Howard Pilgrim made this comment recently (on a post below) which is worth unpacking a bit, partly because he offers a challenge for 'conservative' exegesis:
"That's good, but I want to pick you up on this clause - "in the end, the creationist interpretation will constitute valid exegesis to the extent to which creation science is valid." The physical sciences can't determine valid exegesis. Imagine for instance that the creationists' dreams came true and geophysicists began to favour a really really short timespan for the earth's prehistory. Would this make it any more probable that the original meaning of Genesis 1 included an assertion about that prehistory? Surely meaning can only be determined by examining the text within its original literary context.
What I mean is this: if you and I disagree about whether a text asserts proposition X, then an investigation into whether X is in fact true is irrelevant to our argument. We can only be open to the true meaning of a text when we embrace the possibility that it may assert something false/unworthy/or irrelevant to our present concerns.
Question A = What is the text saying?
Question B = Is what it says true/important/worthy etc?
These are two distinct questions, and distinguishing them is the starting point for all literary criticism (Thank you John Barton!).
Or is this distinction invalid within biblical studies? If not within biblical studies per. se., then maybe within the hermeneutics of faith. I think this is a defining issue for conservatives, and needs to be explored at length."
Some brief comments:
(a) creationist interpretation of Genesis 1: this makes a particular claim, through exegesis, that creation occurred in recent history, within one week, and Adam and Eve are direct ancestors of all human beings. These claims, I am suggesting, are theoretically provable by science (however unlikely) and thus the validity of interpretation on this point could be validated by science. (Indeed creationists think it is validated by the science they have done). Creationist interpretation also makes other claims that Jews and Christians make such as 'creation is good' and 'God is the creator' which are not validated by science.
(b) does it matter, if a text asserts a proposition X, whether X is true or not? It may do. I am not sure that a prior position that it does not matter is helpful. More helpful would be taking each such text on a case by case basis. Jonah asserts that a man was swallowed by a fish and ejected alive after three days. Does it matter whether this actually happened or not? I understand many scholars to agree that it does not matter, there is important truth in Jonah whether it is a fable or history. Each gospel asserts that a man was crucified, buried and raised to life again after three days. Does it matter whether this actually happened or not? I recognise that many scholars do not think it matters; but quite a few, along with a large majority of non-scholarly Christians think it does matter!
I need to stop there for today.