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"We must somehow," he writes, "make Genesis 2 say something other than what the text very plainly appears to say, not because we are really concerned with listening to the story on its own terms as a theological narrative but because we have a prior commitment to an uncompromising and thorough modernist understanding of what counts as 'truth,' so that all other textual questions must now be subordinated to the task of producing absolute scientific and chronological harmony—no matter what the texts say." (65)

Osborn goes further. "What we witness in fundamentalist communities and individuals is the move from total confidence in one's ability to understand the 'literal' truth of Scripture to relentless suspicion and even demonization of those who read the sacred text in other ways.... Authentic dialogue, in the sense of an open-ended, mutually risky and non-dogmatic search for greater understanding, cannot be permitted, since this would imply that there are legitimate questions to be asked....The spirit of censure and craving for communal purification is ultimately what makes fundamentalist readings of Genesis.... fundamentalist as opposed to merely literal." (78-79)

What About Animal Suffering?

It seems obvious that Osborn bears the wounds of some intense battles. Some evangelicals may be surprised to learn that the Seventh Day Adventist church is actually the fountain from which young-earth creationism and its biblical interpretations spring, and that Adventism still claims some of its most formidable champions. In the small and sometimes ingrown world of Adventism, these issues may be even more contentious than in broader evangelicalism.

These battles over biblical interpretation are not the whole book; Osborn is extremely concerned about animal suffering. If animal death and suffering are not part of God's good creation, but came through Adam's sin, that hardly solves the question of how a good God could permit such suffering. In fact, it makes the problem worse. "The Creator is conceived of as a divinity who consigns countless morally innocent creatures from a state of natural bliss to one of suffering and death without any ability to comprehend the meaning of their transformation and for no redemptive purpose as far as the animals themselves are concerned." (135) Why would he hurt so many trillions of animals for something humanity did?

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Reading Genesis, Red in Tooth and Claw