Jason Rosenhouse squishes 'metaphorical' Original Sin
Jason Rosenhouse, author of EvolutionBlog, is like a steamroller. Doesn't seem so threatening from far away, but as he steadily approaches the theists' arguments, the crushing power of his methodically progressing counter-arguments become more and more obvious. The aftermath doesn't look pretty if you're the theist. But Rosenhouse's juggernaut just rolls on, unresisted. It is a sight to behold!
Excerpt from Original Sin, Again:
The problem, though, is that people like Shea do not treat the early books of Genesis as purely figurative. Instead they tell us that parts of the stories are historical (Adam and Eve were actual people, whose actual sin had major repercussions for humanity) while other parts are merely metaphorical (contrary to the seemingly clear statements of the Biblical text, Adam and Eve were not the first two humans and their sin did not consist of eating a forbidden fruit.) Those of us on the skeptical side are merely asking how we can distinguish the historical bits from the figurative bits.
More generally, I can understand taking the story literally as the fundamentalists do. I can also understand the atheist approach of treating the story as an ancient myth that never had any claim to authority, and whose major assertions have now been refuted by science. I can even understand the approach, favored by writers like Karl Giberson and Marcus Borg, that says the Adam and Eve story is purely fictional, but nonetheless has important spiritual truths to impart.
What I cannot understand is the approach defended by people like Douthat, in which we arbitrarily declare certain parts to be historically accurate and certain other parts to be merely metaphorical.
The Bible describes the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:4-7:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up--for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground--then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Saying there “was no one to till the ground” prior to Adam's creation certainly does not sound like figurative language. It sounds instead like a straightforward statement of historical fact. Is it really something the Biblical scribe would have written were he imagining that Adam was selected form among a large population of Neolithic farmers? I'm more likely to believe the statement, “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,” is meant figuratively, but even here it seems clear that the intent of this verse is to explain the creation of Adam's physical body. Thus, the creation of Adam was not simply a matter of adding something to a body that was already there.
That, in a nutshell, is the basic issue. Endlessly repeating, “It's meant figuratively!” does not solve the exegetical problem. It's hard to fathom the model of Biblical inspiration that allows the scribes to get it right about the creation of Adam and his subsequent fall from grace, but get it wrong about whether there were other people around when Adam was created. Moreover, I think we are entitled to ask why figurative language would be used at this point in the story. It is, after all, partly describing an actual historical event: the creation of a real man called Adam. Even if you think later parts of the story, about the serpent and the fruit perhaps, are metaphorical, it still does not make sense that the scribe didn't think to mention this prior population of hominids.
It was a peculiar spectacle, to put it mildly: An atheist attacking a traditionalist believer for not reading Genesis literally. ...
(... what's that in the distance? Is that a ... steamroller? Continue reading Original Sin, Again)