How About: Evolution…Maybe?

Today I want to come at this from a slightly different angle. Judging by the responses I got on Facebook and via email, many folks are willing to say the Earth is old but they’re still not cool with evolution. And that’s not even my main point. So how about this for a starting point:

If the book of Genesis had never been written, how would you believe the Earth and all that is in it were made?

As a theist, a person who believes in God, you would believe God made it. All this stuff had to come from somewhere, right? So God made it. But how did he make it? What did the creation process look like? How long did it take? Did he do it instantaneously, or did he do it gradually, over a really long period of time? And did he make our human race from scratch? Or did he mold us out of a previous species and develop us into something more aptly fitted for what he wanted to do with us?

If the Genesis creation account had never been written, you would not naturally conclude that God chose to do it in a matter of a few short hours. Not in this day and age, anyway. Nothing else in nature happens so quickly, and since nature is his handiwork, we learn much about how he works by simply observing how nature actually works, right? Things happen very gradually in nature, and big changes take a really long time to develop.

Before the dawn of a more scientific era, ancient people used to ascribe things like thunder and lightning to the gods. They didn’t know meteorological reasons for changes in the weather, nor astronomical reasons for changes in the seasons, so they blamed the gods. Monotheistic people just disagreed on the number of gods to blame, but they still saw things the same way in the end. Storms and tides and droughts and harvests were the work of God. Nothing else needed to be known.

Today we understand scientific reasons for all of these things that happen, but that doesn’t mean our faith is invalidated. Just because we understand now how a tree reproduces and grows, or how a mother’s body weaves together and nourishes the intricate parts of a fetus doesn’t mean we can’t give God credit for these incredible occurrences. On the contrary, we look, we marvel, and we worship. We say, “Look how elegantly God does his work!” You don’t have to discount the mechanics in order to honor the One Behind It All.

So why not conclude that God made our world very slowly over millions of years, as our science seems to clearly indicate?

The answer is that Genesis puts it differently. And many of us inherited a tradition of biblical interpretation which says that you should read those first few chapters very simplistically and forget anything else the rest of our scientific disciplines tell us.

My contention is that there are other ways to understand those first few chapters. They began as stories told by grandparents to their grandchildren in Mesopotamia many centuries ago. They are beautiful stories and they assert things about God and about his handiwork which distinguished those people from all the other people groups around them. Let’s celebrate that and receive it as inspired by God himself. But let us not insist that these stories overrule any other information we find in God’s creation, using the scientific lenses we’ve developed over the years. I don’t think that really does justice to the complexity of God’s handiwork, and it just makes us look a little dumb. I don’t think that honors him.

Does that mean we have to accept macroevolution? Must we accept that we came from monkeys? Well, I’m willing to suspend my judgment on that, but not on how long things seemed to have taken. I’m willing to concede that our fossil records are far from conclusive on the many transitions that this view assumes. But aside from trying to use Genesis 1-3 as a source of scientific information, would you naturally conclude something else? If you hadn’t been told that humans were made from scratch, would you feel so compelled to disbelieve the Darwinian outlook on biological development?

People addressing these questions generally fall into three broad categories. Young Earth creationists say it had to be six literal days, and it all happened a few thousand years ago. The flood buried a bunch of stuff deep in the earth and that’s why so much stuff seems to be older. Old Earth creationists still keep the framework of Genesis 1 and interpret the word “day” more figuratively, arguing instead that these may indicate really long phases of time. Thus the cosmos could be billions of years old but we’re still using Genesis as our guidebook for how it all happened.

Theistic evolutionists, among whom I guess I am now numbered, say that this is still trying to use Genesis as a science book. It still makes us do funny things with our scientific method. It’s like when certain middle eastern countries hold “elections” to determine the will of the people, but the outcome is so predetermined that everybody knows it’s not really an election. I think we fudge on the science way too much in order to preserve a way of interpreting Genesis which God simply is not demanding from us. I do not think he means for us to be so divided between our study of his creation and our study of scripture. I long for the day when we can just say, “Okay, so the world is really really old. Now let’s get on with understanding what he means to make of it all in the end.”

Now that‘s a question worth debating.

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16 Responses to “How About: Evolution…Maybe?”

  1. Maria Kirby Says:

    Chris,
    When I started accepting evolution and thinking about how it affected my eschatology, all of a sudden I got a revelation about how much evolution makes sense of eschatology. The story we have in the bible of the church being the bride of Christ was no longer a metaphorical image but a prophetic reality. That just like cells became specialized in order to become organisms, species are the cells of God’s bride. That humans are in relation to the rest of the ‘cells’ of the bride, what Christ is in relation to us. That through living in Christ, we can become Christ to others. That God’s bride isn’t just a few isolated faithful humans taken from a sin infested creation, but the whole of creation brought under the redemption of Christ.

    By accepting evolution, we admit that we are not the pinnacle of creation; we are only part of the process God is using to make himself a bride. Instead of God’s story being all about us and our sinfulness, it becomes all about him and his glory. Evolution puts the focus back on God which is in line with what the rest of the scriptures tell us.

  2. zoecarnate Says:

    Wow Maria, I like that – are you familiar with Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of the ‘Omega Point‘? He was a Jesuit priest and evolutionary biologist, and he saw the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s salvation as effecting the entire cosmos – “all creation groans” and all that. You might like him. :)

    • Seth Says:

      cosmic dimensions was an interesting article and I have had similar thoughts about God’s salvation. One thing I think is important and please share with me your thoughts on this that personal sin is not the main issue but that personal sin is just fruit of sin itself and that sin is the nature and life of satan dwelling in fallen man, therefore corrupted not truly human as originally meant to be. And also the fact that satan’s life and poison lets say has infected the cosmos so through Christ who being our example of a true human has restored us through his death (we and the old creation dying with him) and resurrection, and through us He will restore the cosmos as well. This is totally written in brief and hope it carries the gist of what my thoughts on it are. What are your thoughts?

      • Maria Kirby Says:

        I personally have a hard time defining sin or evil even though I recognize they exist. It seems as though the Bible indicates that Lucifer’s fall happened before mankind arrived on the scene.

        If I were a literalist, I might suggest that it happened between verse one and verse two of Genesis and ignore physics saying that God created the earth before any stars including the sun. I think I’ve heard explanations that the reason the light couldn’t be identified as coming from a source in day one was because there was water everywhere.

        Looking at evolution, I see a great periods of creative growth and periods of destruction. For an example: a giant meteor hits the earth and destroys the dinosaurs, making way for mammals to develop. There is this transformation that occurs where God makes disasters turn into opportunities. Paul talks about this kind of transformation in Romans.

        I have concluded that the whole evolutionary process from the big bang onward is a conflict between God and Satan. I know that there have been heresies claiming two gods, one good, the other evil. And I don’t want to suggest that the devil is somehow on par with God, but it is really hard to make sense of a good god that destroys his own creation.

        As good as nature is at maintaining equilibrium, it’s not perfect. It goes through cycles which can lead to the the extinction of species. Mankind is smart enough and talented enough to mitigate the mins and maxs to give nature a better equilibrium where all of nature can thrive. Mankind’s sin is that he thinks about himself more than he thinks about others. His fear keeps him from laying down his life for nature when it is necessary. Our sin is destroying the planet we were made to save.

        As we live into Christ, our hope in the resurrection, our submission to his will, and the freedom from shame allow us to live with respect to others in a life giving way. As we do so, we live into the purpose God created us to be and all of life thrives. Salvation becomes not just of the soul, or a people, but all of creation. By living into Christ, we save the world and quite possibly the universe.

  3. Maria Kirby Says:

    Indirectly, I’ve read several books that refer to his ideas.

  4. Seth Says:

    Copied from above. My contention is that there are other ways to understand those first few chapters. They began as stories told by grandparents to their grandchildren in Mesopotamia many centuries ago. They are beautiful stories and they assert things about God and about his handiwork which distinguished those people from all the other people groups around them. Let’s celebrate that and receive it as inspired by God himself. But let us not insist that these stories overrule any other information we find in God’s creation,

    It is my understanding that the information about the creation was given to Moses by revelation from God not just handed down by each generation. What is your thought on that?

  5. Seth Says:

    One issue of contention I have with most scientific explanation is first of all that they are taking what they have discovered thus far which isn’t a whole lot in comparison to what is yet to be discovered and that information tends to always lead to a conclusion of some sort when an overall overriding conclusion can’t be close to capturing the full reality of creation. At best we can discover what is there and hope to figure out why on a limited scale. Knowledge and understanding will continue to increase. If someone approaches the scientific method with no understanding or belief in the creator then their findings will lead to conclusions that support atheism or whatever, so the premise or bias being used to conclude certain scientific information can take a lot of blind faith to accept even though there are facts involved.
    These are some quick thoughts I typed down, what are your thoughts?

  6. Kent Says:

    I came to faith by believing in Jesus, and not by wrestling whether evolution or biblical creation is true. We find that Jesus is recorded to have said the following things: 1) “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,” and 2) “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For in those days before the flood…” It appears that Jesus believed in the creation account of Adam and Eve, as well as the story of the Noah and the Flood. For me, I believe in Jesus, and Jesus preached the literalness of the early stories in the Book of Genesis.

    I find both evolution over billions of years as well as a literal six-day creation hard to believe. Evolution lets time and numbers act like magic: enough time (billions of years) and enough chances (probably millions of planets, amongst the trillions of starts, in the billion galaxies), whereas the Bible lets God directly do the “magic.” But modern science (via quantum physics and weird theories of cosmology) shows that mystery is at the very core of existence.

    If the creation account in Genesis is no longer to be interpreted literally, where does one draw the line about where things are taken as poetic and metaphorical vs where things are to be taken literally ? Modern biblical scholars basically discount all of the first five books of the Bible (Creation, the Flood, the Exodus from Egypt) and much of the historical writings (meaning that David was a petty local chieftain and not the ruler of a burgeoning kingdom), etc.

    Being a Christian does not mean that we have to “check in our brains at the door.” But for me, evolution, whether theistic or atheistic, leaves lots of questions about its validity.

    • Maria Kirby Says:

      Historically, Christians interpreted most of the Bible allegorically which is a type of metaphor. It is only in relatively recent history that people have started to look at the Bible literally. Every story has an element of truth in it. It takes discernment to figure out what that truth is. Historical studies allow us to not impose our own interpretation of what that truth might be onto the text.

      However, there is a certain beauty in the way that God wrote the Bible. The illustration Jesus uses of light in the eye is a perfect example of this. “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” Jesus uses an illustration based on the scientific understanding of his day. While we understand today that light does not come from the body, the truths that Jesus was trying to express are even more powerful with a correct scientific understanding of how light and eyes work.

      • Kent Says:

        In reply to Maria’s comments to my comments, though this is kind of getting off the subject, it’s my understanding that the phrase “eye is good” is a Hebrew idiom which means “being generous” and “eye is bad” refers to being stingy— so in this passage Jesus is talking about being generous vs. being stingy. (The Gospels come to us written in Greek, but Hebrew idioms stand behind the Greek words.)

      • Maria Kirby Says:

        Yes, those metaphorical meanings came from the ancient’s idea that light emanated from the eye. However, the idioms are more powerful when the eye is thought of as a receiver of light.

  7. Seth R Says:

    Kent, I couldn’t of said it better myself.

  8. Michael Young Says:

    I really like the way you put this topic. I myself don’t really stand on either side of the “argument”. In my mind, it doesn’t really matter if God created earth in 6 days or 6 trillion years, and we most certainly shouldn’t be dividing over such matters, that’s just silly. To me, what truly matters is Christ, and what He has done, what He is doing, and what He going to do.

    Well put Neil.

  9. Mike Says:

    God does generally work through natural means; however, when Jesus was on the earth He “sped up” natural processes when He created the wine (probably when he multiplied the bread). He didn’t need a season to grow and process the grapes into wine…just His word.
    Fast or slow, He is able to do it at whatever speed He desires.

  10. abmo Says:

    Hi Neil, I was just wondering how you guys are doing these days :-)

  11. abmo Says:

    Still wondering…

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