According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Part 1 - How Are We to Understand "Noah and the Flood?"


File:Noahs Ark.jpg
Noah's Ark (1846), a painting by the American folk painter Edward Hicks.


Not as Myth as We Understand It

I recently ran into an explanation of the Noahic account of the Bible as one that was described as a mythological legend rather than as a historic portrayal from a theologic perspective set within an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. Within ANE Semitic cultures are several well-known flood narratives each similar with the other but each very different from one another as well. The oldest is a Sumerian narrative (The Atrahasis Epic) which was later used by Babylon to create their own account of that same regional catastrophe (The Epic of Gilgamesh) and then by Israel a little later in the Old Testament's retelling of Noah and the Ark found in Genesis 6-9.....

In a separate article we'll review the [theological] differences between each of these legends and their value for each culture's ideological identities but today we'll focus on the topic of "Ancient Flood Literature and Mythology" in general while asking how Israel's flood motif differed from the other two more popularly known flood narratives. By way of introduction I might suggest that much as a surviving Christian will look at a  natural catastrophe and see God's protection in their lives, another may look at that same disaster and not see God's help or even materiality in that event. So too Israel reflected upon the flood event (and by hypothesis any destructive event) and differed in its theologic and anthropologic value for humanity from her more powerful neighbors. But before discussing these themes let us first proceed into flood mythology itself and set some historic parameters that may be useful when reviewing the Noahic flood....

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Ancient Flood Myths - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myths

A flood myth or deluge myth is a symbolic narrative in which a great flood is sent by a deity, or deities, to destroy civilization in an act of divine retribution. It is a theme widespread among many cultures, but is perhaps best known in modern times from the following examples: The biblical and Quranic account of Noah's Ark; the foundational myths of the Quiché and Mayas; Deucalion in Greek mythology; the story of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh; and the Hindu puranic story of Manu. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a [divine] measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who strives to ensure this rebirth.[1]

Assyriologist, George Smith, translated the Babylonian account of the Great Flood in the 19th Century. Further discoveries produced several versions of the Mesopotamian flood myth, with the account that is closest to that in "Genesis 6–9" found in a 700 BC Babylonian copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this work, the hero, Gilgamesh, meets the immortal man, Utnapishtim, and the latter describes how the god, Ea, instructed him to build a huge vessel in anticipation of a deity-created flood that would destroy the world; the vessel was not only intended for Utnapishtim, but was built to also protect his family, his friends and animals.[2]

The great deluge is mentioned in Hindu mythology texts, such as the Satapatha Brahmana,[3] where, in the Matsya, an Avatar (fish incarnation) of the Hindu deity, Vishnu, takes place, in order to save the pious and the first man, Manu.[4][5][6]

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Comparing Other Regional Flood Accounts

Understandably there have been many instances of large regional flooding in the ancient world caused by volcanic-based tsunamis along Asiatic coastlines, glacial melts and runoff (sic mid-western Canada's Lake Agassiz), seasonal melts and mudslides (South America, China), hurricanes (Central America), and such like. However each of these disasters would be unrelated in time and place to the ANE flood of the Bible as first referred to by the Sumerians and later, the Babylonians:

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Ancient Flood Myths [continued] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_myths

Adrienne Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters and Fossil Legends of the First Americans promoted the hypothesis that flood stories were inspired by ancient observations of seashells and fish fossils in inland and mountain areas. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Chinese all documented the discovery of such remains in these locations; the Greeks hypothesized that Earth had been covered by water on several occasions, citing the seashells and fish fossils found on mountain tops as evidence of this history. However, Leonardo da Vinci postulated that an immediate deluge could not have caused the neatly ordered strata that he had found in the Italian Apennines.

Speculation regarding the Deucalion myth has also been introduced, whereby a large tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea, caused by the Thera eruption (with an approximate geological date of 1630–1600 BC), is the myth's historical basis. Although the tsunami hit the South Aegean Sea and Crete it did not affect cities in the mainland of Greece, such as Mycenae, Athens, and Thebes, which continued to prosper, indicating that it had a local, rather than a region-wide, effect.[7]

Another hypothesis is that a meteor or comet crashed into the Indian Ocean around 3000–2800 BC, created the 30 kilometres (19 mi) undersea Burckle Crater, and generated a giant tsunami that flooded coastal lands.[8]

It has been postulated that the deluge myth may be based on a sudden rise in sea levels caused by the rapid draining of prehistoric Lake Agassiz at the end of the last Ice Age, about 8,400 years ago.[9]

One of the latest, and quite controversial, hypotheses of long term flooding is the Black Sea deluge hypothesis, which argues for a catastrophic deluge about 5600 BC from the Mediterranean Sea into the Black Sea. This has been the subject of considerable discussion, but a news article from National Geographic News in February 2009 reported that the flooding might have been "quite mild".[10][11]

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As shown above, there have been many deluges and floods, some locally experienced and others regionally (or multi-regionally) experienced. Consider the more recent 2004 tsunami that began with a massive earthquake in the Indian ocean not many years ago and wiped out entire coastlines from Africa to Indonesia. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to understand that ancient tribes and cultures were capable of discovering ancient sea fossil beds and seashells on mountain ranges and mountainous shelves. Such original discoveries would at first be considered a curiosity until they worked out for themselves various theories of gods (or cosmic animals) destroying the Earth and mankind within it by some means like a flood. Not considering from an evolutionary standpoint that there may have been at one time or another ancient seas covering those areas (nor understanding that sea beds can lift up due to volcanic activity and continental drift). Consequently, there are many ancient creation stories using animals, gods and humans, celestial bodies and natural occurrences (such as flooding), to explain those ancient geologic discoveries. Today, our sciences of evolutionary geology quite adequately explain the modern understanding of earth's cataclysmic formation and continual continental slippage along the Earth's outer shell marked by volcanic activity (as even now can be observed around the Pacific's very active Ring of Fire).

Hence, the biblical flood is one of many similar geologic cataclysmic events. It may have seemed unique to those living within its destructive path but is unsupportable by geological strata worldwide, the biological diversity found on the earth, the given populations resident in other locations, and by many other observations not mentioned here (see Part 2 - Noah and the Flood). Each culture had their own stories of cataclysmic destruction as each story is unrelated to the other in time and place between a variety of ancient cultures found around the world. The biblical flood of the ANE is but one of those stories. But as a biblical narrative that was historic and most probably founded upon the massive rise of the Tigris and Euphrates river system along central Mesopotamia somewhere shortly after 3000 BC (refer to Paul Seely's Biologos article here - http://biologos.org/blog/the-flood-not-global-barely-local-mostly-theological-ii). This is the historic background of the occasion. And so, we must now ask why its account should - and should not be - considered mythic in the contemporary sense of its usage.


File:Gustave Doré - The Holy Bible - Plate I, The Deluge.jpg

"The Deluge", frontispiece to
Gustave Doré's illustrated edition of the Bible.
Based on the story of Noah's Ark, this shows humans and a tiger doomed
by the flood futilely attempting to save their children and cubs.


Comparing Ancient Religions

When comparing ANE religions, especially those in close proximity with each other both temporally and geographically, such as those civilizations found in the Mesopotamian region around 2500-2400 BC, there may necessarily be discovered shared views of important events skewed only by that of a dominating culture's religious beliefs and sociological outlooks. This then would be the case for the more mature Sumerian/Akkadian culture (begun around 4000 BC) as it faded away before the newly arisen Assyrian and Babylonian cultures (roughly 2500 BC) while another smaller Semitic nation of federated tribes known as Israel was in its earliest stages of infancy and growth (cf. Abraham's call to UR around 2100 BC, and Moses' Exodus from Egypt, 1447 BC; cf. the History of Ancient Israel and Judah). Politically, one of the very first things an ancient kingdom must do to prove its right of rulership is to develop a nationalized view of itself that would substantiate its rising presence and power. Consequently a nationalized creation motif could establish that ancient nation's dominating religious beliefs while a catastrophic story of salvation from something like a large regional disaster (such as a flood motif) could prove that nation's favored status before the gods they worshipped. Together, these self-proclaimed histories and beliefs could be used as important sociological boundary markers vindicating a foreign kingdom's right to rule and reign as an invading power over existing local alliances and fiefdoms.


Overview map of the ancient Near East




Consequently, ANE historians would expect to find similar types of nationalized proclamations in the charters of the kingdom of Israel (later to become the separate kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah in the south). And such was the case when Israel likewise declared their historic religious beliefs through the presentation of a creation motif and flood motif and religious origins based upon antediluvian and Patriarchal stories each of which retold prior historic events through their own religious experiences with a God by the name of Yahweh (roughly translated as "Lord" in the English, meaning "Almighty God"). To the (pagan) nation-states surrounding Israel Yahweh was largely an unknown Deity (unlike Abraham's earliest experience of Yahweh when visited by the Gentile high priest Melchizedek who affirmed Yahweh as his God and put definition to Abraham's heart who this mediating God of grace was that had called him from Ur of the Chaladees). Consequently, Yahweh was little known or feared by the nations but over time, at Israel's insistence that this God was the one true God of the universe and of mankind, the theology of Yahweh took root and grew as an expanding acknowledgement of Yahweh's presence into other dissimilar cultures as Israel worked up its national charter and heritage based upon Yahwistic belief.

What made Israel's belief in Yahweh unique was their corroborating and personalized experiences through godly men and women - through  individuals, leaders, prophets, priests, and salvific events by the Spirit of God building a growing body of revelatory experiences and event-driven processes proving to be divinely inspirational and illuminating to their recipients. That is, when seeing disaster or blessing they uniquely interpreted each event through a growing religious process and theological understanding of their Maker, Sustainer, Fortress, Healer, and Protector Yahweh. Yahweh was becoming their God and their explanation for all things not God.

Accordingly, one would expect Israel's historical narratives to offer a closer description of Yahweh because of this same God's direct, personal involvement in their lives for that intended purpose. However, one may also expect that Israel's ancient accounts of creational origins, the flood narrative, and the progress of mankind's civilizations, would be reflective of their religiously-informed understanding of popular ancient cosmogonies - but with the important difference of reciting God's divine involvement as understood (or re-interpreted by Israel's religious worship) in each of those events. So that when the Jewish or Christian theologian makes a comparative study between the Sumerian/Akkadian (Central Mesopotamia generally), Assyrian (Northern Mesopotamia), Babylonian (Southern Mesopotamia), Greek and Roman religions to that of their own Judahistic or Christian religion, we would expect to find a vast difference between the (poly)theistic/anthropocentric Semitic and Greco-Roman beliefs to that of the Jewish and Christian beliefs. Furthermore, we would also expect to find a great degree of similarity between Judaism and Christianity because of their common heritage and natural progression from one another in the transition between the Old to the New Testament eras.

And so yes, we could call the Noahic account a mythological legend in comparative literary terms because of its relatedness to other mythological flood stories in various ANE cultures. But by this genre designation we do not not mean by implication that Israel's own historical and biblical accounts of Yahweh's activity within itself and later, in the Church, are mythological (theologically, this event process is described as "salvation history" or "heilsgeschicte"). They are not. Especially for the one who believes in the self-revealing activity and communion of Yahweh to mankind through Israel, and later, the church. For whether we speak of Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, the priest and prophets of the bible, or of Jesus and His disciples; of things spiritual or miraculous; of events filled with divine interaction and circumvention; these redemptive and salvific activities of God are not mythological. But richly filled socio-theological stories of Yahweh's communion with Israel and her people. Certainly they are narratively true historical accounts insofar as Israel interpreted them within her religious charters and everyday beliefs. But not mythological literary accounts that have no historical import and connections to God's  self-revelation to the nation Israel and to the faith of the Church grounded upon God's sacrificial atonement through His Son. Pointedly, its is an informed religious epistemology looking at world events and understanding them in spiritually connective terms much as we would do today through our own Christian outlook and epistemology. Or how a Muslim or Hindu religious person who be so informed by their faith when trying to describe or understand world event. The trick in ancient archaeology is to pull apart the religious idea from the actual historical event. That is, if there was a flood then what kind of flood was it, and how did it affect the lives of the ancient people and villages who described it in their religious beliefs. Hence an ancient anthropologist will consider his subject with a bit of skepticism while searching out the details of the actual event believed by religious people. Even so is this the case with the Jewish creation account and flood narrative amongst other subjects and topics. Without a proper historical forensic truth lies only at the door of the teller and not the in the bones of the actual scene (using a "CSI" TV kind of detective logic).

On an religiously-informed epistemological level then we may say that to imply that the Noahic flood was as mythic as Jesus' redemption and resurrection would be inaccurate. In fact, like Noah's Ark (and Israel's Ark of the Tabernacle), we would be betraying Yahweh's own narrative revelation to mankind of these events by saying otherwise. Who then provided His only Son Jesus as mankind's very own Ark of salvation from physical and spiritual death and destruction through His resurrection. And in the spirit of the Noahic account, for those refusing God's vessel of provision in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, than certain destruction may be comprehended as sealed and certain. But for those penitents willing to obey God and allowing His spiritual Ark of salvation release into their lives... than whatever the flood waters to come  in this life - and yes, we're speaking metaphorically now - for the Christian believer s/he will be delivered unto the everlasting tributaries of God's holy refuges unto safety and life eternal. Jesus, then, is mankind's watery Ark and Sanctifying Agent of Mediation (our great High Priest) before the God of Israel who indwells the Holy-of-Holies which is now the Temple of the heavens. Even as He will in His very own Kingdom-to-come upon-this-Earth recreate its further renewal and redemption. How this will be we do not know. Only believe. And this is the Christian expectation, and Christian hope, of things to come. Even so, we believe as a religious body of believers that this is Yahweh's personal promise to be and become humanity's eternal refuge, safety, and hope, against the foreboding shores of sin-and-spiritual-death awashed in the hopeless of wickedness and everlasting destruction. That Yahweh will be our Ark of Salvation in this world as in the next. This is what binds the Christian believer to Israel's religious past in belief, tradition, and epistemology.

Comparing Ancient Interpretations

As was said, in another sense we may allow the term "myth" to be used of the Noahic account when juxtapositioned alongside other ancient Near Eastern religions in a comparative religious study... but by this we mean that these early accounts of human history found in the Bible simply utilize mythological story form as a way to create a very real portrayal of accounts from a theological perspective within an ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. God did create and provide, protect and save, and disbursed humanity to the four corners of the world. Science tells us how this occurred through evolutionary fossil records, genetic studies, and comparative ancient legends within anthropological and archaeological discoveries. However, the Bible tells to us the meaning of these discoveries (as afore stated in the paragraph above) regardless of the correctness of the narrative event as depicted by the ancient scribe and oracle. One man's "myth" is another man's "understanding."

Hence, the term "myth" should not be used skeptically of God's biblical narrative or revelation in the modern scientific sense of something incredibly "magical or unrealistic." But in the ancient literary sense of narrative genre and figurative writing. That is, a biblical myth is both an unscientific way of describing an embellished event and a literary genre of that same description that held meaning for its beholder. I say embellished because more often than not a story will grow with its legend - especially in ages of oral interpretation and not written record. However, when we do use this literary category of biblical myth it must be carefully laid out, and not hastily proclaimed, as an implied reflection upon all of Scripture. Nor of the Jewish/Christian faith specifically. For the believer, the God of the Bible is anything but a myth. Nor is our faith a fabled legend without historical interpretation that makes for a good literary story with moral extrapolations similar to the plethora of Greek and Roman tragedies with their many surmised meanings. Whether those stories were known by the ancients, or beheld by more recent civilizations, each people group carried their own legends that held meaning for their nation-state.

For the Jewish or Christian believer we believe and do assent that our receipt of Yahweh is the more correct one. The more gracious and healing one not filled with continuing doctrines of hatred and vengence, violence and perjury - though both the histories of sinful Israel and the historic church would betray themselves in these regards to human rights and freedoms. Still, man being imperfect and limited in divine apprehension, would strive to portray the God he believes. And thus is the need of the societal prophet and preacher. Someone who comes along to re-describe the God of Israel in reflective terms of grace and love. Healing and redemption. Forgiveness and hope. Peace and goodwill. Lofty ideals seldom seen in practice by God's followers and body politic. But ideals indeed requiring spiritual practice and perseverance.

Hence, the Christian belief is based upon Yahweh's very real, intra-historical, interworkings with OT/NT figures and events - with secular ideologies, misguided beliefs, and errant religious practices. So that in all areas a godliness may occur and a God-ward consciousness become living and present. And so, in another sense, just as the mythological/pagan beliefs of ancient cultures guided the actions and attitudes of ancient peoples, so too did Israel and the Church have a Yahwistic culture that guided theirs. But with the important distinction that Yahweh is a real, spiritual Being, unlike the ancient pantheons of gods with their many mystical beliefs, practices, and superstitions (here is beheld the idea of the evolution of religion as religion continues to evolve from rudimentary form to a sophisticated one of equality and justice).

To the one who indiscriminately says that this argument is no different than that of any other ancient or contemporary belief systems, then yes, that may be true. But to the Jewish and Christian believer it is one describing for them the Living Creator God of the universe through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. At university I met many professors and their minion students who were less than complementary towards the Jewish-Christian faith. To them we believed in a living myth that was magical and delusional. However, I understood my task as one of spreading the Gospel of Christ to the spiritually blind and deaf. While God's mission or task was one of converting unto salvation. Together, in a divine-human cooperative, we spread the message... but it is the Holy Spirit's task to convict towards repentance and conversion that the Christian faith becomes enlivened and made real in the heart and mind of the disbelieving agnostic or atheist. But such adamant disbelief or casual proclamations does not disprove God. It cannot. It can only blind the one refusing to believe. Our fellowship is of a different sort. Of a different nature than the religions of the world. It is one of personal redemption and repentance which sets it quite apart from other competing philosophies and religions. And even today we see it evolving through the many ideas formed in philosophy, psychology, science, politics, and earth care. It is a religion first and foremost of redemption and repentance. Of questioning ourselves, acts, ideas, and words, against the larger ideas of renewal, recreation, reclamation, rebirth, and resurrection. An evolving religion that cannot be content until all the world acts with one will within the evolving global structure of Yahweh's provide of self-sacrifice and redemption.

Genesis 1-11 & the Book of Job are Old

Another observation I wish to make is that when we come to Genesis it must be realized that chapters 1-11 are very ancient in their origins. They are in essence very old, oral legends that have been later written down by succeeding civilizations that had possession of alphabets and a means of written communication. This is true also of the book of Job which is yet another very old book of the bible telling of a man who suffered at the hands of God and the devil. Both the early Genesis accounts and that of Job occurred long years before Abraham. And were rehearsed generationally through oral transmission, and later written down, many longs years later after Abraham (by Jewish storytellers, historians, and scribes perhaps beginning as far back as in Israel's many distant years spent in Egypt, and then continuing through their formative Wilderness travels into the early days of their tribal federations).

Moreover, as I understand it, the Noahic account of Genesis was edited and redacted from at least two different transmission sources... one from a 10th century Yahwistic literary source and the other from a 7th century Priestly source. This can be seen in the small differences found within the account in Genesis 6-9. What caused this? For one, the OT books were written and collected through several centuries of Israel and Judah's disobedience to God's directives and counsel, and into their separate exiles. Consequently the bible stories that we are familiar with today imperfectly evolved because of societal/spiritual disruptions from generation to generation which then streamed off into separate, but similar, biblical stories so as to create these separate, collected, accounts. As further example of imperfect transmission and spiritual disruptions in Israel's history recall the lost book of the Torah that when found caused King Josiah to weep (2 Kings 22.10-11)? Imagine the lost Mosaic traditions and cultural observations that came with the finding and knowledge of that book? So that at the last, Ezra, around c. 586, made a final compilation of the Scriptures that found the Pharisees and Sadducees still arguing over their interpretations of God's word as understood 600 years later even as they would  with Jesus' bold insights and authoritative interpretations. It is surely a degree of wonderment that the Christian and Jewish religions have been preserved at all when laid at the hands of humanities wandering, tepid heart and troubling, disjointed paths.

Suggested Theological Themes

So from this I can allow a kind of "mythic" understanding of the Scriptures in Israel's earliest accounts of ancient human history (the Creation of the world, the Flood, the rise of human civilizations). A story form that utilized a mythological story form of ancient cosmogony. But not any type of ancient cosmogony, be it Akkadian, Assyrian, or Babylonian, but a Hebraic view filled by God's directing Spirit upon the hearts and minds of Abraham's progeny that understood this old world to be created by the very word of Yahweh Himself. With expressed intentions, deliberations, purpose, and planning, both spiritual and physical. Each follower fully realizing the outcome and the necessity of God's intimate involvement with His creation's renewal through redemption and re-purposing ultimately through His Son and by every living believer who would come in contact with this re-creative story. A story where man lived in harmony with creation and with himself. A story where communion with God has been reinitiated through the Son of God who died at Calvary and rose to rule and reign at God's right hand. A rule that would restore all things back to the Garden of Eden. Back to when sin did not reign. Where death did not separate man from God, from each other, from nature nor himself (we call this the four alienations of sin and death). A remarkable story of recreation perhaps more remarkable than the making of this old universe itself.

A story that is every bit as true to modern, contemporary man today as it was to ancient, primitive cultures then. That spoke of a God who created. A creation that would serve both as the Creator-God's temple and as a sanctuary to those things created. A meeting place between the spiritual and the physical. Between the immortal and the mortal. The eternal and the temporary. Where fellowship may occur and life is birthed. Where fulfillment is found in whatever activity undertaken by man and was blessed by the God of the universe. Where sin and death are held accountable. Where truth, justice, love become the foundation stones for human community and society. A story that was as relevant then as it is today however its story form. However its literary vehicle of dissemination. This then is the Genesis account of creation, of the flood, of the rise of human societies through disbursement by earth event, be it by water, ice, cold or heat. Or by human event of murder, wars, peaceable culture, ideology or religion.

After Genesis 1-11, after the story of Job, we are taken to historical events that are much closer to Israel's historical experience... in fact, from Genesis 12 onwards we are taken directly to Israel's formation as a spiritually developing community of believers bound together by their beliefs in the God of the Bible today. Hence, their traditions may have been imperfectly passed along but those traditions were much nearer to their national conscience and recollection than were the much earlier proto-historical occurrences collected in Genesis 1-11 and Job. That were recapsulized into Israel's national history and spiritual understanding of their provisional religious charters. So that whether there was a literal man named Noah or not, or a wooden Ark of proportionate dimensions bearing animals two-by-two is not our ultimate concern. No, our concern lies with the fact of the story itself and what God intended by it when giving it to Israel as their national inheritance in spiritual terms of trusting reliance upon Him as their Father God Creator. For simplistically sake they called this man Noah and understood God to have honored Noah's desire to be faithful to God come hell or highwater. Which he did. And by which his family was saved. And through whose agency was saved the ancient belief of this Creator later to be described and known as Yahweh by other God-fearers. Though not a Hebrew (since Abraham had not been borne yet) Noah was a God-fearer. And by historical import we see the nation Israel's salvation again and again at the hands of God - whether in the man Israel's story, or his son Joesph; or of the Israelites from Egypt itself; or from the harsh desert spaces of their Wilderness journey; or time-and-again in their tribal federations under Judges and Prophets; or within their monarchies until the time of the Church arising from the ashes of what was left of the nation-state Israel. In all, through all, by all was God ever there to guide and protect His covenanted remnant of believers through the fires and trials of life. This then is the story of Noah and the ark and its relevancy for today.

Consequently, we must pointedly discriminate (i) that the early proto-mythologies found within Genesis showed a remarkable comparative relatedness to their contextual literary cousins (which themselves were much older than Israel's accounts) as pertaining to religious mythologies of creational origins, natural floods and destruction, and the normative events of population drift and movement. As well as (ii) due to the historical fact that the stories found in Genesis 1-11 were written much later (c. 1800-586 BC) to the other ANE stories held by much older proto-literary civilizations (say, pre-8000 BC in oral form per creational accounts; and, 2800-2500 BC for the flood account of the Tigris-Euphrates flood event). Otherwise, it would be better to speak of the Creation of the world (Gen 1-3) and of the Noahic flood (known as the second Creation, or Rebirth, of the World), from a (ANE) Judeo-Christian understanding that is not mythic - though perhaps not "literal" either as used in today's evangelical cultures proclaiming literal interpretations. But one that was very real (and very "literal") to the ANE cultures then, both in substance and occurrence, as beheld and understood by the people within their ANE cultures of that day. Stories that were very old. That were passed along by very old civilizations. That were divinely informative about God even as they were spiritually formative both then and now for today's modern and postmodern civilizations. That are true but scribed from within ancient world-and-life views of cosmogonies telling of creational origins and apprehended knowledge of regional disasters and beneficial blessings. Stories that were trying to comprehend God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. That were asking even then, the meaning of life when confronted by natural catastrophic disasters and of the subsequent beneficial blessings experienced by survivors protected from such destruction. This much we can suppose and even allow as it has been illustrated again and again even within our contemporary cultures (as example, consider Western Kentucky's tornadoes of March 2012 which found tragic stories of survivors searching for life's meaning when having survived through the horrific winds of destructive tornadoes and malevolent storms).

As example, when we think of the Creation account we might think of it in spiritual terms using Israel's familiar Temple-based institution as a paradigm for thinking of God communing with mankind in terms of sanctuary and worship rather than get lost in a "literalness of explanation" or in a science-based evolutionary discussion. Or when we speak of "the Flood" we might see it as God's way of protecting the believer through the various Arks He places in our lives beginning with the Ark of the Covenant and then, by extrapolation, the Ark of God's spoken Word and decrees, of assurances and warnings; the Ark of the Holy Spirit or even that of Christ Himself; the Ark of the fellowship of God's people (as obedient communities found within Israel, or that of the Church); the Ark of marriage; the Ark of God's justice and ethical laws that are fair and equally applied; the Ark of Salvation; the Ark of the Kingdom of God.

Consequently, my own version of the "creation account" might utilize an evolutionary understanding. Or my own "Flood theory" may perceive Noah's flood as a large regional disaster and largely rewritten to convey the spiritual presence of God. But separate from these differences the believer and theologian each seek to understand those ancient accounts as early descriptors of the kind of God we worship and believe. In the quantum physics articles I've recently written God has been shown to be in the land of science. In the human pathos articles communicated in this web blog we find God's presence in our daily lives and routines. In the songs and devotional pieces submitted herein we sing of an impassioned God and of His great goodness to this world of sin and woe, tears and valleys. The Scriptures tell us of God. They are not a science book. But they do accurately tell us of God and His Sovereignty. God is no myth. Nor is the spiritual account of His people Israel and the Church an unreal, mythic faith. No. God is a great God... and He is our Great God who has revealed Himself to mankind over eons of human history to tell us of His love and salvation, presence and intentions for our lives and for this old world.

R.E. Slater
July 2, 2012
March 21, 2014

*For more on God's names and who He is go to a past post entitled The Names of God in Scripture.



* * * * * * * * * *


continue to -
Part 2 - Noah & the Flood
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/07/part-2-noah-flood.html


* * * * * * * * * *


Helpful Biologos Articles
that may be perused...


Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology, Part 1
http://biologos.org/blog/biblical-and-scientific-shortcomings-of-flood-geology-part-1/CP2
Gregg Davidson
August 5, 2010

The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, II
http://biologos.org/blog/the-flood-not-global-barely-local-mostly-theological-ii
Paul Seely
January 31, 2012

Science and an Incarnational Approach to the Bible
http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-an-incarnational-approach-to-the-bible/
Peter Enns
Nov 6, 2009

An Incarnational Model
http://biologos.org/blog/an-incarnational-model/
Peter Enns
Nov 13, 2009

Mesopotamian Myths and “Genre Calibration”
http://biologos.org/blog/mesopotamian-myths-and-genre-calibration/
Peter Enns
Nov 27, 2009

Genesis 1 and a Babylonian Creation Story
http://biologos.org/blog/genesis-1-and-a-babylonian-creation-story
Peter Enns
May 18, 2010

The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point
http://biologos.org/blog/the-firmament-of-genesis-1-is-solid-but-thats-not-the-point/
Peter Enns
Jan 14, 2010

Yahweh, Creation, and the Cosmic Battle
http://biologos.org/blog/yahweh-creation-and-the-cosmic-battle
Peter Enns
February 2, 2012

The Second Creation Story and “Atrahasis”
http://biologos.org/blog/the-second-creation-story-and-atrahasis
Peter Enns
May 25, 2010

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 1
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood
Peter Enns
June 1, 2012

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 2
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood-part-2
Peter Enns
June 8, 2012

Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and the Flood, Part 3
http://biologos.org/blog/gilgamesh-atrahasis-and-the-flood-part-3
Peter Enns
June 22, 2012



Can there be several definitions of the "Image of God"?

What Does “Image of God” Mean?

by Peter Enns
July 27, 2010
Related topics:Imago Dei

"The BioLogos Forum" frequently features essays from The BioLogos Foundation's leaders and Senior Fellows. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here
                                     
Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

Not the Soul

Genesis 1:26-27 says that God made humankind in his “image” and “likeness.” Both terms mean the same thing, and so this is usually referred to as “image of God” (Latin imago dei).

Some understand image of God to mean those qualities that make us human, for example: possessing a soul, higher-order reasoning, self-consciousness, consciousness of God and the ability to have a relationship with him. This seems like a good definition, since only humans are in God’s image and these are qualities that make us human.

Understanding image of God as the soul also helps some people reconcile evolution and Christianity. Somewhere along the evolutionary line God gave two hominids immortal souls, thus becoming the first true human beings. In other words, despite the lengthy evolutionary process, humans were “created” only at this point. These two “souled” hominids are Adam and Eve. Some say this could have happened about 10,000 years ago, which would line things up nicely with the rough chronology presented in Genesis.

I understand the motivation for this explanation: to maintain somehow the biblical description of human origins in the face of evolution. But I am fairly skeptical about it. For one thing, it is complete guesswork. It is also difficult to see what is gained here. Preserving the biblical description of human origins this way means it has to be adjusted well beyond what it says.

More importantly, equating image of God with the soul or other qualities that make us human puts a burden on Genesis 1:26-27 than it cannot bear—which brings us to the next point.

God’s Representative Rulers

Image of God is important theologically, and the topic is open for discussion—but it is not a free-for-all. Genesis, other Old Testament passages, and Israel’s surrounding culture give us a good idea of what image of God means.

Many scholars draw a parallel between the image of God in Genesis and images of kings in the ancient world. Rulers could not be everywhere at once, and travel was slow. So, they would erect monuments or statues of themselves throughout their kingdoms. These “images” let everyone know that the king’s rule extended wherever his image was found.

Another kind of image in the ancient world is an idol, a physical object that represented the god in the temple. Idols were not considered gods themselves. They were statues that let you know the god was in some mysterious sense “present.”

Statues of kings and of gods help us understand what it means for humans to be made in God’s image: humans are placed in God’s kingdom as his representatives.

J. Richard Middleton (Roberts Wesleyan College) puts it well in The Liberating Image. He offers that the image of God describes “the royal office or calling of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world.” Image of God means that humans have been given “power to share in God’s rule or administration of the earth’s resources and creatures.”1

When one reads Genesis 1:26-27 with this in mind, the point becomes fairly obvious: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish…birds…cattle…wild animals…creeping things” (NRSV).

Humankind, created on the sixth day, has been given the authority to rule over the other creatures God had made on the fourth and fifth days. They have that authority because humankind is made in God’s image.

There is nothing here about a soul, the ability to reason, being conscious of God or any other psychological or spiritual trait. As John Walton points out, as important as these qualities are for making us human, they do not define what image of God means in Genesis. Rather, those qualities are tools that serve humans in their image-bearing role.2

The phrase “image of God” is not about what makes us human. It is about humanity’s unique role in being God’s kingly representatives in creation. Once we understand what image of God means in Genesis, we will be in a better position to see how this idea is worked out elsewhere in the Bible, which we will begin next week.

Notes

1. J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 27.

2. John Walton, Genesis (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 131.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How could humans have evolved and still be
created in the “Image of God”?

Biologos.com
June 25, 2012

In a Nutshell

The meaning of the “image of God” has been debated for centuries in the church. A common view is that the image of God refers to the human abilities that separate us from the animals. However, scientists have found that abilities like communication and rationality are also present in animals on a basic level. Plus, theologians do not see the image of God as human abilities. Some theologians see the image of God as our capacity for a relationship with God. Other theologians see it as our commission to represent God’s kingdom on earth. Both of these theological positions are consistent with scientific evidence. Whether God created humanity through a miracle or through evolution, God gave us our spiritual capacities and calls us to bear his image.

(Updated June 25, 2012)

In Detail

Introduction

The “image of God” is a key concept in Christian theology, foundational to Christian thinking about human identity, human significance, bioethics, and other topics. Many Christians see evolution as incompatible with the image of God. How could God’s image bearers have evolved from simpler life forms? Doesn’t image-bearing require miraculous creation of humans rather than shared ancestry with chimpanzees? And when in the evolutionary process did humans attain this image? These questions are tied to many other issues concerning human origins, including the soul, the Fall, and the historicity of Adam and Eve (see sidebars), but in this article we will focus specifically on the image of God.

The phrase “image of God” does not appear many times in the Bible, but the importance of the concept is emphasized by its repetition in the creation account:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. -- Genesis 1:26-27

From this text, it is clear that part of bearing God’s image is ruling over the animals. Genesis 9:5-6 reveals another aspect of image bearing: all human lifeblood is sacred because all humans are made in the image of God. The emphasis on Judeo-Christian thought on the sanctity of human life is derived in part from this passage. In the New Testament, the idea is expanded further as Christ is revealed as the true image of the invisible God (2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15).

For centuries, theologians have discussed these and other passages, debating the meaning of the image of God (“imago Dei” in Latin). Being made in God’s likeness is not a matter of our physical appearance, because humans don’t all look the same. But to what does the image of God actually refer? Many ideas have been suggested over the centuries, producing a huge body of theological writing. While hard to summarize, we give a brief overview below of three common themes for the image of God. After developing this theological context, we’ll consider how these ideas intersect with evolution.

Image of God as our abilities

A common view is that the image of God refers to human abilities. When people talk of the things “that make us human,” they refer to abilities like reason and rationality, mathematics and language, laughter and emotions, caring and empathy, and cultural products like music and art. Often the motive is to distinguish humans from animals by showing that humans have unique abilities that make us special and superior to animals. Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) wrote something like this when he said “Man's excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul, which raises him above the beasts of the field.”1 Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) also emphasized intellect and rationality in his discussion of image bearing.2 But Augustine and Aquinas were not speaking of intellect as an aptitude for math or music; Aquinas instead writes of an “aptitude for understanding and loving God.” In fact, the modern emphasis on reason comes more from secular Enlightenment ideas than from Christian theology. During the Enlightenment, the image of God was connected to ideas like the natural dignity and majesty of humankind that separates us from the brute beasts of the animal world.

Scientific evidence is piling up that humans have more in common with animals than was once thought. Genetic evidence shows that humans and chimpanzees share much of their DNA. Studies of animal behavior (particularly of chimps and other apes) show that animals not only laugh and cry and care for each other, but can learn sign language and even have basic reasoning ability. In fact, Christian neuroscientist Malcolm Jeeves writes that “any attempt to set down a clear demarcation between the reasoning abilities of nonhuman primates and humans is found to have become blurred.”3 Obviously, humans have a much larger capacity to reason than animals, but reasoning is not a uniquely human ability. As neuroscientists and animal behaviorists learn more about animals, they see how traits appear in a rudimentary form at a level similar to human children.4 Whether or not one accepts evolution, evidence from living humans and animals does not show a distinct difference in kinds of abilities (only degree).


Another challenge for this picture of the image of God is the place of people with mental disabilities. If a person is impaired in reasoning or language, are they bearing less of God’s image? Are they not showing his true likeness? The Christian answer to these questions is No! The Bible repeatedly teaches that God values all people, particularly those who are rejected by society or unable to care for themselves.5 In fact, Genesis 9:5-6 points to image bearing as the reason that all human life is valuable. This is a major motivator for Christians who seek to protect the unborn, the poor, and the aged. Surely bearing God’s image must mean something other than using our abilities.

Image of God as our spiritual capacities and relationship with God

Another common view is that the image of God refers to our capacity for a relationship with God. Following Aquinas’ view of “aptitude for understanding and loving God,” the Catholic catechism says,
Of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his creator. … he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity. Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.6
John Calvin (1509-1564) and other reformers 7 wrote of the image of God as the original righteousness of humans before the Fall. When first created, we reflected God’s “wisdom, righteousness, and goodness”8 but, as Paul teaches, that image was tarnished by sin and is being restored in Christ:
Since the image of God had been destroyed in us by the fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been. Paul says that we are transformed into the image of God by the gospel. And, according to him, spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of the same image. (Colossians 3:10, and Ephesians 4:23.) -- John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis 9
Neuroscientists have also attempted to investigate this model, looking for evidence of such things as selfless behavior or the ability to perceive the transcendent. But science is simply not capable of fully testing such spiritual realities; the evidence that scientists do find is open to many interpretations.10

Image of God as our commission

What did the “image of God” mean to the first audience of Genesis 1? We get insights from the rest of the Old Testament, which frequently uses “image” in the context of idol worship. In the ancient cultures of Egypt and Canaan, people made images of their gods from metal and wood and set them up in local temples to worship. Hebrew scholar Joseph Lam writes that the idol “was believed to be the true manifestation of the god in the midst of the people.”11 In the Ten Commandments, God prohibits his people from making such images (Exodus 20:4-6), because God cannot be contained in, or even represented by, an idol made by human hands (see Isaiah 44:6-20). Israel’s temple contained no representation of God himself.

Turning back to Genesis 1, we now see “image of God” in a new light. The image is not a built-in ability or capacity of human beings, but a role we are called to live. God has named us as his living images. We represent God here on earth, better than any idol made by human hands. Lam writes:
In fact, it is possible to argue grammatically for the validity of the translation ‘as the image of God’ as opposed to ‘in the image of God’. … The Hebrew phraseology here denotes not so much the manner of the creation of the human being (i.e. the “mold” out of which humans are created), but rather the intended function of the human being in the world. Humans aren’t just made in God’s image, they are called to be his image in the world.12
Joshua Moritz develops this idea further, pointing out the parallels of our appointment to the role of image-bearer with other instances of divine election.13

Watch a short video where N. T. Wright describes
image bearing as an angled mirror, reflecting God’s love to others
and reflecting the praise of the world back to God.

 

Connections to evolution


How might these models of the image of God fit with evolution? First recall these key points from the BioLogos faith statement14:

  • We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution and common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.

We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order. Thus, BioLogos believes that God created humanity using the process of evolution and endowed us with his image. Both views of the image of God (“spiritual capacity” and “commission”) are compatible with the scientific evidence for evolution, and both views are affirmed by individuals in the BioLogos community. In fact, the two views are not mutually exclusive.

If the image of God refers to our spiritual capacities, God could still have used the natural process of evolution to create our bodies and human abilities. God could have used a miraculous process to create our spiritual capacities, or used some combination of natural processes and divine revelation to develop these capacities. Either way, God is the creator of our whole selves, including both our physical and spiritual aspects.

If the image of God refers to our commission, then it has little impact on one’s view of how God created humans. Whether God made the first humans using natural processes or a single miracle or a mixture of the two, God named humanity as his image bearers.

BioLogos welcomes more evangelical scholarship on this question.

Living out our calling as image bearers

While the academic debate is important, it should not distract us from the essential calling to live as people created in God’s image. Let us remember to
  • Value every person as a fellow image bearer. All people, both men and women, are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), not just some priestly class. All of humanity is equally valued in God’s eyes, and should be in ours (Genesis 9:5-6).
  •  
  • Seek to attain the whole image of God in Christ (Ephesians 4:23). As the Holy Spirit works in us to bring about the new self, we are being molded more and more into the true image of the Creator.
  •  
  • Care for the creation. As representatives of the Creator, we are charged to rule over the Earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:26-28) which includes helping creatures fulfill their God-given mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22) and tending the garden God provided (Genesis 2:15).15
  •  
  • Worship the Creator. Of all the created order, humanity is the leading voice to speak our praise back to the One who made us.
Further Reading

More from BioLogos

  • Alexander, Denis “Theological issues associated with an Adam who was not the sole genetic progenitor of humankind” BioLogos White Paper, December 2010 (PDF)
  • Enns, Pete “What does ‘Image of God’ Mean?” BioLogos Forum, August 2010 (blog series)
  • Lam, Joseph, “The Biblical Creation in its Ancient Near Eastern Context” Biologos White Paper, April 2010 (PDF)
  • Moritz, Joshua “Chosen by God: Biblical Election and the Imago Dei” BioLogos Forum, June 2012 (blog series)
  • Wright, N. T. “What it means to be an image bearer” BioLogos Forum June 16, 2012 (video)
  • “Southern Baptist Voices: Evolutionary Creationism and the Imago Dei” John Hammett and Tim O’Connor, BioLogos Forum June 2012 (blog series)

Recommended External Resources

  • Jeeves, Malcolm “Neuroscience, Evolutionary Psychology, and the Image of God” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2005) 57.3, 170-186 (PDF)
  • Middleton, J. Richard The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press) 2005.
  • Moritz, Joshua M. “Evolution, the End of Human Uniqueness, and the Election of the Imago Dei” Theology and Science, 9:3, 307-339 (2011) (abstract and article access)
  • Walton, John. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic) 2009 (book info)

Notes

  1. Saint Augustine The literal meaning of Genesis, Book 6, Chapter 12 (Google books, p. 193)
  2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 93 (html)
  3. Malcolm Jeeves, “Neuroscience, Evolutionary Psychology, and the Image of God” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2005) 57.3, p. 178 (PDF)
  4. Similarly, many human traits have been replicated in artificial intelligence, particularly logic and math but also conversational language and computer-generated art.
  5. For more see, Kathy McReynolds “More Than Skin Deep” BioLogos Forum June 2010
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part one, section 2, chapter 1, article 1, paragraph 6, section I. “In the Image of God” (web article)
  7. The Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland offers a convenient summary of quotes from reformation leaders (html) and excerpts from Reformed confessions (html) related to the image of God.
  8. John Calvin, Commentary on Colossians (html) Excerpts of John Calvin’s writings on the image of God are conveniently compiled in a modern translation at Siris, July 7, 2005
  9. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis (html)
  10. For more, see Malcolm Jeeves, “Neuroscience, Evolutionary Psychology, and the Image of God” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (2005) 57.3, (PDF)
  11. Lam, Joseph, “The Biblical Creation in its Ancient Near Eastern Context” Biologos White Paper, April 2010, p.4 (PDF) This paragraph and the next are based on Lam’s paper.
  12. Ibid, p.5
  13. Moritz, Joshua M. “Evolution, the End of Human Uniqueness, and the Election of the Imago Dei” Theology and Science, 9:3, 307-339 (2011) (abstract and article access)
  14. BioLogos “What We Believe” (html)
  15. For more on creation care, see the Evangelical Environmental Network (website)