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Sunday, 2 December 2007

Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation: Introduction

For the most part, Evangelical Christians are not anti-science Luddites attacking science and technology at every opportunity. Like everyone else we enjoy the benefits of the rapid changes in technology driven by modern science. However, when scientific theories seem to clash with our theology, we seem suspicious at best, and hostile at worst. Caution is actually a healthy approach towards any nascent scientific claim, but hostility is rarely helpful, particularly when a theory, like biological evolution, has demonstrated that it is well supported by the evidence over a long period of time.

The Relationship between Christian Theology and Science

So how should we approach science when it appears to challenge our theology? How should we view the relationship between science and theology? We do have some well-promoted options. There is Ken Ham’s approach (theology dictates science), Stephen Jay Gould’s approach (science and theology should be divorced), the “science is most true” approach (theology capitulates to science), and Richard Dawkin's approach (eliminate theology). None of these are appropriate for Evangelicals however. Scientific truth (a true description of creation) and theological truth (a true description of the Creator and his relationship to creation) cannot be in conflict.

I don’t have a completely satisfactory answer for myself as of yet but I’ll make some brief points on my own view of the relationship between theology and science.

  1. The science/faith conflict is often a result of our own imperfect understanding. Creation truth and truth about the Creator are unified, but our distorted view of either or both leads to perceived conflicts. (See Loren Haarsma's presentation Christianity as a Foundation for Science, particularly the diagram in slide 12).
  2. Theology, even good theology, cannot remain stagnant. One of the most dangerous theological approaches from my point of view (heresy alert for those looking for one) is the drive to define and document a “complete systematic theology”. I do not believe that our finite understanding of the infinite can ever be complete. Our canon may be closed, but that does not prevent God from revealing additional truth through a changeless text. Scripture may be timely (speaking to its original hearers) but it is also living and timeless.
  3. Good science can work as a goad to good theology. (See the abstract for the essay Science as Goad and Guide for Theology by George Murphy in the theology journal Dialog). In other words, scientific discoveries can sometimes, depending on the circumstances, be used as an opportunity to expand on our existing theology, or even rectify poor theology.
  4. Good theology can provide a context for doing good science. It can work as a motivation for doing science in the first place (discovering more about God’s creation) and it can shed light on the limits of science (eg. science should not and can not answer ethical questions).
  5. Many scientists, however, seem completely oblivious to the limits of science, or how their own presuppositions can blind them. Thus “scientific” conclusions are often stated as fact even when the scientific data does not necessarily support the conclusion.

Scientific Challenges to Theological Assumptions: Expected but not to be Feared

We should not be surprised when science challenges some of our theological assumptions. In fact, maybe we should expect it. As we discover more about God’s creation, and particularly the part of creation that is created in God’s image, our understanding of how God relates to that creation will undoubtedly change as well. But we should never fear these challenges. There is no guarantee that we will be able to reconcile all these challenges (at least in this life), “for we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror”. But one day we “will see God face to face” at which time all our current theological wrestling and confusion will seem not only trivial, but irrelevant. This promised resolution can give us confidence to deal with our current challenges. And one of the biggest challenges of course, is reconciling biological evolution with our theology.

The theological implications of an Evolving Creation

In a series of several short posts I would like to discuss some of the theological implications of an evolving creation. The title of this series is taken from Keith Miller’s essay of the same name that can be found here on the ASA website. Miller states that:

In the debate over the proper understanding of the Genesis account, most attention has seemed to focus on the scientific merits of various creation scenarios. What has largely been lacking in these debates is a consideration of the theological implications of these various interpretations for our understanding of the character of God, the relationship of God to His creation, and the relationship of us to the rest of creation. After all, it is to these basic issues that the Genesis account is primarily, if not exclusively, addressed.

I like Miller’s approach for two reasons. First, the emphasis is on creation, a creation that is evolving. The science of evolution can certainly be studied on its own without reference to God or his creation, but to really understand it, to understand the entire truth, we must put it in the context of the theology of creation. A discussion on an evolving creation does just that. Second, Miller views the implications of an evolving creation as opportunities, opportunities to better appreciate who God is and how he acts, how God relates to us his children, how God relates to the rest of creation, and how God wants us to act given that we are his image bearers in creation. This, I believe, is a healthy approach and one I’d like to emulate in future posts.

Surveying the Difficult Challenges First

That being said, I do realize that for many Evangelicals the implications of an evolving creation are disconcerting. I myself find some of the implications troublesome. So rather than jump right into the theological opportunities, my next post on this topic will be a brief survey of the implications Evangelicals find most troublesome.

Maybe what I should do first is solicit feedback on what others believe are the most troublesome implications. So I invite you to leave a comment or send an email stating the top-3 implications of biological evolution that you find most difficult to reconcile with Christian theology. Actually, the invitation is open to non-Evangelicals and non-Christians as well since I realize that, for many of you, the perceived difficulties between evolution and Christian theology are actually barriers to to taking the Christian faith seriously.


Anonymous said...

The hardest issue for me to reconcile between evolution and the Bible is Adam. The main reason for this is that the New Testament seems to clearly teach that Adam was a literal, real, first man. Here are examples in the New Testament that seem to me to teach this:

First, Adam is listed with, and compared to, actual people. Luke lists Adam in the genealogy of Jesus along with Jesus' supposed father Joseph (Lk. 3:23-35) . Paul indicates a period of time that ran from Adam to Moses (Rom. 5:14). Paul contrasts Adam to Jesus (1 Cor. 15:22, 45). It seems that Adam is no less an actual person than Joseph, Moses, or Jesus.

Second, Paul refers to Genesis chapters 2 and 3 as support for his teaching. He refers to the order in which Adam and Eve were created (1 Cor. 11:8, 9; 1 Tim. 2:13). He refers to way in which the fall took place (1 Tim. 2:14). How could these events have any bearing on what Paul was teaching if they did not really happen? What does it matter if some legend says things happened a certain way?

It seems to me difficult to reconcile New Testament teaching with a theory of evolution that does not admit to an actual Adam.


Vera said...

Sin and death are at the top of my list.

Colossians 1:16 is a bugaboo for my husband.

Vance said...

My initial thoughts were the same as "anonymous"--the Biblical accounts reinforce a historical continuity. Unless the genealogies have big gaps in them Adam and Eve were not ancient enough to be the first humans according to the evolutionary scenarios.

One odd-ball connection that I have been thinking about. Homo sapiens has a dramatically larger brain than its evolutionary predecessors. Could this have any connection to one of the results of the Fall--greatly multiplied pain in childbirth?

Anonymous said...


One of my concerns is somewhat related to Ralph and Vance regarding Adam. If he was the first to bear God’s image, and he showed up around 10,000 years ago, what became of the generations of humans who existed in the 100,000 or so years before Adam? (Just using orders of magnitude for the years.) Were they not evolved enough to bear God’s image? Did they have souls?

Another concern is whether our “sinful nature” is due in part to our genetic heritage. Are some of the sins we commit simply a result of our inability to overcome “natural” responses or instincts, such as selfishness or lust? Was it reasonable and fair of God to expect Adam and Eve to not pursue selfish ambition if that was how they were hard wired? Is it a sin if I am simply reacting to external stimuli in the way my brain is wired, especially in situations where I don’t have time to rationally think through what I should or shouldn’t do?

The third concern is the appearance that evolution is a “hands off” process, where God is not directly involved. Some have described it as a program of sorts that God set up initially when He created life, but He let it run its course until it eventually resulted in the creation of humans. Others describe it as random events that luckily resulted in our creation. The Bible seems to imply that God’s interaction is more direct and deliberate than what evolution allows.

I have less difficulty with the third one because I see God as being directly and deliberately involved in every particle and every force in the universe so that what seems to be random events or subtle changes in genetics are actually the result of God acting on perhaps a sub-atomic level to achieve things on a macro level. The cutting and pasting of chromosomes described by Graeme Finlay (in his paper that you referred to several months ago) could be God’s direct interaction resulting in something that appears to random but is actually a deliberate action.


Gordon J. Glover said...


I'm really looking forward to this series. A good example for how we can deal with this today is found in the heliocentric controversey. The traditional understanding of cosmology up to medieval times assumed that the heavens were perfect, eternal, and unchanging - home to God and His angels. It was also assumed that the earth was the realm of sin and death, and the underworld was the resting place of the dead, the devil and his minions.

If you read the Bible at face value, it is very easy to understand how such traditions can be linked to Christian orthodoxy. And it can be very difficult to challenge traditions that seem to draw their support from scripture. Consider what a scandal it was for Copernicus to take the earth, the realm of sin and death and home to the devil, and elevate it into the heavenly realm, which was strictly reserved for sinless perfection. To have the earth hurling through space was something that could not be reconsiled with the traditional understanding of the cosmos. It took a few centuries of theological reflection and scientific discovery before the Church finally agreed that a heliocentric cosmos was acceptable.

The idea that all life forms are related in a family tree that spans 3.8 billion years of creation is just as paradigm-shifting for our traditional understanding of man's relationship to God as the heliocentric universe would have been to a medieval Christian. But if we have learned anything from the Galileo affair it should be this: that the systematic study of nature often reveals truths that are contrary to the we think they should be (special relativity? Quantum mechanics? Does God play dice?). We expect for creation to reflect those theological truths we hold from our study of God's Word. But just as our special relationship to God is not dependant on our physical location in the cosmos, neither is it dependant on whatever branch occupied by H. Sapiens on the universal tree of life.

I'm looking forward to these discussions as the focus of my work is also to address these very topcs (A theology of creation). In fact, your readers might be interested in a video that I just made showing how the scientific consensus on origins can easily be understood in terms of the person and work of Christ.


Martin LaBar said...

1) I would say that the most difficult problem is the description of the creation of Adam.

2) Could death have occurred in an unfallen world?

3) If humans evolved from some pre-existing form, why would it have been necessary to create a woman for Adam?

4) (I know, that's one too many) I don't read Genesis in the original language, but the translations I see read like the flood was world-wide. If it wasn't, why was Noah directed to build an ark?

There are some other problems with the flood, from almost any perspective. (And, I know, the flood isn't really about evolution, or not directly so, but it's very deeply related in the minds of some people.

Herman Cummings said...

A Scientific Prediction From Genesis

Besides myself, all others that try to tell us what Genesis says do not understand the text, and are speaking from ignorance. I’m sorry to have to take this position, but there are too many false teachers and unqualified people talking about “creation\evolution debates” (when no such contest exists), and proclaiming false doctrines about Genesis, such as Creation Science, theistic evolution, progressive creation, and “gap” theories. There is even the fad of “Intelligent Design”, which is a big waste of time, and has almost nothing of value to offer.

There are no “creation accounts” in Genesis. The opposing view of evolution is what I call “the Observations of Moses”, which were visions of six days from the past, given to Moses by God, on Mt. Sinai in 1598 BC. Each day was taken from a different day of the week, each week being the first week from a different geologic age of mankind.

Having said that, I am now making this declaration, so that mankind may know that the words and events written in Genesis are true, and the humanist theories of our origins are false. I predict that secular science shall soon find, if they have not already, solid evidence of prehistoric mankind, which is earlier than 30 million years in age. The book “Moses Didn’t Write About Creation!”, states from Genesis that mankind has been in his present likeness for over 60 million years. Moses wrote about extinction and restoration.

Herman Cummings
PO Box 1745
Fortson GA, 31808

Gordon J. Glover said...

Interesing prediction Herman. I'd like to know on what basis you can be so confident in it. Evolution predicts that modern humans will never be found prior to about 200,000 years ago. The reason for this is simple.

1.) DNA is always passed from parents to offspring.
2.) Primates all share many "pseudogenes" such as the non-functional copy of the gene that other mammals use to synthesize the GLO enzyme (for vitamin C synthesis).
3.) Non-functional genes accumulate mutations at a fairly consistent rate since they are unexpressed and therefore cause no harm.
4.) By comparing the similarities and differences in primate pseudogenes, a scientists can estimate how much time has passed since any two primate species diverged from a common ancestor, and build a detailed "map" of common descent.
5.) This same "mapping" can also be done with common functional genes, giving the same result thus confirming the model (ie: cytochrome C).
6.) Here is the map of primate evolution:
7.) Finding modern humans 30mya would make them older than the great apes.
8.) But if we understand the significance of the genetic data, then for humans to predate the great apes means the human genome branched prior to the great apes and must have mysteriously accumulated the exact same mutations as the chimpanze branch.
9.) The odds of two inactive genomes accumulating the exact same mutations over a 25 million years period are astronomical - I would say impossible unless of course God caused a miracle to make it so.

Despite the fact that science is currently not on your side, I will grant you that science is wierd. And if such a thing were to be found, it would ruin the idea of common descent, and the world would scramble for a model that better fit the data.

But don't hold your breath.


Steve Martin said...

Hi all,
From the comments & emails I’ve received, the most troublesome issues seem to be reconciling a literal Adam with modern science, the origin of sin, the relationship between sin & death, and the origin of the soul. Have you no mercy? Couldn’t you have picked easier issues :-)?

Actually, I was surprised that the issue of reconciling divine action with evolution wasn't more prominent - not a single email & only one comment on it. Jac: I guess you are the only living person who considers it a problem :-).

Vera: I’m not sure what the concern is with Col 1:16. Can you explain?

Vance: I believe Glenn Morton talks about the relationship between a large cranial cavity and the fall. But his ideas seem pretty far-out from my perspective.

Vance said...

Steve, Thanks for the Glenn Morton suggestion. His essay on The Curse of a Big Head was interesting to me. As a bonus he also explains why God gave Adam and Eve clothes.... A topic I touched on in my post who told you that you were naked

I think one reason I don't struggle much with the possibilty that God interacted with evolution is that there are some biblical examples of Jesus interacting with nature (e.g. quieting the storm)

dopderbeck said...

Steve, thanks for taking this on. If I may, I want to cite more than three. These are the things I brought up on the ASA listserv:

-- harmitology: how does TE relate to the doctrine of sin, particularly original sin and the fall

-- epistemology: how does accepting the conclusions of science concerning evolution affect our view of knowledge, particularly the place and authority of divine revelation in the process of human knowing

-- eschatology: is the final state the completion of an evolutionary process, or a restoration from a fallen state

-- soteriology:
--- does a TE perspective suggest universalism, or is it compatible with exclusivism (or evangelical variants thereof, including inclusivism and accessiblism)
--- does a TE perspective suggest a non-substitutionary view of the atonement

For me, as for many of your commenters, harmitology is the big one. I don't think it's difficult to postulate an "Adam" -- God could have selected an evolving hominid to be "Adam." The problem is that evolution always happens out of populations, so you can't have one Adam who is the progenitor of the human race. Indeed, Ayala's work suggests that there must have been a population of at least 10,000 humans / human progenitors going all the way back the human-chimp split millions of years ago.

This, I think, is a HUGE theological problem. Monogenism is assumed throughout the Christian tradition (it is important in both the Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions), seems implicit if not explicit in scripture (both Old and New Testaments), and seems important to the doctrines of the fall and original sin. This isn't to say this problem can't be solved, but IMHO it makes a fully-TE perspective much more than a hermeneutical question about Gen. 1-3.

Gordon J. Glover said...

David, hermitology is also the biggest question I face when I speak to audiences about an evolving creation. I like to try and make distinctions between what we do know (with a high degree of certainty), what we can reasonably assume, then let the theological chips fall where they may.

We do know this:
There is no way to account for the current human genetic diversity if the entire human race started with two individuals some 6,000 years ago. You would either need miraculous intervention with respect to the human genome, or you would need to start with about 50 couples, with all known alleles distributed among them. We also know that there was plenty of physical death and decay prior to the human race (and by extension the fall).

We can be relatively confident in this:
Assuming our genome accumulates mutations at fairly constant rate, it would be possible to achieve the current genetic diversity from a single couple IF they bgan several million years ago (can't recall the exact estimate). But modern humans do not appear in the geologic column until about 150k years ago, and a distinctively human culture (the image of God?) doesn't show up until about 40k year ago. So monogenism appears to be out.

Also, there is no indication of human farming prior to 9k years ago, and no evidence of human cities prior to 7k years ago - yet Able was a farmer and Cain fled to a city, dating him no neolithic times. But by this time, there were already humans in every corner of the globe. The Bible doesn't mention them, or tell us who built the city Cain fled to, who was threatening to kill him, and what community he took a wife from (it doesn't mention any sisters). So we can also be pretty sure there was more going on that what Genesis relates.

This is indeed confusing, so what I always come back to is this: these doctrines (original sin, federal headship, etc...) are doctrines because God chose to reveal them to us as doctrines - not because the stories and details used to relate these doctrines to us meet the standards of western post-enlightemnet scientific reporting (an extra-biblical requirement). For instance, nobody questions the subtle pervasive influence of the Kingdom of God just becasue a mustard seed is technically not the smallest seed. Or nobody would question Satan's tempting of Christ just becasue there is no mountain in Palestine from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. We often look past the inacurrate "scientific" details becasuse accurrate scientific reporting is the point, they are only used by God to make the point. Perhaps the Garden of Eden is no different.


Steve Martin said...

Hi David. Welcome. Excellent questions, although for some of them I guess I don't fully appreciate the problem you are getting at. I'll try to touch on each of these issues in my survey & then you can clarify your perspective if it looks like I've completely missed the boat.
Actually, I'm not sure if this is going to work out like I planned. I wanted to make brief comments to some of the negative or difficult implications in a single post and then turn to some positive implications. I can see that just isn't going to happen - still mulling over how to handle this. Now a smart blogger would have planned this out a little better ahead of time ...

dopderbeck said...

Gordon -- I appreciate what you're saying here. A couple things I would note:

-- I'm not sure the apparently neolithic setting has to control the analysis. The setting could be a literary device to refer to events that happend much earlier. Or, some of the technologies that are mentioned could have been part of an earlier culture, perhaps the one that was destroyed by the flood. Or, maybe your analysis is right. But, I don't think the matter can be quickly or easily settled one way or the other.

-- As to genetic diversity, if Adam is pushed back a bit further, I don't think we should be so quick to agree that it's impossible. Obviously, reasonable studies that have been done on some parts of the human genome do say it's impossible. However, mutation rates are not fixed laws like the speed of light, and our knowledge of the human genome still is embryonic. But I grant that the "Cain" questions are interesting and suggestive concerning the size of the human population apparently shortly after the time in which the text places Adam.

-- Personally, I feel that whatever exactly Eden was, it would be very difficult to make it only some kind of allegorical reference. It seems to me that entirely allegorizing Eden involves not just some adjustments to evangelical theology, but a far-ranging revisioning. It seems there's nothing left of the creation-fall-restoration/completion narrative arc of scripture if we do this.

To me, this is a place where a little theological "push back" is appropriate. Steve, this leads to one of my more opaque concerns -- epistemology. I think epistemology has to start with theological presuppositions. This doesn't mean a wooden YECish / concordist notion that the Biblical text must be taken as scientific, evidence from the real world be damned. I agree with you that that approach is wrong. However, I think it does mean that central theological presuppositions can and must bear on how we look at information from the book of nature. IF some kind of real Adam, real Eden, and real fall are critical to sound theology, then I think we have to bring those presuppositions to bear on our understanding of the record of human history, even if that leads to some questions that presently seem irreconcilable. For me personally, this is a place right now where I need to take a "wait and see" attitude rather than taking a firm stand of fully and unreservedly accepting the standard scientific narrative for human evolution.

As to soteriology and eschatology -- my concern here has to do with reading more deeply into the theology of some well known TE's, particularly Ted Peters, who is often referenced by George Murphy. Peters contextualizes the entire arc of creation with an evolutionary narrative. This leads to an eschatology in which God is preparing the entire human race for eventual salvation. If one takes evolution as a narrative framework, it is very easy, I think, to end up with this kind of universalism, which IMHO does not square with scripture, tradition, or the idea of human freedom. So again, IMHO this is a place in which evangelical theology has to be extremely cautious about the role of presuppositions and by exactly what we are willing to grant is the role and scope of evolution in God's plan for creation and his plan of salvation.

Gordon J. Glover said...

David - totally concur, which is why I categorized that knowledge as "what we can be reasonably sure of" rather than "what we know with high degree of certainty". Until things become more clear, we do have more room to interpret the limited data in a concordanist fashion - which I don't really have a problem with in the absence of conclusive data - as long as we are flexible enough to make the appropriate adjustments should the picture become more clear.

My understanding is that the human population bottle-necked to 10 or 15 thousand individuals less than 200,000 years ago, but greater than 70,000 years ago. A bottleneck of fewer individuals more recent than 70,000 years ago would require some sort of "superevolution" to get where we are today - of which there is currently no reason to believe happened. Obviously that could change, but rather than wait patiently for population genetics to push "Adam" into a more recent geologic age containing more evidence of human culture (burial of dead, music, art, worship, etc...), I think we should be prepared to work within these constraints to understand what the Garden of Eden is and isn't teaching us about human origins.

I personally think the arrival of the image of God in man is somehow linked with the abrupt appearence of a distinctly human culture around 40-50k years ago. There really were no morphological changes that can explain this, like a dramatic increase in brain size etc... It also preceeds most human migration from Northern Africa across the globe (except for India and Australia) - which might explain the common myths and traditions among various indigenous peoples worldwide.

It's all very facinating. If you have netflix, put "The journey of man" on your list. Facinating.


dopderbeck said...

Gordon said: A bottleneck of fewer individuals more recent than 70,000 years ago would require some sort of "superevolution" to get where we are today - of which there is currently no reason to believe happened.

Perhaps, but how you evaluate this depends to some extent on your starting point. If you assume that we inherited some histocompatibility genes before the chimp-human split and further assume typical mutation rates for histocombatibility genes, you're right.

However, what if both of those assumptions are wrong? Is scripture really flexible enough on this particular question? Do we really know enough about the development of the human genome at this point in history to argue that the Church must change on this question? Can't scripture itself, in this particular instance, provide a reason to suspect that human genetic diversity happened more rapidly than the current scientific models assume? Or could there be something else going on that scripture doesn't discuss, such as some mixing of the "population" from Eden with some other hominids?

Gordon J. Glover said...

Good point David, there is so much we still know - in so many ways we "see through a glass darkly".

I have always leaned toward what you said here: "Or could there be something else going on that scripture doesn't discuss, such as some mixing of the "population" from Eden with some other hominids?" In fact, I believe this was also the understanding of C.S. Lewis.

There is a great new book coming out that I just ordered on Amazon called, "Relics of Eden" - that puts the last 20 years of molecular genetics, specifically as it relates to human evolution, into layman's terms. Cant wait!


elbogz said...

A YEC says to me to me one day, look, if the story of Adam and Eve was not factual history and was in fact a fable to teach us about God’s creation, then Jesus died on the cross, to correct a fable.

I thought about that for a while and finally took my beliefs, crumpled them up and threw them in the trash. It was far easier to not believe anything that to try to reconcile how it was the bible said creation was this way, when in fact all of our knowledge and all our intuition says, that just isn’t so.

I’ve observed that each person that reads the bible comes away with something different than the next person. It seemed God was talking to each of us individually as we read the bible. It was if, God had said, I need to tell you this about your life, and I need to tell that person something else about their life. There was no conflict about literal interpretation of the bible, because that was not important, what was important was that God seemed to be speaking to me, as an individual, when I read the bible.

I was comfortable then. I didn’t have to be concerned about the discrepancy of the actual words of the bible to what we knew as the world around us. I could happily ignore the fact that geology, archeology, anthropology, chemistry, biology and what I perceive as my common sense all made a literal reading of the bible impossible. It was more important to focus on the Author of the book, than the book itself.

But then questions like, how else can we account for 300 different denominations of Christianity when we all have the same instruction book? How do I accommodate a pastor that says, “His Church” is the way, and the Mormons’ are going to Hell, and the Catholics do communion wrong, and if you were sprinkled when you were baptized it doesn’t count, you have to be dunked.

At some point, it all just became rubbish to me.

Jordan said...

"For me, as for many of your commenters, harmitology is the big one. I don't think it's difficult to postulate an "Adam" -- God could have selected an evolving hominid to be "Adam." The problem is that evolution always happens out of populations, so you can't have one Adam who is the progenitor of the human race...

This, I think, is a HUGE theological problem."

I'm not so sure this is a problem, David...
Sure, evolution occurs at the population level. But I would argue that what separates us from the animals -- what makes us "human" -- isn't the phenotypic traits upon which evolution acts. It's the bearing of "God's image" (whatever that means). So, unless you think we evolved into the "image of God", I don't see this as a problem.

In reply to the OP, there aren't many problems I have with evolutionary creationism that haven't already been vocalized here. But I will say that since I crossed the divide from YECism, I've had a lot less unsettled questions rattling around in my brain.

Steve Martin said...

Hi all,
Sorry. For some reason blogger.com never emailed me comments like it usually does. Only noticed now that there was some discussion going on over the last couple of days. Anyways, good discussion – I can see I’m going to be stretched. Exactly what I’m looking for – thanks.

David: I think I hear where you are going with epistemology now, and I suspect we are in agreement on the main idea if not the details. As much as evolution provides a valid explanation for a whole lot of things, it can not as a Christian be the lens from which we view all reality. That’s not a knock against evolution, you can say the same thing for other scientific theories with broad explanatory powers as well. On the “central theological presuppositions” I might want to qualify that somewhat since sometimes we may discover that our presuppositions shouldn’t be so central after all. I certainly have become much less dogmatic about what qualifies as “central theological presuppositions”. (Of course, for some Christians that’s all they need to hear to write me off as a heretic :-) ).

Just to clarify. When you say “universalism” you mean the idea of “universal salvation” and not “access to God through different means – ie. Christ is not the only way”. Is this correct?


When you say …

“I personally think the arrival of the image of God in man is somehow linked with the abrupt appearence of a distinctly human culture around 40-50k years ago. There really were no morphological changes that can explain this, like a dramatic increase in brain size etc”

that’s an interesting idea, but how do you respond when someone points out that it’s just another “God-of-the-gaps” argument? (And yes, that means you can ask me tough questions too :-)).

Vance said...

Regarding Gordon offering of: "arrival of the image of God in man...40-50K years ago". It seems like there might be some analogy to the age of innocence in children. Intuitively and with a small amount of Biblical support you can say that until we reach a certain age we are not accountable. Could it haven taken Homo sapiens that long to develop the language and mental concepts to handle being instantiated in the image of God? Apparently God waited for another human development (writing) before He delivered stuff in written form.

dopderbeck said...

eblogz said: A YEC says to me to me one day, look, if the story of Adam and Eve was not factual history and was in fact a fable to teach us about God’s creation, then Jesus died on the cross, to correct a fable.

While I understand this sentiment and even have some sympathy for it in some ways, it doesn't completely hold up when you examine it. Jesus died for me. I know the sinfulness of my own heart. What's more, the sinfulness of the world is obvious -- war, violence, hatred, bigotry, selfishness, etc. is undeniable. Jesus died for all of that. If the Eden narrative really is an allegory to contextualize the human sin nature and the way in which humans have deviated from how God desires us to be, that doesn't diminsh the reason Jesus went to the cross.

Having said that, I don't think the Eden story should be taken as merely an allegory, and I think it has much more explanatory power and makes more sense -- certainly within the context of evangelical theology -- if it is taken to have some historicity.

As to the "many denominations" problem -- yes, that is a problem. However, remember that for 2000 years essentially all branches of the church have maintained the central affirmation that "Jesus is Lord." That's a pretty incredible record.

dopderbeck said...

Steve -- yes I meant universal salvation, which I take to be Ted Peters' position, not universalism.

geocreationist said...

I know you are not asking for solutions, but here is one I think should be considered: I recently found a paper by Paul H. Seely describing the ancient belief that the sky was a solid dome. Seely made an excellent case that it was the most likely belief that Moses had when he wrote Genesis 1, and it would explain some of the peculiar wording there (e.g., "set" in the sky, for Day 4)... meaning Genesis is not scientifically accurate in reference to the firmament. However, it may still be historically accurate. Just analyze what phenomena would have caused the appearance of what Moses was trying to describe, and you will find a time in the past that matches it.

Assuming this approach is valid and can carried through the entire creation account, it then begs several questions:
1) What is a "day"? (i.e., the literal meaning of "yom")
2) Does God-inspired (or God-breathed) mean God-dictated?
3) (related to 2) Need a factual innacuracy in the Bible mean the Bible is teaching untruth? Or does it simply mean that God's Word can be expressed through human frailty?

Gordon J. Glover said...

vGreat observations geocreationist!

Should we not believe anything Jesus said about the kingdome of heaven because a mustard seed is not technically the smallest of the seeds?

Should we doubt Joshua's long day just because God commanded the "sun to stand still" and not the earth to stop turning?

Should we doubt that Jesus was tempted by Satan just becasue there is no moutain in palestine from which "all the kingdoms of this world" can be seen?

Or what about all of those instances where scripture attributes our thoughts and emotions to the organ of the heart (common belief in the AND)? Are we doubt every historical narrative that includes this misinformation?

For some reason, Christians are willing to give the biblical authors freedom to incorporate dated knowledge when describing the natural world - EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO CREATION!

For some reason, we think our entire faith rests on the scientific merits of the Hebrew creation account.


dopderbeck said...

Seely's focus on "accommodation" is helpful. See also Gordon's book, "Beyond the Firmament," and Peter Enns, "Inspiration and Incarnation."

However, accommodation can't be taken as a meta-hermeneutic. If it is a meta-hermeneutic, it will also apply to any ethical and theological statements in the Bible. So, for example, we might suggest that Paul's sexual ethics reflect and are accommodated to first-century Jewish understandings and are no longer normative. In fact, many liberal scholars take exactly this approach.

It is a bit too easy, IMHO, to say all of the material in Gen. 1-11 is accommodated to the point where it has no contact with history. The story of the fall is simply too important theologically to the doctrine of the atonement for it to be entirely an accommodation.

For, IMHO, a more balanced approach to accommodation, see John Walton's NIV Application Commentary on Genesis.

Steve Martin said...

Hi David,
I agree that accommodation can’t be a meta-hermeneutic. But if I understand Seely correctly, I don’t think that is what he is saying. His main point is that the science of the bible (which is a secondary concern) is almost always accommodated. On the history, it’s a little less clear what his position is but I think he’d be in the camp that says (at least) Gen 1-11 is not historically based. Accommodation isn’t what he starts with, just his endpoint when it comes to the science.

However, I think there clearly are times when God has accommodated his message to current ethical thought. The original divorce and the eye-for-an-eye laws in the Torah are cases in point. As well, the only way I can make any sensible reconciliation between Joshua’s Canaanite genocide & a God of love is with accommodation, or more properly progressive revelation. I do understand this can be a very slippery slope and determining what is normative vs. what is accommodated can be really, really tough. Not sure I have great answers on that. Would love some references if you have any.

Gordon J. Glover said...

Excellend point David about the limits of the principle of accommodation. As a Calvinist who is sometimes accused of believing in fatalism (and therefore I must be opposed to evangelism), I am very sensitive to the consequences of taking a good idea too far.

I've tried to only limit the principle of accommodation to ideas that transcend the material world - like the moral law. This would allow us to apply it freely to scientific question, but not use it to "update" God's unchanging moral standards that are supposedly based on His unchanging character.

However, we do see God accommodating some aspects of His own law to the frailties of His people - as in the OT laws of permitting a man to divorce a wife for just about any reason (because of their hardness of heart). You could say the same for the laws of slavery - regulating slavery in the ANE was the "lesser" of two evils when contrasted against the pagan practices. But it still falls short of God's ideals of equality and freedom for all of mankind.

This is very challenging.


geocreationist said...

Though I cite Seely as a basis for accommodating the science of the day, I apply it only because it indirectly confirms the science of today. It appears Moses would have believed in a solid firmament, and his language betrays that belief. Simple.

The point of Genesis 1's description of Day 4, as I see it, is that to someone who believed in a solid dome firmament, the celestial bodies did not appear "set" within it until Day 4. Where I part with Seely is that scientifically, I believe we can establish when Oxygen levels first allowed things to appear as described, hence confirming the historical nature of Moses' writing. The consistency with then-contemporary science therefore confirms the literal meaning Moses had when he wrote it. Simply put, Moses wrote of the truth that God revealed to him, but his science was outdated.

Gordon J. Glover said...

Interesting. But "appear" is an anthropomorphism that implies there was someone or something for this phenomena to appear to. But my question would be to whom did it appear? Certainly not Moses. To God? To a hypothetical observer on the earth during that time? To the first photosynthetic algea that were pumping O2 into the earth's atmophere?

That would be my question to this type of hermeneutic. But I think you summed up both Seely and my approach when you said this, "Simply put, Moses wrote of the truth that God revealed to him, but his science was outdated."

There is not reason to not take Genesis literally, if we are willing to accept the cosmological model that Moses used to deliver timeless truth about God, man, sin and creation.


geocreationist said...

Excellent question. It sounds almost like you know where I'm going... I believe "appear" is to God. Consider:

Jesus was at Creation with the Father: "1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning." -- John 1:1-2

Specifically: "I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep," -- Proverbs 8:27

The Holy Spirit was there too: " 2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." -- Genesis 1:2

They Holy Spirit often appears in scripture as a cloud with Jesus. Consider the following sequence of scriptures: Exodus 33:3-23, Exodus 34:4-7, Matthew 17:1-5.

I conclude that Moses saw Jesus glorified back in Exodus, then His glorified face in Matthew, suggesting it was Jesus in Moses's tent in Exodus 33.

This in turn suggests that while the Holy Spirit was Hovering, it was as a cloud, and the Son was there in transit. After I first concluded this, I found an account of Creation in Psalm 104:1-5. Note in particular verse 3b, "He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind." The scientific evidence I have found for the conditions of Day 1 suggest there was torrential rain, which would naturally be accompanied by clouds and wind.

Jesus's possible presence in Moses's tent also suggests that the account Moses was writing was an eye witness account recalled by Jesus.

It sounds crazy I know, but I believe it scripturally and logically holds together.

By the way Gordon, I have not read your book. I am beginning to think I should.


Steve Martin said...

Mike / geocreationist:
Sorry for taking so long to respond to this. Kind of fell through the cracks.

I really appreciate the hard work you are putting into the reconciliation of Genesis & modern science, and the fact that you do it with the goal of interpreting both the scriptures and science with integrity. I particularly appreciate the fact that you do this while being respectful to those who disagree with you. (And in the origins investigation, all of us better have this attitude!). However, I honestly believe you are approaching this in a way that cannot be successful – ie. Finding concord between modern science and the ancient revelation of God to the Hebrews (using ideas and words they understood) for a purpose that is in no way related to science. (Definitely recommend Gordon’s book on this – the beginning few chapters address just this point.) Glenn Morton, who you cited, has been trying to reconcile scripture & science in this manner for years. He is all about integrity in both science & scripture and going wherever the data lead. However, IMHO, his concordism has forced him into positions that are completely untenable (eg. Adam & Noah were hominids from around 5 million years ago!). He’s trying to force a square peg in a round whole. I don’t think it can work.

To be honest, I haven’t examined your ideas in detail. I have perused your web site a few times. My issue is not in how you make your conclusions, but in the initial assumption that there must be concord between modern science & the ancient revelation of God to an ANE people.

geocreationist said...

I admit that until recently, I was strictly looking for modern science in the scriptures. In some respect, this is still true, but in studying Seely, I saw that I had to change my approach just a bit.

Specifically, I now see that the literal meaning of Genesis is an expression of ancient now-invalidated science. However, once you understand the writer's science, the actual phenomena that occurred is not that hard to figure out. For example, I am convinced that Moses believed in a solid dome for the firmament. However, based on what I think science says actually happened (e.g., the creation of plants on Day 3 generated Oxygen that cleared the skies on Day 4), I think the reality would have appeared exactly as Moses described it. So, I believe that Genesis is historically accurate on these points, but not scientifically accurate. However, the same history can be confirmed through modern science. Okay, I'm talking in circles now, but I hope my perspective is clearer. I discuss in more detail here: http://www.geocreationism.com/2007/12/01/geocreationism-and-concordist-theory-conclusion-inerrancy-of-scripture/

As for Adam and Noah, I am not done researching them, but my current position is that Adam lived exactly when YECs think... 6 to 10 thousand years ago. Where I part is that I think Adam was born to an evolved human race, that the fossil record is correct, and that God took him from the general population and breathed capital L Life into him, which no person before Adam ever had. I don't have a solution for Noah yet, though I reject the YEC's notion of a global flood.


Herman Cummings said...

Stop Wasting Your Time With Others!

It was previously written that if anyone had questions about Genesis, who to ask. If you wish to waste your time with those that are not an expert on Genesis (there's only one), then expect to be given false information.

The platform of Creation Science is "flood geology" (based upon the flood of Noah in 2611 BC), and that Adam & Eve were created on the Sixth Day of Creation Week, less than 10,000 years ago. The platform of Biblical Reality is "Moses Didn't Write About Creation", which is actually saying that "Moses wrote about Restoration".

The doctrine of Biblical Reality says that God showed Moses six different days which occurred in the past, with each day being taken from a different week, and each week being the first week in seven different geologic eras of mankind. Each day was a different day of the week, with the days of revelation being shown to Moses starting with Sunday, on a Sunday. But chronologically, the earliest vision starts with Wednesday, the only day of Creation Week which Moses was shown. These visions were given to Moses while he was on Mt. Sinai, in 1598 BC, about six weeks after crossing the Red Sea, in "biblical order".

The opposing view of evolution is not "Creation". I get tired of hearing and reading about people that say that. That is an indication of ignorance of the facts. There are no "creation accounts" in Genesis. The correct opposing view is the "six days of Moses", or what I have coined as the "Observations of Moses". Starting chronologically, the "Fourth Day" was Wednesday of Creation Week, shown to Moses on a Wednesday, representing the first geologic era of mankind, comparable to the Pre-Cambrian/Paleozoic Eras. The death of species occurred by escalation, starting with small life forms in the water. This era ended with the Great Extinction, in 245 Million BC. This is when Lucifer lost "the war in Heaven", and caused the death of all surface life that he could. What followed was the first of six restorations of life on Earth, as defined by God Himself, conveyed by means of the remaining six days of Moses.

The "fifth day" of Moses was a Thursday, shown to Moses on a Thursday, taken from the first week of the Mesozoic Era, where Moses saw "sea monsters" (not great whales, as the King James' misquotes) and ancient birds created. The era ended with the most popular extinction, in 65 Million BC, with the death of the dinosaurs.

The "sixth day" of Moses was a Friday, of the second restoration week of Earth, the first week of the Cenozoic Era. This is the period of the large mammals, and the first biblical mentioning of (prehistoric) mankind. Mankind was created during Creation Week, but for the first time in Earth's history, mankind was restored "in God's image", unlike mankind had been previously made before.

Each period of restoration followed an extinction, after an unknown interval. The end of the recent Ice Age was the sixth extinction, and Adam & Eve were the seventh dispatch of mankind, created in about 7200 BC.

Keep this in mind whenever you hear or see something written about creationism or evolution. The book "Moses Didn't Write About Creation!", which is now in print, explains each 24-hr day that God revealed to Moses.

Herman Cummings
PO Box 1745
Fortson, GA 31808

geocreationist said...

Interesting comments Herman. You apparently believe with great conviction. Two problems I immediately see with your scientific details:

1)Birds didn't rule the sky during the Mesozoic Era. That happened during the Cenozoic, which you said is Day 6.
2)After each extinction, God replaced what what was destroyed. He didn't restore them.

Herman Cummings said...

To geocreationist:

I must differ with you. Birds were created after 245 Million BC. If none
of them experienced death until much later in the period, that does not mean that they were not in existence at the beginning of the period. In order to have
fossils, you must first have death. If there was no death, you can not gauge when “life” began. Also, God restored land life in general, not necessarily the same species.

A. The Fourth Day of Moses, from Creation Week
1. Covers the period 4.6 Billion BC to 245 Million BC
a) Depicts the creation of the (other) celestial bodies

B. The fifth day of Moses, from Restoration Week 1
1. Covers the period 245 Million BC to 65 Million BC
a) Depicts the creation of "sea monsters" and birds
b) Discovered life forms
i. ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, pliosaurs, plesiosaurs,
and archaeopteryx

C. The sixth day of Moses, from Restoration Week 2
1. Covers the period 65 Million BC to 42 Million BC
a) Depicts the creation of herbivores, large animals, and the
"remaking" of mankind into God's image
b) Discovered life forms
i. eohippus, indricotherium
ii. mankind of the period not yet discovered

Using the fossil record, you only can determine when life forms died, but not when they where created. In the case of prehistoric mankind, they were made to live forever. The state of “old age” only came to past with modern man (Adam & Eve), because the “parents” of the human race committed sin.

geocreationist said...

I agree with your statement about when birds were created. I only said they didn't rule the sky then. God's command is for them to rule the sky, and that didn't happen until day 6 by your reckoning.

And Day 4 started 4.6 billion years ago? While the earth was still formless and void? Even plants evolution was begun before Day 4. I agree the earth is old and that the Days map to Geologic ages, but your reckoning appears to break the sequence in Genesis 1.

I am not inclined to debate you on this on someone else's blog (unless Steve doesn't mind), though I'd be happy to on yours if you have one.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Mike / Geocreationist:

I'd prefer that you simply ignore Herman on my blog. Herman has been propagating his own version of creationism for over a decade – it doesn’t appear that he has made any converts yet however. He seems to still be the only creature (at least terrestrial creature) that actually believes his interpretation of Genesis. (Spend a half an hour on the net searching for his name – you will see what I mean). Herman’s MO is to spam various websites with his interpretations. I have emailed him to request that he stop this practice on my blog but my request has been ignored. I have deleted a couple of his posts already (one early on in my blogging & one this week). From now on, I think I’ll delete all of his posts unless by some miracle his comments are actually relevant to the current post.