This is a revised entry from over five years ago. I re-post it to solicit the comments of the Opponent and anyone else who can provide some enlightenment. I am not a theologian, but theology is far too important to be left to professional theologians.
An archeologist who claimed to have uncovered the site of Plato's Cave would be dismissed as either a prankster or a lunatic. There never was any such cave as is described in the magnificent Book VII of Plato's Republic. And there never were any such cave-dwellers or goings-on as the ones described in Plato's story. And yet this, the most famous allegory in the history of philosophy, gives us the truth about the human condition. It lays bare the human predicament in which shadow is taken for substance, and substance for shadow, the truth-teller for a deceiver, and the deceiver for a truth-teller.
The reader may have guessed where I am going with this. If the allegory of the Cave delivers the truth about the human predicament despite its falsity when taken literally as an historical narrative, the same could be true for the stories in the Bible. No reasonable person nowadays could take Genesis as reporting historical facts. To take but one example, at Genesis 3, 8 we read that Adam and Eve, after having tasted of the forbidden fruit, "heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden . . . ." Taken literally, this implies that God has feet. But if he has feet was he shod on that day or not? If shod, what was his shoe size? 10 1/2? Obviously, nothing can have feet without having feet of a determinate size! And given that the original parents heard God stomping around, then he had to be fairly large: if God were the size of a flea, he wouldn't have made any noise. If God were a physical being, why couldn't he be the size of a flea or a microbe? The answer to these absurdities is the double-barreled denial that God is a physical being and that Genesis is an historical account. I could give further examples. (And you hope I won't.)
This is why the deliverances of evolutionary biology do not refute the Fall. (I grant that said deliverances refute some doctrines of the Fall, those doctrines that posit an original pair of humans, without animal progenitors, from whom the whole human race is descended.) Indeed, it is quite unintelligent to think that the Fall can be refuted from biology. It would as stupid as to think that the truths about the human condition that are expressed in Plato's famous allegory can be negated or disconfirmed by the failure of archeologists to locate the site of Plato's Cave, or by any physical proof that a structure like that of Plato's Cave is nomologically impossible.
And yet wasn't that what Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist, was quoted as maintaining?
I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness.
I suppose this shows that the wages of scientism are (topical) stupidity.
1. I said that the Allegory of the Cave "gives us the truth about the human condition." Suppose you disagree. Suppose you think the story provides no insight into the human condition. My point goes through nonetheless. The point is that the truth or falsity of the story is unaffected by empirical discoveries and nondiscoveries. Anthropological and archeological investigations are simply irrelevant to the assessment of the claims being made in the allegory. That, I hope, is perfectly obvious.
2. There is another point that I thought of making but did not because it struck me as too obvious, namely, that the Allegory of the Cave is clearly an allegory, and is indeed explicitly presented as such in Chapter VII of the Republic (cf. 514a et passim), whereas the Genesis account is neither clearly an allegory, nor explicitly presented in the text as one. But that too is irrelevant to my main point. The point is that biological, anthropological, and geological investigations are simply irrelevant for the evaluation of what Genesis discloses or purports to disclose about the human condition. For example, at Gen 1, 26 we are told that God made man in his image and likeness. That means: Man is a spiritual being. (See my post Imago Dei) Obviously, that proposition can neither be established nor refuted by any empirical investigation. The sciences of matter cannot be expected to disclose any truths about spirit. And if, standing firm on the natural sciences, you deny that there is anything other than matter, then you fall into the easily-refuted mistake of scientism. Furthermore, Genesis is simply incoherent if taken as presenting facts about history or facts about cosmology and physical cosmogenesis. Not only is it incoherent; it is contradicted by what we know from the physical sciences. Clearly, in any conflict between the Bible and natural science, the Bible will lose.
The upshot is that the point I am making about Genesis cannot be refuted by adducing the obvious difference between a piece of writing that presents itself as an allegory and a piece of writing that does not. Plato's intention was to write an allegory. The authors of Genesis presumably did not have the intention of writing an allegory. But that is irrelevant to the question whether the stories can be taken as reporting historical and physical facts. It is obvious that Plato's story cannot be so taken. It is less obvious, but nonetheless true, that the Genesis story cannot be so taken. For if you take it as historical reportage, then it is mostly false or incoherent, and you miss what is important: the spiritual, not the physical, meaning.
The Opponent writes:
I have been telling the Maverick Philosopher here about Benjamin Sommer’s theory of divine fluidity, which is one solution to the problem of anthropomorphic language in the Hebrew Bible. The problem is not just Genesis 1:26 (‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’) but also Genesis 3:8 ‘They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’. Can God be a man with feet who walks around the garden leaving footprints? As opposed to being a pure spirit? The anthropomorphic conception is, in Maverick’s opinion ‘a hopeless reading of Genesis’, and makes it out to be garbage. ‘You can’t possibly believe that God has feet’.
Yet Benjamin Sommer, Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary, proposes such a literal and anthropomorphic interpretation. As he argues (The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel), if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so? The Bible contains a wide variety of texts in different genres, but there is no hint of this, the closest being the statement ofDeuteronomy 4.15 that the people did not see any form when the Ten Commandments were revealed at Sinai.
My response is as follows.
The Opponent, following Sommer, asks: " if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?" This rhetorical question is grammatically interrogative but logically declarative: it amounts to the declaration that the authors did intend their crudely anthropomorphic language to be taken literally because they didn't say otherwise. This declaration, in turn, is a telescoped argument:
The authors did not say that their language was to be taken figuratively;
Their language is to be taken literally.
The argument, however, is plainly a non sequitur. It therefore gives me no reason to change my view.
Besides, it is preposterous to suppose that the creator of the the physical universe, "the heavens and the earth," is a proper part of the physical universe. Since that is impossible, no intelligent reading of Genesis can take the creator of the universe to be a bit of its fauna. Presumably, God gave us the intelligence to read what is obviously figurative as figurative.
And if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across. For that to occur, the authors needn't be terribly bright or apprised of the variety of literary tropes. What does it matter what the authors intended? Suppose they intended talk of man being made in the divine image and likeness to be construed in some crassly materialistic way. Then they failed to grasp the profound spiritual truth that they, willy nilly (nolens volens), were conveying.
3. The mistake of those who think that biology refutes the Fall is the mirror-image of those benighted fundamentalists and literalists who think that the Fall 'stands or falls' with the historical accuracy of tales about original parents, trees, serpents, etc. The opposing groups are made for each other. The scientistic atheist biologist attacks a fundamentalist straw man while the benighted fundamentalist knocks himself out propping up his straw man. Go at it, boys! The spectacle is entertaining but not edifying.