A question for accommodationalists

Should someone take Genesis 1 as a real event?

I have a question for the accommodationalists here, who believe that there is no science in Genesis 1 but it merely sets God apart from other Middle Eastern Gods or says other things about God, or man but isn’t real history. To me, this is a difficult question for your position and I would ask that your answers be thought about rather than being flip. This post has been inspired by some of the comments in how to teach YEC geology/cosmology thread where some seemed to imply that science trumps religion and faith.

I have a friend from Sri Lanka who was raised Hindu. Hinduism believes that the universe is eternal past–i.e. no beginning to the universe at all. When she was a college student, she pondered her religion’s view in light of science and had become aware that Genesis 1:1 says, In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth. She was a pre-dental student but was also aware of science’s evidence for the Big Bang. She felt that the two things were one and the same–God creating the universe via the Big Bang. She became a Christian.

She paid a heavy price for her decision. Her father kicked her out of their house. He withdrew financial support for her college. Her car was registered in his name and he demanded it back, and she complied. The staff of my son’s church took up a collection and bought her another car. My son and his wife started inviting her to spend time with them, and after the first Christmas of her being a Christian, my wife and I learned of her plight and we invited her to Christmas, Easter, Mother’s day and every other holiday when my son and his family were with us. We included her. in our family and I have a few Christmas’s with pictures of her spending that time with our family (I am NOT looking for kudos, pats on the back or any other praise about this). lol, she is the non-Hispanic, non-Chinese, non-European in those pictures and is quite easy to pick out from the Hispanics, Chinese and Europeans in the picture. lol I am leaving her name out of this, but if she ever reads this, C. know that we love you very much.

She is now married to a seminary student who is a heck of a good preacher, after having spent 2 years in Greece as a missionary to them.

Now, Accommodationalism says that God chose to accommodate his message to the views of the primitive Hebrews and thus didn’t teach science and that we shouldn’t look for science in Scripture. Here is the question:

Should I tell my friend that she made a huge mistake in becoming a Christian for that reason? Should I try to convince her that there really is no science in Genesis 1?

I fear the answers. If yes, then it implies that science trumps religion and if no, from those who believe that there is no science in that passage, then it implies moral relativism in that it is good to be a Christian even if it is for the utterly wrong reason.

Anyone want to take this question on and defend their answer?

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Yes. As a Christian, you have to believe that God creating the world was a “real event.” That isn’t science, it’s Christian doctrine.

But I still don’t think there is any science or history in Genesis 1. I guess we have different definitions of “real.”

It can be true that God’s creation of the world can be described scientifically with the Big Bang model without it being true that Genesis 1 refers to the Big Bang. Genesis 1 refers to God creating the world, not science.

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Yes, Genesis 1 was a real event, and it is very helpful to see it as an example where Christian theology and doctrine correspond nicely with scientific theory (here, namely, the Big Bang).

Generally speaking, we learn different things from science and from religion, because they ask different questions.

  • Religion asks: why do we exist, and how should I live? To answer that question, the Bible tells us that we have a loving creator, and shows us the life of Jesus.
  • Science asks: what is the world made of, and how do things in the world work?

We should therefore take the scholarship of science, the scholarship of theology and the scholarship of historians all very seriously. The three do all come together in many, many instances to affirm the reliability of the Bible.
(some examples include: archeological finds that correspond to Biblical descriptions, extra Biblical texts referring to a large flood and to the life of Jesus, and medical science agreeing with descriptions about Jesus’s death in which when pierced in his side, his blood had separating into blood and water)

Thus, Science and religion do not need to be at odds with each other . I would say that neither Science trumps Religion, NOR does Religion trump Science. When we see a conflict between the two, we can say that the conflict is due to our current lack of understanding . When those difficult questions arise, you can often find good theologians and good scientists looking for answers, which can be helpful, even if those answers are not definitive or completely satisfying. However, the precise answer need not be necessary for our faith, because we have different ways of knowing. God does not seem to want us to definitively prove His existence. God seems to want to leave a small window for us to choose Him by faith.

It is wonderful that the correspondence between the Big Bang theory and Genesis 1 helped your friend understand that the Bible is reliable and relevant. Now I am sure her faith is no longer based only on that initial insight, but that her faith has grown and deepened in response to her relationship with God and the work of the Holy Spirit and applying the teachings of the Bible to her life. Her faith has now become empirically relevant to her life.

A couple helpful resources on this topic include books by John Lennox:
Does Science Explain Everything
Seven Days that Divide the World

He also has good YouTube videos on those topics and some great debates with people like Richard Dawkins

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Hi @gbob

I agree pretty much with what @Christy said. Those who think that Genesis 1 doesn’t intend to teach science still think it refers to God’s real creative activity in time. If anyone denied that it did, it wouldn’t be Christianity, which entails belief in a Creator God who creates and sustains everything!

The key question centres around what the original author intended to teach his audience when he wrote the creation account.

As for what how you should respond, you might not want to tell her or convince her of anything. It’s great that God used big bang cosmology to bring her to faith. But presumably, unless you mean she converted to theism in general rather than Christianity in particular, she became a Christian first and foremost because she believes in the person and work of Jesus for her sin?

Well, the good news is that her belief in Jesus doesn’t depend on a particular view of Genesis 1. You two could have discussions about the various other views that Christians take on these things, and that may or may not change her mind. The main thing is that you help her to see that her faith in Jesus doesn’t hang or fall on the question of whether or not Genesis 1 intends to teach anything scientific, so that whatever she thinks about these things, her faith remains unshaken.

I hope that helps in some way as you seek to help her. I’ll pray that God helps you both in this situation.

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Yeah. People come to faith for all kinds of reasons, some better and some worse, and all based on an imperfect understanding of reality. I can’t see any reason even to raise the subject.

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I don’t think you need to worry about your friend’s decision. The insight she felt about the origins of the universe was one of those hard-to-explain human experiences of intuition – a strong feeling of certainty that arises from deep within the self. It was a starting place for her, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to her faith than Genesis 1. You don’t need to feel guilty that you’ve been misleading her, because your faith is also more than Genesis 1. It’s clearly about your relationships and how you treat other people. Isn’t that the core of strong Christian faith?

This morning, I found this 2017 article in which a cosmologist talks about the work of two artists, Ryan and Trevor Oakes, who intuitively understand the physics – and the beauty – of light. It’s complicated, but it’s also accessible to us through the parts of ourselves that see the world in non-linear (but still totally scientific) ways.

So I’m suggesting that reading Genesis 1 in a non-linear way (more as an artist or poet than as a mathematician) is a legitimate approach to blending science with faith. For every “coin” that God creates, there’s the science side and the poetry side. Not everyone can see both sides at the same time. But they’re both part of God’s good Creation.

There is no science in the Scriptures at all, only ancient stories and events to by an ancient people to an ancient audience thousands of years ago. The Bible does give us spiritual advice but no science what so ever, and what little “science” that does exist in it is ancient and primative such as a flat earth, sun and moon going around the earth, etc. My statement that I tell people a lot on issues of the Bible is this: Though the Bible is for us, not everything in the Bible is for us. A lot of issues that seem pressing in the Bible we must remember was intended for an ancient audience in which in their time would have been important but is not compatible for us in the 21st century. The only thing for us Jesus followers in the 21st century to follow is the spiritual and love teachings of Jesus Christ. WE must interpret the scriptures Ancient Near Eastern context in light of the 21st century and in the love and revelation of Jesus Christ.

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To say there is no science in ancient scriptures is true in one sense, as science did not exist as we know it in the time of their being written, but that is not to say there are not accurate observations of scientific facts present. It is just that they are incidental to the message, not integral to the meaning. Thus, the Big Bang and the story of creation are compatible and complementary but not necessarily dependent on one another. It is interesting that your friend was pointed to God by this relation, as that same association was the reason the theory was opposed initially by atheist cosmologists!

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First off, I’d suggest you say what you honestly believe, not what you heard someone on the Internet say. But as a caveat to that, there’s a wrong time to share a right thing, so it takes wisdom and not just knowledge to know what should be shared.

I would have huge concerns with anyone who became a Christian for reasons other than Christ, but I don’t know if that’s the case with your friend. Perhaps the science in Genesis 1 was just the nudge that led her to an encounter with Jesus. In that case, I’d hardly see it as a huge mistake, since whatever God used as the nudge shouldn’t become the foundation of one’s faith. But if the science of Genesis 1 rather than Jesus truly is the foundation of anyone’s faith, I do think that’s something that needs to be addressed. It’s a faith crisis waiting to happen.

Leaving aside the scenario with your friend, I’ll take a stab at the question under the question:

If that someone is gbob, that’s tricky. I think you hold to the days of proclamation reading, so you do see a real event in Genesis 1. But that event is a series of visions over six days through which God communicated what was done long before. Someone who thinks the real event is rather six days of creation might see your reading as destroying the reality of the chapter. In fact, they might even lump your reading in with mine as just another way to reduce the plain literal truth into a story that doesn’t conflict with science.

If all you mean is the event of Genesis 1:1, not the whole chapter, then we probably share a similar reading. But for me, I wouldn’t see that reading – that God created everything from nothing – as unambiguously taught by the text. There are many ways to translate and understand Genesis 1:1, and several of the most compelling readings do not imply creation ex nihilo. A couple New Testament texts, as well as general logical and philosophical points move me towards ex nihilo.

It doesn’t hurt that I live in a time when that reading dovetails nicely with the established science. But if I had lived in an earlier time? Maybe it wouldn’t be so clear. Maybe some of the other readings would seem more compelling. So, rather than seeing Genesis 1:1 as predicting the Big Bang, I instead read Genesis 1:1 in light of many other things (the rest of Scripture, what is known from science, the history of interpretation, etc.). And further, I’m okay if sometimes how I read a text goes beyond what the original writer would have intended, but that awareness gives me more reason to hold such readings loosely. They are the product of my faith rather than its grounds.

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I am learning that it is a tactic of rhetoric to state something as a simple question like this in order to steam roller over all the different aspects of the issue. So let’s dispense with the BS and unpack this.

Should someone take Gen 1 as a substitute for cosmology, geology and biology texts? NO!
Should Gen 1 be a filter on what we accept from cosmology, geology and biology? NO!
Should Gen 1 be the basis for some self-satisfaction that in some cases where this agrees with the findings of science, we got it right? Maybe. If others are going to jump on any little thing to say when the Bible got it wrong then it is only fair to point out when the Bible got the big things right.
Should Gen 1 be our authority for telling people from other religions that they got it wrong? NO! That is absurd! Why should people from other religions accept the authority of the Bible?

So if by “real event” it is meant a literal precise explanation of how God did things then I say NO!
But if by “real event” it is meant that this is intended to talk about things that really happened as one of a number of purposes for which the text was written then yes.

Are you God to know such a thing? No.

Gen 1 is not science. Simply accepting revelations from God is not how science works. But on the question of whether the universe had a beginning, those religious texts which says the universe had a beginning got it right.

A choice between religions is extremely complex and different people are going to find different issues to be particularly clear and definitive. That is one where Christianity got it right, so it is not a bad one to give if you want to keep things simple. But it is unlikely this decision really came down to that alone. It is, after all, far from being the most important issue in a decision like that.

…sigh… Let’s remember that we believe in a gospel of salvation by grace rather than a gospel of salvation by knowledge. Is the reason why people first open their ears, eyes, minds, and hearts to Christ so important compared the fact that they have done so? After all, can we really expect sinful human beings to do ANYTHING for the right reason? Ultimately we understand that it is a work of God that people have come to Christ, right?

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I don’t know whether to laugh or cry here. It is Christian doctrine because of Genesis 1:1 “In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Since the universe has a beginning, that makes it also science. Thus, if one claims there is no Science in Genesis chapter 1, then Genesis 1:1 can’t be true either.

I would absolutely agree with you here MOIs. I read Genesis 1 differently than anyone else, and that reading concords with what we know of modern science. Problem is, YECs don’t want to budge from their false science and accommodationalists won’t budge from their view that there is no science in Genesis 1. One would almost be forced to conclude that Christians really do want a false bible. lol

Hi Diplodocus. I thought your species went extinct. Learn something new every day. lol

The interesting thing to me is the duality in your statement above. Gen. 1 doesn’t intend to teach science but if you deny the obvious science found in Genesis 1:1 it wouldn’t be Christianity. That sounds like mental gymnastics to me. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to say, God got one thing correct when he inspired the writer? I guess accommodationalism wants the score of correct/incorrect things inspired by god to be 0 to 10–a perfect F in class. Can’t we at least give god a score of 1 to 9?

Oh boy. How things get misread or mis construed. I had nothing to do with her conversion, that happened before I met her, even before my son and his family met her. I wasn’t asking this out of a sense of guilt, I was asking it as a matter of intellectual curiosity about how accommodationalists would respond. From what I have seen on this list, it is verboten for God to know anything about the creation He created, and or, his is incapable or unwilling to tell us anything about the creation, in which case, there is zero evidence supporting the ‘Christian doctrine’ as some put it, that God created the universe. After all, the only possible way we can know that this Jehovah God was creator is if He tells us something true about it. But when it is clear that God DID tell us at least one thing true about creation of the universe, accommodationalists can’t bring themselves to say, 'well, ok, God got 1 out of 10 right." That is a mighty low opinion of God, in my opinion.

Again, I didn’t ask this out of a sense of guilt, nor am I going to ‘raise the topic with her,’ other than as a point of incredulity about how hard it is to say God did something correct, communicated something correct to us. I think she is going to love learning of these responses. She is a very strong Christian now and she isn’t an accommodationalist. As I said in my OP I felt this was a very tough question for your position and even explained why.

Agreed. That’s what I was trying to say. :grinning:

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I don’t mind it being truth in a non-linear way. But it has to be truth. Truth can be told in poetry, literature etc, but when truth impinges on nature, and science say nature has one answer only, then it is falsity to state anything else other than that one answer.

I always get the feeling with accommodationalists that God can’t do anything, can’t communicate any natural truth, can’t break natural law (which He created–this is Mitches view) and certainly can’t do miracles, like walk in a garden with Adam and Eve (Christy). This is a God of the Can’t’s Can’t do this, can’t do that. So what DOES God actually DO other than write ephemeral poetry that says nothing objectively true? This is a science and Christian forum. I don’t think I see ANYTHING that God does for the scientist, other than suggest that he be more moral than his colleagues. God doesn’t seem to have any impact on science itself, yet we claim God created this Nature that science studies. Does this God actually perform any function in life at all other than as a mental crutch, a throwaway line to the masses? Is God this useless? I certainly hope not and I know not, but few here seem to share that view

I believe in a God who can do things. I think a can do God is better than a can’t do God.

Hi Sealkin. First, as an aside, I am amazed that even with an explanation of why I was asking this, two people think I was seriously going to try to deconvert my friend. As I said earlier, I asked this because I thought this was a tough question for your position, and the answers have confirmed to me, that accommodationalism is hopelessly incoherent.

Of the flat earth. I have sent people to this site over and over, and obviously no one goes there, so I will bring the argument against the vaulted sky/flat earth view here AGAIN. Sheesh, for over 100 years historians of the early to middle ages have been writing, and publishing that that view if false, that the Early Christian/middle ages knew the earth was round and didn’t believe in a solid sky, but no one listens. Everyone prefers the caricature they have of the age facts be damned. I did grad work in philosophy and read all sorts of guys from the middle ages, and they never spoke of a flat earth solid dome.It was early Renaissance people who first believed in the solid sky view, egged on by two guys who didn’t like Christianity, Washington Irving and . Antoine Jean Letronne, They used it as a tool to disparage Christianity when it didn’t really belong to Christianity.

From my blog, but if you are not going to read the whole thing, don’t bother responding to this. Understanding someone’s argument requires actually reading what they say about it.:

As Younker and Davidson show, this is a topic that was actually developed by Biblical critics, and possibly has no basis in history. They say:

" Anyone who wishes to study ancient Hebrew cosmology will quickly discover that the common understanding among most modern biblical scholars is that the Hebrews had a “prescientific,” even naive, view of the universe. This understanding is built around the idea that the Hebrew word rāqîa‘, which appears in Genesis 1 and is usually translated “firmament” in English Bibles, was actually understood by the ancient Hebrews to be a solid, hemispherical dome or vault that rested upon mountains or pillars that stood along the outermost perimeter of a circular, flat disc—the earth. Above this solid dome was a celestial ocean (“waters above the firmament”). Attached to the dome and visible to observers below were the stars, sun, and moon. The dome also possessed windows or gates through which celestial waters (“waters above the firmament”) could, upon occasion, pass . "7

The idea that the Hebrews believed in a flat earth and solidly domed sky is a myth, as we will show. I will not deny that some people did believe in the vaulted sky, but they were rare and considered eccentrics. Elihu, when speaking to Job said,

Job 37:18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

Does this support the domed sky/flat earth? It sounds like it but maybe not. The word used for ’ skies ’ is more often translated as clouds than as skies, so it isn’t really clear he is speaking about the firmament ( raqiya ). Robert C. Newman points out that r i is not the normal word for mirror in Scripture. Younker and Davidson say:

" Newman, 15, also notes that ḥāzāq can mean “mighty” as well as “strong,” and mûṣaq literally means “poured out.” He concludes that since in this verse the context is on-going weather phenomena rather than creation, the following translation of the verse is preferred:Can you, with Him, spread out the mighty clouds, With an appearance of being poured out? ”"8

For context: Job 37 has words like lightning, thunders, snow, rain, whirlwind, cold out of north, frost, watering while wearing cloud, fair weather, wind. The chapter is speaking of meteorology, not cosmology. Given the uncertainty about the proper translation of the verse this does not provide certain evidence of a solid firmament, unless one is predisposed to looking for such evidence.

The vaulted sky idea has the ignorant Hebrews believing rain came through windows in the firmament. Wiki says:

" Rain, snow, wind and hail were kept in storehouses outside the raqia, which had “windows” to allow them in - the waters for Noah’s flood entered when the “windows of heaven” were opened ."9

The most important reason not to believe the nonsense above is that in Gen 7:11 it is the windows of shamayim (the sky), not the windows of raqiya (expanse)!. So, categorically NO; the firmament raqiya ) didn’t have windows through which water flowed.

The second reason is that there is plenty of Biblical evidence that the ancient Hebrews knew that rain came from clouds, not from windows in the sky. Since Job is the oldest book, this knowledge predates the rest of the Bible.

Judges 5:4“ the clouds poured down water ."
2 Samuel 22:12" the dark rain clouds of the sky ."
1 Kings 18:45" Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds,the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling "
Job 26:8 “ He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight .”
Job 36:28 “t he clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind .”
Job 37:11 “ He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them .”
Job 37:13 “ He brings the clouds to punish people, or to water his earth and show his love.
Job 38:34 ““ Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
Job 38:37 “ Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
Psalm 18:11 " the dark rain clouds of the sky ."

Now that we have established that Hebrews knew the source of rain–and weren’t quite as stupid as they are portrayed, we need to look at the history of the idea of the vaulted sky/flat earth cosmology to see how it happened. Multiple researchers have debunked this idea and it doesn’t seem to go away. No one seems to be listening. There are many points Younker and Davidson make:

1. Some have suggested the Hebrews borrowed the vaulted sky/flat earth cosmology from the Mesopotamians. Lambert showed that the Babylonians didn’t have a vaulted sky.10 Their cosmology was quite different from a vaulted dome.

2. Early Church fathers rejected the solid vaulted sky. St. Basil said:

"I have said what the word firmament in Scripture means. It is not in reality a firm and solid substance which has weight and resistance; this name would otherwise have better suited the earth. But, as the substance of superincumbent bodies is light, without consistency, and cannot be grasped by any one of our senses, it is in comparison with these pure and imperceptible substances that the firmament has received its name. 11

"As Edward Grant notes, “ Most Christian authors and Latin Encyclopedists during late antiquity . . . thought of the heavens (i.e. celestial spheres) as fiery or elemental in nature, and therefore fluid . ”12

3. Medieval Christian scholars didn’t commit to a solid dome cosmology
" During the late Middle Ages, most authors were vague and noncommital despite the fact that the very name firmamentum, with its implications of strength, power, and stability, and even of solidity and hardness, seemed to invite an explanation and thus to provide an occasion for the expression of opinions about its possible hardness or softness. "13

4. In the 14th century scholars moved to a solid firmament and it remained that way for two centuries.

5. Hard spheres were abandoned in the 16th century because of the observations of Tycho Brache and the comet of 1577 which proved there were no hard spheres. The comet seemed to plow right through those hard spheres without any effect.

6. The idea of the vaulted cosmology came from religious skeptics.

" Historians Jeffery Burton Russell and Christine Garwood respectively debunk the long-held view among modern scholars that ancient philosophers and scientists of the early Christian church, late antiquity, and the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat. After an extensive review of the letters, papers, and books of all the major thinkers throughout these periods, Russell and Garwood made the surprising discovery that apart from a few isolated individuals, no one believed in a flat earth—indeed, the common consensus throughout this entire period among virtually all scholars and churchmen was that the earth was spherical. Where, then, did the flat-earth understanding of early Christian and medieval thought originate? They were able to trace its origin to the early nineteenth century when antireligious sentiment was high among many scholars and intellectuals. " 14

Russell wrote a piece on the internet debunking the flat earth which is part and parcel of this vaulted cosmology idea, and said:

" No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat. "15

And further how no one is listening.

" Historians of science have been proving this point for at least 70 years (most recently Edward Grant, David Lindberg, Daniel Woodward, and Robert S. Westman), without making notable headway against the error. Schoolchildren in the US, Europe, and Japan are for the most part being taught the same old nonsense. How and why did this nonsense emerge? "16

Russell’s article shows that it was Washington Irving, and Antoine-Jean Letronne who got the vaulted dome and flat earth going around 1800. Irving wrote the fraudulent story about Columbus being told that he would fall off the flat earth if he sailed west, when in fact Columbus was being told that China was far to far away for his ship to make it. Letronne was an academic with anti-religious biases’ who misrepresented the early church fathers, portraying them as believing in a vaulted domed sky and flat earth.

This falsehood became an easy story for Christian opponents to use on us. “Look how dumb those Christians are!” And as academia turned more and more away from Christian culture over the past 2 centuries, few want to look into this, change it, or tell the truth. Even Christian academics love this game, but as I said, they prefer their Bible false.

Biblical scholars need to rethink the idea of a solid firmament, which falls into the trap atheists lay for us. As long as we agree with them that the vaulted, domed sky/flat earth was what the Bible taught, we will continue to force falsehood on the Scriptures. I know it goes against the grain of a couple of hundred years of thinking, but raqiya -expanse, does not indicate solidity–firmament, it indicates exactly what space out there does–expand.

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Except talk to people at their own level apparently. Your God can’t do the one thing that really counts: connect with people where they’re at. Any “accommodation” so that the locals understand, and you suddenly have conniptions about God not speaking to them using your 21st century jargon. I have yet to hear why your terms, your language, your concerns and questions are to be the privileged ones out of all history that God must address even while speaking and connecting with ancients thousands of years ago.

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At last a voice of reason. Kewpie doll for you. God 1- Error 9. One of the points I am trying to make in all this is that if there are accurate statements/observations in Genesis 1 then at the very least God did NOT accommodate that to the supposed ignorance of those people. I really do appreciate your saying what you did.

While God could have easily explained science to the ancient audience, I think it would have been difficult for them to understand so God explained it in away that would have fitted in their environment. God knew we would discover the true nature of creation so He wasn’t too concerned with revealing it immediately.

God has always been at work and preforming miracles and reveling Himself. I feel we need to see how God reveled Himself to the ancients long ago and see how they understood it within their ancient cognitive environment. God is a force of love itself so its in His nature to revel Himself and lavish His love upon His creation. The very act of creation itself is proof of that great love!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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