The Language of God 4

This series is from RJS…
This is the fourth in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Two lectures by Dr. Collins were linked in the last post. Three more can be found on the Veritas Forum site, including ones from Mar. 2007 (at MIT) and Feb. 2008 (at UC Berkeley). The third was delivered at Pepperdine, but I am fairly sure the date given is not right (ok now corrected).

Part Three of The Language of God deals with faith in science and faith in God – reconciling the conflict. There are two major aspects of this conflict in our world today and we will deal with them in the next two posts. Today scripture – tomorrow (well… the next day) the world.

The first, and probably the most important, consideration is the conflict or apparent conflict between the words of scripture and the nature of the world. How do we look at the story of Genesis, the doctrinal implications of that story, and the evidence of the world? In many ways, this has been the elephant in the middle of the room for the last several posts, and it has stepped into our conversation on more than one occasion. Dr. Collins is an expert on the science – and so am I – but here we step out of our comfort zone a bit. So let’s consider several options and open up a discussion with our usual civility and respect.
Option 1. The creation story – and all of Genesis 1-11 – is to be treated literally and historically, from “In the beginning” through the flood to Abraham. Faith trumps science.
But, young earth creationism and “flood geology” or other such approaches are absolutely incompatible with modern science and what we know about the world. Tinkering around the edges won’t make our empirical knowledge from observation of the world compatible with a young earth. Even gap theories and day-age theories have some serious problems.
Mature creationism is a viable approach. In this view it is postulated that God created the world as described in Genesis – but to look as though it was aged. Trees would have rings, Adam, Eve, and other first generation mammals would have navels, etc. The world and universe would look as though it had evolved naturally as it came into being. Science projects into the “would have been” past.
In my mind both of these approaches suffer from a theological flaw – I don’t see how to get around the fact that this portrays God as great deceiver. Why would God create a world to look as though it was old, as though evolution of the species was a reality in intricate, self-consistent ways, and then penalize us for believing that evidence? Dr. Collins advances the same type of objections.
Option 2. Genesis is theologically true – but perhaps it need not be historical description. Theological truth can be told in a multitude of ways. Augustine mused on this extensively and it has been discussed through the centuries since. Is Genesis poetry – or perhaps parable? Is Genesis intended to instruct readers of Moses’ time about God’s character in the appropriate way for the times – with confusing scientific detail inappropriate to the day? Does Genesis appropriate ANE myth to tell God’s story? Does God accommodate the telling of his story to human understanding and outlook? Even John Calvin used the principle of accommodation in his interpretation of Genesis and other parts of scripture.
Problem 3. But what about Adam, Eve, and the Fall? Many Christian institutions (and Wheaton leaps to mind here) will accept an old earth and many aspects of evolution, but the historical creation account of Adam and Eve is still affirmed as a nonnegotiable. Our theology depends on God’s perfect creation (his method is not the issue) followed by rebellion, redemption, and reunion. Does this theology depend on a unique historical Adam and a unique historical Eve as two humans from whom all others descend?
What do you think?
Is Genesis historical description or may it contain theological truth told in other forms?
Does it matter? Why or why not?

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  • I lean towards option 2. However, I like the way George Murphy discusses this, in particular in his paper entitled “roads to paradise and perdition”.
    There’s a lot of interesting material in that paper, but rather than pull bits out here’s a full link.

  • Scott M

    Odd. Or maybe not so odd. I had more or less the same thoughts you describe as option 1 myself a long time ago in my interaction with Christianity. Of course, if you believe in a powerful God for whom all things are possible, then he could have created all recently as though it were old. However, that leaves you with a true trickster god who doesn’t seem much like the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not sure I grasp why people would love the trickster god.
    I don’t know that I would have used the phrase “theologically true”, but I think I agree with the general sense. I probably would have just said true. But there are many ways something and someone can be true.
    By that same extension, I’ve never been troubled by a need to treat the adam in the second story as if there were some sort of necessary, linear forward progression. There may or may not have been an actual individual who came to be named ‘Adam’. In fact, the creation narrative in Genesis 2 does seem to describe a more primitive state of potential to grow and follow God or to reject God. Nor does it bother me that the sin of man alters the nature of creation from the beginning of time onward in a way that transcends linear time.
    And I’m discovering that there’s actually not a lot that’s new in that perspective, even if I did come to it on my own.

  • Is Gen 1-11 historical or theological truth told in different forms? I don’t think this is a valid either/or question. The answer to the latter is certainly yes since Gen 1-11 isn’t history like we (modern West) would write it. As well its objective is to repudiate the ANE view of God (gods), humanity, & our relationship.
    But is it historically based ie. was there really a Neolithic farmer named Adam 6-10K years ago? Maybe. IMHO, those that claim it absolutely can’t be historical are basing this on some personal presuppositions rather than just the evidence. And those who state it MUST be historically based or our faith falls – well, I respectively disagree. If Jesus’ tomb was shown not to be empty? Then, as Paul indicated, our faith is in vain. If Adam never really existed? Well, then I (and many others) have to undergo some major theological reevaluations – but, the essence of the gospel does not change.
    On scriptural interpretation, I really like Peter Enns’ Incarnational Analogy that he lays out in his book “Incarnation and Inspiration”. It has been very helpful for me personally. I’d be interested in what others think of his view.

  • I think only the creation account suffers from a historicity problem. I don’t think that we have a problem defending other aspects before Abraham.
    I don’t think evolution/old earth (and if you go to our blog, you’ll see a long and continuing discussion about this) is fundamentally at odds with the Judeo-Christian faith. However it does have the third problem you mentioned.
    And I have not yet found a Christian who can illuminate how the fall of man works in an evolutionary world, where death is the force of evolution. Yet death cannot occur until sin. And sin is linked with man, not some ameoba.

  • Jerry M

    A few thoughts:
    I don’t think the ‘trickster’ God argument is all that strong. When Jesus turned water into wine [John 2] He could’ve been accused of ‘tricksterism’. ‘This wine tastes like it has been fermenting for X years.’ The same could be applied to the miracles of multiplying bread and fish, the resurrection, etc. ‘This guy isn’t alive – He was dead. We know dead people don;t rise from the dead according to the laws of nature.’
    An underlying issue to the whole debate is the miraculous nature of the creation event. Can miracles be picked apart and explained within the framework of the present laws of natural science? It’s my understanding that the strictly naturalist view of the universe eventually runs into a wall where the present laws of nature do not apply at the very beginning stages of the universe [the singularity]. Certainly a primary issue that must be considered is the overall validity of applying principles of absolute uniformitarianism to the origins of the universe and life itself. If the principle of uniformitarianism is flawed – then God need not be counted as a trickster in working the miraculous.
    In my book – to assume uniformitarianism is at best an assumption.

  • RJS

    Jerry M,
    Jesus performed a specific acts as part of the flow of history – they are only trickery if we take the position that God cannot act in the world. Jesus was, like all good prophets – acting his proclamation as well as speaking it.
    Creation as a miraculous event is also not at issue here.
    The issue is the evidence of the nature of the world as we have it. And it only becomes a problem if we hold to an “historical” interpretation of Genesis. If Genesis is both historically and theologically true – we have a “God as great deceiver” problem. It is not just a matter of “age” – it is a matter of continuing evidence of process.

  • I have walked down the paths of taking the Genesis account as allegorical but come to the point of my belief in original sin and wondered how to bring the two ideas together. It strikes me as a serious problem, and now, after reading the comments here, I see the problem with death and the evolutionary model in light of a belief in sin entering the world through Adam and Eve. That was not something I had really considered before. Of course, perhaps the problem lies with our understanding of original sin.
    This may sound a bit silly, but what of the impact of Lucifer being expelled from Heaven? Could that explain death prior to the “sin of Adam”? How do other “traditional” theological beliefs enter into the concerns you are raising here?
    I have always wanted to believe in a traditional Adam and Eve but even with that desire have always been curious about the biblical accounts such as Cain and his going off to another land and marrying there, let alone the scientific evidence.

  • John O. #4: Check out the article phil pointed to in #1. Also check out Steve Douglas’s posts on the fall at , or the post on my blog from Feb 25. This should get you started (although, I don’t think anyone would claim that all problems are resolved).

  • RJS

    About a year ago the book Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach by Vern S. Poythress was reviewed on this blog (Feb. 22, 27, and Mar. 8 2007:,, Poythress has a Ph.D. in Mathematics and a doctoral degree in NT and is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
    I would encourage many – especially those with a more conservative view of scripture – to read his book. I have read the book – and while I don’t agree with all that he says, overall it is a good book.

  • I’ve thought about this long and hard — too long and too hard — and I have no answers. I don’t think it’s possible to say exegetically that Gen. 1-11 are intended to be entirely a-historical. Clearly, these chapters aren’t intended as straightforward, modern history — and Chapter 1 probably is a very different sort of exalted narrative than 2-11 — but there is no indication, IMHO, that the other events narrated are entirely fictive. We might say some elements like the talking snake are representative and not “literal”, but it seems extremely difficult to say that this renders the entire narrative fictional, I think.
    So, if you want to say chapters 2-11 are entirely allegorical or fictive, you need to argue, I think, that a foundational feature of evangelical hermeneutics is wrong. This goes a bit beyond inerrancy to the question whether the goal of heremeneutics is to discern the original intent of the author. The problem, of course, is that setting authorial intent aside has led in the past to all sorts of serious problems — many cults are based on idiosyncratic interpretations that are divorced from any notion of authorial intent. I might even suggest that the hermeneutic of determining authorial intent, maybe even more than inerrancy, has been a defining hallmark of evangelicalism and of the Reformation heritage.
    And yet, the natural and historical sciences, including biology, geology, anthropology, and archeology, give us no inkling of — and indeed seem to belie (in some cases quite strongly): (a) a primoridal state of human original righteousness; (b) a definable human “fall”; (c) a monogenic (one couple) origin of humanity; (d) technological progenitors such as Tubal-Cain; (e) a Babel event in which humanity was gathered into one place with one language and suddenly dispersed; (f) a global or even massively local flood that destroyed all humanity save a few families.
    I think recovering the idea of “accommodation” helps here, somewhat. In addition to the book mentioned by Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks’ new book “God’s Word in Human Words” develops this theme in depth. I’d caution, however, that Sparks’ book is extremely challenging — he pulls no punches — so I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who hasn’t yet been exposed to these sorts of problems.
    But to me, “accommodation” leaves us hanging at some point. And, the meaning and extent of accommodation is hotly contested in conservative / evangelical circles (not to bring up the D.A. Carson bugaboo again, but read the prolegomena on scripture in the New Bible Commentary, which he edited — it presents accommodation as a weak excuse for trying to circumvent inerrancy).
    I can’t help but feel that as more evangelical scientists such as Francis Collins present the data they are finding, a fault line along the old conservative-liberal lines will develop over the nature of scripture, unless some really smart and really credible voices can stake out a viable center.

  • RJS

    With regard to the science: Humanity is all interrelated, we are one species spread from one small initial community. Each and every one of us alive today shares common ancestry if we go back far enough (and far enough may be as recent as 5000-10000 years, but to a population of common ancestors, not a pair). All indications are that mankind originated in a small region of Africa some 195,000 years ago. Extinction of other hominoids followed.
    Look at C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain Ch. 5 “The Fall of Man” – what do you think of his portrait?
    In my mind the most likely site for being touched by God, where mankind was created with consciousness and in the image of God, is within this original community, perhaps with an initial pair. Part of the understanding of creation “in the image of God” may arises from contemplation of how we are “like God”, but I think that it is also useful to think about how we are different from animals. Mankind is profoundly different from “other” animals. What makes an agglomeration of atoms formed into molecules human? What gives us the ability to think about quantum physics, relativity, the origin of the universe, and the structure of the genome? What gives us a sense of purpose, meaning, despair, joy, and beauty? Even Dr. Collins’ discussion of the Moral Law comes into play here.
    Of course creation in the image of God became rebellion against God – to use Scot’s term, the Eikon cracked and “the Fall” or original sin also originated within this initial community perhaps with an initial pair. On exactly how the “crack” occurred I am agnostic and prefer to view the Genesis story as a mythological telling of a crucial theological truth. Mankind created in the image of God fell and original sin permeated the whole human race. The other features that make us unlike animals also make us unlike God. The instances of the inhumanity of man to self and others are rampant and overwhelming in all of human history.
    The Fall brought death – and I am inclined to think that the meaning was not simply physical death – but eternal spiritual death. On the other hand, one could also have a view that once touched by God to be “created in the image of God” mankind (perhaps an original pair) immediately fell and brought physical death back upon themselves. I do not think that it is possible to view physical death of plants, bacteria, animals, etc. as originating in the Fall.
    Original sin is one of those doctrines that should be self-evident to anyone who really looks at the world in which we live and the history that we have.
    So now you can challenge what I have said – and we can continue the conversation.

  • The “Trickster God” vs. Uniformitarianism idea it seems to me is a key difference between young- and old-earth beliefs. Here’s my thought- in every example sited of God doing “tricks” (water/wine, resurrection) and in the many other possible examples, God does not change things IN ORDER TO trick people. He changes water into wine for the party, not as a neat trick. Surely the point of the resurrection isn’t to trick us into thinking he never died? But creation is different, because if God created things to look older (rocks, trees, etc) there’s no other reason he would have done that EXCEPT to trick us.
    all of that of course assumes that time and natural processes have always worked exactly like they work now (that big U word): gravity pulls down, radioactive particles decay, etc. I happen to think that’s actually a pretty decent assumption, although it is an assumption, as is a lot of science and religion. but I have no reason to believe that gravity and the like have suddenly changed the way they work over the years. Unless God changed them, just to be tricky.

  • RJS re: post #11 — I agree that this is probably the sort of way in which we need to consider this if we are going to be honest about the science. And I agree that it’s not impossible to do this within the broad framework of a generous orthodoxy. But, I think the hermeneutical problem still stands: to do this, it seems to me that we need to move a bit beyond original meaning to a sensus plenior in the text. Can evangelical hermeneutics handle this without losing evangelical distinctives? (Interesting how all this relates back to the discussion on Olson’s book — :-))

  • RJS

    I think so – but I also think that neo-evangelical (and fundamentalist) hermeneutics is largely a modern response to a specific problem. I think that we have to root our hermeneutics and our understanding of the faith much more deeply – extending all the way back, not privileging only the recent, which almost certainly includes overreaction to past excesses and to immediate challenges.
    It does relate to Olson’s book. We have to be willing to admit that while there was much good in 20th century evangelicalism – they also made mistakes. (As did every prior attempt to follow God and as will every future attempt.)

  • Andie

    I’ve read the term ‘ANE view of God’ (#3); can someone briefly define that for me? I’m sorry but I’m familiar with it.

  • #12 – J. Ted, … I don’t agree that the only reason for creating the world old would be to trick us. I don’t agree that the theory of God creating an old earth reveals a trickster God. Clearly, God is not a trickster. He is good, true, faithful, imaginative, creative, love, loving, merciful, just and all of these things to the infinite degree. We are not. And our minds do not work at the same level as His mind. That being said, just because you can only conclude that such a theory of the creation of the world would indicate a trickster God does not mean that God, being infinite in his imagination and goodness, could not have another reason for doing so.
    Now, having said all of that I don’t have an opinion on the theory and am not being a proponent thereof. I am just taking issue with concluding there can be no other reason. I think that perhaps there may be no other reason that our finite minds can imagine at this time, but that doesn’t mean that there is no other reason.

  • Ted and Brian (12,16)
    The “trickster issue” is an interesting one indeed. But I think that a young created world in which a literal Adam inhabited would also have the appearance of age. A YEC interpretation also has the problem of a ‘trickster God’. Under the YEC scenario Even Adam would think the trees were old in the absence of God telling him they were young. In fact there would even be the evidence of previous biological deaths – in so far as the soils in whih the trees grew would be comprised of biodegraded matter in various states of decomposition.
    So both the YEC and ‘old age appearance’ interpretations are potentially subject to degress of “Trickster” theology. The strongest candidate to resovle this (if it is a problem) is the actual old-age scenario – where thinge really were as they seemed.

  • Karl

    RJS, I have more questions than answers on this topic but your view is closest to the one I currently hold. But any such view has to deal with not only Genesis 1-11 and the OT references to Adam, but also multiple NT references to Adam that appear to refer to him as a historical person. Are these NT references merely a reiteration of the mythological story to convey a theological truth? The NT authors don’t seem to see it that way. But maybe God did/does, and that’s what matters more than what the authors themselves perceived or thought? That’s kind of where I come down for now, but it’s not an entirely comfortable place to be.

  • Problem 3 is only a problem if one is reading the creation stories, and Paul, in less obvious (albeit very common) ways. The creation stories are about a main character called “Human”. It is natural to read it as a story about each of us. To pass the blame onto ‘those two ancestors of ours’ is to miss the story’s point about blame-shifting altogether in a way that is extremely ironic. In the same way, Paul seems to grasp that these stories are analyses of the human condition. The point is not to be DESCENDED from Adam or Christ, but being ‘in’ one or the other, i.e. two different modes of existence, characterized by alienation from or reconciliation with God.

  • B-W

    Having arrived at this discussion a little late, I’ve skimmed the comments for a response to this question, but nothing seems quite to get at what I’m thinking, although comments like the one above #17 do get close. First, here’s the relevant portion of the original post:
    Mature creationism is a viable approach. In this view it is postulated that God created the world as described in Genesis – but to look as though it was aged. Trees would have rings, Adam, Eve, and other first generation mammals would have navels, etc. (snip)
    In my mind both of these approaches suffer from a theological flaw – I don’t see how to get around the fact that this portrays God as great deceiver. Why would God create a world to look as though it was old, as though evolution of the species was a reality in intricate, self-consistent ways, and then penalize us for believing that evidence?

    As I understand the argument for creationism (I am not a creationist), God creates Adam (for example) as a fully grown male. He does not put Adam on Earth as an infant. Any “outside” observer would then see Adam and assume that Adam was so many years old.
    However, I’m not sure that Adam’s “appearance of age” constitutes God’s “deception.” Rather, God would simply have chosen to create a mature human being rather than an infant (indeed, why would putting an infant on Earth make any more sense than putting a mature human there? Since even with an infant, we’d have the issue of the lack of a birth mother… The infant would still appear “nine months old” if only we started counting from conception).
    This argument may not appear quite so strong when talking about things like tree rings, but the crux does seem to be that question “Why would God create a world to look as though it was old… and then penalize us for believing that evidence?” If only we assume that God doesn’t penalize us for taking things at face value (not the creationist’s argument, I know, but I’m not a creationist), I’m not sure the “why would God do it that way?” argument is much of an issue.

  • Scott Watson

    Evangelicals, ironically, put themselves into a embarassing and needless cul-de-sac: their faulty, modernist views on Scripture undercut or undermine a truly biblical theological accounting of these issues. IF YHWH is Creator,as the Bible attests (in the multitude of metaphors this is evidenced in Scripture),this must be reflected in the processes which we can surmise in nature,in some sense.The stories of Genesis in their ANE background have other religio-cultural axes to grind than the “scientific” ones some of us wrestle mightily with.A responsible hermeneutic would be to let these stories tell what they want us to hear rather than making them bear the weight of our modern angst.Maybe–horror of horrors!–Christians need conversion of heart and mind to hear what YHWH wants us to hear in Scripture.Maybe a “de-centering,” a humbling of our agendas and a dethroning of various idolatries (Christian and secular)and the frank admission of the presence of the forces of chaos and human choice as a part of YHWH’s created order, even in paradise,as the creation narratives attest. This is real to our experience of life, of history, of human culture!This is the hallmark of the biblcal and orthodox Christian faith as opposed to all forms of gnosticism, even those fronting as “biblical.” Christian eschatology may transcend this but this is the starting point for any reflection on these topics.
    I fear,in our sometimes off-centered ruminations,we often sound like Job’s friends with their “orthodox” biblical cousel,who drew upon themselves the YHWH’s anger for their smug, righteous hubris.The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, that which is for the divine, will not be any better for us as it was for the “earth creatures,” Adam and Eve.Thus,we can and must live with the intellectual correlates to our finitute, our gaps and uncertainties about certain matters of God and creation.What makes us truly human is that we can have communion with our Creator and love each other.

  • Great series of posts – enjoying them immensely.
    FYI – there’s another Francis Collins lecture available in both video and audio from Stanford University (Feb 2008).

  • Glen (#22) — thanks for that link. So, as an AG minister at Stanford, how do you respond to students who feel their faith is threatened by evolutionary science? I’m as interested in the pastoral aspects as the theological (both because I’ve struggled with this myself and because I’m employed in higher education).

  • B-W (#20) — here are a couple of problems I see with this notion.
    First, it assumes that Adam, if created ex nihlo as an adult, would have appeared to be an adult upon visual inspection. But would that really have been the case? Do we assume Adam under that scenario would have had scars, warts, facial wrinkles, bags under his eyes, callouses, and other such indicia that a person is “really” an adult? Would inspecting Adam’s teeth, blood and bones have revealed the “history” of his diet and living conditions? It seems to me that an “adult” body without any actual living history would appear dramatically different, on careful inspection, than the bodies of people who have actually lived for 20 or 30 years.
    More importantly, the “appearance of age” position creates insurmountable epistemological problems. It’s Descartes’ demon all over again, but even worse — not only would it be possible that our senses are utterly deceitful because the world we perceive might be an illusion — it would in fact be so! The paradox is that, in an effort to uphold a notion of Biblical authority, the appearance of age position decimates any possibility of reaching any reliable conclusions about whether the Bible’s message is true. It may be, after all, that our careful evaluations about the transmission of the Biblical text and the history of its use in the life of the Church are just “appearances.” Maybe the Biblical text and all of the commentary and discussion on it, which “appears” to go back thousands of years, was just created ten minutes ago. You can’t appeal to the Bible itself to discern what is “real” and what is “apparent,” because Bible itself may only be “apparent.” At the end of the day, there would be no possibility of any kind of reliable knowledge.

  • Why would God have to be a “Trickster” if he created a mature earth? If we accept a single “Adam” and single “Eve” it is evident they weren’t created as babies, but as biologically mature. Why not the same for the trees, plants and vegetation? Wouldn’t earthly creation have to have been mature to support human creation?

  • Having watched this conversation unfold, I want to point out that Francis Collins has for many years been a member of the American Scientific Affiliation (, an organization of Christians in the sciences & engineering that was founded in 1941. I am an officer of the ASA. We identify ourselves as follows: “The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is a fellowship of men and women in science and disciplines that relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science. In matters of science and Christian faith, we offer Christian scholarship, education, fellowship and service to ASA members, churches, educational institutions, the scientific community, and society.”
    Let me invite you all to visit our web site, which is chock full of helpful information about relating science and Christian faith on a wide range of issues. The ASA does not advance any one view as the official one, unlike many other science/faith organizations. Rather, we promote conversation among our members (and others), aimed at helping individual Christians understand issues more fully and clearly for themselves. Our common commitment is to Jesus Christ, not to any specific viewpoint on a given issue.
    If you are involved with science yourself, or even if you just have a deep and abiding interest in science as a Christian, I further invite you to consider becoming a member of the ASA. It’s a great way to meet more people of like mind and spirit!

  • RJS

    I don’t see deception in the creation of biologically mature adults. I would have trouble if the creation of mature adults included scars from a “would have been” childhood; but of course we have no evidence, so it isn’t worth considering.
    But – along those lines, I have issue with things like chromosome 2 in humans, and ancient repeat units, and similarity of random DNA segments between genes – to use three examples from Dr. Collins’ book (there are more examples), and with things like vestigal structures during the development from embryo to adult; the path of the laryngeal nerve in mammals; the fact that humans contain all genes for synthesizing vitamin C – but in deactivated form, so we need to consume vitamin C in our diet, and so on. These observations (and many others) are all consistent in the framework of evolution.
    If God created the world by fiat as a mature creation, he created mature species to look as though they had arisen via evolutionary processes. How do we get around God as great deceiver here?

  • Ian Kirk

    There are a lot of great points being made here.
    Regarding the “Trickster”: I see beauty in old and young. God put in our hearts to see the beauty of “old” mountains and “young” mountains. An assumption that God “tricked” us into believing that the earth is a certain age is a straw man, for that means only certain things of a certain age are beautiful to God. I don’t care how old or young the Grand Canyon is; it is beautiful.
    There are two basic premises we are working on here: the Bible is literally correct, or science is. The Bible mostly must be taken on faith regarding the Genesis story. While I have issues with “Young Creationists” like Answers in Genesis, they often raise valid points of concern, and not a few of them ignore or unanswered. Sadly, there are plenty of “Young Creationists” who know nothing of science, and should keep quiet.
    The “science” of the big bang and evolution, and even atomic decay are theories. Why? Because none of us have lived that long. Science bases all such theories on a myriad of assumptions, granted based on repeated observation of things currently observable. Many of those advocating evolution and the Big Bang as fact (although, frankly, “let there be light” sounds like a big bang to me) do not differentiate between scientific “fact”, “law”, or “theory”, thus confusing and misdefining the issue at hand.
    I started my long road back to the faith in the midst of taking advanced biology, chemistry, genetics, and statistics. Science will not discuss the mechanism, or the motive, for such changes as the universe would have seen for us to exist now according to their theories. Scientists who have not been pulled into the debate (those that have usually with their funding as the carrot or stick) recognize the reality that the ultimate mechanism is not their purvey.
    Now, B-W’s comment:
    “Why would God create a world to look as though it was old… and then penalize us for believing that evidence?” If only we assume that God doesn’t penalize us for taking things at face value (not the creationist’s argument, I know, but I’m not a creationist), I’m not sure the “why would God do it that way?” argument is much of an issue
    There is an answer to that, that should satisfy all believing parties: love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. I suspect that humans care more, whether yowm is a day or an age, than God. As long as your belief in young or old does not interfere with you faith in God and that it is His creation, that is the key.

  • Jeremiah

    In The Dictionary of OT Pentateuch Ernest Lucas has written an essay on the kind of literature employed to write the Genesis story. And he did not treat is as a historical description of creation story.(Lucas has studied near Ancient East literature). I agree with his view, and by extension Collins’ argument. I don’t, therefore, see Adam and Eve as literal two human individuals in Genesis text.
    However, I want to raise a question here. When Luke penned the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel, did he mean that there was a literal individual by the name Adam?

  • I think there are two parts to this question. The first is whether or not we have room in our hermeneutic for myth as communicating theological truth. The second question is whether or not this is what we have in Genesis 1–11.
    Personally, I am open to the fact that the writer of Genesis 1–11 may have used myths that were not historical to communicate theological truth, I just question whether or not this is what he or she did. Paul seems to view Adam as an historical person in Romans 5. Nobody really seemed to question a literal interpretation of Genesis until the scientific age. So, if we shoehorn a reading of Genesis 1–11 into a modernist scienctific metanarrative, have we done justice to the text? I am not sure that we have.

  • The reference to Adam and Eve being created as “biologically mature” gets to the heart of the issue. If they were created that way, they would have had to have been “pre-programmed” with all the things that we usually learn as children. This would potentially undermine something that Christian theology has long regarded as an important aspect of creation: free will.
    And so here we have a plausible reason WHY God might have created through a process of evolution: it preserves the freedom of sentient beings in a way that other methods of creation may not.

  • If both Jesus and Paul were grounded deeply in Israel’s Story and if Genesis 1-11 is like an extended birth certificate for the “new baby” just birthed out of Egypt, why do we have assume Jesus’ and Paul’s reference to the “adam” of the Story is a unique individual? What if Jesus and Paul were at ease with myth conveying theological truth?

  • John # 32
    There is a difference between “What if they were?” and “Were they?” The first is a hermeneutical question and the second is a historical question. I would be curious to see what the dominant interpretations of Genesis 1–11 were in Jesus’ day, especially in the Pharisaic circles in which Paul was trained. That might shed some light in the tradition we have inherited.

  • A “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is one of the most beautiful and poetic OT metaphors. It tells us that duality has always been with us, and we chose to dwell in it – to our detriment. The good news is that we have been shown The Way back to “the garden,” to unlearn our disunity and dwell again in unity with God and all creation.
    Does anyone understand any of this via left-brained rationalism? Speak up if you do. Otherwise, let’s admit our reliance on deep poetic metaphor – incredibly rich shaping stories like Gen 1/2/3 – that guide our most primal religious understandings, and yet appear from a world of powerful symbolism and epic mythology.
    The core of our very lives is shaped by these grand metaphors – not in the accumulation of religious data, but by the release of our holy imaginations.
    Our attempts at understanding the greatest mysteries of creation remind me of Freeman Dyson’s response to John Polkinghome…
    “When I listen to Polkinghorne describing the afterlife, I think of God answering Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?… Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding… Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?” God’s answer to Job is all the theology I need.”
    Scot – I think you should give RJS a regular spot on your blog.

  • RJS

    Leaving the issue of Jesus aside for the moment – Paul was a 1st century Jewish man. Paul was steeped in the story of Israel. This story was God’s perfect creation followed by fall, establishment of the covenant with Abraham, giving of the Law with Moses. Israel demonstrated itself repeatedly unable to follow God faithfully. The good news – the gospel – is that God stepped in and through Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves – bore our guilt and overcame the consequence of the Fall. Paul is preaching the good news of Jesus in his world from his perspective. Isn’t it anachronistic to think that God would call him to step outside of his environment and change the framework to tell the story in a fashion that would be unintelligible to his Jewish and Gentile God-fearing audience? I think that Paul told the story in his culture – appropriate for the day. The issue of historical or theological truth (or both) would never enter the picture.
    Not actually believing that Paul was divine or omniscient – I am not concerned with whether or not he thought the Genesis story of creation was historical description. This was the appropriate way to tell the story in his day, age, and culture.

  • RJS,
    Tough but honest questions that immediately get into the heart of the conflict between science and faith–especially as it pertains to evangelicals. I once held to the literal six day creation view. Then I began to see Genesis 1-11 as teaching theological truth without necessarily depending upon literal occurrences. I was an old earther but Adam and Eve had to exist–you know the argument that Christ and Paul referred to them as historical figures–which is another assumption that you are querying because of solid scientific knowledge.
    Must an “evangelical” (someome who believes in the primacy of scripture) believe in a historical Adam and Eve? I asked this in a class at Trinity and was the opinion from the prof. said yes, we need to hold Adam and Eve as real persons.
    I don’t see it as necessary–but then again I scored a 79 on Scot’s hermeneutic quiz. 🙂

  • Andie #15,
    I don’t think I see an answer to your question yet. Here is how I would answer that:
    ANE means Ancient Near East. It is used in reference to the whole kit and kaboodle of culture, religion, pottery, texts, etc. from Old Testament times. Thus, ANE view of God is how, say, the people of Moses’ day would have thought of God in light of their cultural, scientific, etc. place in life. Does that make sense?
    In other words, the original audience of Genesis, taking into account their cultural conditioning.

  • RJS #35
    Certainly Paul was not divine or omniscient. But as he said in in 1 Corinthians 7:40, “And I think that I have the Spirit of God.” Like it or not, most of what we know about the Jesus story has been filtered through the lense of Pauline thought. Most Christians are okay with this because we believe that Paul had special divine wisdom/authority as an Apostle. (Some would even go further to say that his biblical writings were inerrant.)
    I consider myself a disciple of Jesus, btu most of what I know about Jesus’ life and teaching I learn from the Scriptures. To me, the Apsostles are the archetype of what it means to be a Christians. So, I am very concerned with Paul’s thoughts on creation and fall. He is my father in the faith.
    Certainly the Scriptures present God’s story in a way that is understandable to the people of the time, but are we all that different from them? Assuming that the Genesis narrative in some way came from God, why would God claim that He created Adam and Eve from dust/a rib if He didn’t? Is it really because they were too primitive to understand? Do we really want to say that? Isn’t that a bit ethnocentric?
    I think the metaphorical interpretations of Genesis are historical late-comers. To me that makes them a bit suspect.
    I don’t mean to be antagonistic. I really appreciate your thoughts. Further, we are coming from different “tribes” with different mores. As a member of the scientific community, you have a vested interest in evolutionay biology that you cannot discard without serious professional, personal, and emotional consequences. Similarly, it’s tough for me to discard the dominant metanarrative of my tribe without the same consequences. But I appreciate the dialogue. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • tim atwater

    Paul calls Adam a “type” of the one to come…(Romans 5:14)… and the way Paul talks about Adam and Christ in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 makes me feel he is emphasizing Adam as human typology. (Adam means ‘human’ or ‘earth creature’, in Hebrew…) This need not rule out an original solo Adam (IMHO) but it does seem to me to make that aspect less important than the typology function of Adam.
    All theology and all science is still contingent…
    because however we understand it, we have, as a species, eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… as Scot Watson noted above (#21)…
    few theologians seem to consider the Job’s friends possibilities frequently enough… (an old friend recently responded to my sermon feedback query re — are there texts which you’d like to hear more on that aren’t preached much? with this:
    Genesis 2:16, ‘Do not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ with Jacques Ellul’s straight line conclusion, ‘the origin of sin in the world is the knowledge of good and evil.’
    (I am not sure that Ellul has it entirely right either — but at least he was/is paying attention! Bonhoeffer’s Ethics starts on page one with essentially the same point, applied to ethics…)
    Augustine was as i recall thoroughly convinced of the historical-literal truth of Adam and Eve… Origen was equally convinced it was allegory-parable…
    They both co-exist just fine in the kingdom of God (IMHO)…
    I have enjoyed today’s posting and thanks all who have posted and RJS for leading. I’m bookmarking websites as i go along… hoping someday to read deeper on many of your intriguing sites…

  • RJS (#35) re: the NT references to Adam — yes, it seems to me that’s the approach one has to take to avoid a “concordist” reading of the creation and fall stories (for those not familiar with the term, “concordism” is the idea that the early Genesis narratives agree or “concord” with science and history).
    Not to argue (because I agree the scientific and historical data can’t be brushed aside), but to explore the edges — what we’d be saying here, again, is that the mainstream evangelical approach to scripture and hermeneutics is wrong on some fundamental points. Paul assumed the Hebrew creation myth was literally true, but he was wrong. Jesus also either got some things wrong or stated them in terms that were not “literally” historically true — surfacing issues not only about scripture but about Jesus’ knowledge as fully God and fully man. The Reformational principle “let scripture interpret scripture” may not always be valid.
    We are already comfortable with this to a limited extent. For example, when Jesus says in Matt. 13 that the mustard seed is the “smaller than all other seeds,” this isn’t literally true — it’s a parable, drawn from common everyday observation (note, BTW, that my quote above is from the more literal NASB translation — the NIV tries to soften this by translating this “the smallest of all your seeds”). And when the NT authors misquote the OT or take OT passages obviously out of context, we kind of let that be.
    Nevertheless, suggesting that the NT refers to apparently historical characters who aren’t historical can’t easily be incorporated into mainstream evangelical hermeneutics.

  • RJS

    Actually Matt (#38), I don’t really come from a different tribe.
    But – some 25 years down the road from college, thinking and wrestling with the issues, I don’t find it possible to take a different stand. I am convinced of the reality of God’s story as revealed in scripture and equally convinced of the overwhelming evidence for the basic historical outline given in the last post – especially the evidence for an old earth and the evolution of life.
    So I operate from a basic presupposition – these two bodies of evidence must be reconcilable.

  • I hear you. So let me ask this, and maybe some of our Bible/theology scholars can chime in: if Paul’s references to sin and death entering the world through Adam are accommodated to the then-current understanding of Adam’s historicity, by what principle can we conclude that Paul’s parallel references to sin and death being conquered by Christ are not also historically and culturally conditioned? How do we apply the principle of accommodation here without ending up ultimately at some kind of universalism that reduces the atonement to nothing more than a moral lesson? Because the question of atonement — near and dear to all of us — is central to our problem.

  • Glenn

    It seems as if the Catholic church is way ahead of evangelicals on this issue (I say this as an evangelical)
    Last night I was driving home and turned the radio to a local NPR affiliate to hear the end of a lecture on evolution and creation by Cardinal Schonborn. He highly recommended Ratzinger’s book In The Beginning which deals with Genesis 1 – 3, the Creator, the creation, man, original sin and faith in creation. When one considers how traditional much of Catholicism is – how did Catholics reach a consensus on evolution and what can evangelicals learn from Catholicism in order to progress on this issue?

  • Andie

    #37, Matthew S, thanks. That really helps me see the comments in context. I’m familiar with the idea, as I have the Archeological Study Bible in my library, but it’s been a while since I’ve used it and I don’t recall the ANE abreviation. Anyway, Thanks again.
    #34, John L, I’ll second your suggestion to have RJS as a regular.

  • Glenn (#43) — you’re right, but note that there is still a tension in Catholic teaching with respect to Adam. This is a disputed point among some Catholics, but the Church’s teaching at this point seems to be that evolution is ok so long as monogenism is upheld (monogenism meaning that all humans literally descend from the Adam-Eve pair). The specific teaching about monogenism, however, dates from I think a few decades before John Paul II’s most recent general comments about evolution, thus there is some possible ambiguity about the extent to which monogenism is a binding teaching. The tension can be somewhat pronounced if you trace it through to Catholicism’s Augustinian notion of original sin.
    Andie (#44) — you mentioned the Archeology Study Bible — if you read the note on Gen. 1, you’ll notice that it says the text precludes any notion of evolution. So a study Bible focused on the ANE background at least in part doesn’t recognize that background in Gen. 1. Go figure!

  • Sorry for the rambling nature of this…I had to makes notes as I was reading through the 43 comments before mine.
    If Adam and Seth and others in the early Genesis accounts are not “real” historical persons, then why are they included in the genealogical record of Jesus? That doesn’t seem to fit with Luke’s style….
    It seems to me that there can be a difference between Genesis being “true” and “historical” and not necessarily being “scientific” as we could call science. The science we know did not exist until the past couple of centuries to even begin to fathom the scientific implications to creation, etc.
    I guess I resonate with #5 Jerry M in postulating that miraculous acts of God are difficult to scrutinize scientifically. Science is still “young” and there are many things that just are not understood enough to speak as firmly as I think many want it to be able to speak.
    Since so many have talked about C.S. Lewis…his creation story (from The Magician’s Nephew) has popped into my mind in a number of ways. Bear with me because this isn’t neat….
    When Aslan sings Narnia into existence, and the resonance of his song brings forth the different vegetation and animals from the ground, the animals all were drawn to Aslan … and some of them from each species (even from the trees!) he selected to becoming “talking” animals — Free Narnians, as it were, under Aslan’s kingship. They were recognizable as beaver and horse, etc., but were larger and changed in other subtle ways.
    It would be very inconvenient for Narnian scientists to try to find a gradual change from dumb beast to talking Narnian … because there isn’t one. That is very inconvenient. So by the time of Prince Capsian, they outlawed belief in the “Old Narnians”….so that the Telmarine usurpers could take over.
    Then there is the imaginative idea from Star Trek and other science fiction concerning accelerated rates of growth — like Borg maturation chambers. Like time-lapse photography in life.
    And then what about the extended life spans (hundreds of years) of those up to Noah — and after the flood when God said he would chance the span of life to 120 years? What is the point of those, and the other genealogical data, if these are not historical people?
    I’m with those referring back to Job’s problem — we are presuming so far beyond our capacity it is amazing.
    I think we have lots of inconvenient things, scientifically and theologically, that we struggle with. We like to have things “certain” — and looking to understand is a fine thing. But I sometimes think that those looking for certainty just stretch what can be known at that time and place.
    So many of us want to see a way to embrace both sides. The only way I can do this is to humbly admit that we cannot fully know — and to allow the scientists to continue to learn and to allow the theologians to continue to learn and pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to bear our hubris when we think we’re “certain” about some things before we really can be certain.
    Will there ever be a time when we can fully know? I don’t think it can happen until the Creation is Renewed. In the meantime, I think it is equally important to have a really good grip on the consequences to life and relationships of our assumptions. The Bible, God’s revelation, is not meant to fully explain anything we want to know. It is meant to tell of what God meant to tell us in order for us to come into right relationship with him and with our fellow humans and God’s creation, over which we are stewards.
    We have to keep the creative tension intact between what God created, what we can understand, how we join him as sub-creators, and how this helps us love God and love others as faithful covenant partners.
    Inconvenient, isn’t it?

  • Scott Watson

    Dr. Peter Harrison of Oxford in a new book has “flipped the script” with his assessment of the Christian roots of modern science during the Reformation era.

  • Peggy (#46), you make some excellent points; I agree that we ultimately have to come to peace with some uncertainty here. And yet, some of these things can be worked on productively. For example, some people suggest that the long life spans in the OT represent a symbolic use / multiplication of numbers common to ANE thought, and that the geneologies are also a more representational than literal literary form (they resemble in many striking ways the “king lists” produced by other ANE cultures, some of which had early kings living for 20,000 or so years!).

  • doperbeck (#48), like I said — I’m all for things being “worked on productively.” I guess it comes down to what you think is productive, eh?
    I just am leery of things that people “suggest” moving quickly to the “certainty” column because something is similar to something else. How quickly we like to check things off the list! I know that these are important tools and methodologies, but sometimes the things we choose to correlate and see as causative are just not so.
    Yet another of the challenges to thinking well. I cannot know all the science nor can I know all the theology. Where does that leave me? Sigh…. But I think I need to keep trying to think well rather than just agree with the experts — yet another source of creative tension, that!
    These are such very interesting posts. Thanks again, RJS and Scot, for providing this forum.

  • cas

    Here’s a little levity on God & Science from P.J. O’ Rourke:

  • So you’re saying an infinite God inspired the Bible but left “problems” and “questions” as to what that God was saying?
    The creator of language speaks with a lisp?
    And not only concerning the meaning of the “primeval history” chapters in Genesis (from the creation and flood tales to the tall tale of the tower of Babel), but in plenty of other places as well.
    Hmmm, I’d suggesting visiting the Zondervan and Intervarsity websites (Evangelical book publishers of a “view points” series in which Evangelicals with rival interpretations debate a host of interpretive difficulties, each side only convinved that their interpretation is the true one. And the questions and difficulties range all over the theological spectrum, including issues of Christian practice as well. All because of difficulties distinguishing what God is “really saying” in the Bible.
    Or visit amazon or google and type in “Two views on” or “Three views on” or “Four views on” or “Five views on” and add the words Zondervan or Intervarsity. You’ll get an idea of all the books they have published so far on rival interpretations throughout the Bible.
    One recent addition to the series addressed differences in Christian views of how the brain and mind interact. Some Evangelicals are arguing that we do not have an innately immortal soul, and that the brain and mind are not two completely different substances connected via supernatural bonds, but rather that the brain-mind is a single thing — a view called monism and favored by most brain physiologists, including Christian ones like Donald MacKay who wrote The Clockwork Image for Intervarsity decades ago. The monists also point out that the ancient Hebrew view was not that people “had” souls, but that we “were” souls.
    I’d say the Christian world is quite varied, everything from dualists to monists. From open theistic free willers to predestination believers. Even Evangelical Christian soul-deathers, and universalists, have their theological defenders these days. And Christian views on war and on how to interpret a host of other biblical teachings remain as varied as ever, moreso than ever before I’d say.
    So really the question of whether or not there was any physical death before the “fall” of “Adam and Eve” is just one more point of contention among modern day Evangelicals.

  • Edward (#51) — but we do all agree on a few basic things, notably that Jesus is Lord. I don’t think God speaking with a “lisp” is a proper characterization, do you? Or is it that human beings are limited and that the condescension (used in a positive, not a negative, sense) needed for an infinte God to communicate with finite people across thousands of years and numerous languages and cultures means that not everything will always be clear to us? And maybe God also allows some of this tension to spur us on to study and search after him (this is an idea from Augustine).

  • Scott M

    This story was God’s perfect creation followed by fall, establishment of the covenant with Abraham, giving of the Law with Moses. Israel demonstrated itself repeatedly unable to follow God faithfully.

    RJS (#35), I would actually challenge the idea that the above actually captures either a truly Jewish (and thus Pauline) perspective or an early Christian perspective. That reads a whole lot more like an imposition of the later Western perspective upon both Judaism and Christianity. I know Judaism lacks the idea of ‘original sin’ prevalent in Christianity. And I also know the Orthodox (and the overwhelming majority of the Fathers) have a perspective on Adam and ‘original sin’ that seems to lie closer to a Jewish perspective. A common theme in the fathers is not a creation in a finished state of perfection, but rather a more primitive or child-like adam or humanity, with the ability to follow God and grow in faith and union with him or to turn from God in sin.
    Some seem to have misunderstood my use of ‘trickster god’ applied to the YEC god. That’s ok. I didn’t really expect it to snag the imagination the way the phrase apparently did. I wouldn’t consider things we call ‘miracles’ tricks played on us. ‘Miracles’ only seem unusual if you somehow divorce God from his creation and turn him into something like the watchmaker. I think both sides of this ‘argument’ in its present Western form tend to do this. Ours is the God who is everywhere present and filleth all things. Nothing which happens as he lives and acts within creation can be called a ‘trick’. ‘Miracles’ astound us only because our knowledge and awareness of the God who is our life is weak and small. No, the ‘trickster god’ is the deceitful god who would fashion a universe which gives every seeming of age by every measure of our senses and rational mind and yet have that be false, with the ‘true’ reality revealed only in a few short paragraphs of text. That’s a god who intends to test through deceit and thoroughly unlike the God I find made fully known to us in Jesus of Nazareth.
    I have no internal conflict over accepting our sacred text as true and a great truth indeed, and also accepting the evidence of the inquiries of our curiosity. I simply don’t and never have. You will hear me often speak of Adam as if I believed he were a particular individual of a particular time just as you read Paul and others doing. And it wouldn’t bother me if he were and the story was about a single man. But it also doesn’t bother me that the story may also use the ‘adam’ to represent us all as we stand before God, to tell a truth that transcends the details of the story.
    I’m not sure I understand why people treat myth and story as a lesser truth or even an untruth. Yes, it can be that. But it can be much more as well.

  • I don’t think that Paul’s reference to Adam requires that we interpret the Genesis account literally; I’m not even sure it has to mean that Paul himself read it that way. Perhaps in a pre-modern ANE world, (and potentially in a post-modern world?), people interact with story-be it myth or history, poetry or parable-in such a way that it might as well be literal because it plays such an important role in understanding reality. If we take a story’s purpose and implications literally, does it really matter if the story can be scientifically or historically proven?

  • RJS

    Jewish and various Christian views of original sin would be an interesting discussion – I am sure I would learn much from many here.
    In the context of the present discussion my only point was that I am not concerned with whether or not Paul thought the Genesis story of creation was historical description. Paul would tell the story within his context.

  • In the context of the present discussion my only point was that I am not concerned with whether or not Paul thought the Genesis story of creation was historical description. Paul would tell the story within his context.
    Bingo! As I said in the post Steve Martin linked to in #8:
    “…Paul draws the parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Jesus, because he saw symmetry between the two. Notice, though, that the validity of Christ’s work for all is not stated to be dependent on sin coming through one man, as is often construed. Paul’s intention was to relate this brand new theological doctrine to something they were familiar to them: if they could accept sin coming into the world through one man, they should be able to accept that one man could bring life to all. The symmetry he saw between the two was no less valid for one of the characters being non-historical.
    “To illustrate my point, suppose we substitute for the Fall story another myth altogether. I often point out that Paul’s parallel between Adam and Christ is to some extent replicated (albeit less elegantly) with the following statement: ‘For as from one vessel (Pandora’s box) all evil entered the world, so from one vessel (the tomb of Christ) sprang into the world the remedy for all evil.’ It’s a rough substitution, but does the obviously mythical referent in the comparison (much less the unfortunate clunkiness of how I state it) lessen the truthfulness of the parallel? The analogy to Adam adds the credibility of typology to Paul’s contention that Jesus’ redemptive work was for all. Using typology to justify a position is propositional and not authoritative, because at best all that can be done is the citation of precedent and an assertion that the principle holds for the present issue. When one cites typological analogy, he asserts that the type and the matter at hand share a pattern, not that the type existed solely to foreshadow and thereby substantiate the matter at hand; nor does it demand the historicity of the allusion. In short, it doesn’t matter whether Paul believed an historical figure named Adam literally fell and passed death down to all his descendants in some genetic or federal fashion through resultant ‘original sin’. Christ’s work was not dependent on the sin of one man alone: every man’s sin necessitates Christ’s work. In contemporary rabbinical fashion, Paul deftly creates a typological comparison in inverse position: one was a death-giving person, and one a life-giving person.”

  • Proverbs 25:2 — “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it is the honour of kings [men] to search out a matter.”
    Jeremiah 29″13 — ” You shall seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.”
    Is the parent who plays hide and seek with his child a “trickster” or a “deceiver”?

  • Steve (#56) — I like what you’ve said, but Paul seems to use Adam not only as a type to illustrate that sin can be eradicated by one person, but also as a representative of human sin and a reason for the atonement. We stand condemned, in Paul’s thought, because we are all condemned in Adam. The price of Adam’s sin is the curse of death. The satisfaction of that price is the substitutionary atoning death of Christ.
    You still might say “Adam” here is a type or symbol of ever person’s individual sin. But then, you are getting very close to, if not well into, a theology of original sin that seems rather Pelagian. If nothing else, Paul seems to make clear that we not only sin, but we are incapable of not sinning, and that this incapacity goes back to the very root of humanity, “Adam.”
    Personally, I don’t reject evolutionary science, but I also think broadly orthodox Christian theology demands the agency of an “Adam” who introduces sin and death to humanity. I can’t completely reconcile these two strands and they have to exist in some tension. One suggestion might be something along the lines of what Bernard Ramm suggested in his book on the theology of sin: perhaps “Adam” is both a person and a generic type. The Adam of history is known only by revelation and is opaque to the natural historical record; we likely wouldn’t know him if we saw him. And perhaps “death” here is not so much a physical change in human biology as the capacities those represented in Adam would have possessed absent sin – social, technological, and scientific capacities symbolized in the “tree of life,” perhaps — capacities that could have been fully and quickly realized by people in perfct fellowship with each other and with God — capacities that will be fully realized in the eschaton. Speculation, but this is the kind of speculation I find most helpful here.
    Bob (#57) — but surely, if your child begins to mature and to ask serious questions about where he came from and how things work, at some point the hide and seek passes from being a game into being a pack of lies?

  • You still might say “Adam” here is a type or symbol of ever person’s individual sin. But then, you are getting very close to, if not well into, a theology of original sin that seems rather Pelagian.
    Whether or not that’s the case (and I don’t think it necessarily follows at all – see below) is, if I may say so, irrelevant. In other words, if this view is correct, even if this were to lead to some concord with Pelagian thought, we couldn’t dismiss it out of hand on the simple grounds that it isn’t “orthodox” enough – the Eastern Orthodox Church has yet to come down solidly either way on that issue! Besides, IMHO, if we want to maintain some preselected standard of orthodoxy at the expense of exegetical and hermeneutical accuracy, we’re not going to get far in any reevaluation of doctrine.
    If nothing else, Paul seems to make clear that we not only sin, but we are incapable of not sinning, and that this incapacity goes back to the very root of humanity, “Adam.”
    I don’t think Paul makes a direct causal link between our incapability to not sin and an original, historical sin. Our incorrigible tendency is there because of our participation in the human race, of which Adam was the recognized, if perhaps somewhat mythological, father. We sin because we are human.
    And perhaps “death” here is not so much a physical change in human biology as the capacities those represented in Adam would have possessed absent sin – social, technological, and scientific capacities symbolized in the “tree of life,” perhaps — capacities that could have been fully and quickly realized by people in perfect fellowship with each other and with God — capacities that will be fully realized in the eschaton. Speculation, but this is the kind of speculation I find most helpful here.
    Interesting thoughts. Yet I think we are best served with remembering that the penalty of death, especially given the Fall story, is not a physical, biological consequence but, in common terms, separation from God which for Adam was promised to occur the very day he disobeyed — notice that he did not fall to the ground immediately but lived to a ripe, ripe old age. The reversal of the curse was to be the removal of the veil of separation between God and man, accomplished in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
    Good discussion!

  • Merv Bitikofer

    Bob (#57) –Yes, the parent would be a deceiver if he causes the seekers’ senses to mislead them — seeing things that aren’t there and not seeing things that are. Even in a game of hide-and-seek all parties, both those in authority and those under it, would understand the rules of play. Only then is the game meaningful.
    “Sight” above is only a metaphorical reference for all plain observation of any sense (or in the broader sense, even all of science), just as “Faith is the evidence of things unseen…” refers to more than just optical phenomena. The Biblical writers were no strangers to metaphor.
    I also like Job 28 (especially considering how Job ends) starting at v.3
    “Man puts an end to darkness, And to the farthest limit he searches out, the rock in gloom and deep shadow.”

  • Mike Mangold

    This is interesting (I’m sorry if my blurb about irrelevance was taken to mean about this discussion). Like Dr. Collins, with whom I have corresponded previously, I am a physician, scientist, and a Christian born from above.
    Ancient Judaism holds the key to this discussion: dust to dust; breath of life; and the body (and that includes the brain) as the key to resurrection. NT Wright calls this the “robust Judaic and Christian hope.” Let me ask all of you this: if the ultimate pinnacle of evolution is the “mind” or spirit because of the brain (again, organic), what does this do to our theology?
    That’s why I find this TYPE of discussion irrelevant: I’m pretty tired of trying to make Christians smart and scinentists nice.

  • Mike Mangold

    oops, scientists

  • Good thread and post.
    I really don’t have a problem with Adam and Eve being representative of humanity. Though in teaching I simply teach it as taught in Scripture,of an actual man and woman. Just as I don’t have a problem with the possibility of some kind of theistic evolution.

  • Regardless of agreement or disagreement with some of the conclusions drawn by RJS or others here, what I most admire and appreciate is RJS’s faith. RJS, you are a woman of GREAT FAITH! Your determination in the face of your breadth of human knowledge to hold on to the truth of God as creator and King is inspiring! Praise God for the faith He has given you. It is a gift and an encouragement. I fear that some of those who would most likely label you a “liberal” and even think that you aren’t or might not be a believer would faint to continue in the faith if they had the same level of human knowledge and understanding that you have of scientific study. There are a great many atheists and agnostics in the world today who moved to such a belief after learning more about science and evolution and the like.
    I think we all must remember, as we ponder all of this, that God’s mind so exceeds our own and that we see only darkly at this time. What is being revealed through science of God’s creation is but one of the many ways God speaks to us today. Creation is God revealed, but our understanding of it is limited and can only be expanded as God allows. Science shouldn’t drive our theology, but it also needn’t oppose it.
    Many of the commenters here have graciously expressed this same sentiment, too, and I really think the spirit of this discussion is fantastic. Thank you, RJS, for trying to help us understand the depth of the interplay between science and faith.

  • Merv

    For Mike (#61) First of all, Christians need a whole lot more than “smarts” and scientists need a whole lot more than “niceness”. As important as God-given intelligence is to anyone, human intelligence isn’t the essence of Christianity. (In fact, I wonder if it is even the essence of science? Though certainly science is forced to lean much harder upon it. –But I digress and perhaps should not confuse “intelligence” with wisdom.)
    Regarding the question you posed: “if the ultimate pinnacle of evolution is the “mind” or spirit because of the brain (again, organic), what does this do to our theology?”
    I don’t think science has the wherewithal or tools to by itself refer to us as a “pinnacle”. True — the word “evolution” by itself implies “progress”, presumably towards humanity. But these assumptions were borrowed from a metaphysic quite outside science at the time these concepts were becoming popular. And now we are stuck with the word. But I don’t think any robust scientific thinker today would argue that evolution represents “progress” towards some absolute good. Science can only (in principle) observe that organisms seem to adapt by natural selection to whatever environs they inhabit at the geological moment. The fact that one of these organisms seems to have evolved sentience is neither here nor there to the scientist. “Good” and “bad” are borrowed concepts from philosophy and religion. All the scientist can do is use his sentience to try and make physical sense of it all.
    And to the extent that we let any of this drive our Theology may be tragic: just as if somebody had decided that the “immoveable earth” is going to be a cornerstone of their own theology. If our theology forces conclusions about our physical world, then those conclusions are beholden to observation. And if that observation clearly refutes the conclusion then the theology proves to be just another falsehood; perhaps tragically dragging real truths down with it. The real role of Theology as it relates to our physical world is this: We accept it by faith (but not entirely without evidence –the experiential and vicarious sort), and it becomes our framework within which all things, including science, are given their place and purpose. Then, we can begin using language like “chosen”, “good”, “bad”, “directed”, “pinnacle”, & a host of other concepts that are properly beyond the reach of the scientific thinker on his short leash. So instead of attempting an answer to your question, I guess I’ve rephrased it to: “What is our Theology doing with science?” Hopefully we can joyfully answer that in the pattern of the Psalmist (19) “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; …” Theology (God) can deliver our science to this point, but science (without help from the Spirit) cannot by itself deliver us to where the Psalmist is. Hence the tragic irony that so many creationists want (albeit with good intentions) to inflate science with more than science can handle.

  • I too, like so many, have questioned, for many years, some of the points brought up by this blog.
    As it stands with me for the present; It is not with what I relate to but with whom I relate with. As if I was looking at cave drawings in a cave left by some primitive people… there is a profound satisfaction that my link to everything is governed not what I know about things but about who it is that all these things point to.
    I trust that, we – in the image of God are an Alpha and Omega to ourselves and therefore we can understand creation, by our relationship with and brought about by God – in ourselves.
    To see salvation clearly, we get a dreadful glimpse of Lucifers fall… the darkness where the Light ahines ever as bright and the darkness comprehends in not.
    I believe that relationship is scientific to the same degree that science is in relationship. The only difference is that there is only choice in one of them.
    Scot, I apologize right now if I cause you to send me an e-mail about this being rambeling.

  • Re Jeremiah 29:13, it seems to me (and this is admittedly very unscientific) that if you haven’t yet found God by seeking, then you haven’t been searching with all your heart. We don’t make the rules; God does. He knows what “all your heart” means, but maybe, just maybe, we don’t understand fully. Resentment seems to be displayed in some of the upthread posts at how God has chosen to do things. In no way is God a “trickster” or “deceiver.” But Jacob was before he had an encounter with God and was changed to Israel. Calling God names only reveals how little we know Him. Read Job 36; read Revelation 4.
    This is supposed to be a true story. A Russian cosmonaut was making a speech and said, “I’ve been out in space and I didn’t see God there.” A young girl in the audience called out, “Then you must not have a pure heart, because Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.'” Maybe we could start a blog thread on whether the beatitude is for the present, the future, or around 70 A.D. 🙂 ; or we could reject the story out of hand, proclaiming it false; or we could ponder it in our hearts until we fall on our faces before God and admit our impurity.
    He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

  • When I came to terms with the age of the universe and the immensely complex processes God established to provide the foundations for life, it wasn’t at the expense of my faith. In fact, I fell on my face in worship. It revealed more of God’s character to me–how patient and painstakingly intentional he is, and how invested he is in his creation and creatures.
    There are tremendous implications for this, if we believe in the power of the resurrection and that our ultimate destiny is embodiment in new creation.
    People know in their bones the cosmos is groaning for redemption, release from sin, and restoration. Why not use scientific evidence to meet people at that place of deep longing, to show them the love and character of God and explain his ultimate purposes?

  • RJS

    Mike (#61)
    I get tired of this type of discussion sometimes (about as tired as Scot likely got/gets about the DaVinci Code and the Gospel of Judas etc.) – but it is an important discussion to have. Anyone who lives or ministers in a College or University environment would, I think, agree. This is one of the major avenues for attack on faith encountered by Christian students and scholars, and an important roadblock in general for an increasingly secular and educated population. Of course, it is not the only issue out there, and for some it is not an issue at all. But blowing it off doesn’t help matters.
    When it is a problem, getting it off the table can allow discussion to move on to other issues – seeking God, relationship with God, worship of the awesome God who created all.

  • Mike Mangold

    I think it’s all a false dichotomy (science vs. religion; matter vs. spirit; evolution vs. creation) secondary to Platonism and gnosticism creeping into the Judeo-Christian heritage. I believe the ancient Jews received a special insight into reality from God and had to fight hard to present it to a world steeped in another worldview. I don’t believe we need to let science “drive our theology” but rather try and rediscover the “robust wisdom” of those sages.
    The enemy likes to see us squabbling over false dichotomies. What type of story would we tell otherwise?

  • Duomai

    @ 61,
    I work as a staff of IFES India (sister org of Inter Varsity). I studied Science in schools then shifted to humanities. Every week I find students ask me questions on this subject. And though I am not expert in science I have spent over hundred of hours trying to understand the issue because of the need. We have literatures by Dawkins, Dennet et al in the library. And our Christian bookshops has literatures by YEC. And since this ‘battle’ has gone far far beyond America I think it’s important for trained scientist and trained theologians to speak on the issue.

  • Merv Bitikofer

    Mr. Duomai (#71) It’s a bit alarming, though I guess not surprising, to think that the warfare camps may have a wider dissemination of their literature internationally than those with differing approaches. Do your libraries have any of Polkinghorne’s or Ken Miller’s work? Or books like Keith Miller’s “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”? Those would provide different perspectives.
    I know that YECs have often pointed out that officially atheist nations like the former U.S.S.R. or China utilize evolution as a foundational “doctrine” for their “atheology”. Given that national approach in those countries, perhaps we’ve not yet seen anything like the entrenched warfare mentality that might be inextricably bound up with emerging Christianity there. Anybody know if this is how it is playing out there?
    I’m also curious about the Hindi take on origins in India since I know nothing about Hinduism.

  • Merv Bitikofer

    addendum to my post above #72: Rather than stating that these other works would provide “different perspectives” than the warfare literature of Dawkins, Dennet, YECs, etc. I should have more boldly put it this way: …[they] would provide a more sound Christian response to the charges of these anti-Christian scientists than the YECs have provided.
    (& there would be many more authors to recommend.)

  • A follow up to Merv (#73) — Alister McGrath is also a good voice here, I think — “God, Memes, and the Meaning of Life”; “Foundations for Dialogue in Science and Religion” (this is particularly good as a basic text); and his “Scientific Theology” series.

  • Scott M

    Merv, interesting question about Hinduism. The Vedas actually provide more of an eternal, cyclical perspective on the nature of reality, so it’s a very different basis. My uncle (professor and past chair of religions at a university) has actually been working on an academic book on the interaction with evolution within the Hindu world. And, as one should expect, it’s highly diverse just as it is in the Christian world, but with interesting twists. For instance, a YEC proponent would take whatever the example of human evidence seeming to be part of the same geologic timeframe as dinosaurs (and I know there is some overused example of that) and say, “See, dinosaurs were here so many thousands of years ago.” There is a more fundamental strain of Hinduism which looks at the same thing and says, “See, humans were here 67 million years ago.”
    But there’s a whole range of interaction with evolution just as there is in Christianity. There is no one reaction to it in Hinduism.

  • mariam

    Good point, Scott. Until we are exposed to other cultures, we tend to think people from particular nations all “look alike”. So it goes with religion. There are also as many flavours of Islam, for example, as Christianity. And while conservative Muslims (peaceful orthodox Muslims, not the lunatic fringe) argue against evolution, many Muslims have no difficulty with it. The Koran is a little more vague than Genesis so it allows for broader interpretation, esp on time. Most Muslim creationists would be more like our intelligent design believers.

  • Duomai

    # 72,
    There is not even a single book of John Polkinghorne or Kenneth Miller published by any Indian christian publisher as far as I know. Almost all of the materials that I used have been downloaded from the internet, mp3 lectures and articles.
    I have not met any Hindu who have problem believing in evolution. Hinduism is so diverse so that one can be a pantheist, atheist, theist, panentheist, polytheist or anything and still remain a faithful Hindu. So anything that comes to the intellectual market they can easily assimilate that into the system. And when Christians who have devoured YEC’s literature argue to the non-Christians that the earth is only 6,000 years old the idea appears so stupid.

  • Merv Bitikofer

    Are you looking for books translated from English into other languages? Or just anything available on-line? I can check with others more knowledgeable than myself and greatly expand the list of good authors you could look for. David already added Alister McGrath as well. I hope you don’t mind if I re-post your concern on another list serve in which I participate ( Maybe they can suggest some materials more widely available.

  • Duomai

    Anything available online. All the students with whom I work speak English. Even otherwise English is widely spoken here. Anything downloadable would be excellent, lectures or articles. Ordering them through amazon is too expensive… because of shipping charge!

  • Merv Bitikofer

    The ASA journal: Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith (PSCF) has full text articles available (pdf) on-line at
    These run from decades ago and are available all the way up through March of ’07. The more recent ones will probably be made available too eventually.

  • Lynn Walker

    Re: #56
    Steve wrote:
    “..Christ’s work was not dependent on the sin of one man alone: every man’s sin necessitates Christ’s work.”
    Not to be picky here, butI would suggest that the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ was the purpose of creation in the first place.
    Man’s sin didn’t “necessitate” the Incarnation. Or to say it another way, the Incarnation wasn’t dependent on ANY man’s sin, let alone EVERY man’s sin.
    Ephesians 1:4-10 ..