Over the years I enjoyed J I Packer's "Knowing God" and it has benefitted me as well as countless others. Yet his talk on problems on Gen 1 though a good overview do not argue his position in any real depth.
I include the document I transcribed of his talk for you to read for yourselves. The Audio is found on Sydney Anglicans Web site.
JI Packer audio lecture on problems in Gen
Lecture ‘the attributes of God pt 2.’
Found on Sydney Anglicans site. My bold comments end with gw.
My summation: Packer says some good things at different points but he doesn’t present an argued case for the Framework position, he just says he thinks it the best and to see Henri Blocher’s book which he says is convincing. So as a lecture on issues in Genesis regarding evolution and creation it falls far too short. He offers no biblical support at how the framework position is faithful to the bible and he doesn’t even outline the Framework view.
1. Debate been going on for past 100 years and not sure if it’s an area of prime importance. In sense not sure it’s vital to know what conclusion to come to in these debates.
“Prime” – he merely gives opinion here without substance or justification. gw
2. Problems in bible of biblical witness and scientific enquiry. Alleged clash.
3. Packer’s concern is that none of us get derailed in the discussion of alleged clash between scientific enquiry and biblical account of creation.
4. 5a. cosmos – relation between the two, the nature and origins of cosmos. Simple guideline for working through this is to remember the limits of scientific enquiry / theorising and outlook; they study the cosmos as an ongoing concern. Science looks at the Process, processes taking place, it’s observational. Then wouldn’t expect scientific enquiry to tell you anything definitive about origins. Because the method of Science is one of studying a going concern from within. The bible is however, God centred, gen – revln and sees cosmos as product of God’s work, have revln, tells us things science couldn’t in principle tell us. so Theology is queen of sciences, not science – good point. gw
5. Postmodernism takes technology but has no confidence in natural science to explain natural origins.
6. The Biblical revln provides a framework within which all science knowledge with which scientists work etc understanding God made everything, and its thru his sustaining power that the cosmos continues to function and exist.
7. At one stage Scientists had a Deistic understanding, which is the wrong view to hold of the cosmos anyway. Like a clock wound up, mechanistic, but Biblically wrong. [ very Western, not found in Asia so a neurosis of the West eg Enlightenment etc. ] So Nature of Cosmos = upheld by God..
8. 5b. how relate biblical and scientific accounts of origin. Cosmologists have no doubt there was a Big bang, this the preferred view of Scientists. I don’t think there is any doubt there was a big bang but doesn’t tell you what went bang. Doesn’t tell what preceded or was behind this. So Scientific accounts stop short of what lies behind or brought about the cosmos as a going concern. Math and technical resourcefulness for dating things behind big bang theory seem certain – here is an assumption of philosophy of fact. gw One still has to go back to the bible to celebrate that God made everything.
9. What of evoln? Isn’t it quite certain that our human bodies came from simpler forms of physical life, so warrantable that human history, is a story of how mankind progressed. The appropriate Christian answer – this is a theory of evoln & it is only a theory. And only one. Doesn’t tell you about mind or mental life or mental items in the evolutionary family tree. If it were true It would still require you to posit a special event which the Christian will call a special act where [ shows Packer’s naïve study about work done trying to posit mental life, intelligence in evolutionary terms. Called socialisation etc gw ] 1st man became self consciousness and God consciousness. We still have to posit an act of God at this point in evolution. Only a Guess or hypothesis that God breathed into man 2:6 at this point of evoln of man? And if evoln theory has substance to it then it’s reasonable to hypothesis this. Yet it goes contrary to other ways things happens, [ ie miracle ? gw ] a monkey like physical being into a human. Packer doubts this hypothesis that random mutations at genetic level produced more and more order and complexity, thinking of the human body at this point, elaborate functioning contrary to way other things go in the universe. Where randomness happens.
10. Proper response it seems to me is that it’s Not question of time but whether order comes out of chaos. What evidence do we have that it can happen? What warrant when everywhere else disorder comes. But perhaps as a believer, God overrides the process so theistic evolutionist, however it’s still a guess. Nobody is committed to evoln of a guess, there are gaps in evoln family tree and oddity of the idea of chance producing the human body problems. So from philosophy of science standpoint evoln is by no means proven and as a guess / hypothesis - it is very strange indeed. Order out of chaos.
11. If believe in a God who overrules what happens to organism, then theistic, then a unique process because God guided it, people called theistic evolutionist, however it still only a hypothesis. Because of gaps in evolutionary family tree and oddity of billions of years producing the human body.
12. Biblical narratives of gen 1 and 2 doesn’t say anything about whether evolutionary hypothesis true or not. I assert it here and will argue it later.
13. Understanding biblical testimony to creation from gen 1
14. 3 views historically taken 1:1-2:4. First, the Naïve view that what’s taking place here is what would in principle have been observed if one was there during it. Days are 24 hour days, a literal weeks work on God’s part. During which God put chaotic mass into shape.
15. view 2 - no cannot maintain that in face of testimony of geology and all that physics tells us about the cosmos, biology , ethnology etc that cosmos took billions of years. Rather a match between work of the 6 days and the stages of evoln process, as Scientists envision them, so days gen are pointers to geological epochs so “let there be” points to processes which took millions of years to happen - this view is called concordism, “it seeks to enhance Moses credit by giving him a degree in science” as a Roman Catholic scholar said. [ ignores philosophy of fact and makes science determinative of truth of the bible – science stands in judgment as authority over the bible. gw ] it’s reading gen 1 as allegorical science. Knowing science now you know the correct way to read it is as allegorical science. Allegorical because the details appear to be saying something else. RC scholars mainly concordists.
16. The third view is the way almost unanimous ( really? GW ) by OT scholars today Roman Catholic or protestant, liberal or conservative. Take view that this account is on the face of it a quasi liturgical celebration of the fact of creation rather than science in disguise. The argument for this – from its literary form it’s literary genre, a narrative of celebration where literary repetition contributes to it’s effect. “And God said, morning and evening, let there be” etc. also the parallel between days 1,4; 2,5;3,6. Well, that’s very schematic, formal, it doesn’t read like allegorical science but rather like a hymn with choruses, [ here taking strophes as choruses gw ] it is a prose passage of course but seems fair from literary standpoint that it’s a prose poem. Those who understand it this way, 6 days are just part of the picture, as is the other bits, it is just speaking of the fact of creation, pictured as a weeks work, the thrust is to teach proper attitude to God because of creation, thanks and praise, so “meet the creator” not how created. [ false dichotomy, it’s both gw ] it’s as if Moses, and I will take it as Moses until better instructed, [Jesus said it was as did Paul gw] has a strategy of putting it as a week of work is so it [ fits ] the exodus commandment of Sabbath [ but this is strained, it doesn’t matter it’s a literary device (a picture) but whether they are actual days for Sabbath so the Exodus argument is one based on creation – gw ] this view of how to read gen 1 used to be called framework, but now called literary hypothesis. I for one find it irresistibly convincing. See book Henri blosch . A Conservative Calvinist. ‘In the beginning’ a picture of a weeks work celebrating the fact of creation. [ I am not saying the bible is wanting to give a scientific account of stages etc – but that God’s Word on creation implies things in regard to science none the less. gw] Seems no interest in giving a scientific account as we know it. Just the fact to rejoice in.
17. If try make sense of concordism then you are up against trouble, because sun, moon and stars on your view are not created till 4th day, and yet light on the very first day. this fact makes concordist reading unnatural.
18. This the framework hypothesis of Bloche is the best way to interpret 1: to 2:4 on my opinion.
19. For Packer to say that “as a theologian his job is to receive the bible’s message that is intended to give me” is to assume the very point at gen 1 and 2 he is trying to prove. How to interpret gen 1. gw
Questions from the floor:
20. Claimed two genesis creation accounts –comment : comparable, to modern movies, a long view of sky, then close up relation to field, [true they are not two different Creation accounts as indicated by the use of the word elohim and yhwh elohim! gw ] Packer says the story of what really happens begins in chapter 2!
21. Woman created from mans side, is it non factual poetry or what? – I don’t know if it is right to say about the biology of it – I just know what is right to say about the theology of it – [ means you must interpret it from gen1 correctly gw ] I know theol of it because Christian expositors been proclaiming it from the beginning eg Augustine. Woman made out of Adams side so he would know she completes him and he would cherish her, not to lord it over her as with doormat. Completion and companionship etc [ but does Packer know what the bible says? And are such statements as Augustine reveal understanding of meanings in gen 1 either taken as allegorical or literal. As when Packer then goes on to talk about “this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” this is completion of me. How is completion here from Adam missing a rib? She is separate, but why not my kind? Packer says the woman given back to Adam and she completes him. So is it all about adam here and not eve? Gw ] Packer says it’s a prose picture, not a poem. Packer takes gen 2 and 3 to be historical, but also gen 2 and 3 to be told in a symbolic way. Rather use symbolic than mythical or fantasy. Things described in such a way that helps you understand their meaning. Details presented symbolically so that the meaning will come across, the symbols are carriers of the meaning. [This is very strange philosophy of language. Why cannot one understand the meaning from a prose picture straightforwardly? Does the symbol have a corresponding reality as it does in normal prose, so we see a sign of which is used in airports for toilet’s worldwide and it has the referent, the bathroom. – gw ] So serpent is a symbolic presentation of Satan. [ now what is interesting here is that Packer’s discussion of snakes and satan, presented as one and the same, starts with post fall understanding of snakes, they are cunning and subtle and dangerous, they bite people before people aware that they are there. They are malevolent & we don’t like snakes, all this is not pre-fall. All this conveyed by simply exhibiting Satan as a serpent. So his interpretation is faulty for it assumes post fall understanding of snakes, not pre-fall. Gw ]
22. Packer says Moses concerned we get the right feeling, emotional response to the story. And so symbolism is used. Similarly Eve out of Adams rib – with idea of completion, also teachers basic truth about the two sexes..its more than the doctrine of marriage but of the two sexes living and working together in the human community, and the sense that persons of the other gender bring things that complete us. [ but that ignores chapter 3 where it is both together as one flesh!!!!! Gw ]
23. Packers answer to questions reveals a lot!