Evolution is a Lousy Story (RJS)

There is an interesting post by Tom Bartlett, Is Evolution a Lousy Story?, on the blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Bartlett notes that more than half of Americans doubt that evolution describes the origin of species and he considers the role that story may play in this. The post builds off of a proposal by Dan McAdams, a psychologist at Northwestern, and the thesis of his 2005 book The Redemptive Self:

McAdams’s research focus is narrative psychology—specifically, the development of a “life-story model of human identity.” As he writes in his book The Redemptive Self, “People create stories to make sense of their lives.” When you think about it, we tell stories to make sense of pretty much everything. The problem is that evolution doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative box. As McAdams puts it: “You can’t really feel anything for this character—natural selection.”

And a bit later in the article:

Jonathan Gottschall thinks McAdams might be onto something. … “If evolution is a story, it is a story without agency,” he writes in an e-mail. “It lacks the universal grammar of storytelling.” Stories are about a character finding a solution to a problem. Evolution has problems and solutions but no character. As a result, according to Gottschall, “it doesn’t connect as well—especially at the emotional level.”

Gottschall is author of a recent book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. You can find a teaser for his book at The Huffington Post.

Bartlett’s post contains a number of insights worth some consideration – and don’t miss the link to “one Christian Web site.” He is on to something worth some serious thought. The truth of evolutionary biology does not depend on the story that can be told, but we also must not underestimate the power of story.

Is evolution a lousy story?

What makes the traditional Christian creation narrative better?

There are a number of key points worth considering here. The first one is that evolution isn’t a story – it isn’t a story of who we are, how we got here, or where we are going. There is no protagonist, villain, or plot … any more than there is a plot to gravity or the role of electrostatics in the crystallization of salt. Evolution is a mechanism that plays a role in a larger story. But we have to ask what that larger story is.

While admitting that human existence is bursting with plot and story, the grand scheme of scientific naturalism is plotless, or perhaps better the plot is anchored in futility. We exist as sentient beings constrained by the laws of physics and in some 7 or 8 billion years the earth will die as the sun dies.  More than this, the expansion of the universe will eventually reach a point where life anywhere will be completely impossible. Not only will each individual die along the way, but life itself will simply vanish – no more sentient beings to wonder about the plot.

But this isn’t evolution – it is a narrative wrapped around the empirical observations. It may be true or not – but it contains implicit metaphysical assumptions about the nature of all reality.

But is the “traditional” Christian narrative a better story? Here I would like to look at Ch. 3 of Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James. She brings up a point that has occurred to me in the past – but she tells it much better than I.

God’s story is thick with plot. You can’t get through three chapters before the deadliest conflict breaks out. Like an enormous wrecking ball, conflict blasts through everything God has put in place. From Genesis 3 on, conflict rains down (literally in some places) – throughout the Bible and straight into out lives. And we are left in the smoldering ruins of that once-beautiful and perfect world to figure out how to make our way forward without drowning in the conflict.

MISSING PLOT?

To be honest, I’ve never thought of Eden as a particularly riveting part of God’s Story. A necessary introduction, yes, but not exactly spellbinding. Thoughts of Eden conjure up mental  images of Adam and Eve strolling leisurely through the garden hand-in-hand – picking flowers, popping grapes, working without sweat. No weeds, insects, or plant disease to interfere with their gardening projects. No battle of the sexes or angry words spoken in haste and regretted later. Sex and nudity notwithstanding, the story seems a bit dull – at least until the serpent shows up and all hell breaks loose. Judging by what literary experts are saying about conflict, before the fall Ada, and Eve are living in a plotless story.

Which made me wonder, is God is the master storyteller – the creator of story – and if conflict makes the story, is there conflict before Genesis 3? Was God’s original vision for us and for the world a plotless story? If humanity had never fallen into sin, would we be living in a plotless story now? For that matter, will heaven be plotless? Is conflict only and always destructive and the result of fallenness? Or is there a healthy, necessary, constructive variety of conflict that creates a gripping plot and is designed to make God’s image bearers flourish and grow? (p. 67)

James goes on to think about the mission of humanity given in Genesis 1:28:  Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. This isn’t a plotless existence. I am not sure what James thinks of creation, evolution, and the historicity of Adam and Eve. Her focus in the chapter is to explore what this mission before the fall might mean for the relationship of God’s image bearers, male and female. Her book, after all, is about Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.

Plotless or purposeful? The traditional Christian narrative is, it appears, a plotless beginning, a fall brought about by human sin, redemption through the cross, a holding pattern present that captures all our attention, and anticipation of a plotless future. I don’t think that, as a story, this is much better than the naturalist’s story of purposeless evolution and ultimate total extinction. I also don’t think that it is the story of scripture. It is a story that arises, I believe, from a misinterpretation of Genesis 1-3 and a misunderstanding of the gospel.

God’s original creation had a plot and a trajectory. The first humans were told to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, to subdue the earth, and to rule over all life on the earth. Evolution as a mechanism for bringing about this creation is compatible with the plot of the story and with the mission given to humanity as God’s image bearers. There is a plot before the Fall. But the Fall is an essential part of the overall plot, anticipated by God from the beginning. God’s image bearers turned from his ways and listened to, as the story is told in Genesis 3, the smooth talk of the serpent. They didn’t fall spontaneously in a perfect world, the serpent was already present. Of course it was anticipated, and part of the plan for reasons we don’t really understand. Otherwise aren’t we claiming that humans can thwart God’s plan and force him to an option B?

The story as revealed in scripture doesn’t envision modern ideas of evolutionary biology. It was written in an ancient context for an ancient audience – modern geology, physics, and biology would have made no sense to them. But evolutionary creation is not at odds with the plot of the story. God’s creation grows and unfolds – not in a purposeless and random fashion, but in accord with God’s plan and purpose. There is a plot in the unfolding of creation from big bang, to the formation of earth, through the development of life, to the appearance of the first humans. The natural explanations alone, whether accurate or not, will always be incomplete because they leave out the author of it all.

Evolution alone is a lousy story, but evolution as God’s method of creation makes a great story.

Is there a plot in creation before Genesis 3? If so what?

What problems do you see with evolution as a part of this plot?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • Amory Ewerdt

    I would love to see a book or series that tells the story of God’s creation and recreation of his broken world through a biblical lens while being true to the best of science and history as we know it now.

  • Robert

    Genesis 1 isn’t plotless; humanity has a mission, to exercise dominion over the earth. He can’t do that from inside the garden. We have two creation stories, in parallel; different, but linked in a way traditional Christianity doesn’t see. The ‘fall’ is a necessary development, but we only look at it through a Pauline lens. Nobody saw a fall before Paul, who had a specific theological need. He had to link the Gentiles in with the story of Israel, and it wasn’t part of their tradition. The covenant and the law were given to Jews not Gentiles; it was the Jews who went into exile over their infidelity, and the Jews who were redeemed and brought back to Zion. That wouldn’t work for Gentile converts. So Paul finds universal sinfulness via Adam, and universal grace via Abraham. The Jews have never seen a fall there; I’m told they see a coming of age story, but I haven’t looked at it in detail, yet. Maybe we need to rethink again, and come up with a new reworking of the story.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I suspect there are multiple factors for why people haven’t bought into the macro-evolution story. Yes, some probably think it’s a lousy story (God would not have done it that way). Others have problems with it because the trajectory of that story has been set up in competition against the biblical story by some. Another reason people don’t like the evolution story is it has become the “big story” to interpret all of reality and life (including the Bible—God is evolving, everything is evolving, etc.). Therefore it becomes a clash of worldviews. None of these conflicts have to be that way but people often react to what they see and experience. Lastly, some reject the evolution story (not of micro-evolution but of macro-evolution) because they don’t believe the fossil record supports it. I’m sure others could come up with other reasons but those are ones I have seen and heard for most of my life.

  • Sagrav

    I don’t need or want a plot to my life. A plot contains you; it forces you think of your existence as though it was a story found in a novel or movie. The universe simply does not care one way or the other about us, and insisting that there is some overall plot to the universe will lead one to a constant series of disappointments when the universe stubbornly refuses to care about your plot.

    We live for a while. Then we die and cease to be. There is no evidence that there is a continuing “plot” afterwards. Just try to enjoy the time you have here while you exist. That’s all you can do.

  • Tanya

    I wouldn’t say Natural Selection is “no story,” — just a repellent one, at least at first glance. An aimless creation is the protagonist, and it exercises violence at every turn. The strong always and forever overcome the weak. But I believe it is scientifically accurate, and have longed for someone to take it seriously. What is God up to?

    John Haught, head of the Georgetown Center for the Study of Religion is the first and only theologian I’ve read to take this on. (see God After Darwin, etc.)

    I’ve long thought Christians reject the story because we can’t handle the depth of suffering creation contains, and our own existence implies. We watch Disney nature documentaries and turn away from the occasional scene of lion-eats-gazelle. How can we handle the implications of the way creation as we know it has come to be? I am, because weaker, less intelligent ancestors lost out.

  • Norman

    Oh, there are plenty of good stories from an evolutionary development side. Science fiction fills in some of this gap by extrapolating ideas and possibilities to alien worlds. We can do the same thing by examining the dynamics of the split of early hominoids between Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans and then their recombining hundreds of thousands of years later. There are plenty of biological and human anthropological ideas and story lines to pursue looking back over the last million years of human evolution. These biological variations and their implications for our present state of civilized adaptations thus present numerous implications for story.

    Even more recent studies of human populating and civilizational adaptations throughout the world provide us with glimpses of humanities onward march toward a higher plane of consciousness. That civilized march goes forward though often punctuated by spurts and regressions. I believe the coming of Christ the Messiah was the turning point in history pointing us in the correct direction to pursue.

    Also I don’t believe the Jews were writing about biological mankind physical status and origins in either Genesis 1 or 2-4 but were writing about human’s present evolutionary status into the people of God’s image that was occurring to Israel. The Adam/Israel character appears to be developed out of the darkness and desert wilderness of humanity at large and is not about the first biological human. However the Adams/Israel have a proclivity to seek the one True God but the story degenerates into the futility of the process that relies upon self-centered actualization of that endeavor. Paul sums it up and contrasts it as mortal works of the flesh versus Heavenly Spiritual walking on a higher conscious level. See his Romans chapter 8 for his development and conclusions.

  • JamesG

    At the absolute most basic level, every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. With evolution taught as science (science fiction is just that, fiction, and thus not really a part of the picture), you have an unknown and undefined beginning (so really, no beginning from a story perspective), a plotless middle, and a completely undefined and unknowable end. As a story, it’s just lame, regardless of what scientific merit you think it may hold. Few people want to think that their lives are part of a larger cosmic story. That’s why “Left Behind” sold so well. Theologically speaking, it’s absolute drivel (almost religious [non]science fiction). But many of the readers are drawn to the inclusion of themselves into its drama.

  • Norman

    Science fiction is an expression of possibilities that can help us contemplate realities that are not testable. It’s an exercise in formulating concepts while telling a good story. Something the Jews were much better at than we give them credit for. Read Pete Enns latest book regarding Genesis for Normal people to get a handle on how the Jews told story and not true history. Their stories were theologically and politically driven and not really the true accounts of history that we may suppose. They were masters of the early versions of science fiction/myth development.

  • Joe Canner

    Tanya, thanks for mentioning John Haught. I, too, was thinking of him in this context. As I recall, he proposes that the Garden shows us where creation is heading not where it has been. This is a radical departure from the traditional view, but one which is worth considering since it gives more meaning to the future (something we can participate in) than the past (something we can only speculate about). It is also consistent with an eschatology in which a renewed earth plays a prominent role (e.g., NT Wright).

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    “We live for a while. Then we die and cease to be. There is no evidence that there is a continuing “plot” afterwards. Just try to enjoy the time you have here while you exist. That’s all you can do.”

    You sound just like Solomon, the “wisest” man to ever live. And you’re absolutely right. The crux of the matter though, is this: what must we do to be happy? Where can we find joy in the midst of meaningless existence? In Ecclesiastes Solomon was faced with the same dilemma. He tried everything pleasurable and determined that nothing we can gain is able to satisfy. Nothing we can attain will make us happy.

    We focus so much on what happens after we’re dead that we’ve forgotten that the deepest message of Christ isnt life “after” death, but is the radical idea of life IN death. In Christ we see that life ARISES WITHIN death for the sake of others. Joy arises within giving up our rights to pursue pleasure and entering into mourning with another. Love arises in choosing to allow ourselves to be hated by an other. The deepest Truth is found only in giving up the need to know it and the greatest wisdom in thinking of ourselves as fools. The greatest boast is that I fear and tremble.

    We all have to admit that there is no “proof” that anything exists but this world and also that we have no reason to believe that anything we can attain in this world will satisfy. The “creation” story and the “evolutionary” story are the same story told from different perspectives. In each story we perceive ourselves as being separated from meaning. The message of Christ is that in the midst of the banality meaning is MADE by those who would choose to die daily for others. This is life that will be eternal in every sense of the word.

  • Alan K

    Absolutely there is a plot before Genesis 3. The wind of God hovering over the chaotic sea, the sun and the moon appropriated for use under God’s authority, the word of God inhabiting and utilizing the worldview of the ANE to the point where the worldview is exhausted and emptied of meaning–the creation is presented as drama. The question is not how evolution is a part of the plot or drama, but in what manner is evolution inhabited and interpreted by the Word of God. I’m not suggesting that evolution is not true, but that we need to recognize that by its very nature it shares the same provisionality as all other worldviews, including that of the ANE.

  • Jon G

    Genesis 1 isn’t plotless. It involves an artist creating good things by turing chaos into order. There’s redemption in action from the very beginning of the story. And not only is the artist turning chaos into well-ordered new creations, but he’s making creations that can be creative themselves. This is not a static one-dimensional form of artwork, but a vibrant perpetual creative process being unfolded – Art coming to life and bringing forth more Art! Then comes Genesis 3, when somebody decides to stop creating and start destroying…

    Great post, RJS!

  • Greg Gamble

    What if the plot is so far over out heads that we have missed it in the din of living out this subplot of earth life?
    Im suggesting that the real plot is running on schedule, and it has no beginning or end, but it does have a short blip of time interjected so that some more characters could be brought in.
    The fellowship between Father, Son and Spirit and angels is a family affair, with no other purpose than to be together, like we are with our families.
    Just being trumps doing, going or having any day, if you are in love.
    I’ve always sensed that God wanted kids to make the family complete, and this time we call life is the subplot, then when time is up, we will fold into the big plot and do whatever it is God was doing before we came along.
    The fact that we don’t know much about the big plot is evident by its almost total absence in any narrative in history.
    And, we don’t have any sense of anticipation to ‘go there’ like we do to Disneyland, because the trip involves a coffin rather than a car ride.
    My favorite end game narrative is the happy hunting grounds of the NA natives, because I like nature, but my wife kind of likes the golden streets one, probably because she’s Chinese and they have this love affair with gold.
    Seriously though, the point I’m proposing is that the we may not be seeing the forest because the trees block our view, the forest being a really busy, involved, purposeful and exciting life beyond death, and the trees being the melee of this conflict ridden life.
    I find the evolution debate boring, in spite of my love for things scientific. and unnecessarily divisive when engaging souls seeking God.
    If the end purpose of our discussion in the evolution debate is to use it as a tool to lead the lost to the Lord, then before we continue further, can we tally up the score on how we are doing, just in case it turns out we were thinking to do God a favor but were doing harm?
    I’d like to propose an alternative theoretical discussion, and one that Iv’e used to great effect to capture the imagination of truth seekers.
    And I’m genuinely not trying to pick an argument with Reform theology.
    What if Adam had resisted the temptation of Eve’s offer to eat the fruit?
    Would God have asked Adam, like He did to Jesus, to be the sin bearer for her redemption?
    Would they have stayed in the garden or would Eve have left and God supplied replacement partners for both?
    I find this paradigm intriguing and in many important ways relevant, at least more than evolution, because the dynamics of our relationships are rooted in whether we are in Christ or not.
    Inviting someone to extrapolate this narrative to its logical end, is an intriguing mystery to someone seeking a grand purpose for their existence, and if skillfully narrated, can keep someone riveted on the main character, who is God.
    I think we actually have that exact scenario in reality, in that we who have eaten from the tree of Life are living in tension with those who eat from the tree of knowledge, and our mission is to convince them to abandon yummy looking death for a not so yummy looking Life.
    I’ve been able to partly explain the spiritual axiom of Life to unbelievers and doubters with this analogy, and without taking sides on straw arguments.
    What do you think?
    Greg

  • Timothy

    CS Lewis would be shocked to hear that evolution was not a story. Perhaps the denial that it is a story qualifies it to be called a metanarrative in the Lyotard sense.
    But according to Lewis, not only is evolution a story it is a very good one, with the most austere of beginnings, with the small (life) triumphing over the great the (inanimate) as in so many stories, indeed the triumph is not just once as little man triumphs over larger fiercer animals. And it is true to the romantic form in that in the last scene all is reversed as nature obliterates man, indeed all life as the universe runs down.
    So evolution in the right hands is a great story, but possibly only a story.

  • David Morgan

    Hi RJS,

    How about the plot starting with the trinitarian story – the love of the Trinity shared between its members expressed in creation?

    I know this is confusing the text with theology but if we want to incorporate “modern” aspects such as geology, physics, and biology then I think we also need to incorporate the knowledge of God as Triune.

    Just a thought

  • RJS

    David,

    I think you are right – we need to incorporate the Trinity in our thinking here. This is foundational in many ways.

  • AHH

    It seems that one of the things we like in stories is how OUR place in the story is portrayed; we like stories that tell us we are significant and are naturally suspicious of stories that humble us.
    Superficially, the traditional reading places humans at the pinnacle of creation, whilie the evolutionary story gives us no more of a special status than any other species.

    However, I think if we incorporate sound Christian theology, our specialness is recovered and it arises in God electing us to be his image-bearers — God’s choice that is not particularly connected to how and when humans were created but rather arises just from God’s choice. So somehow the integration of the evolution story with Christian faith needs to keep human specialness but tie it to the image-bearing role God has given humanity (and I think the Incarnation probably should also play into it) rather than to some presumed order of creation.

  • http://www.marksprinkle.com MEES

    Thanks for this RJS. The question is whether we in the evangelical church have any longer the imaginative capacity to understand the story that’s here, or the creative skills to translate that story for the rest of human community. We tend to prefer arguments and proof, after all, over story and song–much less image. But remember when Christians thought it right to study the “Arts and Sciences” as an integrated curriculum? In any case, lot’s of food or thought here.

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    It would seem that the point of Creation should be God and the point of evolution (from our perspective at this time, anyway) should be mankind. The Christian should be the least constrained and the most empowered of anyone to pursue all parts of the story and integrate them together. When Christians can truly get past the human to human debate over God, evidences, creation, Genesis 1-3, atheism, denomination phenominology, etc., and leave these things in the dust, we will show the world what transformation means, what God’s image means, and what it means to be “created to be like God.” Out of everybody on earth, Christians should have a perspective of what the “story” is all about. But one will not have time to watch the program and understand the plot if they spend all their time watching the commercials.

    Hebrews 6:1 “therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity ….” That could apply to most of the things Christians spend a bulk of available time and energy on. It’s hard to get much done in the reference section of the library when one is out fighting in the street over who built the library building.

    Edward Fudge wrote a short book giving a global picture of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. “The Divine Rescue” – “The gripping drama of a lost world and of the Creator who will not let it go.” You have to overlook just a few sentences that may be a little questionable from a science perspective, but that’s forgivable since he’s an attorney. I think it makes a contribution to looking for an overall connecting story.

    RJS, this is a particularly outstanding post because it calls us to look above the local fray to a more eternal perspective. If we as Christians can’t do that, who will?

    Thank you.

  • holdon

    “There is a plot in the unfolding of creation from big bang, to the formation of earth, through the development of life, to the appearance of the first humans.”

    How do you know?

    And: “unfolding of creation from big bang”?? I mean, praise to your fantasy, perhaps, but I don’t see that plot.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Amory and all,

    Here is a draft attempt at a story that combines truth from science with truth from faith. Of course, it has parts with no supporting evidence from science, but that should not surprise us. It also conflicts with many views of beginnings, good vs evil etc. I’m not sure I agree with, or could argue convincingly, for all of it. But our integrated story will, I think, look something like this.

    The Creator/Servant’s Universe

    This universe came into existence in the face of a spiritual rebellion against God’s will. Our creator is waging a cosmic battle against rebellion, chaos, disorder and confusion – a physicist would say, a battle against entropy. Maximum entropy equals maximum disorder. There is a spiritual battle, a rebellion against God, that comes from a great deceiver who wants only chaos and darkness (Rev 12:7-9). In the first verses of the Bible we see God’s response to chaos, darkness and emptiness – he simply and powerfully says “Let there be light.” This is the first bit of evidence that our Creator, through divine love, will win because he is the one God, YHWH, and in response to his first command we are told “there was light.” This work will be completed as our Creator’s perfect masterpiece when rebellion is no more and the Son of God, the resurrected Man-God, reigns supreme in perfect love. 

    Our Creator is neither a God of the gaps nor a God of the zaps nor the grand tweaker. The vast majority of the gaps left by current scientific work will be filled in, so these are ultimately embarrassing  places to shelter our understanding of God’s mighty acts. As for imagining a God who ‘zaps’ things into existence (or out of existence) this only reveals our sad desire for magic. At least, we should expect our Creator to behave in a more interesting manner. More recent proposals that God deems evolution a reasonable way to get to our present world, but reserves the right to tweak things along the way, don’t really capture the big picture of an immensely great God either.

    According to the growing mountain of scientific evidence, God does indeed work in far more interesting ways. The observable universe studied by physicists and cosmologists is unfolding, and has been unfolding for 13.7 billion years. The living world that biologists explore is constantly changing, and it has been changing for more than 3.5 billion years, with no end in sight. Furthermore, all living things are related; none have been found that don’t belong to the same big family. Now that is the work of a very interesting Creator. No zaps, no gaps, except those due to our lack of knowledge, and tweeks unnecessary.

    The evolving cosmos and the evolving bios to which we belong are clearly works in progress;  not independently either, but part of a huge, long-term, unfolding masterpiece. And amazingly, all of the participants are part of the process. All are unfolding in relation to everything else in an unimaginable, magnificent symphony. If, on our own, we tried to imagine how a Creator might operate, we would never come up with this – it’s way beyond us. We would probably imagine something more like a grand zapper who controls everything. It’s a good thing we weren’t asked for advice on the method to use! We were just given the opportunity to participate and ended up with the blessed ability to appreciate the results, the ongoing results.

    It turns out that our Creator doesn’t stop creating. It’s also obvious that he is not in a hurry. At 13.7 billion and counting, we probably have a while to go. Diversity and change also seem to be high on the Creator’s list of good things. It seems, as well, that our Creator is more than a little interested in us. We can’t reach him, but he reaches us in self-revelation. His works in the natural world certainly get our attention, but he actually comes to us, first through Israel, the chosen nation, then in person, the new Adam. The creator actually becomes a creature. 

    We have noticed, all of us, that we have serious problems with what Scriptures calls the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Having this knowledge, like Israel having the law, makes us acutely aware that knowing the difference between good and evil is of little help in actually doing good. We are born failures at doing good, far too often. We expect points for trying but, basically, we lack something fundamental when it comes to being good the way we know we should – in ways that will please a holy God.

    Enter the Creator become Creature. Since he is making everything in love, he knows a thing or two about always doing the right thing. The Creator’s physical presence among us, is a unique, once-in-a-creation event – what scientists refer to as a singularity. In fact, from a Cristian perspective, the singularity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the God-man, is the very heart of creation as well as the essential beginning of the Gospel. He is the apex of creation while also being the one through whom creation flows. This Creator we worship is truly interesting beyond our imagining! 

    Then, because of our inborn inability to deal with the temptation to not do the right thing, and the resulting dysfunction and horror this brings to our world, our Creator as Servant voluntarily suffers with us. In fact, suffers maximally and ultimately, participating even in death for us. But our Creator/Servant did nothing that should lead to death, he accepted it on our behalf – a willing sacrifice. Then, our Creator/Servant, in a glorious continuance of his very interesting creative work, rose from the dead in a glorified body – a victorious King. Scriptures call him the ‘first-born’ from among the dead because he is indeed a new creation – the Creator/Servant/Perfect Sacrifice/King, our Lord.

    This resurrected Lord now takes up residence with the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and looses the Spirit, the very Spirit of Creation, upon the earth for our edification, guidance and empowerment. As we have been through all of time, we are called to continue with our own role in creation, now under the guidance of this Spirit of Creation. The Creator is not done yet. He keeps making moves that are more and more interesting. Now we are called to get on with the good over evil thing, but with the Spirit of Creation within us, because, in Christ, we too are new creations. Not completed yet, but, as with all of creation, works in progress.

    This great, ongoing and ever more interesting creation story needs to be told. The  Spirit of Creation within us moves us to tell the story, with boldness. The treasure we have within is a treasure to tell people about. It’s all connected. It has been going on for 13.7 billion years. We are a part of it simply by being born, and as Christian believers we are a part of it with a wonderful new re-birth and a new role. We have been given Good News to tell to the whole world. The Creator, Immanuel,  has come to us. The Creator, Jesus the Saviour, has redeemed humanity. By repenting from our self-centeredness and acknowledging the work and centrality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can live and grow in him as he lives and grows in us. Ultimately, we shall behold him and we shall be like him. We will then know him as he is. His love will have won!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I seem to disagree with Christians at a fundamental level on this subject. It seems everyone considers creation to be broken, terrible, not ideal, etc. I live my life in wonder and awe with the world god has made for us, and the experience I have in this life. My life is not even close to ideal by the standards of Christians, even right now I am unemployed, have poison ivy, have significant and debilitating illnesses in my family, have a painful nerve problem that just surfaced in my leg……and I am ugly! (just kidding, I am not that ugly…yet).

    But I find life, creation, even just one minute of breathing and feeling and seeing to be enough for me. Jesus said to not worry. Enjoy your life. Appreciate your life. Be content in this moment, right now, just stop and feel content in this moment, go ahead, do it…..

    Christians are the most pessimistic people I have ever met. We are broken, creation sucks, we die and are threatened with eternal torture, yuck!

    The Story of Gen 1-2 is the story of appreciation. It is our good god making for us a creation, and us choosing to think that it should be better than he made it. The story is that we need to get back to the garden that has not gone away. It is our perception that has gone away. The Story is how god continues to try and teach us and help us, but we continue to not be satisfied. Rather than dwell on the disatisfaction, dwell on being satisfied and appreciative. Thank god!

    Gen 1-2 is only descriptive, not a condemnation. We can choose to not be restricted to discontent.

  • RJS

    holdon,

    The plot is in God’s purpose and mission – and there is no reason to regard that as inconsistent with the nature of the world we uncover, with an unfolding creation. I rather expect the atheist who comments to call that a praise to my fantasy … but whether we agree or not on details of creation or on the nature of the inspiration and authority of scripture with respect to these details, I certainly don’t expect you to call the idea that God’s purpose is the plot a praise to my fantasy.

  • Sam

    RJS, this is more of a peripheral issue that isn’t the focus of the post, but I can’t help mentioning it. I have heard (and more or less agree) that the Fall was the result of human free-will, but in this post and others you made, you say that the Fall was inevitable. I can’t help but think there is a contradiction here. If the Fall was inevitable, wouldn’t that mean that God determined that we would eventually rebel against Him? Having free-will (at least in my conception of it) means having the ability to do otherwise. How could we have the ability to have NOT rebelled, and at the same time the rebellion be inevitable?

  • RJS

    Sam,

    It is a little peripheral to this post – but not really, I brought it up in the post, and it is something that comes up quite often.

    I am willing to be persuaded otherwise, but I just don’t think that the entire story of God’s work in the world is a response to something he either couldn’t prevent or didn’t foresee. Personally I think that God created us as we are for a reason, and part of “as we are” includes a free-will and the ability to turn away from God. But as creatures who are not God, turning away was anticipated and allowed, but not determined.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Sam,
    RJS makes good points. By way of extension, consider that creation is a work in progress, God did something and continues to be doing something. We human beings, self-conscious products of the evolution of life made possible by a loving God, came on the scene as self-centered creatures, obviously unprepared to resist suggestions that pumped up our sense of importance. Our self-centeredness is the core of our problem. God’s idea is for us to be God-centered, in Christian terms, Christ-centered – Christ in us and ‘on the throne of our being.” The concept of original sin requires considerable unpacking, original self-centeredness is quite obvious, and quite natural. 

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    RJS and Bev have both made some very interesting and thought-stimulating comments.

    This is probably more like “Paradise Disoriented,” basing an imaginary hypothesis on some pending presumptions, but if we start with Bev’s suggestion in comment #21 that …..

    “This universe came into existence in the face of a spiritual rebellion against God’s will. Our creator is waging a cosmic battle against rebellion, chaos, disorder and confusion –”

    ….. then the creation of this universe and the Garden story might represent a physical embodiment, within time and space, of the spiritual rebellion. If God could create the physical world with the physical laws in place so that a predictable (to God) evolution would occur to a predictable outcome (mankind) where the spiritual battle would be modeled in the physical, couldn’t God also create circumstances under which the Fall of Man was also inevitable? Otherwise it doesn’t make sense that God’s plan for the Fall, redemption, sanctification, and resurrection of Man was made before the creation of the world. Why plan for a Savior unless God know there will be a Fall?

    What was the purpose of the universe and the purpose of Man? Perhaps so God could demonstrate love and redemption and final victory to heavenly beings? Angels long to see these things revealed to us. Do angels know about forgiveness, salvation, redemption, reconciliation, transformation? Were angels created to be like God? Lucifer apparently thought he was. Does our behavior and our place in winning the battle on earth have any impact on the spiritual battle in heaven? What unclaimed authority might we have? How does our judging angels fit into this?

    If any of this is so, why didn’t God make it clearer? Maybe that knowledge would affect the outcome and the process of a “free will choice.” Maybe that knowledge would be to us being like Elisha’s servant when he saw the forces in 2 Kings 6:17ff. Maybe a person’s choice of God over sin would be be more conscripted and would glorify Him less. ?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Theophilus.dr,
    Great handle by the way (I realize that dates me). Wonderful questions. I assume you aren’t expecting answers before supper. :) Realizing that what I posted above under “The Creator/Servant’s Universe” needs, shall we say, better staging, the following “Homo sapiens (naturalis)”  may serve. I would be interested in your thoughts. Risking the ire of the faithful, I also append the former so it will appear as a piece. Wider discussion of this would be fun.
    Bev

    Homo sapiens (naturalis)

    Homo sapiens, the ones who know, the conscious ones, the self-conscious ones. We sense that we are on a journey, that we have a story and are in a story, that we are part of that story. We know in our conscious selves that we have come from somewhere and are going somewhere. We resist the thought that our conscious self will one day end. We refuse to really believe this.  Self consciousness, self awareness act like powerful lenses that focus us on …. well, ourselves. We are not only self conscious, we are naturally, unavoidably, self-centered. This is perfectly natural, even essential in a material setting.

    We, the conscious ones, are aware of life. An amazing thing, life. Think about it. Consider the energy required to make life possible – start with the energy of the sun. Those energized packets (photons) arriving in waves from the sun, specifically those in a narrow energy band called visable light, make life possible. Photosynthesis organizes carbon,  present in the air as carbon dioxide, into carbon-based life. All life, as we know it, is carbon based. Consider the word ‘organize’. The only way to organize anything is to put in energy, continuously. It is fundamentally a battle against entropy (disorder), relentless entropy. To win against entropy requires a continuous flow of energy and efficient management of that energy. As far as we know, this battle has been going on from the time something was first organized – from the first moment that chaos was challenged, and it will continue as long as entropy makes disorder a possibility. 

    Our consciousness also makes us aware of the other-others like us, others not like us, others not at all like us. Beings. Living things, with an existence, beneficiaries of those sunny photons and photosynthesis and efficient energy management, but apparently not self-conscious. At least not in a way that allows the kind of  communication we would like to have. But part of the family of living things nevertheless. It’s really quite amazing when you stop to think about it.

    Our awareness of a journey, of a story there somewhere, also moves our minds beyond life, to before life, to after life. A bit of a scary thought that second one. But just try not thinking about it for very long, I dare you. While we are naturally self-centered, we have a strong sense that …………… I won’t presume to say what your strong sense is, but I am prepared to bet that you have one.

    So, here we sit, conscious, amazed, self-centered, unsatisfied. Maybe if we just get busy we can ignore that last bit. After all, there is so much to do, so much to learn. It’s even a full-time job just keeping entropy at bay in our own little corner. What keeps us very busy should satisfy us, right? And then there is this self-centeredness, kind of cozy really, maybe it’s even all about me. That would be satisfying, wouldn’t it? If only I could get everyone, everything, else to agree. Damn! 

    Meanwhile, the universe continues to spin, to evolve. Much stays the same, but, if we pay attention, much is changing. We can’t conclude or pretend, like our recent ancestors did, that things are essentially wrapped up. The story is moving. We are conscious of this movement, we are conscious of the passage of time, we are conscious of a direction in the movement, we want to know what the movement is about, what is behind it, what is its purpose, where are we going? Enter religious thoughts, theories, speculations, disagreements, battles……..

    Religious awareness first comes from our self-centeredness, and may never move beyond ourselves, may  remain entirely on the human plane, and may be thought of in material or spiritual terms, or both. This kind of religious thought and activity is essentially like all other complex thinking and activity, it’s entirely self-centered. It’s probably even adaptive, in the Darwinian sense. Such is the state of Homo sapiens before some revelation from God. Some revelation from the One who makes all this highly organized universe possible, a reality, brings it into existence and sustains it.

    To continue with the story, some revelation from God is absolutely essential.

    The Creator/Servant’s Universe -The Revelation

    This universe came into existence in the face of a spiritual rebellion against God’s will. Our creator is waging a cosmic battle against rebellion, chaos, disorder and confusion – a physicist would say, a battle against entropy. Maximum entropy equals maximum disorder. There is a spiritual battle, a rebellion against God, that comes from a great deceiver who wants only chaos and darkness (Rev 12:7-9). In the first verses of the Bible we see God’s response to chaos, darkness and emptiness – he simply and powerfully says “Let there be light.” This is the first bit of evidence that our Creator, through divine love, will win because he is the one God, YHWH, and in response to his first command we are told “there was light.” This work will be completed as our Creator’s perfect masterpiece when rebellion is no more and the Son of God, the resurrected Man-God, reigns supreme in perfect love. 

    Our Creator is neither a God of the gaps nor a God of the zaps nor the grand tweaker. The vast majority of the gaps left by current scientific work will be filled in, so these are ultimately embarrassing  places to shelter our understanding of God’s mighty acts. As for imagining a God who ‘zaps’ things into existence (or out of existence) this only reveals our sad desire for magic. At least, we should expect our Creator to behave in a more interesting manner. More recent proposals that God deems evolution a reasonable way to get to our present world, but reserves the right to tweak things along the way, don’t really capture the big picture of an immensely great God either.

    According to the growing mountain of scientific evidence, God does indeed work in far more interesting ways. The observable universe studied by physicists and cosmologists is unfolding, and has been unfolding for 13.7 billion years. The living world that biologists explore is constantly changing, and it has been changing for more than 3.5 billion years, with no end in sight. Furthermore, all living things are related; none have been found that don’t belong to the same big family. Now that is the work of a very interesting Creator. No zaps, no gaps, except those due to our lack of knowledge, and tweeks unnecessary.

    The evolving cosmos and the evolving bios to which we belong are clearly works in progress;  not independently either, but part of a huge, long-term, unfolding masterpiece. And amazingly, all of the participants are part of the process. All are unfolding in relation to everything else in an unimaginable, magnificent symphony. If, on our own, we tried to imagine how a Creator might operate, we would never come up with this – it’s way beyond us. We would probably imagine something more like a grand zapper who controls everything. It’s a good thing we weren’t asked for advice on the method to use! We were just given the opportunity to participate and ended up with the blessed ability to appreciate the results, the ongoing results.

    It turns out that our Creator doesn’t stop creating. It’s also obvious that he is not in a hurry. At 13.7 billion and counting, we probably have a while to go. Diversity and change also seem to be high on the Creator’s list of good things. It seems, as well, that our Creator is more than a little interested in us. We can’t reach him, but he reaches us in self-revelation. His works in the natural world certainly get our attention, but he actually comes to us, first through Israel, the chosen nation, then in person, the new Adam. The creator actually becomes a creature. 

    We have noticed, all of us, that we have serious problems with what Scriptures call the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Having this knowledge, like Israel having the law, makes us acutely aware that knowing the difference between good and evil but is of little help in actually doing good. We are born failures at doing good, far too often. We expect points for trying, but basically we lack something fundamental when it comes to being good the way we know we should – in ways that will please a holy God.

    Enter the Creator become Creature. Since he is making everything in perfect love, he knows a thing or two about always doing the right thing. The Creator’s physical presence among us, is a unique, once-in-a-creation event – what scientists refer to as a singularity. In fact, from a Christian perspective, the singularity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the God-man, is the very heart of creation as well as the essential beginning of the Gospel. He is the apex of creation while also being the one through whom creation flows. This Creator we worship is truly interesting beyond our imagining! 

    Then, because of our inborn inability to deal with the temptation to not do the right thing, and the resulting dysfunction and horror this brings to our world, our Creator as Servant voluntarily suffers with us. In fact, suffers maximally and ultimately, participating even in death for us. But our Creator/Servant did nothing that should lead to death, he accepted it on our behalf – a willing sacrifice. Then, our Creator/Servant, in a glorious continuance of his very interesting creative work, rose from the dead in a glorified body – a victorious King. Scriptures call him the ‘first-born’ from among the dead because he is indeed a new creation – the Creator/Servant/Perfect Sacrifice/King, our Lord.

    This resurrected Lord now takes up residence with the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and looses the Spirit, the very Spirit of Creation, upon the earth for our edification, guidance and empowerment. As we have been through all of time, we are called to continue with our own role in creation, now under the guidance of this Spirit of Creation. The Creator is not done yet. He keeps making moves that are more and more interesting. Now we are called to get on with the good over evil thing, but with the Spirit of Creation within us, because, in Christ, we too are new creations. Not completed yet, but, as with all of creation, works in progress.

    This great, ongoing and ever more interesting creation story needs to be told. The  Spirit of Creation within us moves us to tell the story, with boldness. The treasure we have within is a treasure to tell people about. It’s all connected. It has been going on for 13.7 billion years. We are a part of it simply by being born, and as Christian believers we are a part of it with a wonderful new re-birth and a new role. We have been given Good News to tell to the whole world. The Creator, Immanuel,  has come to us. The Creator, Jesus the Saviour, has redeemed humanity. By repenting from our self-centeredness and acknowledging the work and centrality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can live and grow in him as he lives and grows in us. Ultimately, we shall behold him and we shall be like him. We will then know him as he is. His love will have won!

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    Bev, thanks. And a big 10-4 on the dating. My wrapper has been around so long that all of the C-14 has decayed past its t_1/2. I love the possibility of finding someone else who enjoys “going totally cosmic” with a few ideas. Scot may have to buy more server storage space. Hope it doesn’t crash from overload.

    Some interesting concepts in the your “continual creation” story posted above.

    Human psychologists consider evidence that “religion” was a group or tribal attitude that developed during human evolution of the brain that fostered survival of some groups over others. There are archaeological findings suggestive of some sort of deity worship.

    (Interesting aside from my experience: Interpretation of these findings used to be made very tentatively, depending on whether or a [non-creationist] scientist was willing to risk implying evidence for a God. Now that psychologists have “legitimized” religion as a means of evolutionary survival, it is more PC to approach the subject scientifically without being accused of having a conflict of interest).

    What do you think is the source of the intangible human “instinctive” awareness of something else bigger than ourselves that humans feel they should try to understand or to reach for? Is this “feeling” represented in the Gen. 1-3 creation account?

    What was included in the “created from nothing” verb in Gen.1:1? Everything physical; what else? In Gen. 1:27 said God created male and female in His own image. In Gen. 2:7, the Lord formed the man (human) from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being. So, physical things (including energy and matter) were created from nothing (no like precursor) which means they had a finite beginning of time. That included everything from the bang through the formation of the physical substrate of the human, who was made of the preexisting carbon based materials. But what about the breath (Spirit) of God? Since God existed before the creation, His breath (Spirit) would not be time dependent and therefore not created along with “the dust.” God’s breath was a separate event from the formation of Adam from dust. After the breath, the human became a”living being.” That term must mean something more than what the animals had, because they were physical living beings at that time Adam was formed. So, does this mean “living” as in “spiritually living,” “eternally living,” “image of God living,” or what?

    I used to have this image of Adam lying lifeless on the ground until God performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him or something, and the Adam revives. But, isn’t it more reasonable that Adam was physically alive like the animals, but God breathed His Spirit into the man and the woman and they became in some way “living beings” in a spiritual, perhaps eternal, sense, and perhaps ‘in His image’?

    If one hangs on this far across the cosmos, does that mean that there was some aspect of the spirit within Adam & Eve (before the Fall) that existed prior to the physical creation? What was lost when Adam & Eve got the boot from the Garden? What was separated between man and God from the time of the Fall to the Holy Spirit being poured out on Pentecost? Was there any part of the breath of God that remained in Adam and Eve post-Garden? Was there any part of them that was still a hint of the image of God?

    Does any of this related to human self-awareness or self-consciousness? Or did self-consciousness come with the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Adam and Eve were self-conscious about being naked.

    I think the interpretation of Gen.1-3 must be allegorical in teaching. Given that, and since the account has a repetitive nature to it, dissecting apart verses to establish a time sequence of dust and spirit and sin may be a detail that is unjustified.

    Lastly, I follow and agree with the continual evolution story, and I would like to develop that further. How do the above questions fit into the continual evolution story? At some point there is a joining of the eternal with the physical — the Holy Spirit indwelling, the resurrection of the incorruptible body, eternal life. But God existed before physical creation – what else did also, and how is that represented in Gen. 1-3? (After supper is okay for this one).

    Thanks.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Theophilis.dr,

    I think you see where I’m coming from. This far out, we don’t have to be completely right, just reasonable. For faith/science issues, my starting points are (1) that truth comes from several sources, one being from the use of the mind God gave us when applied to understanding the universe he is making (2) the static  view of creation (once upon a time, maybe not long ago) gets one off on the wrong foot right away, probably because the Bible practically oozes creation from cover to cover (3) denying that any truth useful to understanding our Creator can be found outside the Bible is like putting on lead running shoes. Hiding from the mountain of well established science means you have tied your shoe laces together and might as well go lie down. For thinking theologically and Christianly, for me it has to be the Trinity and the Incarnation from beginning to end.

    This is not the place to go into all your great questions. Maybe RJS will set something up along some of these lines. Continuous creation would be a good focal point. As for some fellow travelers, have you read/discovered the following?

    Thomas J. Oord “The Nature of Love: A Theology”
    John Polkinghorne “Theology in the Context of Science” and many other books
    Paul D. Molnar “T. F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity” 

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    Bev, I totally agree. The main reason I asked the questions was hoping that RJS might find something interesting enough to address.

    These books you mentioned are “on my list.” But, I am committed to first make it through a stack (physical and electronic) on intuitive cognition, habitual behaviors, and the basal ganglia; cosmic, social, biological, and spiritual cycles; the theory of everything and especially string theory; spiritual evolution by expression of the genes of God — and to distill and write as I go. And try to get that done before going 10-10.

  • http://undergradreligion.wordpress.com Sam

    RJS,
    Thanks for your response. From what I can gather, I think I misunderstood what you had been trying to say. My concern had been that some people claim God must have determined the sinful state of humanity, otherwise he isn’t omnipotent (a sentiment with which I disagree). I’d asked my question under the assumption that this sort of reasoning might’ve been applied here, but I now see that this isn’t the case. Sorry for the misunderstanding.


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