Two questions about how central the question of origins is to your core beliefs


(Mark D.) #1

I’d like to try to sketch out some categories for beliefs regarding the origins of the universe, life and humans. Here nearly everyone is a Christian or comes from that tradition, as do I. So my categories involving a roll for God in creation reflect that tradition. I’d like to ask two basic questions which I think can be answered by all, theist and non-theist alike.

The first question I have concerns how fundamental to your belief system is the question of creation? If you found out your beliefs regarding physical, life or human origins was incorrect, would that undermine your most core beliefs, or only peripheral ones?

Personally I don’t think a creation story is central for why god belief has been so compelling to so many human societies for as far back as we have any record. And if it turned out, contrary to what I believe, that some form of intentionality was in play in the origins of the universe and life, that wouldn’t much affect my core beliefs. Frankly it puzzles me why Christians place so much importance on this. I would have thought the resurrection or man’s proper relation to God would be more fundamental.

My second question concerns how much if at all (and in which direction) your beliefs regarding origins have changed in your lifetime. So I am going to suggest a scale extending from completely literal to more progressively/allegorical to non-existent.

1 - Young earth creation: plants first, then sunlight, then fish and sea life, then land animals with humans last.

2 - The definition of “day” isn’t pegged to anything but still, in whatever order, in the beginning every single atom was God-made and so was every category of life

3 - Progressive creation: in the beginning God created the universe and life and set evolution in motion. The earth is old and evolution is part of God’s plan but at points along the way God has interceded to keep things on track toward His plan. At some point God interceded to give mankind (evolved from apes) his image, meaning conscious awareness and moral responsibility.

4 - Belief that, barring errors, everything science can discover about origins is true and all of it is a record of how God has brought about creation and that our minds are an important achievement in that design. but theology not science is where you will find God’s plan for man and just what participation He desires from his image bearers.

5 - It is possible that intentionality somehow emerges in the universe itself and at some point shapes its own development including ours. Whatever that is could be called God. [This might be the agnostic option.]

6 - Belief that physical origins and that of life is entirely undirected by any intentionality.

So, for me personally in my life, I have gone up two steps in the less literal direction. As a kid who grew up around religion but not carefully groomed by any one of them, I would say I started at a 4 and am now at a 6. I think the story of our creation as conscious beings takes place in the emergence of consciousness after the universe and life began and evolved (on their own is my best guess but I admit I have no justification at all for that). That is where our human origins lie and where you might find that which supports belief in gods, whatever it may be.


(Randy) #2

Very interesting questions, @MarkD. Thanks.

Creation was previously important to me as a YEC only to prove that God was trustworthy (or the Bible, as I understood it). I didn’t like the idea of original sin from the beginning as the way I understood it, it implied we were doomed to hell from birth (which was nothing like the image I had of my parents’ examples of justice and kindness). However, I did used to think that a fall was the cause of death and destruction; and that is why we could look forward to a renovation of creation. It was not a very satisfying answer to me once I went into the nuances of how God could treat all of creation that way for one sin, and allow so many to suffer and die. It didn’t seem like a Christian God to me. However, it seemed to fit in some way with an explanation of why things went badly. My own church, which is YEC and which I still attend, believes this (and there are wonderful friends there who genuinely care).

On the 2nd scale, I’d be a 4, though I have had thoughts (even my dad had thoughts) of a 5. I remember him standing under the stars with me and saying, “do you ever wonder what is beyond that star? And beyond that galaxy? Is there another universe out there? Who made God?”

He was a devout Christian, but wasn’t afraid to ask those questions. thanks for your thoughts.


(Christy Hemphill) #3

It is pretty foundational to my understanding of the Trinity that God the Father is the source of all things.

I was raised with a (1) understanding. Though people in my immediate Christian circle had (2). I was introduced to (3) and (4) at a fairly conservative Christian college.

I personally don’t associate the image of God with consciousness or moral responsibility. But I do believe God intervened in human history in a relational way that was unique with the human species. I agree with (4).


(Mark D.) #4

Probably a 5 would be the more appropriately modest category for me to choose epistemically. But I confess I just can’t make sense of that. I don’t see how there could be any beings capable of deliberate intentionality until consciousness arises and we only see that as an emergent possibility for brains of sufficient capacity. So in the absence of any apparent reason and lacking the necessary faith in the traditional belief, I have to concede the 6 is what I believe to be the truth of the matter.

I’m not sure of your answer to the first question but I infer you would not lose your Christian faith if you became convinced there were natural causes adequate for explaining the origins of life and the physical universe.

I’d be interested to understand with what you do associate the image of God just to better understand your thinking. I’m glad to have sketched out choice 4 well enough for you to recognize it as closest to your own position.

Though I posit that which gives rise to God belief as arising in consciousness I think that still provides God an opportunity to intervene relationally with the human species and to play a key roll in our becoming what we are. I think of God as an earlier iteration of consciousness which not only played a key roll in our creation (in consciousness), but continues to sustain us. If grace can be conceived of as stepping aside and conceding free will to our conscious minds, then the saying “by grace we proceed” would take on an even more substantial meaning. But of course I’m talking about my basic beliefs here, not research.


(Randy) #5

Thanks. Yes, I don’t think that my faith would have been lost if I were convinced of natural causes adequate for explaining the origins of life and the physical universe. However, in some ways that does leave things open for questioning whether God Himself came from less complex origins–similar to #5. I’m not sure I fully understand the question on #5–if we are able to develop to conscious beings that create by natural means, would a god not be able to? As far as I can tell, God as an entity isn’t, in Christian thought, only intelligence or even only a will–he’s more “I am that I am” but we tend to anthropomorphize many things on to Him in order to understand Him better (for example, the use of the pronoun “Him,” or “breath” to say that a spirit “God-breathed”.


(Mitchell W McKain) #6

For me it has never been a shift of ideologies, but simply one of learning more and more about different topics. Like I have explained, I wasn’t raised Christian and the scientific worldview has always been my presumption. But how can I even say that I believed in evolution until my first biology class in high school when I was taught how this actually worked? And how can I say I believed in a role for God in this or not until I found a concrete meaning for this word “God” somewhat later in college? I imagine that I had some vague notion of both evolution and God before this from hearing people say various things about them but I wonder if they had all that much more substance in my mind than talk of unicorns and mermaids.


(Mark D.) #7

Can you tell me why it seems more likely than not that the physical world or life should have needed some intentional steering to work out as they have? I know you don’t trade in apologetics so I would try hard to understand your reasons. Though I confess the way I think about it now is extremely compelling to me and I can’t conceive of what you might say that could change that. But I’d appreciate knowing why you think God needs to come in at the point of manufacturing atoms or cells rather than at the point that consciousness arises? But don’t worry I won’t try to convince you that I’m right; I’m just telling you what I believe and why.


(Mitchell W McKain) #8

No.

Such is not one of the reasons why I believe.

Perhaps the most helpful would be reason #2 in this link, where I might say that existence of some ideas of a Creator would support the faith that life is worth living.

The only meaningful task I can see for apologetics is to defend the rationality Christianity, which would not preclude the rationality of alternatives. It would only consist of logical coherence, consistency with the objective (scientific) evidence, and compatibility with the ideals of a free society. These would simply exclude understandings of Christianity which failed these criterion.

But I guess you are referring to the more traditional idea of concocting one of these proofs/arguments for the existence of God – something which I routinely oppose. That is because this sort of thing would amount to an argument that any alternative would not be rational.

I can’t conceive of why I would want to do that.

It has been my often stated position that the ends are not independent of the means. In particular, life cannot be created instantaneously. Thus the creation of life really began 13.7 billion years ago with the creation of universe. Thus that is where begins this role I see for God of supporting the faith that life is worth living. He is a parent not by accident but by intention. Can’t you see how this contributes to a faith that life is worth living?


(Mark D.) #9

I see the evidence of that on this site very strongly. I think Christianity has a track record of providing that, at least for those who invest enough of themselves to forge a real connection to it as so many here do.

I have no more desire to upset the cart that is hauling your happy apples than you do mine. I love how disclosive and articulate you are. It’s nice to get such a clear look into another person, especially one you respect. It is good to see more of the breadth of our humanity that way. But my own bent is less analytic and more -you’re going to cringe- mystical.

I just do feel a real connection to something that is more than me to which I can turn for insight. It is faint but I can be quiet and I know it knows it is valued just as I know the reverse is true. The only sense my intellect will let me make of this is to posit something like God as a co-product of consciousness. Like you, I think the seeds of life were sown with the very start of this universe. None of that matters to what I experience that could be called God.

But I don’t even use the god metaphor myself. To me it is more like a parent/child relationship. This parent wants its child to exceed it and has done all in its power to enable that. I owe it everything . I don’t believe any of the traditional omni- attributes apply. It doesn’t know everything but it knows so much that I do not. It basically holds the world together in my perception and preselects that which matters most for my attention. I definitely am not in this alone. Without it, I could not experience this sense of free will. If ‘God’ objects to my conception of Him or the quality of our relationship, He certainly has not given me any reason to think that.


(Dominik Kowalski) #10

Hello Mark!

I´ll start with the second question because its shorter to answer. I´m from Germany, so there is no real YEC-crowd apart from very few people who aren´t even on the mind of mainstream Christianity here. So evolution is not really a concern here. It´s rather that many of us have missing knowledge in the history of Jesus and the bible. I can´t count how many people I´ve met here who said that they aren´t religious/christian themselve, but mention in the second sentence that they believe in God nontheless and even pray what e.g. my mother does. I fully blame this on the in many churches and theologians thinking dominant Bultmann-theology here which made our faith look weak, unreasonable and therefor arguably irrational.
So now to your question about creation. I don´t make any claims about how the universe was created and in which ways God influenced it, because the bible doesn´t make specific claims. That means that I don´t see any new scientific discoveries as particularly troubling since in my opinion we can use science and our lives to learn about creation. God and Jesus often acted in ways that were unexpected, so why would that change in the creation aspect?


(Mark D.) #11

Thank you Dominik and nice to meet you. It is good to get the insight into other places in the world and how things can be different.

Funny I was just talking about that with a friend on another site regarding politics. He lives in the southeastern US and is surrounded by people who are very conservative politically and, I’m not sure their rigid religious position really deserves the “conservative” tag, but he says they are. But he isn’t. Like me he is an military brat born on a military base and as such grew up in a number of different places. We think that tends to loosen the grip of the familiar which we think ungirds the conservative impulse.

I wonder if you also have lived in other areas and if so if you think that influences your openness to other ideas?


(Dominik Kowalski) #12

Yes indeed, I´m in the military myself and have therefore spend several months in Bayern, southeast in Germany. I also spend some time in Berlin and other million+ cities but normally live in a smaller more landly area. I paraphrase Joshua Swamidass and Hugh Ross in their presentation here to stress out my opinion: “If you want to give a first idea of Christianity to sceptics, go outside with them.”
In urban areas religion doesn´t flourish as much, that I think most people can agree with. Is it because the city provides any post-religious culture and is our future? No not really Berlin is a great example here, it is very much secularized, but at the same time is missing green areas within the city and is around 50 miles from the next forest. Not so coincidentally, many people suffer a depression to different degrees, nihilistic, materialistic machine-thinking is very common and, but that´s just because I loathe it personally, Berlin has a very sex-oriented subculture with extremely strange nubs.
When I spend my months in Bayern though it was pretty much the opposite. Bayern is very family-oriented, catholic in most places and very green, in rural areas are all those factors even way stronger. It shaped me especially in the sense that I now know how I want to live later, after finishing my education, and what values are the most important for me. In my onpinion, and I have to formulate it that drastically, in many places a further secularization hasn´t proved to be very good for human development.
Social studies show a fast increasing number of people, calling themselve “spiritual” and I guess it has to do with such developments.
Of course this is not exclusive to Germany, as Western Europe in general is going that way, though, and that´s important to remember, we´re talking the middle and the north, southern countries like Spain, Italy and Greece remain very catholic/orthodox.

One important note to politics: Germany and Western Europe has grown a nihilistic political right which is sadly increasing in popularity. They claim to keep or bring back the christian culture, but at the same time call themselves atheists and pretty much act in a way that we have to despise as followers of Christ, though sadly some of us feel attracted to them because they want the old time back (Reading the studies I expect a turning point back in around fifty years and definetely not today through force). Well that and because all of them are very hostile to Islam, no matter how you practice it.
Very unpleasant outgrowths from societies which are traumatized looking at the future where they are loosing pretty much all relevance to the rest of the world


(Dominik Kowalski) #13

This reminds me of a small article I read yesterday. A vision of the 2056 Nobel prize by Simon Conway Morris.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #14

Fairly core beliefs, I think, in either direction.

If it turned out that YEC or OEC was correct, I would struggle fairly massively with why God would have deceived us all by making it look like evolution was true. That God would seem to have more in common with Loki than with YHWH.

In the other direction, in general, the problem is that when you tweak the doctrine of creation, what you are really messing with is questions of God’s power and control, and that extends into each of our lives as well. When we pray, can we believe that God can hear and respond? Well, that depends how powerful He is and how involved He is, and our doctrine of creation is often a mirror of that.

Of course, one can neatly separate appearance and reality to say that the appearance is rand—erm, stochastic (thanks Chris Falter), while the reality is predetermined, and indeed many of us here huddled under the BioLogos “big tent” do that. But in Christianity at large, if you tell a YEC Calvinist that God worked through nature to perform macroevolution, I think what they will often hear (unfortunately) is that you believe God does not generally do miracles, and that by extension they shouldn’t even bother praying for Aunt Martha’s leukemia. And if it turned out that most of us here are wrong and that there is no superintending of evolution but that intentionality is merely emergent in the world, it would again force a rethinking of our answers to the question of theodicy (our synthesis of God’s goodness, power and justice).

By the way, that answer set aside the question of Adam, which is a whole separate issue, and a huge one for many.

Personally, I was never YEC. But I have moved from #2 to #4 over the last couple of decades.

Thanks for the great questions! I hope others weigh in.


(Mark D.) #15

Makes me look forward to my 103rd birthday. No rush though.


(Dominik Kowalski) #16

Don´t worry, you can congratulate me then :wink:


(Phil) #17

I would echo what Andrew said about it turning over the idea of who I know God to be if the YEC view was true, though it would not bother me if some form of ID turned out to be true.
I think I probably was the usual literalist as a child, but never really considered YEC as a rational alternative, though may well have toyed with OEC and ID driven evolution in the high school and college years, though by the end of undergraduate, pretty much accepted evolution, though without a lot of conviction at that time. The big change in recent years is a willingness to express my ideas whereas in the past being surrounded with the usual verbal YEC crew was reluctant to express those views. Now I pretty much don’t care what they think, and have been convicted that the YEC view does real harm to Christianity. I still do not preach EC on the street, but am happy to share my views with any who care.


(Shawn T Murphy) #18

My belief system is completely dependent on my my view of the two creations: 1) Our spiritual creation in Heaven as immortal, spiritual, divine beings; and 2) the creation of the material world.

As a budding engineer growing up in the Catholic Church, I never believed the apple story. It was illogical. It wasn’t not until after investigating many religions that I discovered the creation story of the founders of science and philosophy. It was only until I was 35 that I found a logical explanation for the reason for the creation of the material world. Since then, I have been uncovering the rhetoric surrounding the creation story and helping enlightened Christians to rediscover what the original enlightened Christians believed why we are here.


(Laura) #19

I’m also one who’s gone from a 1 to a 4 over the last few years, and I don’t recall spending much time (if any) in 2 or 3.

As to the first question, I think creation is pretty foundational to my beliefs – I couldn’t really imagine being a Christian without believing in God as the all-powerful creator, which is why I wrestled so much with it, because contrary to what some well-known YEC personalities claim, it’s not a simple dichotomy of “believe in a young earth or throw out the entire Bible.”


(Richard Wright) #20

Hello Mark,

That’s a good question. I agree with you that the resurrection, and our response to it, is much more import in the daily life of a Christian than origins is and, in my spiritual community anyway, origins is rarely talked about and is not considered relevant to a person’s spiritual condition. I think a lot more believers take that view than it may appear - we’re just trying to be like Jesus on a daily basis - that takes enough effort in and of itself. So I don’t know if, “Christians” place so much importance on it, maybe, “some Christians”, or, “the leaders of some Christian groups” do.

As a Catholic then Deist: I had no real opinion on origins.

As a Christian: 1 (very briefly) - 4