Sunday, February 04, 2007
The Rev. Mike Young is the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu and one of 10,000 U.S. Christian clergy members who have joined the Clergy Letter Project. He does not believe evolution contradicts the biblical account of creation because, among other reasons, the account of creation in Genesis is a poem:
[I]t is classical Hebrew poetry. The literary style is like that you see in Psalms and by much of the Old Testament prophets. Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme, and it isn't like the iambic pentameter of a Shakespearean couplet; but it has a distinctive line and a pattern of repetition, elaboration and contrast from line to line. Some Hebrew Bible translations actually print it that way; some do not. But Genesis One is a classical Hebrew poem.What is more, it is a poem dating from a particular period that was written to address particular concerns:
Just as you can tell Elizabethan English from modern English, it is possible to date the language style of a text in Hebrew as distinguished from an older or a more recent one. By that method, the poem dates from the late fifth century or early sixth century B.C., or 450-550 years before Christ.
In 586 B.C., the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the children of Israel were carried off to captivity in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The religion they encountered there said that earth was created by the demi-urge, the bad god. Only the spiritual realm was created by the good god. And the bad god had trapped a spark of the good god in evil matter. Matter was evil and to be overcome, freeing that divine spark to be reunited with the good god.
The Hebrew poet's joyous account of creation, "And, behold, God saw that it was good," was a rebuttal of that Babylonian creation story. The earth is good. Matter is not evil. I suppose that God could have told the poet about DNA, mitochondria and differential population pressures, but no one would have known what he was talking about and it would have ruined the poem.
Two thousand, 500 years later, we try to interpret him as a geologist and biologist. But he was a poet! It was the beautiful, life- and matter-affirming image that he was after.
Go read Genesis One once again. It is the expression of a poet in love with life, in love with the beauty of the natural world, affirming the interconnectedness of the human and the natural world.
So then I guess the Psalms and much of the Old Testament prophets aren't to be taken at their literal word then.
I suppose that God could have told the poet about DNA, mitochondria and differential population pressures, but no one would have known what he was talking about and it would have ruined the poem.
Good thing that at least God told them that he saw that "it was good." We don't want to offend their sensibilities and ruin the poem, now do we. "Water good, fire bad. Ug!"
Well at least in the case of the good Rev. he is the religion appeasing to the science instead of the science appeasing to the religion. And that is "good."
Well, orthodox Christians would say that God was warning against Manichaeism. But I suppose a really great poet could work "mitochondria" into the rhyme scheme ... somehow.
"Earth good. Matter not evil. Ug!"
Who took a poor view of his cells:
He thought mitochondria
Might cause hypochondria
And demanded brand-new organelles.
Speaking as one via
"Nobody asked us to
Can't you eukaryotes
Leave us alone?"
Don't make me try a sonnet.