Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

How About: Evolution…Maybe?

March 24, 2010

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.


Why I’m no longer “Young Earth”

March 23, 2010

Today I will try to explain why I believe in evolution. You have to realize, though, that saying I believe in evolution is for me like saying I believe in orbits or reproduction. Whether or not I believe it doesn’t make much difference. These are things that I’m pretty sure just are.

I should probably begin by saying that I used to be a “Young Earth” creationist. The approach to the Bible that I learned taught me to read the first chapters of Genesis and take them at face value. If they say God made everything in six days, then by golly that’s what he did. God said it; I believe it; that settles it. Considering the genealogies of the chapters which follow, it would then appear that humankind has only been around for a few thousand years. One guy even calculated quite confidently that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and it stuck. So the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. Alright, if that’s what the Bible says, then I’ll believe it.

But then I look around and consider a few things. Stars, for example, shine their light down on us from a very, very long distance away. We know how fast light travels, and we use the term “light year” to indicate the distance light travels in a year. We know that many of those stars and galaxies are hundreds of thousands of light years away. Some are millions of light years away (we now know the universe is very, very big). That means their light is only now arriving after traveling for millions of years. Our stars are snapshots of the past–the very distant past. And they prove the world is older than that guy said.

That didn’t use to mean much to me. God could create a universe already “in maturity,” right? I mean, Adam wasn’t born a baby, was he? He was created already a grown man. If he were to cut down a tree in the garden, it would probably have rings, right? How old would they be? You see my point. The Genesis creation account seems to indicate that the world was created already old, in a sense. The stars that Adam saw even then were not as old as they looked. I can buy that.

But then there’s more. Looking for other evidences of age, I see things like our Grand Canyon, which is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It’s got this river at the bottom of it, and it obviously was cut slowly by that river over a very long time. Estimates for that time period range from 5 million years to 17 million years. Besides things like this, we also have devised dating techniques that measure the steady decay of certain isotopes and other things that, frankly, are out of my pay grade. There’s a bunch more things like this, but you get the picture. Appearances can be deceiving, but if our world is only a few thousand years old, then this is starting to look like a really massive trick.

Besides this, we keep digging up bones which paint a picture of a gradual development of the many species of living things around us (including our own species). Judging from their depth in the ground, many of these species appear to have predated us humans by quite a bit. The point is, however, that every branch of science we have indicates the earth is billions of years old, and that the human race developed from more primitive species over millions of years.

That’s not what the Bible says. I know that. And I could go along with the “created in maturity” concept up until a certain point. I could believe that the world just looks older than it is because God made it to look older than it really is. Much, much older. But if that’s the case, then people should be forgiven for studying the Earth and the cosmos and deciding that they are as old as they seem. They should be forgiven for seeing evidences of gradual development of all living things, including ourselves (What the heck is an appendix for, anyway? Or a tailbone?).

But they are not forgiven, are they? At times, in fact, they are angrily chastised for not believing the clear Word of God in these matters. They are shamed and excluded from our schools and churches because they contradict the biblical testimony, choosing instead to cling to their ungodly scientific beliefs. We don’t want them poisoning our children with their spurious logic and their anti-Christian worldviews.

Only now there are believers as well, like myself, who are starting to see the world as old. Many of them are way more qualified than I am to study these things and they don’t see what the big deal is. They’re starting to say, “Hey, we believe the Bible. We love it. We just don’t think it was intended by God to be used as a textbook for astronomy, geology, or biology. It wasn’t written in a scientific context and we shouldn’t superimpose our very modern scientific mentality into it. That does violence to the text.”

I’m with those guys at this point. I think you can be quite faithful to the Bible and yet not use it as a science textbook. Some people in the medieval times tried to do that when someone suggested the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. They tried to do it when someone suggested the earth is flat and stationary. Both times they were wrong, and both times they were certain they were being faithful to the text. But they weren’t. They were treating the Bible like it’s a different kind of book than it really is. N.T. Wright said some good stuff about that once.

Well this raises plenty of questions, of course, like “How do we accept Paul’s typology and his view of the fall of mankind if we don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve?”

Those are good questions. I’m still working on that. Anybody got any good ideas about that?

I’ve got more to say, so keep checking back.

Thinking about Creation

March 18, 2010

As I often do with Scot McKnight’s blog posts, I will be closely following one of his current threads pertaining to evolution and its relationship to the Christian faith.

This question is very close to my heart at the moment, as I have run up against it a number of times over the last few years. Personally, I have become convinced that the cosmos is as old as our scientists tell us it is. And I see consistently logical reasons to believe what paleontologists and geologists and astronomers have been telling us about the age of the earth and about the gradual development of our species over hundreds of thousands of years. But as a Bible-believing Christian, I have some wrestling to do with the creation account of Genesis 1-3 (really even through chapter 11). How can I decide that these chapters are not to be taken as historical (even if some of the biblical writers may have thought it was, given their historical context) and yet accept Paul’s discussion in Romans 5 of the fall of Adam and our fate as his descendants? How would it affect my understanding of the accomplishment of the Second Adam, Christ, on my behalf?

I have plenty to write about this, but right now I’ve got to go corral a classroom full of teenagers (most of whom have criminal records), so maybe watch this space and pitch in your thoughts when you have time.

Gimme a Break

October 6, 2006

It’s no wonder folks today have a hard time listening to religious people. Half the time we seem way too confident about what we think, while at other times we seem to arbitrarily change what we think.

Confidence is not in vogue these days, and some folks have a triple dose of it. Consider for example the groups that make the veins in their necks bulge when they tirade against Harry Potter, only to turn around and speculate about connections between the number 666 and European politics. While I invest years of my life trying to provide my children an intelligible worldview that doesn’t divorce faith from curiosity and learning, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are popping up in a documentary that exposes a sensationalist, propagandizing religion that capitalizes on the malleability of the young. Like the new film Jesus Camp:

While surfing the web this morning I went from that news item to the next one about how the Catholic Church is debating whether or not they should lay to rest the concept of Limbo/Purgatory. Apparently popular Catholic practice has all but elimated this cumbersome halfway house for the dead anyway, and those who are trying to proselytize Africa and Arabia are finding that Islam seems nicer than Christianity when it comes to the eternal fate of unbaptized infants.

Now I’m not advocating for them to keep this strange medieval invention, but I wonder at the inconsistency in their logic for dropping it. If we ask why they want to lose this long-standing tradition they must either reply that, “Well, it wasn’t really biblical anyway”(which I highly doubt they’ll say) or else they must admit that public opinion has rendered this belief very unpopular. So like the evangelical churches of America, they are considering adopting the same market mentality which follows each new trend for all it’s worth. Give the consuming public what it wants.

The world is in desperate need of communities of believers that follow Jesus in simplicity and authenticity, and for crying out loud that use a little common sense! I’m holding out hope that even in this crazy place God will grow some folks who can sense their spirits and follow Him without losing touch with their minds. Reason and Faith need not be mutually exclusive commodities, IMHO.

But then, what do I know? I’m just another guy with a keyboard who thinks he’s got something worth saying.

Incidentally, here’s where I read the article about the impending death of purgatory:

I gotta stop reading the news.

What I Learned From a Muslim Riot

February 8, 2006

It’s impressive to see how angry some Muslim communities of the world have become over depictions of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. What’s more amazing for me is to learn that most Muslims believe it is wrong to create ANY depiction of Mohammed for ANY reason. That detail fascinates me.

The ancient Hebrews also had a rule about depictions of Yahweh. As I recall, Moses threw quite a fit about a gold cow once. The rule about making a graven image of Yahweh was due to the fact that Yahweh is invisible, immeasurable, infinite. He is spirit, and to put him into physical form would immediately supplant Him from His rightful place as the only legitimate Object of worship.

But the earliest Christians (who were themselves Jewish) made a bold leap into the unknown by claiming that Jesus Christ was Yahweh Himself come in the flesh. They unapologetically declared that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God,” and “the exact representation” of Him on this earth. Yahweh had always promised that He would one day dwell with His people, and while previous attempts to represent Him in artistic form were forbidden, God’s own representation of Himself was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Like Jesus, Mohammed was a man. A flesh and blood man. I believe that most normal Muslims believe that. Which means that he can be drawn. He can be painted. He can even be cartooned. That’s the risk you put yourself up for when you inhabit human flesh. A man can be caricatured. In fact, the more famous he is, the more likely it is that he WILL be. I’ve seen three disrespectful depictions of Jesus in the last two days. I didn’t like them. I guess I consider them offensive. But I didn’t go burn the national flags of the countries that allowed them to exist! Well, that’s not what I’m trying to write about at this moment. So back to what I was trying to say…

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that followers of Mohammed disallow depictions of him out of respect and homage to him? In their efforts to idealize him they confine him to the unseen realm, so to speak. I suppose that for them to see him represented in visible form would somehow reduce him and dishonor him, robbing him of the worship that they believe he deserves.

Compare this with Jesus, who stated in no uncertain terms that he who has seen him has seen Yahweh. This man stated that he and Yahweh would come and indwell those who believe in him, so that we, too, can become sons and daughters of God. The early Christians embraced this idea and proclaimed that when the church of Jesus gathers they are reassembling Christ himself. They are the body of Christ, inseparable from him in every way. “Little Christs,” they came to be called. Here is a faith that embraces the visible representation of their God.

Talk about running the risk of misrepresentation! Millions of little depictions of Christ running around all over the earth. What was Jesus thinking!? Didn’t he know that he was setting himself up for insult and injury? In particular, what was he thinking when he chose ME to be one of those representations? If I didn’t have the utmost deference for his wisdom, I would question his judgment about this issue. But this only illustrates my point. [Wait, what was my point?… Oh, yeah…] God knew that we could never be satisfied worshiping a God that we couldn’t see. We are flesh and blood and we identify with flesh and blood. So He took on flesh and blood in order to be with us. In so doing He set Himself up for insult, abuse, and misrepresentation. Apparently, he counted the cost and determined that we were worth it. That’s really something. I think I’ll go dwell on that for a little bit. Why don’t you join me?

Two Trees in the Garden

December 5, 2005

I bought a book one time just because I was so captured by the title. It was titled There Were Two Trees in the Garden, and it was by Rick Joyner. It sits on my bookshelf still and I’m sorry to say I still haven’t read it after several years of owning it. Maybe I’ll get to it someday. But I love the title anyway.

One day recently I was teaching World Literature to a small class of reprobates when I noticed in our Literature book an allusion to the Garden of Eden. The textbook explains that “Adam and Eve [were] forbidden by God to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life in the center of the garden.” It goes on to say that they in fact did eat the fruit and were therefore banished from the garden forever. My wife, who grew up faithfully attending a “Bible-believing church” and is herself a minister’s daughter, commented that she probably wouldn’t have caught the error when she was in high school since so little attention was given to the fact that there were, indeed, two trees in the garden.

But the one with Life in it was the one from which God wanted them to eat. It was that other tree that God warned them not to eat–said it wouldn’t be good for them. Folks miss that little detail and consequently miss one of the most important stories of our revealed faith. God had a Life that He wanted to put inside of us, but we were (and are) lured away by something else that appears to offer something very good: The knowledge of good and evil. Whatever that is, of this I’m sure: It sounds really good. Like something you need. But in the end it will only bring death.

Where I live now, there is much talk about those two trees, and about what that forbidden tree was offering. And I’ve noticed something: We often make much of the fact that the word “knowledge” is in there. I’ve even heard it called “the tree of knowledge.” The implication there is that knowledge is itself somehow a distracting thing. And the truth is, it can be. But I’ve had just enough Hebrew to know that when the Old Testament says “knowledge,” it’s practically synonymous with “experience.” Adam knew his wife. And Man was invited to know good and evil. I don’t think this tree was so much about learning things or becoming too cerebral. It was about pursuing perfection in order to make ourselves right. It was about “doing it right.”

This is the basis of all religions, isn’t it? Doing it right. All religions (including the Christian religion) share this endeavor: To get it right. Do it right. Say it right. Pray it correctly. Think correctly. Feel correctly. This was what was offered to Mankind in the garden, and only this was strong enough in its appeal to lure them away from the greatest gift ever offered: The Life of God with Us. Well, it remains for us still today to partake of that Life of God with Us. Daily we stand beneath that tree somehow, and daily something inside of you craves that life that comes from the Vine, and daily you can partake. But there will always be this other preoccupation that you will have to deny…this obsession with doing it right.

Should I say that? Should I go there? Should I feel that way? Is it right for me to desire that? Did our meeting go as it should have? Are we doing it right? How are we supposed to… You get my drift. Those that had confrontations with Jesus were always amazed at His disregard for what He was “supposed to do” at so many moments. He just didn’t seem to do things the way He was supposed to. Drove those religious men crazy. He even drove the unreligious fishermen crazy with His choices. But what they didn’t get was that He was living by another Life. The Life of God with Us. He wasn’t chasing the chimera of “doing it right.” He was listening to a voice. He was following a Shepherd. He had very little control over what each moment would present for Him to endure, but He trusted that His Father would not lead Him astray. It wasn’t about getting it right. It was about following the sound of those footsteps that Man was meant to encounter in the cool of the day. That’s what it’s still about today.

How does church life work? What should we be doing? We want to get it right, don’t we? No, let’s not make that our goal. Let’s make it our goal to find Him wherever He is, and live there. And whenever He moves, let’s get up and go wherever He’s going. Let’s never get too comfortable in one place, because like Rich Mullins used to say, we’re following a homeless man. He rarely stays a long time in one spot. And let’s not fret too much about if we’re following Him right. As long as we are following Him, it is right.