Thinking about Genesis
I have been doing some reading about Genesis, the beginnings of humanity, and the evolutionary account of human origins. It strikes me that a bit of clarity in thinking is in order. One may take several stances on the Genesis account:
- The account is of divine origin, and describes a beginning totally distinct from that proposed by modern science. This we can call the literalist stance. This view holds to a very literal understanding of the events described in Genesis 1-3.
- The account is of divine origin, and concerns itself only with very recent history, in harmony with the account of modern science. This we can call the localist stance. This view might hold that Adam was the first Jewish person, or the first person chosen by God (like Noah or Abraham) to carry out God's wishes.
- The account is of divine origin, and is a complex metaphor about all of history, in harmony with modern science. This we can call the allegorical stance. This view might hold that the 6 days of creation were six ages, and that Adam represents a primordial tribe, or a succession of different individuals over hundreds of thousands or millions of years.
- The account is not of divine origin, but was intended to understood as literally true, just like in view #1. It just happens to be wrong, and modern science is right. This we might call the secular literalist stance.
- The account is not of divine origin, but concerns itself with the recent past, which the Jewish people would have had records of. This we might call the secular localist stance.
- The account is not of divine origin, but is a complex metaphor about all of history, in harmony with modern science. This we can call the secular allegorical stance.
As far as #3, the idea of day-ages seems fairly straight-forward, with precedent in ancient Jewish interpretations. But how does this view deal with Adam? Many of the ideas I've run across have a complex understandings of just who Adam is. The idea that God intended to reveal the truth about human origins, but delivered this in a complex allegory in which multiple persons over hundreds of thousands of years are summed up as one individual seems a little preposterous. To be specific, some of the interpretations I've read don't seem like anything one could ever deduce from the text.
There are other views possible. One view which I believe will gain a lot of ground in the near future is that the story is not chronological at all, but symbolic of processes and truths. So that the days of creation aren't intended to indicate that grass was created before fish, but that there is a pattern to the order of the universe. The days of creation follow a pattern of separation and then filling: Light is separated from dark on day 1, then sun and moon and stars fill this division on day 4; Clouds and separated from sea on day 2, then birds and fish fill these respective areas on day 5.
These views are the broad picture - the details can vary greatly.