In a previous post I had commented on the internal inconsistencies of the Biblical account of Genesis and how these are problematic for Biblical Literalists and creationists. I had not highlighted all the inconsistencies, for there are many, but just a few which occur early in the Genesis account.
I had also noted that a more sensible approach to reading the Bible is to see it as a book written in a particular historical and cultural context. I suggested that it was important that the Genesis account be understood in its relationship to the Genesis accounts of other cultures and, in particular, those of nearby Middle Eastern Cultures and I promised more on this topic.
Browsing around the web I was delighted therefore to come across a blog by Mike Beidler - The Creation of an Evolutionist - which is his personal story of developing his thinking from a belief in Biblically Literal Young Earth Creationism to an acceptance of Evolutionary science and a more sophisticated understanding of the Biblical text in it's cultural and historical context.
Now don't get me wrong - Mike and I ultimately won't see eye to eye on the issue of the existence of God. Although Mike has made the journey to a more sophisticated understanding of the Bible, he still essentially sees it as the word of God - in the sense that 1) he believes in God and 2) he sees the Bible as communicating Gods will to people.
Mike has, I suspect, travelled far down the path of reconciling his Christian beliefs with the real scientific evidence of evolution and the age of the Earth, but is unlikely to ever take what I personally see as the next logical step. This is a position though that I can respect albeit not one that I personally hold. For me the wider scientific explanations of the way the world works leave no need for God type explanations. But then that is the ultimate difference in our positions - Mike believes that God is ultimately the root of all things and I don't. Fair enough.
There's a lot of discussion on Mike's blog about his journey in terms of the development of his understanding and the reconciliation of his faith and scientific understanding and it's worth a read by Christians and Atheists. In particular he rehearses the evidence for a more sophisticated understanding of the Bible in a cultural and historical context.
He was kind enough to send me a link to a talk by a Dr John H Walton who is a Christian, and interestingly, not himself an evolutionist.
Dr Walton outlines briefly in his talk how Christians have failed to understand the real meaning of the Genesis account because their interpretation is done through the eyes of our modern cultural understanding and not through the eyes of the people who actually owned this account. He shows how translations of some of the words in the Genesis account result in us interpreting Genesis as a story about the act of physical creation rather than what he describes as the act of "assigning functions".
It is worth listening to his lecture. You can access the Lecture by Dr John H Walton on Genesis interpretation here. (There are lectures by three other academics on faith and science related issues which I haven't yet listened to so this is a good link) - thank you Mike.
Mike Beidler suggests that Dr Waltons work;
"is sure to assist biblical literalists in understanding Genesis from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, which is how Genesis should be read ... his writings are a must-read for anyone still reading Genesis in a strictly literal manner. This goes for Young-Earth Creationists and atheists alike, both groups of which (generally speaking) tend to read Genesis through a 21st-century lens."
Dr. Walton is an Old Testament professor from Wheaton College and has two major works published;
(1) Genesis (NIV Application Commentary series)
(2) Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible/