Saturday, November 13, 2010

Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2: Literalness Isn't the Only Form of Truth

I want to throw out a theological point that I often use when discussing evolution with Creationists – or people who, for whatever reason, think Catholics cannot believe in the basic tenets of evolution. However, I’m not completely surefooted in my theological presuppositions and logic, so I would love some commentary, from those founded in theology and those who are not. What I pose here is not actually a complete argument for the coexistence of Catholic theology/doctrine and evolution, but simply an initial line of reasoning I often begin with.

a) We have two different creations stories in Genesis 1 and 2. They are both extremely familiar to us, but for whatever reason, people often don’t recognize that they are distinctly different – at least, that has been my experience. (By the way, different doesn’t mean contradictory, as I will point out later.) In Genesis 1, the world is made in 6 days. Man and woman are created on the 6th day; they seem to be created together – “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 7) – but I suppose this is an inference. The major thing I want to point out is that man is created after the animals. Now onto Genesis 2: Here, man is created without woman. Then the garden is created, etc. What is significant to note, in terms of a literal reading, is that the animals are created after man: “Yahweh God said, 'It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.' 19 So from the soil Yahweh God fashioned all the wild animals and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it” (Genesis 2: 18-19). If we are reading this strictly literally, the two stories actually contradict one another. I don’t think they actually contradict one another; but a literal reading forces one to recognize their incompatibility.

b) I take this apparent contradiction to show that the writers of Genesis were not concerned with its literalness – at least not literalness in the sense that our modern world, borrowing certain ideological points from the scientific method, often uses the term. The first creation story flows directly into the second. Did they not recognize that the two didn’t mash? I don’t think we have to answer that question. I think we can simply recognize that the truths expressed through both creation stories are truths indeed; but these truths are not literal truths. (I’ve already made the point that if they were literal truths, one would be a lie.)

c) I don’t think this recognition in any way lessens the truth or beauty of the Bible. I think it simply presents us with an important point, especially for those that want to understand their faith: The writers of the Old Testament wrote the Scriptures with a different set of narrative and logical principles in mind. It is our modern set of principles that can make a sort of either/or statement: “Either the creation story is literally true, or it is false.” The following statements – we are made in God’s image and likeness; God rested; God asks us to abide by certain rules; we were initially naked and without shame – are all truths from the Genesis stories, independently of whether or not the actual events of the story took place.

d) Literal truth is only one mode of truth, and I definitely don't think it's the highest mode. I don’t want to get hokey here – “the truth doesn't need to be true” or “truth is what you want it to be” – but a point needs to be made that the deepest truths of God as expressed by man, the ones that get closest to His Truth, are probably mystical truths – truths that aren’t literal in the sense of the scientific method.

So is this sort of reasoning logical and/or theological? Am I missing something about creation stories, or the writers of the Old Testament, or something else? I desire dialogue, especially if I’m wrong in whatever way.