How can Genesis be interpreted to agree with Theistic Evolution?


(Noza) #1

I’m currently an OEC. I’m interested by the idea of theistic evolution but when reading Genesis I see no passage that would even imply that. I did a Google search: “theistic evolution interpretation of Genesis” but I couldn’t find anything.


(Christy Hemphill) #2

Hi, welcome to our forum!

This article will hopefully get you started comparing and contrasting different approaches to Genesis: http://biologos.org/blogs/deborah-haarsma-the-presidents-notebook/comparing-interpretations-of-genesis-1

Come back with any questions it generates, and we’ll try to help out if we can.

Basically, the EC approach doesn’t try to read evolution/science into Genesis or prove God through science. It tries to understand Genesis on its own terms and science on its own terms and show that the truths that each reveals are not contradictory.


(Noza) #3

Two questions:

  1. What stops the original audience from the day-age interpretation? It seems silly to assume they can’t fathom billions of years.

  2. What in Genesis suggests it should be read as a poem?


(Christy Hemphill) #4

I’ll try to get back to you when I have more time, and hopefully some others will chime in. In the meantime, in response to the second question, there were people on this thread who laid out the evidence that it is poetry fairly nicely.

The thread is really long and full of bunny trails, but if you do a control f search for ‘poetry’ there, you’ll find some arguments for and against.


(Christy Hemphill) #5

I don’t know if this directly addresses your question, but some insight into what biblical scholars presume the original audience did ‘fathom’ when they heard the Genesis account might be helpful. This series talks about the ANE cosmic geography. It goes along with the idea that John Walton argues for in The Lost World of Genesis that the ancients were concerned with the functional aspects of creation, not the material aspects. (Summaries of Walton’s proposals can be found in the book club series here, if you are interested.) So, even though they may have been able to fathom millions of years, the argument is that deep time wasn’t really relevant to their questions and concerns. To understand Genesis we need to get a handle on what their questions and concerns were and how Genesis answers them, instead of imposing our modern scientific questions and concerns on them and the account.


#6

@Noza
The writings of Denis Lamoureux would be extremely helpful to you. He’s a science and religion scholar and a professor of science and religion at U. Alberta. . His web page has links to free online courses, and he has several books out on the topic. Try reading his book Evolutionary Creation. You’ll learn a lot about Hebrew poetry!


(Phil) #7

Sort of to echo that thought, I would say that Genesis is neither in agreement nor is it in disagreement with evolution. To interpret Genesis as supportive of any scientific position is simply bad theology, as God was not trying to teach us about biology, but rather about himself, and our relationship to him.
It is often tempting to read into Genesis 1 that " “Let the land produce living creatures…" as supportive of evolution, but that is the same trap that ensnares our YEC brothers and sisters in looking for something in the scriptures that is not there.


(Brad Kramer) #8

Hi @Noza, welcome to the Forum!! Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions.

My approach to questions like these is always to examine the assumptions behind them. When you say, “I see no passage that would even imply [evolution]”, it seems your assumption is that, for evolution to be true, the creation account in Genesis must specifically speak of the evolutionary timeline, as understood by modern scientists. Most evolutionary creationists, however, reject this premise. For us, the purpose of the Genesis text is to teach about the relationship between God and his creation, not to lay out an inerrant scientific framework for exactly how it happened. Genesis was written in an ancient context and was addressing a very different set of questions than modern people typically ask. Yes, Genesis is part of sacred Scripture, but it is completely legitimate to ask, “how is this text meant to apply to me today?” Contemporary meaning is dictated by a broad conversation that includes scientific discoveries. The fact that you are an old-earth creationist shows that you are already comfortable with this conversation, on some level. Re-interpreting the Bible based on scientific discoveries does not degrade the authority of the Bible. On the contrary, if we were to put science and Scripture against each other, it would mean the Bible is not true, for either God is not the creator (as the Bible teaches), or his creation cannot be trusted to tell us the truth (and the Bible teaches that God is trustworthy)!

Another good question. For me, the question is not whether the original audience had the capacity to imagine billions of years, but whether they even had the conceptual framework to understand modern cosmology. There are many evidences in Genesis itself that the authors (and thus readers) of the text thought the Earth was flat and the sky was a solid dome. For more on that, check out some of the articles here: http://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/biologos-guided-tours-1-ancient-cosmology-and-the-bible.

I don’t like the categories of “history” and “poetry” when speaking of Genesis 1-11, in particular. The people who wrote the Bible didn’t use those words like we do. The point is not to prove that Genesis is a fact-book or a poem or anything else. Like I said before, how we interpret and apply Genesis is part of a broad conversation between history, science, archaeology, and hermeneutics. And I think all of those fields have convincingly demonstrated the following:

  1. Genesis 1-11 doesn’t belong to the modern genre of scientific/natural history. It belongs to an ancient genre which doesn’t have a clear modern equivalent (some people call it a “myth”, but that word is problematic). This doesn’t mean that Genesis is false, but that we need to approach the text with the right set of expectations.
  2. The creation stories in Genesis are written with an assumed pre-modern cosmology which cannot be reconciled with what we now know about the universe—at least, without doing damage to the integrity of the Genesis text itself.
  3. The chronology of creation, as described particularly in Genesis 1, cannot be reconciled with natural history as we understand it from geology, biology, and many other fields of science.

Thus, we need to approach the text with this set of understandings. And I think that Genesis can still speak loudly and boldly about God’s place as sovereign creator of all things, our place and responsibility as humans to care for creation, and God’s love for his creation.

Here’s a fun way to think about this, concretely: Does Genesis affirm or deny the idea that creation itself participates in the act of creation? (as an evolutionary understanding of creation says). I see affirmations of this idea everywhere in the text. Creation responds fruitfully to God’s sovereign word. I don’t think this proves or disproves evolution, but comfortably sits within this framework.

Have you read John Walton or Tremper Longman on Genesis? They’ve both put out great books interpreting Genesis 1-4 from an evolutionary creationist perspective. A lot of people (including myself) have found them to be very helpful.


(George Brooks) #9

@Noza,

What suggests that it should be read as a figurative writing is the eye-witness accounts of geological and fossil evidence showing that animal bones are buried by exceptionally old rock.

The two books of God (the Bible and Nature) make their revelations known as God unfolds history.


(Brad Kramer) #10

7 posts were split to a new topic: Genesis and anthropology


(Freddy Magnanimous) #20

The messiest part of theistic evolution is not Genesis 1, but Adam, Eve, and the Fall. I think this is what keeps most OECs from the theistic evolution camp - and I don’t blame them. Evolution, being a slow gradual process, makes the idea of the first humans nonsensical. Without the first humans, you need some starting point - a point when humans fell and became in need of a savior. We can claim Genesis 1-3 uses poetic language, but Christian theology still needs the Fall - an event that actually took place in history.


(Brad Kramer) #21

@freddymagnanimo welcome to the Forum! Glad to have the discussion back on track. I think your comments are absolutely right, and this is indeed a huge issue for many OECs—especially the historicity of the Fall. So here’s my counter-question: If the Fall is a non-historical event which simply reflects the universal human tendency towards sin, how is the gospel compromised? Is it? This is not meant sarcastically or rhetorically. It’s a tough question in my mind, as well.


(Freddy Magnanimous) #22

Thanks Brad! Yes, definitely a good question. I think we’re getting straight to the heart of the matter. For me, evolution strains Christian theology (and the Bible, but I’ll hold off there). It’s a sloppy fit. Why would we or God expect anything but a universal human tendency to sin? We’re emerging from furry little primates. We’re not equipped to perfectly navigate life. We need a savior because of this? Nothing was broken in this scenario; it is as we would expect. And if you bring in the punishment of eternal conscious torment things get really weird.


(Phil) #23

Good points, but a literal reading of the fall is equally problematic. Why would God create man with free will, knowing that he would fall to sin and face eternal torment? Why would God put a plate of cookies in front of a childlike Adam and Eve and say, don’t eat one, or you’ll die! ( uh, God, what is death?)


(Freddy Magnanimous) #24

Agreed. But at least in the traditional understanding something was broken that needed repairing.


(Phil) #25

I think the message is that I am broken and need repairing.


(Freddy Magnanimous) #26

I’m all for self-improvement, but if you believe evolution and don’t believe we fell, then I’m not sure “broken and need repairing” makes sense. We all have room for improvement, but that’s different.


(Brad Kramer) #27

What if the process of brokenness, growth, repair, and even death leads to a greater outcome than perfection alone? What if that’s why God didn’t make the new creation to begin with? I think part of the problem is a theological paradigm which boils the Bible down to good creation ruined by Fall and fixed by Christ. I think it’s actually a bigger and deeper story than that.

One more thought: We affirm the sinfulness of every human without needing to identify the precise moment when a person becomes sinful in their development. So why can’t we affirm the universal brokenness of human beings without needing to identify the precise moment when they became broken?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #28

Brad already captured some of my own thought in his latter paragraph above that wonders about the necessity of your “precise moment” of the fall, but I’ll also add this.

If we look now and find ourselves in a fallen and miserable state (something most spiritually reflective people accept as a fairly empirical observation), why (other than to preserve one particular modern interpretation of Genesis 3) would we need to assume that we suddenly “fell” to reach this level. There is such a thing as going down a long decline that lands us in the same valley. I’m not saying it actually was some long gentle decline or anything … just observing that there is more than one way to “go down”. And nor should an acknowledgment of this be taken to mean that we collectively started up at Heaven’s level at the beginning. Just that we started making sinful decisions at some some point where we were held responsible enough to know better. And ever since, we have had to live with the consequences of those and our continued sins.


(Michael Peterson) #29

Greetings @Noza

There is, it seems, a number of different interpretations of Theistic Evolution. As for myself, I argue that, while the biblical text is pretty clear that God is continuously involved in His ongoing creation, what to call it is not (to me at least). Here, for example, are three claims the [inspired] author asserts in the text that are germain to your question.

First, the author uses the Hebrew word normally translated as ‘day’ in a spatial sense, namely as a lighted region of space, not the passage of time (“and God called out to the light, ‘Day’ and to the dark He called out ‘Night’” - Genesis 1:5). This is how the author sought to represent God as outside of time and over space. This makes sense textually AND historically for those who believe (as I do) that Genesis 1 is a radical polemic against the existing pagan creation narratives (the surrounding pagan theologies described their gods as in and of the world – subject to the time and fate).

Second, He judges the outcomes of His creative work for 6 of the 7 days of creation. The author here claims that the light created by God (Genesis 1:3) was not certain to meet God’s requirements. It did and He moved onto the second day. This uncertainty is manifest in verses 1:11-12 in which what God wanted (trees of fruit making fruit) and what was produced (trees making fruit) didn’t match. Notwithstanding the failure, God accepted the outcome as ‘good’. The main point here is that this lines up perfectly well with the idea that God created an indeterminate universe - a basic prerequisite for evolution (and other scientific phenomena). Thus, its very indeterminacy must have been pleasing to God. By the way, this also argues against the Deists who posit a watchmaker God. An indeterminate universe cannot be left alone.

Third, the seventh day has not yet ended and God has not yet pronounced His judgment. Ergo, God is not through with us yet.

Finally, whether the first creation story is a poem is often used to argue that the Genesis story is not to be taken as a description of material creation. In my own view, Genesis 1 surely contains poetic elements (along with its high prose and majestic cadence), but it also contains a literary device very common in ANE metaphorical literature – a numerology of 7 (see Numerology and The Number 7). ANE authors (of which our inspired author was one) when writing metaphorical narratives, took great pains to choose words for the numeric symbolism over and above their literal meaning. Thus, by its high prose, its majestic cadence, its poetic elements, and the deep symbolism of God’s perfective actions (the number 7), I argue that the story is not to be taken as a natural history, but as a beautiful statement about God’s purpose in making mankind and HIs continued concern (worry?) about our conduct.

Blessings,

Michael