Sunday, May 09, 2010

Controversies in the church: Creation

The controversy: Creation

Many denominations have a rift caused largely by the question, "How do you interpret the creation account in Genesis?" Though that's not quite fair; some might phrase it, "How do you interpret the creation accounts in Genesis?" (on the view that the "7 days" account and the "Adam and Eve" account are two separate accounts). Denomination after denomination has split in two, forming separate groups for the evolutionists and the creationists -- though that split usually goes with several other differences among the same groups. Among those who believe in God and to some extent form their faith from the Bible, there is only a slight common ground on this issue: the two main groups both believe that God could not possibly be wrong about how the earth was made. From there, they diverge almost instantly.


From the starting point that God could not possibly be wrong about how the earth was made, the traditional creationists work on the assumption that the Bible is God's word, infallible in all that it teaches, and that therefore the Genesis creation account can be taken as historically true.

Internal diversity: Creationists can be either young-earth or old-earth creationists. Advocates of Intelligent Design also have a place in the spectrum of beliefs.

Strong points: Viewing the creation account as historical was, for many centuries, the most common interpretation of the text; it was held by well-respected scholars. Prominent historians of previous ages took the accounts in Genesis as historical, incorporating them into their chronologies of world history. Though there were occasional exceptions, the historical view was the mainstream view for the majority of church history to this point.

External criticisms: Evolutionists see creationism as defending a fort that has already fallen. Evolutionists view creationism as a scientifically illiterate view. Critics also see it as putting the creationists' faith at risk of harm by making the adherents' Christian identity depend on something that is, in the scientific consensus, not true.

Response to criticism: Scientific consensus changes over time. New methods, new discoveries, and new theories continue to change how scientists view the natural world. It is possible that in the future evolutionary theory may become outdated or significantly revised. Whether or not this happens, one of the key claims of evolution -- namely, that the changes in life forms are the product of chance alone -- is not properly a scientific claim as it is not open to testing or verification. That particular claim of evolutionary theory is more of a philosophical stance based on a framework intended to exclude religion from consideration. It is not anti-scientific to call out particular claims that are not open to testing or verification.

The slippery slope: The historicist view requires rejecting today's scientific consensus. There is an internal risk of mistrusting the scientific consensus. Those who have gone to the extreme of the slippery slope may view evolutionary science as something like an anti-religious conspiracy. This concern is strengthened by the most outspoken evolutionists who have basically volunteered for the role of the anti-religious conspiracy, having gone to the opposite pole of the argument and openly trying to use science to overthrow religion. The general stance of mistrusting evolutionary science can, in some cases, lead to a broader mistrust of science. In the most extreme cases, it leads to a distrust of scholarship in general which is inherently unhealthy.

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: The creationists do not always attribute the best of motives to the evolutionists. Charges of selling out and unfaithfulness are not uncommon. Sometimes there are charges of doubting God, disbelieving God, or rejecting the Bible. There is frequently an all-or-nothing view of the Bible that equates hesitations or caveats over a part of the Bible with an outright rejection of the whole.

Charitable moments: Some creationists may recognize that the evolutionists, in accommodating their reading of Genesis to the scientific consensus, are actually trying to save and rescue things of value in the narrative in light of today's scientific understandings rather than trying to reject it. Creationists may recognize that many Christian evolutionists are not setting themselves up as enemies of the faith but as pioneers in building a new understanding.

Fair questions from evolutionists to creationists: At what point of certainty do you accept a scientific finding? Is there a double-standard used for accepting/rejecting evolutionary theory that would not be employed with other scientific findings that have no direct bearing on a traditional understanding of the Bible?


From the starting point that God could not possibly be wrong about how the earth was made, the evolutionists work on the assumption that since evolution has been proven true to their satisfaction, the Bible's story of creation is perhaps true in a symbolic sense but not in the historical sense. (See "related controversies".)

Internal diversity: Evolutionists who believe in God may believe that God guided evolution. Others believe that God had no direct role, simply setting up the initial conditions so that things would take their natural course.

Strong points: Engages with modern science and can respond to those who want to use science to overthrow religion in such a way that they may respect or understand the answer. Speaks to those who have been brought up taking evolution for granted and wonder whether science and religion are compatible. It is comfortable in the modern world and does not see evolutionary science as a threat.

External criticisms: Creationists see evolutionists as watering down or undercutting the authority of the Bible. Critics also see a risk to evolutionists' faith by becoming too cozy with modern culture and too dependent on external approval of their beliefs.

Response to criticism: Any authority that the Bible has comes from God's truth. If something is not true, we have to interpret in light of what we know. The untrue understanding cannot be accepted as the right understanding of God's word. It is a misuse of authority to compel people to believe (or claim to believe) something that has been demonstrated to be false to the satisfaction of the majority of scientists in the field. Holding to outdated views does not increase the authority of the Bible, but diminishes the authority of the Bible by saying it teaches things shown to be false in the eyes of most scientists in the field.

The slippery slope: The evolutionist view requires rejecting the historical consensus of Christianity and putting significant conditions on the acceptance of the Bible. Those who have gone to the extreme of the slippery slope may view the entirety of the Bible as little more than myth and legend. This concern is strengthened by some prominent scholars of this camp who still designate themselves as Christians but who do in fact teach that the whole of the Bible, including the narratives about Jesus, are to be thrown out nearly wholesale. This is nearly the mirror-image of the "all or nothing" view of the Bible on the opposite side of the belief spectrum, but now choosing "nothing" rather than "all."

Fair questions from creationists to evolutionists: Once you begin second-guessing the narrative, how do you know when to stop? Is there anything in the Bible that you take as certain; if so, why that and not the rest? Is there any belief you are sure will not be overthrown someday; if so, what is it and how are you sure about that?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: The evolutionists are deeply embarrassed by creationists, which has led to some strikingly unbrotherly attitudes and behavior towards them. Those evolutionists with an uncharitable bent are seen to publicly malign the intelligence, education, reasoning ability, and even the reading skills of people who interpret the Bible according according to a plainer reading of what it says rather than accommodating the scientific consensus. The sometimes savage way in which Christian evolutionists treat creationists may be intended merely to distance the evolutionists' Christian identity from the creationists and communicate that the creationists' view is thoroughly rejected; in practice, it often amounts to caring more about the acceptance of outsiders than about kindness towards brothers and sisters in Christ, and identifying more strongly with secularists than with other believers. At its worst, it puts respectability above brotherly love.

Charitable moment: Some evolutionists may recognize the huge cultural shock caused when the consensus changed from a historical view of the creation account in Genesis to a symbolic view of creation account in Genesis, and may respond with patience and understanding as it takes awhile for views to adjust. Others may recognize that the creationists behave as they do out of allegiance to God and an independence of spirit.

Related controversies: The authority of the Bible. Models and methods for interpreting the Bible.

The conversation continues:

Martin LaBar writes on Young Earth Creation vs Intelligent Design. I also thought the flow chart of beliefs on origins was helpful.

Howard Nowlan looks over the conflicts between naturalism and supernaturalism in The Present Danger?

Craig points us to Gerald Schroeder's scheme for mapping the Genesis days onto contemporary scientific chronology, an example of one approach to compatibility between the "7 days" narrative and current scientific views.


Howard said...

"Once you begin second-guessing the narrative, how do you know when to stop? Is there anything in the Bible that you take as certain; if so, why that and not the rest? Is there any belief you are sure will not be overthrown someday; if so, what is it and how are you sure about that?"

Many thanks for taking on this subject head on. The above issue is something my latest blog seeks to address:

Martin LaBar said...

This is a good post, well organized. Thanks.

One problem I see is this (and it's very common -- I've done it myself): "evolution" is not defined.

When people who discuss these matters use that term, it should be defined, because it has a lot of meanings for different people, such as:
1) Selection of insects resistant to insecticide
2) Appearance of new species
3) Appearance of larger groups, such as reptiles, from another group
4) Origin of humans from a non-human ancestor
5) Origin of life from non-life
6) Origin of the universe by chance, or at least with no purpose.

Another problem is Intelligent Design. Is it a political movement, a particular belief in origins, or both of these?

All, or nearly all, of the leaders of the ID movement are on record as saying that they believe, or are willing to accept, that the earth is very old.

Thanks again.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the links. I've read them, & there's interesting material all around.

I'll put a link up in the main post, to help anyone else follow along who may be interested.

Martin: Your work shows the marks of someone who is WAY more invested in this particular controversy than many of us -- but that's a good thing. It means you'll have something thoroughly thought-out and researched on the table.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Craig said...

This is one controversy in which I have generally sat in the middle. I am with the evolutionists in that a particular writing in Scripture has to be interpreted by remaining faithful to the style of literature it is, e.g., historical, apocalyptic, symbolic wisdom, etc. But I am with the creationists in that there are a lot of problems *scientifically* with evolution. So my opposition to evolution is based on science and my opposition to creationism is based on style of scriptural interpretation. I just get in trouble with everybody.

Gerald Schroeder has an interesting approach in his book "The Science of God." He advances the theory that the days of creation parallel the actual epochs of astronomical, geological, and biological formation (i.e., old-earth timeline) -

Martin LaBar said...


I checked Howard's blog, and didn't find it to be exactly relevant to your post. He asks some good questions, but there are Christ- and Bible-loving scholars who think that the narrative, itself, suggests that it isn't meant to be taken strictly literally. (And, of course, others who think it is.) But you are writing about controversies . . .

Thanks for mentioning my work. You have done a valuable service (as usual) in organizing the strengths and weaknesses of two of the more than two sides in this controversy.

Thanks again.

Martin LaBar said...

I also tried to look at Schroeder's chart, referred to in Craig's comment. I do not have access to it, and suspect that others won't, either.

Craig said...

Ooops - sorry for the bad link. I think this should give you access -

Weekend Fisher said...

It's a tough call sometimes; "What is relevant" varies by where you stand on the spectrum of beliefs.

And though I would take Schroeder's spreadsheet with a grain of salt -- it just looked so ... tidy ... as far as the half-lives of the "days", & made me wonder about how exactly those listed boundaries were chosen -- my point here is not to judge the issue but to catalog the range of beliefs and perspectives. If there was some sort of accelerating rhythm to the cosmos' formation it would be fascinating; but the sheer neat-ness of the dates ... I'm curious about the corroboration, to say the least.

Martin -- you're someone who follows that kind of thing in far more depth than I've ever garnered the interest for, I'd really love to hear your comments on Schroeder's spreadsheet. What's your two cent's worth on that?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the link, Craig. It works.

I'm with you, WF. It's too neat. Two observations:

Genesis 1:2 mentions waters, seemingly as if they were there in the beginning.

Day 5 seems to describe the appearance of water animals only, not land ones. That's not how Schroeder puts it.

Granted, I'm not sure how literally to take the days, but Schroeder's scheme doesn't exactly parallel the day scheme of Genesis 1.

And I also wonder about the half-lives. I don't think we know enough to pin those periods down with accuracy nearly that close.

Craig said...

I'm not a scientist, and I obviously can't defend Schroeder's theories. I don't have any stock in him being right or wrong, so I offer his theories only because I find it a unique attempt to synthesize the scientific evidence for an old-earth with a "literal" reading of Genesis 1. You could be right; perhaps it is too neat (and I would be lying if I said I didn't have the same concerns myself).

With that said, Schroeder does base his half-lives on the general theory of relativity, using it to calculate the effects caused by the stretching outward of space and time since the Big Bang. From an article at his website:

What is a "day?"

The usual answer to that is let the word day in Genesis chapter one be any long period of time. Bend the Bible to match the science. Fortunately, the Talmud in Hagigah (12A), Rashi there and Nahmanides (Gen. 1:3) all tell us that the word day means 24 hours. But the commentary continues in Exodus and Leviticus, that the days are 24 hours each (not relating to sunrise and sunset, merely sets of 24 hours). There are six of them, and the duration is not longer than the six days of a work week, BUT contain all the ages of the world. How can six 24 hour days contain all the ages of the world?

Einstein taught the world that time is relative. That in regions of high velocity or high gravity time actually passes more slowly relative to regions of lower gravity or lower velocity. (One system relative to another, hence the name, the laws of relativity) This is now proven fact. Time actually stretches out. Were ever you are time is normal for you because your biology is part of that local system.

That is Einstein and gravity and velocity. But there is a third aspect of the universe that changes the perception of time, Not gravity and not velocity. That is the stretching of space. The universe started as a minuscule speck, perhaps not larger that a grain of mustard and stretched out from there. Space actually stretches. The effect of the stretching of space produces the effect that when observing an event that took place far from our galaxy, as the light from that event travels through space and the sequence of events travels through space, the information is actually stretched out. (In The Science of God I give the logic in detail in simple easy to understand terms.)

You can read more here:

Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard said...

Many thanks for checking my blog entry - which was actually posted prior to reading WF's entry, but which seemed to refer in some aspects to the quote I used here.

I think the questions matter because the issues they refer to are already being 'adjusted', theologically, by those who view them as secondary at best (hence my blog entry). However we might chose to view the creation process, it essentially contains the miraculous - it is a work of God, as do so many of the events spoken about in Genesis. If we interpret such an element as nothing more than "special language", not history, that leaves us in very murky waters.

Martin LaBar said...

Craig, Schroeder may even be right on this, but proposing that the six days did what he says they did seems to be without any scriptural foundation, and to just be something he made up out of whole cloth.

Thanks for responding.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Howard, for responding to my comment. (This isn't my blog, of course!)

You are right that we are on dangerous ground if we interpret something as other than history when God wants us to interpret it as such. Very dangerous ground.

But we are also on dangerous ground if we reject or ignore scientific findings, when God has told us that observing nature is one of the ways He reveals Himself to us.

There are questions about the narrative, itself, that don't come up because one is already wedded to an old-earth view. One such is on Genesis 2, especially verse 5, which seems to say that there weren't any plants growing in the earth, because it hadn't rained yet, (I recognize that there are different translations of that verse, but that, in itself, indicates uncertainty about the meaning) at the time when people were created, which doesn't match Genesis 1.

There are other reasons to question the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2, such as how Adam could have gone to sleep, had surgery, and named all the animals, all in one day.

The most important thing about Genesis 1 and 2 is not its timing, whatever that may have been, but the Who of creation, and the fact that there was a Who -- all too many people think that the universe, and we ourselves, are here by chance. Genesis doesn't seem to offer much of an alternative to a Who, no matter what the timing.

Thanks again.

Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard said...

"we are also on dangerous ground if we reject or ignore scientific findings, when God has told us that observing nature is one of the ways He reveals Himself to us".

Thanks for the response, Martin. I have no problem "hearing' what scientific findings convey - William Dembski, for example, recently covered this well in his book, 'The End of Christianity'. What troubles me greatly, as noted in my blog, is that what has been commonly identified as vital strands of Christian theology are now being re-defined or even sidelined as a result of the weight given to that voice - and this takes us in a direction that is very troubling indeed. The 'voice' being heard loud and clear amidst many right now is that the 'stories' of Genesis are little more than myth - a miracle-working 'god' invented to grant a particular colony of refugees an identity during their diaspora - it therefore has no real bearing upon the actual human story - one of eras of pain and suffering and death which are purely 'natural' in their origin and outcome.
There needs to be a truly satisfying theological and historical resolution to this, and when christian teachers begin finding this in the notion that at present,humanity is essentially good, we just become mildly 'bad' through poor judgment or life choices (which need 'tweaking', nit wholesale redemption) there really isn't that much left to say to the adherent to naturalism, who asks 'why need God?'

Martin LaBar said...

Well, Howard, that kind of thing has gone too far. I agree.

Amillennialist said...

one of the key claims of evolution -- namely, that the changes in life forms are the product of chance alone -- is not properly a scientific claim as it is not open to testing or verification.

The problem for Darwinian evolution is that all observation shows that it never occurs. Random genetic mutations happen, but they're normally harmful or fatal to the organism. They never add newer, more complex program/structure/function.

If Life is constantly evolving into newer, more complex forms, then how can anyone catch a Coelacanth, a fish contemporaneous with the tyrant lizards?

If in five hundred million years, coelacanth evolved into . . . coelacanth, then how did some ape-like organism(s) evolve in only a few million years into Man?

The best Darwinists can do in defense of their creation myth is Lenski's E. Coli, and what do they show? After tens of thousands of generations, the bacteria evolved into . . . bacteria!

The Darwinists demonstrate their inability (or unwillingness) to deal honestly with facts also in how they treat the T. Rex red blood cells discovered in Montana. At first, they did everything they could to avoid admitting that red blood cells were discovered in a fossil at least (according to them) 65 million years old. Then, rather than revise their assumptions with regard to dating, they instead suggested that protein has a longer shelf life than they realized!

(And really, moving the goalposts is all that's left to those who believe that Man arose accidentally from microbes by way of maggots, mice, and monkeys. That and name-calling.)

At what point of certainty do you accept a scientific finding?

Observable fact. Whether it's Science or Religion, without observable fact, all you've got is fiction.

No scientist observed the Big Bang (anyway, who's ever heard of explosions building things?). No Darwinist has ever observed abiogenesis (so much so, that they run from the topic). And no one's ever observed a bird hatch from a reptile egg.

Darwinism isn't Science, it's science fiction.

Yet we've got sixteen hundred years of eyewitness accounts of YHWH's intervening in human affairs -- culminating with the Crucifixion and Resurrection -- preserved by the societies in which they occurred.

Histories written, words recorded, monuments made, and worshiped as a god. Yet no one denies the historicity of Julius Caesar. Even allegedly-hostile, non-Christian history calling Christ a "sorcerer" acknowledges (unwillingly, no doubt) His miracles, and still the evolutionists mock.

Two thousand years ago, Paul observed that God's eternal power and divine nature are obvious in the Creation. If someone won't believe Moses -- or their lyin' eyes -- then they won't believe even if Someone rises from the dead.

Christians have no reason to be ashamed.

Martin LaBar said...

To quote
Todd C. Wood, a young-earth creationist with impeccable scientific credentials, "Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it."

Amillennialist said...

And in defense of that, to what can he point, Martin?

Martin LaBar said...

For one thing, and most important, similarities, or even identities, between the DNA of all sorts of organisms.

For another, fossil evidence.

Amillennialist said...

Correlation does not equal causation.

You're hoping against all experience that observed similarities in program (DNA) or structure (fossils) indicate common descent.

That's the equivalent of seeing an Echo and a Prius and concluding that the latter descended from the former (or a common ancestor -- the Corolla?), or that an iPod gave birth to an iPad.

The differences between cars or computers indicate "evolving" design, not the accidental results of energy applied randomly to matter over billions of years.