As I mentioned a couple days ago I have begun teaching through the biblical canon at my church on Sundays (see “Introducing the Hebrew Scriptures”). This weekend I will be teaching on the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2. I don’t know that the conversation will move toward how this story relates to the doctrines of modern science regarding evolution, anthropology, and so forth, but it could. So how do you handle teaching this story in a post Darwin world?
(1) Do you ignore modern science in favor of the biblical text?
This can come across as a sort of naive fundamentalism. On the other hand, it would allow the class to focus on the literary/theological message without being distracted. I fear that is modern science is ignore completely it could come across as disingenuous. On the other hand, I don’t want to be forced into giving a lesson on matters that I am unqualified to address.
(2) Do you explain the text with reference to modern science?
While this avoids the problems of appearing to be a fundamentalist or someone who is disingenuous about the real tensions that exist it could distract from the literary/theological message and it could lead me into discussing matters that I am not qualified to address.
So how would you approach it? Remember, I teach at an evangelical church and most evangelicals are suspicious of evolution (a suspicion that I don’t share, but I want to be sensitive).
Great questions! I am almost certain I don’t have the answer, but I had a university professor at SJSU (who was also a Christian) discussed the different theories and beliefs. The findings of Lucy in Africa (Olduvia Gorge – pretty sure I spelled that wrong) and other discoveries in a way supports an “evolution” of some kind and “social adaptation”. Did God create man to acclimate to his/her environments? Did God create mankind through the means of evolution (another theory)? I don’t know, but I think focusing on the message and raising these questions as legitimate concerns/questions asked by Biblical and Secular scholars is great. I have even heard that some scholars feel that the Genesis narrative is the birth of Judaism (you most certainly are familiar with this view) and that narratives discussed, the flood specifically, is similar to the Epic of Gilgamesh which predates the OT story. I guess I am saying, I don’t know. That is a tough one considering your audience! Good luck.
When I’ve taught Genesis to a small group in my local church and then to conservative evangelical pastors in Africa, I typically summarise the 5 main perspectives:
1. Six-Day Creationism (young-earth)
2. Progressive Creationism (old-earth)
3. Theistic Evolution (creationary-evolutionists)
4. Deistic Evolution
5. Non-teleological Evolution (agnostic/atheistic)
I mention that the first 3 are acceptable within evangelicalism, #4 within certain mainline liberal Christian circles, and #5 is non-Christian. I give resources that can introduce #3 (Enns, BioLogos, Lamoureux, Barry & Northcott), since it is the hardest for many evangelicals to consider, though I should list resources for #’s 1 & 2 as well.
I then follow up with these final points that I hold to personally:
• True science stands in agreement with God and all his truth.
• We must allow God’s good general (or natural) revelation (creation and the sciences) to inform us.
• We must not approach Scripture as if it were given to inform us about the details of science.
• The point of Gen 1 is not to prove the specifics of HOW or HOW LONG it took God to create.
• We must not try and make modern day science fit into an ancient near eastern account of origins. God used human beings of that day to communicate his revelation and truth.
• The creation account is recorded to reveal to us things of greater import: WHO created, the creative power and sovereignty of our God, that male and female have been created in God’s image, etc, etc.
Other points usually come up in discussing varying facets of Gen 1-3. It usually comes out that I don’t see the early chapters of Genesis as literal factual history, but a storied account given to communicate God’s revelation-truth. I might quote Peter Enns’ definition of myth: ‘…[myth] is an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?’ (Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, p40)
Hope that helps.
When I did Genesis as a Bible study, because we only had two sessions on Gen 1-3, I took a narrative approach, placing it in the context of the rest of the book of genesis. I said right up front that the discussion of how Gen 1-3 fits with our modern understanding of the universe was outside the scope of this study. The purpose, I said, was to see how it would fit with the rest of Genesis, in particular, the focus was on what does this say about the character of God and what does the entire narrative of Genesis tell us about God’s grace and love towards humanity.
One other final thought that came to me. About 6 weeks ago, I took 2 Sunday mornings to look at God’s original intention from the beginning. I looked at the perspective of, ‘In the beginning….God built a temple.’ And how that temple was to be filled with his glory, his priests-image bearers were to be ruling stewards on his behalf, take care of the temple, etc. I felt it communicated well God’s original intention and people didn’t feel that I was trying to re-interpret Genesis as non-literal and disregard anything important that a literalist might think is of ultimate importance (YEC, literal Adam-Eve, etc).
I don’t think you can ignore science but don’t let the discussion get out of hand, just let people know they have more than one option. Don’t let YECs talk about science, they don’t know anything about it. Don’t get into Rom.5:12ff or you’ll never get back to Gen. If you want to become more familiar with evolution as it relates to the Bible read “Evolutionary Creation” by Denis Lamoureux. He teaches a class at the University of Alberta on science and religion.
While I would enjoy teaching on how Genesis 1-2 compares to other ANE texts I have one hour and I do think it would be a little distracting for my audience.
Good principles. I do aim to go the direction of cosmic temple w. Genesis 1. Genesis 2 could be a little more quirky, but I do think it provides an interesting introduction to discussing human identity and gender relations.
That may be the approach I take with the option to talk to me after class if there are further Q’s on matters related to science.
Yes, I also take time in Gen 2 to look at the fleshing out of the great commission of Gen 1:26-28, stewardship of the earth (take care of the garden), and mutual-shared gender roles.
If you’re interested, I could send you a PPT have on Genesis that I used in a small group bible study. I do not make reference to modern science, but assimilate insights from Walton’s book as my own Hebrew prof (who argues very convincingly for the Egyptian background to Genesis 1).
Also, in an interesting turn of events, though trained for teaching Bible, I’ve been teaching high school biology for the past year at a private Christian school. I have an undergrad degree in science and dug into philosophy of science through seminary as well as reading folks like Dawkins and Coyne.
As I read it, there is actually very little solid scientific evidence that undermines the biblical teaching on creation (not the 6 days deal, but the fact that God created at a point in time in the past). There is no (as in zero) scientific evidence that life evolved from asexual to sexual reproduction, nor is the concrete evidence that necessitates all life has a common ancestor (rather than a common source). The solid scientific evidence only really establishes that life evolves and changes over time, meaning that God couldn’t have created all the known species at a time in the past. It is however compatible with the idea that God created animals in base categories, and through his providence (the theological perspective) and natural selection (the scientific perspective) life has evolved in the multiplicity of species we see today.
The problem, I think for many evangelicals is they really don’t understand the science and just naively accept whatever they’re told instead of reading the scientific sources for themselves and thinking critically about the issues.
but assimilate insights from Walton’s book as my own Hebrew prof (who argues very convincingly for the Egyptian background to Genesis 1
Holy cow, Batman! A DTS professor espousing that??!!
I like your commenting!
I’d like to see that PPT. My email is email@example.com. I do want to do more reading in the sciences (a field where I am very weak). I intend on reading Enns and Collins books on Adam this year as well to get the perspective of two biblical scholars who differ on the historical Adam question.
Scott: Never underestimate the forward thinking of the DTS Old Testament department. Most of my radical ideas about the Bible came from my 5 semesters of Hebrew.
Brian: I’ll send it your way. Its a bit dated (I made it in 2009) and I might change some if it now. You could also check my reviews on Enns and Collins. According to Amazon at least (for whatever that’s worth) I’ve got the best critical review of Enns.
One possible approach would be to focus on what the Genesis 1 does and does not say, such as:
o Genesis One does not specify an age for the Earth or an age for the Universe.
o Genesis One does say that there was a beginning to the Universe and planet Earth.
o Genesis One does say that God created the heavens and the Earth.
o Genesis One does say that planet Earth was not always as it is now; changes have occurred.
o Genesis One does say that God acted to bring the present condition of the Earth into being.
o Genesis One does not say that the creative times (yom) are 24 hours in duration.
o Genesis One does not say that the creative times (yom) followed immediately one after another.
o Genesis One does not specify the total interval of time required for their completion.
o Genesis One does not say that the commands of God were fulfilled immediately, like a bolt of lightening.
o Genesis One does not indicate the specific means and steps by which the creative actions were brought to completion.
o Genesis One does say that God acted and issued commands for changes in the physical environment.
o Genesis One does say that God commanded the land to bring forth plants.
o Genesis One does not mention algae, diatoms, or any microscopic plant or creature.
o Genesis One does not categorize “life” in agreement with the modern categorization of “life.”
o Genesis One does not say when fish appeared or how they were brought into being.
o Genesis One does say that God commanded the appearance of air-breathing creatures in the water.
o Genesis One does say that God commanded and created air-breathing animals of the land.
o Genesis One does say that God created Adam (mankind).
This is from Rodney Whitefield’s “Reading Genesis One: Comparing Biblical Hebrew with English Translations” (San Jose: R. Whitefield Publisher, 2003), p. 137.
I think a hundred years from now Christians will be wondering, ‘what was all that controversy about?’–following the ideas of rodney whitefield’s list of what actually IS and IS NOT said in Genesis. What Genesis teaches us is that God created. Trying to harmonize the ‘how’ with the conjectures of science, is kind of just noise–especially at points when there is really very little conflict except for a lack of comprehension of process. ‘Big bang’ and ‘God spoke,’ really are not opposed. In fact, they might be the same thing.
Right-on, Sarah!! Unfortunately, it probably will take about a hundred years.
I hope your right! Unfortunately we are positioned in a place in time where the debate is quite intense and even divisive.
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