Richard Hall Online

A Methodist Minister Blogging like it’s 2006

The truth of Genesis

I was talking to someone recently about the evolution ‘debate’. He got very troubled when I spoke of the first chapter of Genesis as a myth. “If Genesis 1 isn’t true, how can we trust anything the Bible says?” he asked.

Imagine yourself in one of those photobooths that takes passport pictures. When you collect the pictures, are you happy with them? Will you be showing them proudly to friends? I strongly doubt it! The photograph may be an accurate image of a specific moment, but it is unlikely to be a “good” picture. On the other hand, an artist with a few simple materials may produce a portrait of you that is less “accurate” than the photobooth, but more truthful in the insight it provides. “Painting the soul” is the way I believe the arty types put it. You can see this even in children’s drawings. They may not be draughtsmen, but you can learn a lot about a child’s family (for example) by the way that they draw them. There is truth there for those with eyes to see. That’s why painters did not go out of business with the advent of photography. In some mysterious way they are able to present truth which goes beyond the merely representational.

Changing my metaphor, another way to think of this is in terms of maps. A map may be true or false, just as a myth may be. But even a good map can be useless or even dangerous if it is used for the wrong purpose. Any visitor to London who tries to navigate the streets using only the iconic ‘underground’ map is going to learn the truth of this very quickly. Similarly, a world atlas may well be accurate — but don’t try to use it to round Cape Horn.

When I say that – for example – Genesis 1 is a myth, I do not mean it isn’t true or that I am rejecting it. I mean that it conveys a truth about God, creation and human beings which goes beyond the merely
representational “photograph” which is offered to us by cosmology and the rest. Neither am I denigrating the truth which these sciences offer. Just as a photograph is not “contradicted” by a painting, the myth of Genesis is not contradicted by science. The whole notion is absurd! A photograph can be compared to a painting, and it is sometimes instructive to do so. But they are in no sense competitors.

Of course, a problem would arise if you present a painting and claim that it is a photograph. Do that, and you shift the ‘truth claims’ of your picture from one category into another and you will inevitably judge it unfairly, using the wrong criteria. Taking Genesis as science or history is to do exactly this: taking a sophisticated work of art and talking about it as though it were a photograph. Not even one of those artful photographs that the really gifted are able to take, but a crude photobooth snapshot.





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