EVOLUTION? YES! 

Goin' Ape

YES, YOU CAN BELIEVE IN THE BIG BANG, THAT THE EARTH IS BILLIONS OF YEARS OLD, EVOLUTION, DINOSAURS, AND ALL THAT JAZZ, AND STILL BE A CHRISTIAN! HOW COOL IS THAT?

THE IDEA THAT GENESIS HAS TO BE INTERPRETED LITERALLY IS A RECENT INVENTION. MARTIN LUTHER CRITICIZED ST. AUGUSTINE BECAUSE AUGUSTINE THOUGHT THE CREATION ACCOUNT WAS A METAPHOR...AND THAT WAS IN THE 5TH CENTURY A.D.!  REFORMER CALVIN THOUGHT GENESIS DIDN'T HAVE TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY. SIR ISSAC NEWTON THOUGHT MOSES HAD WRITTEN THE CREATION ACCOUNT IN A WAY THE MASSES OF THE TIME WOULD UNDERSTAND IT.

 

" Quotes From A Mar./06 National Geographic Article - The Greatest Journey Ever Told: The Trail Of Our Dna
On p. 62:

"The human genetic code, or genome, is 99.9 percent identical throughout the world. What's left is the DNA responsible for our individual differences - in eye color or disease risk, for example - as well as some that serves no apparent function at all."

"...mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is passed down intact from mother to child. Similarly, most of the Y chromosome, which determines maleness, travels intact from father to son."

"The accumulated mutations in your mtDNA and (for males) your Y chromosome are only two threads of a vast tapestry of people who have contributed to your genome. But by comparing the mtDNA and Y chromosomes of people from various populations, geneticists can get a rough idea of where and when those groups parted ways in the great migrations around the planet."

"Scientists now calculate that all living humans are related to a single woman who lived roughly 150,000 years ago in Africa, a "mitochondrial Eve." She was not the only woman alive at the time, but if geneticists are right, all of humanity is linked to Eve through an unbroken chain of mothers.

Mitochondrial Eve was soon joined by "Y" chromosome Adam," an analogous father of us all, also from Africa. Increasingly refined DNA studies have confirmed this opening chapter of our story over and over: All the variously shaped and shaded people of Earth trace their ancestry to African hunter-gatherers."

[From Christian Odyssey Magazine Online www.ChristianOdyssey.org]

   

No Contest

Why the argument over Genesis?

One doesn’t have to be religious to know that a great controversy surrounds the first chapter in the Bible. The way it is written seems to suggest that the whole universe, including the Earth and all life, was made by God in just six days. Some Protestant Christians insist on taking this literally. Genealogies in succeeding chapters are then supposed to lead us to the conclusion that all this happened 10,000 years ago, more or less.

This creationist viewpoint has been forcefully asserted, especially during the latter part of the 20th century, and the media have been very effective in reporting it. There is, therefore, a general sense among the biblically illiterate general public (and even many Christians) that the majority of Christians have always held such a view. This is not the case.

According to Conrad Hyers, author of The Meaning of Creation, allegorical interpretations of Genesis 1 were common in the Patristic (early) and Medieval Church, whereas Protestant Reformers leaned toward a literal approach. Martin Luther, for example, criticized Augustine (A.D. 354–430) for Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the six days of Creation.

Today, there are numerous religious books about the Genesis Creation written by evangelical or fundamentalist scientists who ridicule evolution and rewrite geological history, meanwhile demanding that the Genesis accounts can be interpreted only and wholly literally. Wedded to a particular paradigm, they fail to consider carefully what type of literature it is, why it was written, who the audience was, and what were the historical/cultural and religious settings in which Genesis was written.

The fact is, a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 has nothing to do with science, and it is poor theology to suggest it does. "Young earth" creationists have overlooked the first principles of exegesis. Exegesis is the systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning.

Translation of the fifth tablet  of the Enuma Elish

Compare the order of deities with that of the celestial bodies in Genesis 1:16, in which the order is deliberately reversed. He [Marduk] made the stations for the great gods; The stars, their images, as the stars of the Zodiac, he fixed. He ordained the year and into sections he divided it; For the twelve months he fixed three stars. The Moon-god he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him. He appointed him, a being of the night, to determine the days; Every month without ceasing with the crown he covered him, saying: "At the beginning of the month, when thou shinest upon the land, Thou commandest the horns to determine six days, And on the seventh day to divide the crown." When the Sun-god on the foundation of heaven … thee, … [tablet here damaged]

When exegesis is done properly, Genesis 1 is seen for what it is—a literary masterpiece, an intelligent, carefully crafted assertion of monotheism against polytheism (many gods), a matter of great significance for the people who were alive when Genesis 1 was written. Many chapters of the Old Testament record how the people of Israel preferred to "go whoring after other gods" than follow the one true God.

Cosmogony or cosmology?

Moses wrote the Creation account as a cosmogony that was intended to counter the well-known cosmogonies of the pagans.1

A cosmogony is a story of the genesis or development of the universe and the creation of the world, whereas cosmology is strictly a formal branch of philosophy dealing with the origin and general structure of the universe. We know what the commonest pagan cosmogonies were because they are preserved in cuneiform script on clay tablets.

The best-known cosmogony, the famous Babylonian creation epic known as the Enuma Elish, itself based on earlier, pre-Mosaic versions, was written some time after Moses. When you read a translation of it (see box), you can see what the Israelites were up against. It describes a struggle between cosmic order and cosmic chaos. There are great sea monsters, and the chief divinities, in order of pre-eminence, are the stars, the moon, and the sun. Other gods abound in the cosmogonies—gods of darkness, water, vegetation, various animals, and so on.

"Exegesis is the systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning. When this task is done properly, Genesis 1 is seen for what it is—a careful, intelligent, extraordinarily crafted assertion of monotheism against polytheism. It is stunning in its brevity and effectiveness."

The Enuma Elish and earlier cosmogonies help us understand why the Genesis account is written as it is. As one archaeologist has written, Genesis freely uses the metaphors and symbolism drawn from a common cultural pool to assert its own theology about God.

In the beginning…

Let’s now look at the structure of Genesis 1 to see how this works (for this you might want to consult a Bible). It starts out with a summary statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [the universe]."

Most of the verses in the chapter hinge upon the next statement, in verse 2: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The following verses explain how God respectively structured and "filled" the conditions of formlessness and emptiness. The six days are arranged in two parallel sets of three (noted as early as Augustine in his City of God), such that what is created on days four through six populates the appropriate realm structured in days one through three.

Problem    Preparation    Population
Verse 2    Days 1-3    Days 4-6
darkness    day 1a - creation of light (day)
day 1b - separation from darkness (night)    day 4a - creation of sun
day 4b - creation of moon and stars
watery abyss    day 2a - creation of firmament (sky)
day 2b - separation of waters above from waters below    day 5a - creation of birds
days 5b - creation of fish
formless earth    day 3a - separation of earth from sea
day 3b - creation of vegetation    day 6a - creation of land animals
day 6b - creation of humanity
without form and void    tohu (formlessness) is formed    bohu (the void) is filled
The point of this symmetry in Genesis 1 is that the form of the presentation is at least as important as the content. With this perspective, it is clear that the structural framework is artificial and therefore was never intended by the author to be taken literally as a seven-day historical account (with God resting on the seventh day). The fact of God’s creative authority over everything is certainly intended literally, but the seven-day framework is just that—a framework.

As Victor Hamilton in his 1990 commentary on Genesis 1 wrote, "A literary reading of Genesis 1…understands ‘day’ not as a chronological account of how many hours God invested in his creating project, but as an analogy of God’s creative activity. God reveals himself to his people in a medium [a seven-day week] with which they can identify and which they can comprehend."

How the ancients saw the world

We need to understand that, for most peoples of the ancient world, all the various regions of nature were divine. There were sky gods, earth gods and water gods, gods of light and darkness, rivers and vegetation, animals and fertility. Everywhere the ancients turned, there were divinities to be petitioned, appeased, or pacified.

Each day of Creation in Genesis 1 takes on two principal categories of divinity and declares that these are not gods at all but creations of the one and only true God. This includes humans, none of whom—not even kings or pharaohs—are to be worshipped as gods.2


From the Egyptian book of the dead, the god Shu separates Nut (the sky) from Geb (the earth). Hebrew monotheism (one God) was a unique and hard-won faith. The temptations of idolatry and syncretism (blended religion) were everywhere. Later in history, it came to be understood just how liberating was the concept of monotheism. From time immemorial, superstitious people have attributed natural phenomena, or calamities like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, to gods who were beyond understanding (except by a priestly elite) and had to be appeased and not questioned. Genesis 1, on the other hand, asserts that there are no gods but God and that his creation is comprehensible and amenable to investigation. This perspective made possible the scientific study of nature.

Verse 16 of Genesis 1, when understood, is amusing. As an intentional put-down, it deliberately reverses the order of the chief deities of a well-known cosmogony. The sun—called the "greater light" to avoid using the only available Semitic names for the sun, which were names of deities—comes first, then the moon, the "lesser light." The stars—the highest deities—are barely mentioned in a throw-away line: "He made the stars also"! Not only that, Genesis 1 makes it plain that they are not to be worshipped; they were made to serve—daily, seasonally, and calendrically. And none is accorded astrological significance.

You see the contrast? In this chapter, God overcomes darkness, makes order out of chaos, and even makes the great sea creatures, which, as it happens, are not monstrous. The impressive orderliness of Genesis 1 and its patterned structure are a deliberate response to pagan mythologies. The Hebrew God has no competitor and there is no cosmic battle going on. Everything is under control.

No Contest

Genesis 1 is not at odds with modern geology and biological science. This is not an issue here. To insist that it is does violence both to Scripture and to science. As Victor Hamilton wrote, "This is a word from God addressed to a group of people who are surrounded by nations whose cosmology is informed by polytheism and the mythology that flows out of that polytheism. Much in Genesis 1 is patently anti-pagan…. The writer’s concerns were theological."

Both Henri Blocher and Rick Watts (see Further Reading) have highlighted the similarities and differences between the Genesis account and some themes apparent in Egyptian cosmogonies (something relatively few scholars have attempted). In short, Genesis 1 is a corrective against polytheistic concepts encountered by the Israelites in their old land as well as in their new. •

Dennis Gordon is a biologist in a government research organization in New Zealand and an Associate Member of the U.K.-based Society of Ordained Scientists. He obtained his PhD in 1973 (Dalhousie University, Canada), was baptized in the same year, and was ordained in 1980.

Further reading

Blocher, H., and R. Preston. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. InterVarsity Press, 1984. 240 pages.

Gibson, J.C. Genesis (volume 1). The Daily Bible Study Series. Westminster John Knox, 1981. 228 pages.

Hamilton, V.P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans, 1990. 522 pages.

Hyers, M.C. The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science. Westminster John Knox, 1984. 216 pages.

Watts, R. "Making Sense of Genesis 1." Stimulus 12(4) (2004): 2–12. www.stimulus.org.nz/index_files/Stim12_4RikkWatts.pdf.

Endnotes

1 Moses is taken to be the author of Genesis. As Henri Blocher, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, Illinois, has written: "We stand…with the contemporary specialists who maintain the traditional positions, those suggested by the Bible itself, which associate Genesis with the work of Israel’s most powerful thinker, ‘our Teacher,’ as the Jews call him, Moses." And for good reason—his training in Egypt and his later pastoral life uniquely equipped him intellectually and spiritually, as one who was "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7: 22) and who was filled with the Spirit of wisdom, which he later passed on to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9)

2 All humans, men and women equally, not just pharaohs and kings, are said to be made in the likeness of God, with the royal prerogative of rulership (properly, stewardship) over the earth. This equality of men and women, extended to common folk, was revolutionary teaching!

 



 
FROM VERTICAL THOUGHT MAGAZINE: http://www.verticalthought.org/issues/vt18/dinosaurs.htm

"Where Do the Dinosaurs Fit?"

"Figuring out when the dinosaurs lived relative to man isn't really difficult."

"by Mario Seiglie "

"I don't believe in the Bible because dinosaurs lived a long time before man ever did."

"Have you ever heard a statement like that? I certainly have—many times. In fact, this was one of the principal reasons Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, eventually rejected the Bible. Many have followed suit. "

"Most people believe you can't reconcile dinosaurs and the Bible—but they are wrong. This erroneous idea is based on the supposition that either you have to believe in the young-earth theory of a 6,000 year-old earth and dinosaurs living with Adam, or you can't believe in the creation week account of Genesis Chapter 1. "

"Yet many would be surprised to find that several centuries ago scientists did believe in dinosaurs, an ancient earth and in creation week. "

"In fact, many of the first geologists who established the basic geologic column were believers in both the Bible and an ancient earth. "

"British physicist Alan Hayward wrote about these premier geologists: "Among them were William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick. Buckland held the chair of geology at Oxford in the early nineteenth century, while Sedgwick was his counterpart at Cambridge [University]. Both were leading churchmen, and both preached the plenary inspiration of Scripture and argued in favor of special creation … "

"Buckland maintained close links with Sedgwick and the famous French geologist, Baron Cuvier … They did much to persuade the early nineteenth century church that the earth was extremely old and that such views could be harmonized with the teaching of Genesis" (Creation and Evolution, 1985, pp. 72-73). "

"Proper chronological sequence "

"It is interesting to note that two Bible experts in the 1970s combined their skills to publish The Reese Chronological Bible, which supports an ancient earth and a creation week that is actually a re-creation of a devastated earth. "

"Edward Reese was a professor of Bible, history and missions at Crown College in Powell, Tennessee, and spent 20 years putting biblical events in chronological order. Frank Klassen was an architect and engineer who spent 10 years writing The Chronology of the Bible. They both agreed that the account of Genesis had important biblical events occur between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. "

"In fact, they felt the first verses of the Bible chronologically would be John 1:1-2: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."

"This is the same way 20th-century Church of God leader Herbert W. Armstrong explained the real beginning of the biblical account. Before space, matter and energy were created, there existed the Word (who would later become Jesus Christ, see John 1:14) and God (who later would be identified as God the Father). "

"Next in The Reese Chronological Bible comes a scripture that speaks of God existing before the creation of the earth, Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."

"Then comes the traditional first scripture of Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This marks the creation of the universe as we know it, including the galaxies, stars and planets. "

"But the most fascinating part of this Bible is what follows—not Genesis 1:2, but Isaiah 14:12-17, where Lucifer's fall from heaven is recorded. Next comes the parallel account of Lucifer's fall in Ezekiel 28:13-18. "

"Devastation and renewal "

"Only then comes Genesis 1:2, "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (emphasis added). In the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, a footnote to the word "was" in this verse says, "Or possibly became."

"Apparently, something happened to cause the earth to become, as the Hebrew denotes, "chaotic and in confusion." Since God is not the author of confusion or chaos (Isaiah 45:18; 1 Corinthians 14:33), it makes sense that the earth became that way due to Lucifer's rebellion and subsequent expulsion to the earth. "

"As Jesus Christ remarked, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Other scriptures reveal it was not only Satan, but also the fallen angels that were cast down with him. We read in 2 Peter 2:4, "For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [from the Greek tartaroo, a place of confinement, and in this case, the earth] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment …"

"Revelation 12:3-4 describes the dragon (Satan, verse 9) as having drawn a third of the stars of heaven to be cast down to the earth—these "stars" being symbolic of angels (compare 1:20)."

"What we don't know is how long it took Lucifer to rebel—and how long this was before the six-day renewal of the earth culminating in the creation of Adam and Eve, as described in the rest of Genesis 1. Satan's rebellion apparently happened after the earth had passed through the dinosaur age. Then, geologists agree, something dramatic occurred between the age of reptiles and the age of mammals. "

"As the famous paleontologist G.G. Simpson once remarked: "The most puzzling event in the history of life on the earth is the change from the Mesozoic Age of Reptiles, to the … Age of Mammals. It is as if the curtain were rung down suddenly on a stage where all the leading roles were taken by reptiles, especially dinosaurs, in great numbers and bewildering variety, and rose again immediately to reveal the same setting but an entirely new cast, a cast in which the dinosaurs do not appear at all, other reptiles are supernumeraries and the leading parts are all played by mammals of sorts barely hinted at in the previous acts" (Life Before Man, 1972, p. 42). "

"This apparently reflects the change from the pre-Adamic world to the world of man. Certainly there are smaller reptiles in our world, but they are insignificant in comparison to what existed in the previous age. "

"What has been presented here is not the only "ancient earth" explanation available, but it seems to make the most biblical sense. It is the only explanation I know of that accepts the literal 24-hour days of the creation (or to us, re-creation) week and, at the same time, makes room for an indefinite period before the creation of mankind that could include the dinosaurs and previous eras. "

"Recent geological and astronomical discoveries, such as cosmic expansion and signs of meteor impacts at the Cretaceous-Paleocene border of the geologic column, have only served to substantiate this view. "

"So, if anyone tells you he or she doesn't believe in the Bible because of a dilemma with the dinosaurs, let that person know there is more than the young-earth explanation available—one that fits well, as best we know, with the biblical facts. "

About the Author
Mario Seiglie is a father and the pastor of United Church of God congregations in Garden Grove, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Creation and Evolution:
How did God bring about the rich variety of species on earth? (From Christian Odyssey Magazine)

Almost 150 years ago Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. The debate between science and religion has been fast and furious ever since. Darwin proposed that life on earth began hundreds of millions of years ago and developed by evolution through natural selection—a stark contradiction of the Christian fundamentalist view that God created everything in six literal 24-hour days.

Theologians had been arguing since the days of Augustine about how to rightly interpret the Creation account in the first chapter of Genesis, but Darwin’s revolutionary ideas gave the debate a new face. “If you don’t believe Genesis 1 is literally true, then you are questioning the whole Bible,” evolution’s opponents declared. “Reject evolution and you lock yourself into an anti-scientific worldview that blocks progress,” its supporters argued.

Have you ever wanted simply to talk about the issue in a calm and reasonable way, without being made to look foolish, ignorant or hostile either to the Bible or to scientific discovery? Perhaps such a conversation would go something like this:

Have you ever wanted simply to talk about the issue in a calm and reasonable way, without being made to look foolish, ignorant or hostile?
 
I’m confused. I’m not a theologian and I’m not a scientist. But I know what the Bible says about how life began, and I also know basically how the theory of evolution explains it. They can’t both be right, can they? So who do I believe—God or the scientists?

That’s a good question, but it isn’t quite as easy as that. This is not a straightforward “either/or” issue. There are many sides to it with a lot of misunderstanding thrown in, and it is quite understandable that you are confused, so let’s look at this broad question in some detail.

I have heard that some Christian denominations have dropped their opposition to the evolutionary theory and now accept evolution by natural selection as a valid explanation of the development of life.

It’s true that many major denominations have come to terms with Charles Darwin’s theory, in one way or another. The Church of England has officially apologized to him for the decades of misrepresentation. However, millions of Christians still firmly reject evolution in favor of an explanation based on a more or less literal interpretation of the Genesis 1 account of Creation. This is particularly true in the United States, where some surveys show that more than half the population claims not to believe in evolution.

There are two major schools of thought on how to resolve the conflict.

Really? What are they?

One is Creationism and the other is Intelligent Design. Creationism is a term to describe the belief that the Genesis 1 account of Creation should be understood in strictly literal terms. Creationists typically believe that the seven days in Genesis 1 were 24 hours in length, and they are adamant that anything short of this literalist interpretation necessarily leads to undermining the rest of the Bible.

The problem is that such an interpretation flies in the face of scientific research, and, for many, it defies common sense. Creationism is not allowed to be taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution, because it is considered a religious idea, not a scientific one. If we’re realistic, we have to admit that this is true. Creationism does not offer a proven, rigorous and valid scientific alternative to evolution, but is based on a single narrow interpretation of the first chapter of the Bible.

Many Christians prefer an alternative explanation, known as “Intelligent Design” (ID). Proponents of ID accept the findings of science, but argue that evolution cannot explain certain features in the development of life. These unexplained features, or “gaps,” are evidence of an “intelligent Designer,” they claim.

In an effort to skirt the ban on teaching religion as science in public schools, they do not insist that the Designer be called God. They thus hoped that ID could be taught in schools as an alternative to Darwinian evolution. But this was challenged in a historic case in York County, Pennsylvania, where it was ruled that Intelligent Design could not be classified as science, because it incorporated a supernatural element. Even though it did not specify the identity of the Designer, it was, in the court’s opinion, another form of creationism. (See article on ID.)

However, it isn’t just the courts who have a problem with ID. Many scientists who are also committed Christians (and there are many) point out that although ID may at first seem to be a plausible approach, it is dependent on an unstable “God of the Gaps” theoretical foundation.

A what?

Opponents of Darwin’s theory have always pointed out that there are inconsistencies and gaps that evolution by natural selection cannot explain. For example, they point out the lack of  fossils of transition species. They also make the point that when you consider the mathematical odds against even one living cell being formed by a chance combination of non-living components, there has not been enough time for evolution to have taken place. In fact, they say, the odds are so great as to be impossible, no matter how much time elapses.

These are reasonable objections—there do appear to be “gaps” in the theory of evolution by natural selection. Opponents of evolution then seize on those “gaps” as evidence of the supernatural action of the Creator, who becomes “the God of the Gaps.”

The trouble is that any time further research fills in a particular gap, the “God of the Gaps” idea loses some of its force. Breakthroughs in scientific disciplines such as molecular biology have refined the theory of evolution by natural selection and have steadily eroded what once looked like irrefutable arguments against evolution. The “God of the Gaps” domain is steadily shrinking. Not all the gaps have closed yet, and there are still some important unanswered questions. But as new research continues to uncover answers, the traditional challenges to evolution are losing ground.

The development of species over vast periods of time tells us that God either created some form of evolutionary process in the beginning or continually created new species by fiat over billions of years. In either case, creation was no cosmic “accident.”
 
A growing number of believing scientists are recognizing that to fight a rearguard action for the “God of the Gaps” is not the right approach. A fact is a fact, even if it is an inconvenient one. And if the facts show that evolution is the most likely explanation for the development of species, they must come to terms with it. They call themselves Theistic Evolutionists.

“Theistic Evolution”! Sounds like a contradiction in terms.

Maybe, but it isn’t. Theistic evolutionists accept the findings of science, and see no contradiction between the theory of evolution and a proper understanding of the biblical account in Genesis 1.

But surely there is a contradiction. Evolution claims that species have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Doesn’t this contradict what the Bible says—that God directly created each and every life form?

Not necessarily. The Bible only tells us that God is Creator; it says nothing about how he created. The scientific evidence does indicate that the various species of life have evolved over a very long period of time.

But how can we be so sure about that?

We can’t be 100 percent sure, of course. All science can do is study the evidence that has been left behind in fossil form and apply current knowledge and techniques, such as genetic science and the various radiometric dating methods, in order to form conclusions that seem in keeping with the evidence.

What theistic evolutionists are saying is that the revelation of the Bible in no way rules out the possibility of life forms evolving through time. Although the number of theistic evolutionists is still small, they have introduced some ideas that are worth considering. [Readers who would like to know more will find a short list of books on this topic in the “I’ve Been Reading” feature.]

But why would God have used a process like evolution?

Why not? You could equally well ask, “Why did Creation take him six days? Couldn’t he have done it all in one instant?” But leaving the question of life for a moment, let’s take a look at the way God may have brought the universe into existence.

Most scientists believe that our vast universe came into being in one “big bang” some 15 billion years ago. Not all believe this, but let’s say for argument’s sake that this is when and how the universe got started. At the moment of the big bang and for some considerable time afterwards, galaxies, stars and planets did not exist. The universe evolved over billions of years to a kind of soup of hydrogen atoms, and then expanded over more billions of years during which galaxies, stars, planets and other elements of the universe came into existence. Thus the universe became what it is today through gradual development, the natural  consequences of God’s original creative act. Perhaps God also did something like that with life on earth. The point is that a process like evolution need not contradict the reality that God is Creator.

But if you accept that the universe is 15 billion years old and that life on earth is billions of years old, doesn’t that contradict the biblical revelation in Genesis 1 that God created everything in six literal days or, as a few Creationists suggest, several thousand years?

It contradicts only if you insist on a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. And if you insist on a literal interpretation of this skeletal framework of days, this could only be six 24-hour periods.

The first problem with accepting a six-day creation is that it flies in the face of common logic and everything that has been discovered about how the universe came into existence and developed. (As you say, a few Creationists have stepped back from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and have assigned a life to the universe in the tens of thousands of years. Their reasoning not only ignores science, but manufactures a new interpretation of Genesis 1 based on their own imagination.)

All theories of a “young universe” are contradicted by the evidence of astrophysics about the age of the universe and from geology and paleontology about the age of the earth. On the other hand, accepting an age of the universe in the billions of years does not contradict either science or the biblical witness. The Bible only says that God created all things that exist; it does not speak to the question of the manner of the creative process or how long the creative process took—or whether it is continuing even today.

Are you saying that a literal interpretation of the Bible is wrong?

It depends on the passage. Parts of the Bible that are intended to be understood literally should be understood literally, and parts that are intended to be understood figuratively should be taken figuratively. For example, some 40 percent of the Bible consists of poetry and metaphors.

It is a misinterpretation of the Bible to interpret poetic statements literally. For example, God is not a literal hen, rock, tower, or shepherd, even though the Bible describes him in such terms. Likewise, when Jesus said the Pharisees were blind guides and that they swallow camels, he did not intend for anyone to interpret his statements literally; he intended that they be interpreted figuratively. Nor did Jesus intend that people interpret his parables as literal stories of literal people; he intended them to be understood as parables—made-up stories that illustrate a point.

It is not watering down the Bible to read it the way it is intended. Poetry should be understood as poetry, metaphors as metaphors, similes as similes, and parables as parables. “Literal” and “true” are not the same thing, and the truth is, to interpret things literally that are not intended to be interpreted literally is to miss the truth completely.

I hadn’t thought about it that way. So give me an example of how Genesis 1 can be interpreted in a poetic or metaphorical way.

Think of the writer of Genesis 1 as living at a time when common oral (and eventually written) traditions included creation epics that presented visible phenomena, such as the stars, the planets, the sun, moon, land, sea and animals, as gods. Some of these creation epics began with a preexistent primordial mound out of which the first god springs, who then in one way or another produces the other gods. Another variation has the sea as the first god. Such epics were the standard approach to explaining the origin of the universe.

Contrast that with the Creation story in Genesis 1. It uses the standard style and genre of creation epics at the time. But using that standard style, it makes the radical declaration that the God of Israel, completely unlike all the gods of the nations, did not emerge from anything, nor was he ever part of the universe. Quite the contrary, this God created everything out of nothing simply by the power of his word. Each of the things thought of by the nations as being gods is systematically presented as having been created by this God and being declared “good” by this God, demonstrating his utter power over them.

Genesis 1 is about the Who of Creation, not the how. We should let the writer of Genesis 1 make his theological statement to us about who God is as Creator in contrast to the gods of the nations and not try to interpret him as providing us some kind of scientific police blotter of literal events and dates.

So should we be distinguishing between the fact that God created all things on one hand and how he might have caused it all to come about on the other?

Yes. There is a needless conflict between science and religion on the matter of the Creation. The biblical revelation tells us that the God who revealed himself to Israel and who has revealed himself to humanity in Jesus Christ is the Creator of all that exists. This revelation is not interested in detailing the physical processes he might have used to bring about this universe that humanity is part of and has, as God’s gift, both the capacity and the joy of studying and learning about.

This means that nothing factual that science can say about how the universe came into being or how the process of creation has unfolded throughout the history of the earth can contradict the biblical revelation—as long as the scientific speculation doesn’t conclude that God is not the Creator of all that exists.

But doesn’t evolutionary theory insist that everything came into existence without a Creator?

No. It’s true that some scientists claim that everything came into being naturally, spontaneously—without God’s original creative act. But that is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

On the other hand, many scientists do believe in God, and they do not discount the biblical revelation that God is Creator. They do their scientific work by studying the physical phenomena in the universe that are the result of God’s creative act. They accept that Genesis 1 tells us that God has created all things, but recognize that Genesis 1 does not tell us how the creation process has unfolded or how long it has taken to unfold. Scientists, using whatever evidence is available, seek to better understand the wonders of the amazing universe God has brought into being.

So where does that leave me—the average person? What is the proper approach for a Christian?

We suggest curiosity mixed with humility. There are strident and often angry voices raised on both sides of this question. They only make the argument increasingly bitter and the divide wider. The fact that many scientists can accept the findings of science that point to evolutionary changes in the forms of life, while remaining committed to their Christian faith, should be encouraging to the rest of us. It does not have to be an either/or argument.

In fact, it does not have to be an argument at all. Realistic scientists know that they might never uncover all the mysteries of creation.

“Take a long, hard look. See how great he is—infinite, greater than anything you could ever imagine or figure out!” (Job 36:26, Message Bible)

But as the Proverbs remind us: “God delights in concealing things; scientists delight in discovering things” (Proverbs 25:2, Message Bible). We may never fully resolve these questions in this life, but it is a legitimate and exciting quest, and we are discovering wonderful things along the way.

Grace Communion International, publishers of this magazine, sums it up like this:

“We believe that God gave the scientific record for human instruction and knowledge and that there is no conflict between the Bible and science. We believe that when the Bible and scientific discovery appear to conflict, that one or the other has been misunderstood. Therefore, we do not deny the evidence from science that indicates a long history of life on this planet. We believe that only God can create life, and that the Creator has not revealed exactly how he has done this.”



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