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Wednesday, 9 May 2007

"Is it farther to Vancouver or by Bus?” and other silly questions

Come on. Make a choice. This is a simple black and white question. It’s one or the other. Either it’s farther to Vancouver or it’s farther by Bus. Quit asking qualifying questions like: “Are we starting this journey in Toronto or Victoria?” or “What is the distance via rail vs. the distance via the highway”. And don’t tell me the question itself is ridiculous. That would only demonstrate you do not trust Bus travel. Stop pulling out your map of Canada. Do you actually trust that map designed by the anti-bus association? Do you even believe in the authoritative King James bus route map? Maybe you aren’t a real bus rider after all?

In the Evangelical community the choice is almost always framed as evolution or creation – one or the other. Either God created life in all its diversity, or life came into being via the mindless, purposeless mechanisms of evolution. It’s a choice between the authority of the bible (God created) and the authority of the scientific community (life evolved). Unfortunately, this is the way the choice is also framed by the popular media. Hardly a week goes by without the appearance of a “Creation versus Evolution” article in a major newspaper or magazine.

This, in my view, is an entirely false dichotomy. Creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive concepts. On the question of origins, creation answers the “who” and the “why” of the formation of life, and of humanity in particular. It was God who created the universe, earth, life, and a spiritual species called humanity, a unique species to love him, worship him, and care for his creation. Evolution on the other hand (along with cosmology and geology) is a scientific framework based on the evidence that describes the “when” and the “how” of God’s creation. Apparently God is content to take a very, very long time to complete his work, and to utilize a method that, by modern engineering standards, seems wasteful and inefficient.

Evolution does raise many legitimate questions for orthodox Christians who take seriously the authority of scripture. How can the billions of years required by evolution be reconciled with the chronology in Genesis? If evolution explains the mechanisms so well, is there room for God in the process? Did he just start things off and disappear? If God slowly molded us in his image, using pre-existing creatures, at what point in history does this image occur? How does the central story of the fall fit into the story of evolution? If countless creatures lived and died, and if a multitude of species went extinct long before the arrival of humans, how can we seriously connect human sin as the root cause of pain and death? How does evolution fit in with our eschatological hope of resurrection? These are tough questions and ones we must wrestle with.

However, just because evolutionary theory provides details of the “how” and “when” of human origins, this does not mean we need to abandon our answers to “who” and “why”. We may need to reevaluate some of our ideas connecting the “who” and the “how”, but assenting to creation does not automatically imply a “no” to evolution. Agreeing with evolutionary theory does not automatically imply a “no” to creation. The answer to one is independent from the other. To insist that the mechanism of evolution is equivalent to the absence of God is illogical, as silly as forcing a choice between a destination and a mode of transportation.

Over the coming months in this blog, I’ll be examining some related choices that have been articulated by some Evangelicals, choices I believe are also false dichotomies. These include the following:

  • Scripture or Science: we must trust the infallible word of God or a fallible scientific interpretation of nature
  • Literal or Liberal: Scripture must be interpreted literally or we must accept a “Liberal” view of scripture that eliminates the divine as its source.
  • Design or Evolution: Either God in his sovereignty designed the universe, the earth, and life in all its diversity, or it came into being via mindless and purposeless evolution through blind chance.
  • Anti-evolution or Pro-atheism: We must either vigorously oppose all types of evolutionary origin explanations, or support godless naturalistic explanations for origins, and thus reject God as the source of creation.
  • God’s Image or Primate progeny: Either God made us in his image, or we evolved from apes.
  • Intervention or Absence: Either God’s actions must be described as an intervention in his creation, or he is absent from creation.

I believe all of these choices are flawed. None of us need face these theological catch-22s. I firmly believe that Evangelicals can support the scientific model of evolution, and remain faithful to the message of creation in scripture.

This is not simply mushy relativism, avoiding the hard choices, having our cake and eating it too. For Evangelical Christians, there are real choices. Do we acknowledge that scripture is God’s divine revelation to humanity? Do we trust it? Do we acknowledge the God of Love who is also the creator and sustainer of the universe? Maybe most importantly, do we believe, despite what modern science states is possible, that the resurrection is real, that it is the reason for our hope both for the present and the future? For me, overwhelming evidence that Christ did not rise from the dead would dramatically affect my faith; overwhelming evidence that creation is ancient and that humanity is the product of evolution has not detracted from my faith at all. In many ways it has enhanced it.

And if I ever go to Vancouver by bus, I’ll let you know how far it is.


Anonymous said...

At the risk a shameless plug, I would be happy to dialog on your blog about my own creation theory, geocreationism. I would be interested in whether I really have found an adequate answer to the false dichotomies you point out. You can read what I think (I've detailed up through Day 3 so far), and then decide if there are any particular points worth discussing.

Steve Martin said...

Hi and welcome! Quick question. In a dialogue, I think its beneficial to 1st determine points of agreement and areas where ideas diverge. I'm guessing that we may share a committment to the divine inspiration & authority of the scriptures but may disagree on how the Genesis creation accounts should be interpreted. Do you think its important for Gen 1 to be intepreted as sequential, historical events?

Anonymous said...

Sorry not responding sooner!

Yes, I do beleive it's important. It reads like it's supposed to be historical, so I interpret it that way.

Does that wire me into a young earth though? No. I believe that the creation is a literal 6 day event, where a day is defined as the period from one evening to the next, not necessarily 24 hours. The way that happened in my opinion, is that God was hovering over the waters as the earth rotated beneath Him. So, even while a given spot on the earth was experiencing 24-hour evening/morning cycles, God's stationary location prevented evening from overcoming Him. Eventually however, when He was ready to call His work "good", He finally allowed Himself to rotate with the earth into the evening.

To qualify, this was completely God's choice, and nothing limited or forced Him to proceed in this manner. But, I do find it consistent with scripture and science. There is more to it of course, but that's a start.

Steve Martin said...

I really haven't seen too many proposals for reconciling evolution with a literal & historical reading of Genesis 1. In fact, until your post, I thought there was only one! Not sure if you’ve seen Glenn Morton’s “Days of Proclamation” proposal. Check out http://home.entouch.net/dmd/synop.htm. For myself, I’m pretty comfortable with a non-historical interpretation – and I don’t think this is in any way compromise. I realize that many Evangelicals (and maybe yourself) will call it just that. I’ll be posting on this topic in the next month or so.

One concern I have with your proposal is how divine action is defined. Its seems that God is cycling between engagement and disengagement during the creation process. My view is that God is constantly involved with creation, constantly upholding and sustaining it. (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17). I’m still struggling with putting my thoughts on this together. I’ve found the writings of John Polkinghorne and George Murphy helpful though.

Anonymous said...

>> One concern I have with your
>> proposal is how divine action
>> is defined. Its seems that God
>> is cycling between engagement
>> and disengagement during the
>> creation process.
Consider 1 Chronicles 14:15-16 which says:

15 And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” 16 And David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army from Gibeon to Gezer.

Was God engaged in striking down the Philistine army, or not? If you would agree that the engagement of David's army did not negate God's engagement, then you have a hint as to how I view God's involvement in the creation process.

Steve Martin said...

My view is that God probably brought about the victory through David's army. Ie. This was not partly God's action and partly the Israelite army's action, but totally God's action through his instrument. How we define this action (cooperation? guidance?) is probably a little more difficult. For me, God's direct action does not imply unmediated action.

Anyways, we might actually be saying the same thing - I'm not sure. However, from your website,

I propose that God created actively during the creation “daytimes”, and let Evolution produce what it would during the night. I also propose that Evolution occured during Day 7, while God rested. However, this was all God’s choice, and He set it up just as He desired.

I think your view is that there is a world of difference between God's unmediated "direct action" and his mediated action (eg. his creature David slaying his enemies or his creation evolving). Or am I not reading this correctly?

Anonymous said...

You are correct that I find a difference between God's mediated and unmediated action, but that is not the complete picture.

Going back to God's victory through David's army, there is an important subtletly to consider. Whilee do not know the actions God took to ensure victory, we know He did something. Did He disturb the philistines' rest? Guide the Israelites' swords? We do not know specifically what God did, but He did do something, as did David's soldiers, and God's outcome was guaranteed.

Now, I am glad you pointed out that quote from my blog, because I don't think my writing was as clear as it could have been. The aspect of God that I believe was acting in Genesis 1 was Jesus, and indeed I believe Jesus did not act during His nights or on His sabbath. Therefore, my use of the name "God", though accurate, was an overstatement.

This is important, because I believe The Father was active when Jesus was not, and we can know from science approximately when and where He was active.

In my opinion, when the fossil record reveals a life form that dates back to the soonest possible time that conditions permit, I believe that was God the Father acting, because the existance of conditions adequate for a life form are not by themself adequate. Either some amount of chance is involved or it was divine will, and chance would have too high a score in the fossil record for it to not be divine will... in my humble opinion. I take the same approach with gaps in the record. Surely, some gaps are simply from a lack of discovery. But, I believe some number of them are the result of the Father's direct action... whether it be stacking the deck, tipping the domino, or guiding the sword.

I apologize for the length of this response... it is hard being clear about this stuff sometimes.

Steve Martin said...

Its not only "hard to be clear" in communicating our thoughts on divine action, its very difficult to even build a consistent framework that makes sense.

The great 19th century evangelical theologian Charles Hodge said:

The fact of this universal providence of God is all the Bible teaches. It nowhere attempts to inform us how it is that God governs all things, or how his effectual control is to be reconciled with the efficiency of second causes. All the attempts of philosophers and theologians to explain that point, may be pronounced failures, and worse than failures, for they not only raise more difficulties than they solve, but in almost all instances they include principles or lead to conclusions inconsistent with the plain teachings of the word of God