Avoiding a Vacuous Creationism

I’m currently reading N. T. Wright’s Creation, Power and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion. I enjoy reading N. T.'s books not because I always agree with him, but because he always makes me think deeply.

In his section on Creation, Wright puts forward the case that since the Enlightenment much western Christianity’s thinking about creation has been influenced by the psychical-bad spiritual-good dualism of Gnosticism. (Part of Gnostic thinking is the desire to escape this material (and ultimately defective) world for a better spiritual existence. Contrast, Wright says, with the biblical hope of resurrection bodies in a new material creation.)

As part of his argument, N.T. offers the following critique of ID and YEC arguments:

The anti-evolution agenda (to generalize for a moment) is driven by those who claim, and seek to prove, that the Bible is literally true. But when they have proved a six-day creation, they do not leave us with the fully biblical theology in which the creator God will redeem the world, renewing it so as to make new heavens and new earth, but essentially with the same dualist, even gnostic, theology: an otherworldly spirituality in the present, an otherworldly hope in the future, and a vacuum where there should be serious political critique.

So-called ‘creationism’ is, in my experience, wrongly labelled, because it does not take seriously, as the second- and third-century Christian teachers did, the full meaning of the assertion that the God we know in and through Jesus Christ remains committed to his creation and will one day put it to rights, renewing it from top to bottom. My point is this: that the debates about creation which have characterized Western culture have largely taken place within an essentially gnostic framework, an assumed dualism which has itself largely gone unchallenged. (pg.14-15).

Now, at first, I thought this was a fair critique of some (much?) anti-evolution writing. Then a more uncomfortable question began to surface in my mind. To what extent am I (and the larger EC community) guilty of seeking to prove that evolution is true and stopping there. In other words, am I/we at risk of replacing one vacuum with another.

So here are my questions for you all:

  1. To what extent is there a danger that our desire to prove that evolution is true produces a ‘vacuous creationism’ devoid of a theology of creation and new creation?

  2. What steps can we take to ensure we are promoting an understanding of the goodness of creation alongside our desire to promote a good understanding of science?

Discuss. -runs and hides under the bed-

Ps. after a bit of a break due to work and life commitments, it is good to be back. :slight_smile:

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I don’t see a problem for Christians who see the purpose in God’s first creation.

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I feel that some people within the EC community (and I admit myself among those who could be called “militant EC”) in how we bash YEC folks over the heads with the proof of science and ANE concepts to the Bible that it seems to self-fulfill what the YEC crowds say, “they disregard the Bible and don’t take is seriously.” And in a sense for me at least and I have snapped out of it, treated the Bible like any other book and threw it in the bookshelf of past history in order to “justify” the “claims” that the creation account of the Bible is outdated and not meant for the 21st century Western cosmology. I feel that we need to show that Genesis is the account that talks about the Creator but it doesn’t talk about the method of creation and evolution is the method of creation but it doesn’t show the Creator. I have come to see recently that the Bible is an ancient yet relevant book for us today and it is meant for us but not in the same way it would have been first received by that ancient audience when they got it. I guess the hope of the new creation doesn’t jest with us EC as at first it seems that there is nothing to “renew” since everything has stayed the same status quo since the start, but I feel we overlook and not see that God has greater things planned and He isn’t content with the status quo and He will work out a new creation how ever they will be.

I feel we should approach people who are curious about evolution with a invitation of grace and hear their worries and issues and try and explain then as best we can in whatever method they can understand. And I also feel we must be ready to admit that at times even we don’t know all the answers and even we wonder about certain things in God’s creation and why it works like that and its okay to have questions.

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Just heard Walton talk, and his point is that if evolution is right or wrong, it does not change his theology or his approach as Genesis is not about mechanisms of creation, but rather about God’s action in ordering among other things, and there are no competing claims between scripture and science. Sounds good to me

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What steps can we take to ensure we are promoting an understanding of the goodness of creation alongside our desire to promote a good understanding of science?

Another talk noted that God declared creation good before man came along, with creation being God’s good work Independant of man and for his glory Perhaps we need to focus on God to see creation’s goodness.

Oops, meant to send a PM.

(You quoted @LM77 as me, if it matters. Since he is more articulate than I and gracious, and I’m frequently not, it does. :slightly_smiling_face:)

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The inevitable existential vacuum that necessary physicalism engenders can only be filled by God’s gift.

Thanks for posts everyone. Hope to provide some replies in the next few days.

One problem that I could potentially see happening and sometimes I feel like I see it hinted at, even within my own thoughts, is a emphasis on rejecting anything as supernatural or spiritual and devolving such events mentioned in scripture as something that can be explained away by some naturally occurring event.

Such as most of us seem to agree that genesis 1-11 is not literal. We , along with most Christians, also don’t think other things are literal. Even the most literal reader tends to believe that God never battled a multi headed dragon.

But sometimes I see things such as Lazarus being dead and coming back to life shrugged off as he was simply in a feverish sleep or hear of things like Moses did not actually have a staff that transformed into a snake/tannin or that the Red Sea was simply dried up by winds and the story was transformed hyperbolically to the staff doing it instantly and so on. It does fit the narrative we use to change the creation account.

So I think so balance is needed and to me the balance is the claim a supernatural event that breaks the laws of science or is it a supernatural law being argued as a natural law.

Lazarus waking up from the dead is a supernatural event that contradicts science and that ok because it’s not arguing a scientific basis like creation vs evolution. At least for me that’s the standard I use.

As a cessationist concerning the power of laying on of hands I don’t run into conflict with why we don’t see those kinds of miracles anymore today and I don’t believe in them. No matter who it is when I hear rumors of demonically possessed people, and speaking in tongues, and being slain in the spirit and ect… I doubt all of it 100% based on experiences and my understanding of what scripture teaches. So I don’t have a issue with needing to explain away these things speculated to happen nowadays.

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Although I can agree with some of what Wright says, I don’t in general agree with his theology.

  1. I definitely agree that Gnosticism via Neoplatonic philosophy has taken root in much of theology – not just in this dualism and anti-world sentiments but in a salvation by knowledge type of thinking.
  2. But I very much disagree that the teachings of Jesus and Paul were entirely “this-worldly.” Their teachings were both this-worldy and other-worldly in equal balance. It wasn’t all Luke 17 “the kingdom is in the midst of you” and Matthew 6 “on Earth as it is in heaven,” but also the John 6 “It is the spirit which gives life, the flesh is of no avail” and John 14 “I go and prepare a place for you.”
  3. So I certainly agree with Wright’s complaints about this doomsday notion of Christians that this world we live in is only temporary and disposable. But the only thing wrong with God’s creation is in sinful human beings. The rest of creation does not need to be fixed. It is our constant effort to blame everything and seek fixes outside ourselves that has always been a rather big part of the whole problem. Fix the source of the problem in human beings and this is all it takes to bring the kingdom of heaven on Earth. And this is not a trivial superficial change because we are the center of it like its brain by which creation is most fully aware of itself.

I don’t think Tom Wright (who was my Diocesan bishop for several years) would ever claim that “the teachings of Jesus and Paul were entirely this-worldly”, or anything close to that. He may well critique modern-day evangelicalism for being too “other worldly” and that parts of our evangelical thinking need to have much more concern for this world. But he (an evangelical. with conservative leanings within that spectrum) would, I am sure, never have defended being anything like “entirely this-worldly”!

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Good to know and I stand corrected! It is easy to get the wrong impression when one argues heavily for one side of an issue. I do seem to vaguely remember that I found ameliorating comments to support what you say when I read one of his books… just can’t remember them exactly.

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I believe he writes under two names. His academically-oriented work is under the name “N.T. Wright”; his devotionally-oriented work is under “Tom Wright”. Naturally they overlap! And he is one of the authors here on BioLogos:

And here he is singing a song he co-wrote with Francis Collins (BioLogos):

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EDIT: This is correct in the UK

If I remember correctly, at times he has used different names for UK vs US editions of books. He is pretty exclusively N.T. Wright here in the States. Speaking of, he was just on one of the podcasts I’ve started listening to, a joint venture between CT and InterVarsity featuring Wheaton NT prof Esau McCaulley

Hmmmmmmmm. The impact of uniformitarianism for eternity has a devastating impact on all creationism. It doesn’t refute it. But it means that any and all the stories we make up are utterly inadequate. All vacuous. I want there to be a metamorphosed material creation. I used to have beautiful fantasies of the sublime. Every sparrow. In continental murmurations on the plains of Heaven. Choirs of dogs. Every creature that has ever suffered. But they assume eschatology. Final things. Just as there is no beginning of beginnings, there is no end of final things. Humanity has been coming for two, four hundred thousand years at least and could go for that long. I very much doubt it by three orders of magnitude. So that would be an end. With bangs and whimpers. Silver linings eh? Will the trillion dead have been waiting? Or have they been transcending all along. With everything else that hurt since the Cambrian. Or will this dead planet and its cargo fulfil Ezekiel’s vision in a few centuries time? All will to their scattered bodies go? Of this insignificant mote. To be with our Earth, human local glorified manifestation of God? In one infinitesimal corner of eternal paradise?

I’m curious, could you expand on this a little more for me please?

Yes, I think cultivating Christian virtues of grace, compassion, and humility are essential for constructive dialogue with anyone who disagrees with us about anything! Thanks for the reminder.

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Yes. Genesis 1 is about how God made a home (eg. arranging the furniture) for himself, not the processes he used to build the house. That was such a compelling point for me when I read the Lost World of Adam and Eve.

How do you think we can do that when it is often hard to discuss creation and science with Christians without the conversation slipping into creationism?

Thanks Mitchell.

Whilst I agree that human sinfulness is the biggest problem we face, what about naturally occurring famines (eg. crop blights), locust swarms, viral outbreaks, tsunamis, etc. Many people would say they are things that need fixing that are not necessarily fixed by folk becoming Christians. What are your thoughts on that?

“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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