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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Fundamentalists — have the courage of your convictions

I have recently been working through Genesis 1 in my devotional times and I have had cause to revisit the ancient cosmology of biblical Israel. No big surprises here but, as is well known, the cosmos of the biblical text is one in which the earth is flat (though, in some versions, circular, like a round table top). Above the earth is a giant, solid dome (the "firmament") that keeps the chaotic waters above the earth at bay. The sun, moon, and stars are located this side of the dome. So during the flood — the only time in the Bible when rain fell from beyond the firmament, through the floodgates of the heavens (rather than from clouds) — we need to understand that the rain came from the other side of the sun, moon, and stars! It was a partial undoing of DAY TWO in Genesis 1.

I wonder why fundamentalists are so keen to believe in a literal seven-day creation and yet do not campaign against space flight (in case someone crashes into the sky-dome and cracks it) or organize recruitment drives for the Flat Earth Society. If you really want to use the Bible to derive cosmology then it seems the way to go.

Of course, fundamentalists realize that such views are simply not live possibilities, even for people with as firm convictions as they have. So they argue that the world in the Bible is not flat but actually spherical (Wow! How could biblical authors know that! Proof of inspiration!) and that the firmament is not a solid sky-dome but something else (what the something else is will vary depending on who you talk to). Alas, the arguments used to support a spherical earth in the Bible don't work while the flat earth case is very strong. The same goes for the sky-dome: the case for a solid dome is very strong (as evangelical scholar Paul Seeley demonstrated some years ago in a couple of articles in the Westminster Theological Journal) and the case against is, at best, weak (despite Greg Beale's attempt to defend it in an otherwise very good article on Temple Cosmology).

So the dilemma remains: if one wants to be a thoroughbred fundamentalist one really ought to believe that the sky is solid (with heaven the other side of it) and that the earth is flat (with Sheol/Hades literally below it). As an aside, I wonder how many fundamentalists would be so keen on "Big Oil" if they thought they might accidentally drill down into Hades!

Speaking for myself, I agree with the likes of Aquinas and Calvin that God accommodated himself in his communications with humanity. Perhaps God was not interested in correcting the ancient science of ancient Israel — he had bigger fish to fry. But I am inclined that God does not merely speak through Genesis 1 (and other biblical texts) in spite of its ancient cosmology but, in fact, precisely in and through it. That opens up a whole interesting conversation ... for another time.


Anonymous said...

"Fundamentalists" do not believe in a seven day creation as the Bible teaches a six day creation.

Using your terminology, Jesus was a "fundamentalist". I wonder if you would attack him, too.

Anonymous said...

Some young Earth Creationists reject fossil evidence and believe the Earth to be over 6 thousand years old.

The three tier Babylonian influence seems to be prevalent here with the water outside the dome or firmament.

My tack is simple I have't a clue how God created the Earth and Universe as I wasn't there! I do belive in a creator God though and in a break in the relationaship between God and humanity somehow, although this doesn't for me mean a literal Adam and Eve (I will apologise if I ever meet them, they will understand).

My view is that God is the Creator, architect and sustainer of all things though his Son Jesus and it is in respose to the gift of Salvation we must respond, in that all depends.

Getting ones Theological knickers in a twist over the 6 day creation is a valuable debate but not one I lose sleep over anymore (although my old Pastor would berate me for saying so....but then again I am a 'wrongun' and God knows this already but hey I am me and I have my views on such things and God understands, if he doesn't well then he isn't God.

Terry Wright said...

I wonder why fundamentalists are so keen to believe in a literal seven-day creation and yet do not campaign against space flight (in case someone crashes into the sky-dome and cracks it)...


Robin Parry said...

Dear anonymous,

I am not sure how to respond because I think that you may be correct that my tone was mocking and that mockery is probably not the best way to help fundamentalists.

You are, of course, correct that fundamentalists believe in creation in six days rather than seven. My point was simply that they take the days as literal historical days.

However, clarifying that the 7 days is actually 6 + 1 does not in any way engage with the problems that I raise.

My point is that if you argue for taking the chapter at face value then you need to follow that route all the way. And what you will get is far more than seven days; you will get an ancient cosmology that is impossible to take literally post-Copernicus (perhaps even post-Ptolemy).

That fundamentalists do not go this route looks like a failure of nerve: we can handle a literal six days (as it is no longer open to observation) but a flat earth? No thanks.

But that Genesis 1 is an ancient text with an ancient "science" is not a problem to fear. It is an invitation to engage creatively in the critical question (that fundamentally rightly perceive) of how this text is Holy Scripture (which it is) and how the Spirit speaks afresh through it as God's word (which he does).

This is the word of the Lord. But perhaps that does not, even cannot, always mean what fundamentalists seem to suppose it does.

James Goetz said...

Perhaps some fundamentalists have a vision that space flight will eventually discover the dome and the primordial waters of creation.

Ben Byerly said...

The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) home school curriculum recognizes this problem and tries to solve it by articulating how the cosmic dome collapsed during the flood. This still doesn't resolve the problem of what happened to the stars that were hung on it, but they're at least partially consistent.

Robin Parry said...


Alas, the cosmic dome collapse will not work.

First, because, as you point out, it does not solve the problem of the dome's relation to the sun, moon, and stars.

Second, because, according to the Psalms (148:4), the dome is STILL in place holding the waters back

Third, because you then have the problem of where all the water went

The collapsing dome was an idea unknown in Christian history until, I think, the 1960s

It fails both at the level of science and at the level of biblical interpretation.

ChristianTrader said...

Here is a link to a different take on the Cosmology of Genesis 1 - http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2010/02/genesis-and-ancient-cosmology.html