söndag 22 juli 2007

Tree of Life

This poster in the Uppsala University Botanic Gardens shows the family relationship between flowering plants. It was built up not from fossils but from DNA analysis, which largely corroborates what has been deduced from fossils. Why, therefore, anyone should deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution is a mystery.

A few months ago I got into a discussion with some Christian evangelicals who had a display, including some anti-evolution books, on a table in the main shopping square in Brighton. I mentioned that I was a Christian and that I didn't have a problem with evolution. I asked why they did.

The answer, I was told, is Scripture, so I asked which translation. "The King James version", was the reply. I asked him which language this had been made from, but the fellow didn't know. "Hebrew", I said, and asked which was the oldest version of scripture. He didn't know that either, so I said it was the Septuagint, an early translation into Greek. At this point he went into rant mode so I walked off and let him rant by himself.

But the problem for people who want to accept a literal interpretation of scripture is this. The meaning of words changes with the passing of the years. Styles of writing change. Poetic writing is not intended to be taken literally but metaphorically. And Hebrew presents particular difficulties of its own as it is written without vowels, and the same written word can often represent one of several possibilities.

As for Genesis, the Hebrew word for "day", as in "...on the seventh day", can mean an epoch or period. Even if one does not want to take the Genesis text as a reworking of older accounts of the order of creation, there is no reason to assume that "day" refers to a 24 hour period.

So it is bizarre that anyone should wish to do interpret an ancient text in such a way. Why they should do so, and in large numbers, would be an interesting subject for study in itself.

Will ignorance triumph?

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