I have spent most my life wrestling with what it means to be a Christian, to think as a Christian, to live as a Christian. In fact, when I committed myself to Christ as a teenager I began asking difficult questions right away. I told myself that if Christianity truthfully describes the world around me then I better take it serious. As you may know this has made me a perpetual student, visiting and revisiting various subjects, often blogging about them!
I asked myself, “What are the ten most difficult doctrinal/theological subjects that contemporary Christians must address?” This is the list I’ve compiled:
(1) The “ontology” of Scripture:
It seems that many of the subsequent controversies are influenced by how one addresses this one. There has been intensified debate in evangelical circles over the meaning of Scripture. I think it has impacted even broader circles though. Words like “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” and “authority” are enough to divide churches and academic institutions.
(2) The historical Jesus in relation to creedal Christology:
While historical Jesus research seems to be waning in some circles there remains a tension between talking about Jesus of Nazareth who walked this earth in the first century and Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity who is worshiped every Sunday and exalted in the language of the creeds. One area that will continue to be hotly debated is whether or not Jesus talked about himself in ways that indicated he thought of himself as one with God in a meaningful way.
(3) Christian/Muslim relations:
Since both Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions there has been intensified discussion over whether or not the Allah of Islam is the same the God of Christianity. Of course, there are important differences, especially Christianity’s language regarding God as Trinity and Jesus’ relation to the one God. As the two largest religions in the world the relationship between Christians and Muslims has serious geopolitical implications.
(4) The “historical” Adam and Eve:
Modern science does not seem to leave much room for a historical “first couple” in Adam and Eve. Much of Scripture and Christian theology is built on the assumption that humanity shares a single origin. At this stage it is a difficult bridge to build between these two descriptions of human origins. Maybe this will change in the future, but at this point there seems to be quite a disconnect.
(5) Political allegiance and ecclesiastical unity:
I don’t know how this goes elsewhere, but our election season can be a nasty time for Christian unity. Often pastors preach overt sermons supporting particular political ideologies or sometimes their views leak into their sermons. People may begin campaigning for a particular party in such a way that it causes friction with Christians who support other parties or candidates. Even more discouraging is the way politicians adopt the rhetoric of Christianity in order to win votes.
(6) Race/ethnicity and ecclesiastical unity:
Sadly, there is an old truism that says that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week in the United States. This seems to remain true. While the church should lead in racial reconciliation we are often on the other side. Other contemporary issues like immigration law have compounded the problem. There remains to be seen an effort by most white Christians to listed to minority Christians on a host of issues. Often “diversity” has been used as a byword for assimilating others into the majority culture. We have a lot of work to do here.
(7) Gender roles and equality:
While I am concerned about women having the freedom to serve in their church according to their calling this is just the tip of the iceberg. As we’ve seen in recent debates over contraceptives there is a great divide between many forms of conservative Christianity and women’s rights movements. While we could argue that abortion rights are a distinct matter I think it is fair to say that you can’t separate that subject from this one.
(8) Homosexuality and Christian ethics:
Homosexuals have been abused and mistreated in our society for a long time, even by Christians. At the juncture the treatment of homosexuals has become a civil rights debate. Matters related to unions and state approved marriage weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of people on both sides of the debate, many being Christians. The sociological matters are one thing, but the exegesis of various biblical texts and their theological application is being rethought and debated again as well. We’ve seen the matter split the Episcopalian Church, the ELCA, the PC USA, and it appears to be a contentious issue that no one will be able to escape, even if there is little consensus on how to move forward in addressing it.
(9) Creation, eschatology, and Christian ethics:
Global climate change seems to be a subject upon which many scientists agree and many Christians are confused, kind of like evolution. This likely has a lot to do with the wishy-washy status of Christian eschatology. The “Left Behind” series ruined Christian eschatology at the popular level for many evangelicals and this has impacted how they engage “creation care.” If the human contribution to climate change is what many scientist say it is, then this is an ethical concern, even if you believe the planet will eventually be destroyed people still live on it now.
(10) Education and the future of the seminary:
This one may be surprising to some, but I think it influences all of the above. We have seen seminaries and Christian liberal arts universities suffer as the cost of education continues to inflate at an astronomical rate in this country. What is not rising is the salaries of pastors, professors, and others who enter vocations for which the seminary trains. Many churches have responded with their own training programs (e.g. Re:Train), but in my opinion these programs are like extended conferences with a homework added. In other words, they are not where near as valuable as seminary training. Yet the fear of indebtedness is a real concern and something to take seriously. How will seminaries respond? How do Christian education institutions continue to train people for service to the church without creating too much debt for their graduates?
Do you agree with this list? Would you add/remove an item? Do you have any thoughts on any of these topics listed?
I think it is a very good list. Possibly I would add under the seminary one, something about the continued struggle of the professional and lay church person. I think especially as the size of churches increase, the role of ‘staff’ that are not ‘pastor’ will increasingly be a tension. I attend a very large church. Most staff are business people that leave their roles in the business world and then some go back and get part time or online seminary instruction but many do not. I am not necessarily advocating for traditional seminary education. But the trend does lead to a different type of church leadership. And frankly, not all of those staff should have or need seminary education. But I think there is a role for other types of training for those non-pastor church staff.
The only one I would add would be Missional Ecumenism (as a friend of mine terms it). There seems to be both a greater willingness to work across traditional denominational lines. But there is also a backlash about what can be done. It is only social action? Can we do more? What does unity mean for the Church as a whole? Are Catholics included in that list? Mainline Protestants? etc. The way we answer who is and isn’t a church affects the way that the church reaches out to non-Christians.
This is a good list to have Christians thinking over, however (and I think you eluded to this in your first point), most of these issues could be rather quickly resolved if all of Christianity would rally around and act on the truths of Scripture. The “ontology” of Scripture I think is the most important issue in your list. If that debate was laid to rest we could begin resolving all our other issues in unity of the Holy Spirit through the words of God. Our posts at Jason Ministries deal with this in another way. We focus on returning the church to its original purpose — true worship. If we can come to understand just what this means and come to know just what true worship looks like, then we can be finally unified and move ahead in Christ living the way we were commanded by Christ to live. 🙂 Good, thought provoking post. 🙂
I like the point about Christian/Muslim relations. That’s a very important issue that many people want to sweep under the rug.
Education/seminary – especially for those who would like to pursue higher education in the fields of Theology/Divinity but not necessarily for a pastoral role.
If I were to add one, it would be Jewish/Christian relations and especially how that Christianity was essentially at its beginning a sect of Judaism. And knowing that, there should be an introspective as a whole body of Believers in what our relationship should be towards Judaism and with Judaism. This should be reflected on especially in the anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism that permeates church history. We have much repentance left to do. Triumphalism still exists. We live in an age where the Holocaust happened, but on the other hand the modern state of Israel was born. This has huge implications especially in our eschatology.
Both of those points are very good. As church structures continue to evolve it will be interesting to see how (or if) seminary training adapts. Likewise, missional ecumenism does feel like murky waters at times.
An agreed upon doctrine of Scripture would be very helpful (though I don’t know how likely that is), but I don’t want to ignore the continued hermeneutical problems. Even when people share a similar idea of what Scripture is they don’t always agree on how to read it.
I did think of adding Jewish/Christian relations to the Muslim/Christian relations since there are similar theological issues involved though less volatile geopolitical concerns.
1) Divine violence seems like a pretty big problem to me, and atonement as a related topic
2) Personal eschatology (i.e. hell and the like)
3) While the free will/predestination thing has been going on for a long time, I think it’s still a pretty relevant topic, especially in light of insights from neurology, etc.
You could argue that all three of these are somewhat related
Those are all very good. I can’t believe I forgot about hell after last year’s Rob Bell fiasco!
I think it is a solid starting point to begin with this list. The title of your list is worth consideration as well; establishing doctrines as difficult goes against some false ideas that Christianity is easy and not too challenging to uphold. I commend your effort to be rigorous with your Christianity and am probed to think about what are difficult issues are in Christianity. I agree that Christian/Muslim relations should be fostered with appreciation for respective groups, and I would say this should extend itself to other religions as well. Another difficult issue I have seen (which can be placed under #2) is the Trinity/Godhead, I find it troubling that in discussion the nature of God, some people are hostile and argumentative; even unruly.
Indeed, the Trinity could be part of #2 or #3.
I think ecclesiology is an issue requiring significantly more attention, especially with the proliferation of para-church organizations and committees. What is the church? Its membership? Polity? Related to this would be various sacramental issues. More robust ecclesiastical associations would help, not hinder many of the current discussions/debates (in my opinion). This is a admittedly a large issue, and it certainly bears on a number of the issues you mention.
I am a frequent reader, but seldom comment. I thoroughly enjoy the material and thoughtfulness I find here.
Indeed, eccesiology is an important matter and it could be argued that several of the topics I suggested as ecclesiological at heart. Thank you for reading and commenting!
Good list – makes you wonder whioch of these wopuld have been in the top ten 20, 50 years ago (whatever happened to divorce?) and which will feature in 20, 50 years time (unless He comes).
I agree with Bill that personal eschatology should feature – perhaps belended into a bigger issue around “what is the Gospel of the Kingdom” – obviously #9 goes some way towards this.
I wonder whether #5 should pull in issues on the relationship of Christians to the State / Empire / Government – which also then incoudes issues of justice and non-violence as well as political partisanship.
A while ago pneumatology / charismata would have made the list, but there seems to be more of a consensus now, albeit one in which different branches of the vine ignore each other on the issue.
I think #1 is the big one, but I would draw it wider to look at epistemology and Christians relationship to t(T)ruth / knowledge – these will be key issues as generations come through for whom post-modern ways of knowing are the norm.
It would be fascinating to see a list from the past. I imagine that as long as there is an internet someone could dig up this list in twenty to fifty years! It will be interesting to see what has changed.
You are right on #5 and we could say that “the Kingdom” has an impact on #9 as you mentioned but also #2 as N.T. Wright seems to be arguing these days.
Surprised anyone could read that littered with typos – mea culpa. (Getting used to this handheld is the best excuse I can muster)
Shouldn’t there be something on the list about the problem of evil/suffering, which is sometimes cited as the No. 1 objection to Christianity, in which case it might behoove Christians to have a better understanding of the issues.
Shouldn’t the issue of God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will also be on the list of things that Christians ought to know why they believe what they believe.
How about something on the nature of divine providence and God’s action in the world?
I think theodicy is an important matter. It is a broad topic. While sovereignty issues are important I didn’t feel like it was a top ten issue.
A couple more issues:
1. Contemporary Forms of Worship. Contemporary forms of worship articulate a particular relationship between the Church and its tradition, between the Church and the surrounding culture, and between the act and the ends of the Church’s worship. In many quarters, the emphasis upon contemporary forms of worship have produced churches segregated by age, within which worship no longer brings together the entire Christian community, but is geared towards particular age brackets. It has attenuated churches’ engagement with the Church’s tradition throughout the ages. It has lost the traditional Christian emphasis upon the psalms as the backbone of worship, and produced a consumerist situation of constant change in accordance with shifting tastes. It has elevated music into a new position of centrality in the life of the Church, and produced an emphasis upon the role of ‘worship leaders’. It seems to me that, given the huge impact that new approaches to worship have had within the life of the Church, serious reflection upon the ends, place, and content of worship must be one of the most pressing theological challenges facing the Church today.
2. The Form of Christian Piety. Related to the previous issue, it seems to me that the question of the character of Christian piety is a crucial one in the current context. As an issue, it plays into questions such as those of gender, for instance. The sentimentalizing, romanticizing, and pacifying of Christian piety, and the celebration of emotional demonstrativeness as the sign of true piety has in many quarters created a form of piety that has an increasingly distant and problematic relationship to biblical forms of piety. It exacerbates the gender issue, as the ideal for piety becomes one favouring the emotional expressive and extroverted woman over all others.
Not sure I agree with the reasoning behind those (alastairjroberts). There has always been a component of expressive Christianity. And I am not sure it really rises to a level of some of the others. I agree gender issues come up a lot, but primarily among a segment of Christianity that is idealizing gender roles. I also think that it is cultural issues of masculinity more than ‘feminizing worship’. If you read some of the worship poetry of the middle ages and earlier, mostly written by men, much of it was very erotic in character. In fact far more than what would be considered appropriate today. I have heard this charge quite often before, but I don’t think it hold true when looking at a broad range of historical Christianity.
I do agree with the consumerism issues of worship and the change of the role of music and minimizing of the sacraments and the problems with culturally specific worship styles that has been exacerbated by diverse cultural styles.
Yes, there has always been expressive Christianity. However, it has never been quite so dominant and pervasive as it is in certain contexts today. The erotic worship poetry of the Middle Ages had its own place. It was generally a matter of private devotion and never became the heart of the Church’s worship and piety, which was generally the psalms. In many respects, we hear rather a lot about such erotic worship poetry, precisely on account of the fact that it was uncharacteristic of much that surrounded it, and is interesting precisely for that reason.
I didn’t use the expression ‘feminizing worship’. Women should be fully engaged in Christian worship and biblical piety includes women. The composers of many of the greatest ‘battle hymns’ or prayers of Israel were women (the song of Miriam, the song of Deborah, the prayer of Hannah, the song of Judith, the Magnificat). The sentimentalization of Christian worship is a serious departure from the tenor of the piety of Scripture, especially the psalms (which would still have provided the heart of the public piety of many of the authors of erotic worship poetry in the Middle Ages). My argument here is not founded upon an idealizing of gender roles. Rather, my argument is that due to particular historical circumstances, a particular type of piety developed in many churches, which elevated a particular cultural model of emotionally expressive and sentimental femininity, identifying it as the great model of piety, marginalizing many men and not a few women in the process.
I can see understand the point about worship. The matter of piety seems a bit vague to me. There seems to be plenty of Christians who value the more emotionally reserved, male generalization.
A good start. Frustrating that gender and equality has to still be on the list.
Brian, I made no male generalization (or female generalization, for that matter). My point was simply that in many (not all) quarters of evangelicalism in particular, an ideal religious subject has evolved, a religious subject who is emotionally expressive, sentimental, romantic, immature, upbeat, extroverted, and overwhelmingly female. This ideal religious subject is coded into the contents and forms of modern worship, church community, ministry, theology, teaching, etc. and there are various historical, theological, and cultural reasons for this ideal religious subject’s existence. In saying that this ideal religious subject is female, I am not saying that every or even most women have these characteristics (or that there aren’t many men who do). Nor am I saying that there aren’t many Christians, both male and female, who don’t value other forms of piety. All I am speaking about is the elevation of a particular cultural form of femininity as the ideal form of spirituality, alienating many other women, and even more so men.
The piety issue isn’t just, or even primarily, about gender. It is about the tenor of the Church’s faith. It is about thinking seriously about the relationship between piety and the public and private realms, the relationship between piety, judgment and blessing, the relationship between piety and sentiment, the relationship between piety, the individual and internal and the communal and external, the relationship between piety and the genders, the relationship between piety, warfare and peace-making, the relationship between piety, feeling, reason, and loyalty, etc. The tenor of Christian piety has evolved dramatically in most quarters over the last few hundred years. It seems to me that much of this evolution has been driven by cultural forces, and that the Church has often not been sufficiently self-conscious about the changes occurring. Close examination of the shifting form and character of the Church’s piety would, I believe, shed considerable light upon many of the issues that you mention above, as it is productive of many of the problems that we currently wrestle with.
Thanks for the clarification.
1) Discoveries over the last 150 years of ancient texts of scripture, Gnostic writings, and early church writings should require that we step back and recalculate our theology. Keep in mind that we didn’t have the fully compiled Greek New Testament, access to the Peshitta Aramaic New Testament, the Nag Hammadi texts, and Didache when the Reformers settled on their theology. Those elements and others need to be added to the equation and then a reevaluation needs to be done.
2) Israelology needs to become a headline issue without people fearing allegations of antisemitism. Do we believe that Christians are the Israel of God and the descendants of Abraham or not?
3) Before there is another round of Moral Majority type Christian activism I think we need to have a long and hard conversation about how integrated the church should be with the state.
4) As all of the notional dates for the rapture come and go, and any reasonable window of a “generation” passes from 1948, we need to step back and reevaluate our eschatology. The credibility of Christ and the Apostles are on the line if things didn’t happen when they said they would.
I would add:
(11) The nature of biblical inspiration and authority.
Great list! I hadn’t seen it before, so you’ve prob. moved on…. I was struck that at least half the items on your list are ones that are addressed in the Bible in the context of obedient Christian living, not as much from a corporate-cultural perspective (ie, treatment of homosexuals, race relations, gender relations, equanimity in the face of differing political convictions, etc.). In other words, while The Church as a whole certainly should communicate regret and apology for its corporate sins, it seems most relevant (to me) that every local church call the individual sinner to repentance and restitution. A racist should be confronted, exhorted to repent, and then to bring forth fruits of such repentance. A chauvinist should be confronted, and called to repentance–including apologies to those whom he has offended, much as a thief should be confronted, enjoined to repent, to restore what he/she has stolen, and then taught to work hard and “steal no more.” It’s not as large-scale, and won’t get any ink or fill any conference halls, but I think such local, individualized approaches might gain a deeper, more lasting effect in our communities.
Another issue that I think is presently critical is for Christians to creatively and honestly consider the particular communication styles in their own particular culture that best lends itself to evangelism–and then to respectfully abandon those methods that simply do not successfully transmit the gospel in as effective a way as they many, say, 50 years ago… The church in downtown Portland has lost traction in the area of evangelism (some have even abandoned the word “evangelism”) because, in my opinion, we clutched a confrontational-political-attractional-event style of delivering the good news, instead of building quality, unconditional friendships with our neighbors–in which the gospel message can be shared as God opens the door for it. Thanks, Brian!
Historical Adam & Eve:
Not sure there is such a huge disconnect with science, per se, as much as there is a disconnect with the evolution narrative. To me, evolution is more of a mythological tale (or “soft science”, if I’m being very kind). Calling it “science” on the same level as thermodynamics, quantum physics or relativity is somewhat insulting.
Using thermodynamics (a “hard” science), the case for the historical Adam and Eve is actually somewhat more tenable. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy increases as time moves forward. Entropy is little more than the level of chaos, or breakdown, inherent in the system. Plainly stated, the more time moves on, the more stuff breaks down. Although there is considerable argument that somehow genetics escapes this scientific law (those arguments coming predominantly from evolutionists), breakdown in genetics over time is a fact and plainly evident.
Genetic information is just one type of information and, over time, we can see with our own eyes that it has broken down. We can see that breakdown most notably in the removal of information from the system. But also, we can see breakdown occurring as chaos when brothers and sisters decide to bear children. The brother and sister have “mistakes” in their DNA. Those mistakes are roughly in the same place in their DNA sequencing, and when they bear children, those mistakes get multiplied.
But let’s rewind the tape. If we do so, we are not simply “teleporting” to another time, we are actually teleporting to another reality—a reality where there is **less** breakdown in the system. There are less genetic mistakes. There is less entropy at work.
If you believe the Genesis story (and I do), then it represents the very beginning…not just of our planet, but the entire universe and system. Entropy is almost zero. Until sin entered Adam and Eve, genetic mistakes were almost zero. They were perfect—not just in the spiritual sense—but in the physical as well (again, until they sinned).
Adam and Even can share identical genetic information (and certainly they did), and it would not matter. Zero entropy. Zero mistakes. But even after the fall, we are talking about mistakes on such a slight level, that even replicating mistakes through incestuous relationships was slight. I think it is noteworthy that incest was not expressly outlawed by the ancient Hebrew people until Leviticus 18, well after many noteworthy figures in Genesis had taken wives of close relation.
Importantly, as people moved in groups and began to isolate themselves from one another (beginning with Cain, no less), that began the process of speciation. When we isolate ourselves from one another and begin bearing children in these small, closed groups, we speed up genetic breakdown. It’s the mistakes in our genetic codes that give us such distinct features: nose types, eye color, skin color, etc. Speciation is just another word for “specialization”, or “distinction”.
Anyway, I’ve dawdled on this subject for way too long. Bottom line: I do not believe the hard sciences contradict the Adam & Eve history…I think those supposed contradictions come from the evolutionary field—wherein they have a vested interest in “disproving” any such Biblical scenario.
The Ontology of Scripture:
In my previous post, I discussed the historical Adam and Eve. By no means am I attempting to be an expert on that matter or this. I am not a scientist; I am not a theologian. I am somewhere in between…I’m a Minister who serves as a Logistician in the US Army, and what free time I have is used discussing these very issues with many of my non-Christian friends. I happened upon this website by accident during such a conversation, and felt inclined to post. But to the topic…
Often we say that the Bible represents the “truth with a capital ‘T’”. That is our way of saying that the Bible is “objective truth”. Divinely inspired. Nigh on dictated.
But there is a great contradiction, no? You cannot be “inspired” and “objective” at the same time, can you? Nor can you be “inspired” while the message is being “dictated”, can you? The fact is, you are a subjective being. You do not know all sides of all matters (or even one matter) and never will. This is the condition of all humans, even the Apostles.
Christians have often sneered at the phrase “subjective truth”. The very word “subjective” leaves us with queasy thoughts of social relativism, and situation ethics. But let me see if I can rescue something very good, from a feeling that is profoundly horrible:
While in Iraq in 2008, I was met by a person who was investigating “damage” to a Kiowa Warrior helicopter. He said something to me that struck a chord: “if you ask 10 people what happened, you’re –bound– to get 10 slightly different answers. That’s actually good. If you get 2 stories that are totally different, you know at least one of those people doesn’t know what they’re talking about. If you get two identical stories, you know they colluded.”
So then, this is an investigator informing me that –variation—is actually a test for truth! And it makes sense, because everyone is subjective. We only see a specific perspective of this reality—not the whole thing. The Apostle Paul admits this in 1 Corinthians 13, “…for now we see in a mirror dimly…” It is not as though we do not see reality (we do), but we see it dimly. We do not see it with perfect clarity, or completely.
We do not have a dictated word (contrary to some thought, which suggests that the scripture being “God-breathed” is dictation), for if it were dictated, then we would have to frankly admit that the One providing the dictation (God), is flawed—since there are mistakes, for instance, in the Gospel accounts. After all, are there two angels at Jesus’ tomb, or one? Did Jesus clear the temple at the end of his ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke), or beginning (John)?
Instead, we have an –inspired—word. God is the object of that inspiration, the things written are the subject. Inside those writings are variations of the story, based upon who the author is, who that author is writing to, the specific purposes of the authors, and their own recollection of facts.
So…is the Bible wrong? Is it flawed? No! That is the beauty of subjective truth. The variations speaks to the human experience. The fact that these stories are extremely similar (but have variance) speaks to the fact that the events they write about DID, IN FACT, TAKE PLACE. None of the authors wrote anything so far out of variance as to be contradictory; none wrote exactly what another author wrote so as to show collusion. Variance –is– the test for truth.
Re your “I think those supposed contradictions come from the evolutionary field—wherein they have a vested interest in “disproving” any such Biblical scenario.”
Then how do you explain all of the Christian evolutionary biologists and paleontologists, such as Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, Denis Lamoureux, Kenneth R. Miller, Simon Conway Morris, Dennis Venema, etc.? None of these Christian men have a vested interest in disproving the Bible. They are merely suggesting that there may be alternative ways to interpret Genesis 1-11.
Good to see you. Its a fair question that you’ve asked: “How do you explain Christians doing something you view as completely contradictory to Christianity?” However, surely you realize that I cannot possibly understand all the logic (or illogic) of these people–or any other Christian whose behavior is contrary to what the Bible teaches.
For instance, I don’t understand how people can read the Bible and then believe “the Bible says not to drink alcohol”. Or, how a Christian can read “there is only one mediator between God and man, and that is the man Christ Jesus” and then confess their sins to a priest as their mediator. Or, how a Christian can read about the sacrifice of infants to Molech for the purposes of gaining a good crop, but support abortion in this country (largely for women to support their careers and school ambitions). Is there logic to these things which might justify those beliefs and actions? Sure. Do I understand it? No.
The fact is, Christians do many things which are contradictory to the Bible’s teachings, and the direct answer to your question is: authority. What is authoritative in a person’s life? “Authoritative” sounds very militaresque at the moment, but to ask “what has currency” in a person’s life asks the same question. Is the Bible the inspired word of God (who controls the very destiny of your soul)? Or is it rather just one of a handful of ancient books to have lucked-out and made it to modern times? Authority, currency, value, importance….these are all variables based on one’s commitment to their beliefs.
Still more directly, while I do think it is perfectly valid to re-think a particular verse of scripture based upon facts that may present themselves, I do not think it is valid to “re-interpret” passages where the word “re-interpret” means “change the entire meaning wholesale”. That’s not re-interpreting, or interpreting at all. That’s erasing the words currently on the page, and replacing them with the ones we want to see and read.
Genesis is the account of special creation, wherein mankind, before he is even created is planned to exist “in the image of God”. I do not speculate that this image is the human form; rather, it is certainly something spiritual. That said, I do take note that no other being in all creation has this identifier. It is unique to mankind alone. The very basic tenets of a purposed creation, and even a special creation for mankind, is antithetical to evolution.
While some would like to merge the two, one is hard pressed to understand why a creator God, who can make reality from nothing by his will alone, would muck around and use an unguided, unpurposed means such as evolution.
And how did you come to the conclusion that just because “one is hard pressed to understand why a creator God, who can make reality from nothing by his will alone, would muck around and use an unguided, unpurposed means such as evolution,” that therefore God did not choose to do it that way anyway?
And how did you come to the conclusion that evolution is unguided and unpurposed?
Paul, good to hear from you again.
I came to the conclusion that God did not use the macro-evolutionary process (first) because the Bible doesn’t seem to even remotely hint that He did. In fact, the Bible’s use of genealogies suggests such a young age for the earth, that there is no time for macro-evolution to unfold. (On genealogies, I’m well aware that the word “begat” in Hebrew does not necessarily mean father-to-son. But it does imply a direct lineage to real people.) Further, if I have a God who can create by his will alone, then does not Occam’s Razor –suggest– that among competing ideas, that we choose the one which makes the fewest assumptions?
I came to the conclusion that evolution is unguided and unpurposed on several grounds: 1. Evolution begins from a Naturalist perspective, which denies the need for Supernatural Causation. 2. From the leading evolutionists I have read, and seen in interviews (who support point 1). And 3. The only “guidance” evolution has is “survival of the fittest”; but it has long been concluded that survival of the fittest is defined by those that reproduce, because in terms of your genetic information, survival –is– reproduction. Therefore, survival of this fittest is really “survival of those who survive”. It’s basically a tautology.
But whether tautology or not, any time the parents (of any species) bear children, the DNA combination for the child is a random sequencing. Even if one of the parents had some sort of evolutionary next-step in his genes, it is a complete dice-roll that the child will receive those genes. Further, it is a complete dice-roll that those genes, if passed to the child, will help it compete for food, resources or a mate. I am not coming to this on my own: this has been stated for years by those in the evolutionary community.
Bottom line: evolution is unguided and unpurposed.
For a view from a Christian paleontologist that evolution is not unguided and not unpurposed, I would suggest that you google “Simon Conway Morris” and read anything by him. His definitive book on convergence in evolution is entitled “Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe,” which is rather lengthy, but shorter descriptions of his views on biological evolution are available on the internet.
For instance. quoting from the abstract of his recent article “Evolution: like any other science it is predictable,” which can be read or downloaded in its entirety free at http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1537/133.abstract :
“Specifically, I argue that far from its myriad of products being fortuitous and accidental, evolution is
remarkably predictable. Thus, I urge a move away from the continuing obsession with Darwinian
mechanisms, which are entirely uncontroversial. Rather, I emphasize why we should seek explanations
for ubiquitous evolutionary convergence, as well as the emergence of complex integrated
systems. At present, evolutionary theory seems to be akin to nineteenth-century physics, blissfully
unaware of the imminent arrival of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Physics had its
Newton, biology its Darwin: evolutionary biology now awaits its Einstein.”
I’m definitely interested in understanding how one can see purpose and guidance from evolution. As you might expect, most of the naturalists and atheists are the people who are grabbing headlines with respect to evolution. This has been the case over the last 60 years, at the very least. In fact, I’d say they’ve pretty much owned the field since Darwin.
That said, I do have doubts. I’m in doubt as to how you can simply re-interpret the opening chapters of Genesis without changing its meaning wholesale. Genesis seems to indicate that man is unique from his inception…and that uniqueness seems to be removed entirely through the evolutionary process. If possible, could you please bridge that gap with a cliff-notes version?
Where are John Walton and Peter Enns when I need them? 🙂
That’s a very good question. I will try to give you a response in a day or two, unless someone else wants to give it a try.
Regarding “re-interpret[ing] the opening chapters of Genesis without changing its meaning wholesale,” the following quotes might help:
The sad irony of so-called ‘creationism’, based on a fundamentalist biblical literalism, is that in fact it abuses the very text that it seeks to respect, missing the point of what is written by mistaking its genre. For example, Genesis 1 does not give a quasi-scientific account of a hectic six days of divine activity, but is something altogether deeper and more interesting than that. It is a theological text whose principal purpose is to assert that nothing exists except through the will of God. Eight times we are told ’And God said let there be . . .’ and that what was divinely spoken then came to pass. [John Polkinghorne, Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010), p. 32]
There is, of course, the practical point that if God had chosen to give us a scientific, rather than theological, account of his creation, then no one would have understood it anyway, and our Bibles would have ended up about ten times their present size. [Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, Monarch Books, 2008, p. 148]
The author of Genesis 1 was not . . . grappling with issues arising out of modern scientific attempts to understand the structure, forces, processes, and dimensions (temporal and spatial) of the physical universe. He was not interested in the issues involved in the modern debate over cosmic and biological evolution. His concerns were exclusively religious. His intent was to proclaim knowledge of the true God as he had manifested himself in his creative works, to proclaim a right understanding of humankind, world, and history that knowledge of the true God entails – and to proclaim the truth concerning these matters in the face of the false religious notions dominant throughout the world of his day. [John H. Stek, “What Says the Scripture?,” in Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation, Howard J. Van Till et al, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, pp. 230]
In the light of this historical context it becomes clearer what Genesis 1 is undertaking and accomplishing: a radical and sweeping affirmation of monotheism vis-à-vis polytheism, syncretism and idolatry. Each day of creation takes on two principle categories of divinity in the pantheons of the day, and declares that these are not gods at all, but creatures—creations of the one true God who is the only one, without a second or third. Each day dismisses an additional cluster of deities, arranged in a cosmological and symmetrical order. On the first day the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. On the second day the gods of sky and sea. On the third day, earth gods and gods of vegetation. On the fourth day, sun, moon and star gods. The fifth and sixth days take away any associations with divinity from the animal kingdom. And finally human existence, too, is emptied of any intrinsic divinity—while at the same time, all human beings, from the greatest to the least, and not just pharaohs, kings and heroes, are granted a divine likeness and mediation. On each day of creation another set of idols is smashed. These, O Israel, are no gods at all—even the great gods and rulers of conquering superpowers. They are the creations of that transcendent One who is not to be confused with any piece of the furniture of the universe of creaturely habitation. The creation is good, it is very good, but it is not divine. . . .The fundamental question at stake, then, could not have been the scientific question of how things achieved their present form and by what processes, nor even the historical question about time periods and chronological order. The issue was idolatry, not science; syncretism, not natural history; theology, not chronology; affirmation of faith in one transcendent God, not creationist or evolutionist theories of origin. Attempting to be loyal to the Bible by turning the creation accounts into a kind of science or history is like trying to be loyal to the teachings of Jesus by arguing that the parables are actual historical events, and only reliable and trustworthy when taken literally as such. [Conrad Hyers, “Biblical Literalism: Constricting the Cosmic Dance,” in Roland Mushat Frye (ed), Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation Science, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983, pp. 100-102]
A lot of writers have said that Genesis 1 is a narrative, but, it so, it is a narrative that is utterly unlike any other narrative in the Bible or any other narrative ever written. For one thing, no human eyewitness was present at creation who could then later compose such a narrative. . . . But if Genesis 1 is a not typical narrative, does this mean that it is not historical? Well, not necessarily. We think that Genesis 1 is historical. But how is it historical? Obviously it is not a descriptive human eyewitness report of creation, but is it a descriptive report that God, the only witness to the act of creation because he was the creator, showed in a vision or a dream to Moses or Adam, or implanted into the reflective thinking of Moses, or revealed face to face by an angel of the Lord to Adam in the garden or to Moses on the mountain of God? These are conceivable possibilities, but we’re not convinced of the validity of any of them, and the Bible doesn’t tell us. Even though Moses may have composed Genesis 1, we just don’t know how God revealed what we find in the creation account. The fact that Genesis 1 is so laden with symbolic numbers, repetitive structure, anthropomorphic and metaphorical elements, allusion to ancient Near Eastern concepts, and the literary convention of seven days leads us to believe that it is not the intent of Genesis 1 to provide the kind of detailed factual information that one would find in a straightforward narrative report, nor the kind of detailed factual information that would be useful in developing a scientific reconstruction of the historical unfolding of the universe. Genesis 1, however, is decidedly historical in the sense that God did make the universe and did make all the various entities within it. God did make the earth. God did make the light. God did make the seas. God did make plants. God did make the sun. God did make the moon. God did make the stars. God did make the sea creatures. God did make the birds. God did make the various land animals. God did make human beings. These were all events that took place in the real world of space and time, not in some idealized mental world. How much more historical can we get than that? It does not matter one iota whether God created all these different things instantaneously or over long periods of time. The point of Genesis 1 is that God made them. Created things did not make themselves, and the “gods” worshipped by all the rest of the world did not make them either. Instead, divine creation happened. Nor does it matter whether the various events are presented in a sequential fashion or not. No matter what the sequence of events may have been, they were all events. They all happened. God brought them about. The world actually did come into existence in response to God’s effective word. The universe came to be as a result of God’s initiative. So, the charge that the day-age, framework or the analogical-day view or vies other than the traditional view undermine the historicity of the creation account is unfounded. These views are just as historical as the traditional view. As regards historicity, they differ from the traditional view only in terms of the mode of presentation of the events of creation. . [Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, InterVarsity Press, 2008, p. 178-179]
If this doesn’t answer your question, please let me know, and I will try again. There’s a lot more material out there. I have book reviews and a Listmania! List on Amazon. Just google “Paul Bruggink” to find my Amazon profile.
Regarding how “that uniqueness seems to be removed entirely through the evolutionary process,” here are a number of ways to look at Adam & Eve and biological evolution:
“There is nothing in science which would say that God could not have begun his interaction with humankind by entering into a relationship with a particular couple. After all, Christians believe that God interacted with a whole nation of people a while later, and then after that with all humankind through the coming of Christ. Science, I think we all know, is silent on these issues.” [Darrel Falk, “On Living in the Middle,” Science & the Sacred, http://biologos.org/blog/on-living-in-the-middle/, June 24, 2010]
“If Adam and Eve were historical figures, could they have been the product of evolutionary biological processes? An older, evangelical commentary on Genesis by Derek Kidner provides a model for how that could have been the case. First, he notes that in Job 10:8-9 God is said to have fashioned Job with his ‘hands’, like a potter shaping clay out of the dust of the ground, even though God obviously did this through the natural process of formation in the womb. Kidner asks why the same potter terminology in Genesis 2:7 could not denote a natural process like evolution.” [Rev. Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf/, 12-17-09, p. 8]
“Uncertainty about the relationship between Homo sapiens and Homo divinus leaves open a number of possible ways of relating the story in Genesis 2 and 3 to the process of evolution. My own speculation is that first self-consciousness, and then God-consciousness, appeared as what some scientists call ‘emergent properties’ as the central nervous system became increasingly complex. Once God-consciousness was possible, God took the initiative to establish a relationship with humans, and humans were faced with the choice of how they were going to live in relationship with their creator. This may have involved an initial pair of humans. Calvin’s concept of Adam and Eve as ‘federal heads’ of the human race may be helpful. Just as our solidarity in Christ, our new ‘federal head’, and his salvation is something spiritual imparted by God, so human solidarity in Adam and his sin might be something spiritual imparted by God after Adam and Eve’s disobedience.” [Jonathan Langley interviewing Ernest Lucas, “Christians and Evolution: five questions answered,” Mission Catalyst, Issue 3, 2012,
“The best harmonious synthesis of the special revelation of the Bible, of the general revelation of human nature that distinguishes between right and wrong and consciously or unconsciously craves God, and of science is the theory of theistic evolution. By “theory,” I mean here “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for the origin of species, especially ‘adam,” not “a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural. By “theistic evolution” I mean that the God of Israel, to bring glory to himself, (1) created all the things that are out of nothing and sustains them; (2) incredibly, against the laws of probability, finely tuned the essential properties of the universe to produce ‘adam, who is capable of reflecting on their origins; (3) within his providence allowed the process of natural selection and of cataclysmic interventions—such as the meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs, enabling mammals to dominate the earth—to produce awe-inspiring creatures, especially ‘adam; (4) by direct creation made ‘adam a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith; (5) allowed ‘adam to freely choose to follow their primitive animal nature and to usurp the rule of God instead of living by faith in God, losing fellowship with their physical and spiritual Creator; (6) and in his mercy chose from fallen ‘adam the Israel of God, whom he regenerated by the Holy Spirit, in connection with their faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, for fellowship with himself.” [Bruce K. Waltke with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007), pp. 202-203]
“Some theistic evolutionists would allow that God’s creation of Adam and Eve may have been exceptional. This allowance for exceptions seems to me wise, not only because of the particularities that the Bible gives in describing the creation of Eve, but also because the transcendence of God implies that he has the power to act exceptionally, and we as creatures do not know beforehand exactly when he may do so.” (p. 253) [Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006)]
“Humans are three-dimensional, body-soul-spirit beings. As to their bodies and souls (in the sense of sentiency), the first humans arose by ‘natural’ evolution from ancestral primate forms. Then, at a specific point in time, God created them in his image, as far as the (human) spirit is concerned. Much later, one of them, Adam, was chosen by God and given the challenge of proclaiming the kingdom too come, just as Abraham was chosen later. Adam failed, and God changed his covenant with him, in accordance with his eternal preknowledge and predetermined redemptive plan of incarnation and cross” (p. 189) [Peter Rüst, “Early Humans, Adam, and Inspiration,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 59, No. 3, September 2007, 182-193]
If this doesn’t answer your question, please let me know, and I will try again. There’s a lot more material out there. I have book reviews and a Listmania! List on Amazon. Just google “Paul Bruggink” to find my Amazon profile.
What follows is my reply to your first email with quotes. I will endeavor to reply to your last email today, so that you are not asked to wait longer than is necessary. Thank you very much for continuing this conversation.
First, I’d like to address Polkinghorne, whom I recognize. While he is correct in that –many– Christians follow creationism based on a sort of Biblical literalism, it is not universally so for all who hold to creationism. I am generally a creationist, but I do understand that the first two verses in Genesis (at the very least) are poetic in nature. I understand that ancient Hebrew poetry is fundamentally different from today’s poetry in its construction. I understand the overlapping narrative of the creation story on the whole. I understand the difference between historical narrative, apocalyptical narrative, parable, diatribe, etc. My assessment of those early chapters of Genesis is one of history, however. Polkinghorne and other authors seem to create a false dichotomy: religious narrative vs. historical narrative. (It is a religious narrative, and therefore cannot speak to historical fact.) But point of fact, all the ancient Hebrews understood Genesis to be historical in nature.
Polkinghorne is spot-on that the principle purpose of Genesis is to assert that nothing exists except through the will of God. But to limit the narrative to that belies any secondary or tertiary purposes that may exist. Indeed, secondary and tertiary purposes do exist; the ancient Hebrews understood those additional purposes, and relied upon them for other teachings.
In response to Alexander, he is also right: had God’s principle purpose been to extol scientific matters, our Bibles would, indeed, be greater than its current size. But again, to suggest that God cannot summarize (or the author cannot summarize) by stating that God created everything “according to its kind” is misinformed. As we are all well aware, the Hebrews very often summarized in order to speed to what they considered the greater point. Critically important, however: just because they summarize, that does not necessarily imply that the summarizations are false, or unimportant.
With respect to Stek, he speaks a lot about truth. His words, “knowledge of the true God”; ”to proclaim a right understanding of humankind, world, and history that knowledge of the true God entails”; “to proclaim the truth concerning these matters”. Of course, he is absolutely right. The author of Genesis was not grappling with Darwin, Neo-darwinists, or any other evolution-minded thinker. But to suggest that the “right understanding of humankind, world, and history” which Genesis propounds upon does not conflict with evolution is another matter entirely. My early question in this discussion was this: how can evolution and Christianity agree without 1. Fundamentally changing the meaning of Genesis wholesale; and 2. With the understanding that evolution was an unpurposed, unguided process. The initial response given to me was that evolution was neither unpurposed nor unguided. I patiently wait for the cliff notes of how that is possible. As of this email, it seems that changing the fundamental meaning of Genesis is the very thing that must be done to make evolution and Christianity work.
This is what I call “zooming out” to make things work. When you zoom far enough out, even opposing things seem to agree. I just left a conversation with a good friend who is Buddhist. His thesis is that Buddhism and Christianity are pretty much the same thing. Of course, I countered that there are some details in there that –might– be relevant/important….and which also highlight the distinctions between the two systems. This is exactly what is being done to Genesis here. We “zoom out” away from the details of the Genesis account, and we only speak to the broader ideas of it.
And why have we done so? To accommodate macro-evolution. I’m reminded of one of my first statements I made to you, Paul: what has authority? Is the Bible God’s Word, which can be trusted (because His word was spoken through prophets and affirmed through miracles)? Or is it just some book that happened to make it to modern times?
In response to Hyers, I really like a lot of what he’s saying. I find his comments on the seven days to be very insightful. What I do not find insightful, even in the slightest, is that he (like the others) creates this dichotomy which does not, in fact, exist. He practically treats it all as parable. Again, even I understand the different forms of literature in the Bible, and I can tell you: Genesis is not a parable. None of the ancient Hebrews took it as such.
In response to Young and Stearly, to call Genesis history at all is certainly a step up from Polkinghorne, Hyers and Stek. His great question of “how it is historical” is a very fair question, and one which I would like to attempt to answer a little later. Eventually, Young and Stearly state that the only difference is in the mode of presentation. Fair enough. I would like to put that to the test with a couple questions:
Who was the first “man” and “woman” in evolution? At what point in the Homo family tree do we look back in the fossil record and say, “There he is. This is the man whom, before he was ever created, was to be created ‘in the image of God’.” My gut tells me that this would make most Christian evolutionists very uncomfortable. I think our gut wants to say its Homo Sapiens…but that is very young, indeed. And after all, are we truly going to say that Homo Neanderthalis is not man as well? Or Habilis? So how far back do we go before we spot Adam—before we draw the line in the sand between that which is simian and that which is man?
And with that choice comes certain issues. We have to realize that whomever we pin the tail onto, that group also becomes the group that is capable of understanding concepts such as conscience, sin, death and the afterlife; they are not simply hunters and gatherers, but also farmers (Cain) and shepherds (Abel) as well; they know how to construct and play musical instruments, and can forge bronze and iron (Tubal-Cain, Genesis 4:22).
Also, at what point does the Genesis account stop being parable and start being historical? Chapter 4? That’s when we start seeing genealogies. Or 11, so that we don’t have to muck about with the flood? Or 12, so that we don’t have to muck about with Babel? Honest question: if Genesis cannot be understood from a historical level, what benefit…what message…do you receive from it?? I mean……..do you just skip it?
Or, here is yet another philosophical question: if I can treat Genesis as a parable, can I not simply treat the whole Bible as a parable as well? If I can disregard details to make it fit the broader picture; if “zooming out” is no sin at all, and perfectly okay…then by what authority do we take the Bible as Holy at all? My whole understanding of the Judeo-Christian “God” comes from the Bible….and if it is simply a good story to establish good morals and ethics…then why should the details about that God matter? Why not rather believe the Quran, or in Buddha?
As to how I think Genesis is history, I think it is history through two methods. 1. Oral tradition. And 2. Prophetic word. Unlike Young and Stearly, there was not just one eye-witness to the creation account, but two. Although Adam was not there at the very beginning to see God form the universe, he’s certainly there for the formation of the garden, and the creation of Eve, and the aftermath of the fall. Adam can relay what, if anything, God relayed to him concerning the creation of everything.
Oral tradition is speculative and fraught with problems. Although the Hebrew people were masters at memorizing vast swaths of history and genealogies, one cannot help but believe that oral tradition, at some point, breaks down to the telephone game. That leads me to the prophetic word.
Simply put, I believe that God is big enough, all-powerful enough, and understanding enough, to communicate the facts of what He did to mortal man in such a way that that man (Moses) could convey them accurately to others. A god who cannot do this is either a very small god, or no god at all.
Alrighty, now that I’ve written a small tome, I’ll be done. Paul, I do appreciate your efforts.
As to the uniqueness of man’s creation, I simply take note that man is the only creature to have been planned, and made, “in the image of God”. I further take note that with special creation, there is both a purpose to God’s creation, and God provides guidance with his creation. My current understanding (provided to me by many evolutionists) is that evolution provides neither of those latter elements.
Responding to Darrel Falk: yes, “science” is silent on any matter between God and man. But what evolution is not silent on is the process, and how that impacts the perceived process we see in Genesis. My understanding of that very basic process in Genesis is one where God makes everything according to its basic kind, and speciation runs its course from there. I do not believe speciation happened in any great quantity until after the flood, and particularly after Genesis 10:25, when genetic isolation could more easily take place.
In response to Keller/Kidner: The Bible speaks of forming Job like a potter; in other passages, it speaks of knitting a person together, like a garment. It also says in Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”. Kidner is right in noting that the potter image is akin to shaping clay from the ground. Indeed, that is the exact imagery we see from Adam. But is it too much to suggest that, perhaps, “being formed from the dust of the earth” is different and distinct from “being formed from animals already created in their own kind”?
In response to Langley, I’m a bit over-blown that we have decided to invent a new genus “homo divinus” in order to make way for evolution. The fact that we are inventing things to have both should tell us something. As to the “federal head” concept, I think that that, too, is a bit of our own imagining. Of note, there is not a single genealogy which traces to the generation of Adam, which does not also start with Adam.
In reponse to Waltke and Yu, just a question: if God can create the universe from nothing at all, why can he not create Adam from the dust of the earth? With respect to the probability against evolution, have you seen those odds? Have you seen the probable odds against moving from non-living matter to living matter? Those odds are so overwhelmingly against, that Edwin Hubble is quoted as saying that it shook his atheism to the core. Yes, creation is a divine process! But if God is powerful enough to create from nothing, and understanding enough to transmit his word accurately, then how is it not feasible that Adam be created just as the Bible says?
In response to Poythress, yes, the creation of Adam and Eve was exceptional. And kudos to Poythress for identifying that Eve’s creation is unique from Adam’s. Adam is created through one process, while Eve was created through another. I’m curious if the theistic evolution crowd maintains this in their explanations—or do they gloss over that detail and call it all evolution?
In repsonse to Rüst, he seems simply to dictate as truth what others have considered as theory. He is also flatly wrong on certain points: namely, that God ever changed his covenant with Adam. God only entered into one covenant agreement with Adam, and that covenant has never changed.
Paul, as I said before, the question I had at the start was how evolution and creation could get along without changing the meaning of Genesis, and noting that evolution was unguided and unpurposed. Again, the first response back was that evolution is not unguided or unpurposed. As for this email, it appears, again, that we have changed the basic essence of Genesis in order to make things work.
As ever, Paul, I do appreciate your effort in this conversation. Thank you very much for your responses!
Thank you for your very thoughtful responses. Unfortunately, I will be unable to give them the consideration they deserve for at least a week, as I have to go out of town on some family business.
I understand that I still have not adequately addressed your two basic questions. For the time being, the best I can do is to hope that someone else can chime in or to refer you to the following books, if you haven’t already read them:
Peter Enns,, “The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins”
Stephen J. Godfrey & Christopher R. Smith, “Paradigms on Pilgrimagr: Creationism
Denis Lamoureux, “I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution” or his longer version on the same topic, “Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution”
Keith B. Miller (Ed.), “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”
John H. Walton, “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate”
I also appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with you.
Make that second book be Stephen J. Godfrey & Christopher R. Smith, “Paradigms on Pilgrimagr: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation”
Let me take a shot at the “CliffsNotes” on how it is possible that evolution was neither unpurposed nor unguided. I will once again quote from people who are a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I am, starting with Denis Edwards:
“Science does not indicate purpose or design, but neither does it rule them out. . . . The sciences do not reveal a divine design or blueprint. But the scientific evidence is open to Christian interpretation. This modest claim, that the sciences support an overall directionality in the evolution of the universe and life, fits well with the idea of a God who is achieving purposes in creation, redemption, and final fulfillment. It is congruent with a view of God who acts creatively and providentially in and through the laws of nature, in all the randomness and lawfulness that allows and enables a life-bearing universe to evolve.” [Denis Edwards, “How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and special Divine Action” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 10-11] NOTE: Of the books that I am familiar with, this one has possibly the most helpful discussion of how evolution could be purposeful and guided.
“The scientific theory of evolution just as such is entirely compatible with the thought that God has guided and orchestrated the course of evolution, planned and directed it, in such a way as to achieve the ends he intends. Perhaps he causes the right mutations to arise at the right time; perhaps he preserves certain populations from extinction; perhaps he is active in many other ways. On the one hand, we have the scientific theory, and on the other, there is the claim that the course of evolution is not directed or guided or orchestrated by anyone; it displays no teleology; it is blind and unforeseeing; as Dawkins says, it has no aim or goal. This claim, however, despite its strident proclamation, is no part of the scientific theory as such; it is instead a metaphysical or teleological add-on. “ [Alvin Plantinga, “The Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism,” in J. B. Strump and Alan G. Padgett (Eds.), “The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 103-104].
“’Why hasn’t science found evidence of divine influence?’ will be the persistent objection of the evolutionary naturalist. However, just as knowledge of grammar is not enough to catch the dramatic meaning of Hamlet, scientific method is too crude an instrument to detect the subtlety of any divine inspiration that might be at work in the dramatic depths of evolution. Indeed, why would we want science to be able to detect such a dimension of depth anyway? We don’t expect grammarians to speak authoritatively about the content of a tragic or comic drama. So we should not expect either Darwin or Dawkins to tell us what evolution is ultimately all about either, even though Dawkins, unlike Darwin, insists on telling us anyway. [John F. Haught, “Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life” (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 77]
“The issue to be considered here is whether chance-driven evolution can be seen as part of God’s creative process, expressing his purpose, or whether, as some Darwinians believe, it is a blind and undirected process. Richard Dawkins is prominent among the latter and he would certainly not see chance in evolution as expressing any purpose whatsoever. But, oddly enough, his argument does support God’s involvement but at a different level. Dawkins’ belief that chance is sufficient is a continuing theme in his writings. . . . By correctly challenging the very small probabilities which so many , du Nouy and Overman among them, have seen as providing incontrovertible evidence for design, Dawkins supposes that he has demolished the case for a designer God behind the process. On the contrary, he has helped to make credible an evolutionary process which is capable of producing the complexity in the world and hence, as I have argued, that it could be the God-chosen way of creating things.” [David J. Bartholomew, “God, Chance and Purpose: Can God Have It Both Ways?” (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 184-185]
“On the other hand, there are a number of ways that an historical Adam and Eve could be fit into biological evolution:
1) God could have specially created a pair of humans named Adam and Eve from dust but made their bodies and their genes consistent with hominids alive at the time.
2) God could have selected a pair of existing homo sapiens to represent all of humanity.
3) God could have revealed himself in a single event to a large group of humans.
These options and others are discussed in Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do we have to Choose? (Monarch Books, 2008), pp. 234-243 and in Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma’s Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution (Grand Rapids: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007), pp.215-230.
We have to keep in mind that God gave us both Scripture and nature, which therefore cannot be in conflict. Man’s interpretations of Scripture and nature can of course be in conflict, but only because they are both man’s interpretations. And I am not claiming that nature (science) is greater than Scripture, only that it can sometimes be helpful in interpreting Scripture. I still accept the creation, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the ascension as miracles of God; hence, no slippery slope for me.” [“Preferring a historical Adam, but willing to admit a metaphorical one (guest post by Paul Bruggink),” Near Emmaus blog, October 14, 2011]
It’s certainly not necessary to accept all of this, just to accept that it is POSSIBLE that God used evolutionary processes to create us.
I hope this helps. If it doesn’t, let me know where I came up short, and I will try again.
Paul, as before, thank you very much for writing. I appreciate your remarks and know they are in good faith. I do not consider your comments, or the great effort behind them as “lacking” in any way. I simply disagree with the conclusion. I want to give you my response to the many things you’ve written. Before I give that response, it is very important that I state my position again: I am a Christian. I believe that the earth is pretty young compared to evolutionists (30k-40k). I believe that evolution, as it is currently theorized, is fatally flawed. There are truths in it, yes; but as a complete system, it is sorely lacking. One writer you quoted stated that evolution “had it’s Newton; now its waiting for it’s Einstein”. Yes, it is. And when he comes he is going to do to evolution exactly what Einstein did to the static universe theory–utterly destroy it. That said, I have little vested interest in attempting to bend God’s word to suit a theory on the verge of it’s THIRD major change.
My response to Denis Edwards: Science does not speak of the supernatural positively or negatively. It does not consider the supernatural for a very important reason: you cannot put the supernatural in a test tube and replicate it. You cannot create a hypothesis from it and test it; observe the results; retest; create a theory and so on and so forth. Although I know good and well that God is at work in a universe that is within Him, it is the observations of the scientists which drives theories forward.
As for science supporting a directionality for evolution, I’m not sure that is even possible. A shepherd can control the traits of his sheep; a dog breeder can control the traits of his canines. Their control lies in their ability to exclude certain animals in their care from breeding. Again, isolation causes speciation. But we both know that such close care is not given to animals in the wild. And genes are combined within the offspring at random–sometimes multiplying a mistake from the parents (creating a distinct trait) and sometimes not.
But if we are going to say that God is in control of the genetic recombination process (and indeed he may in some cases), are we willing to state that He is also the guiding hand when mistakes in genes are duplicated in these animals, producing abnormalities, crippling and death? It is very easy to suggest that God is in control, particularly when good results. As Christians, we want God to be in control. But it is a difficult thing to suggest that God is the direct cause (and, indeed, He would have to be for genetic recombination) of crippling and death and the annihilation of entire species.
My response to Alvin Plantinga: Mr. Plantinga suggests that God planned and directed the evolutionary process. If that is true, then God planned and directed the deaths of 100’s, even 1000’s of species. Mr. Plantinga states that Dawkins (whom I cannot stand) is adding a teleology to the scientific theory that doesn’t exist. I would argue that, just as science does not speak to the supernatural (in that it is silent on the matter), so to, as a natural outcropping, it does not concern itself with purpose (or the logically inescapable Purpose-Giver that would flow from that). It is not as though a process void of purpose is a teleological add-on, as much as it is a natural outcropping of its own silence.
Bottom line there, is it depends on what one considers axiomatic. If one begins with God, then purpose and a Purpose-Giver follows naturally. If one begins with only that which he can see, smell, taste, touch and hear…then the concept of a Purpose-Giver is, itself, the teleological add-on. One contention I have with Theistic Evolution is that it takes both a God-ordained word AND a supernatural-less, man-made theory, as axiomatic.
The end result is a firm belief in evolution, as we attempt to fit God into the nooks and crannies we are most confident He can never possibly be uprooted from. In short, we fall victim to a kind of “God of the gaps” theology–and I think that is very poor theology.
I have no meaningful comments from John Haught’s quote.
In response to David Bartholomew: With respect to Dawkins (who, again, I have a great dislike for), it should first be noted that it was evolution that turned him from faith to atheism (source: Richard Dawkins, “Expelled: No Evidence Allowed”). Second, Dawkins is now invested in his own atheism, so Dawkins could see the truth right in front of his face, and he simply couldn’t acknowledge it. Third, despite point two, I don’t believe Dawkins is altogether wrong in his assumptions. First, the scientific model, itself, is silent on God (as discussed above). Second, the processes of genetic recombination are, in fact, random (again, within certain parameters). Third, mistakes can, and do, take place and it is (to many people) an anathema to suggest that God is controlling the debilitating mistakes that often lead to death.
As I am fond of saying with my non-Christian friends, I’m not trying to paint a halo on anyone’s head–least of all Dawkins’. But to suggest that he is somehow going out of his way to exclude God from a theory that is already built and designed around the exclusion of the supernatural is somewhat laughable.
“On the other hand, there are a number of ways that an historical Adam and Eve could be fit into biological evolution…” Again, what has currency, value and authority here? Is it God’s Word, which already describes how Adam and Eve were created? Or is it evolution, based on the many “facts” that are peddled with it? My understanding of evolution and special creation is that they are two distinct world-views, and they each utilize the exact same facts. The correct worldview is the one which can best describe all the facts we see in nature.
I think the key for us, Paul, is that, as Christians, we do not NEED an old earth, or a metaphorical Adam and Eve. Evolutionists absolutely NEED an old earth. The odds of going from non-living matter to living matter in order for abiogenesis to take place is staggering, and millions of years is required simply to make the transition from non-living matter to the absolute simplest of living organisms. And millions upon millions more before those simplest living structures ever become anything we’d even remotely consider being “life as we know it”. And again, millions upon millions more to go from that to where we are today. The number of mutations is staggering.
But we do not have a God that is forced to use the evolutionary model, or the naturalist worldview. He can create life from nothing. He can create living matter from non-living (just as Adam was) because He, Himself, is Life itself. God spoke the universes into existence…and if He can do that–and if He can clearly communicate that to us (and if He can be relied upon to protect His Word from our mishandlings)–then why are we trying to fit Adam into evolutionary biology?
Why are we comparing the Bible to the “facts” of evolution? Why is it not the other way around? Why are we not saying, “Wait. I see these facts, and I know the Bible…and maybe your interpretation of them isn’t right.” ?? Personally, I don’t know why we are even remotely hesitant to do that, since evolutionists do this very same thing to themselves all the time. Evolutionists pride themselves on the concept that science is a “self-correcting” process. Dawkins has also made that very claim (and it is “self-correction” that caused Phyletic Gradualism (also called Uniformitarianism ) to give way to Punctuated Equilibrium).
Challenging the current evolutionary model should be as natural to us as breathing. It is a system designed with the exclusion of the supernatural in mind. It relies on massive lengths of time that do not, necessarily account for all the facts (such as red blood cells now being found in T-Rex, Maiasaour, and “10 Million Year Old Frogs”). These discoveries are about to lead evolution into its third massive change–and hopefully we’ll see it’s Einstein.
I think it’s time for a re-start of our discussion, so here goes:
I believe that a portion of the Protestant church is making the same mistake now that the Roman Catholic Church made in the 1620s, when the Roman Catholic Church refused to acknowledge that they may have interpreted certain passages of the Bible incorrectly: an immovable Earth-centered universe (1 Chron 16:30, Ps 93:1, 96:10) vs. movable Earth in a heliocentric solar system.
I believe that God’s revelations to us in his Word and in his universe are not in conflict. What is sometimes in conflict is man’s interpretation of God’s Word and man’s interpretation of nature (a.k.a. science). When there is disagreement, either the interpretation or the science is wrong.
I believe that there are multiple independent sources of data that irrefutably show that the universe and the Earth are orders of magnitude older than 10,000-40,000 years. I believe that there are no sources of scientific data that indicate that the Earth is less than 40,000 years old.
I believe that God set off the Big Bang approximately 13.7 billion years ago, knowing that the end result would be a planet inhabited by human beings with whom He could communicate.
I believe that there are multiple ways to interpret the Creation accounts in the Old Testament that are compatible with an old (billions of years) Earth.
I believe that the six days mentioned in Genesis 1 are part of a very stylized description of Creation.
I believe that there are multiple verses and portions of Scripture that were/are not intended to be taken literally. I believe that Moses did not write history in the same sense that people write history today.
I believe that God accommodated his creation story to the understanding of the Israelites of Moses’ time.
I believe that a person can hold any view of Creation or even be agnostic about how and when God did it and still be a Christian. The only thing mentioned in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is that God did it.
I believe that Young Earth Creationism is very detrimental to Christian evangelism, which is the only reason why I have a passion for this topic.
Let me conclude with a quotation from Francis S. Collins’s book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” Free Press, 2006, pp. 177-178:
“Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time. By attacking the fundamentals of virtually every branch of science, it widens the chasm between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, just at a time where a pathway toward harmony is desperately needed. By sending a message to young people that science is dangerous, and that pursuing science may well mean rejecting religious faith, Young Earth Creationism may be depriving science of some of its most promising future talents.
But it is not science that suffers most here. Young Earth Creationism does even more damage to faith, by demanding that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world. Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the relatedness of all living things through the process of evolution and natural selection. What a terrible and unnecessary choice they then face! To adhere to the faith of their childhood, they are required to reject a broad and rigorous body of scientific data, effectively committing intellectual suicide. Presented with no other alternative than Creationism, is it any wonder that many of these young people turn away from faith, concluding that they simply cannot believe in a God who would ask them to reject what science has so compellingly taught us about the natural world?
Let me conclude this brief chapter, therefore, with a loving entreaty to the evangelical Christian church, a body that I consider myself a part of, and that has done so much good in so many other ways to spread the good news of God’s love and grace. As believers, you are right to hold fast to the truths of the Bible; you are right to hold fast to the conclusion that science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence; and you are right to hold fast to the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted. But those battles cannot be won by attaching your position to a flawed foundation. To continue to do so offers the opportunity for the opponents of faith (and there are many) to win a long series of easy victories.”
First, I just want to say that I am very glad for this open conversation. I think (and if I am wrong, feel free to correct me) that men like you and I are not easily swayed, even when presented with evidence for one belief or another. We are not reeds blown by every shifting wind, and that is a very good thing. So, as I continue this email, I want you to know that I do not continue it with the desire to convince you of anything. I have read your beliefs and respect them—and I, too, have beliefs.
The first part of my response is to address the many statements of belief that you’ve given. Again—not to change your mind, but to show distinction between how you approach a problem, and how I do.
“I believe that God’s revelations to us in his Word and in his universe are not in conflict. What is sometimes in conflict is man’s interpretation of God’s Word and man’s interpretation of nature (a.k.a. science). When there is disagreement, either the interpretation or the science is wrong.” Absolutely agree. We both have numerous examples of how the Bible has been mishandled and mis-interpreted, and we can clearly see the negative fallout of those things. Likewise, I have read of many cases (footnoted, documented cases) where the science coming out of evolutionary study has been half-baked, even fraudulent.
You and I should not disagree on this statement at all: that where there is money to be made, corruption has a foothold. That is equally true for the church as it is with scientific study. But with scientific study, it should be noted that scientists do not get paid for never producing a “discovery” of some sort—and the rush to discover something was a root cause to many of the frauds that took place in the first half of the 20th century. Some of those frauds are still perpetuated on students even today, in an attempt to convince them of the “truth” of eveolution.
“I believe that there are multiple independent sources of data that irrefutably show that the universe and the Earth are orders of magnitude older than 10,000-40,000 years.” Perhaps. At least one of those studies deals with the concept of light traveling from distant starts to the earth, and the years of travel it takes that light to reach the planet. But as Brian Greene and other scientist/authors have pointed out, the big bang was an explosion of heat and light. Light was everywhere all at once.
“I believe that there are no sources of scientific data that indicate that the Earth is less than 40,000 years old.” I don’t imagine that there are any peer reviewed, published sources which state the earth is less than 40,000 years old. Then again, when I watch MSNBC, I do not expect to hear conservative commentary on any sort of social event taking place in this country; the reverse with Fox News and liberal commentary. If you’re looking for any kind of published scientific data which pins the earth down to less than the billions and billions of years evolutionists speak of, then I’d point you in the direction of Marvin Lubenow’s “Bones of Contention”. It’s an excellent work, and very well researched and documented.
“I believe that God set off the Big Bang approximately 13.7 billion years ago, knowing that the end result would be a planet inhabited by human beings with whom He could communicate.” That is a fine belief if you want to have it. I just don’t see that in the Bible. Again, as Christians, we are free to believe in billions of years if we want, but we do not NEED it.
“I believe that there are multiple ways to interpret the Creation accounts in the Old Testament that are compatible with an old (billions of years) Earth.” I know we will clash on this, but there is just –one—creation account. As I have pointed out, I do understand that scripture is dynamic. (Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 are poetic in nature.) The creation account is a rolling series of narratives which starts at 0, then takes you to 1.5…then starts at 1.25 and takes you to 2.5…then starts again at 2.25 and takes you through the rest of the story. It’s akin to a poetic mechanism used in other Hebraic poetry, and in this way, you are absolutely right: Moses is definitely NOT telling history in a “normal” sense.
“I believe that the six days mentioned in Genesis 1 are part of a very stylized description of Creation.” Agreed. Moses is fitting these into a kind of poetic mechanism. But because it has a poetic element, I do not think that is grounds to dismiss it. This is not a Hebrew poem; nor is it bland history. It’s a historical narrative that has borrowed a poetic element…my guess (and that is all that it is) is that the poetic element is doing a couple things: 1. it is blending the oral traditions handed down to Moses (hence you have the rolling pattern I spoke of above), and 2. it is added to give the text an epic feel. The Hebrew language is highly expressive, and when I was studying Hebrew poetry in college, I was struck by how impacting it could be. I was also struck by how those poems are constructed. You and I merely write poems…the Hebrews “built” them. They did not trade meter or rhyme for accuracy or meaning. The Hebrews, then, found a way to be expressive AND accurate at the same time.
“I believe that there are multiple verses and portions of Scripture that were/are not intended to be taken literally.” Of course. You seem to hold on to the belief that the only reason anyone would be a young earth creationist (can I read “fundamentalist”?) is because we “interpret the Bible literally”. Perhaps that is true in many cases, but it is not true with me. The Bible contains many types of writings in it, and certainly not all are intended to be taken literally.
“I believe that Moses did not write history in the same sense that people write history today.” Agreed above.
“I believe that God accommodated his creation story to the understanding of the Israelites of Moses’ time.” Disagree. As we have already discussed, the creation account of Genesis is intended to combat the creation accounts of other ancient religions—from other, non-semetic people. The Genesis account is intended to be the one, true account….from the One, True God. What I believe is that God creates some things to be temporal, and others to be eternal. What is temporal He removes after it’s time is complete (ie. The Ark of the Covenant, the staff with the Snake, the Temple, etc); and what God creates to be eternal, he preserves throughout. If Genesis was only intended for ancient peoples, then why has it been preserved until now?
“I believe that a person can hold any view of Creation or even be agnostic about how and when God did it and still be a Christian. The only thing mentioned in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds is that God did it.” I’m not sure how we can be Christians and NOT believe what the Bible (the very basis of our faith, no?) tells us. The Apostles, if anything, affirmed what the Old Testament taught, and bridged that to faith in Christ. As Paul very pointedly states, “Do we nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” As for the Nicene Creed, what is that to me? Last I checked, no one at the Council of Nicaea was a Prophet, or Apostle, or Christ.
“I believe that Young Earth Creationism is very detrimental to Christian evangelism, which is the only reason why I have a passion for this topic.” I believe that the one, incontrovertible detriment to faith in Christ is macro-evolution. It is not science. It is its own faith. And very much like Roman Catholics who syncretized pagan faiths into Christmas, Easter and others, we are now attempting to syncretize this faith as well.
I’ll now respond to Francis Collins:
First, he calls young earth creationism intellectually bankrupt. Let me ask: is Mr. Collins a gradualist evolutionist, or a punctuated equilibiumist? Does he think gradualism is intellectually bankrupt since there is no fossil evidence to prove it? Does he think punctuated equilibrium is intellectually bankrupt since it practically states that no evidence will ever be found in the fossil record to falsify it?
On the point of falsification: Darwin at least had the perspective to understand that his theory wasn’t worth anything if it could not be falsified. (In philosophy, falsification is a test for truth.) He understood that if the fossil evidence did not go his way, that it would become the greatest levy against his theory. In short, there was a way in which to falsify his theory and postulate a new one. Darwin was convinced that the large gaps that existed in his day would one day be filled, and that the fossil record would go his way. The reality is that those gaps have shrank considerably, and the fossil evidence has not gone the way of Darwin–as even Stephen Gould pointed out. That is why Gould developed punctuated equilibrium to begin with.
Second, he states that young earth creationism (YEC) attacks the fundamentals of every branch of science. That is only true if “fundamentals” equals just one fundamental: the evolutionary time scale. And it is only true if “fundamentals” also means “macro-evolution”–the transitioning from one basic kind of animal to another. I don’t recall anywhere in the literature YEC attacking the fundamentals of mathematics, or the fundamentals of thermodynamics, or the fundamentals of Red Shifting or General Relativity. Perhaps I have not read all the literature.
Third, he continues by saying “by sending a message to young people that science is dangerous…” Again, no. We leave the condemning, generally, up to guys like Dawkins and Maher, who continually broadcast that religion in all forms is dangerous and delusional. The clear message I think YEC does send to young people is that it is good to be a skeptic. It is good to question the dating methods, because in many cases it is “trash in, trash out”. It is good to question macro-evolution because 1. It has no basis in the fossil record. And 2. God has fearfully and wonderfully made you. You are no accident and you have a purpose and a hope.
This concept that YEC’s are depriving the scientific community of promising future talents is grossly wrong, and amazingly lazy. Darwinian Evolution (gradualist and punctuated equilibrium), Theistic Evolution and YEC represent three “markets”, all of which draw consumer and scientists to their field. The insinuation made by Mr. Collins is simple: those who get into YEC simply aren’t scientists. That, frankly, is insulting.
Mr. Collins continues by stating that YEC is damaging faith by demanding “that belief in God requires assent to fundamentally flawed claims about the natural world.” Sigh. Again. No. It’s as if Mr. Collins has not considered the notion that facts are bare,and require a model into which they must be interpreted. We all take the exact same facts, Paul. We all look at the same things, but we come to two different conclusions based on the model we possess. Take the blood cells and soft tissue now being found in 65Myo dinosaur bones. To me (because of my YEC model) that tells me that those bones aren’t as old as everyone is saying they are. To evolutionists, this means that our models for understanding decay must be reworked. And they will be reworked until they can get some molecular biologist and a mathematician somewhere to state that such slow decay is possible and even plausible.
YEC doesn’t do damage to faith; nor do we shield our youth from science–and there is no “terrible choice” that we have to make, or intellectual suicide.
That Mr. Collins concludes that it is Creationism that is the one and only choice is laughable. Has he been to a public school lately? The one and only choice being presented, day in and day out to our children, is darwinian evolution in all its forms. But specifically, in that most naturalistic and godless form. And it is evolution, not creationism, which is causing people to lose faith.
Let me see if I can sort that last paragraph out, because it may have been confusing: YEC’s do believe in the general observation of “survival of the fittest”. But if we are being honest, we know that “survival of the fittest” is a tautology. There is no working definition for “fittest”. “Fittest” is generally defined as “those that reproduce”…but there is the tautology: those that reproduce, survive. We do believe in speciation–commonly referred to as micro-evolution. Moreover, we do believe that there is a commonality to life, but as you may already imagine, we interpret that commonality differently. Finally, we generally believe what we see. For example, naturalist evolutionists believe in a single life form which evolved onward and upward and was the very seed of the evolutionary tree that adorns so many text books. By contrast, YEC’s look at the cambrian–the lowest (possibly oldest) fossil bed and observe that all the phyla are present, including vertebrates. We agree with evolutionists when they phrase the cambrian as an “explosion of life”, and we agree with them when, in rare moments, that they admit that the entirety of the fossil record has shown amazing stasis.
I’ll conclude this missive with this: Mr. Collins has stated that I am right to hold fast to the truth’s of the Bible. One of those truths is that Moses was a lawgiver and a prophet. His words were regarded as oracles of God and, as such, infallible. Moses’ treatment of Adam is that Adam is a real person, who bears offspring and has a genealogy. This genealogy is repeated by Apostles, who also were inspired by God, and whose words were considered to be on par with that of prophets. These men, inspired by God, believed that Adam was real. Moses records in a very historical fashion that Adam lived 130 years before he had Seth, and that Adam lived 930 years before he died. Am I right to believe that?
(Paul, again, I do enjoy the open conversation. I know my responses are long and boring, but I find so many points that I want to reply to, that I can’t help but draw out my response. In the future, I will attempt to be shorter–that is, if you still want to continue the conversation. For my own part, I enjoy it. I hope this finds you well, and in good spirits.)
I am finding our discussion to be interesting and challenging and also hope to continue it. Unfortunately, family business intrudes again, and I have to go out of town again, so I won’t be able to respond to your current Comment for about two weeks, but I will respond.
I’m very sorry I have not responded until now. Work has kept me away. I hope all is well with you and your family.
Not to worry. It was my turn to respond to you, which I have finally started working on. My mother went to be with the Lord last week after a long and full life. She died peacefully in her own bed at age 93 after seven months of excellent home hospice care. I hope to respond in a day or two.
I would like to respond to a few of the points you made in your Comment of August 20.
First of all, I would suggest not putting too much stock in disagreements among biological evolutionists. They are merely arguing over the details, not the overall theory itself, which has many more independent lines of evidence than Charles Darwin could have even dreamed about. Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection is only a small part of the current view of biological evolution.
Evidence for macroevolution has been developed or enhanced in the past 100 years in the following areas:
• The fossil record, including numerous transitional fossils, many found since 1960.
• Comparative anatomy
• Morphological similarity, including phylogeny and homology
• Vestigial structures
• Biogeography – the evolutionary study of plant and animal distribution.
• Embryology, including recapitulation
• Redundant pseudogenes, including suboptimal / inefficient design
• Comparative Molecular biology, including junk DNA, genetic redundancy, transposons, and hox genes
• Comparative genomics
Re Marvin Lubenow’s “Bones of Contention,” the major theme of the book is that the various species of hominid cannot form an evolutionary sequence because they overlap one another in time. This argument is so broad that it would not only disprove human evolution but all evolution. Lubenow is basically asserting that a species cannot split into two species. Obviously this is not the view of speciation accepted by evolutionists, since it would follow that the number of living species could never increase. Lubenow continually resorts to the argument that overlaps between species falsify human evolution. Once it is realized that this argument is based on a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, Lubenow’s book loses much of its force. [http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/a_lubenow.html]
Instead of Marvin L. Lubenow’s book, may I suggest that you read Stephen J. Godfrey & Christopher R. Smith, “Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation.” Dr. Godfrey is a paleontologist and Dr. Smith is a Baptist pastor.
Re your references to Mr. Collins, it’s Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. He was the head of the Human Genome Project, is currently the director of the National Institutes of Health, and is an evangelical Christian. He also has this to say:
“What are the arguments in favor of evolution? Let me quickly describe two arguments. (1) The fossil record. Macroevolution has growing and compelling evidence to support it. Elephants, turtles, whales, birds often have been cited as species where transitional species have not been identified. That is no longer true. We have gained more in the fossil record in the last ten years than in almost the entire previous history of science. (2) The DNA evidence for evolution. I mentioned the ancient repeats we share with mice in the same location showing no conceivable evidence of function, diverging at a constant rate just as predicted by neutral evolution. One could only conclude that this is compelling evidence of a common ancestor or else that God has placed these functionless DNA fossils in the genome of all living organisms in order to test our faith. I do not find that second alternative very credible. After all God is the greatest scientist. Would he play this kind of game? Arguments against macroevolution, based on so-called gaps in the fossil records, are also profoundly weakened by the much more detailed and digital information revealed from the study of genomes. Outside of a time machine, Darwin could hardly have imagined a more powerful data set than comparative genomics to confirm his theory. [Francis S. Collins, “Faith and the Human Genome,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 55, No. 3, Sept. 2003]
Re your “survival of the fittest is a tautology,” survival of the fittest is a poor way to think about evolution. Darwin himself did not use the phrase in the first edition of Origin of Species. What Darwin said is that heritable variations (mutations, etc.) lead to differential reproductive success. This is not circular or tautologous. It is a prediction that can be, and has been, experimentally verified. [Jonathan Weiner, “The Beak of the Finch” (New York: Knopf, 1994].
Re your “there is just-one-creation account”: there are two creation accounts in Genesis alone (1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25), and they give different orders of creation. Consider the following:
(1) The two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1 and 2 are quite different. This can be seen particularly in the order for the creation of humans. In the first account, man and woman are created on day six, after the animals. The Sabbath is sanctioned as a day of rest. In the second account, strong patriarchal overtones are evident as man is created first and in God’s image; then the plants and animals, and woman is created last from the man’s rib. It is not clear that she is made in God’s image. Man is presented as the crown of creation, and all other created beings, including woman, are seen as subservient. There is no reference to specific days or the Sabbath. Assessing these two accounts, a biblical literalist is stymied by the question: Was the man made first or last? Which account is literally true? . [Margaret Gray Towne, Honest to Genesis: A Biblical & Scientific Challenge to Creationism, PublishAmerica, 2003, pp. 134-135]
(2) These two creation accounts cannot really be “harmonized” as historical or scientific descriptions. They simply are too different. The sequences of events in Genesis 2 will not fir into the order of Genesis 1. Many attempts to bring the two accounts together assume without further thought that the sequence of events was that of the creation week in the first account, and then try to fit all of Genesis 2 into that sequence, but such a procedure doesn’t respect the integrity of the second account.This suggests that we should not try to read both accounts as chronological descriptions of events which happened in the earth’s past. This conclusion follows from internal evidence – that is, from comparing different parts of the Bible with one another. There is also external evidence from comparison for the biblical account with our scientific knowledge of the world. The fact that there is an ocean above the sky in Genesis 1:7, as in Psalm 148, is one indication of this. What we have said about Genesis 1 and 2, on the basis of both internal and external evidence, does not mean that the Genesis accounts are “wrong” or “untrue” or that they “contradict one another.” People may come to those conclusions if they insist that everything in Genesis must be read as historical or scientific. But as we have seen, there is no need to make such as assumption. We can read the creation accounts for what they are, fundamentally religious statements about God as the creator of the world and the world’s relationship with God. There is more than one account because biblical writers looked at belief in God as creator from different standpoints within the basic faith that the God of Israel is the one true God. That fact that we have four Gospels rather than just one is an indication of the same type of richness in presenting the story of Jesus. [George L. Murphy, Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World: Fifteen Topics for Study, CSS Publishing Co., 2001, pp.56-58]
In closing, “Christianity, which did, after all, survive the startling (and at the time heretical) revelation that the earth circles the sun rather than vice versa, will also survive the revelation that biological evolution is a fact of life. It might take time, as it did with the Copernican revolution, for persons of faith to realize that they, and their faith, will survive.” [Joel W. Martin, “The Prism and the Rainbow: A Christian Explains Why Evolution Is Not a Threat” (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), p.52.]
Paul, without quoting a swath of other people, I’m curious on what ground you believe that there is a God at all–let along a Biblical one? You have clearly proved evolution. You surely understand the evidence that exists for abiogenesis. You surely also understand the present multiverse theory and the evidence it possesses from M-theory.
All the evidence, Paul, indicates that this whole universe and everything in it was formed of completely natural processes. If Occam’s Razor tells us anything, Paul, it is that we should not overcomplicate a process with superfluous steps. And here I would assert that if the universe can be formed (and all life within it) of completely natural processes, then God is an unnecessary additional step.
That said, Paul, I’m curious where you believe an argument for God actually exists?
I believe in the personal God of the Bible as a matter of personal faith. I am delighted that scientific evidence from the natural world is generally consistent with the Bible when the Bible is interpreted appropriately. I believe that God has revealed himself in Scripture and in nature, and that God’s special revelation (Scripture) and God’s general revelation (nature) will ultimately be found to be totally consistent.
I believe that there are numerous ways in which my supernatural God has interacted with his natural world.
I believe that God created and used natural processes to form the whole universe and everything in it. Therefore, I do not believe that God is a superfluous step. I believe that God is a supernatural being and therefore outside the purview of science (and I don’t recall ever mentioning abiogenesis, multiverse theory or M-theory).
Paul, I think you have misunderstood me. I have not questioned –that– you believe in God (nor would I). What I have questioned is –how– you have come to believe in God. Upon what ground(s) (ie. historical, scientific, philosophic, logical, etc) do you believe?
My comments pertaining to abiogenesis and M-theory have nothing to do with statement you have made. I stated that “surely you understand” the evidence for those things. You have proved evolution–but evolution has a starting point, and that is abiogenesis. The world and universe (that provide the backdrop for abiogenesis to have occurred) also has a start; it is the Big Bang. The question scientists have been wrestling with for the last several decades has been: how did the Big Bang ever occur? From this has arisen M-theory (from quantum physics).
The point I was making with all of this is that there is evidence for all these things, and that evidence more than suggests that this universe (and an infinite number beside), and all life within this universe has arisen through completely natural processes.
Given that the evidence states that natural processes are all that is necessary for this universe and life to exists, the insertion of God is superfluous for those things.
All that said, back to the top: given that all scientific and mathematic evidence suggests that God is not required for the universe and all life in it to exist, upon what grounds do you believe in God? Is there some kind of basis to your faith, or is it simply fiat?
I’m not aware of any evidence that “this universe (and an infinite number beside), and all life within this universe has arisen through completely natural processes.” Science cannot establish that “natural processes are all that is necessary for this universe and life to exist” since science, by definition, looks only at natural processes. To the best of my knowledge, science still does not know what caused the Big Bang, nor does science know how organic life began. There are a number of hypotheses for each, but no hard evidence that I am aware of, just a lot of speculation.
My faith in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with science, which can lead to deism at best, and while the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God are interesting, my faith is not based on them either, although I do find C. S. Lewis’s arguments in “Mere Christianity” to be rather helpful. I’m not sure how to describe how I came to believe in God, except that it wasn’t historical, scientific, philosophic, or logical, although some of those areas do help to sustain my faith. I can only describe my faith as a personal belief based on personal feeling (can I say relationship?) and experience. I’m not sure that this answers your question, but it’s the best I can do on short notice.
Paul, I don’t have a stop-watch. 🙂 You may take as much time as you like with any of my questions.
As to evidence in many universes arising through natural processes, you need to catch up on your Hawking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grand_Design_(book)). There are others as well, who discuss Strings, Super-Strings (Brian Greene) and M-Theory. All of this is an outcropping of quantum physics. A famous quote from the book I linked you to above: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
M-Theory has it’s critics, no doubt. However, even steadfast concepts aren’t without problem. As Brian Greene noted in Elegant Universe: General Relativity and Quantum Physics cannot both be true.
So far as evidence for abiogenesis, you can start here if you like: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/abioprob.html
This is what we call “negative evidence”. Bottom line is that there are only three horses in this race, Paul: the first horse is abiogenesis; the second horse is biogenesis; the third horse is supernatural special creation. Biogenesis was out of the race a long time ago when spontaneous generation was disproven. Special creation has been attacking abiogenesis on the ground that it is so vastly improbable that it is not in the realm of probability (the so-called “Hoyle’s Law”). But, if it can be shown that abiogenesis is not improbable, then it is not only back in the race, but it takes the lead since there is at least some evidence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNA_world_hypothesis) to suggest that it is possible. It also takes the lead on two other bases: 1. Again, the supernatural cannot be tested; and 2. Accounts of “special creation” (i.e. the bible) cannot be trusted. Special creation, simply put, becomes a baseless claim.
The over-arching point to all this, Paul, is that there are many theories–each with its own evidence to support it. And we can get overwhelmed and carried away by the “evidence” if we choose to be. Or, we can take the position of the skeptic, and we can realize the only certain truth in all this: that neither Creationism or Evolution; neither General Relativity or Quantum Physics–is a perfect model, or perfect science.
With creation, this world is not 6000 years old. However, that said: the red blood cells now being found in dinosaur bones…the feathers now being found on dinosaur remains…those aren’t 65Myo either. The old-world time-scales are off, and I believe this will inevitably lead to shortened overall time scales. Once we begin shortening those time scales, the question that must follow is: is the parent species around long enough for the mutations necessary to pass the child species, by the time that child species arrives?
I’m having trouble understanding why Hawking’s “The Grand Design,” strings, super-strings, or M-Theory need to come into our discussion. I thought we were discussing whether or not a person could believe in the personal God of the Bible AND believe in an old earth and biological evolution. Speculation about multiple universes, etc., have no observational support whatsoever. I fail to see how this adds anything to the discussion. I have the same problem with bringing abiogenesis into the discussion, as it is also all speculation.
The old-world time-scales are not off, and there is no need to shorten then. The plant earth really is 4.5 billion years old. See, for instance, “Radiometric Dating, A Christian Perspective,” by Dr. Roger C. Wiens http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html (the short version) or “The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth” by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Searley (the loooong version).
Regarding “red blood cells now being found in dinosaur bones…the feathers now being found on dinosaur remains…those aren’t 65Myo either” : for reasonable explanations of what was actually found in the dinosaur bones, see http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/dinoblood.html#.UEZn2o2ubg9 or http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/dinoblood.pdf
I return to my statement in my second comment of September 7: Science cannot establish that “natural processes are all that is necessary for this universe and life to exist” since science, by definition, looks only at natural processes. For the Christian, God is not superfluous. God is the creator of the universe and everything in it. Science is gradually shedding more and more light on how God might have done it, and this is causing Christians to reconsider how we interpret the Old and New Testaments, a process that began in the early church and will probably continue until the Second Coming. To quote from Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s article in the current issue of Christianity Today: “We can boldly, imaginatively, faithfully, creatively tackle the most challenging issues, secure in the conviction that all things hold together in Christ. ‘Thick’ theological orthodoxy and serious engagement with contemporary science are not mutually exclusive.” [James K. A. Smith, “What Galileo’s Telescope Can’t See, “ Christianity Today, September 2012, p. 67]
Paul & Chance,
I have enjoyed watching the conversation unravel and how both of you are far above my league/intellect. But are we not missing some of the most basic of arguments.
I, as do you, believe in an all powerful God. I believe that the same all powerful God is capable of preserving His word – the Bible and if He didn’t He wouldn’t be consistent with Himself (miss lead people knowingly) James 1:17. The accuracy of the Bible is further evidenced externally by the dead sea scrolls. The one thing lacking from your conversing was Biblical argument.
Therefore I will throw a couple of questions into the argument.
Q1. If sin entered into this through one man and death through sin Romans 5:12 where do we get the idea of death before sin? This leads to my next question
Q2. If there was death before “Adam” why would God want to get rid of death 1 Cor 15:6 & Rev 20:14
Q3. How do we harmonize a God who’s not just loving, He claims to be LOVE itself 1 Jn 4:8 with death and suffering prior to Adam bearing in mind that the God of the Bible also claims to “change not” Mal 3:6 + Heb 13:8
Q4. People can be hugely intelligent and you two are fine examples; (I find myself on a slightly lower rung so to speak.) But who would be the authority on creation? Myself or the inspired author?
Q4a. No matter how smart I am, who am I to tell Moses (attributed author) that I know more than Him? In light of the fact that there are large amounts of evidence within scripture to support Moses talking with God – relationship Ex 33:11, 33:9; Num 7:89
Q4b. What about the Disciple John? He certainly believed that creation could be done as described in Genesis Jn 1:1-3 and he also throws in new information that it was Jesus who did it Jn 1:14. He also quotes in Revelation the largest portion of scripture found in Revelation Rev 14:7 taken from Ex 20:11
Q4c. John’s idea is also backed up by Paul Col 1:16-17 + the author of Hebrews 1:2.
Do I know more than these? Do well meaning people know more than these? Need I remind you that Science is ever changing as new light comes to the surface.
Q4d. Did Jesus, in whom there was no sin (2 Cor 5:21, 1 Pet 2:2), misunderstand Genesis when He referred to it Mk 10:6. Jesus also believed that the words of Moses were authoritative Jn 5:45-47 x-ref Ex 20:11
Q5. If God truly is all powerful, omnipotent then there is no reason that He couldn’t make the world in 6 days. (After all He raised the dead and isn’t that qualifying enough.) Here is where we as Christians have our hope. That we can be saved not only from sin and death but we are “re-created’ not only in the here and now but at Christ’s return – would that process take a millennia, bible says no 1 Cor 15:52?
And if we believe the creation story scripture is amazingly consistent and compatible with itself and only ruffles the feathers of those who want to think otherwise.
The beauty of the Bible is its simplicity and readability for everyone.
The beauty of God is His consistency
If your interested in some one who has a very interesting website is Dr Sean Pitman. He has answers and questions which I find to be rational and in harmony with the Bible as a whole.
Q1: Romans 5:12 refers to death spreading to all MEN, because all sinned. It says nothing about plant and animal death.
Q2: I don’t see the connection to death in 1 Cor 15:6. I assume that you meant to refer to 1 Cor 15:26, which, along with Rev 20:14, refer to the end times, not to creation.
Q3: Just because we see death as a bad thing doesn’t necessarily mean that God sees death as a bad thing. We sometimes tend to project our emotions onto God, which is pretty presumptuous of us.
Q4: The authority on creation would of course be the inspired author. The problem for us is to interpret what the author wrote in the ancient Hebrew language, and the early chapters of Genesis can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Q4a: A different interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts has absolutely nothing to do with telling Moses that I know more than him. It has to do with how we interpret what he wrote. If God had chosen to give Moses a scientific, rather than theological, account of his creation, then no one would have understood it anyway. It’s worth pointing out that while external evidence has forced Christians to rethink some traditional views of the Bible, INTERNAL evidence also points to the fact that some parts of Scripture are perhaps not to be understood as historical chronicle. The fact is that Gen.1-2 gives TWO creation accounts which cannot BOTH be understood as such chronicles.
Q4b: First of all, John had no reason to question the then prevailing interpretation of the creation accounts in Genesis. Second, there is nothing in John 1:1-3 that conflicts with an old universe and an old earth. All Christian scientists (and at least 40% of scientists are Christians) believe that “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” You and I are just haggling over HOW God did it. This applies equally to Rev 14:7.
Q4c: I am well aware that science is ever changing as now light comes to the surface. I view that as a very good thing. Every new theory gets thoroughly tested by many scientists, and those that pass acquire a solid basis for accepting them, until an even better explanation comes along. Need I remind you that our understanding and interpretation of the biblical texts is ever changing as archaeological finds of the past two hundred years have given us a much better understanding of the world in biblical times than we had previously. God has graciously provided better and better tools for which to interpret and understand the original meaning of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words in the Bible.
Q4d: Genesis 1 does NOT say HOW God created man in his own image, and neither did Jesus say HOW God did it in Mk 10:6. Jesus’ words in Jn 5:45-47 refer to BELIEVING Moses’ writings, not about how to interpret them.
Q5: God certainly could have made the world in six days (or in 6 milliseconds) if He had wanted to. However, all of the evidence from astronomy, cosmology, geology, paleontology, biology, chemistry, and physics clearly shows that God chose to take 13.7 billion years to create the universe and 4.5 billion years to create the earth. And 1 Cor 15:52 refers to the end times and has nothing to do with how long God took to create the universe and us in it.
And now, a few questions for you, Andrew:
Q6: Do you believe that the Bible was meant to be a scientific textbook conveying accurate scientific information to 21st century readers?
Q7: Why is there remarkable coherence among many different dating methods, e.g., radioactivity, tree rings, ice cores, corals, supernovas, the expansion of the universe, minerals in the oceans, sea-floor spreading, magnetic reversals, evaporate varve formation, etc.?
Q8: Given that most of the evidence clearly points to an old universe and an old earth, why do you think God would have made the earth look old and yet require us to believe that it is young?
Q9: How do you justify the belief that the Bible teaches no animal death occurred before Adam?
Q10: What are you afraid of?
In summary, the question to as is not “How can I trust the Bible if it does not mean what it says?”
The question to ask is “Can I trust the Bible if it does not mean what I thought it meant from my context when I initially read it, before I understood what it would have meant to the original readers?”
My response is going to have to wait until this weekend. To be short, however:
1. The Bible only has a finite number of interpretations.
2. Poor exegesis leads to poor conclusions.
3. When the Bible ceases to be Gods inspired word, we may be carried away by any number of ideas.
4. Take caution when anyone says “all the evidence” points to this, that, or something else. It is a near certainty that “all” the evidence has not come in, making any supposed knowledge we have incomplete. Facts are bare, and require a model to give those facts meaning.
5. There is no perfect science or model. As I related in a previous post: general theory and quantum physics cannot both be true–and yet both have led to amazing discoveries, and both continue to propel our “understanding” of theoretical mathematical and scientific concepts. I put “understanding” in quotations to highlight, again, that what we know is incomplete at best, or wholly false at worst.
Sorry my full comments are coming late. Work has been crushing me, and this weekend I found myself busy with household chores and watching my four children. The comments that follow won’t be overly complicated…nor will they be overly researched.
Andrew, I’ll begin with you first. You asked questions in form Q1, Q2, etc. I will answer A1, A2, etc.
A1. The concept that death existed before sin is extra-biblical. One caveat: “death” as the Bible refers to it, does not pertain to plants or vegetation. This is so because “life is in the blood”.
A2. Why he would want to get rid of death is self-evident for the Author of Life…but that said, our entire systematic theology crumbles to a nothing if death exists prior to sin.
A3. The things you’ve compared here are only tangentially connected. You may want to rethink how (and if) these things tie together as nicely as you’ve laid them out. Just as a note, I’m not sure that “love” has anything to do with “death prior to Adam”, or “suffering”, or God’s changeless nature. More pointedly, I think you’d agree that God loved the Apostle Paul very much. Yet God says of Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” …just something to noodle on.
A4. Your argument began to unravel in question 3, and it is fraying here. But clearly the authority on creation is God–not man.
A5. Sounds like the real question you’re asking in Q5 is this, “Don’t we have faith that God created the world in 6 days (and rested on the 7th)? I do. If I believe that God can resurrect the dead, why not create the entire universe in 6 days? All evidence suggests that the dead cannot be raised. All evidence suggests that there is no “afterlife”. That is because all “evidence” is based upon empirical data–which is limited to the natural world.
Completely contrary to “all evidence” is what we find in Hebrews 11. “Faith is the evidence of things unseen…” Neither Paul, nor you, nor I saw what took place in the founding and forming of this universe. We do not have cold hard data to back what we “know”. We have either General Relativity or Quantum Physics providing a mathematical/scientific framework into which facts are fit into…and these frameworks Brian Greene (Elegant Universe) pointed out cannot both be true at the same time. Although both have led to discoveries, both cannot be true, which means that “all the evidence” hasn’t come in yet. What we know is incomplete.
Paul, I’d like to address some of your comments. You referenced Andrews questions Q1, Q2, etc. I will respond to your statements with A1, A2, etc.
A1. With respect to Romans 5:12, sin enters the world through the one man, and death enters into the world through sin. That is flatly stated. The result of sin entering the world is that death spread to all men, because all sin. To say that this verse is limited to men only is wrong. Death enters the world through sin. Without sin, death has no entrance into the world. Therefore, before Adam’s sin, death is impossible. You are right to say that death is not attributable to plants, though. Plants do not have blood, and life is in the blood.
A2. I think overall this is a confused point. Andrew, if you could clarify which passage you intended and why, that would be great.
A3. Paul, I absolutely agree with you here. Theologically, the “enemy” is death. But that is an eternal death–the 2nd death. Physical death, for those of us who believe in Christ, is meaningless. Romans 6.
A4. Although the early chapters of Genesis can be interpreted in a couple different ways, those interpretations need to be weighed against our ability to understand Hebrew. And the Hebrew we are referring to might be ancient, but it is not a dead language. Finally, even dead languages have limited translations and interpretations.
A4a. Paul, here you’ve dichotomized scientific from theological. I don’t think this dichotomy is necessary, as historic seems to be the overall framework Genesis through Deuteronomy is written in. As a concession, one can certainly argue that how Moses has chosen to remember the history of his people and, indeed, humanity’s origin is faulty–but I think one is hard-pressed to do that and then also believe in the in any key tenet of scripture. For instance, (I’m not suggesting you are doing this, Paul, just roll with me here) if a person points out various, deep inconsistencies in the Biblical narrative, then why should any of that narrative be trusted? If it can’t be trusted in the historical bits, why should it be trusted in areas we cannot possibly validate? (ie. the supernatural, life after death, heaven/hell, etc)
As I’ve pointed out before: Genesis does not give two creation accounts. It gives a poetic account of one creation story. If I remember correctly, you choose to believe these are two accounts based upon the description of vegetation. In Genesis 1 the plants are there…in Genesis 2 the plants are not there. Genesis 2 does not refer to wild plants, though. It refers to plants and shrubs “of the field”…because there was no one to “cultivate the ground”. We’re not talking about wild plants and vegetation–we’re talking about crops for farming.
A4b. First, there is only one creation account, and John (and all other Jews) readily recognized that. But second, you are right: there is nothing in John 1:1-3 which denotes a young v. old earth.
A4c. Peer review is a great concept. Very good on paper–but not always great in practice. It does, however, give the scientific community a “pass” from Johnny Q. Public for accountability. Paul, have you either read the book, or watched the documentary “Freakonomics”? I highly recommend it. The subject is economics, so it is neutral to this discussion. The reason I bring it up is because it talks about the Honne and the Tatemai–the real truth, and the veneer. Concepts such as “purity”, “accountability”, “transparency” are window dressing, and are often used to mask deep seeded corruption. Seriously, I highly recommend it. If you have Netflix, look it up!
A4d. I generally agree. Genesis 1 does not speak to exactly how God created…only that he did. Also, we aren’t arguing over whether we believe Moses or not, but on how we interpret what Moses has said. On this point, I simply disagree, Paul, with your interpretation. You only hold the interpretation you now possess, based on the “facts” and “evidence” that you see before you. That is fine. As even you understand: all the evidence isn’t in yet.
A5. Paul, you conceded that God coudl have made the world in only six days (or 6 milliseconds)…and certainly, God could have also made the world in billions of years. That said, I take extreme caution with the general sentiment “all the evidence”. As I have continued to say…and as you have even admitted in places…”all the evidence” is not in.
I know these next questions were addressed to Andrew, but I’d also like to weigh in:
A6. I believe that the Bible was intended to be a dynamic book, conveying to readers the truth of God from many different perspectives–scientific simply being one of them. I believe in whatever manner the Bible does speak, that it speaks accurately.
A7. There is remarkable coherence among the many dating methods because the dates are chosen. Period. This is one place where I highly encourage you to go back to “Bones of Contention” by Lubenow. He gives detailed examples of how rocks and fossils alike have been dated 40-50 times, and in the end, the dates simply get chosen. “Absolute” dating methods are far from absolute. The internal inconsistencies alone with these methods is astonishing.
A8. Does the earth “look” old? Wonder why it is that we think the earth “looks” old? When I look at an old person’s face, I see pot-marks and deepening lines. A young person’s face is rounded and smooth. I imagine the “look” is very much a reality that exists only within the person looking.
A9. Is that something Andrew or I should have to justify? Let’s go back: Romans 5 acknowledges that death did not come into the world except through sin–the sin of Adam. The Bible says clearly that “life is in the blood”. There is no death without life. Therefore, no animal that has blood died prior to Adam. Perhaps that is too logical. I’m not trying to be a sophist here, or over-think the problem. That is simply how I see it, and I think that falls in line with pretty much all Old Testament theology (which Paul is drawing from) and New Testament theology (which Paul is speaking into). Again, without this concept that death came through sin, our entire systematic theology basically crumbles to dust. There are tangental things that this connects to which are very important. The Old Testament’s entire system of substitutionary sacrifice rests upon this principle, as does the perfect sacrifice of Christ. For that matter, so does Baptism and Communion, if you stop to think about it.
This is not something that Andrew or I should have to go back and justify (as if it is wrong and must be made right). It is right, and if you disagree with that assessment then please show by overwhelming scriptural reference why you believe it is wrong. If you are hanging your entire perspective on how you interpret one verse (Romans 5:12) then I don’t believe that is substantive enough to justify a change.
A10. Why do you feel it is necessary, Paul, to reduce Andrews position to fear?
In summary: Paul, your comments about what it meant to the original authors is spot on. This has nothing to do with how I see things (or you, or Andrew)…it has to do with how the authors of the Bible understood things. Did they receive understandings from God that were outside and beyond their understanding, or were they simply conveying stories that had been passed down to them for generations? In the end, I think we also need to assess what “God-breathed” and “inspired” really means. Is God giving dictation here, or is there another dynamic in play? In the passages when the authors are directly quoting God, are those God’s actual words, or are those just the imaginings of mortals?
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