600 million year history. The short answer is that the Bible teaches who created the universe, not how. To that one can add that it is vital to grasp the concept of Divine agency where something is ultimately attributed to God, even though the actual nuts and bolts of how it was achieved can be explained by a secondary process. Finally, it is important to understand that God accommodates pre-modern views on the nature of the universe, rather than try to teach a scientifically accurate (by modern standards) view which would have been incomprehensible to a pre-scientific audience. Ultimately, there is no need to ask how to harmonise any aspect of science with the Bible as that is immaterial to its main purpose.

The Bible teaches a theology of creation. That is a statement that all theists would regard as fairly obvious, if only because of the frequent biblical statements asserting that God is the creator. Apart from the well-known statements in Genesis 1, references such as these:
  • Isa 40:28 "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable."
  • Isa 42:5 "Thus says God, the LORD,  who created the heavens and stretched them out,  who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it  and spirit to those who walk in it"
  • Isa 45:12 "I made the earth,  and created humankind upon it;  it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,  and I commanded all their host"
  • Isa 45:18 " For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!),  who formed the earth and made it  (he established it;  he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): 
  • Amos 4:13 "For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals,  makes the morning darkness,  and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!"
  • Mal 2:10 "Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?"
are hardly ambiguous in declaring that the very universe itself owes its existence to the creative power of God, who is the only God in the universe. Furthermore, as Isaiah 45v18 states, God formed it to be inhabited, a verse which strongly intimates that this act of creation was a deliberate one. As the previous verses indicate, the book of Isaiah has much to say about God as creator, and as Isaiah 65v17 declares, his interest in his creation is such that he will one day redeem and transform it:
For I am about to create new heavens  and a new earth;  the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 
What the Bible does not do however is teach a science of creation. Nowhere do we find a detailed elaboration of how galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, stars, solar systems, and planets are formed. The Bible is silent on the details of stellar nucleosynthesis, geomorphology, and plate tectonics. We read nothing about the details of island biogeography, developmental biology, meiosis, or DNA repair, partly because the details are irrelevant to a theology of creation, partly because they would have been incomprehensible to the original audience, but mainly because they do not add anything of substance to the ultimate assertion that God is creator. In other words they do not change our understanding of Divine agency.

If we look at Exodus 7:4-5 God asserts:
When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.
In fact, God explicitly states in verses 17-18 that he would strike the water with the staff in his hand in order to turn it to blood:
Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.
God however did not literally strike the Nile, but employed secondary methods (Aaron) to achieve his aims. Likewise, God did not literally stretch out his hand to smite Egypt, but rather employed secondary methods - the plagues - to achieve these ends.

That God can work in the natural world through secondary causes and have those causes ascribed to his will and purpose is of course uncontroversial given that we already accept that atmospheric physics and developmental biology allow us to explain respectively how storms form and babies develop from a single fertilised egg to an infant, while still accepting the Biblical references to these process being the handiwork of God:
  • 1 Sam 12:17-18 Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
  • Job 28:26 When He set a limit for the rain and a course for the thunderbolt,
  • Zech 10:1 The Lord who makes the storm clouds; and He will give them showers of rain, vegetation in the field to each man.
  • Jer 10:13 When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, and brings out the wind from His storehouses.
  • Jer 51:16 When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain And brings forth the wind from His storehouses.
  • Jer 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.
  • Psa 139:13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb.
  • Job 10:10-11 Did You not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese; clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews?
  • Job 31:15 Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same one fashion us in the womb?
  • Isa 44:2 Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you
  • Isa 44:24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone."

Certainly, these verses are fairly emphatic in directly ascribing to God the formation of infants in the womb. In fact, the last verse not only refers to God as forming people from the womb also refers to God as creator. Appealing to that verse as evidence against evolution would also just as validly be used to argue against any attempt to promote a belief in 'theistic embryogenesis' as well as 'theistic evolution.' Accepting the scientific explanations of the nuts and bolts of how the universe was formed and how the diversity of life appeared is entirely compatible with a theology of creation in the same way as accepting the sciences of meteorology and developmental biology are compatible with accepting the references to God being behind the marvelous process of birth and the awesome majesty of the storm clouds.

It is also important to keep in mind that the Bible accommodates, without endorsing, pre-scientific views of the universe. The classic example of this is the reference to the creation of the firmament in Genesis 1. As modern scholars realise, this firmament is solid, separates waters above from waters below, and has embedded in it the stars. As Old Testament scholar Peter Enns notes, the firmament "is understood by contemporary biblical scholars as a solid structure" and asserts:
The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another. [1]

In his book "The Lost World of Genesis One", Old Testament scholar John Walton likewise reminds us that Genesis 1
...does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions. The Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their “scientific” understanding of the cosmos. They did not know that stars were suns; they did not know that the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not know that the sun was much further away than the moon, or even further than the birds flying in the air. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of deity as well as to hold back waters. In these ways, and many others, they thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today. And God did not think it important to revise their thinking. [2]
The upshot here is that taking Genesis 1 literally in order to obtain a science of creation would oblige the exegete to adopt unreservedly the Biblical cosmogeography of a flat earth covered by a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below. This alone is enough to point out that Genesis 1's aim is not to provide a scientifically accurate account of origins, but be the foundation text of a theology of creation, one which holds irrespective of the scientific details of how it happened.


I have refrained from commenting on the science because this article is written for the benefit of a person who accepts the fact of evolution and needs no elaboration of the evidence. However, while I regard any attempt to harmonise the creation narratives with what modern science has to say as making the mistake of trying to equate a science of creation with a theology of creation, it is fascinating to note what the renown palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, a Christian believer, has to say:
In essence, we can ask ourselves what salient facts of evolution are congruent with a Creation. In my judgement, they are as follows: (1) its underlying simplicity, relying on a handful of building blocks; (2) the existence of an immense universe of possibilities, but a way of navigating to that minutest of fractions which actually work; (3) the sensitivity of the process and the product, whereby nearly all alternatives are disastrously maladaptive; (4) the inherency of life whereby complexity emerges as much by the rearrangement and co-option of pre-existing building blocks as against relying on novelties per se; (5) the exuberance of biological diversity, but the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence; (6) the inevitability of the emergence of sentience, and the likelihood that among animals it is far more prevalent than we are willing to admit." [4]
Special creationism looks for the hand of God in the wrong place, down at the level of the individual species. However, just as we see the hand of God in history not in the individual events, but in the broad sweep, if we step back and look at the grand sweep of life with its convergence towards sentience, and as Simon Conway Morris notes, the 'salient facts of evolution that are congruent with creation', we can see God in the grand plan. Rather than see God as designer, we see God as the grand architect, working through imperfect secondary causes, but ultimately achieving his goal.


1. Enns P "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point" BioLogos Jan 14 2010
2. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 14. Walton differs from other scholars on the precise nature of the raqia, but this difference does not alter the his fundamental point that the creation narrative here reflects a pre-modern cosmogeography.
3. Simon Conway Morris Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003: Cambridge University Press) p 329

Parts of this article have been adapted from earlier ones on this site
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Recently, a creationist meme attempting to show that the Bible has always been ahead of science by comparing "Science Then" and "Science Now" with selected statements from the Bible has been circulating around the more fundamentalist parts of the internet.

This meme is a actually a stripped-down and modified version of a meme that has been circulating for at least five years now:

It is frankly depressing that something this risible is taken seriously by a large number of Christians. Just the lack of references for any of the "Science Then" claims should be enough to destroy the credibility of this meme as there is absolutely no way to verify these references. However, despite a number of debunkings, [1-2] fundamentalists still persist in sharing the meme. That past debunkings have not been able to put this ridiculous meme out of its misery suggests that yet another one is hardly likely to be successful, but given that this meme is circulating in our community and 'in-house' debunkings are slightly more likely to be successful, there is some justification in spending time putting this meme once again to the sword.

The first problem with this meme is its entire premise that the Bible contains scientifically accurate information and was somehow 'ahead of its time'. It is however reasonable to ask why these 'scientifically accurate statements' were not realised thousands of years ago. Given that people have appealed, and continue to appeal to [3-5] the Bible to defend geocentrism and a flat Earth, it is clear that the Bible not only does not proclaim these "scientifically accurate statements" clearly and unambiguously, but if read literally would appear to support a pre-scientific worldview. In reality, these 'scientifically advanced statements' were "discovered" in the Bible only after science had already found them.

One would also expect a literal reading of the Bible to be consistent in proclaiming "facts ahead of their time". This is not the case, as one can readily see by looking at Job 26:11, which follows a few verses after the first passage in the meme, Job 26:7 which creationists allege "prove" the Bible taught the Earth 'floats' in space:
The pillars of heaven tremble,  and are astounded at his rebuke
This verse when read literally teaches that heaven is suspended on pillars, a world-view analogous to the view of 'Science Then' with the Earth supported by elephants or divine beings. It is definitely special pleading to assert that verse 11 is poetry while verse 7 is literal. After all, without modern science, why would one have read verse 7 literally and not verse 11?

There is also the fact that some of the passages which are claimed to show that the Bible is ahead of its time actually reflect a pre-modern worldview. The first quote in the larger meme - Isa 40:22 - far from teaching that the Earth was a sphere arguably lends support to a flat earth, a point ably made by Robert Schneider:
The prophet who uttered the words of 40:22 is the same prophet who proclaimed that Yahweh is the Creator who "spread out the earth" (42:5; 44:24). The Hebrew verb in both passages is raqa', which means "to stretch out, spread out or abroad, cover over" and, according to Theodore Gaster, "to flatten out."37 Among his people in the exile community in Babylon, looking out over the enormous desert expanse that reached from horizon to horizon, it is not surprising that this prophet would describe God as "flattening out" the land. These other expressions also militate against the notion that the prophet was implying a spherical earth in 40:22a, and they act as a check against focusing upon one verse and reading it outside the larger context of this prophet's other inspired oracles of creation and salvation.
If creationists had sought any support among biblical philologists, they might have found a nod given to them in the article on chûgh by Edwin Yamauchi in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. "Some have held," he states, "that Isa 40:22 implies the sphericity of the earth. It may, but it may refer only to the Lord enthroned above the earth with its obviously circular horizon." Yamauchi offers no supporting evidence for this concession to opinion, and in fact there is none that he or anyone else could give: a circle is no more a sphere in Scripture than it is in geometry. The preponderance of philological evidence and the translations of ancient scholars and modern experts alike provide overwhelming testimony that Isa 40:22a does not refer to a spherical earth. There is simply no warrant for Eastman, Sarfati, and Morris to declare, contrary to its plain sense and in violation of its semantic domain, that chûgh literally means sphericity. They have read the earth's sphericity into the text, not out of it. And this is the conclusion to which I would lead my students. [6]
Finally,  there is also the well-known fact that Genesis 1:6-8 and 14-17 clearly refers to a solid firmament [7] separating waters above from waters below, and in which were embedded the sun, moon, and stars. One would expect that the first creation narrative would be the place where, if the Bible was 'scientifically ahead of its time', we would expect to see such information, but what we actually see is the Bible accommodating [8] and reflecting the pre-scientific worldview of its original audience.  As John Walton notes:
Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity. [9]
Given the presence of passages that unambiguously reflect the pre-scientific worldview of the original audience, the cherry-picking involved in selecting verses 'ahead of their time', and the blatant misunderstanding of verses which don't teach a modern worldview but reflect an ancient one, the reality is that we do not and should not expect to see the Bible 'ahead of its time', and any verses that appear to do so are simply a case of a literal reading in the light of modern science superficially resembling modern scientific statements.

By far the most misleading part of the meme is the column labelled "Science Then", which misleadingly confuses mythology and early scientific speculation. Nothing that we would remotely call 'science' every asserted that the Earth was suspended by a Titan or four elephants. In fact, given that a heliocentric cosmology dates back to the 3rd century BCE (Aristarchus of Samos) while the concept of a spherical earth was maintained by the Greeks no later than the 4th century BCE, it is not unfair to say that on this point at least, 'modern science' was 'ahead" of the Bible.

The references to the sanitation provisions in the Law of Moses are on the surface the most compelling of the arguments, but are not as compelling when examined for a number of reasons:

  • It is ritual purity, rather than hygiene which is the driving force behind the regulations. If the primary function of the purity laws was to maintain sanitation and hygiene rather than ritual purity [10], then we would not expect to see provisions that are clearly cultic rather than scientific in origin as the 14 day / 7 day ritual impurity duration for mothers of baby girls and baby boys, respectively. [11]
  •  Hygiene and sanitation predated the Mosaic purity laws, as shown by the advanced water supply and sewerage system of the city of Mohenjo Daro in the Indus Valley, dating back to the mid-third millennium BCE. [12]
While knowledge of the microbiological cause of disease related to poor hygiene and sanitation was not discovered until fairly recently, recognition of the importance of sanitation and personal hygiene dates back quite early in human history, well before the emergence of the Israelites as a distinct ethno-religious group in fact. As Walton said, "no passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity."

Finally, the fact scientific knowledge changes [13] is not a problem. This is the great strength of the scientific method, in which nothing is fixed, immune to challenge. Creationists often deride the 'shifting sands of science'. but as the incredible advances in medicine, applied science, and engineering show, the 'shifting sands of science' are capable of generating considerable knowledge.


1. Brad Kramer "No, Modern Science is Not “Catching Up” to the Bible" BioLogos 24th Jan 2018
2. Luke Barnes "Finding Science in the Bible" Letters to Nature March 16, 2013
3. http://www.fixedearth.com/true-science-confirms-bible-geocentrism.html
4. http://www.geocentricity.com/
5. http://galileowaswrong.com/
6.  Robert Schneider "Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2001) 53:159-169
7. Peter Enns "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That's Not the Point" BioLogos January 14 2010
8. But not endorsing, a point Calvin aptly made in his commentary on Genesis, "Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here, the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned." John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79–80.
9. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 17.
10. This is not to say that God recognised that improved sanitation and maintenance of hygiene would be a happy side-effect of the ritual purity laws, but it is a mistake to think that this was its primary purpose.
11. Lev 12:1-5
12. M. Jansen "Water supply and sewage disposal at Mohenjo-Daro" World Archaeology (1989) 21:177-192
13. I am of course differentiating between mythology and knowledge gained through a scientific or proto-scientific worldview.
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A letter [1] published 22nd August 2018 in Nature reports on the discovery of a bone fragment from a young female hominin whose mother was Neanderthal and whose father was Denisovan. That hybridisation between hominin species occurred in the past is no longer in question, but this discovery provides evidence of a first-generation cross between two different hominins, something which in itself is remarkable. Studies like this are no longer necessary to falsify creationist assertions about human origins as the evidence against universal human descent from two people living six thousand years ago is overwhelming, but to have evidence of a first-generation cross between two different hominin groups further underscores how human origins is far more amazing and complicated than the special creationist can imagine.

The bone fragment in question comes from Denisova cave, located in the Altai mountans in Siberia, Russia. Denisova cave gives its name to the Denisova hominins, identified from DNA from a number of bone fragments found in it. While we don't have anything near a complete skeleton of any Denisovan, genomic analysis shows that they share a common ancestor with Neanderthals, with estimates of their divergence time around  430,000 years ago. [2]

Prior to the discovery of this fragment, we already knew that after the Homo sapiens / Homo neanderthalensis lineages, and the Denisovan / Neanderthal lines diverged, there had been interbreeding between the separate lineages. Family trees [3] aren't quite as neat as one would imagine.

Source - Reference 3

What we didn't have was evidence of first-generation interbreeding, namely a hominin whose parents were from different lineages. Admittedly, no one was expecting that given both the odds of finding fossils in the first place with preserved DNA and finding an individual from the first generation of such interbreeding, but as the 2018 paper shows, this is exactly what  has been found.

Genetic analysis of the bone fragment, known as Denisova 11, shows that it is female, while bone thickness suggests the female was around 13 years old. It's believed to have lived around 90,000 years ago.

The bone fragment 'Denisova 11'.
T. Higham, University of Oxford

Genetic analysis of Denisova 11 shows that it had roughly equal Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA. Two possible explanations for this are that Denisova 11 came from a population of hominins carrying roughly equal proportions of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, or that Denisova 11 was the product of Neanderthal and Denisovan parents. Genetic analysis carried out by the authors showed that the latter was the case. Denisova 11 had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

Percentage of sites at which two sampled DNA fragments both carry Neanderthal-like alleles (NN, blue), Denisovan-like alleles (DD, red), or one allele of each type (ND, purple); and the expectations for an offspring of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan (F1), of two F1 parents (F2), and of an F1 and a Denisovan (F1×D). Source: Figure 2 of reference 1 (including caption text).
The discovery is one that is anything other than a footnote in population genetics and palaeoanthropology:
The results convincingly demonstrate that the specimen is indeed a first-generation hybrid, says Kelley Harris, a population geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle who has studied hybridization between early humans and Neanderthals. [Population geneticist Pontus] Skoglund agrees: “It’s a really clear-cut case,” he says. “I think it’s going to go into the textbooks right away.” [4]
The analysis also showed that Denisova 11's father also had Neanderthal ancestry in his past, further illustrating the interbreeding that occurred between human lineages after divergence:
Relationships and gene flow events between Neanderthal and Denisovan populations inferred from genome sequences. Diamonds indicate ages of specimens estimated via branch shortening; circles indicate population split times estimated from allele sharing between Denisova 11 and the high-coverage Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes (blue and red) and among the three high-coverage genomes (yellow, from a previous publication). Markers indicate the means of these estimates, error bars indicate 95% confidence intervals based on block jackknife resampling across the genome (n = 523 blocks). Note that the confidence intervals do not take the uncertainty with respect to population size, mutation rates or generation times into account. Ages before present are based on a human–chimpanzee divergence of 13 million years. The arrow indicates Neanderthal gene flow into Denisovans. Source: Reference 1 (including caption text).

Studies such as this are important in shedding light on the timing and details of human evolution, and show that the once-incredible concept of sequencing genomes of fossils hundreds of thousands of years old is finally allowing old bones to talk.

Speak to the earth and it will teach you - Job 12:8


1. Slon, V. et al. "The genome of the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father"   Nature (2018) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0455-x
2. Meyer, M. et al. "Nuclear DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins." Nature (2016) 531:504–507
3. Warren M "Mum's a Neanderthal, Dad's a Denisovan: First discovery of an ancient-human hybrid." Nature 22nd August 2018
4. ibid
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