I have not had much luck on this forum with starting new threads; but we'll see.
It has been claimed on this site that Genesis 1 is "obviously" pure narrative. By pure narrative I mean that the genre of the text excludes the following: allegory, poetic liturgy, myth etc. I will not delay in defining those terms. I only want to deal with the contention that it is "obviously narrative".
Elsewhere I proposed that YEC is based not primarily on exegesis but on something akin to fear. I will not delay my reasons with apologies to those offended: I doubt apologies would soften the insult (though it was not intended as an insult). Nor will I labor the point that I am not necessarily an OEC; I think the YEC interpretation dead wrong, but I don't necessarily think that the scientists are right.
The real logic that I see operating among the YECs goes something like this, “Unless Genesis 1 is mere narrative depicting creation occurring over 6, 24 hour days, then nothing else in the Bible can be trusted as infallible.” Thus the safest approach to Genesis if faith is to be sustained is to regard it as mere narrative. Every other argument, whether scientific or exegetical, rests upon this foundation. That is, the YEC begins first with the need for Genesis 1 to be mere history; then proceeds to look for the “proofs” that it is so. But of course all exegesis or science performed after the conclusion is formed is nothing more than a charade; everything becomes evidence in favor of the verdict, for desperation can find almost anything almost anywhere.
I believe my proposal is corroborated by the habit of declaring the laws of physics inoperative whenever something astonishingly incongruent to our experience of the natural world is described in Genesis 1. It is, or appears to me to be, a desperate maneuver. When asked, “Why, if the laws of physics are good now, should God not have applied them at the start?” the common answer is “I let God be God” or “it is a mystery.” Of course there are real mysteries of the faith and it is wise to recognize them. But in a debate, this is the last card to be thrown down and one must be extremely cautious before doing so. Lay it down too early and everyone will see how weak your hand is.
Of course much of what I have just accused YECs could be accused of OECs and me (to distinguish myself from them): do we not want Genesis 1 to be something other than mere history? Do we not come to the text already biased? For my part, I don’t think so. I was not raised in a context where science and Scripture were at war: I never felt that other parts of Scripture were threatened by a non-literal reading of Genesis 1. But to show this I would like to try an experiment: I would like to simulate a “first-time reading of Genesis 1”. The premise is this, “We are reading the Bible for the first time, with little training in languages and a smattering of science derived from experience and, say, a few Gen ed classes at the local college—with this question before us: is this intended as mere history, or as something else—a kind of poetry, or a kind of myth?” For the general contention by YEC is that “it is so obvious a 12 year old can see it.” I am not sure I would allow a 12 year old to lead me in a Bible study. But the point is clear. Even a cursory reading of Genesis should make it obvious that the genre is mere narrative. Let’s attempt a cursory reading with the basic education of an adult.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."
It is near impossible to imagine such a conglomeration of unformed matter hanging out in infinite space. Do we still have a spherical object before us? No, for the dome (the expanse) will not yet be created until day 2. What is it then that keeps the waters from drifting off. More so, how is it that the waters are not frozen at absolute 0?
My immediate response to these questions is, “Perhaps we are not dealing with that kind of text.” But it is claimed by YECs that the “obvious” answer that should come to mind is, “Clearly the laws of physics were inoperative or different back then.” But I for one would never have even thought of that answer, let alone affirm it, unless I already had decided upon the question of what genre this text is—but the assertion we are dealing with is that the text declares itself to be pure narrative, and that obviously so; and the point of this experiment is to see how it “clearly is a narrative”. So far it is “clearly” very unclear what kind of genre it is; but pure narrative would not be my first bet.
We can move on to the first day,
And God said, a"Let there be light," and there was light.
4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
(Gen 1:3-5 ESV)
We have source-less light; a phenomenon absolutely unknown to me and probably all humanity. Not only that, but we have darkness somehow impregnable to the light, yet without the moon or any other object to block it. What is it that keeps the light from penetrating and filling the darkness? Again, how is there morning and evening (an alteration between light and darkness) without a sun around which the earth (still domeless) can move?
Of course there are all kinds of ingenious ways around this and, I admit, it has been fun to assume the viewpoint of a YEC and generate them: if I had begun with the “need” for this to be pure narrative, it would not only be fun but absolutely necessary. But remember, we are coming at this text without the question of genre already answered. And already by day two I find it less and less “obvious” that God has given us pure narrative—scientific speculations might alleviate most, if not all, of the apparent absurdities; but why should I resort to those kinds of speculation? That is, why resort to them unless I already assume it was narrative before reading the text?
Day 2 I see little problems with; but I am not trying very hard. This is a cursory reading and I am only looking at “obvious” features.
Day 3 We have plant life growing at an incredible rate—a rate without testimony in all of history (except, of course, here) and growing without heat. Can God do this? Of course! But why should I assume He has? I would only jump to that answer if I began this reading insisting I was embarking upon mere narrative. But the point of the exercise is not to find out how it is narrative; we want to find out whether it is narrative.
Day 4 (and I am done). Luminaries set in the sky. I confess I do not know what gravitational effects such a sudden appearance of enormous matter in our proximity would have on us—perhaps none. I will leave that alone. I am told by the scientists that the stars are billions of miles away and that even light must take its time in getting here. This creates something of a problem; the stars are for signs and seasons. That is, they have a functional role in man’s life on earth. But man is about to make his appearance in less than 72 hours and that means the stellar light will be rather tardy in fulfilling their roles! The YECs would have me believe that the obvious answer is, “not only were the luminaries created instantly, but the light was created as already reaching us. This raises a few questions for me: if light is created as already reaching me, at some point it must assume its normal behavior of ‘C’. But that would mean that at some point it must, relatively speaking, begin to crawl across space. And until it reaches me, we have no stars in the night sky; and therefore no functional signs.
But there is no end to the ingenious ways of wiggling out of these discrepancies; my question is (and has been) why do I need to invoke scientific speculation, unless I have come to the text determined that it is pure narrative? When I come to the text without that question already answered, I do not find that I am "obviously" dealing with “mere narrative”. Perhaps it is mere narrative; I am not excluding that from the possibilities. But it is not “obviously” narrative. There is enough doubt to search for other possibilities. And if other genres make better sense of the text, if they answer more problems than raise them, then (is this Occam’s razor?) it is time abandon the suggestion that it is mere narrative.
In short, the YECs begin their exegesis by begging the question.
Side note: It would be an interesting exercise for YECs to count how many current laws of physics are broken in the first 6 days of creation.
Anyhow, thoughts (better hurry up though, this thread is probably up for a limited time).