Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Scripture and Cosmology VII

Greenwood, Kyle. Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science. DownersGrove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. 

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI

Chapter VII is what I would call a "pastoral chapter."  After having spent six chapters laying out the evidence that the biblical cosmology follows the ancient near eastern cosmology and that this view is untenable with the modern scientific cosmology, Greenwood feels the need to reassure his readers who might feel that the book is an assault on the authority of the Bible.

Greenwood lays out the problem like this:
If someone's only experience with the bible is one in which the ancient cosmological evidence is either disregarded--whether by overprotective teachers or by willful neglect--or dismissed as not applicable, what happens when these issues are brought to their attention? The response, all too often, is either continued ignorance or willful abandonment of the entire Christian enterprise... In the case of the former, ignorance leads to a shallow faith, where sincere questions are given pat answers, theological complexities are brushed aside with blind faith, childlike faith never matures to a vibrant faith with deep roots that can withstand storms and droughts, and God is barely smarter than a fifth grader... In the case of the latter, the tragedy is that having been seemingly duped on this issue, believers wonder where else they have been led astray by their trusts Christian leaders.
Most of the rest of the chapter discusses the doctrine of divine accommodation. This doctrine expresses the view that when God speaks to humans (as in the Bible), God does so at the level of the humans understanding.  He likens this to parents talking to young children.  For example, when a parent is asked by a toddler why a pebble sinks in water, but a much larger boat floats, the parent does not give the toddler a lesson on water displacement and fluid dynamics.  He or she simply explains that it is because of the shape of the pebble and the boat. The explanation comes in terms the toddler can understand.  In a similar way, God accommodates his language to humans understanding at the time of the Bible's writing, which, in this case means, God speaks according to an ancient near eastern cosmology.

In the end, this chapter left a little bit wanting in my mind.  First, Greenwood seems to assume a fairly facile and non-nuanced view of biblical inspiration.  He seems to assume that all biblical material is direct communication between God and humans.  Yet, since this is not a chapter on biblical inspiration, perhaps I am expecting too much from Greenwood at this point. Second, his analogy about a parent is helpful in some respects, but, it may introduce some problems Greenwood did not expect.  If a parent tells a child a boat floats because of its shape, that is a simple but factual answer.  Of course there is a more complex and more complete answer, but it is nevertheless not demonstrably non-factual.  If God tells humans that the world is flat, that is a simple but non-factual (or perhaps I should say, alternatively factual answer). Maybe I am being unfair because analogies can always be pushed too far.  Nevertheless, I am not sure that Greenwood has really teased out accommodation in most helpful way, perhaps because of his too-facile assumption of divine inspiration of scripture.  If you have read the book, what do you think?

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