Spritzophrenia

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Evolution, Creation and Christianity

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 24, 2010

I had to laugh at this genuine tweet from today, “The Theory of Evaluation is a lie that is passed off as TRUTH.” A comment on a YouTube video also amused me: “Brian, do you realise how creationist your idea is?” Oh noes – A new insult!

Evolution and God cartoon

Do you groan when the so-called creation versus evolution debate comes up? I do. What pushes my buttons most is the popular impression there is only one Christian perspective on science and the Bible.

This post is a plea for charity, and a plea for awareness that there are multiple views of how God might have generated the world, held by genuine people of faith[1], and by genuine scientists. I’m tired of having the alternatives shouted down. Hopefully it’s only a minority who proclaim that if you’re not with them, you’re not a true believer ™ .

While I often call myself an open agnostic, today I’m wearing my “Let’s assume Christianity is true” hat. If you’re not really interested, just stop reading here and enjoy the music:

La Roux | In For The Kill (Skream remix)

***

I’ve never accepted the earth is young. There is a grandeur to the thought of the Spirit brooding over the eons of Earth, patiently coaxing her into life, exulting in each step and life form. Billions of years for God’s work of art to coalesce. Mainstream science teaches an ancient universe, but there are also many deeply committed Christians who agree.

Evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm wrote of his “conviction that the fundamental problem of Christianity in biology is not really evolution but a philosophy of biology” [2]. I suspect many secular biologists could also do with a good philosophy of biology, an area too easily neglected in the grinding process of long lab hours while earning one’s PhD. While now over fifty years old, Ramm’s “epochal work” is still worth a read as a foundation to thinking in this area.

So what are some Christian views on science and scripture? Years ago, I concluded there are about seven major approaches that are held, depending on how we categorise and name them. Each have theological views about how to interpret Genesis and scientific views about how the natural world came to be.

However, after much wrestling with this post, I decided to abandon any attempt to create the Mother of All Summaries, and concentrate on a few ideas that interest me right now. There’s a useful comparison table here which unfortunately still neglects some views. Here’s another useful summary.

Let’s start with
Old Earth Views
Putting it simply, the evidence from geology and a number of other sources for dating the universe is overwhelming. For the purposes of this post I’m going to take this as a given. One of these Old-Earth creation views is:

Theistic Evolution
There are plenty of Christians who accept biological evolution in some form, and reconcile it with their faith. Even Bible-believing born-again types. See for example, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have To Choose?, Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin, many of the eminent scientists in this book and an increasing number of other books. There are some common responses concerned with the outcomes of theistic evolution – for example, Does it destroy belief in a literal Adam and Eve?, and Doesn’t Genesis teach there was no pain and suffering until the fall, and therefore evolution cannot have been the mechanism? I don’t think these need be problems (see here), and I was skeptical about evolution for many years. I’m sure you want to know whether I’m still skeptical now, right? Let me know if you want me to post about this. Keepin’ this short, remember?

Some will immediately demonise anyone who even suggests theistic evolution, and argue for some kind of atheist conspiracy theory. I’m not an atheist, remember? A few of these people are probably in the Intelligent Design movement. I hesitate to mention Intelligent Design as I’m out of touch with it. It may be better categorized as a social-political movement rather than a distinct new interpretation. Broadly speaking, Intelligent Design proponents believe in an old Earth and may not require literal interpretations of Genesis, which is at least a step in the right direction, in my view. Speaking of which, …

Non-Literal Interpretations
I once hosted a talk by a friend who is both a working scientist with a PhD in chemistry and a Pentecostal minister. He proposed that a good look at the literary forms in Genesis reveals interesting things. These approaches can be loosely lumped together as the Literary Framework view.

This view says that Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 give a figurative framework— a topical and non-sequential account of creation—but not necessarily an historical account of the order of the creative process. And so it tells us we have structure— we have order in the account of Genesis Chapter One, but the structure does not correspond to the historical order. We are not to take the structure literally, yet we are not to hear a non-literal or a mythological reading of the text.” from Dr Guy Waters’ Four Prominent Interpretations .

I want to mention UK physicist Alan Hayward‘s “Fiat creation” idea because it hasn’t had enough attention in my view [2]. I’d prefer to use another name as “Fiat creation” is also used by other viewpoints. Also, I can’t help thinking about Italian cars.

Fiat car

Maybe we could call it
Spoken Word Creation?
I’m writing this from memory and summarising Hayward’s more elegant prose. As I recall, Hayward notes that the original Hebrew of Genesis doesn’t have punctuation (and certainly not verse numbers) and so scholars infer where to put punctuation as a part of the translation process. This also includes deciding where poetic or liturgic language appears. Modern translations usually lay out poetry in a slightly different format to indicate this – see the Psalms, for example.

Hayward suggests it is conceptually possible to read Genesis 1 as if it includes parentheses. For example:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
(God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. )
And there was evening, and there was morning— the first day.

And God said, Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.
(So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse sky. )
And there was evening, and there was morning— the second day.

And God said, Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. And it was so.
(God called the dry ground land, and the gathered waters he called seas. And God saw that it was good.)
Then God said, Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so.
(The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.)
And there was evening, and there was morning— the third day.

The phrases in bold above are what God spoke over the six day period. The passages I’ve put in parentheses are a comment on the fiats, so to speak. There are much more elegant treatments of the poetry in Genesis 1, but hopefully you get the point.

This interpretation focuses on the idea that what God speaks, will inevitably happen. It does not require the outcome to occur immediately. In other words, the Genesis account is focused on God’s speaking (“fiats”), not on how the results of God’s spoken will are worked out through history. Interestingly, this view allows a believer to affirm that God created in a literal six days. It is the six days of God speaking that is the focus, the details of how it actually came to be can be left to science.

In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I got to say about that”.

***

This post is a plea for charity, and a plea for awareness that there are multiple views of how God might have generated the world, held by genuine Christians, and by genuine scientists[4]. I’d like to hear your opinion. Here’s my comment guidelines.

Notes
1. My apologies to Jews, Muslims and other theists, I’m limiting myself to Christian creation views here. Many of the theistic creation views held by Jews and Muslims seem to be comfortable with an old earth and evolution. All three faiths have Genesis in common, although it’s reported many Muslims regard Genesis as a corrupted version of God’s message.
2. Ramm p 179
3.Alan Hayward | Creation and Evolution: Rethinking the Evidence from Science and the Bible (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005) seems to be a reprint of Hayward’s 1995 work which I understand did not receive the attention it deserved in the USA because he heavily criticises young earth creation theories. Though slightly out of date now, I still believe it’s one of the best books written about this topic.
4. You could look at the UK Christians in Science Association and the far-too-short Wikipedia list.

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13 Responses to “Evolution, Creation and Christianity”

  1. […] Evolution, Creation and Christianity […]

  2. Iain said

    At seminary, my teacher of Old Testament Studies argued (quite convincingly, IMO) that Genesis chapter 1 can be seen as a polemic against the gods of Egypt and other contemporary creation myths at the time that it was penned.

    Things like “the greater and lesser light”, and various other groups and signs mentioned, can be seen as the primary domains of influence which the Egyptian gods were considered to rule in. And the placing of humans as the peak of the creation myth demonstrates the value of humans in God’s eyes compared to, for example, the position of humanity in the babylonian creation myth (“Enuma Elish”) where they were an afterthought and slaves to the gods.

    If one were to take the first chapter of genesis literally or even to attempt to literalistically harmonise the text with scientific findings then I think that you risk losing something of immense value; the text itself. Asking, “what does the text tell us about God? What does the text tell us about people?” seems to be a far more interesting question as to how we can, for example, smoosh its chronology into some kind of day-age pattern of scientific literalism (or “biblicism”).

    Also, by taking it as some kind of literal, sequential order, you immediately lose insights into meaning found in other patterns of analysis, e.g.
    Day 1 (light/dark) >> Day 2 (skies/waters) >> Day 3 (earth/sea)
    pairs vertically with,
    Day 4 (sun/stars) >> Day 5 (birds/fish) >> Day 6 (people/animals)
    There are just so many valuable ways of looking at the text other than a prima facie reading.

    I can just imagine God doing a giant, heavenly face-palm at all the busy little bees in a fret about how to reconcile the chapter with science.

    • I forgot to say that even when I was sure evolution was suspect, I was convinced that in the big picture, which position one takes doesn’t matter imho.

      One can be utterly convinced evolution is false and be no closer to g0d (if she is there).

      Your comparison of the days is something the framework interpretation does well, and I think all perspectives could use this information.

      • Iain said

        “One can be utterly convinced evolution is false and be no closer to g0d”

        Yes, that’s a significant point. The options aren’t (1) Evolution or (2) Theism. That dichotomy is a false one. You can accept both, reject both, or have either one or the other.

        I don’t think a person’s take on evolution says anything about their spirituality, as you rightly say.

  3. The Agnostic Pentecostal said

    You’ve certainly covered a lot of ground here, and managed to do it far fewer words than I would have. Good job. I’m not sure where to begin…but certainly the comparison table link was quite helpful…and I realized that perhaps I just might be one row more conservative than I had thought, which is surprising…but still not sure. I had done significant reading on all this in the past and had given up even thinking about it, but you’ve brought it back up in such a way that helps summarize the plethora of views with respect, and you’ve stated your perspective nicely. Awesome post!

    • Thankyou AP, that means a lot to me. I was kinda scared, this post really drained me to write and I was really “done” with it by the end.

    • PS: There’s nothing wrong with being “one row more conservative” as far as I’m concerned. I’m hoping Spritzophrenia can be a place where we leave our pride behind and sincerely listen to each other.

      I have to lead by example, of course, and I’m sure I’ll screw it up at times. 🙂

  4. […] Evolution, Creation and Christianity […]

  5. Erica said

    Good post! There was so much in there I wonder how long it took you to write! I liked the sudden picture of the Fiat! Hilarious!

    • Yay! Glad you enjoyed it. I wondered how many other people would get the “Fiat” joke 🙂

      To be honest, this post took a LOT out of me, as I realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew. As much as I enjoy intellectual stuff, this was a hard one for me. So thanks 🙂

  6. […] have to say atheist evolutionists because there are in fact a number of theistic evolutionists, as I write about here, even though the young earth nutters are more […]

  7. 'Seph said

    How blunt would you like me to be? (Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical). I’ve been through this Creationist-Evolutionist thing ’til the cows’ve come home.

    I think any Young Earth beliefs or theories are simply silly. (I’m attempting to play nice here). There’s little more to say on that topic.

    I believe in Darwinian Evolution (I also believe it is incomplete). I do not believe in Intelligent Design is really any sort of viable theory onto itself. It’s good at pointing out the holes in the Theory of Evoltuion, but offers little by itself.

    I think Intelligent Design can help fill in the holes in Darwinian Evolution so I suppose I’m a Theistic Evolutionist. (Although that in itself opens up a can of worms. The term ‘theistic’ suggests “God” and my understanding of g0d is so beyond the tribalistic Christian version that I doubt it would ‘count’).

    • You can “be” anything you want to be here, Seph.

      I’m pretty much in accord with you, myself. I think I shall have to do a post on “what kind of God do you think is out there” sometime. I know it’s been done elsewhere, but i’d be interested to hear what people say.

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