Here, dear reader, continues the conversation of Mr. A and Ms. B from "Is the Genesis story of creation and fall a myth?"
Mr. A: I guess I see how myths can be true, but how is the narrative of creation and fall true if it is understood as a myth?
Ms. B: Perhaps you're familiar with the quote of Cardinal Baronius, made famous by Galileo: "The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." That's a good starting point.
Mr. A: So the narrative of creation tells us how to go to heaven?
Ms. B: Not in itself, but it gets the story going. Most scholars believe that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 were originally two separate accounts of creation, chapter 2 being the much older account. Certainly any literary critic who reads chapter 1 will quickly recognize the highly complex literary structure of the work. For instance, the first three days of creation provide form whilst the latter three days provide filling of the form, all in careful sequence.
Mr. A: I had no idea that kind of literary structure went into the narrative.
Ms. B: So just think, if Bobby Burns would be aghast at people reading his poetry in order to extract a scientific theory of love, how much more horrified would the writer of Genesis 1 be at people reading his literary artistry as if it were an article in "Scientific American"?
Mr. A: I agree, that is a bizarre way to approach the text. But I'm still left wondering, once we have recognized the literary artistry of Genesis 1 and 2, what truth does the text establish?
Ms. B: To begin with, that God alone is creator. In contrast to the Ancient Near Eastern creation myths, the story of Genesis does not portray God as struggling with a primal chaos. Rather, God alone is portrayed as creator through his sovereign word. Another way to look at it is that Genesis 1 disenchants the world.
Mr. A: Disenchants?
Ms. B: Right. Throughout history people have thought of the world as itself divine or at least as full of spirits, as enchanted. And if you think that, then you are less likely to subject the world to the careful critical study that is the hallmark of modern science. By affirming simply that creation is the product of a sovereign God, the Genesis creation narrative takes the divinity out of the world, thereby making it possible to study. And because it is believed to be the product of a rational divine mind, we can expect creation itself to be a rational system which is open to empirical study.
Mr. A: Fascinating. You might even say that the Genesis narrative set the stage for the advancement of modern science.
Ms. B: Is it any coincidence that the scientific revolution arose in Western Europe within a worldview that disenchanted the world of divinity while affirming its fundamentally rational structure?
Mr. A: It brings to mind Einstein's famous quip that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.
Ms. B: Yes. Against the backdrop of a Genesis worldview a comprehensible universe is not itself that incomprehensible at all. Rather, it is what you should expect from a world created by God.
Mr. A: So even if we view Genesis as broadly mythical, it still establishes a whole lot of truth.