(C) Copyright 2000 by Carl Drews
Last update: October 24, 2014
And God said,
Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind,
cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind;
and it was so.
A certain Christian brother has been the very first person outside my family to say to me, "I am interested in what you think"; instead of, "Listen to what I have to say - I'll set you straight," or "You've got to listen to this tape," or "Watch this video". Therefore I dedicate this document to his exemplary spirit of understanding between Christian brothers and sisters.
Theistic evolution is the proposition that God is in charge of the biological process called evolution. God directs and guides the unfolding of life forms over millions of years. Theistic evolution contends that there is no conflict between science and the Biblical book of Genesis.
Credo - What I Believe
The Age of the Earth
The Whole-Earth Flood
Old Earth, Local Flood
The Possibilities of Genesis
Is the Bible True?
Genesis is First and Foremost a Faith Account
What I Think About the Soundness of the Theory of Evolution
Not Enough Time to Develop
The Origin of Life
Typical Encounters with Young-Earth Creationists
Careful Christian Analysis and Interpretation of Scripture?
Credo - What I Believe
I believe that God Almighty created the heavens and the earth, and all life upon the earth. He accomplished this process over billions of historical years. He has been in charge of this process since the beginning of time and He still is in charge. He directed the unfolding of life forms over time that many people call evolution.
I believe that the human race has been sinful since our very beginning. This sin came, and continues to come, from satan's temptation to do evil and our willful acceptance of that temptation. Our sin separates us from God because His nature is righteous and purity, and His law is not possible for us to fulfill on our own merits
I believe that God Almighty has great power on this earth, and over mankind in particular. This power includes the ability to destroy us as a race if He so chooses. He has never chosen to destroy mankind entirely because of His great love for us. His mercy endures forever.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, and the only way by which our right relationship to God can be restored. He was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead in the flesh. His death for our sins and His resurrection pay the price for our sins. We have salvation and eternal life in heaven if we believe in Jesus Christ and trust in His grace.
I believe that we Christians are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ throughout our own nations and to the ends of the earth. This call is the Great Commission given by Jesus in Acts 1:8. We are commanded to tell people about Jesus' death and resurrection, and to live our faith in love towards our neighbors; the Holy Spirit will convert people's minds and hearts.
I believe that one day God Almighty will judge every person who has ever lived. Jesus Christ will be the judge, but Jesus Christ will also be our Advocate before satan. We will be judged according to John 3:16, "Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but will have eternal life." Those who do not believe will be condemned to an eternity apart from God, in hell.
I believe that the Holy Bible is the true word of God. I believe everything that the Bible says about itself. The Bible is divinely inspired and divinely passed through history over thousands of years. The witness of the Bible is essential for understanding our faith, and for living out our lives in service to Jesus Christ. The Word of God is our Rock, the foundation upon which our Christian faith is based.
I believe that the Bible never requires me to bear false witness about God's creation.
Next to these great beliefs, a biological theory seems pretty unimportant. That impression is correct. Do I "Believe in Evolution" like I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! I accept the Theory of Evolution like I use the Quadratic Formula; they are both useful for a certain class of problems that I sometimes have to solve. I certainly do not place my eternal life and soul in the care of a scientific theory or a mathematical formula. I am no atheist. I place my entire being in the hands of God Almighty through his Son, Jesus Christ.
I reject the idea that evolution and Christianity are always and must be in opposition to each other. I reject the notion that if the scientific theory of evolution is true, then Christianity must be false. I reject the idea that people who accept evolution must be atheists. I reject the idea that the scientific theory of evolution fundamentally denies the idea of God the Creator. I reject the idea that evolution and Christian faith are inevitably in conflict with each other and cannot be reconciled.
The Age of the Earth
There are too many scientific disciplines that state that the earth is more than 10,000 years old. Astronomy, genetics, linguistics, geology, plate tectonics, and archeology all say it is a lot older. The probable figure is about 4 billion years for planet Earth, and roughly 3 billion for life itself. We base our conclusions on appearances and scientific observations. The weight of evidence from all these disciplines is too much for me to dismiss. I do not find at all credible the assertions that the earth is only 10,000 years old and all the natural processes occurred within that time. (Bishop Ussher calculated 6,000 years old, and the Flood at 2348 BC.)
One often reads the statement that "evolution says the earth is billions of years old." This statement is incorrect. Astronomy and geology say that the earth is billions of years old. Evolution draws on these disciplines for an estimate of the time in which the evolutionary processes can work. This point is important in order to realize the breadth of the quarrel about the age of the earth. If you assert that the earth is only 10,000 years old, you are disputing far more areas of the natural sciences than just a portion of biology.
Some young-earth creationists assert that the earth is 10,000 years old, and others assert that the earth is 6,000 years old. That's a big difference: 4,000 years, or 67%. Bishop Ussher's chronology, derived from the Bible, clearly states that the earth is 6,000 years old. Extending the age to 10,000 years conveniently places the date of Creation and the Flood beyond the oldest trees, and beyond the pyramids and dynasties of ancient Egypt. I have heard the following accusation from young-earth creationists: You are interpreting the Bible in the light of science; you should be interpreting science in the light of the Bible. (I have not heard a Bible verse to back up that charge.) 10,000 years is not what Bishop Ussher said. What is the reason for changing his number? Creationists who claim 10,000 years, unless they do so for purely Biblical reasons, should hear that same accusation ringing in their ears at least once.
The Whole-Earth Flood
There is not enough water to cover the entire earth, including the top of Mt. Everest (29, 028 feet above sea level). If the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica were to melt, it would raise sea levels only a few hundred feet (see calculation). If every cloud worldwide were to rain out all its water, it would still raise the sea levels only another inch. Genesis reports that the "fountains of the deep" spewed forth more water. Until geologists find evidence of these fountains, or discover the underground aquifers that hold 6 miles deep of water worldwide, I cannot honestly accept the idea of a non-miraculous worldwide flood. When evidence for fountains is discovered, I'll be happy to take a look at it.
Calculation: Maximum estimate for raising of ocean levels from melting ice caps.
Greenland and Antarctica contain 97% of the world's glacial ice. The area of Greenland is 840,000 square miles (source: Rand McNally Illustrated Atlas of the World, 1989). The area of Antarctica is 5,400,000 square miles. Since we want a maximum estimate, let's assume that both of those places are solid ice right down to the waterline. The mean elevation of Greenland is 7,000 feet, so Greenland contains 5.88E+9 square-mile-feet of water (like acre-feet). The mean elevation of Antarctica is 6,000 feet, so Antarctica contains 3.24E+10 square-mile-feet of water. So the total amount of glacial ice is 3.828E+10 square-mile-feet.
Let's further assume that the melting water is used only to raise the levels of the major oceans and seas, that the rising sea level does not spill over onto the land (we are estimating the maximum rise). The area of the oceans and seas is 139,100,000 square miles. So if we divide the square-mile-feet of ice by the square miles of the oceans, we obtain (3.828E+10 / 1.391E+8):
Compared to glacial ice, the amount of water in clouds around the world is only a trace amount. "If all of this [water] vapor were to suddenly condense and fall as rain, it would be enough to cover the entire globe with 2.5 centimeters, or 1 inch of water." (from Meteorology Today, by C. Donald Ahrens, 2000, Sixth Edition, Chapter 5, pp. 108-109.) So we are left with the same figure of 275 feet.
Most creationists are aware of the huge disparity between this figure and the height of Mt. Everest. They propose various mechanisms during the Flood year to address the problem (vapor canopy, extremely catastrophic plate tectonics, underground aquifers). I do not find these theories credible on Biblical or scientific grounds.
Old Earth, Local Flood
There is a body of Christian thought that agrees with me, and it is sometimes termed "Old Earth, Local Flood." One can find this thinking on the World Wide Web. There are many committed Christians who believe that creation took longer than 6 24-hour days, or that the whole-world flood reported was the entire known world at that time (Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean or the Black Sea basins).
There are many committed Christians who believe that Genesis and evolution are compatible. It angers me when Christian speakers mock "Theistic Evolution" on non-scriptural and non-scientific grounds. I believe that mockery is sin; because it creates contempt in the hearts of Christians instead of love for those whom Christ came to save, and it produces sharp resistance in the hearts of non-believers if they ever hear about it. It bothers me that self-described "fundamentalist" Christians seem to have no knowledge that there are Christians out there who accept evolution. (For what it's worth, Pope John Paul II has stated that evolution is a theory that is worth serious consideration.). It bothers me to hear someone assume that all "evolutionists" must be atheists.
So what of the first 11 chapters of Genesis (before Abraham)? Either all these scientific disciplines are wrong, or we're reading and interpreting our Bible wrong. As Christians we do not permit the Bible to lie, but we do permit it to be non-literal. Examples:
1. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches" to His disciples (John 15:5). I believe that Jesus literally said those words, but I don't believe that His words there are to be taken literally. Nobody claims that Jesus physically became a plant.
2. In Luke 10:30 Jesus does not quite say that the parable of the Good Samaritan never actually happened, but Christians are comfortable with assuming that it is a parable and not a historical event. The command of this parable is absolutely true for us, just as it was for the people in Jesus' time! Much of Revelation is non-literal, but this does not make it any less true.
3. When Jesus was born and presented at the temple, Mary received an unsettling prophecy from Simeon that is recorded in Luke 2:35: "A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejected by many in Israel, and this to their undoing." It is commonly accepted that this was not a literal sword, but the anguish that Mary would feel upon seeing her first-born son crucified.
4. In Exodus, the Lord God hardened Pharaoh's heart, or allowed him to harden it himself. By my count, the phrase "hardened his heart" occurs 12 times in the narration: 7:13,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:12,34,35; 10:20,27; 11:10; and 14:8. The Hebrew word for "heart" there is Lev, and according to Spiros Zodhiates in The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (1991), "Often this word and its correlate, levav, means the physical heart, the blood-pumping organ. However, it is more commonly used for the totality of man's inner or immaterial nature." (page 1624). The Hebrew word for "hardened" there is Chazaq, and it means "to be bound fast, be attached, to make firm . . . a word frequently used to describe battle scenes . . . used in describing Pharaoh's heart . . . term was also frequently used for construction." (Zodhiates, page 1611). Although Rameses II may have died of hardening of the arteries or a heart attack, that's not what these verses are telling us. Zodhiates notes that "This [non-literal] usage has passed into common English with expressions such as: 'heart and soul' " (page 1624).
5. The beautiful opening narration of John's Gospel reads as follows:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (NIV)
These words have some literal meaning: Jesus Christ has been part of the Trinity since the beginning of time. But the Word here is not literally the Bible, lest we conclude that the Bible always existed physically. The light is not literal photons, but the spiritual light of salvation to all mankind.
Many words, phrases, and stories in the Bible are obviously non-literal. Some cases are not so obvious. But it is a mistake to insist that certain portions of Genesis must be taken literally because it supports someone's viewpoint. It incorrectly projects our Western data-centric mindset onto the Hebrew way of thinking. There are fundamentalist Christians who insist that the Apostle Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) must be interpreted non-literally (they contend that this passage refers to a person who was harrassing Paul, not a physical ailment). The Bible uses non-literal metaphors and illustrations to reveal the ways of God because our language and experience cannot fully express His divine nature.
The slippery slope here is the danger of stating that too much of the Bible is non-literal, including the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalist Christians will claim that if you say that the first part of Genesis is non-literal, then you'll say that the entire Bible is non-literal (like the proverbial camel's nose poking in under the edge of the tent). That's wrong. It is a logical mistake to assert that if you take a position in one direction you will inevitably go all the way to that extreme; it's called the "All-or-Nothing Fallacy". As an example of extremism: You are permitted and even encouraged by the Bible to discipline your children, but if you beat them you will go to jail (as you should). The extreme position is wrong, but the moderate position is okay.
I believe that everyone interprets the Bible, whether they claim to or not. Every time you make an interpretation, your salvation is at stake. So be very careful. Be guided by prayer, other Scripture, and the Holy Spirit. Notice that Paul rejects the non-literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20.
The Possibilities of Genesis
1. Perhaps the days stated in the Genesis 1 account are not 6 24-hour days. Scripture tells us that God's days are not our days (2 Peter 3:8 "with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" and Psalm 90:4 "A thousand years are to You like a yesterday which has passed"). The full context of these two verses is the great sweep of time from creation until the judgment day. Perhaps the days are not strictly sequential, although the order matches up pretty well with the theory of evolution. The account of Cain's wife in Genesis 4:17 cannot be strictly sequential and literal. There is also the difficulty in reconciling Genesis 1 with the second creation account in Genesis 2, where man is created first and the animals afterwards (Genesis 2:18-20).
This possibility is often called the "Day-Age Theory." A common criticism of the day-age theory is that the order of days/ages does not match up with evolutionary theory. The answer to this criticism is that if Genesis 2:18-20 is apparently free to change the order of creation for animals and man from Genesis 1:24-27, why should we conclude that the order of creation days is strictly sequential and non-overlapping? If I were permitted to change the Bible (and I'm not), the only switch I would make would be to swap days 3 and 4. The Biblical order matches up well enough for me. One suggestion for the sun and moon appearing late in the sequence (from physicist and Christian Pastor Carl Johnson at A Christ Walk Church in Kingsbury, Indiana) is that the early atmosphere was very cloudy, much like the planet Venus is today.
Hebrews 11:3 contains some support for the Day-Age view of creation. Verse 3 in the King James Version reads as follows: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." Although this chapter is primarily about faith, we can glean some other details. The Greek word used here for "worlds" is "Aiġn", which brings to mind our English word "eon." Spiros Zodhiates says that "Aiġn; age, refers to an age or time, in contrast to kósmos (2889), referring to people or space." "Aiġnes, ages, in Hebrews 11:3 refers to the great occurrences which took place in the universe." (Zodhiates, page 1684) With this in mind, a better translation of Hebrews 11:3 might be: "Through faith we understand that the ages were framed by the word of God". The word "made" here in Greek is "Gínomai", and this word means "to be made or created from nothing (John 1:3, 10; Heb 11:3)" (Zodhiates, page 1700). Hebrews 11:3 refers to the great acts of creation described in Genesis 1-2, not to the human ages described in Genesis 4 onward. Thanks to reader Joe Grace for bringing Hebrews 11:3 to my attention.
Some people suggest that the "second creation" of animals in Genesis 2 refers to God creating one more animal of each kind in the Garden of Eden, so that Adam could name them as they paraded by. This is a valid theory; however, the Bible doesn't say that. Here is Genesis 2:18-20 in the King James Version: "18 And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.' 19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him." The Genesis text does not say "one more animal" or "another animal of each kind." So this viewpoint is just a theory. We wonder why God didn't simply bring in a few animals from outside the Garden for Adam to look at. Furthermore, if the "one more animal" interpretation of Genesis 2 is correct we would have to conclude that Adam himself is one more human, since humans were already created in Genesis 1.
(Note: The New International Version reads as follows for Genesis 2:18-20: "18 The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.' 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found." The NIV's use of the phrase "had formed" in verse 19 seems to allude to the earlier creation in Genesis 1, and perhaps God is merely bringing the existing animals before Adam. However, in verse 18 God declares "I will make...". This declaration indicates that God is about to create something, not just import existing animals.)
Genetic and linguistic studies (from 1987) have produced a theory that all humans living now are descended from a woman who lived in sub-Saharan Africa about 300,000 years ago (keywords: mitochondrial DNA). Of course the woman was immediately dubbed "Eve" by the popular media. Lest we conclude that this is truly Eve of the Bible, the scientists hastened to point out that they think there were other people living at that time, too (the other lines of descent either ended or combined into Eve's line). If this theory helps people to think more realistically about Genesis 1-5, I see no harm in discussing it as a possibility. I see tremendous potential for harm in placing our Faith in it, if the theory is ever discredited.
2. Perhaps God created the earth to look older. Adam certainly looked like a 25-year-old man in Genesis, even though he had just been created. Did God create the earth looking older to fool us or to tempt us? Absolutely not! He created the earth in accordance with his own natural laws, so that the natural laws make sense when projected backward past creation, just like Adam's body. The record of the past gives us clues to the future. Christians have always viewed creation as a divine miracle. Would anyone be bothered if someone claimed that the trees in the Garden of Eden had rings in their trunks? Why can't God create mountains with sedimentary layers in them? Why can't God create fossils in those layers? Is He not God Almighty?
Example: Projecting backward through zero time.
In high school physics class we solved problems involving the laws of physics. One that I remember involved throwing a ball off a tower, and calculating when it would hit the ground below. We had to solve a quadratic equation, which produced two roots: 5 seconds and -1 seconds. We all threw out the negative answer and reported the correct answer of 5 seconds. The teacher asked us if anyone knew what the other root, -1, meant. After some discussion it dawned on us that the negative root was the time that the virtual flight path of the ball left the ground on its way up to the tower. We threw the ball at time zero, but the laws of physics also tell us when it would have left the ground during the total flight path.
At this point, we could all agree that the earth is 10,000 years old but God created it so that it appears to be older. Nobody could absolutely disprove this assertion. It looks older and it all fits together sensibly, so the scientists can continue with their research. Fundamentalist Christians can maintain the 6x24 accuracy of Genesis. Christians can concentrate on the Great Commission, and atheists will have to think up other ways to "bait" us. We can all go home now.
You may ask why God would create an earth that looks older. God is not a liar. There may be two reasons:
1. So that the natural laws make sense.
2. To give us clues to the future, based on a realistic past.
I am not satisfied with either of these reasons, but they are possibilities. Many of our "Why?" questions will have to wait until we get to heaven.
I have seen a hint of the "created recently but looks older" idea on one creationist web site, but most other creationist literature insists that all the natural processes must take place over 10,000 years. So unfortunately, because some Christians have chosen this path, this is the path I must address. The theory of evolution depends on having more than 10,000 years in which to work, so the natural age of the earth is important.
3. Perhaps the creation account given in Genesis 1 is a literary device used to convey the central truth that God created all the players in the grand scheme of the universe to function together. This viewpoint asserts that we cannot determine any chronological sequence from the "yoms" of "creation week." Howard J. Van Till espouses this view in his 1986 book "The Fourth Day" (page 90):
The days of Genesis 1 are a literary device: they are story elements, not temporal specifications. Their relative lengths are a matter of no significance whatsoever. To waste time worrying about such matters is poor stewardship of our mental energies. Nonsense questions generate only nonsense answers.
Van Till declares that we will only get nonsense answers if we ask of Genesis 1 questions about physical properties and chronological sequence. "The days of Genesis 1 have nothing to do with the cosmic timetable; they are simply literary devices in the story, not actual temporal intervals directly corresponding to events in cosmic history." (page 91) Any similarity to the scientific chronology determined by astronomy, geology, and biology is purely coincidental. He adds elsewhere that we will only get nonsense answers if we ask of scientific data questions about meaning and purpose.
Of course Van Till, a devout Christian, emphatically believes that God created the heavens and the earth. Those heavens continue to tell the glory of God. Genesis 1's use of "creation week" as a literary device in no way detracts from the central truth that God created it all.
The "literary device" is a remarkably freeing viewpoint. No longer do we have to worry about the apparent discrepancies between Genesis 1 and 2. No longer do we have to ignore the obvious fact that God is still creating the heavens and the earth - new stars are born, and new islands like Surtsey in 1963 continue to rise out of the sea. No longer must we look in natural history for clear divisions between the "yoms", mornings, and evenings of creation week. God's creative activity continues to this day in the earth, the heavens, and in the hearts of every believer.
Instead, we can look in Genesis 1 for the symbolic meaning that surely must be present if the scientific information is not the main story. Conrad Hyers in 1983 described two parallel tracks of creation: on days 1-3 a framework was created, and on days 4-6 that framework was filled.
|Day||What created||Day||Filled with|
|1||light and darkness||4||greater and lesser lights|
|2||sky and waters||5||birds and fish|
|3||earth and vegetation||6||terrestrial animals and humans|
I like the faith message that I get out of the "literary device" viewpoint. My only minor quibble is that the order of Genesis 1 is close enough to the natural scientific order. I believe that the general order of creation in Genesis 1 can be scientific as well as symbolic.
Young-earth creationists generally abhor the idea that the creation week described in Genesis 1 is a "nothing but a literary device." To them it seems to diminish the value of the Bible, as if any literary device must necessarily be worthless. The book of Revelation contains many literary and symbolic devices, and it is certainly not worthless! So are Jesus' parables very valuable to us, even though they did not "actually happen."
The most serious objection to the "literary device" viewpoint is the suggestion that Jesus' resurrection might also be just a literary device to convey His ongoing inspiration in the lives of the disciples. This suggestion asserts that Jesus did not really rise from the dead on Easter morning, but His disciples told the resurrection story to convey that He lives on in their fond memories of Him and His teachings.
I don't know anyone who seriously contends that the resurrection story was intended by the Gospel writers to be only a symbolic account, or whether this is just an arguing point by young-earth creationists. But let's examine this possibility, using the Biblical text itself, just to see if it holds any merit.
For starters, I don't get any sense that the literary form has changed between Good Friday and Easter morning. Although the Gospel of Mark ends abruptly, the Biblical text sounds like a plain narrative. There are no special numbers that might have some significance in Hebrew numerology. The picture we get from Easter morning is uncertainty and confusion, not the grand confidence of Genesis 1.
One of the earliest whole Bibles, the Codex Sinaiticus, famously ends the Gospel of Mark in the 16th chapter with the 8th verse: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." This is not the way to convey confidence in Christ's memory if He did not rise from the dead! Instead, the remark in verse 8 has to be a simple historical report, not a symbolic image, because it contradicts any meaning that the overall symbology of resurrection would have.
The resurrection story contains a number of small details. We are told in John 20:3-10 that John arrived at the empty tomb before Peter, but that he did not go in. The head cloth was neatly folded beside the shroud (John 20:7). The women were the first witnesses (Luke 24:1-10). Jesus gave instructions for Mary not to touch Him until He had ascended (John 20:17).
If the story of Jesus' resurrection is to be symbolic only, then all these apparently minor details have to have some symbolic meaning. Writers of symbolic accounts don't just throw in minor details to confuse their readers - every detail must mean something. So what shall we do with all the details of the resurrection story?
We are told in Matthew 27:51 that "the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom." This event has obvious significance: by His death Christ has removed any separation between mankind and God. That event works very well as a symbol. I believe the destruction of the Temple curtain to be a historical event arranged by God to provide a symbol for His great work of redemption on that day. The tearing of the curtain is historical and symbolic.
If the account of Jesus' resurrection is to be understood as a literary device, then every detail must have some symbolic significance, not just the torn curtain! Every detail must mean something or the author would not have included it. Furthermore, those symbolic meanings must be consistent with the themes of the rest of the New Testament.
Is John's arrival at the empty tomb before Peter supposed to symbolize that youth will be the first to believe before their elders? Is the head cloth supposed to tell us that the head is the most important part of the body, or that religious evidence must be considered by our brains? Are women supposed to be the first witnesses or believers in Jesus in a society, or the first missionaries in a new region? Is the risen Savior too holy or exalted to touch?
I think the symbolic "meanings" described above are absurd. The most reasonable "explanation" for the details of the resurrection story is that they were recorded because they happened that way! There is no apparent symbolic significance to most of these details. They are simply recorded because they happened, and they are evidence passed down to this day that we might believe in Jesus and have life in His name.
In conclusion, the suggestion that the resurrection story is supposed to be symbolic only is simply without merit. I suppose there are actual people who hold this view - I suggest that they have not examined the Biblical text closely. Until someone comes up with a plausible symbolic meaning for all the details, the suggestion must be considered frivolous.
Consequently, the fear of only a symbolic resurrection is without merit. That is quite obviously not what the Gospel writers are telling us. Therefore this "danger" cannot be a valid objection to the treatment of the days in Genesis 1 as a literary device.
4. Perhaps the "days" in Genesis 1 are Days of Proclamation, that time when God gave His great commands for the world to come into existence. The fulfillment of those proclamations came later, even millions and billions of years later, according to God's original commands during that first glorious week of creation. The Days of Proclamation theory was proposed by Alan Hayward in 1985 and described further by Glenn Morton in the late 1990s. It follows the Biblical pattern of prophecy, where the Word is given and takes a while to be fulfilled.
The Days of Proclamation view makes for kind of a jumpy narrative in Genesis 1. "Let there be..." occurs during the first historical week, but the following phrase "And it was so" occurs many millions of years later. This sounds a bit odd in human terms. However, I think that God, who is outside of time and not limited to a single moving point in history, is not bothered by these things as we humans are. The earth is still forming; mountains erode, volcanos erupt, and the continents shift their positions. The stars are still forming. God is still creating the heavens and the earth.
Young-earth creationists commonly explain where Cain got his wife by asserting that she was a daughter of Seth, even going to great lengths in pointing out that there was plenty of time for this scenario to happen. This explanation presumes a two-generation gap between Genesis 4:16 and verse 17 (one for Seth to be born and grow up, plus one for Seth's daughter to be born and grow up and marry uncle Cain). People who object to jumpy narratives with big gaps between verses should not propose them. These claims damage their insistence that the first chapters in Genesis are strictly sequential. Furthermore, no matter how you think Cain got his wife, the narrative in Genesis 4 clearly jumps back many years to Adam between verses 24 and 25. A "jumpy narrative" is not a valid scriptural objection to the Days of Proclamation theory.
5. Perhaps the Genesis account is more literal than you think. We have already established that it's okay for the Bible to be non-literal, but applying that principal too broadly to Genesis still makes me uncomfortable. When I began this project I thought I was limited to an allegorical (but still true) version of Genesis 1-2. Then I discovered the works of Hugh Ross and Glenn Morton. Ross and Morton are Christians who believe in an old earth, and they demonstrate that an old earth is consistent with the Bible. Ross also gives a careful exegesis of Genesis that supports the local flood. He does not accept evolution. Morton has an unconventional but scripturally sound proposal for the creation of mankind. It's the only creation theory that's ever brought tears to my eyes. No matter what you may think of Morton's theory, it's nice to come across a scientific proposal that demonstrates some of the great themes of the Bible:
A. God lifting up and exalting that which the world has rejected.
B. God's great and tender love for us.
C. God coming to help mankind in our time of need.
Please see the References section for more information on Hugh Ross and Glenn Morton.
The Hebrew word "Yom" is usually translated as "day". Many people argue that the author(s) of Genesis 1-2 meant 6 24-hour days. This is a strong case, but it is not the only reasonable possibility. If you are serious about studying the Bible's text on a word-by-word basis, you should probably get a Hebrew-Greek study Bible. The one I use is titled "The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible," and it is edited by Spiros Zodhiates and Warren Baker (1991). My wife bought it about a year ago and I've scarcely let her have it since. It has a few too many obiter dicta in the commentary, but it gives good insight into the shades of meaning of important words.
Here is what Zodhiates has to say about the Hebrew word "Yom" and Genesis 1: "The day-age theory claims that the word yom (3117), which is the Hebrew word for "day," is used to refer to periods of indefinite length, not to literal days. While this is a viable meaning of the word (Lev. 14:2, 9, 10) it is not the common meaning, nor is the meaning of the word sufficient foundation for the theory." (page 2). Zodhiates prefers the literal day theory, but this quotation indicates that yom is not always an ordinary day. In the Hebrew lexicon on page 1618 he further states "It can be a period of 24 hours, time in general, a specific point in time, or a year."
In Genesis 2: 4 yom seems to refer to the entire creation week: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day (yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." It's also puzzling to imagine Day 1 as an ordinary day. God said "Let there be light!" and there was light. There was not yet any sun or moon to mark the days. He divided the light from the darkness and began to create order out of chaos. The first day of the universe was anything but an ordinary day. According to Job 38:7, all the angels shouted for joy. It was such a glorious time! Certainly God Almighty can do all that in 24 hours, but what reason is there to limit this wonderful act of creation to 24 hours? What purpose does it serve to insist that it must be exactly 24 modern hours long?
Exodus 20:8-11 is often used to contend that the days of creation week must be 24-hour days, because they are compared with our standard work week. Verse 11 reads "For in six days the Lord made the heaven, earth, and sea, and everything in them, and rested the seventh day; so He blessed the Sabbath day and set it aside for rest." However, there are other scriptures that contradict the view that the Sabbath 6-and-1 pattern always refers to 24-hour days. Exodus 23:10-12 extends the pattern to years. Verses 10-11a read "Sow and reap your crops for six years, but let the land rest and lie fallow during the seventh year". Leviticus 25:1-7 also repeats the 6-and-1 Sabbath pattern for years. Verse 2b reads "When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to keep a sabbath's rest for Yahweh." The Sabbath pattern is not limited only to days.
There is a claim floating around within young-earth creationism, of an alleged linguistic rule in ancient Hebrew: that the Hebrew word "yom" preceded by an ordinal number must always refer to a 24-hour day. The New Testament book of Hebrews refutes this claim in chapter 4, verses 1-13:
4 For he [God] has somewhere [Genesis 2:2-3] spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works."God's rest - the seventh day - continues to the present time. We can enter that rest through faith and obedience.
. . .
9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (ESV)
In the Old Testament, the book of Hosea gives a prophecy in which numbered "yom"s do NOT refer to 24-hour days:
6:1 Come, let us return to the Lord;Hosea is referring to Israel's present condition in verse 1. Surely the prophet's message cannot be proclaimed throughout the land in just 48 hours (2 days in verse 2)! By the time most of the kingdom would have gotten this message, the prophecy would have expired. The invasion and occupation of Northern Israel by Assyria under Tiglath-Pileser III lasted longer than three 24-hour days. Furthermore, Ezekiel 4:4-6 uses numbered days to represent years.
for He has torn us, that He may heal us;
He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.
2 After two days He will revive us;
on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live before Him.
4 Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. 7 And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city. 8 And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege. [ESV]
In Genesis 2:17 God gives Adam and Eve a warning: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day (yom) that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." The Bible records that Adam and Eve lived on after the Fall. Either this verse does not refer to an ordinary day, or it does not refer to ordinary death. I (and many other authors) interpret the word "death" here (in Hebrew "Muth") to mean spiritual death.
Romans 5:12 refers to this event: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death (Thanatos) passed upon all men, for all have sinned." I assert that the Greek word for death (Thanatos) also refers to spiritual death in verse 12, since that is the original meaning in Genesis. Note that the King James Version states "and so death passed on all men," leaving animals out of Paul's discussion.
Furthermore, Romans 5:14a goes on to state "Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses".[ESV] Since we see that believers in God continue to undergo physical death even after the resurrection of Jesus, the thanatos in Romans 5:12-14 must refer to spiritual death. That spiritual death began with Adam and continued through the Law of Moses, which made it clear just how serious our sin was. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ reversed the punishment of death laid upon Adam and all his descendants. We now have life - spiritual Life! - but we still experience physical death. On that first Easter morning Jesus freed us from spiritual death, which is the eternal separation from God experienced by souls in hell. We do not have good scriptural evidence for the complete absence of physical death throughout all of nature until the Fall.
St. Paul often uses another phrase "fallen asleep" to refer to physical death (1 Corinthians 11:30 "and some have fallen asleep" and 1 Corinthians 15:51 "We shall not all sleep"). This different terminology supports the view that Romans 5:12 refers to spiritual death.
Romans 8:20-22 is often used to contend that physical death was not present in nature until God's curse of Adam: "Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Physical death and decay will no longer be present in nature when the earth is made new, but that's not the issue. What was God's original curse? Look at Genesis 3:17-19:
And to Adam he [God] said, 'Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. All your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return.'
God's curse refers to the difficulty of agriculture, not to physical death throughout nature. Mankind will henceforward be at odds with nature instead of reaping its bounty in the Garden of Eden. Nature is certainly cursed and groaning in pain today, as mankind drives numerous species to extinction and destroys whole ecosystems instead of exercising proper stewardship. From nature's point of view, the curse is deadly. However, to contend that Romans 8 contradicts physical death throughout nature before the Fall is taking the verse farther than it wants to go.
The Bible was not written by King James I of England in 1611 (nor by his team of scholars). It was written down by Hebrew scribes thousands of years ago. The King James translation is an excellent one, but it's still not the original words. Hebrew concepts and ways of thinking can be obscured when translated into modern English. The word "Erets" is a good example. It is usually translated into the English word "earth," which to Americans means "planet" or "soil."
But the original Hebrew word has more meanings than that. Erets can mean the planet, the land and its inhabitants, ground, soil, country, or territory (Zodhiates, page 1600-1601). When the late Menachem Begin and other Zionists speak of Eretz Yisrael, or Greater Israel, they are referring to Israel's pre-1967 boundaries plus Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan River. They are not laying claim to the Himalayas. If we understand Erets to mean the region of the Middle East, then the story of Noah's flood does not have to cover Mt. Everest at 29,028 feet.
Let the Earth Bring Forth.
The phrase "let the earth bring forth..." occurs three times in Genesis 1 (verses 11, 20 with water, 24). It does not refer to simple growth from nutrients, because this chapter is about creation. The literal meaning of this phrase matches theistic evolution better than any other creation theory! It's almost a definition of theistic evolution, which is why I put it at the top of this essay. God commanded the earth to produce animals, and the planet did so according to His command.
These verses contradict the idea of direct creation of non-human life forms.
There are several verses in Genesis that are taken to mean that animals were vegetarian until the Flood. Genesis 1:30 states: "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so." After the Flood, God states in Genesis 9:3 "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things."
I like the idea expressed in Genesis 1:30 of God's providence for all creatures. I also like the idea of the Peaceable Kingdom, where the lion lies down with the lamb and there is no violence. We don't have a clear indication of when the carnivorous animals switched to eating meat, because Genesis 9:3 refers only to mankind. Job 39:27-30 could indicate that eagles were created as carnivorous animals, but it's not clear enough by itself. I have looked at the sharp teeth of a Tyrannosaurus rex, and they don't look like something created by an intelligent designer to chew vegetation. Since I understand the references to death in Romans 5:12 to mean spiritual death, the presence of carnivorous animals does not pose a theological problem. This issue is not essential for salvation. I simply don't know how Genesis 1:30 fits in with what I can observe about animals. When taken with verse 29, the two verses could be merely a description of who gets to eat what kind of vegetation (man - seeds and fruit, animals and birds - grasses and plants). I do know that verse 30 occurs in a section that describes God's providence for all creatures, and that is the faith message I can take from it.
With regard to pre-history and evolution, we do not know how long satan has been allowed some measure of influence and interference in the world. The Garden of Eden sounds somewhat like a sanctuary set up by God to guard Adam and Eve against the outside world. Was there trouble and danger out there even before the Fall of Mankind?
In any case, the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is incomplete. Astronomy shows us this in a spectacular fashion. I think that the biological account in Genesis is also incomplete. Who can completely describe the mighty work of creation in just 2 chapters? Not Moses, nor any other possible human author of Genesis. God Almighty rested for the only time recorded in the Bible! I think there is a lot more that happened historically than just those relatively few words in Genesis 1-2. I think a few sentences cover millions of historical years, such as in Genesis 2:7: "The time came when the Lord God formed a man's body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life. And man became a living person."
Is the Bible incomplete? Yes, John says so at the end of his Gospel, in 20:30-31: "There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name." John repeats the "incomplete" assertion in 21:25: "There were many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written."
What we have is sufficient for Faith. The details left out are interesting, but they are not needed for Faith and Salvation. So we need not worry about the Bible being incomplete. We have enough testimony, both for our own faith and to witness to the world. I don't usually grind through the beginning of Genesis verse by verse, trying to match each one individually with a scientific or historical finding. I think that that approach obscures the greater faith message of the Author.
I do not know which of these possibilities of Genesis is the "correct" one. I do not expect to find out until I am in Heaven and sitting on the lap of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. We will have a lot to talk about, and eternity will be plenty of time.
Is the Bible True?
As Christians, we have an enormous interest in the Bible being as true as possible. What of the rest of the Bible, from Genesis 12 onward? I have only a few objections:
1. 600,000 Hebrew fighting men crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 12:37).
The Hebrew word used here for "men" is "Ghever," and it is commonly associated with warfare. Exodus does not specify how or if the men were armed (unless perhaps Exodus 13:18b?), but we know that numerical strength meant a great deal in the military accounts of the Old Testament. 600,000 soldiers of any kind would make for an enormous army in antiquity, about ten times as many soldiers as fought at the Battle of Kadesh (an Egyptian-Hittite clash on the river Orontes) in the same era. Yet it does not seem to occur to the fleeing Israelites to fight back against the pursuing Egyptians. They behave like a small band of trapped refugees. Other Bible sources, such as the census that was taken later, indicate a much smaller number of Hebrew refugees.
2. The sun moved backwards for Joshua and for Hezekiah.
Here we encounter our first hoax, involving Harold Hill and the NASA computers. It was a sin to make up this hoax. It is a smaller sin to propagate it without verifying the facts, but certain evangelists do just that. The idea behind the story is to make up some scientific-sounding story to explain a Biblical event. This pattern appears later in creationism literature, in supplying details of the catastrophes claimed to be part of the Flood events.
My objection to the Biblical story is that I don't see how this could have happened without leaving some geological trace, and without the Book of Jashar mentioned in Joshua 10:13 I don't have enough details for a good analysis.
3. Certain sections of the Bible imply that the Joshuan conquest was a sudden sweeping through the land of Canaan. Archeology suggests that the conquest was gradual, over a period of a hundred years or so, and so do certain other Biblical texts.
If those are the only problems, then the accuracy of the Bible after Genesis 11 compares favorably with other ancient literature (the Iliad). The examples cited above are trivial and are not important to Salvation. The point is, if those three are all the inaccuracies we can complain about, then the Bible after Genesis 11 is rock-solid as a historical source.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis do contain some historically verifiable facts. We know of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. We know the mountains of Ararat in Turkey. The Tower of Babel is similar to Babylonian ziggurats. The contrast is with the rest of the Bible. In Hebron today you can stand within 50 feet of Abraham's bones at the Cave of Machpelah (the Tomb of the Patriarchs)! In Jerusalem you can visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and decide if you prefer it to the Garden Tomb. You can read the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and review his testimony about Jesus Christ. You can carbon-date to the time of Christ a fishing boat excavated from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, and match certain of its design features to the Gospel account of Jesus calming a storm. It is only against this high level of verified history that the first part of Genesis seems a little strange.
I am not bold or arrogant enough to conclude that "the Biblical statement that 600,000 Hebrew fighting men crossed the Red Sea is wrong." I wasn't there. I will only say that it sounds suspicious against other Biblical accounts, archaeology, and other historical sources. An Egyptian account of the Exodus story that confirms the Biblical number could be found tomorrow.
Everything else in the Bible that's out of the ordinary is a bona fide miracle. A miracle is God's temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need. The turning of water into wine by Jesus is reported as a miracle, so let's believe it that way. We can also believe that God could stop the sun for Joshua and Hezekiah without causing enormous tidal waves. It's okay to believe that the "extra water" of the Flood came from the hand of God, and then returned to His hand when the Flood was over. The crossing of the Red Sea, the stopping of the Jordan River, the destruction of Jericho - these are all miracles enacted by God Almighty.
The occurrence of an extremely unlikely event that serves human need can also be viewed as a miracle. The birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in their old age was a miracle (Genesis 21:1-7). However, one had better be very sure that the probabilities have been evaluated correctly, or risk disillusionment later when a more likely mechanism is discovered. I think that Fred Hoyle's estimate of the likelihood of a cell forming "by chance" (1 in 10^40) is not correct because he does not include intermediate steps. It is certainly difficult to flip 133 coins and have them all come up heads - unless you work on the first one, the second one, and then the third one, and so on until you have 133 heads (this process took me only nine minutes). The arising of life on earth is indeed a miracle, but we don't need to base our faith on a flawed mathematical analysis.
Some of the miracles recorded by the Bible seem to have a natural component. There is an east wind mentioned before the crossing of the Red Sea. The Jordan River has been temporarily blocked by a landslide several times in recorded history. The Holy Land is subject to earthquakes. Are all miracles caused by natural causes, without God?
No! The Bible affirms that God works through the natural world and is in charge of it. Certain miracles may have had a natural component, but this is not a requirement. If no natural component is mentioned, then it is not proper for a Christian to invent one. It is not proper for a Christian to add to the word of God in an attempt to justify a particular interpretation.
Even if the miracles recorded in Exodus had natural components (wind, landslide, and earthquake), their precise timing displays God's power in leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Moses could never plan a migration hoping that the right natural disasters would show up just in time. God is in charge of nature: in Luke 8: 22-25 Jesus calms a storm. In 2014 I published a book that deals with the miraculous events of Exodus, especially the sea crossing. The full title is Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science.
The Flood is a miracle, either global or local. Why is there a need to invent pseudo-science to "explain" it? We don't need 70-mile high geysers, volcanoes, massive earthquakes, and entire continents appearing and disappearing in a few months. These catastrophes are not reported in the Biblical account of the flood, and we don't need to add them. There are a few allusions such as in 2 Peter 3:6 "so that the world of that time was destroyed by being flooded with water", but not enough to base a history or a theology. Don't we believe in miracles? It's much better to say "I don't know" than to make up an explanation for Biblical events that we don't understand.
This objection to theistic evolution states that if the Fall is not literal, if it never really happened, then Mankind is not fallen and there is no need for Christ. It's a serious objection, something that calls into question the basis of the Gospels and the coming of Jesus Christ.
1. Certain people may argue that we are primarily animals in our behavior since we have 98% of our DNA in common with chimpanzees. They reason that we are not fallen, we are just doing what animals do.
I reject that argument completely. Aside from the Bible's clear witness to our special status, one has only to look at what mankind has accomplished above and beyond all animals. We have: technology, civilization, law, cooperation, war, genocide, exploration, art, violence, culture, and literature. Our behavior differs from animals by far more than 2%!
Our capacity for creative endeavor is far beyond the animals, but so is our capacity for Evil. No other animal organizes large armies to attack and destroy other members of the species. No other animal carries out cruelty on the scale that humans have achieved. No other animal is capable of the deliberate, planned, and intentional evil that we see in our human societies and nations. Animals kill each other and not always for food, but only mankind makes the intelligent choice to fall for satan's temptation.
It is blatantly obvious today that Mankind is indeed fallen, no matter what exactly happened thousands of years ago. Arguments that we don't need Christ because we are primarily animals in our behavior are idiotic. The result of Genesis 3 is true; the evidence is overwhelming. Something happened, and it was big. We have fallen. We need God's grace and mercy.
2. Genesis 2:7 states "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The Hebrew word for "man" used here is "Adam" (with a long 'a' in the second syllable). According to my Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, "this noun usually refers to mankind in the collective sense (Gen 1:26, 27). It is also a proper noun, Adam, the first man whom God created (Gen 2:20). 'Adam' is translated 'persons' in Numbers 31:28, 30, 35, 40." So from the very beginning we have a hint that Adam represents all mankind, not just single individual This finding is not strong enough in itself to alter our conventional understanding of the Genesis story, but it's something to think about.
3. Various scientific theories (mitochondrial DNA, punctuated equilibrium) point to a small group as the origin of Homo sapiens. These theories fit fairly well with the Genesis story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. The Fall could have happened in a historical pair of individuals.
A difference is that evolutionary theories postulate a biological predecessor, while the conventional understanding of Genesis is that Adam had no biological parents. However, one should note that Abraham the Patriarch was chosen from a continuous line. We assume that Abraham's father Terah was a decent enough citizen of Ur and Haran, but it was Abraham whom God chose to bless. I think that Abraham's skull looks pretty much like Terah's skull looked. Abraham is a special spiritual creation of God's covenant, with a conventional biological successor. Jesus Christ is also a special spiritual incarnation with a biological mother. It is within the pattern of God's ways as recorded in the Bible for Adam to be a special spiritual creation from a natural biological process. God can and does choose to bless individuals in a biological line of succession.
4. The Gospels do not record Jesus speaking about Adam. Instead, we have similar passages from St. Paul in Romans 5:12-14:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come."
and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45.
"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." . . . "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit."
Although Paul testifies to Adam in these verses, he does not state that Adam was created in 4004 BC, that he lived in what is now southeastern Iraq along the Shatt al Arab waterway, or any of the other scientific or geographical details that we're arguing about. Paul has much more important things in mind than that! He is taking great pains to point to Jesus Christ the Savior. For those who are wondering how one man's death can save all the nations of the world, Paul is noting that it was one man's sin in the first place that caused all the trouble. The emphasis on "one man" is intended to point to Christ, not provide us with further details about the creation account.
Nevertheless, we can glean some details. The phrases "one man" and "the first man" support the idea that Paul is speaking about an individual, not all mankind. However, he has already left out Eve in these passages even though she played a crucial part in the sin. This omission is further indication to us that any historical details here are incidental to Paul's main message.
5. The mechanism of inherited sin is not genetic. (I will say this with confidence until someone from the Human Genome Project runs in and tells me otherwise.) We do not inherit sin through biological processes, but spiritual ones. Therefore it is not necessary in Christian theology for all humans living today to be descended directly from Adam and Eve. No matter exactly what happened thousands of years ago, the Bible states that Adam is the stand-in for the human race. All humans inherit his sin whether they like it or not.
Example: My ancestors came to America in the early part of the 1900s. None of them ever owned Negro slaves or fought to abolish slavery. Yet I still inherit the responsibility to heal any lingering pain still caused today by the effects of slavery. The mechanism of this inheritance is not biological, but political and social.
We all also inherit the blessing of the second Adam, even though none of us are descended genetically from Jesus Christ. Salvation transcends biology, too, in spite of what many First-century Hebrews thought. Lucky for us.
This question will come up again if we ever contact intelligent life beyond the earth. Do we bring them the Gospel?
6. Jesus Christ tells me that I need Him. He declares this in John 6:35-36 "Jesus replied, 'I am the Bread of Life. No one coming to Me will ever be hungry again. Those believing in Me will never thirst." He repeats it in John 14: 6, "Jesus told him, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of Me." There are many other statements to this same effect in the Gospels. Whatever I think about the Genesis account, whether I think that Adam is an individual or all mankind, I have the words of Jesus Himself saying that I need Him. I cannot deny the words of Jesus Christ.
I need God. You need God. The world needs God. We all need Jesus Christ, because His death on the cross and resurrection remove our sins and enable us to live forever with God in heaven (Isaiah 53). I needed God to thank for my loving bride on the day we were married. I needed God to praise when our daughter and son were born. I needed God to call me back to Him on Good Friday in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1981. I needed God to give me strength, when the children in Jinotega wanted me to read them stories in Spanish and I was sick to my stomach. I need grace. I needed the name of Jesus to greet suspicious villagers in Kamakuywa, and then we built houses together in joyful Christian fellowship.
You need God. You need God when a co-worker gets on your nerves, because Jesus teaches you to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22). You need God when you get on a co-worker's nerves. You need Jesus when bigger offenses happen, because Jesus could forgive even the men who killed Him as He hung dying on the cross (Luke 23:34). You need Jesus to pronounce salvation even to the worst sinners who believe in Him (Luke 23:39-43). You need Jesus if you ever stand at the grave of a loved one, because Jesus gives us the hope of the resurrection (John 11, especially 21-27 and 40-44).
The world needs God. The world needs miracles in time of need (John 2:1-11). The world needs God to destroy the barriers that divide groups of people (Galatians 3:28). The world needs examples of forgiveness in the face of death and murder (Acts 7:59-60), because human power alone cannot accomplish such a thing. The world needs an alternative to war and hatred and killing (1 Corinthians 13). The world needs the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21). The world needs the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). The world needs victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). The world needs the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:36-39).
Do scientific theories remove any of these needs? No! We all need God.
Genesis is First and Foremost a Faith Account
Theologians of all stripes have agreed for thousands of years that beginning of Genesis provides a foundation for our faith. It is not "just a faith account," but the primary purpose is to communicate a message of faith.
As a scientific account that describes the present state of our universe, Genesis is not a very good description. One could easily get the impression that planet Earth is at the center of the solar system. Morning and evening happen for three days without benefit of the sun. The firmament sounds like a big blue dome above the atmosphere, or at least a firm demarcation between man's zone and God's realm. In several places rain seems to come from windows in the sky that are opened to let pour out the water that is held up there. You would think that the words "sphere" or "round" would appear somewhere. We are already interpreting Scripture in the light of science.
Remember that in delivering Genesis by means of fallible humans, God had to thread the account through thousands of years of well-meaning scribes who would be tempted to excise nonsense about the earth orbiting around the sun. Also recall that it took great effort to produce a Bible until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1454. In Genesis God had some very important things to communicate to us, and there was no good reason to include pages of details about the physical layout of the cosmos that He knew we would figure out soon enough anyway.
I believe that the same is true for the natural history contained in Genesis. Genesis is not wrong, it is not simply a myth, it is not just a compelling story with no real basis in history. Genesis happened! All of it! But to try to match up each verse with a scientific finding is to ignore the Author's main purpose in giving this account to us. Genesis 1-2 must be read through the eyes of faith, and that is its most important message. If we concentrate too much on the scientific details or mire these chapters in controversy, we will miss the faith message there.
What I Think About the Soundness of the Theory of Evolution
The theory of evolution sounds pretty good as science, especially the enhancements that were made after Darwin, and are still being made based on continuing research and discoveries. The geological and fossil record shows change over a long period of time. We have a long history of changing life forms. Bugs adapt to poison. Moth populations change color. People get taller. Dogs breed into forms that look much different than the original. In general, the theory sounds pretty reasonable. We can observe evolution happening during our own time in small amounts.
Note that much of the evolutionary action does not involve entirely new structures. New structures are hard to develop. We would all like to see a horse develop wings and fly, but that's unlikely to happen. Plenty of evolutionary mileage can be obtained by modifying and changing the existing structures. For example, most of the mammals have the same basic body plan. Giraffes and humans have the same number of vertebrae in their necks (seven). We have the same bones, but the sizes and shapes are different. The large differences that we see in the animal kingdom can be achieved through small, incremental, useful change.
The term microevolution is used to refer to change at the species level or lower. Macroevolution refers to higher-order changes that cause one species to split into two, or morph into an entirely new species. I do not accept the creationist argument that the small changes we see in microevolution cannot add up to macroevolution under the right conditions. This argument is not even logically reasonable unless a "change barrier" is proposed around every species, and I have heard of no such proposal. Indeed, it is true that microevolution does not prove macroevolution, but it certainly supports it.However, it is still a evolutionary puzzle how microevolution relates to macroevolution. When do we get stasis, and when do we get change? The old Darwinian idea, that microevolution can be simply be extrapolated to macroevolution over long periods of time, is probably not correct because it is too simple:
These ideas were discussed at the 1980 Chicago Conference on Macroevolution. For more information, please see the Roger Lewin Science article "Evolutionary Theory Under Fire", Volume 210, 21 November 1980, pp 883-887.
We have transitional fossils, despite the creationist claim that "there are no transitional fossils". We have transitional fossils for humans, too, in spite of the claim that "there are no ape-men." (see Time magazine, August 23, 1999; "How Man Evolved", by Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, pp. 54-55). The References section of this essay contains links to transitional fossils, including some with pictures.
It is puzzling that transitional fossils are more rare than we would expect. I think that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould is on the right track with his theory of evolution through Punctuated Equilibrium. This theory states that major changes occur locally in an isolated population, so that fossils are more rare than would be expected by the slow, stately progress of change predicted by Charles Darwin. Punctuated Equilibrium is not just an excuse for finding no transitional fossils, because many such fossils have been found. Transitional forms are found locally for certain animals, and outside the "evolution zone" the transition looks quite abrupt because of migration of the new species and displacement of the original species.
Not Enough Time to Develop
When I look at the flowers in our front garden I marvel at the pistils and stamens, and at the mechanism for pollination and reproduction. It startles me that such a thing could arise simply from natural selection through mutation, in just a billion years. We have examples of change in moths, finches, people, and bacteria, but these examples are kind of unsatisfying in comparison to the great variety of form that we see in nature. Is there more to it?
I realize that my life-span of about 80 years is so short that I cannot properly comprehend a million years, let along a billion. My common sense is simply not equipped to make a proper analysis of the time span required to produce a moon flower, or a bird, or a human.
I think the "not enough time" problem bothers atheists more than it bothers me. I believe that God directs the processes that we call "random", and that He can engineer an unlikely event according to His plan. With God Almighty in charge, the unlikely becomes certain. I would be more comfortable with a theory that includes proper statistical measures, but I do not require it. Atheists require it.
Certain recent evidence indicates just the opposite of what our common sense tells us. It appears that evolution actually occurs much faster than we would expect from natural selection through random mutation alone. Punctuated Equilibrium takes advantage of this difference by proposing that local changes occur rapidly in a small population under survival pressure.
This is an unsolved puzzle. The mechanism that drives evolution is something for future biologists to research and figure out. I think that the mechanism is more complex than just natural selection through random mutation. However, I don't believe this to be an enormously difficult puzzle. Scientists finished decoding the human genome in June 2000, and further analysis should provide some answers. We don't know exactly how mutations occur, although that marvelous DNA structure seems to favor viability when it reproduces.
The term "Pre-Cambrian Explosion" refers to the sudden emergence of complex life forms after millions of years of single-celled creatures. How did evolution produce a sudden burst of advanced complexity? How does a paramecium become a trilobite in such a short time? This is a bigger puzzle for evolutionary theory. I thought that perhaps this big jump could be explained by the development of sexual reproduction over single-parent reproduction, until someone directed me to another development.
Geologists have recently found evidence that something very strange happened to the earth right at the Pre-Cambrian boundary. Discoveries like this make science exciting! It appears that a global freeze suddenly gave way to a very hot period. This abrupt change must have had something to do with the sudden explosion of life forms, but what? The researchers suppose that isolation and selection pressure during that event produced an "evolution engine" capable of great leaps in a short space of time. But the details, the mechanism, and the verification are still anybody's guess.
A gap in scientific knowledge does not prove the existence of God. We are not at the end of science, or history, until Jesus returns in person.
The Origin of Life
The biggest mystery of biology is the emergence of the first life forms from the "soupy seas". This problem is not strictly of the field of evolution, but of biogenesis instead. It is a related field, so I will discuss it here.
A biologist named Stanley Miller has done amazing experiments with lightning that produce amino acids from simple carbon compounds and water. Beyond that, biologists are fairly confident that they can develop a reasonable progression from RNA to DNA, then up through single-celled organisms to multi-celled creatures, and onward to the plant and animal kingdoms. However, the gap between amino acids and RNA remains a mystery.
Various mechanisms have been proposed to cross this gap (lightning, solar energy, comets, etc.). However, even the most reasonable mechanisms are extremely unlikely to have produced life on this earth in the space of 3 billion years, according to the latest analyses.
As noted earlier, the small probabilities here bother me less than they would bother an atheist, because I believe in more than just a tinkering God. I believe in a God who knows and cares for even the sparrows (Matthew 10: 29-31). Yahweh is always directing and caring for His creation. He does not show up only when evolution needs a boost. Jesus Christ is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28: 20).
I would like to discover a sound scientific treatment of the amino acid - RNA gap, because I believe that science allows us to reveal the marvels of God's creation. Until then, here is how I shall answer the question.
"I don't know. Only God Almighty knows."
I realize that this is not a good answer among men. But it was a good answer for the prophet Ezekiel (37: 3), and it will be good enough for me.
There are some non-scriptural objections to evolution that I have heard from Christians:
1. Cruelty of Evolution
"Evolution is cruel, wasteful, and inefficient; God would not accomplish His creation that way."
With regard to "wasteful and inefficient", I have not seen a Bible verse that states that God's ways are waste-free and efficient according to the judgment of 21st-century Americans. In contrast, God's ways often look wasteful and inefficient in man's eyes. For example, consider the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20: 1-16. The vineyard owner wasted his money on the workers hired to work for only the last hour. But God does not call this waste and inefficiency. He calls it grace and mercy.
The creation of the dinosaurs would seem like a waste of time on the way to creating mankind. They ruled the earth for millions of years and then were wiped out pretty suddenly. Why did God bother to create them? One may ask the same question in the field of astronomy. The other galaxies besides our Milky Way are magnificent to look at through powerful telescopes. But we won't get the chance to make much use of them, unless Jesus' return is a lot farther off than most people think. Why did God bother to create all those extra galaxies? One would have been plenty.
The charge of cruelty is another matter. Where does the Bible say that the working out of God's plan here on earth never involves cruelty? There is plenty of cruelty in the coming of Jesus Christ:
A. Judah and Tamar - Judah ordering Tamar out to be stoned for prostitution, when he was the one who had visited her to have sex (Genesis 38).
B. Mary the mother of Jesus, taking a long journey by donkey when she was nine months pregnant (Luke 2: 1-7).
C. The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19), and the martyrdom of the Apostles.
I know that God is not cruel. When I see cruelty in this world, I look for an explanation involving our sin, not God's intention.
"Survival of the fittest is cruel. Death is cruel. God would not design his creation that way."
There are some places in the Bible where apparent cruelty is recorded, and man's sin cannot reasonably be the cause.
A. The Flood drowned huge numbers of innocent animals and probably many young human babies (Genesis 7:21-23).
B. If you interpret Genesis 1: 30 to mean that there were no animal carnivores until after the Fall or the Flood, then it was God who decreed that animals should start hunting and eating other animals, through no fault of their own.
C. John 1: 3 states that God created everything that exists. Presumably "everything" includes Free Will, and Evil.
D. The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, then punished him for being stubborn (Genesis 4: 21).
It strikes me as very presumptuous to claim to know the mind of God Almighty, to know His designs and to know what He judges to be cruel and what to be kind. Isaiah 55: 8-9 compares our intellect to God's: "This plan of mine is not what you would work out, neither are my thoughts the same as yours! For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts higher than yours."
Perhaps God created the process of evolution as a way for life to survive the natural calamities that He knew would come, such as the meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula that is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. A remnant of the animals (mammals, birds) apparently did survive and went on to re-populate the earth. This view is consistent with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19, where a remnant is saved because of God's mercy. (If you want to know why God sent or allowed the Chixculub meteorite in the first place when there was no sin of mankind to destroy, you'll have to ask Him when you get to heaven. I plan to. The same question applies to present-day hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters.) This view asserts that evolution is not God's ideal process for creating life, but instead evolution is God's way of providing for life to survive and thrive in a difficult and dangerous universe. Life on earth has indeed survived for many millions of years despite the worst that satan could throw at it. The universe is good - good enough for us to marvel at along with the Psalmist. But God's ideal arrangement for life is . . . heaven!
Albert Einstein followed what he thought to be God's perfect simplicity in relativity. After many scientific successes, he reached a dead end when confronted with the unavoidable complexities of quantum mechanics. Each time he read a new modern theory, he rejected it with the words "If I were God, I would not have designed it that way." Finally Niels Bohr advised him to stop telling God what to do.
St. Paul gives a long warning against criticizing the ways of God in Romans 9: 9-24. He gives examples from Biblical history, then denies our right to conclude that God was unfair or unkind. Note especially verse 20: "No, don't say that. Who are you to criticize God? Should the thing made say to the one who made it, 'Why have you made me like this?'"
God chose a certain method to spread the Gospel message: Tell people, and then those people will tell other people, and so on. We humans could easily conclude that this method is cruel and inefficient by looking at human history. Jesus Himself was crucified for spreading the message this way. St. Stephen, St. Paul, and all the Apostles except for St. John are thought to have suffered violent deaths for spreading the Gospel message. We can see that this method is inefficient because 2,000 years later there are still people in the world who have not heard about Jesus. Some people have heard the message so poorly communicated that thay are not inclined to accept it. Yet we do not deny that God chose to use this method to spread the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. Neither can we conclude that God did not use evolution because to us it seems cruel and inefficient.
If you do not accept evolution as being from God, then I suppose you have one fewer "God-is-cruel" scenario to wrestle with. But it is a mistake to say, "In my judgment this process is cruel, so therefore God must not have permitted this process to occur."
2. Common Sense
"The idea that we all crawled out of the mud is contrary to common sense."
So is the idea that we are living on a little globe spinning around a sun through empty space. But here we are.
3. Random Chance Creating Order
"You could shake up a bunch of watch parts in a bucket all day long and never get a watch."
I've never met anyone who has tried shaking up those watch parts for a million years, or even for 10,000 years. I don't think the mechanism is the same, anyway.
4. Evolution and Christian Faith are Incompatible
"Theistic evolution is sitting on the fence. Pick one or the other."
So is theistic meteorology sitting on the fence, but most Christians believe in it. God sends rain according to His plan, but water evaporates from the oceans and falls out of clouds as rain. They are both true. There is no conflict. Even Elijah knew that clouds were a sign of rain, although it was God who directed them (1 Kings 18:44).
5. Theistic Evolution is a Compromise
My dictionary defines a compromise as "a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions". There is the additional implication that these concessions are bad because we don't want to give up part of the Bible. Certainly we do not! So let's look at what we give up in the alleged "compromise" of theistic evolution.
A. We give up the Literal Day theory, unless one accepts the Appearance of Age variation on that theory. Although the Literal Day theory is understandably popular in fundamentalist circles, I have shown elsewhere in this essay by references to Scripture that it is not the only viable theory. The Literal Day theory is one interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. I am committed to the Bible, but not to a single interpretation of it. We do not give up the authority of the Bible!
B. We give up some clarity about exactly when and where the Fall of Mankind happened. We do not give up the idea of a literal Fall. Although some theistic evolutionists may contend that the literal Fall is collective, there is ample room and reason to contend that the Fall happened to a single pair of historical individuals named Adam and Eve in a place called the Garden of Eden.
C. We give up the idea that the universe outside the Garden of Eden was originally created as a perfectly safe and benevolent place, free from physical harm and danger. However, Genesis 1-2 does not say that there were no natural disasters, such as storms, earthquakes, and stray meteorites. Mankind is commanded to subdue the earth, and the Hebrew word here for "subdue" (kabas) is used elsewhere in the Old Testment to refer to violent, deadly conflict. There is only one verse (Genesis 1:30) that is interpreted to mean that all animals were vegetarian. We do not give up the idea that Sin came into the world with Adam's fall.
The Hebrew "kabash" is word 3533 in Strong's Concordance. It appears in: Gen 1:28, Num 32:22, Num 32:29, Jos 18:1, 2 Sam 8:11, 1 Chron 22:18, 2 Chron 28:10, twice in Neh 5:5, Est 7:8, twice in Jer 34:11, Jer 34:16, Mic 7:19, and Zec 9:15. (Blue Letter Bible, 1996-2002) "Kabas" is not just mowing the lawn and clipping the hedges!
So - theistic evolution does not fit the definition of a compromise because we don't have to give up anything that is truly of value to our faith. Now let's look at what we gain.
A. We reconcile the witness of God's word with the witness of God's creation. Christianity survived the last time this was done, during the Copernican (1543) and Galilean (1633) revolution that ended geocentrism. Now we have theistic astronomy. Theistic astronomy is accepted so well today that nobody even bothers to use that term.
B. We don't have to compromise on God's command not to bear false witness. This is either the Eighth or the Ninth Commandment, depending on how you number them (see Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20). I believe Jesus calls us to a high standard of truth. We don't have to shoehorn every new scientific discovery into the young-earth creationist interpretation of Genesis; instead, we are free to discover how God reveals Himself to us in the ways of His creation.
C. Science is no longer a distraction and a stumbling block. We are free to feed the hungry, give water to those who are thirsty, provide shelter to strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). We can concentrate on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
6. Evolution is Not "Very Good"In Genesis 1:31 God looks over all that He has made: "And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold, it was very good." This verse is used to contend that evolution cannot be part of God's plan because natural selection, the survival of the fittest, cannot be "very good" in God's eyes. Creationists quote a fragment of the very last paragraph of Darwin's book The Origin of Species as evidence that evolution is not very good: "...the war of nature, from famine and death...".
I believe that this argument is a human-centered viewpoint that undermines the authority of the Bible. The Bible is full of examples where human judgment was dead wrong about what God considers to be "very good." The prophet Samuel wanted to anoint Jesse's eldest son Eliab as King of Israel, but God instructed him to anoint the youngest son, David, instead (1 Samuel 16:1-13). St. Peter had to be directed three times in a vision to share the Gospel with Gentiles when he thought they were unclean (Acts 10:1-29).
In the time of Galileo, church leaders declared that the moon, being created by God, was perfect in their eyes and therefore smooth (the lunar patterns reflected earth's imperfections). Galileo's telescope revealed that the moon has craters and mountains; the telescope did not deny that God created the moon. The United States Park Service suppressed forest fires in Yellowstone for many years until the great fires of 1988. Now the prevailing theistic viewpoint is that God has created an ecosystem where physical death and molecular decay are necessary in bringing new life. The wild animals already understood this concept in a sense; they continued grazing while the fire burned, and moved aside to let it pass.
In February 1993 I went on safari in northern Tanzania after climbing Kilimanjaro. I visited Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Two observations surprised me: how green the African landscape was, and that a kill is a rare event. National Geographic and the Discovery Channel leave viewers with the impression of slaughter, of lions continually hunting and bringing down the grazing animals. Obviously a kill is exciting and filled with natural drama - it makes great TV. But when you are actually there, the reality is different. It's hard to observe a kill taking place, or even to discover one after the fact. Tour guides call each other on the radio when they find a kill, and all the safari minivans cluster around so the tourists can take pictures. The overall impression I got in the wilds of East Africa was one of serenity and peace. Yes, there is danger, but the entire natural spectacle is beautiful and magnificent! It doesn't look like an ongoing war of nature. The big picture is not one of struggle and cruelty, famine and death. Instead, it looks - not perfect, but "very good". Just like God said.
I am not saying that I like natural selection. I watched a cheetah chase and kill a baby gazelle in the Serengeti and I was horrified - until I saw a baby cheetah come trotting up and happily enjoy a meal with its mother. I am saying that without the clear indication of Scripture, we humans are poor judges of what God considers to be very good.
I believe that the phrase "very good" in Genesis 1:31 means "without Sin." Any other judgment beyond that needs Scripture to back it up. Without the clear word of Scripture, any judgment of what is "very good" and what is not is just human opinion.
What would a world without Sin look like today? People would cooperate, share, and worship together. There would be no war or murder, hatred or violence. Lions would still hunt and kill zebras, but neither would be shot by poachers or poisoned by industrial waste. There would be some natural disasters such as storms, volcanoes, and earthquakes. Probably a few people would be hurt or would die in these calamities. But the numbers of victims would be much lower than they are now, because people would be free to live in safer places, they would warn others, they would take heed of the warnings and get out of the way, and they would care for displaced people as Jesus Himself would. God would be glorified as all people gave selflessly to help others in His name. Mankind would not fear the sting of physical death (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). Physical death would be viewed by all as a transition into eternal life with God (Acts 7:55-56). That world would not be heaven. But I would be willing to call that world without Sin "very good", because I believe God Himself did so in Genesis 1.
If we expand the quoted fragment of The Origin of Species (Sixth Edition), another concept comes to light:
"Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
Since I am a Christian and Charles Darwin was an agnostic, the most exalted object I can conceive of is Jesus Christ risen from the dead and glorified at the right hand of the Father. Nevertheless, Darwin evokes a theme here that is Biblical: God can produce good things out of what mankind considers bad. Joseph states this theme in Genesis 50:20 "As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil, for He brought me to this high position I have today so that I could save the lives of many people." St. Peter repeats it in Acts 2: 22-24 "O men of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing tremendous miracles through Him, as you well know. But God, following His prearranged plan, let you use the Roman government to nail Him to the cross and murder Him. Then God released Him from the horrors of death and brought Him back to life again, for death could not keep this man within its grip."
So - it seems that Darwin was not thrilled with the "war of nature" either, but instead of denying that evolution occurs he evoked a theme that is Biblical. God can take circumstances that humans consider bad and turn them into good. Darwin saw grandeur, and the hand of the Creator (God), in this view. So do I.
Creationists ask why God would choose in evolution a method of creation that involves scarcity, death, and the struggle for survival. My response is that nature is "red in tooth and claw" whether the theory of evolution is true or not. Scarcity, death, and struggle are not inherently the fault of evolution. Out of those apparently bad things, God uses evolution to produce great good and abundance of life. This is a Biblical theme. As Christian biologist Kenneth Miller has pointed out, evolution makes it inevitable that somewhere in the universe, some day, there would arise a creature capable of knowing God and loving Him in return. We are that creature. So the answer to the original question is: God chose evolution as a method for creation because He likes to bring forth good things from evil circumstances. Thanks be to God!
I don't have much interest in changing the minds of self-described creationists on the matter of evolution and creation, although they seem to have a great interest in changing mine. Christian creationists are saved. I fully expect to see them in Heaven when we get there. I expect that they will have a few surprises when God reveals to them everything about His creation of the universe. I expect to have some surprises myself! But those are questions for God when we sit on His lap and He holds us tightly in His almighty loving arms. We will just have to wait. John 3:16 states the formula for being saved, and it says nothing concerning one's ideas about creation.
Many creationists portray their positions as a choice between believing the Word of God, and believing the theories of fallible humans who are interpreting what they observe about the earth. They are leaving out the fact that it is also fallible humans who are interpreting God's Word in the Bible. There are two layers of interpretation here (of the Bible and of the earth), not just one.
The Bible -> theological interpretation <--> scientific interpretation <- the earth.
The Bible cannot be wrong, but it can be interpreted wrongly. Creation cannot be wrong, as expressed in Psalm 19: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament displays His handiwork." Fallible humans can interpret creation wrongly. Many creationists would like us to forget that both areas of interpretation can be wrong, not just the mainstream interpretation of the earth. I believe that correct and reasonable interpretations of the Bible and Creation will and must converge on God's Truth. Interpretations of the Bible that lead us to assign most of geology to the single year of Noah's Flood are neither correct nor reasonable.
This does not mean that the witness of 1 Corinthians 13 is equivalent to the witness of the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado. The Bible speaks to us in language, teaching us directly. God's Creation inspires awe in us at the works of the Creator who made it all and sustains it in the present time. The Bible is the greater witness. Creation does not contradict it.
I have investigated the assertions and theories of young-earth creationists. A disturbing thing about these claims is that a great many of them include poorly researched statements, or misquotes of mainstream or evolutionist sources that distort the original author's meaning. Christians must be above reproach when rightly handling the word of truth. It is bearing false witness to misrepresent another person's position, or to attack an obsolete or contrived version of a theory. It is bearing false witness to misquote someone so that it distorts the meaning of the original source. It is bearing false witness to ignore observations that don't fit the original hypothesis. It does not matter what is the cause being served. A point made with false information is not a point at all. In a trial witnesses are sworn in with the words, "Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" Scholarship, science, and Christians witness demand no less than legal proceedings. The Truth of the Bible does not need falsehoods to defend it.
If you don't believe me, look these things up for yourself. You should, anyway, whether you believe me or not! Go to the library and look up the references that a young-earth creationist cites. Examine the original context, and judge for yourself whether important information is omitted, and if the creationist has quoted the source fairly, accurately, and completely. Judge whether the original meaning has changed. Do some searches on the Internet. You can begin with the references that I have included with this essay. On the Internet you will have to learn to discern the truth among a large number of competing claims. That's an important responsibility. Take the time to discern well. Remember that the number of repetitions and verbal volume don't make truth. Get started now.
It is not bearing false witness to say, "I don't know. Only God knows."
I have concern for those people who have built their Christian beliefs partly on Jesus Christ and partly on what the young-earth creationists claim. Suppose they come across some transitional fossils, and the fossil sequence looks pretty convincing. Suppose some graduate student discovers a faster or more probable mechanism for mutated evolution, and it seems scientifically reasonable. Suppose NASA finds evidence of past life on Mars. Will their faith be shaken? Will the collapse of that belief pillar undermine the whole? I have encountered two individuals on the Internet who abandoned their Christian faith while investigating and debunking the claims of young-earth creationism. That's sad.
For these reasons I strongly oppose teaching creationism in schools, especially Sunday Schools.
Typical Encounters with Young-Earth Creationists
A few times I have written to the authors of young-earth creationist publications, pointing out some inaccuracy or a faulty analysis. The encounter follows the following pattern:
1. I write to them.
2. They write back to me refusing to admit error; "I make no apologies."
"You shall know false teachers by their fruit." (Matthew 7:20)
Just in case the point about telling the truth has not been made yet, here are some blunt words from Job to back it up:
"Must you go on 'speaking for God' when He never once has said the things that you are putting in His mouth? Does God want your help if you are going to twist the truth for Him? Be careful that He doesn't find out what you are doing! Or do you think you can fool God as well as men? No, you will be in serious trouble with Him if you use lies to try to help Him out. Doesn't His majesty strike terror to your heart? How can you do this thing? These tremendous statements you have made have about as much value as ashes. Your defense of God is as fragile as a clay vase!" (Job 13:7-12, Living Bible)
Careful Christian Analysis and Interpretation of Scripture?
The Y2K situation is a reminder of how wrong Christian technical analysis can be. Certain people - Gary North, Ed Yourdon, Michael Hyatt, and Chuck Missler - were incredibly wrong about what would happen! The Bible commands us to watch if prophesies come true in Deuteronomy 18:20-22: "But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. You may say in your heart, 'How are we to know what word was not spoken by Yahweh?' When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh and the thing does not happen and the word is not fulfilled, then it has not been spoken by Yahweh. The prophet has spoken with presumption. You have nothing to fear from him." My Bible does not contain exemptions for prophets who were just trying to make sure people were prepared.
Whether the individuals mentioned above are to be considered false prophets or merely false teachers depends on your answer to the question, "Did they speak in the name of the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?" Did they lead people to believe, or allow people to believe, that their words were prophetic and not just their personal views?
Let me state clearly that I am certainly not advocating the Old Testament's death penalty for false prophets in this day and age. 2 Peter 2 begins with a warning against false prophets, and states in verse 9 that "the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment." God will judge false teachers, and God will deliver punishment in His time.
I believe that we should have nothing to do with false teachers, according to Matthew 18: 15-17. This command applies to creationists and evolutionists alike. In practice I will allow two falsehoods, distortions, or bad teachings from a particular person. After the third offense, I will accept no more information from that source. False prophecy and teaching are serious matters.
One may wonder if there is anything else we can do about false teachers. Yes, there is. We can forgive them. We can forgive them whether they repent or not. God forgave us our sins before we repented, even the sins for which we have not repented (and perhaps never will in this lifetime). Romans 5:8 states, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
I worked professionally in simulation for 11 years. We liked to model things with cause and effect. When we didn't know the causal mechanism for a process, or it was too complicated for us to model, we used the random number generator instead. Here is the C source code for a random number generator, this one from the Microsoft C++ compiler.
long Random(long *holdRand)
// Returns a random long integer.
float frand(long *randomSpot)
/* returns 0.0 <= random number < 1.0 */
Does anyone really think that every living creature has these lines of code inside its reproductive system? Does anyone claim that there is really a cosmic random number generator? My professional experience in simulation leads me to conclude that "random chance" means "I don't know how this works," or "I do know but it's too complicated to model." One could use physics equations to model the throw of a pair of dice on a craps table, but it would be extremely difficult. Random number generators reproduce the expected results, not the process. We use simulation and random number generators to reproduce the statistical results over thousands of trials. The term "random chance" has been used to imply some sort of Godless, causeless wandering. But in reality "random chance" is a statistician's technique for modeling processes that are beyond our comprehension. It is a valid technique, but it has no theological implications, except the ones stated so vividly in Job 38-41.
Example: Defective Parts.
When I worked at a simulation company, we would often interview subject-matter experts to determine their process. Here is a hypothetical but typical example:
Carl: Tell me about those defective parts.
Expert: They crop up every so often. We test all our parts and remove the bad ones from our production line, of course.
Carl: Why are parts defective?
Expert: Usually because some temporary or new worker makes a mistake.
Carl: So you see more defective parts when you have more temporary workers?
Expert: Yes, especially during flu season, or in the summer because of vacations. Lots of our employees send their children to day care, and sickness travels that way.
Carl: So it depends on the number and age of the children, and the incubation periods of various viruses . . . how am I going to model all that?
Expert: Oh, don't bother with that level of detail. Just assume that 1 out of every 1,000 parts is defective, and increase the rate to 1 in 800 during summer and fall. That's what we do for accounting purposes, anyway.
I believe that God directs the processes that we ignorant humans call random. Are dice too hard for Him to direct? Not in Joshua 7:13-26 to single out the criminal Achan. Jonah is found out by lot in Jonah 1:7. If God can bring forth a son from an old man and woman (Isaac from Abraham and Sarah in Hebrews 11:11-12), then God can also bring other unlikely events to pass. Matthew 17:24-27 describes Jesus directing Peter to catch a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay the Temple tax. To catch a fish that has swallowed a coin is an extremely unlikely event - unless the Son of God is directing the fish, the coin, and you. Are "random" mutations of DNA too complicated for God Almighty?
One may still wonder about the likelihood of "random" processes producing order or progress. Consider two examples.
1. The United States Economy.
At the simplest level, we gathered about 76 million people together in one country in 1900, told them to pay their mortgages and that's about it. We started with horse-drawn carriages. Now we have 281 million people and the World Wide Web! We have supersonic planes, heart surgery, and Star Wars movies. All this came just from people paying their mortgages! There were some visionaries along the way, but no master blueprint for the century.
Of course you and I know that it wasn't really random. People make plans, cooperate with each other, and obey the law. But at some level it does look like a random process that makes progress.
2. A Baby Learning.
I gave our son Simon "crawling lessons" because I wanted him to be able to get around. I taught Isabel how to descend the stairs safely. But most of the time our children just wandered around on their own, playing with us or grabbing things and listening to us talk to them. Somehow they learned to grasp objects, walk, and talk in proper English.
During the learning process neuron connections were formed, and we corrected our children when they misbehaved. It wasn't completely a random process. But to the casual observer it looked mostly random, and yet our babies developed into lovely and capable children.
To summarize: When you see the phrase "random chance," consider substituting the phrase and idea "I don't know."
A number of scientists, including Stephen Jay Gould, have suggested that mankind is an accident of evolution, that we arrived here by chance. If pre-history had gone a little differently, perhaps dolphins or elephants would be ruling the earth right now. His former student Kurt Wise argues in his review of Gould's book Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989), that this view is a problem for Christians who would accept evolution. I reject both Gould's suggestion and Wise's corollary, and I base my rejection upon other events recorded in Scripture. It is indeed a problem, but it has an answer.
Consider the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Was the location of His birth an accident? Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, according to the prophecy in Micah 5:2: "O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are but a small Judean village, yet you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past!" But Jesus' earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, lived in Nazareth in Galilee. Everyone who has ever seen a Christmas pageant should be familiar with the circumstances under which Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as recorded in Luke 2:1 "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." Joseph and his family had to travel to his ancestral home of Bethlehem in order to be counted in the census.
Back in Rome, Caesar had to decide through some unknown political process to order a census for the purpose of taxation. Probably he had advisors who counseled him on the timing and extent of the census. Then Caesar had to send the word out to the provinces, and the word had to arrive and be implemented by the local governor at just the right time for Mary's pregnancy to terminate while she and Joseph were in Bethlehem. The likelihood of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is low from the very start.
Going back a bit further, we wonder how it was that Augustus Caesar was emperor of Rome in 4 BC? Augustus, earlier known as Octavian, became emperor after he won the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC by defeating the combined forces of Marc Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. He won because Marc Antony uncharacteristically deserted his troops at a crucial moment of the battle, and set out instead after the fleeing Cleopatra. How often did Roman generals desert their troops and run after women in the midst of battle? It is unknown to history why Cleopatra fled the battle in her royal barge; perhaps she simply lost her nerve, or thought her lover Antony had been killed in combat.
So we have an extremely unlikely sequence of events that need to happen for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. That's what history and science say. The analysis looks reasonable. The mathematical probability of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is near zero.
But Christians know that the probability of Jesus being born in Bethlehem is 100%, because the prophets had foretold it long ago! It does not matter how unlikely the circumstances are - when God makes a promise, He will fulfill it. The unlikely will come to pass because God has spoken. Gould's analysis is scientifically correct - the arrival of mankind in scientific terms looks like an accident. The theological conclusion that Gould and Wise draw from his analysis is not correct. God has ordained that mankind would arise, and here we are.
Statistical studies are worthwhile. We need them as tools to evaluate competing theories. I am happier when the probabilistic analysis matches up with what we observe in nature. But it is important to remember that God Almighty transcends probabilities. His ways are not our ways, and they defy analysis. God brought us forth to rule this planet earth because He willed it. The Bible says so.
Gould and Wise also seem to concur on another related point: that the haphazard evolutionary path that eventually led to Homo sapiens is unlike what an intelligent designer would plan. Would God use such a scattershot approach, full of dead ends and lengthy historical detours, to bring forth the crowning glory of his creation? We would prefer to see a smoother path of development. As a software developer, I certainly would!
Yes, we 21st-century Americans would prefer a quicker and more efficient approach. But God doesn't always do things the way we would do them, as St. Paul tells us in Romans 11:33-34: "Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are His wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His methods! For who among us can know the mind of the Lord? Who knows enough to be His counselor and guide?" Consider the history of the nation of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the birth of Jesus. Does this history demonstrate a smooth, straight, linear path leading to the birth of the Messiah?
One would think so from reading the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1 or Luke 3. All His ancestors are neatly lined up. One would be rudely shaken out of this belief by reading the Old Testament:
1. Abraham and Sarah begin the story under the shadow of infertility (Genesis 11:30). This problem recurs in Jacob's family (Genesis 30:1).
2. Isaac's first-born son Esau disregards his birthright, and Jacob swindles him out of it (Genesis 25: 29-34).
3. During the sojourn in Egypt, the Israelites damage their worldly claim to the promised land of Canaan when the Philistines and other peoples occupy the land during their absence. They grow into a great nation during their time in Goshen, but the cost is high. Pharaoh's seven-year famine causes a huge historical detour, and the Palestinians and Israelis are still in competition over the same land today.
4. In Egypt the Hebrews are enslaved by the Egyptians for the first time in their history. It will not be the last time that they are under oppression by a foreign power. Why does this fate befall God's chosen people?
5. A poor woman from Moab, a foreigner, is gleaning in the fields outside Bethlehem. An Israelite loves her and makes her his wife. This foreign woman becomes the great-grandmother of King David, Israel's greatest king. The story of Ruth and Boaz is told in the book of Ruth.
6. After Solomon, the kingdom of Israel splits into two warring kingdoms; the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south, and the rest of the tribes of Israel in the north. Eventually the northern tribes are conquered by Sargon II of Assyria in 722 BC (the fall of Samaria), carried away in captivity, and never return.
7. The righteous King Josiah begins a campaign of religious reforms, but this process ends abruptly when he is killed by Pharaoh Neco in battle at Megiddo in 609 BC. Josiah's tragedy is told in 2 Kings 23:28-30 and 2 Chronicles 35: 20-27.
8. In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar defeats Israel, destroys Jerusalem and Solomon's temple, and carries the Israelites (including King Zedekiah) off to Babylon in captivity (2 Kings 25: 1-21). 48 years pass before a remnant can return.
9. The Maccabees lead a successful revolt against their Greek rulers in 164 BC. But by the time of Jesus Israel is subjugated by Rome.
Why did it take so long for Jesus to come?
Many of Israel's travails are attributed to Sin by the authors of the Bible. However, several items from the list above are not related as the direct result of sin: Sarah's infertility, Pharaoh's famine, slavery in Egypt, and conquest by Rome. The story of Ruth and Boaz is a wonderful example of God's grace, but in man's eyes Ruth is a diversion from the main line of Hebrew stock. Josiah's untimely death is more the result of military and political foolhardiness than sin.
It is probably not wise to carry the "caused by sin" analysis too far. Jesus Himself rejects a too-broad analysis of sin causing man's troubles in the case of the blind man (John 9:1-3) and the fall of the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:1-5). We must beware of being like Job's friends, who tried to explain Job's troubles and ended up being rebuked by God. God is the judge.
It is not correct that the working out of God's plan here on earth must be smooth, linear, and predictable. The apparently chaotic path of evolution matches the history of Israel better than a smooth straight path! And that's a good thing, because the history of Israel is our story. It's your story, and it's my story. It's my story because my faith did not hold perfectly steady from infant baptism until now. Perhaps the story of evolution can be viewed as a cautionary tale, but a tale with hope for us all. God can work through the jumbled mess of human history. He can work through the jumbled mess of natural history, too.
We are not to put stumbling blocks in front of fellow Christians (Romans 14:13). It hurts my faith to hear Christians pass along hoaxes and false information. It hurts my faith to hear Christians assert extra-Biblical speculations about Creation and the Flood, and treat them as dogma.
The goal of our witness is Salvation. That salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for our sins and risen from the dead. Salvation does not come from what the fossil record says or does not say. It does not come from someone's analysis of the combinations of amino acids, protein, and DNA. Do not stake your soul on whether evolution is valid or not, and don't lead others to do so either.
I saw a videotape of creationist Gary Parker. He related a story of a debate where his opponent was an atheist who believed in evolution. Mr. Parker was cordial and respectful toward his opponent, but thought that the man felt sad. The atheist stated that he would like to believe in a loving God who cares for him personally. He would like to believe that there is a divine purpose to life, that there is more than just struggling for survival and dying. But he could not believe such things, because what he observed in the earth (geology, fossils) was telling him otherwise.
All Gary Parker could offer this man was a deal that he had already rejected: give up your science, and you can have the loving God.
But I could have offered him something so much better! You can have God! You can have good science, too! You don't have to go against your conscience, and deny those facts that you firmly believe are true. You don't have to bear false witness about the age of the earth. God is much bigger than that! You will have plenty of Christian company in your beliefs, too. In the words of Billy Graham, "Everything that is true, good, and uplifting - these things you can keep when you become a Christian. You will put away all that is false, bad, and hurtful; but the good things you can keep." The atheist needs God, and wants God in his life. This man can be saved!
I will not witness on the basis of evolution/creation arguments, because Jesus Christ commands a higher witness in the Great Commission: Acts 1: 6-8. If someone would like to believe in Jesus but has a problem with the idea of creation in 6 days of 24 hours each, I will describe the possibilities that I can accept as consistent with the Bible and the natural world that we know. I will emphasize the most important thing: that mankind was created by an all-powerful and loving Creator who daily nourishes and sustains the human race, and desires Salvation for all mankind (1 Timothy 2:4).
I have been advised to put aside all the arguments and science, and to read Genesis and listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling me. When I read the first chapters of Genesis in this manner, I have peace. I am confident that God has created me and all that exists. I know that mankind is at the very center of God's love. I know that God Almighty is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. I realize that we have all sinned, and that only Jesus Christ can redeem us. I am confident that nothing under heaven or on earth can ever separate us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:36-39)!
When I read the literature of creationists and talk with them, I have no peace. I feel doubt about the Christian church and anger at people who are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ. After encountering false information I become suspicious of what I read and hear. So I don't associate with creationists very much, and I rarely discuss these matters.
This essay came about only because anti-evolution views were thrust forward at a worship service. I heed the warning in Titus 3:9-11: "Don't get involved in arguing over unanswerable questions and controversial theological ideas; keep out of arguments and quarrels about obedience to Jewish laws, for this kind of thing isn't worthwhile; it only does harm. If anyone is causing divisions among you, he should be given a first and second warning. After that have nothing more to do with him, for such a person has a wrong sense of values. He is sinning, and he knows it."
At the end of the Book of Job God appears out of a whirlwind and demands his answers to a series of questions. In 38: 18 God asks, "Do you know the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know!" Of course Job cannot answer this or any of the other questions, and he is humbled before God's greatness and majesty.
In the 2,500 years since the Book of Job was written mankind has explored the earth and accumulated some knowledge. We can now respond with a pretty good answer to God's question: "The earth is 25,000 miles around and 8,000 miles in diameter. Its highest point is Mt. Everest at 29,028 feet above sea level, and its deepest point is Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench at 36,200 feet below sea level." Jehovah in his grace and mercy has permitted us to discover some of the mysteries of the universe He created. A scientific explanation does not prove that there is no god; instead, it reveals the marvelous handiwork of Him who designed the natural laws, set the planets in motion, and continues to watch over and care for mankind every day.
Yes, we now have a pretty good answer to the question of the earth's extent. But there are 63 other questions in Job 38-41! Note also that God limited Himself to questions that Job could comprehend. In 2,500 years scientists and explorers have gotten some insight into certain other questions as well. We have a good idea of how the morning dew forms, by radiative cooling of surface objects below the dew point of the surrounding air. A few lucky people have observed female deer giving birth to fawns. But at our present learning rate it will be thousands of years before we are ready for another set of questions from God.
The point is not how much we know, but how little we know compared to Almighty God. God has granted mankind a measure of wisdom, and has given us dominion over the earth. God also commands us to be fair and just and merciful, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6: 8). Hear again the questions that God proposes to Job in chapter 38.
Then the Lord God answered Job from the whirlwind:
"Why are you using your ignorance to deny my providence?
Now get ready to fight, for I am going to demand some answers from you, and you must reply.
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.
Do you know how its dimensions were determined, and who did the surveying?
What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone,
as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"
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