I was raised in a secular household and both my parents are not Christian - when I converted I was a theistic evolutionist/evolutionary creationist, but that position has been becoming very difficult for me. At this point I’m considering becoming YEC. I don’t know if it’s allowed, so I won’t go into the story of coming to that view any further.
People here are very smart and maybe they could respond to these issues: (sorry if this is too bloggy, I assume that the reasons for favoring YEC would come up, so I put them here)
-A Young Earth, a historical Adam and Eve, and a universal Flood was the virtually universal Christian view until the Enlightenment. Last year this was already bugging me so I read a few Patristic commentaries on Genesis 1, they all thought the earth was young. Some thought the six days were not literal, but beyond that, they were saying what modern Young Earth Creationists say. Hell, St. Augustine basically does Flood Geology in City of God. Obviously this is also true for other things like Geocentrism and the Flat Earth, but neither of those figured too importantly in Christian theology. Hexamera (commentaries on Genesis 1-2) were a very common type of literature for a while. It seems like a Young Earth or at least special creation is a lot more theologically important than geocentrism. A lot of evolutionary creationist ideas require entirely reinventing Christian theology.
-There is no convincing exegesis to support an old earth, let alone Evolutionary Creation. The usual interpretations (Framework Hypothesis, Day-Age) both seem to be reading a fair amount into the text. I’m not a Hebrew expert (only starting my second year studying it), but Genesis 1-2 does describe an ordinary week. If I see a week mentioned in Mark or 1 Chronicles, I tend to say it’s a week, I don’t know why one wouldn’t here. It seems like the diverse range of exegetical arguments itself indicates that the regular week view is simplest. As Todd Wood says, if somebody was given Genesis without having ever heard about modern science, it’s likely (though not certain) that they’d have a YEC view. I had to go through exegetical acrobatics to take another position, things I wouldn’t do anywhere else. (this is assuming Moses wrote Genesis, which I think is likely, if it’s part of the P source, a metaphorical interpretation is much more reasonable)
-Following from the last point, if we do take an old earth view, biting the bullet with bad exegesis, doesn’t that make apologetics everywhere else difficult? In a debate on the Resurrection Gary Habermas was in, someone asked him if he thought the Bible is inerrant giving 6 day creation as an example, he said he had doubts about that. Doesn’t saying that sort of ruin any chance of defending the faith further? This is a big one for me. It seems that if we take a pro-evolution stance, our doctrine of inspiration will suffer a lot.
This is ignoring the science because it’s something I know next to nothing about. I have a college course open, so if someone had a good suggestion of what course to take that could help with the science, I’d happily do that.
How would you deal with these issues from an Old Earth or Evolutionary Creationist standpoint?
I forgot to mention my other main issue, which is how evolution and an old earth were historically connected to deism, atheism, or at least theological liberalism. It seems like society’s move toward secularization is pretty well connected to evolution, as is the modern turn against the sanctity of life and marriage.
Geocentrism was the virtually universal Christian view until the seventeenth century.
None of the patristic writers knew about germ theory, special relativity, atomic theory, or DNA either. It would be silly to expect yet non-existent science to affect their theological thinking.
Should we return to slavery, women as chattel, and exploitative colonialism because for most of the time Judaism and Christianity has been in existence, these social systems were accepted by Christians as right and good and normative? Christians have been wrong about things through the ages and human history continues on a redemptive trajectory. The work of God’s kingdom (the yeast that slowly works its way through the dough of our human cultures and societies) brings change and development. We are called to hold on to truth, but we should also expect truth to have a transformative influence over time.
I think it is a wrong assumption that the most faithful church will look the most like the early church. No, the most faithful church will walk in the path of faithful saints who have gone before and continue on, led by God’s spirit. The journey includes harmonizing God’s revelation about himself and creation with modern scientific knowledge, not camping out in pre-Enlightenment scientific ignorance. We don’t need to be afraid of what we can discover about the world God made with the minds God gave us.
Of course there isn’t, and if you are doing good exegesis, exegesis that attempts to understand what the texts meant in their original context to their original authors and audience, you wouldn’t be looking for meaning that points to an ancient earth or evolution. Those concepts were not part of the cognitive environment Scripture was born into. The text can’t have a meaning that wasn’t possible for its hearers.
You seem to be operating under the assumption that meaning is found in the words used. That is not how meaning works in human communication.
To use a well-known example from cognitive psychology, if I say “We each got to open one present the night before,” almost everyone from an American Christian cultural background will immediately activate a mental image of a family scene around a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. None of that meaning is in the words, but the text triggers a cognitive frame and all sorts of assumptions and expectations. Would my listener be “reading into” what I was saying to assume I was talking about Christmas Eve? Well, yes, but that is exactly how humans communicate. We make lots and lots of inferences about what a speaker means based on our shared assumptions and shared context and shared cultural frames. That is why it is more difficult to communicate cross-culturally, even if you understand all the words someone is saying. Meaning goes way beyond words. It’s how my husband interprets my statement “It’s getting kind of stuffy in here” as a request to open the window he is sitting next to. He refers to our shared context to understand the relevance of what I’m saying and infer what I intend to communicate.
Good exegesis does more than just try to understand the meanings of words. It tries to recreate the shared context of the author and audience, the frames they had access to, the cultural expectations about what was normal, the assumptions people would make even if something was not communicated explicitly. Then it reads all that stuff into the text to figure out what people would have inferred about the authors intended communication. That’s how you understand a text.
Yes, the Genesis narrative describes a normal week. But that doesn’t mean that the original audience would have automatically assumed that the author was giving a blow-by-blow historical record of the events of the first six days of time. You need to know what the purpose of the text was for them, what frames it activated in the hearers, what implicit references to other things in their culture that were very familiar or assumed to be normative was it making? There is no such thing as “plain meaning.” Meaning always involves a shared context.
Maybe we shouldn’t conflate defending the relatively recent human construct of inerrancy with defending the Christian faith. Do we need Genesis to describe a literal, recent, six-day creation to defend the faith claim that Jesus died for our sins to reconcile us to God and that he currently reigns as Lord of all. No. Besides, even if we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus historically died and rose again, no historical or scientific evidence will ever prove the faith claim that my spiritual union with the resurrected Jesus cleanses me of my sin and makes me a child of God. The good news is not that Jesus historically died and rose again, the good news is that Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished something cosmic, spiritual, and eternal. But you will never be able to “prove” any of those claims with the tools of historical investigation or science. Establishing the Bible is scientifically and historically accurate does not “prove” it therefore has to be telling the truth about metaphysical realities. Those faith claims have to be taken on faith.
I think that often times the young earth approach to Scripture gets things backward. It says, if we can establish the Bible’s credibility by subjecting it to a host of scientific and historical fact checking, and then we will know it has authority. If it has authority we can trust what it says about Jesus and believe he is who he says he is. If something threatens the Bible’s “truthfulness” or “accuracy” as we understand it (i.e. contradictory science or history) then we must explain those things away or reject their validity. Otherwise, the Bible has no authority and we have no truth about Jesus and our faith is worthless.
But this is essentially putting your faith in the Bible. We’re not supposed to be building our faith on the truthfulness or accuracy of the Bible, we are supposed to be building our faith on the truthfulness of Christ. We encounter God through Jesus. His Holy Spirit allows us to understand and be convicted and transformed by the revelation of himself that he has given us in the Bible. The Bible has authority, not because it passed a fact-checking truthfulness/accuracy test we imposed on in it, but because it is the word of God and God is truth. The authority comes from the fact that it is God’s revelation, and God has ultimate authority. In our encounters with Christ we are led to the place of faith to believe that God is trustworthy and truthful and his word to us is trustworthy and true because it’s his, not because it’s scientifically or historically accurate by some human metric we impose on it. Our faith rests on the person and character of God, a person we know through Christ, a person we trust relationally because we experience the truth of knowing him.
I think geology is a good place to start. Who doesn’t love learning about volcanoes and fossils?
I would like to encourage you to remember that it is okay to have open questions and to have them for a long time. None of this stuff needs to be figured out tomorrow. And even having all the best answers about science and Genesis probably won’t make you a more righteous, loving, Christ-like person. That is the work of his Spirit transforming our hearts and minds and our hearts and minds can be transformed regardless of how old we think the earth is or how we believe God populated it with the diversity of life we see. Don’t let things that are peripheral to leading a godly life push you away from Jesus.
They took a literal interpretation of Genesis because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge to say otherwise.
In the Ancient Near East, history was less about what really happened and more about what history meant. Usually history was written to defend a king’s position. What matters is not what really happened, but what Genesis means. Yes a person with no knowledge of modern science would not assume anything other than a literal six day account, but as you say, they had no knowledge of modern science. This idea is hardly controversial, I hear it from both religious (John H. Walton) and secular (Paul Kriwaczek) scholars.
No, it is still fully inspired by God, it only changes how we interpret it.
My advice to you would be to stop meditating on the truth, and instead meditate on the moral and spiritual lessons scripture tries to teach us.
Good questions. There’s a lot to reply to here, and others have made some good points, but I also want to push back a bit on the idea that the age of the earth is somehow vital for “proper” theology. As you’ve alluded to, the Bible also implies that the earth is flat and the solar system is geocentric, and so perhaps the answer is that we should avoid reading the Bible as a science textbook, as if we were to expect it to communicate 21st-century scientific ideas, when the cultures it was written to were so incredibly different than ours.
The first few chapters of Genesis communicate some very important theological ideas to us: we are made in God’s image, we are made male and female, God created everything, the world is very good but has also been corrupted by sin (and therefore needs a redeemer in the person of Jesus), etc. I don’t see that any of these important ideas require the earth to be young. One of my major concerns about organizations such as Answers in Genesis (I grew up with their teachings and visited the creation museum as a young adult) is that they place an inordinate amount of importance on the age of the earth, to the point where they imply that the entire Christian faith stands or falls on such an issue. It does not – the foundation of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ and nothing else. His life, death, and resurrection are what we believe, confess, and follow, and while the Old Testament is important, I’d be wary of any organization that tries to convince people that the age of the earth is essential for Christian theology.
I think geocentrism is pretty different. One is dealing with physical positioning in the cosmos, while evolution is a question of origins. How we came into existence and what we are is at stake, heliocentrism is comparatively less important. No major point of Biblical theology is at stake with heliocentrism.
I think we’re operating with different doctrines of inspiration - I firmly believe in inerrancy (not the Chicago Statement, but that’s more because it implies Sola Scriptura), and it’s hard to reconcile that with evolutionary creationism.
We should not go back to those things, but they’re not necessitated by a plain reading of Scripture, if they were, I think we’d have to either abandon Christianity or accept them.
I do here, and this is one of the better arguments for evolutionary creationism. On the other hand, wouldn’t it make sense to interpret the past through special revelation in Scripture? Is Genesis History? has some pretty good videos on Youtube that seem to show how a lot of science is built on ideologically motivated paradigms. Evolution and an Old Earth were historically developed by deists and later atheists, and they both have been used to undermine the sanctity of life. Obviously BioLogos doesn’t do that, but I do feel that evolution can be used to undermine a real idea of the Imago Dei.
Wouldn’t this relate to Mosaic Authorship though? If Moses wrote Genesis 1-2 at the top of Sinai by God’s guidance, wouldn’t it be reasonable to take it quite seriously? At college they assume the JEPD theory and such, and there evolutionary creationism makes a lot of sense, but it’s hard to work with Mosaic Authorship.
That is a very good point, it’s definitely something I need to keep in mind. Even if Moses got Genesis 1-2 from Sinai, it does not mean that the audience would take it the way I do. That’s something to think about I guess.
With all due respect, inerrancy is a really old and universal doctrine. Clement, Irenaeus, Augustine, etc all taught it.
What you’re saying here makes a lot of sense. My reasoning for accepting inerrancy (and therefore tending to read literally) is that 1. Jesus seems to have thought of Scripture that way and He wrote it (as the Logos - 1 Timothy 3:16). 2. Jesus gave us a Church, and it has always thought of it that way. I don’t think accepting a literal week’s creation is necessary for faith, but it seems to be a big issue.
I’d agree with the Young Earth position on that, it is God’s speech preserved through the Church, and we should trust it. As Clement of Rome said, (paraphrased because I don’t have it in front of me) “Scripture asserts nothing counterfeit.”
That is a very good idea, thanks! The home country of James Hutton and Charles Lyell would be as good a place as any for that
That is a very good point. Thank you for the reply, I hope I didn’t sound combative anywhere, it’s a touchy subject and what you said here is helpful.
I suppose? But isn’t it a reasonable enough reading of the text? If we didn’t have the science in front of us (and creeping in naturalistic presuppositions from the world around us ), it’s how we’d read it.
I don’t know about John Walton, but my assumption is that Paul Kriwaczek does not believe in Mosaic Authorship. If that’s the case, I don’t think his interpretation is wrong, but if Moses wrote Genesis, it’s reasonable to take it at its word (whatever was intended).
Sure, but doesn’t it open the door to basically all eisegesis?
With all due respect, aren’t the two intrinsically linked? If Genesis 1:1 isn’t true, and God didn’t create the world, surely that matters a lot. If Matthew 28 isn’t true, the same is the case. Scripture’s literal truth, at least in certain places, is vitally important.
Well, I think the interpretations implying a flat earth or geocentrism (or the dome if that’s how we translate Raqia) are best seen as phenomenological language and divine accommodation, as you say, in that context, the Bible isn’t a science text book. God wrote Genesis in such a way that someone sitting at the bottom of Sinai could understand it when Moses brought it down, and going through heliocentrism and planetary movements wouldn’t be good for that. (this is also why we shouldn’t interpret Revelation as talking about helicopters) I used to think we could think of Genesis 1-2 in that way, but it’s difficult. Origins are extremely important, and Genesis 1 seems to go through pains to teach certain things about the universe that many modern evolutionists secular and religious (say Coyne, Kenneth Miller, Ayala, etc) would think of as nonsense.
This is a very good point. I definitely don’t think that Christianity rests on the age of the earth, but I also think evolution often threatens the things you just mentioned. I don’t want to disrespect Dr. Collins on his own site, but rejecting a historical Adam and Eve is a very dangerous step tbh,
Ok, but isn’t the picture we get in Genesis 1-2 very different from what Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, or Ayala give us? In Genesis, God is making us in His image specially as part of His plan, most definitely not by natural selection. The word bara (often thought of as meaning “to create ex nihilo”) is not used often in the Hebrew Bible, but it is specifically used to refer to the creation of humans, while not used at the creation of the Firmament or Luminaries.
I’d absolutely agree with you that origins are extremely important – I’m just not convinced Genesis 1 is necessarily teaching us “things about the universe” so much as it is teaching us about God and his relationship to us. Genesis 1 also reads in a very poetic fashion, which the other chapters don’t, so I think that often plays into the assumption that the days need not be literal (it seems the numbers 6 and 7 carry more weight than the time periods assigned to them).
Just speaking for myself here, but I don’t think rejecting a historical Adam is necessary. I’m still working through that, and I think both sides have some merit, but I also have no problem seeing Adam as a real person – but there are different views on that subject here. BioLogos has some great articles on different theological topics, and they have helped me even when I don’t 100% agree. As @Christy said, you don’t have to take a position on this topic right away – it’s worth reading about. I wish you the best as you learn.
Oh, I wasn’t saying they were. You were arguing against a modern perspective (evolution is a fact, the earth is ancient) because it wasn’t held by Christians of the past. Many aspects of our modern perspective (women are equal, slavery is wrong, colonialism deprives indigenous populations of rights and dignity) were not held by Christians of the past. My point was that we don’t have to have all the same attitudes and beliefs as Christians of the past.
But they flat out lie about science and scientists. So why should we trust them?
Any idea can be used by broken people in hurtful ways. I know plenty of women who have had Scripture used in very domineering ways to keep them in abusive marriages and to keep them from reporting sexual assaults. I wouldn’t say that means there is something inherently abusive about Scripture, just that like anything else, it can be misused.
Using a culturally contextualized hermeneutic does not point you to an author. That would be a job for textual criticism, which is a different discipline. Who you believed the author was would affect what you thought the context and intent was. There are conservative Bible scholars who use a culturally contextualized hermeneutic based on more conservative textual criticism assumptions (like Mosaic authorship of the Penteteuch) and other Bible scholars who use a culturally contextualized hermeneutic based on different theories of authorship. I’m pretty sure JEDP (at least the version that was originally presented) has largely been discredited at this point. But that doesn’t mean everyone just went back to “Moses transcribed God’s words on Mt. Sinai.” We have a lot better understanding of orality and literacy and the role of written texts and how they were transmitted in the ancient world now. You should check out Walton and Sandy’s Lost World of Scripture. They are conservative Evangelical scholars.
It would take a lot of work to convince me that the construct of inerrancy that came out of the Fundamentalist reaction to the theological liberalism of the early twentieth century was the same concept held by Clement, Irenaeus, and Augustine. I don’t believe it is. Inerrancy as people describe it today emerged in a particular social and historical context and relies on modernist epistemology that did not exist in the time of the church fathers.
Accepting inerrancy and reading literally are not one and the same. John Walton affirms inerrancy as do many other Evangelical scholars who believe the best exegesis goes way beyond a literal reading.
I think inerrancy is basically a political term at this point and I don’t use it. But I think the Bible is the inspired true and authoritative word of God and the rule of faith and practice for Christians.
You have been a delightful conversation partner and I hope you persevere in wrestling through these issues until you come to a place of peace, wherever that ends up being.
What does it matter? Do you think your salvation depends on getting the answers to such questions right? I hope not. Are you a biologist or biology teacher? I hope not.
I will only say this… I wouldn’t… I couldn’t… be a Christian without evolution. I could never worship the monster that some people describe God as – usually a consequence of the excuses they make for evil and suffering in the world. If such a creature throws me in hell, I would give thanks – thanks that I would not be acceptable to the thing as well as relieved that I would not have to be in its disgusting presence.
I would not mind if fairies, ghosts, psychics or UFOs were real. I have no reason to believe they are real. But it would be exciting if they really did exist. But even though though the YEC universe has a similar fantastical character to it, I would not feel good about a reality where demons went around arranging evidence to deceive us.
I’m not sure Ayala is even a professing Christian these days even though once upon a time he was a priest. Kenneth Miller is Catholic and comes at things differently than Francis Collins, who is an Evangelical. You probably shouldn’t assume they all believe the same thing about divine action.
I couldn’t agree more. Many of the evolutionist Christians go too far in my opinion. Genesis may not be history (let alone science) according to modern standards but the whole book clearly has history as at least one of the purposes for the story it is telling. It is all about the origin of things. Where did our world come from? Where did we come from? Where did evil and sin come from? Where did the multiplicity of languages, cultures, and nations come from. But most importantly, for this occupies most of the book, where did the Israelites come from. It is setting the stage for the stories which follow that we may learn from God’s relationship with these people.
But there is a middle ground between only literal Bible and only science describes what is real. Where to draw the line may be difficult but here is a principle which may help: look for what gives the text the most meaning. Now consider the following points remembering that I am NOT trying to dissuade you from YEC, I am just trying to illustrate the principle.
You don’t acquire knowledge by eating a fruit.
Nothing in the Christian experience supports the idea that God would be opposed to understanding the difference between good and evil. Quite the opposite.
The eternal life which God promises us is also not something you acquire by eating a fruit.
Snakes don’t talk.
Because of these disconnects with our lives, there is great potential for increasing the meaning of the story if you don’t insist on taking them literally anymore than you would take many of the parables of Jesus literally. Besides, the Bible even tells us in two of these cases, that they have a deeper meaning than the literal understanding. The last of these, number 4 is easiest because we have other passages in the Bible (Revelations) that tell us that the ancient serpent and deceiver of the whole world is the devil and Satan who was a leader of angels which were cast out of heaven. This makes the story more meaningful than the talking snake, for it shows his role in the fall of mankind. The rest of the Bible is also helpful in the case of the tree of life for it is spoken of elsewhere. But I will let you look those up yourself. The others are not so easy, but the point remains that more is going on in this narrative than a straight forward historical account. It can actually be more meaningful, if it is not taken literally. But to be sure, this can go too far if the story is taken so metaphorical that it longer gives the promised explanation of origins.
So what does any of this have to do with contradictions with the findings of science? This is another disconnect with modern life which has the unavoidable effect of making the Bible less meaningful to people today. It gives good cause for a great deal of people to dismiss the whole book out of hand as nothing but nonsense. If it sounds too much like a fantasy and fairy story then they have little reason believe it is anything more than that. Thus the Bible is far more meaningful to people if there is no such contradiction with science.
For the whole treatment of Garden of Eden story in Genesis along these lines see here.
I agree with this. There is a lot of research on how our brains work that suggest that metaphors are not just some fancy thing writers do to spice up their stories if they feel like it. There is also a wrong idea that the meaning of a metaphor lies somehow beneath the metaphor in a literal proposition that a metaphor encodes figuratively. But this isn’t actually how it works. Metaphors are foundational to how humans think about the world.
Often when you try to put a metaphor into a basic proposition you actually lose meaning instead of clarifying meaning. Take the cognitive metaphor ANGER is HEAT. Relying on this metaphor, you can describe someone as “boiling over” “blowing up” “smoldering with rage” or “simmering beneath the surface.” All of these convey rich layers of meaning that are lost if you give the basic proposition “He was angry.”
So when God parades a host of animals in front of Adam and asks him to choose a partner, and he can’t find one, and God puts Adam into a sleep and creates Eve from his rib, you can take that literally. (There was no chemistry between Adam and the zebra, but when God used a miraculous process to create him a lady friend out of his rib, he was really happy.) Or you can let those images communicate something closer to what they probably communicated to the original audience, in a culture where stories often involved the gods supernaturally revealing the hero’s counterpart. The sleep would have probably been understood as a divinely given vision of truth, not literal supernatural surgical anesthesia. The word for rib used elsewhere in Hebrew means “side” or “half.” So God is revealing to Adam that Eve is his “other half,” his counterpart, his life helper, the one he didn’t find in the parade of animals.
Instead of teaching that females are somehow derivative of males, which is a meaning some people take away from a literal reading, you get the profound truth (that would have been counter-cultural in a time when women were considered men’s property) that Eve was presented to Adam as his partner and counterpart, the ezer kenegdo he needed to do the mission God gave him in the garden. Ezer means helper, but not in a subservient sense. It is most often used for God in the Bible and is also used for kings who came to rescue other kings when they needed help in a battle. Kenegdo has the idea of an interlocking piece and speaks of the mutual benefit and interdependence that God designed men and women to live in. These are deep and enduring truths that can shape our lives and relationships today.
I believe it makes much more sense that God is trying to teach us about who we are as men and women and how we should relate to each other instead of believing God was simply satisfying our curiosity about the process used to physically form the first woman in history.
I’m just going to add some points of information into this conversation. Origen, the most influential Christian of the 3rd century, said Genesis was not literal. So did Augustine in the 4th century, perhaps the most important Christian of the Roman period. Then, the most important (or at least right up there) Christian of the medieval period, Thomas Aquinas, also ruled out 6 day creation. Allegorical interpretations go way back and have had an expansive range of influence before evolution.