/** recent comments widget code */ /** end of recent comments widget code */

Sunday, 28 October 2007

What Does Evolution Mean? A Framework for Christians

Much of the confusion in the evolution debate lies in the meaning of the word “evolution”. Since it can have several different meanings, and even the scientific definition of evolution can include several distinct components, it is not surprising that many confusing and confused arguments are articulated. Certainly the conversation is very difficult when conversation partners discussing evolution do not share the same definition, conflate several of the definitions, or elevate one component of evolution to be descriptive of the whole.

Dr. Allan Harvey has provided a simple overview of the various meanings of evolution. Harvey, a fellow ASA member, recently taught a 6-part course on “Science and Nature in Christian perspective” at his conservative Presbyterian church in Boulder Colorado, and the 5th essay in the series is on evolution. (Note: The entire course looks outstanding. It is presented in clear non-technical terms, and Harvey includes wise counsel on how Christians who accept the integrity of scripture should approach science. For anyone beginning this journey, I highly recommend reading through the entire series)

Harvey provides a framework that includes 6 meanings for the word evolution, and remarks on both the scientific certainty and compatibility with the Christian faith for each definition. These six meanings are:

E1. Change over time
E2. Common ancestry
E3. Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic variation, natural selection).
E4. The ability for these Evolutionary mechanisms to account (physically) for common descent.
E5. Origin of life (chemical evolution)
E6. Evolutionism

I have grouped these meanings into three categories: those meanings for which the scientific evidence is overwhelming and thus enjoy an extremely high degree of certainty (E1, E2, and E3), those definitions that are less certain based on the scientific evidence (E4 and E5), and those definitions whose conclusions are based on metaphysical assumptions rather than the scientific evidence(E6).

Evolution Meanings Group#1: Extremely high degree of scientific certainty

Harvey’s first three meanings for evolution (E1 – E3) are all extremely well supported by the scientific evidence. There is also, in Harvey’s view, no incompatibility between these meanings and the Christian Faith.

E-1) Change over time. This is the most basic meaning of the English word “evolution,” simply meaning that something changes with the passage of time. For example, we might talk about the evolution of popular music, or the evolution of stars. With regard to living things, this simply says that things are different than they were in the past (there used to be dinosaurs; now there aren’t). Almost nobody denies this meaning.
The only opposition to E1 is in the time available for changes to occur. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) would disagree with the scientific consensus of cosmological evolution (formation of the cosmos eg. stars) because of the billions of years required for this process.

E-2) Common ancestry. This is central to what scientists usually mean by “evolution.” Common ancestry (or common descent) means that life has branched out, so dogs and wolves are distant cousins, dogs and cats are more distant cousins, and if you go back far enough dogs and fish, or dogs and trees, had a common ancestor. You can put humans in the family tree as well – related to chimpanzees, more distant from other mammals, and so forth.
As I’ve commented earlier here, a shared ancestry with non-human life does not contradict the biblical claim of humanity’s creation in the image of God. As well, as Harvey points out in his 3rd essay, and as I’ve commented here, common descent does not compromise the integrity of scripture. In fact, many of the leaders in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement (eg. Michael Behe, author of The Edge of Evolution) also support common descent, even though ID is often described as anti-evolution.

E-3) Evolutionary mechanisms (genetic variation, natural selection). This refers to specific natural mechanisms (first proposed by Darwin, although in a primitive way because genetics was not yet understood) that cause species to change. Genetic variation is the fact that (due to mixing of parental genes and to mutations) children have different genes and different traits. Natural selection refers to the fact that the traits will make some children more likely to survive and pass their genes on to future generations.
Note that in recent years even YEC organizations have started backing away from their opposition to the mechanism of natural selection (see here and here). They have also admitted that natural selection can lead to new species, and that “in fact, rapid speciation is an important part of the creation model”.

Evolution Meanings Group#2: Less Scientific Certainty

Harvey’s 4th and 5th meanings of evolution enjoy less scientific certainty (in fact, there is very little current evidence for E5). These definitions have historically experienced aggressive opposition from Christians (certainly more than E1-E3), but Harvey does not believe this needs to be the case.

E-4) Mechanisms (E-3) account (physically) for common descent. This is typically what scientists mean by “the theory of evolution.” We know these mechanisms produce changes in species, but do they account for all the evolution (in the E-2 sense) that has happened through the history of life on Earth? Most biologists, including most Christians working in these areas, would say “yes,” but it is certainly not as 100% established as the previous meanings.

I believe E4 is the meaning that sharply divides Christians who identify themselves as Theistic Evolutionists (TE) or Evolutionary Creationists (EC) from those who are anti-evolutionists, particularly those that are supporters of ID. Harvey’s 4th essay called “Natural Theology or a Theology of Nature” explains briefly why E4 should not really cause any conflict for Christians.

E-5) Origin of life (chemical evolution). The theory of evolution is only an explanation for the development of life from other life. How life began in the first place is a different question, but people have proposed somewhat similar theories (the technical term is ambiogenesis) of how that happened. That is an area where there is much room for doubt; some people see it as an insurmountable problem, while others think science is coming closer to good explanations.
E5 is the meaning that really sparks derision among anti-evolutionists. And the lack of evidence for E5 is often used to discount the validity of E2 through E4. It is still an open question whether a “natural” origin of life theory that is supported by the scientific evidence is 3 years away, 30 years away, 300 years away, or is practically impossible. The important point is that Christians need not oppose E5 for the same reasons that E4 need not be opposed.

Evolution Meanings Group#3: Definitions based on metaphysical assumptions

Harvey’s final meaning for evolution (E6) is unrelated to science.

E-6) Evolutionism. I use that term to refer to a meaning that is not science at all, but rather an ideology that sometimes masquerades as science. This starts with the philosophical position that natural explanations exclude God (the “God of the Gaps” error discussed in Chapter 4). Since science has produced these natural explanations for life, those with this ideology claim to have pushed God out of the picture. Of course these metaphysical conclusions are not science in any way – those who advocate this meaning are simply pushing atheistic philosophy, and it is wrong to try to claim it is a result of science.

This meaning for evolution is obviously not something that can ever be accepted by a Christian. But this is the meaning that both Christian anti-evolutionists and “evangelistic anti-theist” atheists push to the forefront. They conflate evolution meanings E2 through E5 with E6, and thus state that TEs and ECs are supporting atheism, materialism, or moral relativism (anti-evolutionist claims) or are deluded and cowardly for not following the scientific evidence to its logical conclusion (anti-theist claim).


I really like how Harvey categorizes the various definitions of evolution. They are helpful both for Christians trying to understand evolution, and for those of us that are frequently engaged in the evolution / faith dialogue. I am planning to use these definitions in my own conversations. Hopefully this will allow all of us to hone in on the salient issues more quickly, and avoid talking past each other. Ok, maybe that's overly optimist, but it can't hurt to try.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Theodicy and Evolution

The problem of evil has haunted humanity from ancient times and it is a frequent topic in the ancient scriptures (eg. Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes). Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the wicked seem to prosper, oblivious to, or unfazed by, the pain and sorrow they are causing? How can an all powerful, all loving, all knowing God allow evil to exist? Traditional theology states that evil originated with human sin / rebellion. However, this view is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of modern science, and it is not even clear that this is a good theological statement. So where does evil originate? If God is all-powerful and all knowing, why did he not prevent it? Is the benefit of “free-will” actually worth the price of evil?

This is the problem of theodicy, and it still perplexes modern Christians today. It perplexes me. Over the centuries, Christians have provided many lines of reasoning to address the theodicy issue. However, no single argument has captured Christian minds, probably because none comes without its flaws.

Those who wish to expose Christianity as a sham delight in highlighting the problem of evil. For atheists it is a good strategy since, in my opinion, it is their best (and maybe only good) argument. The other arguments frequently put forward (eg. “I can’t see any evidence for God, therefore he doesn’t exist.”, “There are lots of errors in the bible, therefore Christianity must be wrong”, and “The scientific evidence supports evolution, so God didn’t create the world”) pale in comparison. But theodicy is very difficult, and I suspect that a debate limited only to theodicy would prove very uncomfortable for any Christian.

Opponents of evolution like to state that, since it demonstrates “nature red in tooth and claw”, evolution makes the problem of evil even worse. After all, how could a loving creator be so inefficient and allow so much death and destruction? But is this so? I really don’t see how evolution increases the theodicy difficulty. It adds details to the process of how we have been created, but is irrelevant to the central problem of long eons of death and extinction. Whether one explains the fossil record by many progressive creative acts, or the gradual creative process of evolution, the fact remains that much pain and death have occurred.

I certainly do not have a complete answer to the problem of evil. So rather than articulate a partial solution to the puzzle, I’ll simply provide some pointers to resources I’ve found helpful so far:

  1. Probably the closest thing I’ve found to a satisfactory answer is John Polkinghorne’s “Free Process Theodicy”. The best place I’ve seen this outlined is in “Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World” pages 59-68. (I do not have a link to a good overview on the net – can anyone help me here?)
  2. William Dembski has an interesting article entitled “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science”. I am not very comfortable with Dembski’s solution but it is a well reasoned and consistent proposal. I would like to hear the opinions of others on this. For some reason, I haven’t seen much discussion on this paper. This is odd since, to me, it seems much more interesting than some of the other things Dembski has written.
  3. Since sin and evil are so intertwined in Christian theology, I’d also like to point to an excellent article on the origin of sin by George Murphy entitled “Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin”.
  4. I’ve previously mentioned Cliff Martin’s series on the relationship of entropy to evil. Cliff has just posted the second part of his “Theodicy: A New Approach”. If you are interested in discussing the question of theodicy, I highly recommend you visit his blog, as it is indeed (I think) a new approach. My suggestion is to read the following posts in order:
Finally, I have put “The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?” by David Bentley Hart on my “To read” list after seeing two shining reviews (here by Cliff and here by Chris Tilling).

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Posts of the Month Awards – October 2007

I know that the last time I did something like this was almost 2 months ago, that mid-month is a silly time to be passing out monthly awards, and that some of the posts in contention were actually published late last month. But when PEDEBA (The Panel of “an Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution” Blog Authors) reaches consensus, it acts immediately. So on with the show.

A) Post of the Month Award

*** “Sympathy for the Devil’s Chaplin” by Stephen Matheson (Part-one here and Part-two here):

After much heated debate, PEDEBA unanimously chose Matheson’s two-part series on Richard Dawkins. Matheson gives credit where credit is due. He also apologizes (sort of) for referring to Dawkins as “The Idiot”, highly recommends (some of) his writings, and points out areas where Christian critics have been unfair to the Professor with the Overlong Title. Looks like I’ll have to put Dawkins book “The Extended Phenotype” on my “To Read” list. So many good books, so little time …

B) Honourable Mention

In Chronological Order ...

1) “Theisms, Creationisms, and Evolutionisms: An Exercise in Definition” by Henry Neufeld

Henry Neufeld is a prolific blogger (Ok, just about anyone is prolific compared to my once-a-week-or-so postings) and Evolution-ID-creation is a frequent topic for Henry. I always appreciate his perspective, even when I don’t agree with it. This post provides a good overview of some of the pertinent definitions in the evolution debate. It also references (in the comments) a good discussion on ID’s relationship to YEC at Sun and Shield, the blog of Martin Labar who occasionally comments here on "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution".

2) “Biblical Literalism: Fast Track to Atheism” and the “The Evolutionist Conspiracy” by James McGrath

Two good posts in one day (where does he find the time??), the first on the fact that biblical literalism can lead to a loss of faith (as I’ve commented before here) and the second on the myth of the evolution conspiracy.

3) “Randomness in Nature” by Gordon Glover

Gordon Glover, author of Beyond the Firmament, addresses a reader's question on randomness in evolution and how this can be consistent with God’s providence.

4) “The Gift is not like the Trespass” by Stephen Matheson.

Matheson comments on Paul’s argument in Romans 5 comparing Adam's sin and Christ's redemptive work. A very interesting take for those struggling with the issue of the (seemingly) required historicity of Adam.

5) “The Clergy Letter Project: Pastors for Evolution” by Vance McAllister

McAllister points out that many Christian clergy have signed an open letter stating that there is no conflict between the Christian faith and evolution.

C) The Not so Fine Print

PEDEBA deliberated for many hours making these very difficult choices. The Panel’s decision is final. Those who voice their disagreement or disapproval will not be considered for future awards until they submit an essay entitled “How I convinced Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham to agree on just about everything”.

Cliff Martin’s very interesting series on "Entropy and Theodicy" at Outside the Box was originally nominated for consideration. However, it was discovered that Cliff is the 5th cousin of one of the PEDEBA panel members and was thus ruled ineligible for the award. The PEDEBA committee on nepotism, despotism, and endofNOMAtism is currently considering a challenge to this ruling but was unable to reach a decision prior to the randomly selected award deadline.

Award winners receive a significant cash prize of 10% of the revenue generated from "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution" during the month in which their post appeared. More significantly, the cash prize is in Canadian Dollars. For my American winners: No, that is not monopoly money, and yes it is worth much more than that boring green stuff you try to sluff off on us. (I have been waiting YEARS to say that!)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Does Evolution lead to Moral Relativism? Making the Bogeyman even Scarier.

Most bogeymen are dispatched well before childhood ends. However, for many evangelicals, the Evolution Bogeyman lasts much longer. Much like children nervously peaking under the bed each morning, many evangelical students (and their parents!) scan nervously through the course outline prior to stepping tentatively into that first high school or university biology classroom. Many, like I did myself, use various avoidance strategies. However, these strategies only help to solidify and strengthen the perceived threat.

When I stumbled across David Hill’s article “Who’s afraid of Biology 101?” I was optimistic that he would directly address the evangelical tendency to be intimidated by evolution. However, my optimism evaporated when I read the opening paragraph:

Students from Christian homes are often warned about the dangers of secular lifestyles in college, especially those relativistic worldviews rooted in humanism and evolutionary theory. Many parents sending their kids off to school are not only concerned with the temptations of the social atmosphere, but they also fear the potentially more damaging outcome from an intellectual culture hostile to Biblically-based perspectives.
Alarm bells start ringing any time I see “relativistic worldview” and “evolutionary theory” lumped together. On very rare occasions an author can astutely work through the various meanings of each of these phrases, show how they are related (or not related), and provide some wise guidance on how these systems or ideas should be approached by a Christian. Most of the time however, an author simply conflates the terms, pontificates on their evilness, and moves on to strategies for combating them. Although Hill’s tone is respectful and pontification is minimal, his approach is much closer to the latter.

A) Do not Avoid Science

First the positive. Hill does not say Christians should avoid learning about evolution. He acknowledges that Christians should examine modern scientific explanations, including biological evolution. Taking biology 101 will allow Christian students to
“… walk away four months later appreciating modern scientific theories about the universe and have their faith strengthened because they understand this conflict more deeply”.
Although I strongly disagree with the implication that evolution and faith are inherently in conflict, or that the majority of those teaching it are attacking a biblical worldview, I commend his advice to Christians that they seek to understand modern ideas and theories, even ideas and theories that are in conflict with a biblical worldview or are taught by those biased against a biblical worldview. As both Jesus and the apostle Paul demonstrated, we need to directly engage our culture, not run from it. And to properly engage, we need to first listen & understand.

B) Natural Selection and its Relationship to Moral Relativism

However, Hill’s second conclusion that we need to be wary of an evolutionary paradigm because “it results in a morally relativistic worldview” is completely unsupported in the essay (and I believe unsupportable). He states:
An evolutionary paradigm describing the result of competition and environmental stress within nature can be stated very simply: the fit survive, mutations arise and new species arrive. According to this mode of thought, humans are no exception to this rule, being an ordinary product of the machinery of natural selection, as much as daffodils, flounders, or pigeons. This indifference and utter accidentalness in the origination of living things is unnerving. It proposes that everything is relative, that nothing under the sun — least of all the human race — is special in any way.
I have commented before that humanity’s connectedness to all other life on planet earth does not contradict the fact that we are created in the image of God. What needs to be addressed is the contention that the mechanism of natural selection somehow leads to moral relativism. Briefly, the acceptance of natural selection should not lead us to accept moral relativism since first, it acts on populations not individuals, and second, it is descriptive not prescriptive.

1. Populations, not Individuals

Natural selection is a mechanism that operates on populations, not on individual organisms. (See here). Individual orchids, sheep, and hominids do not evolve – populations of orchids, sheep and hominids evolve over time (generally very long periods of time). Natural selection is unrelated to individuals or their choices. In fact, maybe a better term for natural selection is environmental sorting of heredity as indicated here.

2. Descriptive, not Prescriptive

Natural selection is an explanation for how things have changed over time. It is thus descriptive and is not meant to be prescriptive. The theory explains the paleontological, genetic, and morphological data, but does not in any way provide guidance on how humanity should act in the future. As Kyle Maxwell states:

The theory of evolution is merely an account of the mechanisms God has used to create us. It can no more be a guide to our moral choices than Newton's laws of motion, the laws of thermodynamics, or Boyle's law. Bear in mind, by the way, that scientific laws (of which evolution is one) are descriptive, not prescriptive or normative. That means that scientific laws describe what DOES happen in the universe; they do not tell you what moral choices to make. Many persons make a mistake here by confusing the different meanings of the word law. For example, they'll think that the law of gravity "punishes" a person for stepping off a cliff. That is not so. The law of gravity describes how an object moves in a gravitational field. The choice of how and where you place yourself in such a field is up to you. (Quoted from here - scroll to the 3rd post at the bottom).
C) A Christian Paradigm

Hill might include more than just the scientific evidence for natural selection in his “simple” definition of “an evolutionary paradigm” ; it is not clear from his essay. But based on his definition, the conclusion he reaches is not warranted. It is true that some paradigms might lead to moral relativism, even paradigms near and dear to the hearts of many evangelicals. One could try to make the argument that the economic theory of capitalism leads to moral relativism (“survival of the fittest” is certainly more applicable here than in biological evolution) or that the political theory of democracy leads to moral relativism, but both of those statements are obviously simplistic and can be debated. However, the contention that capitalism and/or democracy leads to moral relativism is easier to defend than the claim that natural selection leads to moral relativism. Both capitalism and democracy are at least partly prescriptive; natural selection (and the science of biological evolution) is purely descriptive.

In one sense Hill is right. Making an Evolutionary Paradigm (however it is defined) foundational for defining truth, making choices, and finding purpose is unacceptable for Christians. Our primary paradigm must be Christ-centered and biblically guided. If this approach is trumped by any other paradigm, whether a Democratic Paradigm, a Capitalist Paradigm, or an Evolutionary Paradigm, we have committed idolatry. Christians can of course hold democratic political ideas, capitalistic economic ideas, and evolutionary scientific ideas, but these ideas need to be secondary to, informed by, and measured against our primary paradigm, which is faith in Jesus Christ.

D) Still Promoting Fear of the Bogeyman

Although the title of Hill’s article seems to suggest that evangelicals should not fear evolution, I believe his argument will only make things worse. The impression one is given is that accepting the evidence for biological evolution inevitability leads to an evolutionary paradigm that is itself equivalent to moral relativism. Since moral relativism is incompatible with the Christian faith, the message is really “learn about the scientific ‘theory’ of evolution but hold your breath so that you don’t inhale its toxic ramifications”. This is equivalent to giving your fearful 6-year old a loaded gun when going to bed. Someone might get hurt, but it sure won’t be the bogeyman.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Genesis 1 –11: Background, Context, and Theology

Let’s face it. Scripture is often very difficult to understand & interpret. Anyone who states otherwise probably hasn’t read it very thoroughly or is glossing over the difficult passages. As Christians we may agree that the bible is divinely inspired, and agree that it is God’s revelation, but we will often disagree on what the inspired author actually meant, and what specifically God’s revelation reveals. So it is no surprise that Christians can on the one hand share a commitment to the integrity and divine inspiration of the Genesis creation stories, but on the other hand arrive at radically different conclusions on how these stories should be interpreted.

Interpreting Genesis 1 to 11: Introduction

To faithfully and fruitfully interpret scripture, particularly puzzling sections of the bible, it is helpful to understand the background of the biblical author, the culture of day, and the context in which the message of scripture would have been received. This is particularly true of the early chapters of Genesis since the worldview of these authors, and the cultures they describe, are so vastly different from our own. As Gordon Glover’s post indicates, modern ANE scholarship has shed new light on the worldview of the biblical authors and their audience.

Although most Evangelicals (including many Evolutionary Creationists) have traditionally interpreted Genesis 1-11 as an historical narrative, most would also agree that the divine message goes beyond, and is much more important than, simply teaching history and science. So leaving aside the question of historicity, what message is being conveyed by the early chapters of Genesis? What important and eternal truths should we take from these narratives? Does the context of ANE culture help clarify the message the inspired authors intended to convey?

A Radical Prologue

The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a natural sub-unit of the book. It can be viewed as a prologue to the rest of the Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch; it is an introduction to the accounts of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, and the giving of the Law. The stories recorded in these early chapters show strong similarities to ancient Mesopotamian myths, accounts that were almost certainly recorded prior to the writing of Genesis. Although the narratives and scientific worldviews portrayed in Genesis are similar to these Mesopotamian myths, the theology it contains is radically different. In fact, Genesis is a complete repudiation of Mesopotamian pagan assumptions about God, humanity, and the world.

The Mesopotamian view of Creation

The ancient Mesopotamian accounts include stories about the creation of the gods, gods that included the sun, the moon, the stars, and sea monsters. Creation was not an account of the forming of matter, but of the ordering of eternal matter. According to the Mesopotamians, matter pre-dated the formation of the gods. The myths recount events in the lives of the gods, including their internal bickering, wars, and even the murder of the primary god by his progeny. These events showed that the Mesopotamian gods were far from perfect or even good; they displayed characteristics of selfishness, vengefulness, and capriciousness. Man was created as somewhat of an afterthought, and his primary purpose seems to have been to feed the gods.

A global flood account was also part of the Mesopotamian mythology. The gods had become tired of the noisiness of humanity, were concerned about human overpopulation, and thus brought about a flood to destroy their own creation. However, once the flood started, it soon raged beyond the control of the gods and they became terrified for their own safety. When the flood finally subsided, a lone human survivor was found, saved not because of his righteousness, but because he was the favourite of one of the lesser gods. The primary god was in fact quite surprised to find him alive. The theme of the story of man following the flood was one of progress. Even though he started out quite humbly, he advanced beyond these modest beginnings. There was great optimism for humanity improving itself even further.

The Hebrew view of Creation

The theology of the early chapters of Genesis stands in stark contrast to that implied by other Near Eastern primeval history. Rather than many gods, there was but one God. The Hebrew God was not one of the pantheon, but Lord of the universe. This was no local deity concerned with the internal politics and religious rites of a single nation. Rather than being part of nature, this God was the primary cause of nature. Rather than ordering pre-existing matter, he created it. Everything, including objects the Babylonians viewed as gods (eg. sun, moon, stars, sea monsters), was created by him and was subservient to him. There were no stories about God. The Genesis record contains no theo-biography; God simply was. God was both omniscient and omnipotent; there was no need for him to be afraid of his creation, or even surprised by anything. He was in complete control. Finally, God was good, and loved his creation. Rather than treating it as a useful object, he genuinely cared for it. Rather than being capricious and unpredictable, God was an orderly divinity that could be trusted.

The Genesis view of humanity was also quite different from the view held by the Hebrews’ neighbours. Rather than an afterthought, man was the apex of creation. Rather than a functional slave, he was created in God’s image, held a place of honour, and was given the responsibility of caring for the rest of creation. God went out of his way to provide for man (food, a wife, clothing) rather the other way around. Unfortunately, man was disobedient to God. Man’s problems are and were a result of this disobedience. Rather than being optimistic like the Mesopotamians about man’s progress, Genesis was very pessimistic about his ability to progress on his own. The story of the Tower of Babel is a scathing satire on Babylonian claims that their ziggurats were reaching upwards to the gods. In fact, God needed to descend to reach their towers. Rather than demonstrating a powerful and growing civilization, these towers symbolized confusion. On his own, man could not reach God or solve any of his problems. It was only through God’s faithfulness that man had any hope at all.

A God of Love, not Violence

Finally, one needs to appreciate that for the ancient Hebrews, the violence evident all around them was not an inherent feature of Creation. As Lesslie Newbigin states in “A Walk Through the Bible” (Hat Tip to Fire and Rose):

The first chapter of Genesis was almost certainly written during the time when Israel was in exile in Babylon. And we must picture these writers as slaves under the shadow of this mighty empire with its palaces, fortresses and temples. Babylon had its own account of creation, as we know from the work of modern scholarship. It was a story of conflict, battle and bloodshed. Violence was the theme underlying the whole creation story as the Babylonians understood it.

The writers of Genesis had a quite different picture of God. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. They knew God as the redeemer God, the God who had saved his people from bondage. And they had a totally different picture of God’s creation—not as the result of violence but as the action of a God of love and wisdom who, out of sheer love, desired to create a world to reflect his glory and a human family to enjoy his world and give back his love.

Creation is a doctrine shared by all Christians. As part of the good news, we need to proclaim the message of creation to a fallen world. Our creation story in Genesis communicates truths about God and humanity, truths revealed by God through the writer of Genesis to all of humanity, in all cultures, in all places, and throughout all of history. Although the message is contained in literature that is accommodated for an Ancient Near East mindset, it is not truth relevant for this culture only.

Genesis speaks to a world consumed by violence, selfishness, and greed. It speaks to a world that is convinced there is no purpose. It speaks to a world that thinks human reason can overcome any problem, and that humanity can “rise above our evolutionary impulses”. In short, it speaks to our world too. Though the truth in Genesis is contained in a vessel that is foreign to a modern, science-oriented culture, it is a truth that modern man desperately needs to hear. Let’s make sure the world hears this message, and not the one that is garbled, tainted, and damaged by a dogmatic insistence and focus on specific scientific claims.