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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

Escher Theology

The artist M. C Escher was best known for his optical illusions involving images of ordinary things that can’t be possible in the real world. The images themselves make sense in their own self-contained way, but simply cannot exist physically. They delight the eye because of that very quality of impossibility and the great gift it took to imagine them, let alone draw them.

This is a good illustration of what can happen theologically; people can invent intriguing, mind-bending systems that seem to be complete in themselves, but when held up to the light of scripture and logic we see them for the illusions they are. At this blog a series of comments was made on the topic of Genesis and evolutionary theory which serves as a prime example:

I don’t see how any meaningful type of fall makes sense in light of the evolutionary origin of our species. A fall implies some better state, either in actuality or in potential, from which one “fell” from. The problem is, the evolutionary picture of our emergence as a species gives us every reason to doubt that a better state ever existed. And as far as some potential better state (the idea of God holding our a path for us which we rejected), our evolutionary beginnings would incline one to think that, as a species, we would have been ill-equipped indeed to pursue such a path.

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My own view is that the authors’ views in Genesis reflects bronze-age thinking on questions of why there appears to be a gulf between the creation and the creator, and it attempts to explain this gulf through a story depicting a rebellion and resulting corruption of a perfect state of harmony. I don’t know that the story was meant to be taken literally, but the idea that there was some such event(s) I think is implied in the text. Of course, Paul just comes out and says it – so that part is much firmer.

So, is the “fall” a view expressed in the Bible? I think so. Is it wrong? I think so. Is it wrong because God’s revelation accommodates human erroneous viewpoints and perspectives? That’s up for each interpreter of the Bible to decide.

Later, another commenter asks this very critical question:

How is it different to say “Science doesn’t support the creation account of Genesis 2-3, so we have to re-evaluate what it really means” and “Science doesn’t support that 5 loaves and 2 fish can feed 5,000 people so we have to re-evaluate what that text means” or worse, “Science doesn’t support that people can come back to life after they’re dead, so all Biblical instances of resurrection have to be re-evaluated?”

The first commenter attempts a response, and this is where the Escher theology comes to light, especially the emphasized paragraphs:

(1) The reason to question a literal-historical reading of Genesis 1-3 does not start with science but with the text itself. It starts with the nature of the text, its relationship to other ANE literature, and the inherent contradictions in a literal-historical reading.

(2) The text is of a time and a genre that the only way it could be literal-historical is if God dictated it to the writer. This is not the normal form of inspiration and the text gives no indication of such. Prophets had a word from God, but nothing directly within scripture suggests Genesis 1-3 as dictation.

(3) The evidence from science in geology, paleontology, cosmology, and biology – which is evidence from God’s creation – is consistent with the idea that text isn’t literal-historical.

Genesis 1-3 is inspired and from God – but truth in scripture comes in many forms, and it is not always literal-historical.

None of this impacts the resurrection or the feeding of the 5000 as related in the NT. These are historical reports by contemporaries written down within a relatively short period of time after the events occurred. The evidence for them is historical, not scientific. The evidence is also seen in the rise of the church after the resurrection – the power of the Spirit.

Science cannot address these directly – there is no physical evidence to investigate – except to say that these are not normal or natural. But none of us actually think that they were normal or natural.

I see no problem holding to the NT as trustworthy reports, and Genesis 1-3 as inspired, but other than literal history.

We follow the first commenter’s argument around (I’ll dissect it in detail at the end) until we realize we’re back where we started, yet we couldn’t possibly have arrived there! Somewhere along the line the “laws of physics” were broken, and when we understand why Escher’s drawings can’t exist in reality we can solve this theological “Escher” as well. When we see that the key to solving Escher’s riddles is how our brain manufactures a 3D world from a 2-D image, we can then know to look for the kind of “twist” required to make people believe a self-contradicting hermeneutic. And the emphasized section is the spot where that twist occurred.

The twisted theology is actually just a non-sequitur (“it doesn’t follow”), much the way that a rising staircase cannot end up at the same level where it started. If the beginning arguments of the attempted response are true then the conclusion is not; it’s like saying “We know that the moon is made of rock, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t made of green cheese.” And the reason it doesn’t follow is because of the fallacy of equivocation; the response started out on the basis of evolutionary theory and dismissing God’s inspiration of scripture, but ended with an appeal to historical evidence and “the power of the Spirit”.

So in fact the response did not answer or refute the critical question by the other commenter. The hermeneutic being used was indeed that whatever “science” doesn’t support has to be allegorized or written off as uninspired mythology. But when shown where that path leads, the responder tried to engage in “special pleading” by using different criteria, a different hermeneutic. This is exactly the reason evolutionary theory cannot be falsified, and it is no more useful or legitimate for theology than for science.

Now let me try and quickly summarize problems with the failed argument on a scriptural/logical basis:

  1. The Fall is not to be judged by the theory of evolution (ToE). If one invalidates the other, then Genesis has as much right to constitute disproof of ToE as the reverse.
  2. A fall does NOT imply “some better state” unless one first presumes that evolution is going “up”. So here again we have hopeless conflict between Genesis and ToE.
  3. If upward evolution is true, then saying “some potential better state” is something “we would have been ill-equipped indeed to pursue” contradicts it directly. Which way is evo trying to go, and what is directing it?
  4. As a result of presuming the ToE one is forced to conclude that Moses was just spinning “bronze-age” tales to try and make sense of the world and God.
  5. To say that it might be true after all (in some capacity) after all the preceding claims, is an admission that such claims are contradicted by no less than the apostle Paul. Yet then it is claimed that Paul is probably wrong!
  6. Since the ToE angle failed so obviously, the tactic switches to “the text itself.” But once again scripture is judged by secular literature, mythical though it is admitted to be. The alleged superiority of such literature is never explained or supported. Neither is “the nature of the text” shown to require a non-historical interpretation, in spite of the earlier admission that Paul took it as literal history (as also Jesus and the other NT writers did). The “inherent contradictions” are not in the text itself but with the ToE, so the only contradiction is in the argument itself. I love irony.
  7. Ignoring all scriptural data supporting a literal, historical view of Genesis, it is claimed that only direct dictation from God could make it so. But because this straw man is not “normal” and there is no “thus saith the Lord” stated, then Moses is dismissed as uninspired. Yet somehow all the NT writers, not to mention all the Jews of Jesus’ day, all held Moses in a little higher esteem than that.
  8. Back to the comfort zone of scientific terms (all the while equating them with ToE): it is claimed that ToE is the evidence of creation, when it fact ToE is only an interpretation of the evidence; creationists have the same evidence as evolutionists. So it is not science vs. Genesis but ToE vs. Genesis. This is simply a repeat of the initial presumption of ToE as the highest judge of scripture.
  9. Incredibly, this is followed by the statment “Genesis 1-3 is inspired and from God”. Somehow the argument made two points ago has quickly been forgotten. It is actually now being argued (hopefully in ignorance) that God inspires either fiction or deception. Now the door is wide open to treating “the inspired words of God” as bedtime stories that teach whatever lesson a person wishes to see in them.
  10. By this time it should be obvious that “the resurrection or the feeding of the 5000” have not only been “impacted” but rendered completely false. Yet in direct contradiction of all the arguments made before, we can magically pull a rabbit out of a hat; we can appeal to standard legal and historical evidence because, apparently, 2000 years ago the people were much more reliable and intellectual than back in Moses’ day. Yet Jesus and the NT writers, as well as Jesus’ enemies, appealed often to Moses as an authority. And of what, children’s stories?
  11. Then “science” is set aside in order to justify some sentimental attachment to at least a smidgen of the supernatural: the evidence of “the rise of the church after the resurrection- the power of the Spirit.” Isn’t this the same Spirit that told Moses to copy and paste bronze-age stories from the heathen? How can this statement be justified in the slightest after all the preceding arguments made against Genesis? If heathen myths judge Genesis, then why can’t heathen myths judge the NT, as many do today? They say the “savior myth” is quite common and probably borrowed from other cultures. Why doesn’t that sort of “evidence” apply here?
  12. If it is admitted that science cannot address that which is not “normal or natural”, then why can’t a six-day creation be as much about the power of the Spirit as Jesus’ resurrection, especially when science says people can’t rise from the dead?
  13. It seems evident that “holding to the NT as trustworthy reports, and Genesis 1-3 as inspired, but other than literal history” is hoplessly self-contradictory and nonsensical.

I don’t know about you, but the phrase “methinks he protesteth too loudly” seems to sum it up as well as anything.

Posted 2010-10-08 under Bible Text, creation, evolution, resurrection