Monday, 18 November 2013

Kan ons nog in die hemel glo?

In hierdie essay gee ek die redes waarom ek in die hemel glo. Daar is wetenskaplike, filosofiese, geskiedkundige en geestelike redes waarom ons in die hemel kan glo. In die lig hiervan kan blote skeptisisme maklik na 'n onredelike standpunt lyk.

Ek het vroeër vanjaar met Bertus Osbloed van Niekerk en 'n klompie van sy vriende (ek het darem ook 'n vriend saam gehad) van die Renaissance gemeentes, wat noue bande met die sg. “Nuwe Hervorming” beweging het, by 'n restaurant in Somerset-Wes gekuier. Ons het oor verskeie sake soos die betroubaarheid van die Bybelse teks, die duiwel asook oor die hemel gepraat. Wat die hemel betref, het ons eintlik nie baie ver gekom nie en ek hoop ons sal die gesprek nog iewers voortsit. In hierdie essay wil ek graag die kwessie van die hemel verder aanroer.

Alhoewel ons maar relatief kort gesels het, is dit is vir my duidelik dat Bertus en sy vriende agnosties is oor God se bestaan. Hulle dink nie dat die Bybelse vertelling omtrent God se openbaring in die geskiedenis gesag dra nie. En hulle glo nie in die hemel nie. Nou is dit sekerlik so dat dit baie onwaarskynlik is dat 'n mens in die hemel sal glo as jy nie in God glo nie. Ek glo in God en ek glo dat Jesus die Seun van God is – en ek glo in die hemel. Maar ek moet steeds aan myself die vraag vra: Waarom glo ek dat daar 'n hemel is? En waarom dink ek dat die Bybelse inligting oor die hemel gesag dra? Ek wil enkele dinge in hierdie verband aanspreek.

In hierdie essay benader ek die kwessie van die hemel vanuit verskeie hoeke. Ek gee 'n kort agtergrond oor die antieke voor-wetenskaplike beskouing van die hemel. Vir baie Bybelse geleerdes is dit moeilik om die antieke konsep van die hemel met die postmoderne denkwyses te versoen. Tog bou hul kritiek op die hemel grotendeels voort op die modernistiese beskouing oor die kosmos toe baie geleerdes daarvan oortuig was dat ons net dit wat wetenskaplik gegrond kan word, as geloofwaardig kan aanvaar. Dit is egter nie 'n siening wat vandag meer veel aansien geniet nie.

Regdeur die essay vra ek myself: Wat is die belangrikste rede waarom ek in die hemel glo? Is dit omdat ek genoegsame wetenskaplike getuienis het dat die hemel bestaan? Sekerlik nie. Die wetenskaplike getuienis is nie genoegsaam om enige uitspraak vir of teen die bestaan van die hemel te maak nie. As ons die vraag 'n bietjie aanpas, en vra: Hoe is die bestaan van die hemel moontlik? of : Hoe kan ons die bestaan van die hemel met die huidige wetenskaplike kennis van die kosmos versoen?, dan dink ek dat 'n sinvolle antwoord gegee kan word. In hierdie verband is dit opvallend dat slegs die wetenskaplike ontwikkelinge oor die afgelope eeu – en veral oor die laaste paar dekades – my toelaat om hierdie vrae sinvol te beantwoord. Die rede hiervoor is gewoon omdat die kosmos duidelik 'n baie meer komplekse plek is as wat die modernistiese mens ooit kon droom. 'n Groot deel van die skeptisisme oor die hemel is juis die gevolg van 'n baie simplistiese vertolking van ons beperkte wetenskaplike kennis.

Maar die feit dat die hemel gemaklik versoenbaar is met ons wetenskaplike kennis, is nie die belangrikste rede waarom ek in die hemel glo nie. Ek is van mening dat die uitsprake wat ons in die Nuwe Testament oor die hemel vind, geloofwaardig is en gesag dra. Ek kyk na Paulus se skrywe. Voorts glo ek dat Jesus se uitsprake hieromtrent geglo kan word. In hierdie verband noem ek enkele dinge omtrent die betroubaarheid van die Jesus-woorde in die Evangelie van Johannes. Uiteindelik kan ons natuurlik nie die bestaan van die hemel bewys nie; ons glo daaraan of nie. En ek dink dat ons goeie rede het om daarin te glo.

Die pre-wetenskaplike hemel

Die konsep van die hemel is baie oud. Ons vind verwysings na die hemel in die vroegste Sumeriese tekste. Ons vind dit ook regoor die antieke wêreld asook later in die Hebreeuse tradisie. Die antieke siening kan kortliks saamgevat word in 'n drie-verdieping beskouing van die kosmos, met die hemel bo, die aarde in die middel en die doderyk onder die aarde. Baie kontemporêre geleerdes is van mening dat daardie vroeë beskouing primitief is omdat dit uit 'n pre-wetenskaplike leefwêreld kom waarin mense 'n baie simplistiese beskouing oor die kosmos gehad het. Daardie mense sou dink dat die hemel “bo” die aarde is – en ons weet vandag dat daar nie van “bo” die aarde gepraat kan word nie.

In my boek Abraham en sy God (2011) bespreek ek die antieke beskouing in detail. Ek fokus op die vroegste denke hieromtrent en toon dat dit inderwaarheid 'n baie gesofistikeerde siening van die kosmos is wat op die beweging van die sterrehemel gebaseer is. Ongelukkig werk baie Bybelse geleerdes met 'n karikatuur van daardie siening wat hulle dan gemaklik afskiet. Ek gaan nie daardie antieke siening hier volledig bespreek nie ('n blits uiteensetting sal nie daaraan reg doen nie); wat ek wel kan noem is dat die antieke mens, sedert die tyd van die Sumeriërs en sekerlik lank voor hulle, geglo het die “hemel” wat ons in die noordelike sterrehemel kan onderskei, slegs 'n sigbare eweknie van die werklike hemel is wat in die geesteswêreld verborge is. Hulle het geglo dat daar 'n onsigbare “direksionele” wêreld (i.e. wat ons wêreld impakteer) agter die sigbare wêreld verborge lê – 'n wêreld waarin die geeste, gode en God self bestaan. So, die hemel moet dus in die onsigbare geestesrealm gevind word – en soos ek hieronder sal aantoon is daar geen rede waarom ons nie hierdie siening ernstig kan opneem nie.

Die rede waarom sommige Bybelse geleerdes soveel klem op die pre-wetenskaplike aard van die Bybelse teks asook konsepte soos die hemel lê, is omdat hulle van mening is dat die moderne en postmoderne mens doodgewoon nie meer daardie narratief as geloofwaardig kan beskou nie. Waarom dink hulle so? Hulle is van mening dat die wetenskaplike era onherroeplik met die pre-wetenskaplike wêreldbeskouing weggedoen het. Ons kan dus nie meer veel waarde heg aan sieninge wat uit daardie primitiewe tyd kom nie. Hierdie siening word onderlê deur die standpunt dat die wetenskap ons enigste betroubare maatstaf omtrent die werklikheid is.

Alhoewel niemand dit sal betwyfel dat ons wetenskaplike wêreldbeskouing die antieke siening verplaas het nie, is daar geen rede om te dink dat die wetenskap ons enigste maatstaf omtrent die werklikheid is nie. Wetenskaplikes dink deesdae dat bekende materie slegs sowat 7% van die kosmos uitmaak. Daar is 'n erkenning dat ons steeds baie min omtrent die kosmos weet en wetenskaplikes wat dink dat ons binnekort als wat ons kan weet gaan deurgrond, word nie meer in filosofiese kringe ernstig opgeneem nie. Ons besef vandag dat die kosmos baie meer kompleks is as wat die modernistiese mens – wat so vol bravade gedink het dat daar geen beperkinge op die menslike vermoëns is nie – ooit sou kon dink.

Die filosoof Immanuel Kant het lang gelede reeds geargumenteer dat ons empiriese benadering tot die kosmos slegs tot die fenomenele wêreld beperk is. Dit is die wêreld wat ons rondom ons of deur wetenskaplike ondersoek kan waarneem. Volgens hom is daar 'n aspek van die kosmos waartoe ons geen direkte toegang het nie – dit is die noumenele wêreld (afgelei van “nous” wat “mind” beteken) wat buite ons konsepte van ruimte en tyd lê. Ons kan daardie aspek van die wêreld bedink, maar nooit direk empiries waarneem nie. As die kosmos inderdaad is soos hy sê (en hy voer goeie argumente vir sy siening aan), dan is daar sekere beperkinge op menslike rede.  Sy bekendste werk, Critique of Pure Reason, stel dit juis ten doel om te toon dat ons rede onherroeplik beperk is tot die fenomenele wêreld. Ons kan nooit enige finale gevolgtrekkings maak oor die werklikheid soos dit waarlik daar uitsien nie.

Kant onderskei drie benaderings ten opsigte van die gebruik van ons rede. Daar is die dogmatiese beskouing waarvolgens sekere sieninge (soos die bestaan van die hemel) dogmaties en sonder bewys onderskryf word. Verder is daar is die kritieke beskouing waarvolgens sulke sieninge op 'n radikale wyse gekritiseer kan word – hy verwys hier veral na David Hume en sy volgelinge (B789). Laastens is daar sy eie kritieke benadering wat beide die dogmatiese en skeptiese sieninge kritiseer. Sy sieninge kritiseer die gebruik van rede buite die grense wat rede self daarvoor stel.

Ons kan die dogmatikus kritiseer, maar ons kan ook die skeptikus kritiseer omdat hy nie in ag neem dat ons menslike beperkinge ons onherroeplik terughou van enige finale kennis oor die kosmos nie. Ons kan gewoon nie sekere antwoorde vanuit die raamwerk van suiwer spekulatiewe rede gee nie. Die wetenskap sal gewoon nooit enige finale antwoorde vir of teen die bestaan van die hemel kan gee nie. Ons kan wel die wetenskaplike uitsprake oor die kosmos met 'n ander, geestelike beskouing komplimenteer – dit is nou as ons dink dat ons rede het om dit te doen. Ek glo dat ons wel so 'n rede het.

Die hemel en die wetenskap

Ons sou kan sê dat ons beperkte wetenskaplike kennis ruimte maak vir geloof. Maar dit is nie genoegsaam om maar net te sê dat omdat die wetenskap nie als weet nie, daarom kan ons daardie kennis-gaping met enige vorm van geloof vul nie. Ons moet darem seker redes gee waarom ons dink dat ons die wetenskap met geloof kan komplimenteer. In hierdie verband is daar verskeie redes, waarvan die eerste is dat ons huidige wetenskaplike kennis gemaklik versoenbaar is met die antieke konsep van die hemel. In stede om te vra: Is daar genoegsame wetenskaplike getuienis vir die bestaan van die hemel?, kan ons vra: Hoe kan ons die bestaan van die hemel met die huidige wetenskaplike kennis van die kosmos versoen? Ek dink dat 'n mens 'n sinvolle antwoord hierop kan gee.

Een van die belangrikste ontwikkelings in die wetenskap die afgelope eeu was die ontdekking van kwantum fisika. Wetenskaplikes het ontdek dat daar 'n aspek van ons kosmos is wat baie anders lyk as die fenomenele wêreld waaraan ons gewoond is. Die kwantum wêreld het ander reëls – Newton se bekende wet van oorsaak-gevolg word opgehef, die elementêre kwantum deeltjies (wat nie “deeltjies” in die klassieke sin is nie) is op 'n manier onderling met mekaar verbind al is hulle hoe ver van mekaar verwyder, daar is spontane oorsaaklikheid wat ons fenomenele wêreld impakteer ens. Dit is 'n wêreld wat nie empiries vir ons toeganklik is nie – en kom presies met Kant se noumenele wêreld ooreen. Ek het in 'n essay wat ek by die jaarlikse PSSA (Philosophy Association of SA) gelees het, geargumenteer dat ons die kwantum realm as die demonstrasie van Kant se noumenele realm kan neem [1]. Dit sal beteken dat die siel, wat Kant in die noumenele realm plaas, in effek in die kwantum realm kan bestaan (sien veral nota 7 in [1]).

Ons weet nog relatief min van die kwantum wêreld. Dit blyk dat daardie wêreld uit 'n verweefdheid van kwantum velde bestaan wat buite ons ruimte-tyd dimensies lê. Slegs die gebeure wat vanuit daardie velde spontaan in ons fenomenele wêreld manifesteer, val binne ons ruimte-tyd dimensies. Dit is moontlik dat die kwantum wêreld in ander ruimte-tyd dimensies bestaan. Wetenskaplikes wat worstel om 'n verenigde teorie oor die kosmos daar te stel, wat poog om die vier fundamentale kragte (elektromagnetiese krag, sterk en swak kernkrag asook swaartekrag) in een teorie byeen te bring, het al voorgestel dat ons dit net kan doen as ons sekere klein ingevoude ruimtelike dimensies veronderstel wat binne die struktuur van ons kosmos ingebed is [2]. Ons ruimtelike dimensies is dan met sulke dimensies gevul waarin daar in beginsel ander deeltjies en selfs strukture (soos die menslike siel/gees) teenwoordig kan wees wat nie vir ons sintuie toeganklik is nie. Dit sal beteken dat daar 'n hele wêreld binne ons fenomenele wêreld bestaan wat glad nie direk empiries toeganklik is nie – 'n wêreld waarvan ons nog bitter min weet.

Die doel van hierdie bespreking is nie om te toon dat die kwantum wêreld met die geesteswêreld ooreenkom nie. Al wat ek hier doen is om te toon dat daar inderdaad so 'n “geesteswêreld” binne die raamwerk van die fenomenele wêreld kan bestaan – presies soos die antieke mens gedink het [3]. Alhoewel die wetenskap nie op hierdie stadium die antieke konsep van die geesteswêreld of die hemel kan onderskryf nie, kan so 'n konsep gemaklik met die wetenskaplike verstaan van ons wêreld versoen word. Daar is geen rede om te dink dat die wetenskap die konsep van die hemel ondermyn nie. Om die waarheid te sê, Kant vereenselwig uiteindelik ook die noumenele wêreld met die toekomstige wêreld waarop ons as Christene hoop (B835-839).

Die Bybelse hemel

Die feit dat die wetenskap gemaklik met die konsep van die hemel as 'n plek in 'n ander dimensie versoen kan word, is egter nie die belangrikste rede waarom ek in die hemel glo nie. Dit ondersteun wel my geloof in die bestaan van so 'n plek. My geloof in die hemel is op die Bybelse getuienis in hierdie verband gebaseer. Ek is van mening dat die Bybelse uitsprake oor die hemel geloofwaardig is. Ons kan dit maar glo.

Een van die belangrikste plekke in die Bybel waar die hemel as uiteindelike bestemming van gelowiges ter sprake kom, is in Paulus se skrywe aan die gemeente in Korinthe. Daar argumenteer hy dat ons in die hemel as onverganklike bestemming van die opgestane gelowiges kan glo omdat Christus uit die dood opgestaan het. Paulus begin sy rede met 'n geloofsbelydenis wat duidelik met die skrywe van die brief in 54 n.C. reeds lank in die vroeë kerk in gebruik was: “[I]n die eerste plek het ek aan julle oorgelewer wat ek ook ontvang het, dat Christus vir ons sondes gesterf het volgens die Skrifte; en dat Hy begrawe is, en dat Hy op die derde dag opgewek is volgens die Skrifte; en dat Hy aan Cefas verskyn het; daarna aan die twaalf. Daarna het Hy ook verskyn aan oor die vyfhonderd broeders tegelyk, waarvan die meeste nou nog lewe, maar sommige al ontslaap het. Daarna het Hy verskyn aan Jakobus; daarna aan al die apostels; en laaste van almal het Hy verskyn ook aan my as die ontydig geborene” (1 Kor 15:3-8).

Paulus argumenteer dat daar goeie getuienis vir die opstanding is. Die opstanding is sedert die vroegste tyd in die kerk se geloofsbelydenis opgeneem. Christus het na sy dood in 'n verheerlikte liggaam aan verskeie persone asook aan groepe persone verskyn – waarvan die meeste nog met Paulus se skrywe gelewe het. Hy noem dat Christus se opstanding die rede is waarom diegene wat in Hom glo, ook kan weet dat hulle eendag met die opstanding van die dode sal opstaan. As ons in Christus se opstanding glo – en Paulus dink dat ons goeie rede het om dit wel te glo – dan het ons alle rede om in die opstanding en die hemel as ewige salige bestemming te glo. Ek stem met Paulus saam dat daar goeie getuienis vir die opstanding is – en dat gelowiges dus rede het om in die hemel te glo.

Ons vind verder ook regdeur die evangelies dat Jesus na die hemel of "koninkryk van die hemele" verwys waar die regverdiges uiteindelik saam met God, Jesus self en die engele sal wees (vgl. Mark. 12:25-27; 13:26-27, 32; Mat. 13:43 ens.) [4]. Een van die mooiste uitsprake in hierdie verband kom in die Evangelie van Johannes voor. Daar lees ons hoedat Jesus se: “Laat julle hart nie ontsteld word nie; glo in God, glo ook in My. In die huis van my Vader is daar baie wonings; as dit nie so was nie, sou Ek dit vir julle gesê het. Ek gaan om vir julle plek te berei. En as Ek gegaan en vir julle plek berei het, kom Ek weer en sal julle na My toe neem, sodat julle ook kan wees waar Ek is” (Joh. 16:1-3). Alhoewel daar sommige uit Bybelse Kritisisme kringe is wat hierdie uitsprake as laat en onbetroubaar probeer afmaak, het ek al vroeër in 'n artikel op hierdie blog getoon dat daardie aanslag onherroeplik deur die modernistiese wortels daarvan gekompromitteer is [5]. Die kritiek teen die betroubaarheid van die Nuwe Testamentiese getuienis is uiters eensydig en uiteindelik onwetenskaplik.

Ek kan wel iets oor die Evangelie van Johannes sê waarin hierdie uitspraak van Jesus voorkom. Alhoewel daar 'n siening is dat die evangelie baie laat geskryf is en dus nie Jesus se woorde korrek kan weergee nie, is daar rede om te dink dat presies die teendeel waar is. Volgens die interne getuienis is hierdie evangelie deur die geliefde dissipel geskryf wat aanvanklik deel van Johannes die Doper se volgelinge was (Joh. 1:35-43). Johannes het naby Qumran gedoop en het moontlik tot die Qumran groep behoort. Hulle was toegewyde Jode wie se sieninge grotendeels tot die hoofstroom Joodse denke behoort het behalwe vir die besondere klem op die Messiaanse verwagting, afsondering asook die verwerping van die destydse tempeldiens.

Ons vind dan ook in hierdie evangelie 'n sterk verbintenis met Johannes die Doper en die Qumran groep. Daar is twee getuienisse van Johannes die Doper, 'n beklemtoning van motiewe wat tipies was van die Qumran groep (bv. die klem op die konflik tussen lig en duisternis, tussen die seuns van die lig en van die duisternis – Joh. 1:5-10; 3:19-21; 8:12), 'n assosiasie met persone wat Qumran gebruike volg, soos die man wat die kruik na die bo-vertrek gedra het (slegs in gemeenskappe waar min vroue was, soos die van Qumran, waar mans hulleself afgesonder het, is kruike deur mans gedra). Dit toon dat die evangelie waarskynlik deur iemand geskryf is wat sulke bande met die Qumran groep gehad het. En dit impliseer dat die mees waarskynlike skrywer van hierdie evangelie wel Johannes die apostel was soos tradisioneel veronderstel word – die een wat eers 'n volgeling van Johannes die Doper was en later as die geliefde apostel bekend was.

Ons vind dus dat beide die opstanding sowel as Jesus se eie woorde aan ons rede gee om in die hemel te glo. Alhoewel ek nie hier 'n lang argument in hierdie verband kan voer nie, glo ek dat ons goeie rede het om dit as betroubare getuienis vir die hemel te beskou. As Jesus self sê dat gelowiges met verwagting op die hemel kan uitsien, dan kan ons dit maar doen! Jesus se opstanding bevestig dat ons sy woorde in hierdie verband ernstig kan opneem. En alhoewel ons natuurlik nie hierdie dinge kan bewys nie, het ons goeie rede om dit te glo.

Ek moet eerlik erken dat al hierdie getuienis nie die hoofrede is waarom ek in die hemel glo nie – alhoewel dit natuurlik als bydra tot my geloof in die hemel. Die belangrikste rede waarom ek in die hemel glo het eerder met my eie geloof en diepe belewing van God te doen. Ek ervaar God in my lewe – noem dit 'n diep geestelike intuïsie [3] – en omdat ek God so beleef glo ek ook in die hemel. Ek het 'n innerlike sekerheid dat God in my leef – en dat ek ook eendag die hemel met Hom sal deel. Hierdie belewing is gegrond in die Bybelse teks waarna ek reeds hierbo verwys het.

Slot

Op die vraag: Is die hemel 'n werklike plek? kan ek met oortuiging Ja antwoord. Alhoewel die hemel natuurlik nie 'n plek in die fenomenele wêreld is nie, is dit 'n plek wat in 'n geestelike, maar tog werklike, dimensie bestaan. Alhoewel die hemel 'n baie ou konsep is wat sedert die vroegste tye in tekste genoem word, doen die voor-wetenskaplike beskouing van die hemel geen afbreek aan my geloof in die hemel nie. Soos die antieke mens geglo het, is die hemel in die onsigbare wêreld agter die sigbare verborge. Dit bestaan in 'n ander realm, in 'n geestelike realm.

Daar was 'n tyd toe die modernistiese mens op simplistiese wyse gedink het dat ons net dinge kan glo wat ons kan bewys. Die probleem is egter dat, soos Immanuel Kant getoon het, dit onmoontlik is om te bewys dat die hemel bestaan of nie bestaan nie. Die modernistiese skeptisisme is in sigself simplisties omdat dit slegs die fisies-waarneembare onderskryf. Ons weet vandag dat die kosmos baie wyer strek: die kwantum realm bestaan al het ons geen direkte empiriese toegang daartoe nie. Wat opvallend is, is dat als wat ons van die kwantum realm weet presies ooreenkom met dit wat Kant oor die noumenele realm geargumenteer het. As ons die kontemporêre teoretiese fisici ernstig opneem, dan is dit goed moontlik dat daardie realm uiteindelik in ander ruimte-tyd dimensies bestaan. Dit is baie moontlik dat daardie realm niks anders is nie as die geesteswêreld waarin die antieke mens geglo het en waarin hulle ook die hemel geplaas het.

Ek glo in die hemel omdat Jesus gesê het dat so 'n plek bestaan. Sy opstanding bevestig dat dit wat Hy gesê het die waarheid is. Alhoewel ek nie daardie dinge kan bewys nie, is ek oortuig dat ek goeie rede het om dit te glo. Voorts glo ek nie alleen in die hemel omdat die Bybel daarvan praat nie, maar veral ook omdat ek in God glo en Hom daagliks in my lewe ervaar. Ek aanvaar dat sommige nie my geloof deel nie, maar diesulkes het beslis nie meer bewyse aan hul kant nie. Blote skeptisisme wat op onmoontlike feite aandring wat nie vir ons as mense beskore is nie, is duidelik om daardie rede onredelik. Ek glo daarenteen dat Christene goeie rede het om in die hemel te glo.

[1] Ek skryf tans 'n artikel waarin ek toon dat ons die kwantum realm as die demonstrasie van die noumenele realm kan neem.
[2] Sien: Kant's noumenal realm reconsidered in the light of contemporary developments in physics
[3] Sien: Is the spirit world more than an idea?  Die essay fokus op die filosofiese tradisie en die geestesrealm.
[4] Hierdie essay leen dit nie tot 'n in-diepte bespreking van die begrip "koninkryk van God" in die evangelies nie.

Skrywer: Dr Willie Mc Loud (ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com)



Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Is the spirit world more than an idea?

The ancients believed in an invisible world in which spirits and gods are to be found. In the Judeo-Christian tradition this is referred to as the spirit world. The concept entered philosophical tradition with Plato, who reworked it into his intelligible world of forms. Later, the philosopher Immanuel Kant also incorporated a "noumenal realm" in his philosophy. With the strong accentuation of the rational in the Platonic-Kantian tradition, something that the ancients affirmed was lost, namely the possibility of having an intuition of that world. Once this happened, the noumenal realm became nothing more than an idea - a realm beyond experience that religious people believe in. Something that the skeptical scientific mind could not accommodate. But with new developments in theoretical physics the possibility arises that the ancients could have been right after all. 

Since early times peoples from all over the world believed that an invisible world exists next to our own visible world. They believed that that world is occupied by gods and spirits. It was typically referred to as the "other world" and cosmic domains like heaven (as the abode of the gods) and the underworld were believed to be situated in that world. We find reference to it in the earliest writings of people like the Sumerians and the Egyptians. In fact, it seems that all ancient peoples held the belief that such a world exists. The Greeks and Hebrews also believed in it - their views played a formative role in the Judeo-Christian conception of the spirit world. The ancients even believed that we have some type of intuition directed to that world.

The idea of such an invisible world had a great impact on the thinking of the Greek philosopher Plato (5th to 4th century BC). In fact, his idea of a "world of forms (or ideas)" originated from the age-old belief in an invisible world. In Plato the invisible world of the ancients is reworked into an intelligible world - a world that is only accessible through thought. He distinguished between the visible world of our senses and the intelligible world. Although he believed that that world is only accessible through thought, he nevertheless still held that it is a (the only) real world.

Later generations of philosophers followed Plato's lead in discerning an intelligible or noumenal world (from the Greek word "nous", meaning mind).  The greatest of them was the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). The idea of a noumenal world differing from the phenomenal world featured prominently in his philosophy. Although he rejected the Platonic idea that we could access that world in thought (he rejected the possibility of humans having an "intelligible intuition" thereof), he still held that we can think it. But, according to Kant we can have no "knowledge" of that world. This, however, did not stop him from thinking that such a world could really exist - he envisioned it as underlying and giving form to the phenomenal world.

The Platonic move to envision the invisible world as an intelligible world eventually had the opposite outcome that he intended - it lead to the rejection of the possibility that such a world exist. How did it happen? Once the possibility of having any intuition (that is, a sensing without the use of rational processes, an immediate awareness) of that world was rejected (in Kant), it became nothing more than a mere idea - an idea of something beyond the senses that religious people "believe" in. Since nothing in science gave the slightest reason to believe in such a world, a general consensus developed that such a world does not exists.

But was Kant right? Do we not have any intuition of a noumenal world? Such an intuition would imply some type of experience of that world - which is in fact what the ancients affirmed. What is more, theoretical physics now also envisions a world very much in accordance with the Kantian idea of the noumenal world - but one that is real and which could be accessible in experience.

Plato's intelligible world

Why did Plato redefined the invisible world as an intelligible world? The reason is simple. Socrates, Plato's teacher "discovered" reason. This lead to one of the most important shifts to ever occur in Western thought - the accentuation of reason as the most important of all human faculties. It dawned on these men that reason is what makes us distinctly human (animals cannot reason). We can even through reason control our animal passions (therefore reason guides us to the virtuous life). In Plato's opinion the human mind ("nous") should be viewed as a thinking ability - he equated it with intelligence. This ability is seated in the human soul, that part of humans through which they have access to the invisible world. Therefore that world - the one that is accessible only through thought - is to be understood as an intelligible world.

This Platonic move - to equate the invisible world with the intelligible - is clearly observable in his Phaedo.  In the dialogues between Socrates and his friends it is mentioned that he takes the view of the mystics (the Orphics), in which the invisible world played an important part, as point of departure (as a "metaphor") for his own view. Two different worlds are distinguished, namely the invisible and the visible realm. The invisible realm is called "the realm of the absolute, constant and invariable" whereas the visible world is always changing. In this last respect Plato follows Parmenides of Elea (b. c515 BC) who argued for two worlds, one that is the real world and which is eternal, indivisible, motionless and changeless and the other that is the world of our senses, which is a world of "appearances".  Plato furthermore distinguished two types of things which belong to these two different worlds, namely the invisible (the forms) and the visible things.

According to the dialogues in the Phaedo the soul belongs to the invisible world: "Since the soul is invisible, it belongs to the eternal invisible world... When it [the soul] investigates by itself, it passes into the realm of the pure and everlasting and changeless; and being of a kindred nature, when it is once independent and free from interference, consorts with it". True contemplation is not with the eyes, but with the soul - or, more precisely, with the intellect. In this regard we read: "We are in fact convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves [i.e. as they really are] with the soul by itself" and "the man who pursues the truth by applying his pure and unadulterated thought to the pure and unadulterated object... Is not this the person, Simmias, who will reach the goal of reality, if anybody can?".

In Plato's writings the human mind (nous) has a direct intuitive understanding of the invisible realm. Again this view goes back to Parmenides who argued for a dualism wherein nous describes an intellectual perception, which should be distinguished from sense perception. But was this how the earlier Greeks in general viewed the mind? As mentioned in the Oxford dictionary, the Greek word nous meant "mind, intelligence, intuitive apprehension". Although the Greeks allocated both understanding and intuition in the mind, there is no reason to believe that they viewed the intuition directed to the invisible world solely as an "intellectual" intuition (this view originated with Parmenides).

It seems that the Greeks allowed for a direct intuitive awareness of the invisible world, which is only then (as a secondary move) brought to understanding. The Pythagoreans, for example, seem to have held the opinion that we have some intuition of that world in the deepest essence of our being, and that our thinking (even in reference to that intuition) is only secondary. They distinguished between 1) the higher soul, seat of the intuitive mind, 2) the rational soul, the seat of discursive reason and 3) the non-rational soul, responsible for the senses, appetites and motion. Even Plato often refers to a perception of the invisible world (for example, through the "eye" of the soul) which seems to be more fundamental than the thought thereof (why use the metaphor of "eye" if it is in fact the act of thinking that should be accentuated). The overall move in Plato's philosophy - and the Western philosophical tradition derived from him - was, however, to collapse the noumenal into the intelligible.

Plato's opinion on the relation between the worlds changed through the course of his writing. At first (in the Phaedo) the "invisible world" is viewed as a separate domain where human souls go between lives (and where the gods live), but in the Republic the "intelligible" world (as it is now called) is more closely connected to our own world (we can see that in the metaphor of the cave). This (our) world is somehow dependent on the real world for its existence (where the forms for the phenomena in this world is situated). In the Timaeus the real world (of unchanging being where the forms are situated) underlies this world (of becoming) in a very real sense in that it gives form to it.

Kant's noumenal world

Kant lived many centuries after Plato but his reworking of the Platonic position established one of the most important philosophical traditions since Plato. He lived during the height of the modern epoch - also known as the age of reason. Not only was reason accentuated more than ever before (in accordance with the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition), the discovery of empirical science demonstrated the practical possibilities of reason in a powerful way. And in science the sole focus is on the world of the senses. This now became the "real world". But even in the face of this new focus on the sensible world, Kant stood his ground in affirming the possibility of the "noumenal world". Kant was a Christian and believed in the existence of a spiritual world. And following Plato, he distinguished between the sensible (phenomenal) world and the "intelligible world", also called a "noumenal" world (which for Kant is supra-sensible, i.e. transcending sensible experience).

Kant's most important work, The Critique of Pure Reason, focuses (in the spirit of the age) first of all on our interaction with the sensible world (in contrast with Plato's focus on our interaction with the intelligible world). He shows how human thinking and sensing are interacting to establish "knowledge" of the sensible world. For Kant the only knowledge possible is of this (sensible) world. He rejects the Platonic position that we can have any knowledge of the noumenal world. But this do not stop us from thinking the noumenal realm. The Critique distinguishes between the human faculty of "understanding" which get its content from the senses, and "reason" which is quite independent of the sensible world and can think intelligible things. But Kant's goal with this work is to establish the limits of what reason can achieve.

Although Kant mentions that direct "intelligible intuitions" of the noumenal world is in principle possible, he argues that this is not something that humans can partake in (God can have them). We can ask: But why didn't he allow for possible intuitions of the noumenal world other than intelligible ones? The reason for this is possibly because Kant was influenced by the Platonic move to view all intuitions of the noumenal world as intelligible ones. Kant's distinction between the sensible and intelligible (supra-sensible, noumenal) worlds therefore also incorporates a dichotomy between experience and intelligence. Kant assumes that all experience is sensible. He did not allow (as many ancient peoples seem to have done) for the possibility of an inner non-sensible experience directed to the noumenal realm. Although he did not exclude such noumenal intuitions in principle, he thought that we are not acquainted with such intuitions. He writes in the Critique of Pure Reason in a section called "Phenomena and Noumena": "room thus remains for some other sort of intuition... [but] we are acquainted with no sort of intuition other than our own sensible one" (B343).

As far as our understanding is concerned (to the extent that it is directed to the sensible world), the noumenal world is "empty" - we cannot gain any knowledge thereof. As far as reason is concerned, however, we can use reason, especially "practical reason", to argue for certain things about the noumenal realm. Starting with the Critique of Pure Reason, and developing his ideas further in his other two critiques (on practical reason and the power of judgement), Kant developed an extensive view on the noumenal world. In the second Critique he argued that we need the noumenal realm to account for our moral nature, our ability to make moral laws and act according to them. In the last Critique Kant takes the noumenal world as the ultimate ground for our world, being ultimately responsible for the design of the whole spatio-temporal world. In this he follows Plato in the Timaeus. Kant's noumenal realm is the supra-sensible ground of all phenomena, wherein the form-giving dynamic spontaneity (freedom) which give form to the phenomenal world, is situated. Humans as well as nature are grounded and partially situated in the noumenal realm.

Science and the noumenal world

Towards the end of the modern epoch the Kantian affirmation of the existence of a noumenal realm seemed to be superficial. How can we ever show the existence of a realm of which we cannot have any experience. It's like defining something in such a way that it is beyond experimental proof and then affirming its existence in accordance with your Christian view. For the modern mind, which was so smitten by the power of reason, and who believed that science can give all the answers, this seems to be an excuse to keep believing in the face of scientific discovery - which seemed to affirm that the world is nothing more than the sensible world. Therefore a consensus developed that such a world could not exist.

Those days are, however, long gone. Gone is the days when it was believed that the human capacity to solve all problems and ultimately understand everything was around the corner. The centuries during which scientists affirmed that they would be able to understand everything in the not-too-distant future has lead to a new consensus (even though many scientists still hold to the modernist view), namely that this view should be taken with a pinch of salt. The world is extremely complex. More complex than modern man could ever have imagined. Today scientists except ideas that were frowned upon only a few years ago, for example that dark matter and dark energy exist. In their efforts to develop an unified theory that could integrate all the basic forces of nature, theoretical physicists are even postulating the existence of a higher dimensional realm that are interwoven with our own three dimensional sensible world. Scientists are confronted with the fact that it might just be possible that we would never be able to fully fathom what reality is like.

This development is in accordance with the position of some existential philosophers who rejected the modern efforts to establish reason as the sole arbiter of existence. Some like Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), developed an anti-Platonic, anti-Kantian position. He argued that we should affirm our earthly existence and embrace our inner drives - we must not bow to reason and fight against our true nature. In his opinion all talk of another or noumenal world is the result of mankind's (especially religious people's) inability to cope with the here and now. They cannot cope in this world - and therefore developed the idea of another world where they would be happy. The post-modern philosophers took Nietzsche's views as point of departure to develop an anti-modernist perspective in matters concerning the nature of morality, truth and reality. Other philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) followed a different route - he rejected the efforts to fathom all of existence through reason. He affirmed the reality of the Christian experience even in the face of reason's onslaught on the supernatural. In a sense he rejected all efforts to reasonably establish the ground for the Christian faith (and our experience of the spiritual).  

What I propose is that we should not so much reject reason's ability to fathom existence, but that we should affirm it's reductionist nature. In it's efforts to understand reality, reason has to construct models, establish approximations, formulate reductionist concepts. This is in fact what the Copenhagen interpretation confirmed for quantum physics - we can only have a partial concept of the reality that we study. This is where Plato and Kant have fallen short - in their efforts to rework the invisible (spiritual) realm as an intelligible realm, they have been reductionist. They have not been able to sufficiently account for those intuitions of that realm that the ancients, and many religious people throughout the ages, have affirmed to exist. Kant have excluded the possibility of such intuitions in his philosophy - even though it is possible (in my opinion) to incorporate it therein. For him, all experience is sensible - but what about the possibility of non-sensible (or supra-sensible) experience of the noumenal?

In spite of this, Kant's conceptualization of the noumenal realm shows remarkable agreement with the higher dimensional structure of the universe that theoretical physicists postulate. These dimensions are very small and not accessible to our senses - they are supra-sensible. But they are interwoven in the structure of space. They underlay the phemonenal world as the form-giving part of the cosmos. All nature are in some way grounded therein - also we as humans. Although most particle-structures could have parts in both realms, it is in principle possible that at least some particle-structures exist solely in that realm, implying the possibility of a whole world unknown to our senses existing next to our own without us knowing it. It is possible that humans have a part situated in higher dimensions (corresponding to what has traditionally been called the soul or spirit) that co-exists with our physical bodies. This description does not only closely agree with Kant's ideas about the noumenal realm, they affirm the possibility of a real spiritual world.

Conclusion

During the modern epoch people thought that they have finally arrived and that the ancients were primitive and without true knowledge. In our day there is a new appreciation for the views of those people. They experienced something about the world that the rational mindset has conditioned us to reject as something unreal. They believed in some type of intuition directed towards that world that religious people from all around the world has continued to confirm in their everyday experience (not only Christians; there is no reason from a Christian point of view, why other religious experiences are not also directed to the spiritual world). One of the reasons why so many religious people have never bought into the modernist framework is because their own experience proved the opposite. Although many scientists are eager to (again in a reductionist way) ascribe all such experience to people's psychology, most Christians, for example, have a subtle, but distinct, awareness that their experience of God goes beyond themselves.

The one thing about the noumenal world that is especially interesting, is that Kant's formulation thereof corresponds so closely with scientific notions about a higher dimensional realm that co-exists with our own. It seems that through pure reason he was able to in a remarkable way foresee the eventual scientific formulation of models that describes the world as much more than a sensible world. Although this could (once proven) confirm the power of reason, his philosophy at the same time should always remind us how reductionist reason is. We should use reason, but we should also trust our deepest spiritual intuitions about our own experience in the world. Both reason and such intuition should be our guides in this world. Without such intuition, humankind will wander as a person in the dark, groping towards a destiny without hope.


Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com)

See also:
The God Impulse (life after death?)
Kant's noumenal realm reconsidered in the light of contemporary developments in physics

Monday, 2 September 2013

The God Impulse

"Basing one's spirituality on science is as foolhardy as basing one's science on spirituality" – Kevin Nelson

In his book The God Impulse neurologist Prof Kevin Nelson argues that spiritual experiences – especially of the near-death type – could be ascribed to a particular type of consciousness, namely being awake while in the REM-state. He also discusses the areas of the brain which produce such experiences. What does this say about life after death?

I have the habit of buying books before flying. A while ago I had to fly to Pretoria on my way to Bloemfontein where I had to participate at the Vryfees (Vrystaat festival) in a discussion on my book Abraham en sy God. As always I visited the Exclusive Books branch at the airport in Cape Town just before boarding. And, as so often happens, I found a book that turned out to be very interesting. It is The God Impulse, Is Religion Hardwared into our Brains? (2011) written by Kevin Nelson, Professor in Neurology at the University of Kentucy in the US.

The God Impulse is a study of the brain's functioning during spiritual experiences. Nelson studied such experiences – especially the type called "near-death" experiences – for many years. He collected many first hand accounts of such experiences and also conducted a more detailed study on 55 research subjects. For the purposes of that study, particular characteristics of such experiences were discerned, based on the work of the philosophers William James and W. T Stace as well as psychiatric and medical studies. The areas of the brain associated with these characteristics were then examined to gain an understanding of the biology underlying such experiences.

Why do we as humans have spiritual experiences? To what extent can we explain such experiences within the framework of the current biological understanding of the brain? Which characteristics of such experiences are associated with which parts of the brain? Can science explain spiritual experiences? These are some of the questions that most of us ask at some stage during our lives. These are also the questions that Nelson tries to answer in his book.

REM consciousness borderlands

Neurology recognizes three states within consciousness: wakefulness, REM sleep (when we dream) and non-REM sleep. The opposite of consciousness is coma. In The God Impulse Nelson proposes that we should ascribe spiritual experiences to the borderlands between consciousness, unconsciousness and dreaming. More particularly, he discerns another state, where wakefulness is blended with REM sleep, and ascribes spiritual experiences, especially of the near-death as well as mystical types, to this state.

Instead of shifting from one state to the other as we normally do (between being awake and asleep), we can get stuck in this borderlands in between states. Since this is an unstable state, this experience lasts only for seconds or minutes even though it can feel like hours. This is the state associated with Lucid Dreaming which is when we are conscious while we are dreaming (this happens in 3% of dreams). One have REM consciousness and is aware and conscious of it at the same time.

What is interesting about this "in-between state", is that one is conscious while one's bodily senses are switched off. One is awake but unable to move any part of your body except your eyes. Studies have shown that people in this state are able to communicate through certain previously agreed (eye) signals with researchers, showing that they are awake even though their bodies are asleep. The reason why this is possible, is that the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (responsible for logical problem-solving, planning as well as organizing information, thoughts and emotions), which is normally switched off during REM-sleep, is switched on during this state. The same parts of the brain which bring thoughts and sensations together in a wholeness of conscious perception are operative in this state.

While in this state the temporopariental region of the brain is switched off. This region integrates our sensations to orientate us in space. The dorso-lateral prefrontal is also switched off. This can be the reason why time in this state is experienced differently, with things happening instantaneously, people and places shifting abruptly and people having feelings of transportation to new and fantastic places. Our ability to see ourselves as consistent, our sense of being carried through the past, present and future, are distorted.

This in-between state is fundamentally different from dreaming (normal REM consciousness). Persons in this state (as in near-death experiences) have a very strong sense that their world of experiences is as "real" as the one we know when fully awake. The sensations that such persons experience do not come from the outside world, but from the "dream world". Emotions of fear, joy and anger are very strongly felt. A different type of "just-knowing" and telepathic guidance is experienced.

Moving into this state is often accompanied with an awareness of moving through various color-levels. Powerful hallucinations of complex and completely formed animations of people, animals and things appear. Aliens or spiritual beings are also encountered as well as feelings of a transcendent self, encounters with a higher power or being as well as mergence with universal consciousness. After awakening from this state, these experiences are vividly remembered.

Near-death experiences

In his research Nelson found that in persons who have had near-death experiences the REM switch (which switch consciousness between states) operates differently and that such people are more prone to this type of consciousness. It is not clear whether this is the result of their near-death experiences (which could have changed the functioning of this switch) or if they had these experiences because of the way this switch functions. 

Nelson proposes that in near-death experiences people have experiences associated with the above-mentioned "in-between" consciousness. The reason why this is so is that the REM switch (or rather a portion of it called vlPAG) switches to this state (or REM sleep) during severe pain or low blood pressure (as in fainting and cardiac arrest). In people who have had near-death experiences all parts of REM consciousness (paralysis and all kinds of hallucinations) mix with waking consciousness. The various experiences associated with near-death experiences are also encountered in the in-between-state. Nelson explains all the basic phenomena associated with near-death experiences, including passing through the tunnel, seeing a bright light, appearing dead, out of body experiences, life flashing before one's eyes etc. in terms of this state and the way that (especially) the limbic system is affected.

Nelson also ascribe mystical experiences to this state. The difference between lucid dreaming, near-death experiences and mystical experiences is that people in the last group more often experience that they move beyond some sort of uncrossed border. These experiences are "beyond the sense, beyond the understanding". Words like "boundless, ceaseless, bottomless, nothingness, fathomless, infinite, empty, void, barren, abyss, abysmal and absolute" are used for this experience. The sense of being a separate self of thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories is lost and transcends into the One. Time and space dissolves. Those who had this experience describe it as beyond reason and language: "It is absolutely impossible, nor has it time, (so) to speak; but afterwards that it is able to reason about it". The self is, however, not dissolved and the mystics afterwards have clear memories of the experience.

This experience can be induced through hallucinogenic drugs, "ecstatic" seizures (as in the case of Fyodor Dostoevsky) and is clearly distinguished from both dreams and psychotic delusion. The serotonin-2 receptors activated by hallucinogenic drugs are heavily distributed in the very same brain structures which operates in the in-between-state, namely the limbic system, including the hippocampus and the amygdala.

Noumenal intuitions

When I read these things I was quite amazed by the fact that such a state beyond sensibility is not only medically possible, but that a lot of research has been done regarding it. All our interaction with the outside world happens through the senses. It is through the senses that we have experience in this world. And all sense experience happens within the space-time framework. But in the in-between state the senses are switched off, the body is inactive and our experience of space-time is distorted. It seems that we enter some state beyond the senses which is also beyond normal space-time.

These issues have been studied for a long time in philosophy. The great modern philosopher Immanuel Kant situated our sense experience within space-time. In his view all our sense experience are grounded in our ability to perceive space and time. Kant, however, allowed for the possibility that another realm could exist, which he called a "noumenal" realm (derived from nous=mind), which is beyond normal space-time.

Kant argued that our consciousness, feelings (of pleasure and displeasure) and our will are faculties of the mind which are beyond sensibility. For us to have experience within this world, these must interact with our sense intuition. What is remarkable about Nelson's study, is that he shows that these human abilities could still be operative once our sensibility is switched off!  Humans have consciousness (with normal thinking functions), strong feelings and the ability to use their will while in the in-between state. If further research confirms this, it would be a dramatic confirmation of the Kantian view that these faculties are "beyond" sensibilty.

In Kantian philosophy only normal consciousness is considered and he therefore did not allow for any awareness of these human faculties without sensibility. The only intuition (awareness) that Kant considered was sense intuition. What Nelson's study seems to confirm, is that there are particular circumstances when we can have an awareness (intuition) of these faculties of the mind even when sensibility is switched off (i.e. during the in-between consciousness). We have direct access to these faculties and can be aware of them even when our senses are switched off! This could imply that humans have another type of intuition (i.e. different from sense intuition), namely "mind" or "noumenal" intuitions.

Long before Kant, the philosopher Plato allowed for such noumenal intuitions – he described them as "intellectual" intuitions. He believed that we can through such intuitions gain direct knowledge of the noumenal realm which he described as the truly real realm. Nelson's study is also relevant to this. Nelson mentions that people who had experiences while in the in-between state remember them clearly and believed that they were very much real. They had direct noumenal intuitions in the sense of "just knowing" while in this state – very much like Plato's direct knowledge of the noumenal realm.

People who entered the in-between state, not only knew their own thoughts and feelings, they also became aware of things which they experienced as being "telepathically" communicated to them. This could imply that they had been able to gain wider access to the "noumenal realm" while in this state. Since the entities experienced in this realm include all sorts of spiritual beings, this could well be the "spirit world" of the ancients.

Plato did in fact based his noumenal (intellectual) world on the spirit world of the mystics (see especially the discussions in the Phaedo). Plato's noumenal world was but a reworking of the spirit world and his intellectual intuitions was but a reworking of the spiritual awareness ascribed to this world. (Kant also believed in the spirit world and one could argue that his noumenal realm is also based on that world – it is, for example, the realm in which the "soul" is situated).

Real or imaginary experience?

The million dollar question is whether the world accessed while in the in-between state is truly real? Is it really so that one's consciousness is altered while in this state to interact with another world – a world beyond the senses and space-time? A world in which the soul and all sorts of spirits are situated? A world which Christians associate with both good and bad spirits and in which the Spirit of God operates? Is that world only in the mind or is it rather that we access that world only through the mind?

Nelson's study could not answer this question for the simple reason that science cannot at this stage give any such answers. Although Nelson could ascribe the typical phenomena of near-death experience to this in-between state and distinguish the areas in the brain responsible for such experiences, this only tells what happens to us while our brains are still functioning. Once we are brain-dead there is no way in which we can communicate any possible after-death experience through our body.

There is one case that has attracted a lot of attention. Pam, a thirty-five year old woman, had a huge ballooning aneurysm at the base of her brain removed. Doctors had to drain all the blood from her brain to do the operation. To do this they turned down her brain's metabolism so that it didn't require oxygen or glucose. During the operation she woke and was able to see the surgery as if she was sitting on the neurosurgeon's shoulder. She later described the operation in some detail, including the particular saw used to open her skull.

How should we interpret this? Was she viewing the operation from her disembodied soul? Nelson does not think so. He mentions other research which shows that persons who had such out-of-body experiences while asleep (being in the in-between state) were not able to really observe things while in this state. They moved certain things in the room around before their experiences, which they did not observe during their out-of-body experiences. This implies that the visual images were constructed from familiar memory. Nelson therefore argues that the same was true in the case of Pam.  According to him she must have had an opportunity to observe the saw when wheeled into the operation room.

But this is not necessarily the case. One should differentiate between a healthy person having such an experience in which the mind projects itself to some out-of-body position (i.e. no soul really leaves the body) and a situation when a person is practically dead (i.e. when the soul have left the body). In the first case certain capacities of the mind are activated, in the second those capacities involve access to another world (through the soul). Those who argue for the existence of the soul (which continue existing after death) take Pam's detailed description of the operation and of the saw used as evidence for their view. Those who assume that she must have seen the saw beforehand reject this as evidence for the existence of the soul. Science cannot at this stage provide the answers.

Conclusion

The God Impulse is fascinating reading. I believe that the topic discussed is very relevant to current debate. Nelson made a good case that near-death and mystical experiences could be ascribed to a state between being awake and REM sleep where one is conscious (as when awake) while in REM sleep. This is totally different from being awake while being sensibly-aware as well as from sleeping. A strange world is encountered which could well be the spirit world that the ancients often referred to.

I found the possibility that this state could (in principle) confirm the existence of noumenal intuitions especially interesting. This would be a substantial finding. Many Christians believe that they experience such "spiritual" intuitions, which they associate with God's voice in their lives. Nelson's research seems to tell us how such experiences are possible, but not what it amounts to, i.e. whether real communication between us and the spirit world (if it exists), is possible. Although Nelson's research could not confirm or deny the existence of the spirit world, most Christians (and many others) believe that it exists. They could well be right...

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (www.wmcloud.blogspot.com)

See also: Kant's noumenal realm reconsidered

Sunday, 18 August 2013

God hoor

In hierdie geestelike essay fokus ek op gebed. Die gebed wat werk.

"Elkeen wat bid ontvang; en elkeen wat soek, vind" (Matt. 7:8)

Alle Christene bid. Gebed is deel van die praktiese uitlewing van geloof. Gebed bring ons in die geestelike stemming waarin ons God kan beleef. Deur gebed tree ons met God in gesprek. Persone wat hul geestelike lewe ernstig opneem, is oor die algemeen ook mense wat meer tyd in gebed spandeer. Maar soms lyk dit of gebed nie werk nie. Soms voel dit of ons te vergeefs bid. Soms wil ons ophou bid.

Die Bybel maak baie van gebed. Van Genesis tot Openbaring lees ons van mense wat gebid het. Daar is verskeie gebede in die Bybel opgeteken. Die deurlopende tema in die Bybel is dat God gebed verhoor. Ons lees telkens hoedat God gebede verhoor het. Die meeste gebede kom reg in die middel van die Bybel in die Psalms voor. Daar lees ons male sonder tal hoedat Dawid tot God bid met die verwagting dat God hom sal hoor. En telkens het hy gevind dat God hom uitgered het.

Gebed het bowenal met vertroue te doen. As ek vertroue in God het, dat Hy my sal verhoor, dan bid ek met verwagting. In gebed gaan dit tot 'n baie groot mate oor my idee of beskouing van God. As ek God as 'n vader sien, as een wat vir my omgee en wat regtig na my luister, bid ek anders as wanneer ek maar net uit gewoonte bid of as deel van een of ander ritueel. Dit is waarom die Onse Vader gebed juis so die konsep van God as vader beklemtoon. As verlostes kan ons God ons vader noem - Hy is nie net die vader van Jesus Christus  nie; Hy is ook ons vader. As ons regtig glo dat God ons vader is, en ons sy kinders, dan kan ons ook soos kinders na hul vader gaan. Anders as aardse vaders wat soms in gebreke bly, is Hy die volmaakte vader wat vir ons toeganklik is deur Jesus Christus.

Die gesin waarin ons grootword, het 'n geweldige groot impak op ons gebedslewe. Die optrede van ons eie vader het 'n blywende invloed op die wyse waarop ons God sien. Voorts het die wyse waarop ons God in die huis leer ken, ook 'n groot invloed op ons geloof in God en ons verwagting dat God ons sal verhoor. As ons in 'n huis grootword waarin gebed positief beleef word, dan wil ons ook graag bid. As ons duidelike insidente van gebedsverhoring onthou, dan wek dit by ons die verwagting dat God ons sal verhoor. Ons dink terug aan daardie tye toe God ons (of ons gesinslede) se gebede verhoor het. So kan ek geleenthede onthou waar my ouers my as jong seun ingeroep het om saam met hulle oor sake te bid, waarna hulle telkens verhoor is. Dit het 'n groot indruk op my jong gemoed gelaat. In later jare kon ek ook met verwagting vir sake bid en ek onthou besondere voorbeelde van gebedsverhoring. Sulke insidente van gebedsverhoring skep by ons die verwagting dat God ons hoor en dat Hy ons ook sal verhoor.

Wanneer ek in gebed na God kom, dan kan ek Hom op 'n baie besondere wyse beleef. Wanneer ek van God se teenwoordigheid bewus word, raak ek ook bewus waar daar dinge in my lewe is wat skeiding bring, wat my verhouding met God vertroebel. Net soos wat daar soms dinge tussen ons en ons aardse vaders kan kom wat daardie verhouding kan skaad, so is dit ook met God. Ons kan inderdaad 'n diepe vrede en innerlike geestelike gemeenskap met God beleef wat die verstand te bowe gaan. Meer nog, ons kan ervaar dat God met ons praat en sy wil omtrent ons gebed aan ons bekend maak. Die wonder van gebed is dat God ons antwoord selfs voordat Hy ons gebed verhoor.

Gebed is uiteindelik nie maar net 'n blinde hoop nie, maar 'n gesprek waarin God ook met ons praat. Soos enige vader maak God ook sy besluite aan ons bekend. God kan diep in ons gees, deur sy Woord of deur omstandighede met ons praat. Hy kan met 'n Ja of 'n Nee antwoord.  Hy kan sê ons moet net wag. Hy kan vir tye net stil wees [1]. Wat gebedsverhoring so besonders maak, is dat ons kan weet dat God uiteindelik ook sal doen wat Hy gesê of belowe het.  Ek kan met 'n vaste vertroue verby alle omstandighede na God kyk met die verwagting dat Hy sal doen wat Hy gesê het. Dat Hy my sal verhoor. Ons kan in die gebed "volhou soos een wat die onsienlike sien" (Heb. 11:27). As ons God eers leer ken het as die Een wat gebed verhoor, as die Een wat sy woord waarmaak, dan het ons 'n onwrikbare vertroue dat Hy dit altyd sal doen.

Ons leef in 'n tyd waarin daar al meer oor God getwyfel word. As ons twyfel oor God se bestaan, kan ons tog nie met oorgawe bid nie. As ons gebedsverhoring sinies beskou as dinge wat maar toevallig so gebeur het, sal ons nie met verwagting bid nie. As ek egter uit ervaring weet dat God werklik gebed verhoor, kan hierdie dinge nie my geloof raak nie. Ongeag wat wie mag sê, ek weet my Verlosser leef en dat Hy my hoor en verhoor wanneer ek bid. Alhoewel andere wat daarmee onbekend is, ons belewing van God op allerlei wyse kan afmaak, weet ons dat ons God werklik in ons lewens beleef. Dat Hy met ons praat. Ons weet dat God gebed verhoor.

Soms het ons nie so 'n geskiedenis met God nie. Dalk is ons geloofslewe maar net tradisioneel sonder enige werklike belewing van God. Dit verhoed ons nie om God op 'n dieper vlak op die proef te stel nie. Om Hom so te sê, uit te probeer nie. God ken ons harte. As ons in eerlikheid Hom op die proef stel, sal Hy ons nie teleur stel nie. Ons sal vind dat Hy graag ons vader wil wees. Dat ons maar ons lewens aan Hom kan toevertrou. Dat ons Hom vader kan noem. As ons eers gebedsverhoring beleef het, sal ons nie anders kan as om weer en weer met verwagting te bid nie. Ons kan God maar op die proef stel. Hy verhoor gebed.

[1] Ek sal DV in 'n latere skrywe in meer detail op God se stem fokus.

Skrywer: Dr Willie Mc Loud (www.wmcloud.blogspot.com)

Sien ook: Die profeet
 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Adam and Eve: were they the first humans?

In this essay, I discuss various views about Adam and Eve. I also present my own view, exploring the wider ancient context in which the story originated. Questions asked are: Does the Biblical narrative say that Adam and Eve were the very first humans on earth or is there reason to believe otherwise? Can we view the story as historical? How should we understand the creation of Adam and Eve? Did God really create Adam out of dust and Eve out of one of his ribs? And how does the story relate to the ancient Sumerian story of Adapa which corresponds with it? This essay is the second in the series on the Book of Genesis.

There are few Bible stories that are so well known as the one about Adam and Eve. It is not only the very first story about humans in the Bible, it also includes other well-known themes like the garden of Eden, the Fall of man, the first appearance of the snake (typically taken as a symbol of the devil) etc. In this essay, I focus only on Adam and Eve (the other themes will be discussed in other essays as part of the series on the Book of Genesis). Adam and Eve are the first humans mentioned in the Bible. But does this mean that they were the very first humans to walk this earth? How should we understand the creation of Adam and Eve? Did God really create Adam out of dust and Eve out of one of his ribs? How should we understand these things in an age in which science has established that humans are hundreds of thousands of years old and in which the Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution has become widely accepted?

The Biblical story of Adam and Eve has been hotly disputed and there is a lot of disagreement about it. In this essay, I will discuss the important views. Among the best known are those who take the story in its simplicity as historically true. They believe that God created Adam and Eve about six thousand years ago and that they were the parents of the whole human race. Then there are some Christian scientists who present a scientific version of the Biblical narrative. They think that we should associate Adam and Eve with the original parents of the human race who lived about 200-150 000 years ago. Still others think that the story of Adam and Eve should not be seen as historical but as a myth or metaphor. In this essay, I will discuss these views. Each of them has some important drawbacks. I make some new proposals as to how the story may be understood by incorporating important background information from the ancient world (going back to ancient Sumeria, the fatherland of Abraham) which the author used when he wrote this remarkable story.

Simple interpretation

There are many Christians who believe that Adam and Eve were the first two people that God created on this earth about six thousand years ago. These Christians typically hold to the young earth creation view (see part 1 of the series) according to which God created the heaven and the earth in six solar days about six thousand years ago. They believe that a literal interpretation necessitates such a reading of the text. According to this view, God created Adam out of dust, placed him in the garden of Eden and brought all the animals to him to name them. Later God caused a great sleep to overcome Adam and took one of his ribs to make Eve from it. Adam and Eve were the first humans on earth and all nations are descended from them.

Although it might at a first glance seem that this is what the narrative in Genesis 2 tells us, a careful reading reveals important inconsistencies which should warn us against taking a too simplistic view of this passage. We, for example, find that two creations of man are mentioned. According to the first account (the creation story) man, both male and female were created during the sixth creation day (Gen. 1:27). According to the second account (the garden story), man was created only after that creation was completed (Gen. 2:7). Now, there are various ways to explain this. Some scholars accept that two different creation narratives were incorporated in the text but these readers normally do not accept this view. They argue that the first account places the creation of mankind within the overall account of creation whereas the second one is a more detailed account as to how Adam and Eve were created [1].

But even within such an interpretation of the text, certain inconsistencies occur. In the garden story we find that Adam was created (Gen. 2:7) before God brought forth the trees out of the ground (Gen. 2:9) or formed the animals out of the ground: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam" (Gen. 2:19). Only after their creation did God introduced them to Adam to name them. The problem with such a "literal" reading is that it implies that Adam was created before the trees or the animals, which is in direct conflict with the creation story (Gen. 1)!

This, however, need not be a problem as long as we allow that the creation acts in the garden story do not necessarily occur at the time when they are mentioned in the text. We can logically assume that the trees and animals were created before Adam, but that the author thought it necessary each time, when he reintroduced them in the garden story, to mention again that God created them (even though it actually happened sometime before during the days of creation). As such one may view these references to "creation" in the garden story in the context of the metaphor of God as the potter - not as actually meaning that God literally created them at that stage in history.

But this has important implications for this view: it can imply that mankind was also created long before Adam is introduced into the story of the Garden of Eden with the words: "And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen. 2:7). This could be taken as a general statement about the creation of mankind (to which Adam belonged) as it was previously described in the creation story. But this interpretation would negate the whole view that Adam was the first human created! Another way to read the creation of Adam in the garden story is to assume that this is, in fact, the same event mentioned previously in the creation story. But this is only one possible reading of the text.

There is other information in the story which also suggests that the author did not hold that Adam and Eve were the first humans. We, for example, find that Cain's wife is introduced as if the readers would know that other humans existed (Gen. 4:17). Now, it is certainly possible that he could have taken a wife from among his many sisters (Gen. 5:4). But this is just an assumption. We also read that Cain, after being sent away, is concerned that he will be murdered by anyone who comes across him. This also seems to imply the presence of other humans. Why would one try to assert that Adam was the very first human on earth if the text allows for other readings which are more in line with scientific evidence which shows that humans have been around for a very long time? Both archaeology and DNA tests prove that humans and related species (even the Neanderthal's DNA has been sequenced) existed for some 200 000 years before the period in which Adam and Eve is placed (about six thousand years ago).

The story of the creation of Eve from Adam's rib also seems strange if taken literally. Does it mean that Adam literally lost one of his ribs in the process? Given the ancient context of the story, is it not more sensible to assume that this was but a story to introduce her and that the author maybe wanted to thereby affirm that women are in the closest possible sense part of men, so much so that "man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen. 2:21-24). One can understand that proponents of this view think that such an interpretation could in some way undermine the historicity of the rest of the story, and thereby the account of the Fall itself, which is so important in Christian teaching. But this need not be the case. It seems to me that this interpretation is too one-dimensional and does not allow for other normal literary tools like metaphors to be used.

Some have tried to reconcile the evidence of early human existence with Adam and Eve's creation about six thousand years ago. C I Scofield, for example, in his so-called gap-theory, proposed a gap between the first and second verses of Genesis 1, between an early creation when those earlier humans lived and a later creation during which plants, animals and subsequently also humans were created in six solar days. In this scenario, the Fall also took place in phases, with the fall of Lucifer happening towards the end of the previous creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, happening as told in Genesis 3. The problem with this view is that there is no evidence of such a radical destruction or reappearance of the species.

Scientific interpretation

There are some Christian scientists who have developed an interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve consistent with scientific findings. These Christians accept the old earth creationist view, according to which the earth was created billions of years ago. They accept that the "days" of creation in Genesis 1 refer to long periods of time. If the sixth period ("day") of creation was millions of years long as these Christians accept, then there is no reason why humans who were created during that period, could not also be around for a long time. They, therefore, accept that the creation of mankind during the sixth period of creation happened much, much longer than six thousand years ago.

In this view, it is accentuated that God created humans, i.e. that they did not come into existence through Neo-Darwinian evolution. These scientists use DNA evidence to argue for an original human pair from which all humans descend. Molecular anthropology (the use of genetic variability among people around the world as a way to understand the origin and early history of humanity) enable us to establish when such a mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam lived. Current studies show that these converge around 150 000 years ago. Symbolism developed about 80-70 000 years ago, which these scientists view as reflecting the "image of God" in humans.

Some of the proponents of this view (from Reasons to Believe) argue that the Bible is silent about when God created Adam and Eve. They figure that the Biblical Adam and Eve should be identified with the mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam [2]. In their opinion, the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 10 should not be used to calculate the date for Adam and Eve. They see these as theological constructs and rejects the idea that Adam and Eve lived about six thousand years ago. These interpreters can clearly account for all humans as descendants of "Adam and Eve". And since they place the fall of mankind so many thousands of years ago, they can include all humans in the Fall.

Not all Christian scientists are convinced by this view. Those from BioLogos, for example, do not think that Adam and Eve should be associated with humans (see the next section) from the distant past who were miraculously created by God. They argue that the Biblical account of creation, which includes the creation of humans, is compatible with evolution. In the creation story God commanded that "the waters bring forth" (Gen.1.:20) or that "the earth bring forth" which is then equated with "God created" (Gen. 1:21) or "God made" (Gen. 25). This vagueness as to how God created implies that the creation story does not tell us in detail how that happened, but merely that it happened. This shows not only that the creation of the various species, but also of mankind (Gen. 1:26), could have been through theistic evolution.

The scientists from BioLogos argue, furthermore, that DNA similarities between species prove common ancestry, especially when the nature of genomes is considered. These do not only share healthy genes but also broken genes. The presence of such broken genes proves a common ancestry because it shows that these were inherited, not miraculously produced each time by God. They except that this data does not specify how such changes occurred, when they occurred or how long they took. This could be viewed as evidence for some form of theistic evolution, but not necessarily Neo-Darwinian evolution (see part 1 of this series). They, however, believe that this happened through Neo-Darwinian evolution.

The most important problem with the view discussed in this section (excluding the BioLogos view) is probably that they impose a scientific view on the Biblical text which should be read totally differently. If one wants to keep to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, it is difficult to see how events like those told in the garden story, which are clearly placed within the historical horizon of the people of Israel, could have happened 150 000 years ago. It seems quite clear that the Biblical authors viewed Adam as living in the distant, but rememberable, past.

Metaphoric interpretation

In this view, the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is taken as ancient literature which should be approached as such. They do not see any conflict between the scientific view of Neo-Darwinian evolution and the Bible story because they do not think that Adam and Eve as described in the Book of Genesis refer to historical personages. In their opinion, the story should be considered as myth or at least as a metaphorical tale. They take some of the features in the story, like the creation of Eve from Adam's rib and the speaking serpent, as proof that it was never intended to be taken in any literal sense. In their opinion, the story was meant to accentuate some truth for the listeners.

For some of these scholars, from the Biblical Criticism tradition, the mythical reading of this story implies that the Fall of mankind and therefore the whole argument for Jesus Christ's death is superfluous. According to many passages in Scripture Jesus is said to have died to save us from the effects of the Fall (for example, in Romans 5:12-21). So, they argue, if the Fall is part of a myth, Jesus's death could not have been what New Testament authors like St. Paul made it out to be.

Other Christians, for example from BioLogos, hold a metaphorical view and believe that the story of Adam and Eve is a "kind of traditional story that cultures use to understand themselves – stories that unpack the common experience of humanity" [3]. In this reading, the story of the Fall explains why all humans seem to have a "dark side". It should be taken as a statement about the common human condition. In this reading, Jesus's death is taken as rectifying that condition.

Many traditional and evangelical Christians find it problematic that this view, in general, excludes the possibility that the garden story could in some sense be taken as historical. Even if we do not consider Adam and Eve as the very first humans on earth, they still seem to stand in some historical framework at the beginning of God's involvement with humans. The metaphoric images in the story do not negate the possibility that some historical event could be described. One can even argue that the classification of literature as mythical has become too easy and stereotypical – it does not really make an effort to understand the text within the wider Middle-Eastern context in which it originated. Unpacking the story within the framework of this wider context could provide important insights that go beyond a mere mythical view.

Contextual interpretation

In my view, the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 should not be taken simplistically as describing the creation of the very first humans on earth but also not scientifically as referring to our first human ancestors. There are good reasons to think that, although the author presents them as being first in some sense, he did not present them as the very first humans ever created. This does not dispute that some mitochondrial "Eve" and Y-chromosomal "Adam" could have lived some time in the distant past.

I have already shown that the mentioning of acts of creation in the garden story (Gen. 2:7,9,19) should not be taken as referring to actual events because that would undermine the unity of the stories told by the author (they would directly contradict each other). These should be taken as merely referring to the fact that humans, trees, and animals were originally created by God during the six periods of creation as told in the creation story. This implies that we can distinguish between the creation of humans during the sixth creation period (which could have happened 200 000 years ago) and the time of Adam, who was a descendant of those first created beings.

This view is supported by the fact that the name Adam does not occur in the creation story. Only the word 'adam appears, which is translated as "man". This could imply that the 'adam (man) mentioned in the creation story should be distinguished from the man who is the central personage in the garden story and is later identified as Adam (Gen. 3:20) [4]. This would mean that in the creation story the word "man" refers to mankind in general, who was created in God's own image, who was created as "male and female" (Gen. 1:26-29). This is supported by Gen. 5:1-2 where the word 'adam is used to refer to both male and female persons: "Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name 'adam". We can then assume that these 'adam were in the time of Adam also present outside the garden of Eden and that Cain referred to some of them as the ones who may kill him.

This view that Adam and Eve were not the very first humans is supported by the extra-Biblical material used in this story. There can be no doubt that the material which the author of the Book of Genesis used for his ancient history (Gen. 2-11) goes back to ancient Sumerian sources [5]. Some of these stories go back to the earliest strata of memory in the ancient Middle East. This is especially true of the story of Adam, who corresponds with Adapa who is mentioned in Sumerian sources. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of the topic, but I can mention some of the obvious agreements. Adapa was misled by the Sumerian god Enki (who is sometimes described as a snake) regarding the food of life in the same way that Eve was misled by the snake regarding the food of the tree. Agreements between the stories include these basic motifs as well as the names (Adam/Adapa), their place in history as the first known human, their relationship with the Most High God [6], their not eating the food of life etc [7].

Adapa's role in Sumerian tradition as the founding sage who brought civilization to Sumeria (Mesopotamia) in the time of the first permanent settlement in the plains fits nicely with our picture of the archeological history of that country. Adapa was not the very first human; he was the first known human with whom the Most High God was associated. And this is what was important to the author of the Genesis narrative who tells about God's involvement in the history of mankind. Once we recognize that Adam-Adapa , in fact, is a well-known figure of ancient history, who was believed to have lived at the time when civilization started in the plains of Mesopotamia about six thousand years ago, it is immediately clear that it is very unlikely that the Biblical author would have presented him in conflict with this age-old tradition as being the very first human. This is another reason why we should not interpret the garden story such that Adam is made into the very first human created.

But if Adam and Eve were not created as the first human pair, what do we make of verses in the Bible which mention that God "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26)? Does not this clearly state that all humans on all the earth descended from Adam and Eve? Such statements in the Bible were clearly never intended to be understood in a scientific way as making an absolute statement of truth (in the pre-scientific age such statements were typically regarded as observational statements). Rather, it refers to an obvious truth, namely that according to the genealogies in Genesis 4, 5 and 10 the later peoples of the Middle East were considered descendants of Adam and Eve or of Noah and his wife. But this does not mean that these peoples had no other possible forefathers or that distant nations like the Chinese, the American Indians and many other peoples around the world were all descended from them (these are after all not mentioned in those lists).

A historical account?

We can now consider the question: Should we regard the garden story as historical? To explore this, we should first discuss the various images in the garden story [8]. In this essay I will only discuss the images used to depict creation; other images, like the talking serpent, the tree in the middle of the garden, the forbidden fruit etc. will be discussed in other essays in this series. The first such image is where God made man from the dust of the earth. This is a very old Middle Eastern image in which God as creator is envisioned as a potter who made man from the soil. The word 'adam also means "soil". This obviously does not imply that humans are physically made from ground; rather, it is only the image of the potter which is used to metaphorically describe the divine act of creation (see also Is. 64:8 etc).

The other creation image is more complex and requires a more detailed discussion. We read that Eve was made from Adam's rib. Now, this is also taken from a very well-known ancient image. In the story of the Sumerian god Enki's creation of eight other gods and goddesses from his own body, these gods and goddesses were named after various parts of his body in a play of words. One of these was a virgin goddess called Ninti, whose name means "lady rib" but play on the words "lady life". Now this is exactly what we find in the garden story in the Book of Genesis: Eve is taken from the rib of Adam and her name is later said to mean "life" (Gen. 3:20). The probable reason why the author used and reworked this story to introduce Eve was that he wanted to accentuate that she was in the closest sense one with Adam, just as the mentioned gods and goddesses were in the closest possible sense associated with their parent god. The story was used purely as a metaphoric image; it seems to me extremely unlikely that the author took this story which he invented as literally true.

Once we understand these creation images, we also see that the author used them to provide some background for the first humans that he introduced in his narrative. But does this mean that we should take the garden story as a whole also as a mere metaphoric tale? Not necessarily. Although it is certainly true that the story wants to convey an important truth (or truths: not only about the Fall, but also about work and rest etc.) and even use the underlying metaphor of God as potter, there is good reason to assume that the author wanted to present Adam as a real historical figure from the distant past. As mentioned before, Adam-Adapa was considered in the ancient Middle-East as the first known human who brought civilization to Mesopotamia about six thousand years ago and both Sumerians and Semites probably viewed him as a forefather. This allowed the author to place him within the historical framework of patriarchal history.

We should, however, remember that Eve does not appear in the Sumerian equivalent of the story. Did the author invent her? It is possible that he used a variation of the story in which she was already present. We do not know in what form the story was transmitted in Semitic circles and (as I argued elsewhere [5]) later within the midst of the Abrahamic family. It was a very old legend and it is not strange for such legends to incorporate all sorts of mythical and metaphorical elements. But the presence of these do not negate the legendary aspect of the story which could very well have been grounded in some historical event. This gives some support to the view that the story could in some sense be considered historical. But at the end of the day, it is clearly impossible to confirm or deny the historicity of the garden story and those who take it as historical typically do so because they consider it as a divinely inspired story which, given its place at the beginning of the patriarchal lineage, should be considered as historical.

The reason why this story was important to the author could not be divorced from the broader narrative found in the Book of Genesis, which tells the story of God's involvement with mankind since their creation to the time of Abraham and beyond. In this framework the story of Adam and Eve (as does its equivalent, the story of Adapa) is of special importance because it represents the oldest known story about God's involvement with mankind. This involvement included an awareness of mankind's fallenness which stands central in their relationship with God. New Testament authors like St Paul, who takes Adam as a historical person, also accentuated this aspect of the garden story [9]. 

When we accept that Adam and Eve were not the very first humans on earth, then we should carefully consider what the Fall as historical event means. Such an event in the garden would have excluded all other humans living at that time outside the garden. This problem, however, could be solved if we see Adam's disobedience as the occasion when the fallen human condition was first revealed (I plan to discuss this in more detail later on in this series on the Book of Genesis). Then the great truth presented in the story is (even for those Christians would prefer not to take it as a particular event) the fallen human condition which plays such an important role in our relationship with God. For most Christians the story of Adam and Eve reveals this fallenness which stands central in the salvation that Jesus Christ achieved on the cross.

Conclusion

The garden story stands at the beginning of the author of the Book of Genesis's narrative about God's early relationship with humans. It tells about the first known human(s) who had a relationship with the Most High God. There is no reason to assume as the simple traditional interpretation does – in direct contrast with all evidence that mankind is much, much older than this – that Adam and Eve are presented in this story as the very first humans on earth. We must distinguish the creation of humans in general as described in the creation story (Gen. 1: 26-29) from these later events in the garden. Regarding the two images of creation (of Adam and Eve) that the author uses in the garden story, we should not consider these as referring to actual acts of creation but merely as giving some background as to the nature of the characters when he introduces them in his narrative.

The basic elements of the story of Adam and Eve are very old and goes back to the earliest strata of Sumerian tradition. We do not know precisely in which form the story was known to the author, but some of the elements of the story were definitely present, namely the name of the main character (Adam-Adapa), the relationship between this early human and the Most High God as well as his failure to eat of the food of life. The author reworked the story, using some well-known Sumerian creation motifs, and accentuated the act of disobedience which is associated with the Fall. Although there is no possible way that we can ever confirm or deny that this event really happened, the author most likely viewed Adam and Eve as historical personages and the Fall as a real event which he then situated at the beginning of the lineage and story of the Abrahamic family. This interpretation of the story secures the integrity of the Biblical text and is at the same time in agreement with our current archeological, historical and scientific understanding of the past.

[1] Biblical Criticism accepts that two "creation stories" are given, representing two of the hypothetical sources that were used for the Pentateuch. In this essay I accentuate the unity of the narrative as written by the same author. I argue instead that we should take these as a creation story and a garden story respectively.
[2] On the internet: http://www.reasons.org/articles/when-did-mitochondrial-eve-and-y-chromosomal-adam-live.
[3] Giberson, K.W. & Collins, F. S. 2011. The Language of Science and Faith. London: SPCK.
[4] Or Gen. 3:17. In Gen. 5:1-2 Adam and 'adam are also be distinguished: "This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them, and called their name 'adam, in the day when they were created." This gives some background for Adam, who was of the human species ('adam) which was created during the sixth period of creation.
[5] I discuss the ancient Sumerians in part 1 of the series. For a detailed discussion of the agreement between the ancient history in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 2-11) and the ancient Sumerian sources, see Mc Loud, W. 2012. Op soek na Abraham en sy God. Kaapstad: Griffel.
[6] In my book I argue that the Most High God of Sumerian tradition (called An) corresponds with the Most High God (El-Elyon) in the Hebrew tradition. Both were known as the father of the gods in the council of the gods (see for example Ps. 82:6). The difference between the names/words An and El can be seen as equivalent to God and Dieu (God in French)
[7] As one expects of such stories which go back to the same original tradition, but which were orally transmitted over thousands of years in different environments, there are also some differences. Eve, for example, does not have an equivalent in the Adapa story. Why would one prefer the Biblical version? I argue in my book Abraham en sy God (2012) that there are reasons to believe that the Semitic version is more reliable. This is partly due to the techniques used in the Semitic oral tradition (reference to these techniques and examples of such transmission are found in the Akkadian tradition). Christians could prefer the Biblical version because they believe in the divine inspiration of the text.
[8] A general problem for the modern reader of ancient texts, is what is a metaphor and what is intended to be read literally are not as clearly distinguished as in later times. This confuses the modern reader to take everything either as metaphorical or as literal. Gregory Shusman, who discusses the religious texts of various ancient civilizations, mentions this as a general problem with such ancient texts in his Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations, p4 (London: Continuum; 2009).
[9] Considering Adam and Eve as historical personages does not negate their archetypal character as representing the ancient ancestral pair or the Fall as an archetypal event, i.e. as a revelation of our fallen (disobedient) nature. Eve as "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20) is such an archetypal depiction. This can obviously not be taken as really referring to "all living" but only to humans. Although she is presented in the Book Genesis as the mother of all those mentioned in the lists of genealogies, she is here depicted as an archetypal mother figure of humanity. Adam is also depicted in such fashion. We read in reference to Gen. 2:7 (discussed above): "The first man Adam was made a living soul" (1 Cor 15:45). This takes Adam, the first "known" man, as the archetypal human.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. Posted on www.wmcloud.blogspot.com
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Op soek na Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist (PhD in Physics). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology. 

On evolution: Darwin's Doubt

The Book of Genesis, Intro: The Book of Genesis: The Sumerian Hypothesis
The Book of Genesis, part 1: Does the creation narrative of Genesis 1 support the idea of a young earth?  
The Book of Genesis, part 3: The Garden of Eden: was it a real place?
The Book of Genesis, part 4: The Serpent of Paradise
The Book of Genesis, part 5: Reconsidering the Fall
The Book of Genesis, part 6: The origins of Satan: the ancient worldview
The Book of Genesis, part 7: Who is Elohim?

Also: A critique of Biblical Criticism as a scholarly discipline.  

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