Sunday, December 9, 2018

Part #2: Wrestling with Religious Texts: Misinterpretation--Reading Modern into Ancient

How NOT to Explicate the Text

1. Don’t read into the ancient text modern scientific discoveries. That is eisegesis, not exegesis.

Sarah Salviander, a brilliant astrophysicist, misreads the basic text of Genesis:
[Gen. 1:14] God said, ‘There shall be lights in the heavenly sky to divide between day and night.’
"Plants changed the atmosphere of the Earth so that it became transparent."
[Gen. 1:15] ‘They shall be lights in the heavenly sky, to shine on the earth.’
"Enough (unscattered) light was eventually able to reach the surface of the Earth to allow the Sun, Moon, and stars to become visible."


The Bible's text says nothing about the “light was eventually able to reach the surface of the Earth to allow the Sun, Moon, and stars to become
visible” or that the “atmosphere of the Earth…became transparent.”

On the contrary, what the text says is this:
Genesis 1:14 And it was evening and it was morning, third day. And God made two two great lights, the great light for dominion of the day and the small light for dominion of night, and the stars. And God placed them in the vault of the heavens to light up the earth and to have dominion over day and night and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. Ans it was evening and it was morning, fourth day.
The Five Books of Moses, translated by Robert Alter

The actual text doesn't mention the cosmos gradually coming to be visible! It says nothing about plants changing the atmosphere so that it "became transparent."

What it states is that God said, There shall be lights...

And notice that this takes place in the evening and morning of one day!!

NOT billions of years.

God makes the sun and the moon on the 4th day.

How Salviander gets around the incredible disparity is that she says that the first few verses of Genesis are from God's point of view while the last ones are from the Earth's point of view. BUT such a claim--that part of Genesis chapter one is from God's point of view, not our view isn't in the text itself.

I do admit her understanding about astrophysics appears to be marvelous. Her explanations are way over my head--I only had high school physics. Indeed, her PhD explanations arguing for God's point of view sound very impressive.

However, how does she know God's point of view?!

Besides, why would God need a "day" with an evening and a morning?

Salviander wrote she is referencing the views of another famous astrophysicist, Gerald Schroeder.

But there are plenty of other scientists who strongly disagree with this combining of cosmology and religion. For instance, read counter views of another physicist, Mark Perakh:

Furthermore, the earth's moon isn't a "great light." Even grade school students know for a fact that the moon isn’t a light at all, but that it reflects light from the sun.

If misinterpreters such as Salviander claim that the text doesn't mean to give an accurate understanding of reflection in the case of the moon, then the text isn't scientific, and their whole central thesis that Genesis is accurate to modern cosmology is defeated.

Also, it's strange that Genesis only mentions the stars last! If Genesis was meant to be scientifically accurate, it ought to have spoken of trillions of stars, multiple galaxies. And that many of those stars are millions of times larger than our relatively small sun in a rather minor solar system on the edge of one galaxy, the Milky Way, and that there are billions of galaxies beyond ours.

YET according to Salviander, her website is named after the ancient biblical scholar Nahmanides who wrote that "that the six days of creation (Genesis 1) contain “all the secrets and ages of the universe.” In other words, Nahmanides was claiming Genesis 1 as a work of scientific literature. “SixDay Science” is a reference to how developments in modern scientific fields like relativity, cosmology, and particle physics are supporting this claim."

From my perspective as a literature teacher, and former Bible teacher, and avid reader of modern cosmology books, this claim seems extremely untrue.

Here’s another translation of Genesis, considered one of the most literal word-by-word translations:
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons,6 and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to lrule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Note that none of Sarah Salviander’s points are true, none of the text has anything to do with modern scientific facts.

Lastly, if Genesis was meant to be scientifically accurate, the HUGE question is why didn't the text warn early humans of germs and viruses. That would have been far more important than giving ancients correct knowledge of modern cosmology? It would have saved billions of humans throughout history from horrific illnesses, gruesome deaths, such as in the Black Plague.

In the Light of literary interpretation,

Daniel Wilcox
retired literature teacher

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