Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Sovereignty of God Displayed in Evolution's Entropic Value

Picturing the Ancient Devonian Age of the Earth

While visiting the northwest coast of Lake Michigan above the city of Petoskey I saw some petoskey stones lying on a shelf and made a guess as to their history. When later checking I found I wasn't far off from a very important period of the ancient earth. That these fossilized coral pieces were part of an ancient sea bed formed between 358 to 415 million years ago known as the Devonian period. If you've ever wondered where plants and marine life was birthed this was the era spanning 60 million years way, way, way before the dinosaur era.

Geography of the Continents during the Devonian Geologic Age

Moreover, thinking about terrestrial biologic life I remember reading an article not too long ago about how the process of evolution can be described in terms of energy gain or loss. That is, "the first significant adaptive radiation of life on dry land occurred during the Devonian [period]," according to the Wikipedia article I had turned to next. But what does this mean?

The Devonian period spawned Sea & Terrestrial Life

As you may, or may not, know all of life is a response to energy's entropic value of emitting heat until a symmetry of balance can be found (that is, a state of equilibrium). The second law of thermodynamics says that everything moves in such a way as to always balance itself back to its initial energy state with no loss and no gain. In other words, for every dissipative event there is an equally reconstituting event.

For example, if a star explodes than it's emitted energy is recovered in it's hot gases. Similarly, evolution follows this same equation. If the surface of the earth heats up than the grasses on the surface of the earth are a response to cooling it off by absorbing that energy and redistributing it in a process of photosynthesis and cellular product.

Travellers of Faith walking in Light

As such, everything revolves around radiated heat, light, and energy. Thought in these terms, the equation of evolution balances off (or dissipates) the collective build up of heat in the earth. Thus, the ever evolving complex of evolutionary eras ceding energy back and forth with itself via entropic events. It is how earth became earth by moving from a chaotic, violent planet to its many strange forms of life throughout the eons. But when you add it all up the initial energy it started with (in a closed system) always equals the energy remaining. Of course our solar system lives in an open system but I think you get the point that there are energy tradeoffs within a large scale system and between other large scale systems.

So when is the last time somebody described evolution in terms of its entropic values? Or its meaning relative to the indigenous life we observe here on planet Earth? And, if you believe in a sovereign God, than what an amazingly complex God we have who designed such a system as this to reflect His creative power, wisdom, and glory! Like gravity, small and inconsequential in its affects upon other objects when measured against other mightier forces of nature such as the weak or strong nuclear forces or the electromagnetic force (see here for further reading) yet, when viewed as a large scale gravitational force it is the mightiest of all in sheer strength and distances encompassed! So, I think is God's sovereign power, which operates weakly amongst His free-willed or indeterminative/chaotic creation but bursts forth in grandeur across the full scales of time and matter as all things are knit together back to Himself and His redemptive purposes.


R.E. Slater
April 28, 2018

"Create in me a new heart, O Lord, a new vision of Thyself and the World"

Reference Material

Wikipedia - Second Law of Thermodynamics2nd Law of Thermodynamics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics

* * * * * * * * *

Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found
the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.

A New Physics Theory of Life

An MIT physicist has proposed the provocative idea that life exists because the
law of increasing entropy drives matter to acquire lifelike physical properties.

by Katherine Taylor for Quanta Magazine
January 22, 2014

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

Cells from the moss Plagiomnium affine with visible chloroplasts,
organelles that conduct photosynthesis by capturing sunlight.
Kristian Peters

“You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said.

England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

His idea, detailed in a recent paper and further elaborated in a talk he is delivering at universities around the world, has sparked controversy among his colleagues, who see it as either tenuous or a potential breakthrough, or both.

England has taken “a very brave and very important step,” said Alexander Grosberg, a professor of physics at New York University who has followed England’s work since its early stages. The “big hope” is that he has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life, Grosberg said.

“Jeremy is just about the brightest young scientist I ever came across,” said Attila Szabo, a biophysicist in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics at the National Institutes of Health who corresponded with England about his theory after meeting him at a conference. “I was struck by the originality of the ideas.”

Others, such as Eugene Shakhnovich, a professor of chemistry, chemical biology and biophysics at Harvard University, are not convinced. “Jeremy’s ideas are interesting and potentially promising, but at this point are extremely speculative, especially as applied to life phenomena,” Shakhnovich said.

England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

“He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.”

A computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues shows
a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the turquoise
particles are driven by an oscillating force. Over time (from top to bottom),
the force triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles.

Courtesy of Jeremy England 

At the heart of England’s idea is the second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of increasing entropy or the “arrow of time.” Hot things cool down, gas diffuses through air, eggs scramble but never spontaneously unscramble; in short, energy tends to disperse or spread out as time progresses. Entropy is a measure of this tendency, quantifying how dispersed the energy is among the particles in a system, and how diffuse those particles are throughout space. It increases as a simple matter of probability: There are more ways for energy to be spread out than for it to be concentrated. Thus, as particles in a system move around and interact, they will, through sheer chance, tend to adopt configurations in which the energy is spread out. Eventually, the system arrives at a state of maximum entropy called “thermodynamic equilibrium,” in which energy is uniformly distributed. A cup of coffee and the room it sits in become the same temperature, for example. As long as the cup and the room are left alone, this process is irreversible. The coffee never spontaneously heats up again because the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against so much of the room’s energy randomly concentrating in its atoms.

Although entropy must increase over time in an isolated or “closed” system, an “open” system can keep its entropy low — that is, divide energy unevenly among its atoms — by greatly increasing the entropy of its surroundings. In his influential 1944 monograph “What Is Life?” the eminent quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger argued that this is what living things must do. A plant, for example, absorbs extremely energetic sunlight, uses it to build sugars, and ejects infrared light, a much less concentrated form of energy. The overall entropy of the universe increases during photosynthesis as the sunlight dissipates, even as the plant prevents itself from decaying by maintaining an orderly internal structure.

Life does not violate the second law of thermodynamics, but until recently, physicists were unable to use thermodynamics to explain why it should arise in the first place. In Schrödinger’s day, they could solve the equations of thermodynamics only for closed systems in equilibrium. In the 1960s, the Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine made progress on predicting the behavior of open systems weakly driven by external energy sources (for which he won the 1977 Nobel Prize in chemistry). But the behavior of systems that are far from equilibrium, which are connected to the outside environment and strongly driven by external sources of energy, could not be predicted.

This situation changed in the late 1990s, due primarily to the work of Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jarzynski and Crooks showed that the entropy produced by a thermodynamic process, such as the cooling of a cup of coffee, corresponds to a simple ratio: the probability that the atoms will undergo that process divided by their probability of undergoing the reverse process (that is, spontaneously interacting in such a way that the coffee warms up). As entropy production increases, so does this ratio: A system’s behavior becomes more and more “irreversible.” The simple yet rigorous formula could in principle be applied to any thermodynamic process, no matter how fast or far from equilibrium. “Our understanding of far-from-equilibrium statistical mechanics greatly improved,” Grosberg said. England, who is trained in both biochemistry and physics, started his own lab at MIT two years ago and decided to apply the new knowledge of statistical physics to biology.

David Kaplan explains how the law of increasing entropy could drive
random bits of matter into the stable, orderly structures of life.

Filming by Tom Hurwitz and Richard Fleming. Editing and motion
graphics by Tom McNamara. Music by Podington Bear. 

Using Jarzynski and Crooks’ formulation, he derived a generalization of the second law of thermodynamics that holds for systems of particles with certain characteristics: The systems are strongly driven by an external energy source such as an electromagnetic wave, and they can dump heat into a surrounding bath. This class of systems includes all living things. England then determined how such systems tend to evolve over time as they increase their irreversibility. “We can show very simply from the formula that the more likely evolutionary outcomes are going to be the ones that absorbed and dissipated more energy from the environment’s external drives on the way to getting there,” he said. The finding makes intuitive sense: Particles tend to dissipate more energy when they resonate with a driving force, or move in the direction it is pushing them, and they are more likely to move in that direction than any other at any given moment.

“This means clumps of atoms surrounded by a bath at some temperature, like the atmosphere or the ocean, should tend over time to arrange themselves to resonate better and better with the sources of mechanical, electromagnetic or chemical work in their environments,” England explained.

Self-Replicating Sphere Clusters: According to new research at Harvard,
coating the surfaces of microspheres can cause them to spontaneously
assemble into a chosen structure, such as a polytetrahedron (red), which
then triggers nearby spheres into forming an identical structure.

Courtesy of Michael Brenner/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Self-replication (or reproduction, in biological terms), the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time. As England put it, “A great way of dissipating more is to make more copies of yourself.” In a September paperin the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating. He also showed that RNA, the nucleic acid that many scientists believe served as the precursor to DNA-based life, is a particularly cheap building material. Once RNA arose, he argues, its “Darwinian takeover” was perhaps not surprising.

The chemistry of the primordial soup, random mutations, geography, catastrophic events and countless other factors have contributed to the fine details of Earth’s diverse flora and fauna. But according to England’s theory, the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.

This principle would apply to inanimate matter as well. “It is very tempting to speculate about what phenomena in nature we can now fit under this big tent of dissipation-driven adaptive organization,” England said. “Many examples could just be right under our nose, but because we haven’t been looking for them we haven’t noticed them.”

Scientists have already observed self-replication in nonliving systems. According to new research led by Philip Marcus of the University of California, Berkeley, and reported in Physical Review Letters in August, vortices in turbulent fluids spontaneously replicate themselves by drawing energy from shear in the surrounding fluid. And in a paper appearing online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics and physics at Harvard, and his collaborators present theoretical models and simulations of microstructures that self-replicate. These clusters of specially coated microspheres dissipate energy by roping nearby spheres into forming identical clusters. “This connects very much to what Jeremy is saying,” Brenner said.

Besides self-replication, greater structural organization is another means by which strongly driven systems ramp up their ability to dissipate energy. A plant, for example, is much better at capturing and routing solar energy through itself than an unstructured heap of carbon atoms. Thus, England argues that under certain conditions, matter will spontaneously self-organize. This tendency could account for the internal order of living things and of many inanimate structures as well. “Snowflakes, sand dunes and turbulent vortices all have in common that they are strikingly patterned structures that emerge in many-particle systems driven by some dissipative process,” he said. Condensation, wind and viscous drag are the relevant processes in these particular cases.

“He is making me think that the distinction between living and nonliving matter is not sharp,” said Carl Franck, a biological physicist at Cornell University, in an email. “I’m particularly impressed by this notion when one considers systems as small as chemical circuits involving a few biomolecules.”

If a new theory is correct, the same physics it identifies as responsible
for the origin of living things could explain the formation of many
other patterned structures in nature. Snowflakes, sand dunes and
self-replicating vortices in the protoplanetary disk may all be
examples of dissipation-driven adaptation. | Wilson Bentley

England’s bold idea will likely face close scrutiny in the coming years. He is currently running computer simulations to test his theory that systems of particles adapt their structures to become better at dissipating energy. The next step will be to run experiments on living systems.

Prentiss, who runs an experimental biophysics lab at Harvard, says England’s theory could be tested by comparing cells with different mutations and looking for a correlation between the amount of energy the cells dissipate and their replication rates. “One has to be careful because any mutation might do many things,” she said. “But if one kept doing many of these experiments on different systems and if [dissipation and replication success] are indeed correlated, that would suggest this is the correct organizing principle.”

Brenner said he hopes to connect England’s theory to his own microsphere constructions and determine whether the theory correctly predicts which self-replication and self-assembly processes can occur — “a fundamental question in science,” he said.

Having an overarching principle of life and evolution would give researchers a broader perspective on the emergence of structure and function in living things, many of the researchers said. “Natural selection doesn’t explain certain characteristics,” said Ard Louis, a biophysicist at Oxford University, in an email. These characteristics include a heritable change to gene expression called methylation, increases in complexity in the absence of natural selection, and certain molecular changes Louis has recently studied.

If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that “the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,” Louis said.

“People often get stuck in thinking about individual problems,” Prentiss said. Whether or not England’s ideas turn out to be exactly right, she said, “thinking more broadly is where many scientific breakthroughs are made.”

**Emily Singer contributed reporting. This article was reprinted on ScientificAmerican.com and BusinessInsider.com.

**Correction: This article was revised on January 22, 2014, to reflect that Ilya Prigogine won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, not physics. 

Is Genesis Real History?

Is Genesis real history? Simple answer... it is, and is not, and a literal reading of a nation's legendary history doesn't make it any plainer as evidenced by archaeological finds discounting parts of it while reconfirming other parts of it.

So why then read the bible? Can God be found in its pages?

Again, the short answer is yes but extrapolating mythic literature into biblical fact isn't quite that easy unless you prefer to rewrite your own religion which has been done lots of times including within today's present Christian groups and movements around the world.

As example, would you read Viking lores and legends as factual? Probably not, unless you're a Marvel comic freak. Otherwise we have to work behind the lores and legends to get to their meaning for a civilization.

Need some biblical examples? For one, there has never been a global flood. Want another? Nor was there an original couple - but one could say with certainty there was a mitochondrial Eve but with no primary Adam.

Do these facts change our idea of God? Sure, but not His presence in our lives. What it rather reflects is the ancient's idea of God sometimes as a violent, angry, judgmental, impersonal God. Of course there were other impressions of God in the Old Testament but we'll leave it at that for the moment.

Then Jesus comes along in the New Testament and says "Love your neighbor" and "Know your God is a redeeming God." The only intolerance God showed during Jesus' ministry was for religious people who wouldn't love their neighbor because their idea of God was screwed up.

As an aside, I think we see this quite plainly in today's radicalized elements of Christianity, don't we? 

Conclusion? Reading the bible intelligently is far more warranted than reading it as you think you understand it however sincere your heart.

R.E. Slater
May 1, 2018

* * * * * * * * * * *

Is Genesis real history?


Man from dust, woman from rib. A talking snake. Two mysterious trees. A massive flood. Confusion of languages. What do we make of these stories? Did it all really happen as described by the early chapters of Genesis? Is Genesis giving us accurate history?

Any account of past events can be considered history. Genesis recounts past events—such as God’s creation of the world and human beings—so in this sense, Genesis is history. However, Genesis is theological history and uses figurative language in some of its descriptions. The author of Genesis is not interested in telling us how God created (in material terms) or how long it took.

We believe Genesis is a true account that, like other ancient narratives, uses vivid imagery to describe past events. It is silent on the scientific questions we might wish it to answer. A close reading of the text provides clues that indicate where a plain sense meaning is not intended. For example, in Genesis 1, there are three evenings and mornings with no sun, moon, and stars, so these are not regular days as we understand them (though they function that way in the text; they are literary days). Or consider Genesis 2:7, when God forms Adam from dust and breathes into his nostrils. This could not have happened exactly as described, because we know from other passages in the Bible that God is Spirit with neither hands nor lungs.

Inspiration and authority of Genesis

Genesis is the inspired word of God, but no human observer was present during the creation of the world, and God did not simply dictate a transcript of phenomena or events to the author of Genesis. Inspiration does not work that way.

In Genesis 1, we have an Israelite author’s account of God’s creative acts communicated to an Israelite audience. We believe that the understanding of the narrator in Genesis is God-given and therefore we accept it as offering an authoritative and true understanding of the world. However, it was not intended to enable us to reconstruct the creation events according to the scientific understanding of today or meet the demands of our modern worldview.

The genre and literary style of Genesis

Asking about history is asking about genre. Often when people identify Genesis as history they are arguing against identifying it with other genres (such as myth) or other forms of literary packaging (such as poetry). They might think that identifying Genesis as myth or poetry undermines or compromises its truth claims. But truth can be conveyed through a variety of genres or literary packages. We need to ask how Genesis delivers its truth claims—what the narrator’s intentions are.

The book of Genesis packages its truth claims largely in narrative, interspersed with genealogies. Chapters 1–11 describe the founding of the human race, leading up to God’s covenant with Abraham. Chapters 12–50 recount significant developments in the story of Abraham’s family, the ancestors of Israel, thus providing the backdrop to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. The early events described—including the side-by-side accounts of creation (ch. 1–2) and Adam and Eve’s primal act of disobedience (ch. 3)—are the opening episodes of the human story that lead to the story of Israel.

We can benefit from investigating how narratives in the Old Testament and the ancient world packaged truth related to past events. Even when their narratives deal with real events, the events are narrated as a means to a theological end.

Means to a theological end

Narratives—ancient or modern—are rarely bare chronicles of events as they happened. Take a reality TV show, for example. When an episode is filmed, multiple cameras are used to capture many events and conversations. The director then selects, arranges, and edits the raw footage to produce a coherent story consistent with the show’s agenda. Neither the director nor the viewers would expect to be able to reconstruct the raw footage from the finished product. The situation is similar in any historical account, which is a selective telling of events to serve a particular purpose. The case is no different with ancient narratives such as Genesis.

Ancient authors were more interested in the meaning of events rather than the details of the events. In that sense these narratives are not like most modern historical narratives. If we were to try to reduce their recorded event to a series of propositional truth claims, we would miss the entire point of their narrative.

When ancient narratives are interpretations of the past, they are generally not written simply to describe the past. Rather, they serve the present. Their work may be based on real events and real people, but their narratives do not explore “what really happened” in the style modern readers tend to expect. Rather, ancient narratives address the world of the narrator’s time, shedding light on that world and providing a perspective for the hearers to embrace. It is this perspective on the world, not the details used to reconstruct the events of the past, that the narrator wishes to convey to his audience.

Case study: the Flood of Genesis 6–9

Let’s apply this approach to one of the most famous stories in Genesis: the story of Noah and the Flood, found in Genesis 6–9. The Genesis Flood story is likely based on a set of even more ancient stories about an actual catastrophic regional flood event in the ancient Near East. These older legends were part of the cultural backdrop in which Genesis was written. The inspired author is re-casting these older stories using ancient literary conventions, in order to teach about the seriousness of sin and the merciful love of God for his creation. The story, based on a past flood event, is told using hyperbolic language to serve these theological points.

Genesis 6 portrays a world spinning out of control because of rebellion against God’s order. God acts to preserve his creation by returning it to the state of watery nothingness depicted in Genesis 1:2. Noah is called to participate in this preservation plan through the building of an Ark, which will allow the Earth to be repopulated and renewed after the destructive waters of the Flood subside. When this happens, God renews his covenant with humankind and reiterates his love for creation. This narrative pattern of human sin, God’s judgment, and God’s mercy is repeated throughout Genesis. The story of the Flood is intentionally told in a way that weaves the story into this larger narrative.

Like all of Genesis, the Flood story is part of God’s revelation to humankind. It informed Israel’s understanding of God’s relationship to creation and to Israel as his chosen people. This is a revelation of God to the people of Israel, not a revelation about the bare facts of science or natural history. In trying to reconstruct the details of “what really happened,” many have missed the theological point of the story.

The story of Genesis

The narratives of Genesis focus on conflict and resolution. God’s purpose from the beginning is to have his presence fill the earth; humans are to image God and subdue the earth, i.e., bring about order and fruitfulness in creation (Gen 1–2). Conflict enters the story when humans rebel against God (Gen 3). Shalom is shattered, and the earth is cursed. Further degeneration takes place (Gen 4–6) until God brings judgment and mercy (Gen 6–9). Humans then attempt to restore God’s presence (Gen 11) before God launches his own initiative to re-establish his presence on Earth (the covenant).

Genesis 1–11, then, is the founding story of humanity, ending in crisis. These narratives give a real and true assessment of God’s initial purposes and the human plight. Genesis 12–50 is the founding story of the nation with whom the covenant is eventually made at Sinai. The covenant establishes the relationship to Abraham and his descendants, provides the structure for living in God’s presence, and lays the foundation for God’s presence to be established on earth.


All narratives have purposes and perspectives. Genesis is a collection of ancient narratives, written and compiled by those who share the culture and literary styles of the ancient world. Like the narratives of their ancient Near Eastern neighbors, these narratives eliminate all details except those the narrator thinks are important to shape the message for his particular purpose.

The creation narratives are not included in Scripture so that we can receive a direct transmission from God about the phenomena of pre-human history; they are there because the inspired author’s interpretation of his present situation, through his narration of the events of the past, reveals truth about God and God’s purposes.

The truth of Genesis must not be judged by whether we can use it to reconstruct the “plain facts” of creation. The author wrote about past events (e.g., creation of the cosmos and humanity, humanity’s initial innocence and rebellion), but did so using evocative imagery. While all Christians can read the Bible profitably, our theological understanding is enriched as we learn more about the original audience and cultural context of Genesis. In turn, we see the continued significance and relevance of the text for our own lives.

- biologos